Planning for school places

School Planning panel 2

As London’s population continues to rise, and with the country’s highest birth rates, local authorities across the capital region face rapidly increasing demand for school places. Boroughs have a statutory requirement to provide a school place for every child, and many schools are already operating at full capacity. While the current shortage is largely at primary level, secondary school places will also be affected as the larger cohorts move up through the school system.

On 2nd October, Future of London held the first of our Breakfast Bites seminars, Planning for School Places, kindly hosted by partner Lewis Silkin. We were joined by four speakers with wide-ranging experience of planning for schools who discussed the current and projected shortages of school places, and how the challenge is being addressed within the current policy framework of the Priority School Building Programme, Academies and Free Schools.

All speakers agreed that in order to provide the best possible spaces for education, partnerships were essential, a point emphasised by Dr Sharon Wright, Education Advisor for BAM, the leading contractor under PSBP. Free Schools and Academies have become part of the education landscape, and councils must engage with them if they are to be able to plan effectively for increases in pupil numbers with less funding available. This is especially important given that demand for new places is highly localised rather than spread evenly across boroughs. Effective partnerships with clear goals can drastically reduce planning times and thus delivery costs – one project BAM undertook went through design, initial review and budget in a head-spinning six weeks.

Ark Priory Primary Academy
Image courtesy of BAM Design

There was also agreement on the essential role of design quality. While it is possible to provide large numbers of school places on a budget, it is critical that new education facilities provide a good space for learning. Fears that the Priority School Building Programme would sacrifice design quality have so far proved unfounded, according to Steve Loughe (RIBA), Director of Architecture for contractor BAM Design, partly thanks to the Education Funding Agency’s high standards.

Another theme which came up was the importance of reconsidering the physical estate, so as to make the most of space available. Despite the best will in the world, not every existing building is going to make the grade when it comes to creating educational space to last for 60 years, as called for by the Education Funding Agency – or even for 20 years, as one participant suggested, given the ‘bubble’ nature of the shortfall.

As the Education Foundation’s Ty Goddard pointed out, best use of space could include taking advantage of new technologies or ‘time-sharing’ facilities throughout the day; working with Further and Higher Education institutions; finding better ways to employ under-used spaces in existing schools; or adapting facilities like office blocks or municipal buildings for educational use.

This flexibility is especially important in London, where school sites are often extremely restricted in their options for expansion, and where land for new buildings is hard to come by and/or being pursued for much-needed new housing.

Image courtesy of David Brockie, LB Hounslow
Image courtesy of David Brockie, LB Hounslow

A final recurring theme was the importance of long-term planning. Despite the headlines, many schools are currently operating with a surplus of spaces, especially at secondary level. As Hounslow’s David Brockie outlined in striking charts of his borough’s intake projections, this surplus will be eroded in coming years and it is important that schools are prepared in advance and are able to maintain high standards of provision under greater pressure. At the same time, what to do with all this rapidly-created space after the boom?

School planning must be considered alongside broader spatial and financial planning for demographic change and should be included in existing frameworks such as neighbourhood plans, to avert future crises and ease the planning process.

The speakers were:

Podcast: Ty Goddard

Podcast: David Brockie

Podcast: Steve Loughe and Dr Sharon Wright


To view the animations in Sharon and Steve’s presentation, download the Powerpoint file (12Mb)

Ty Goddard’s presentation will be shortly forthcoming.

This event was kindly hosted by:

lewis silkin logo




Details of further events in our Breakfast Bites series can be found here.