The challenges in planning for education need

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The challenges in planning for education need

The challenges in planning for education need

Jennifer Woods 07 Jun 2017
The Scape Group report[1] (discussed in Zahra Waters' Blog back in November 2016) “The School Places Challenge” opens by stating that the “school age population, who rely on state schools will grow by almost 10% by 2020, increasing by 729,000, and the country’s schools will have to accommodate an increase that equates to the entire population of Leeds”. That is a pretty daunting task to plan for.
One way the last administration set about tackling this challenge was by setting up ‘LocatEd’. LocatEd is responsible for buying and developing sites to help meet the Government’s commitment to new build schools.
Lichfields recently attended an event at New London Architecture (“Meeting London’s School Needs”) where LocatED identified that the Government had committed £7 billion for school places, along with 500 new free schools by 2020, with the then Government expecting to deliver 600,000 new school places by 2021. The new company has a £2billion budget to acquire land across the country, making it one of the largest purchasers of land in the UK. This was a clear Government pledge to meet the required need. However, even if LocatED were to achieve these targets, there would still be a shortfall in school places.
The situation post-election is now potentially even more challenging, as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently reported that schools are facing the most significant financial pressure since the mid 1990s, having to find £3billion savings by 2020[2].
Before the election, the Department of Education (DofE) suggested one way of doing this would be by using staff more efficiently, which could result in savings of around £1.7 billion. Given previous staff efficiency targets set for the NHS however, there is a risk that these targets are over-ambitious and essentially could be counterproductive (as stated in the PAC report, “Financial Sustainability of Schools[3]”). Also, whilst DofE state education funding was at its highest at more than £40bn in 2016-2017, in reality part of this funding is as a result of rising pupil numbers (set to rise from 7.2 million in 2015–16 to 7.7 million in 2019–20).
And if this added financial pressure were not enough, the need to build more homes puts further demand on existing schools, making the requirement for more even more pertinent. In one recent case, the governors of a primary school in Portishead urged the Town Council to object to any future residential planning applications for development within its area, on the basis that there were not enough school places to accommodate what it considered to be another influx of students[4]. Undoubtedly a more positive approach is needed to actively assist local authorities with planning for new schools. 
The planning process can be difficult when it comes to new schools, with transport impact assessments, the consideration of site suitability and effective public consultation all necessary to de-risk the process, and all needing to be balanced along with a host of other planning considerations.   At Lichfields we are very experienced in dealing with the hurdles that are present in seeking to secure planning permissions for a range of education facilities.

It’s clear that the last administration was putting resources into LocatEd and it will be interesting to see after the election if/ how it progresses in actively finding and buying sites. The current state of flux brought on by the general election has further muddied the waters, with various contradicting policies on education being a key component for the main parties’ manifestos (read Enya MacLiam Roberts’ Blog for more details).

For details of the extensive work we have been involved in, please visit our education sector page.