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Using School Estates to Drive Levelling Up

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lara newman

Lara Newman

Chief Executive, LocatED

A Commissioner on Curia’s Levelling Up Commission, and Chief Executive of LocatED, an arms-length body of the Department for Education, Lara Newman has extensive experience across the education sector.

While the phrase ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is rather trite, it does have a truth to it which, I think, can help drive the levelling up agenda. At the centre of this, lies the role which educational estates can play.

Unlocking the potential of children and young adults not only requires good parenting but also the concerted resources of a community. If a child’s holistic wellbeing isn’t properly attended to, the negative externalities not only affect the child’s direct prospects but it creates a ripple effect in their wider family. Take my friend, as an example. Her daughter began suffering from anorexia during the pandemic and it took her 18 months to get the appropriate help, despite her deteriorating condition being seen by her school each day. A year and a half of lost opportunity for the daughter and the mother as they searched for solutions.

But what if she had been able to get immediate help? What if there were more joined up service provision centred around the school with suitable mental and physical wellbeing facilities.  My friend would not have lost the many days and weeks trying to find the necessary help. Her daughter would have been able to develop and live the life that a healthy teenage girl should.

Indeed, extend that out and consider the school estate being more widely utilised by the broader community. The benefits that could be unlocked really start to add up and make a significant economic impact in communities in deprived regions and underprivileged areas of our cities. I, myself, felt the benefits of positive social mobility when a kid, despite not being able to rely on family connections, I DID get wider opportunities at school and through community links, not just a decent education.

One bite at a time..

How do you eat a metaphorical elephant such as levelling up? The levelling up conundrum won’t be solved by a silver bullet – a multi-faceted approach is needed to address the complex mix of factors which have stifled opportunity for generations. If schools can be a locus for improved better healthcare, social care, child and adolescent mental health services, community sport and leisure facility facilities then we have a powerful weapon in our armoury to start tackling difficult issues that can hold back the disadvantaged.

While the pandemic took a toll on children’s development, the necessity it created to reimagine how schools are designed and deliver learning has presented an opportunity for schools to innovate. The standard playbook had to be thrown out the window and we can now rewrite it. LocatED partnered with The Bartlett UCL to consider the implications, creating the discussion paper Adapting School Design for Learning, Health and Wellbeing During and Post Pandemic.

The report noted that creating space in schools for mental health support has become of paramount importance and how schools provide this support should be prioritised as a measure of success. Furthermore, it identified the prospect of rethinking the structure of the school day – from flexi-time and hybrid learning to staggered start times – as a way of improving children’s well-being as well as that of parents.  The report also pointed out how schools have the potential to break down barriers within its community through better design. For instance, by co-located community facilities at the front of a school, the two integrate more seamlessly and harmoniously.

How we can put philosophy into practice

Until now, making schools multi-purpose, full-service community hubs has been difficult to achieve. Most schools don’t have the capacity or funds to easily manage multi-agency relationships. Co-ordinating multiple healthcare, social care and educational authorities in one location is a real challenge when those agencies are siloed and fragmented. Breaking down those silo walls is a crucial step in making this happen.

Schools can also do more to free up resources for this co-ordination. More efficient management of their estates can unleash hundreds of thousands of pounds. Disposal of costly, surplus buildings – with their associated security and running costs – frees up budget and generates capital.

Furthermore, better estate design has already proven its capacity place schools at the heart of communities. Fulham Boys School, a free school that LocatED helped develop, is a prime example of how building schools as mixed-use developments can make them more welcoming places to the entire community while maintaining the necessary safeguards for students.

Conclusion

School estates represent an immensely valuable national resource that have the potential to not only do more for children but also for the wider community in the left-behind areas of towns and cities across the country. We have seen that schools were capable of doing amazing ‘extra-curricular’ things during the pandemic but they need the support and co-operation to achieve their potential on a permanent basis. Across all parts of government – from Whitehall to arms-length bodies such as LocatED – it is incumbent on us to look beyond our siloes and make the levelling up agenda happen.

To find out more about the Levelling Up Commission, click here. If you want to get involved with the Commission, please get in touch with Shivani Sen at shivani.sen@chamberuk.com.

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