With topics concerning education rarely out of the news of late, this year’s Education Estates conference couldn’t have been better timed.
As well as the opportunity to catch up with people ‘in real life’ rather than on screen and attend some really interesting sessions, it was also good to be able to take a temperature check of how those in the sector are really feeling about what lies ahead.
Here are my key takeaways from across the two days:
Sustainability – pathways needed
It was great to see the ‘will’ to deliver on sustainability turning into action with some great examples of projects that are delivering on net zero and low embodied carbon. But what also came through was a level of confusion and frustration about how to navigate the mass of sustainability standards, accreditation schemes, and benchmarks – particularly as some can provide conflicting objectives.
There is hope on the horizon here, with Part Z of the Building Regulations working its way to a conclusion, this could provide some much-needed standardisation and common ground around tackling embodied carbon and showing what good looks like in terms of whole life carbon.
Sustainability – more innovation
Staying with sustainability, it was interesting to hear net zero case studies and the practical challenges involved. Both the new build and refurbishment examples presented, needed ‘000’s of m² of PV to offset the operational carbon of the buildings – in one case a space larger than a football pitch was needed to accommodate the solar panels required. Putting aside the challenges of plugging this scale of installation into the grid, this is clearly not a practical solution for many projects from a space perspective alone. This illustrates the need for further investment and translational research to move low carbon materials and technologies more quickly and efficiently into practical use to reduce reliance on renewable energy generation to offset carbon.
Estate strategy – holistic is the way forward
It was good to hear Exeter University and Greenwich University talking about the benefits they have achieved through applying a pragmatic holistic approach to estate strategy. A subject close to my heart. And how through applying a holistic lens they were able to address issues from optimising utilisation to decarbonisation, to working with heritage buildings. This is a strategy we absolutely advocate, looking at an estate in a wider context will help solve decarbonisation challenges, prioritise investment and create a future fit estate that is sustainable both financially as well as from a carbon perspective. Read more about how we can help here.
Schools – focus on SEND
A theme in several sessions that was very encouraging to see was a focus on SEND school construction and refurbishment. Showcasing what we can do in the built environment industry to ensure we emulate best practice in this really important area. With a critical shortage of SEN places, and a rising requirement for ASC, SEMH and PMLD provision, we enjoyed sessions on innovative design in the sector. It was particularly interesting to hear about the work locatED are doing with mixed-use developments comprising new Free Schools, NHS services (including mental health) and residential, maximising public benefit from land transactions.
RAAC – funding
And finally, the Department for Education answered the question that was top of mind for many about how any remediation needed due to the discovery of RAAC would be funded. It was reassuring to hear that it will be treated separately to the Condition Improvement Fund or SCA funding. But with constrained government budgets the devil, as we all know, will be in the detail, and it will interesting to see if this is genuinely new money. We look forward to hearing more about this shortly. In the meantime, our team has provided guidance and tips on how to successfully make a CIF bid, read more here.