Across the country, schools are being hard pressed to expand and increase their capacity in order to meet a rapidly growing demand for student places.
This was underlined by the Local Government Association, which forecast that this year around a third of councils are expected to have a shortage of almost 60,000 pupil places. This could rise to nearly half of all local authorities in England facing student shortages by September 2024, when more than 120,000 young people are at risk of not having a place unless new schools are built.
Blog by David Rowsell, Morgan Sindall Construction’s area director for the Northern Home Counties
Bucks boosts pupil places
This demand is reflected in the Kingsbrook View Primary Academy project, which was built to meet the needs of a town expansion in Aylesbury. To cater to the growing population, the academy – a free school run by the Inspiring Futures Partnership Trust – comprises of a new build, two-form entry primary school for 420 pupils and a 52-place nursery.
To safeguard the programme and ensure the school was completed for the start of the academic year, the project utilised an ‘off site’ approach. This saw bespoke Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) used which only required 12 weeks to install, significantly reducing the build programme. Thanks to this design choice, the school was ready for its new pupils sooner than would normally be possible and was successfully handed over on time last year.
Only half a mile away, Kingsbrook Secondary School is currently nearing completion. A new £35 million, sixth-form entry school, this will also provide a significant boost to Aylesbury’s educational infrastructure, as the 1,080-place facility will include both a sixth form and a 32-place Special Educational Needs Unit. When the project is completed in July this year it will provide 10,000 sq. ft. of entirely new teaching space across a two and three-storey building as well as a sports hall, pavilion, grass sports pitches, an all-weather pitch, and a multi-use-games-area.
Similar to Kingsbrook View Primary Academy, an off-site approach was also used at Kingsbrook Secondary School in order to safeguard the completion of the project and create efficiencies in the programme. Thanks to the use of a SIPs envelope wrap and prefabricated Mechanical Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) service modules, the construction programme was significantly reduced.
In addition to new-builds, some communities are expanding existing sites to cater to a growing need in their area. This was the case at Amersham School in Stanley Hill, which saw its capacity increased via a £5.8m development that created a double-storey extension featuring a new dining hall, reception area and eight classrooms while an existing science laboratory was also extended to provide an additional teaching room.
Being a live, occupied site, this project faced other pressures that required innovative solutions – most noticeably minimising disruption to the students and thinking creatively about how to use the space to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the lockdowns and COVID-19 related disruption, which meant that the school had to adapt its term dates, the build was completed offsite through multiple stages in order to avoid the work interrupting the school’s operations.
In addition, the science block was required earlier than the rest of the project. To account for this, the construction work was brought forward so that the block could be handed over to the school in January 2021, only six months after the contract was awarded. This meant that this part of the expansion was finished in phase one to ensure that it was complete before the start of the academic year, ahead of programme.
The number of primary school places in the county has been grown by 540 through just the Kingsbrook View Primary Academy and Amersham School projects. Thanks to the creative and collaborative nature of our team’s delivery, we’ve been able to make sure that the new teaching spaces were available at times to suit the schools, which has been especially vital over the past 24 months to help alleviate the combined impact of school capacity squeezes and COVID-19 pressures.
This ethos of thinking outside of the box and utilising the latest ideas and techniques to deliver fit-for-purpose buildings when and where they’re required is encompassed by the Intelligent Solutions approach that has been developed here at Morgan Sindall Construction.
Meeting community-level needs
All of these projects were procured under the Southern Construction Framework (SCF), a quality-managed collaborative construction framework for public bodies to procure major building works using a two stage open book process to deliver best value.
As outlined above, we often had to react to changing demands due to both the pandemic and the urgent need the schools had to ensure places were available at certain times. The collaborative working style of the SCF process was a particular advantage here, as it enabled early engagement with all parties, ensuring that we could discuss the demands, challenges and possibilities in-depth. The co-operative nature of our relationship with SCF, the schools and the council, also facilitated creative decision-making and effective troubleshooting when required.
Our commitment to empowering the communities in which we operate as much as possible is exemplified by the fact that at Kingsbrook Secondary School we added a Knowledge Quad to the site - which was a first in the south-east and for the SCF. This facility has been used to train and upskill local people to create the next generation of construction industry professionals.
Moving forward, the challenge posed by a growing pupil population is unlikely to disappear. Thankfully innovative approaches to school building are available that can support our communities and local school networks to ensure that they are able to educate a larger student body to the same high standard.
For more information on this blog, please contact Alice Hickling, communications & marketing manager for Morgan Sindall Construction here.