Investing in Education for the Next Generation

In February 2017, the National Audit Office – a body that scrutinises public spending for Parliament – found that a large number of school buildings in England required substantial repairs. It is estimated that it will cost £6.7bn to return all school buildings across the country to a ‘satisfactory or better’ condition, and a further £7.1bn to bring parts of school buildings up to a ‘good’ condition.

These estimates are rooted in a Department of Education property data survey, completed in 2014 – four years after the launch of the £4.4 billion Priority School Building Programme (PSBP). This Programme is set to run until 2021 with the aim of rebuilding or refurbishing a total of 537 primary, secondary and special education needs schools across England.

Now in the second phase – £2.4 billion of the orginal budget has been allocated to PSBP2 to rebuild and refurbish individual blocks at 277 schools. The scale of the task is vast and requires a serious asset management programme to deliver the required short and long term benefits. Only through using innovative construction solutions can the Priority School Building Programme be delivered.

Keith Waller, Senior Advisor at the Infrastructure & Projects Authority understands the challenge:

“Infrastructure is not only about new projects – ninety five percent of the assets we are going to need in 20 years’ time are here already. We need to keep that focus on the performance of the current asset base as well as how we deliver new assets more effectively.”

Offsite construction has been making the news recently after Head of Construction at the Cabinet Office, David Hancock, put forward the building method as a way to solve some of the issues afflicting the construction industry.

The second phase of the Priority School Building Programme presents a major opportunity for offsite construction to play a crucial role to help meet the challenging targets. One of the most frequently cited benefits of offsite construction is the speed of delivery that it offers, with the time required to construct and commission an offsite building being typically reduced by 50 – 60% in cases where large elements can be prefabricated.

The Priority School Building Programme relies heavily on standardisation to reduce costs. So, will the use of offsite manufactured classrooms and other education facilities increase?

Richard Crosby, Director of Education at management consultant Blacc and an independent consultant to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) – believes it will, saying:

“I see modular construction playing an even greater role in PSBP2, this phase represents one of the biggest opportunities for modular construction in the market. The ESFA understands the need to design and procure for offsite construction and they are working on a component solution of standard blocks that can be assembled to create bespoke schools without compromising on quality of design or specification. The ESFA’s modular schools will look and feel like traditional build schools in a fraction of the time onsite.”

Richard Crosby also maintains that the volumetric modular systems that have made such recent and significant inroads in low-cost housing construction will also be more apparent with PSBP2, summarising:

“The fact that schools are much bigger and more complex buildings than houses has been a challenge but this type of construction makes sense as it minimises disruption to live learning environments and offers reduced construction periods. The results of how the ESFA has responded to this challenge will be seen in the forthcoming procurements under a range of frameworks and roll-out programmes.”

Learn more about offsite construction and the opportunities in the education sector from the key speakers – both Richard Crosby and Keith Waller will be presenting at the Explore Offsite Education conference, taking place on 11 July 2017 at Westminster, London. Joining them on the speaker platform will be Rachel Stephenson, Programme Director Education & Skills Funding Agency; Bryan Evans, PSBP2 Project Director and a host of experts from the offsite sector.

This integrated conference and exhibition event creates a platform for construction clients, architects, engineers and contractors to come together and discuss the latest offsite solutions in the education sector. For the full speaker line up or to book your place visit: http://www.exploreoffsite.co.uk/2017-events/explore-offsite-education