Nov 23, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Funding capital projects

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Lyndsay Smith, Director of education and frameworks at Morgan Sindall talks to PSBJ about the pressure and demand for more school places, and reveals how standardisation could hold the answer.


The shortage of pupil places is often presented as a ticking time bomb. As a metaphor, ‘explosion’ certainly has merit. Everyone in education knows the problem of demand exceeding supply goes well beyond the anxieties of parents whose children start at primary school this autumn. Most local authorities are facing the vexing challenge of trying to figure out how to fund capital projects.

At the start of the current school year the Local Government Association reported that 130,000 extra primary places will be needed by 2017 – the equivalent of 500 new schools. It says council budgets are plugging a national black hole of at least £1bn in school places funding.

Areas under the most pressure include Bristol and Manchester, as well as parts of London such as Croydon, Harrow, Waltham Forest and Newham.

As a contractor at the sharp end of building the UK’s schools’ estate Morgan Sindall has done its share of wrestling with the problem. Aside from funding, the main challenge is delivering new schools without reducing the design quality. Tight budgets cannot be allowed to negatively impact on educational outcomes.

The James Review of 2011 talked of massive inefficiencies in schools procurement. It led the private sector down a path towards standardised designs and offsite modularisation. However, it soon became clear that there was still a lot of wastage in the procurement process, as well as continued inefficiencies in terms of the time and costs associated with delivering school buildings.

Morgan Sindall has worked with educationalists, leading designers and services engineers to come up with a new approach. Our response has been to develop a range of solutions based around the standardisation of components and classroom layouts.

This investment has produced a new range of primary and secondary solutions that not only fully comply with the EFA Baseline Designs but which reduce design time by 50% and show cost savings of up to 60%. As part of Morgan Sindall Group we also understand that cost benefits can be gained though delivering batches of schools at the same time. Our sister company, Morgan Sindall Investments Limited, which employs a team of professionals skilled in property and development, can work with local authorities to unlock valuable assets, thus leveraging best value from the overall estate.

In our view this is not the age of austerity – it’s the age of reality in the delivery of the school estate. We believe that public educators and private providers must work collaboratively to solve the problem, and our approach is designed to facilitate positive education outcomes.

It’s worth remembering that each era has produced its share of studies about the school environment. Even the Victorians, where children were to be seen and not heard, debated issues like classroom ventilation, heating and air quality.

Schools are always influenced by political, social and economic movements, and new technologies. Some trends come and go but it’s clear that in recent years the whole issue has been elevated. There’s now more focus than ever before on the question of how buildings respond to all our children’s needs.

Morgan Sindall shares the view that classroom design can have a positive impact on attainment. We start from the perspective that educational outcomes are the key driver to design, not the iconicity of the building. This belief was recently backed up by a year-long study carried out by The University of Salford and architects, Nightingale Associates. It found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25% – an immense difference.

Further buy-in was demonstrated by the Education Funding Agency when it produced its Baseline Designs after the demise of the Building Schools for the Future programme. There’s a strong focus on environmental conditions.

The impact of this new environmental emphasis on energy efficiency is an important consideration. As a contractor at the sharp end of delivering the next generation of school buildings, Morgan Sindall starts from the perspective that it’s possible to have both sustainable design and improved learning outcomes. They are not mutually exclusive.

We have invested heavily in establishing good design principles that strike a balance between providing the right environment and energy efficiency. These have benefited from best practice in the delivery of over 32,000 pupil places in the last four years.

Our approach to both primary and secondary schools has seen use of innovations such as breathing buildings, which have provided energy savings of up to 43%. We achieved this through key measures such as:

  • Thermal efficiency – minimal external wall area to reduce heat loss
  • Windows positioned to enhance daylight and finishes which provide reflected light
  • Spaces modelled for sound reverberation and absorption, improving classroom acoustics

This thinking will certainly be factored into the five secondary and seven primary schools which Morgan Sindall is delivering in the North West for the Education Funding Agency’s Priority School Building Programme. The entire project has a capital value of between £80m and £120m, with schools due to be handed over by September 2017. Our team will deliver places for 8150 pupils at schools located in Blacon, Wigan, Neston, Prenton, Blackpool, Birkenhead, Halton, Stockport and Manchester.

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