An answer to the pupil place crisis?

With many schools suffering from overcrowded classrooms and a school place shortage, Craig Riley, director of Green Modular, considers whether modular buildings can play a part in tackling these challenges.

Schools across Britain are facing significant challenges. Threatened with buildings that are no longer fit for purpose, overcrowded classrooms and a school place crisis, the education sector needs sustainable and cost effective solutions to meet the needs of Britain’s school children. In this article we look at the key issues facing our schools and find out why modular classrooms are an essential investment for the future.

It’s well known that the school design and environment can have a huge impact on students’ learning. The University of Salford published a recent study showing that the classroom environment can affect both learning and academic progress by as much as 25 per cent. This report shows that by placing an average ability student in the least effective, rather than the most effective classroom environment could affect their academic progress by as much as the average improvement across a year. Poor temperature regulation, damp and lack of storage space are all common issues facing schools that can directly impact students’ learning.

Classrooms that are cramped and cluttered make it much harder for students to concentrate. Pupils that don’t have enough quiet, individual learning space can get distracted and lose focus, which affects their motivation to learn. On top of all this, the government’s school capital budget has been reduced by 60 per cent, leading to poorly designed buildings that are simply not suitable for the growing numbers of students.

Not fit for purpose
A study by the Royal Institute of British Architects shows that damp classrooms and school buildings full of asbestos results in pupils who are struggling to learn effectively and impacting on the health of both students and teachers. The NASUWT teaching union found that more than one third of teachers surveyed felt that their school building was not fit for teaching, with 40 per cent stating that their buildings were not good for pupils. This is a damning insight into the reality of school environments across the UK. Clearly poor school environments are seriously threatening the future of the education sector – children are underperforming and teachers are leaving their jobs.

Overcrowding in schools
Problems with the school’s design and environment is only part of the issue. Overcrowding in schools and a rapid increase in the need for school places is another critical problem facing Britain’s schools. Thanks to 16 years of constantly rising pupil numbers, recent figures suggest that an extra 750,000 school places will be needed by 2025. The surge in pupil numbers is due to many different factors, including the impact of the baby boom, increasing birth rate levels and immigration. While this is certainly an issue across the country, schools are facing particularly critical shortages of places across London, the South East and the large cities of Manchester and Birmingham.

But what does this mean in practice for Britain’s schools? In reality, this means overcrowded classrooms and doubling up of learning spaces that are simply not fit for purpose. It also means that children may not be offered their first choice of school, and parents could be faced with having children at different schools, which is not sustainable and could impact on attendance levels.

It’s clear that the education sector is faced with multiple challenges. Schools across the country need to use creativity and innovation to find cost-effective and sustainable solutions for extra learning space. A squeeze on budgets means that costly building extensions are no longer the go-to option for schools – so what is the answer?

A fast and flexible solution
Modular buildings are an increasingly popular solution for the challenges facing Britain’s schools. The flexible and bespoke design allows schools to be truly creative in adapting their learning space to suit the needs of their school environment. Due to their modular nature these buildings are cost-effective, quick to build and are designed to suit the exact needs of each school.

Schools across the country are using modular classrooms to meet a wide range of educational needs. They are ideal for additional learning space, music rooms, libraries, outdoor classrooms, meeting rooms or extra offices.

Modular buildings are both versatile and adaptable; many schools are using modular classrooms for dedicated music rooms, with doors that open up onto playground areas for extra performance space. Modular classrooms create such a bright, welcoming environment that they are very popular as meeting spaces for parents’ evenings or open events too.

Their design is generally very modern and contemporary, so modular buildings are seen as an attractive space to spend time in.

The level of flexibility that modular classrooms offer will transform the possibilities for dedicated learning in today’s schools. Considering the extra pressures on school places and overcrowded classrooms, having a flexible and welcoming space available is educational gold dust.

Strong business investment
Modular buildings are, first of all, a sound business investment for any school that needs additional space. They are built to last at least 50 years and these buildings are just as durable as any standard building made from bricks and mortar. Modular buildings undergo exactly the same testing of any good quality building project. Investing in a modular classroom is a lot more cost-effective than renting traditional mobile units, and the bespoke design means that schools can create the perfect space to suit their individual needs.

Add in reduced energy bills thanks to high quality insulation and modular classrooms are a strong business investment for any school.

Eco-friendly materials and design
One of the key benefits of modular buildings is their focus on the environment. Modular classrooms are built with eco‑friendly materials and lead the market for sustainable construction. Most of the construction materials are recycled and modular classrooms are very well insulated. This energy efficiency will save schools money on energy bills as well as being kind to the environment. LED lighting is generally used too to reduce energy consumption.

Schools that opt for modular classrooms are not only solving their space problems – they can also use modular buildings as an opportunity to inspire young minds about green values. Students can learn about the materials used in modular builds and see first-hand the difference their new classroom is making to the environment. Modular classrooms are an ideal complement to wider eco-learning; many schools have installed them next to eco-gardens and ponds so that students can see how every aspect of their learning is kind to the environment. The eco‑friendly design and green building materials mean that modular buildings can blend into the school’s natural environment; some can even be created with living green roofs. There aren’t many school buildings that can create so much potential for educating young minds about the importance of our environment.

Time efficient and quick to build
One of the most obvious benefits of modular classrooms is the speed of build. Forget months of disruption and moving pupils between classrooms while a traditional bricks and mortar extension is built; modular buildings can be constructed and ready for action within weeks. This means that school leaders can respond quickly to the surge in pupil numbers and make sure that their school is fit for purpose as numbers grow. There’s much less disruption with a modular build, so staff and children can carry on with daily school life as normal.

Enriching the curriculum
It’s widely accepted that arts-based subjects are critical in building children’s confidence and nurturing creative talent. For many children, music, art and drama is the highlight of their education. Pupils who may find traditional academic subjects more challenging can thrive in music, drama or art. But these subjects are under threat with widespread funding cuts and lack of available learning space.

Modular buildings can offer a dedicated space for music, art or drama – the modern design and natural light create a perfect space for creativity to thrive. The flexible design is ideal for both individual teaching rooms and open performance space. So building modular becomes more than just a solution for extra room – it’s about finding a way to enrich the curriculum and give every student the opportunities they deserve.

Modular classrooms are an essential investment for the future of the education sector. They can provide much-needed extra space to help schools cope with the rise in pupil numbers and give parents a far better chance to get their children into their first choice of school. The bespoke nature of modular buildings means that each school can create a dedicated learning environment that’s designed to fit the needs of both students and teachers. And their eco-friendly focus is a perfect opportunity to teach children about sustainability and the need to look after our environment. Perhaps most importantly of all, their speed of build means that school leaders can respond quickly to changing demands and create a learning environment that’s truly fit for purpose. Schools across Britain may be facing many challenges, but this flexible approach to build might just create the perfect sustainable solution.

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