The school-age population boom

More than 2,000 new schools must be built within the next four years to accommodate the rising number of pupils in England, according to Scape Group’s ‘School Places Challenge’ report.

A report from Scape Group, which advises local authorities on new buildings, reveals that local authorities are expecting an additional 729,000 pupils in education by 2020 – a rise of 8.6 per cent in primary school pupils and 12 per cent in secondary school pupils in England. To tackle this increase, over 24,000 extra classrooms are required by 2020, or over 2,000 extra schools.

London, the South East and East of England are experiencing the highest growth with more than 375,000 additional primary and secondary pupils expected to be added to the registers in four years’ time.

Of the total 2,122 new schools needed, London requires 507 new schools. The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham will see the biggest increase in pupil numbers, requiring a total of 28 new schools, followed by Lambeth, Newham and Greenwich, which need 21, 37 and 25 new schools built, respectively.

Outside of London, the Northern Powerhouse city of Manchester will see numbers rise to almost 19,000 extra primary and secondary pupils by 2020 – a 27 per cent increase that will require the equivalent of 57 new schools. Rapid growth in the cities of Bristol, Peterborough, Milton Keynes, Leicester and Nottingham will also mean that new schools will become highly sought-after should the necessary amount not be built in time.  

Shortages in Birmingham
Birmingham is the second largest city in the country by population, with 1.1 million residents. The city is set to see a 13 per cent increase in its primary and secondary population, with 22,957 extra pupils by 2020, the largest numerical increase in the country.

The number of extra pupils is higher than the increases for the entire North East of England (21,124 pupils).

Birmingham City Council so far only has plans to deliver 878 additional places, which, when combined with the current number of spare places, would leave a capacity shortfall of 4,922 school places by 2020.

The Council must therefore build around 15 new schools by 2020. The shortfall will mean that one in five pupils will not get a place unless more schools are built.

Birmingham currently has significant capacity within its existing schools, with enough places for 18,035 primary and secondary pupils. In practice it is not possible for a local authority to fill 100 per cent of its places (there must always be spare capacity) and spare places alone will not be enough to fully deal with the growing numbers.

The pressure to build
Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive, comments: “As the growth of the primary school population gathers pace, the pressure on school places will soon transfer to the secondary population, requiring a new wave of advanced school building. The government’s preference for free schools has created uncertainty for local authorities, who are tasked with planning and building new schools, but will not be responsible for running them. Proposals for new grammar schools has further muddied the waters.”

Citing the post-Brexit economy as another reason why the future is uncertain for school buildings, Mark Robinson adds: “The construction of new schools must be a top priority for government and local authorities must be given the tools and funding necessary to deliver extra places in time. Creative solutions including standardised design, classroom extensions and larger ‘super-schools’, as well as more effective use of land to deliver mixed‑use developments, are all options we need to look at to deliver more new schools.”

Case study: Cotton End Lower School
Cotton End Lower School in Bedford was relying on 20-year old mobile Portakabin-style units and needed new modern classroom space urgently. Due to accelerated local housing developments and the school’s popularity, Cotton End’s intake had increased from around 40 to over 100 pupils and, being well past their expected lifespan, the existing mobile classrooms were not fit to accommodate such rapid growth.

As a result, Bedford Borough Council decided that three new classrooms and one new nursery unit needed to be built and chose the Connect by Lungfish method, procured through the Scape National Minor Works framework, delivered by Kier.

The dilapidated mobile units, which displayed all the associated problems commonly seen in such temporary structures, were replaced with light and airy classrooms. Floor to ceiling windows bring the outdoors in – a principal feature in Lungfish’s designs. Where the old classrooms were cold and damp in winter, the underfloor heating in the new buildings means that carpet time for reading stories is a favourite part of the school day now – the children can wear slippers or even walk around in their socks. The new building has plenty of storage and display space and ICT provision is greatly improved. The new walls are strong enough to support touch screen displays, which had not been the case in the mobile classrooms, benefiting the children with the latest technology and teaching methods. The teachers themselves also greatly value the ability to utilise current teaching practices by being able to keep on top of technological advances in a live teaching environment.

The foyer for each classroom is spacious, providing plenty of room to hang coats and PE bags and allowing room for break-out teaching where one-to-one support is required. Previously such support was very obvious and took place in inappropriate locations such as the headteacher’s office or staffroom.

With easy access to outdoors and level access from each classroom, there is no need for ramps, and people with disabilities or mobility difficulties are able to move around with as much ease as possible.

Above all, the children take real pride in their new classrooms, which is evident in their positive approaches to lessons.

The final phase of the project was handed over in October 2014 with all three classrooms and the nursery setting having been in full use ever since. In fact, the pre-school facility is heavily over-subscribed with more than double the number of applicants for the 15 places available in 2015/16.

Case study: Kempston Rural Primary
Kempston Rural Primary School in Bedfordshire was in need of an expansion to serve both the existing community and also the families that had moved into a new housing development in the local area. The increase in demand for places at the school meant there was an urgent requirement for more capacity and the current school wasn’t in a location to be modified successfully.

Bedford Borough Council decided to construct a Sunesis Keynes² 2FEN school on a site around a mile from the existing Victorian school. This work had a guaranteed timescale and budget that provided peace of mind to the teachers, parents and pupils alike. The new school can accommodate 420 pupils and also has a 30 full-time place nursery facility.

As a result, the new school building has excellent acoustics, promoting enhanced concentration from children in lessons.

New adaptable communal areas, called ‘learning streets’, mean pupils are encouraged to develop independent learning styles by moving between the classrooms and the learning street, all within a safe and secure environment. The space within the learning street has enabled the school to hold events such as the Christmas Fair.

High ceilings in the learning street, large windows and rooflights, and the bi-folding doors at each end give a feeling of volume and space with terrific light levels.

The dedicated cooking area has enabled staff to raise the profile of this topic and cookery’s emphasis in the curriculum has been vastly improved.

The school hall is able to accommodate a recent introduction of free school meals for all Key Stage children. Many schools have struggled to cope with this initiative as they lack the space to sit half of the school down at the same time.

Parental involvement and participation has increased, and this is a significant development as evidence shows parental and family involvement in a child’s education brings many positive benefits to the child. A recent session whereby parents came in to school to support the children in a maths lesson then developed into a session for parents where they were shown how modern maths is now taught.

Thoughts from the industry
Meeting rising school place demand in the face of increasing pressure on capital budgets is one of the biggest challenges over the next decade, believes Andrew Alsbury, Willmott Dixon’s education director. He said: “The challenge needs a joined-up approach between public and private sectors, local and central government, to bridge the gap. That includes a pragmatic approach to new ideas like component-led designs, off-site construction and strategic procurement arrangements, which can quickly and affordably create new places at scale while avoiding duplicated costs.

“The availability of land is also a growing challenge. To meet this we will also need flexibility in how local authorities leverage their land assets and local developments to create new places.”

Further information