School buildings

Three schools built by failed contractor forced to close almost-new buildings

Sir Frederick Gibberd College, Haygrove School and Buckton Fields Primary School face disruption to the start of term

Sir Frederick Gibberd College, Haygrove School and Buckton Fields Primary School face disruption to the start of term

22 Aug 2023, 17:33

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DfE is to investigate failed building firm Caledonian Modular after the closure of three schools

Three schools built by the same failed construction company have been ordered to close almost-new buildings by the government due to safety fears, potentially delaying the start of term for their pupils.

Sir Frederick Gibberd College, a free school in Harlow, Essex, was told to close its main building and sports hall site with “immediate effect” on Sunday after Department for Education-commissioned technical reports found “various serious issues”.

Haygrove School, a converter academy in Bridgwater, Somerset, has now also announced it has been told to close its main building, following technical investigations “over the past few weeks”.

After publication, the Department for Education informed Schools Week that Buckton Fields Primary School in Northampton had also been advised not to reopen due to “structural irregularities”.

Contracts worth £38 million for the Sir Frederick Gibberd and Haygrove buildings were awarded to Caledonian Modular in 2019 under the DfE’s £3 billion “modern methods of construction” framework.

The department touted the framework as the “next step in the evolution of offsite construction of school buildings”.

Under its contract, Caledonian Modular – which went into administration in March 2022 – led design, planning and installation of the schools. 

Following its collapse, two schools it had been contracted to build in Cornwall were demolished before construction was completed.

A DfE spokesperson said surveys conducted at its request had “identified concerns with building work carried out by a specific contractor that is no longer in business”.

“The department is working closely with school leaders and the relevant local authorities to make sure pupils and parents are informed and appropriate temporary measures are put in place to accommodate pupils safely and protect their education.”

Caledonian Modular is known to have been involved in the construction of buildings at at least 15 state schools.

Schools Week asked the department if any other schools could be impacted, but it is yet to respond.

Closed buildings will likely delay pupils’ return

Closures at Sir Frederick Gibberd and Haygrove are likely to cause disruption to parents and pupils.

In a letter to parents, Helena Mills, the CEO of BMAT Education, which runs Sir Frederick Gibberd, said pupils would likely be able to return to school by September 18.

Although “interim arrangements” are being put in place to ensure remote and in-person teaching for pupils, it means a potential delay of nearly two weeks to the normal start of term. 

“BMAT Education was not involved in the commissioning, designing, construction, or quality assurance of these buildings and the DfE are taking full responsibility for resolving the situation,” Mills said.

In her letter, she said students would move into “temporary facilities” at the school, which was built in 2019, when they return. 

BMAT runs four of the seven secondary schools in Harlow. The trust would not comment on whether some pupils would be moved. 

Vic Goddard, principal at the neighbouring Passmores Academy, told Schools Week it had already received five applications from parents of year 7 pupils due to start at Sir Frederick Gibberd.

While his school is already at capacity for next term, Passmores has offered to lend facilities such as science labs to the school. 

Essex County Council, which is working with the DfE and school to put temporary arrangements in place, said all parents and carers would be updated “before the term starts”.

School ‘urgently’ seeking information from DfE

Haygrove also told parents the closure may cause a delay to the start of term. 

“The DfE has promised us that it will be providing high-quality temporary accommodation on the school site as soon as possible,” a letter sent on Friday stated.

“However, we do not yet know when this will be delivered and are seeking urgent clarification from the DfE.”

It said staff were “working swiftly” to make “any necessary adaptations” to its curriculum, support for students with SEND and transition arrangements for incoming year 7 students and GCSE results day.

The school added that the DfE had overall responsibility for the main building, which was completed in October 2020. 

The newly-built Newquay Primary Academy and Launceston Primary Schools in Cornwall were demolished in April and May this year, respectively.

At the time, the DfE was reported as saying: “The main contractor originally appointed by DfE unexpectedly went into administration in March 2022, leaving several construction issues that do not comply with the DfE’s strict construction standards.”

Quantock Education Trust, which runs Haygrove, said it would be able to confirm details once it had further information from the DfE.

Buckton Fields Primary School was contacted for comment.

Alvarez & Marsal, which was appointed as administrators for Caledonian Modular, and JRL Group, which purchased its fixed assets, were also contacted.

“We read the sad news about the four schools but these projects have no connection with the JRL Group,” the latter said in a statement.

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