Modular Buildings: The Answer For Dilapidated UK Schools?

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A significant proportion of the UK’s school buildings are in a poor condition, and despite some investment the situation looks set to get worse. According to a new report by Building Design, government spending on education is lower than at any point for the last 17 years, even taking into account emergency funding for schools affected by the Racc crisis.

Temporary school buildings have been used to ease the problem in many cases across England. The use of premium modular buildings for school classrooms and other educational facilities has many advantages. They can be rapidly constructed off-site and installed in a much quicker timeframe than traditional buildings.

The controlled factory environment also helps to manage cost effectively and helps building projects stay within budget. Depending on the size and scale of the installation, modular buildings are often a less expensive and less disruptive solution.

When adjusted for inflation, capital spending on education was £3.5bn last year, which is half the level of 2010 when the Building Schools for the Future programme was implemented by the Labour government. It is estimated that 38 per cent of school buildings are operating beyond their lifespan, with one in six built before 1940.

Furthermore, some 700,000 pupils are learning in classrooms that are so dilapidated that it is affecting their education. BBC News reports that the government has allocated some funding for repairs under the Schools Rebuilding Programme (SRP), which aims to refurbish 500 schools in England over the next ten years.

However, England has 21,000 schools with 64,000 buildings, and well over a third of these are in some degree of disrepair, so the SRP will not make a major impact. According to BBC News, it has now come to light that the ‘extra’ funding for schools affected by Raac has been allocated from the existing SRP funds.

This move has been criticised by unions, and it has meant that almost all of the remaining places on the SRP have been allocated to Racc affected schools, cutting off schools with non-Raac issues.

National Education Union general secretary Daniel Kebede said the government had “shunted Raac into an existing programme that was already inundated with applications”, to “cut corners”.

He added: “The fact that schools are having to compete with each other in terms of which is the most dilapidated or dangerous is simply unacceptable. And for schools with no light at the end of the tunnel, it is simply disgraceful. Over the past two terms, we’ve done the best to try and stabilise things and make it normal for students. In no way is this normal.”

Joseph Leckie Academy, in Walsall, was rejected for funding because it doesn’t have Raac, despite having leaking roofs and multiple other serious issues.  Head teacher James Ludlow told BBC News:

“This school’s got everything else wrong with it – but it doesn’t have problems with Raac. It feels really like we’re stuck in a position where there is no avenue for us to secure the funding that we need. The School Rebuilding Programme was one of the last opportunities for us and we feel like that opportunity is now gone.”

One of the major problems that schools who have been granted refurbishment funding are facing is the steep levels of inflation in the construction industry. Building Design reports that in some cases, schools have spent six months on the design and planning phase, only to have to cancel the project when faced with a fixed budget and spiralling costs.

Modular classrooms are much less subject to budget increases due to the construction methods and faster timescales of delivery. They also undergo strict quality control measures to ensure that they are durable, safe, and fit for purpose. Many portable classrooms remain in good condition for many decades and require less maintenance than traditional buildings.

Modular buildings also offer greater flexibility than traditional buildings, because they can be upscaled with extra storeys or adjacent buildings, downsized, or moved to different locations with minimal disruption to the everyday life of the school.

Furthermore, modular buildings are not just limited to basic design features. They are constructed from modern materials that are strong, lightweight and have good insulation properties. This makes them energy efficient and easy to heat. Further measures can be included such as solar panels, double or triple glazing, and reinforced steel doors.

The buildings can be customised to a variety of different purposes and be integrated with technology, hygiene and catering facilities.

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