DfE to investigate contractor after three schools close new buildings

Pupils will start the new academic year in temporary classrooms and at different schools amid safety fears

Pupils will start the new academic year in temporary classrooms and at different schools amid safety fears

24 Aug 2023, 12:59

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

The government will investigate a failed construction company after three schools were forced to close almost-new buildings over safety concerns.

Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Essex, Haygrove School in Somerset and Buckton Fields Primary School in Northampton have all been advised by government not to reopen buildings in September due to “structural irregularities”.

In a statement this morning, the Department for Education said is was “in the process” of launching an investigation into Caledonian Modular, the firm it contracted to complete the sites.

The company, which went into administration in 2022, was awarded contracts worth around £44.5 million for the projects at the three schools.

It was separately awarded government contracts totalling £7.8 million for two schools in Cornwall which were demolished before construction was completed.

It is not yet known whether any of the cash was recovered by the department, which is also yet to specify the scope of its investigation.

Company has been involved in work at 22 schools

The DfE also said it was “reviewing” contracts to identify other projects where the firm “may have been involved” and had alerted other government departments to this issue.

Caledonian Modular, which also held government contracts for prison and hospital buildings, is understood to have been involved in planned or completed work at at least 22 state schools.

The DfE said assessments of the buildings at the three recently-closed schools had identified issues related to the “structural integrity of the buildings”.

These issues weakened their ability to “withstand adverse events such as very high winds or significant snowfall”.

It added that there were “numerous problems” associated with “poor workmanship” which would also impact the lifespan of the buildings.

“Of most concern has been the structural and fire safety of the buildings which we have investigated further,” a statement said.

“As the buildings were not built in accordance with their design, we could not provide assurance that they were safe to occupy.”

Pupils to be taught in temporary buildings

Sir Frederick Gibberd College was told to close its main building and sports hall with “immediate effect” on Sunday after DfE-commissioned technical reports uncovered the “various serious issues”.

In a letter to parents yesterday, it confirmed that incoming year 7 pupils would start term on September 6 from Mark Hall Academy, also in Harlow.

Both schools are part of the BMAT Education multi-academy trust.

Pupils in years 8 to 11 will start term on September 11 in temporary classrooms. GCSE students will be taken by coach to neighbouring secondary schools for specialist science and design and technology lessons.

“The plan is to consolidate the full school community on-site in temporary accommodation buildings, from mid-November,” the school added.

The DfE insisted face-to-face learning would be in place for all pupils affected by the closures “from the beginning of September”.

Preston Hedges Trust, which runs Buckton Fields, has said it will move pupils to Pineham Barns School – which it also operates – until October half-term.

Paul Watson, its chief executive, said a temporary building would be set up by October.

Haygrove, which was forced to close its main building, is also putting temporary classrooms in place.

“We are unfortunately still awaiting further information and reports from the Department for Education which would enable us to finalise contingency arrangements,” headteacher Aaron Reid said in a statement yesterday evening.

“As soon as we have the information we need to confirm if the start of term will be delayed…we will absolutely share that with our families and colleagues.”

DfE became concerned about the firm after identifying “a number of defects” at the newly-built Newquay Primary Academy and Launceston Primary Schools in Cornwall, which were demolished earlier this year.

It then identified “post-completion defects” at the other three schools before commissioning “in-depth” surveys.

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