With many schools opening their doors to students this week, Education Expert, Karl Brown discusses Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge of £1 billion to fund 50 major school building projects in England and a further £560 million to repair aging school buildings.

On the face of it, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge of £1 billion to fund 50 major school building projects in England and a further £560 million to repair school buildings is welcome news. There is no denying that many of our school buildings are ageing, dilapidated, and in need of repairs. Add to this, we desperately need more school spaces to accommodate growing pupil numbers up and down the country.

However, it may surprise some to find out that not much of Boris’s New Deal is actually new. In fact, this “new” funding forms part of a £14 billion funding boost for schools that was announced last year. On top of this, an analysis recently carried out by the House of Commons library shows that about 50% of this budget will be used for teacher pay rises. This suggests that the promise of extra cash isn’t quite what it appears.

Much of the existing school estate is over 40 years old and 60% was built before 1976. In 2017, the National Audit Office (NAO) announced it would cost £6.7 billion to bring the country’s schools to a ‘satisfactory’ level, with a further £7.1 billion needed to restore them to ‘good’ condition. This clearly shows that the £14 billion in and of itself is enough for the sole purpose of bringing our current stock up to acceptable standards. What we need now is a commitment from the Government to make additional funds available for that purpose – and that purpose alone.

Of course, the focus needs to continue to be on creating new low energy school buildings and decarbonisation of the grid will help us meet our 2050 zero-carbon targets. But, in addition, what would help is for more attention to be paid to retrofitting existing school buildings, which can help significantly reduce energy needs and avoid the emissions that come with new construction. With our industry responsible for 39% of global carbon emissions, collectively achieving more of a balance is imperative.

“Retrofit first” has been a key focus for HLM as we aim for all our projects to meet the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes by 2025. This strategy includes:

  • Prioritising deep retrofit of existing buildings
  • Prioritising ‘Fabric First’ principles for building form and envelope
  • Fine tuning internal environment with efficient mechanical systems
  • Providing responsive local controls
  • Offsetting remaining carbon through recognised schemes (just relying on decarbonisation of the grid as a panacea isn’t enough)

We are working hard to help our clients better understand the existing condition, utilisation and potential of their buildings and estates. With our in-house sustainability team, we can advise on key areas, including:

  • Post Occupancy Evaluation, utilising our Digital Toolkit
  • Building fabric
  • Existing heating systems
  • Daylight levels
  • Renewable energy

Through our expertise on existing performance, we can advise on the necessary improvements and associated capital costs, payback periods, potential energy savings, and whole-life carbon emissions. We can then create a business case as part of a sustainable estate strategy with a prioritised list of improvements to be taken forward and identify any potential disposal strategy.

Where new school buildings are then deemed necessary, both as a replacement for existing buildings and to create new school spaces, we must continue to embrace the move towards zero-carbon buildings utilising Modern Methods of Construction as well as achieving the standards set out in the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes.

The funding announcement is a start, but the Government still needs to do much more to support teachers and children in achieving their potential.

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