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Government shuts four-year-old school over ‘structural irregularities’

The Sir Federick Gibberd School in Harlow, Essex

Source:  Caledonian Modular/YouTube

A four-year-old modular secondary school named after architect Frederick Gibberd has closed after ‘structural irregularities’ were found in the building

Both the main school building and main sports hall at Sir Frederick Gibberd College (SFG) in Harlow, Essex, will not reopen to students in September, the BMAT Education Trust, which runs the school, said on Monday (21 August).

It comes after the Department for Education (DfE) told the school it was ‘no longer able to verify the structural safety of the building’. The college said the building had been subject to a DfE technical survey in April which ‘raised some queries’ about the £29 million structure.

The school was built in just a few weeks during September 2019 by volumetric offsite specialist Caledonian Modular. Companies House documents show the firm filed for bankruptcy last March with £20 million in debt.


Reasons for cited for it going bust were inflation, the Covid pandemic and the ‘a result of quality issues on legacy contracts, which required ongoing remediation’.

According to Construction Enquirer, two other schools part-built by the company have already been earmarked for demolition, both primary schools in Launceston and Newquay in south-west England.

While it remains unclear whether the three schools were affected by similar issues, the Modular and Portable Building Association (MPBA) told the AJ's sister title NCE that the problems found at the Harlow school were not representative of modular construction.

MPBA development director Richard Hipkiss said: ‘We don’t know any of the specifics except that it’s structurally unsafe – it could be to do with the construction method, it could be to do with the civils, it could be to do with how it was assembled.’

He added: ‘I don’t think this story is a reflection of the construction methodology, but potentially of the constructor.’


According to NCE, Caledonian Modular had not signed up to the MPBA despite being approached several times. Nonetheless, the DfE hired it to work on Sir Frederick Gibberd College as well as other educational buildings.

The DfE has been approached for comment.

In a statement, the school said: ‘BMAT Education was not involved in the commissioning, designing, construction, or quality assurance of these buildings and the DfE is taking full responsibility for resolving the situation. Even though this is a situation not of our making, we are very sorry about it.’

In May, the RIBA repeated warnings over the state of England’s school buildings following a DfE funding announcement of £459 million for upgrades to 859 academies, sixth-form colleges and voluntary aided schools.

RIBA president Simon Allford said this did not go far enough and was ‘a small proportion of the amount needed’ to fix England’s schools, many of which he claimed were in ‘serious disrepair’.

He also called on the government to release a report into which school buildings were at risk of collapse, as the AJ reported in February, having neared the end of their lifespans.

Construction firm JRL Group bought Caledonian Modular following its insolvency, saving 200 jobs. The company was contacted for comment by the AJ.

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