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HLM walked off school projects being built by unsafe contractor

Sir Frederick Gibberd College. Credit: Google Streetview

HLM Architects walked away from work on two schools that have since been closed due to structural issues, after becoming concerned about the main contractor’s approach to technical delivery

Three schools built by offsite specialist Caledonian Modular will remain shut this week following concerns about their structural and fire safety.

All work carried out by the contractor, which went into administration in March 2022, is now under investigation by the Department for Education (DfE), with other government departments also alerted to the issue.

Caledonian was the DfE’s 11th largest supplier in 2021/22, according to the AJ’s sister title Construction News. It was paid £18 million in the year.


HLM designed two of the schools that have been closed: Haygrove School in Bridgwater, Somerset, and Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow, Essex, which were completed two and three years ago respectively.

HLM head of design Philip Watson told the AJ: ‘As these projects progressed, we began to have a number of concerns with Caledonian’s approach to the technical delivery of the design to meet the DfE’s high-quality output specification.

‘Unable to resolve our differences, we parted company with Caledonian and the projects were delivered by others.’

He added: ‘It’s a great shame that these schools have not been realised in the way that the DfE intended, and we hope the impact on staff, pupils and the communities in which these schools sit, can be minimised.’

Watson added that he hoped the closures did not ‘tarnish’ the whole modern methods of construction (MMC) framework or ‘indeed the MMC sector’.


A DfE spokesperson said the schools had to be closed because of structural defects relating to ‘poor workmanship’ relating to both structural and fire safety.

They added that the buildings were not delivered in accordance with their designs. Technical advisers are now drawing up plans to either repair or replace the facilities.

Buckton Fields Primary School in Northampton is the third school to have been closed as a result of safety issues.

Two other part-built Caledonian Modular schools in Cornwall – the Launceston Primary School and Newquay Primary Academy – had to be demolished part-way through their construction earlier this year.

Stride Treglown was the architect on Buckton and the two part-built schools.

The practice’s regional director and head of schools and colleges Danny Harris said: ‘Our involvement centred around the architectural and design aspects of the projects rather than factory or site inspections.

‘We’re deeply concerned that the schemes weren’t constructed as designed and we will work with the DfE towards a positive resolution if invited to do so.’

The DfE spokesperson said its top priority was the safety of pupils and teachers, which was why regular assessments of its estate were carried out.

‘Following surveys conducted at our request, we have identified concerns with building work carried out by a specific contractor that is no longer in business,’ they said.

‘We are working closely with school leaders on temporary measures to safely accommodate pupils and minimise the disruption to their learning.’

Caledonian Modular’s assets were bought out by JRL Group while it was in administration. However, historic liabilities are not usually transferred in such acquisitions.

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