Interim solutions

Robert Snook looks at how modular buildings can help schools address the shortage of school places

Demographic changes caused by an increase in birth rates have led to a serious shortfall in primary school places across the UK. The provision of interim teaching accommodation using modular construction is one solution that more local authorities, schools and academies are turning to. The approach allows schools to react quickly to an increase in demand for school places, which can be very difficult to predict, particularly at reception level. The accommodation can be configured and fitted out to a school’s requirements, the building can remain in use for as long as it is needed and the floor area can be increased or reduced in line with changing local needs.

It is important to note, however, that the quality of the education environment is a critical requirement. If a child is learning in an interim building for two years, for example, that could be one third of their time at that school. Parents and teachers need confidence that children’s education will be unaffected.

The design requirements for new school buildings should also be transferred to interim solutions. The design criteria should therefore include: inspirational spaces; a high-quality teaching environment; buildings that promote security and supervision; buildings that create a positive identity and image for the school; accommodation that encourages pupil satisfaction, respect and self-esteem; varied teaching environments.

Provided the modular system is sufficiently flexible, a number of key concepts for school design can now be applied to interim teaching accommodation. These can include:  

• linear cloisters – uninterrupted spaces for flexibility and expansion

• learning clusters – to house a year group, faculty or department

• indoor courtyards – a social space or sheltered play area

• outdoor classrooms – particularly for primary schools 

Any modular building, whether for interim or permanent use, should be configured for ease of supervision, efficient navigation and circulation, and to minimise pupil distraction.

In order to meet individual schools’ requirements and budgets, modular buildings can be standalone units, single-storey cluster departments, two-storey schemes and whole school configurations. And the buildings can be fitted out for a variety of uses – from general classrooms to reception and administrative centres, break-out and social spaces, and kitchen and dining facilities.

Modular buildings can be located on the roofs of existing buildings, in completely enclosed courtyards and used to extend traditionally constructed schemes. It is important for the modular specialist to work with each school to locate a building to meet their specific requirements and wherever possible to try to avoid using land required for other activities. Buildings can be installed during school holidays to minimise any disruption to teaching.

With the quality of interim solutions now available, schools no longer have to have permanent buildings in place to accommodate maximum numbers. An interim building can be used for peaks in school places, which can then be removed or relocated to another school site when the demand falls. This can be a cost-effective option, particularly when there is such huge pressure on funding. 

Robert Snook is director and general manager of Portakabin Hire

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