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November/December 2008 – Top marks from schools

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A welcome item of good news recently has been the government’s announcement that it will bring forward public spending to boost construction. One source of vital public sector work for the next few years at least will be education, which as regular readers of NSC will know is a keen client for steel framed buildings.

Schools, universities and colleges have benefited enormously from the advantages of selecting steel. The latest project we feature is in Sunderland where the City Council is building six new secondary schools under the £120M first phase of its Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, under which £300M will be invested up to 2013. Steel’s flexibility came into its own when a late requirement from the City Council demanded a design change to add a floor.

Current education related programmes in England alone include the £45,000M BSF and £2,300M for universities. Next year a £7,000M primary schools programme gets under way. Even before the recent economic crisis some local authorities had been earmarked for fast tracking their school building programmes, a clear sign that the government places a high priority on achieving its educational targets.

Steel is proving a winner for education for a host of reasons. Speed and certainty of construction programmes are obviously crucial. School needs are likely to change over time and being able to alter classroom configurations and make other adaptations with minimum fuss will be crucial to head teachers. Assembly halls, sports halls and similar areas in schools and universities benefit from long span, column free spaces. Entrance areas are important, making schools feel welcoming to children and steel framed glazed atriums feature on many new schools.

Education sector clients are highly demanding, for good reasons. For example, no university can afford late delivery of student accommodation – whether the accommodation is ready or not the students will be arriving in autumn and need their rooms.

The education sector recognises that modern, well designed schools and other buildings, as steel framed buildings exemplify, can provide a significant boost to educational prospects – across the country schools report huge benefits from their new buildings and GCSE results have improved by 10% in new schools, according to Partnerships for Schools (PfS), the body responsible for delivering the BSF programme.

The school building programme is not just about providing new buildings, Tim Byles, the chief executive of PfS, has said. It is about providing safe, welcoming and inspirational spaces where teachers can encourage pupils to reach their potential. The education sector looks like being one of the best places to be for the next few years; with the quality of buildings being delivered by the steel sector, schools look like being not bad to be in either.

Nick Barrett

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