Practices HLM and Stride Treglown behind trio of shuttered schools break silence as government launches investigation into collapsed contractor

The architect behind two of the schools closed due to structural defects left the projects because of concerns it had with contractor Caledonian Modular, Building can reveal.

HLM said it developed a “number of concerns with Caledonian’s approach” as the projects progressed and parted ways with the firm as it was “unable to resolve [its] differences”.

Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow

Original designs for Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow were drawn up by HLM, which said it left the project due to concerns with Caledonian Modular

The practice was the design architect for the 1,200-place Haygrove School in Somerset and the 630-place Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Essex, which have been advised not to reopen for the autumn term by the government.

A third school built by Caledonian Modular, the 50-place Buckton Fields Primary School in Northampton, has also been advised to close because of similar structural issues.

Yesterday the Department for Education (DfE) said it had launched an investigation into Caledonian Modular and had warned other government departments about issues with the firm, which also worked in the residential sector before its collapse in 2022.

The department blamed poor workmanship for the closures and said technical surveys of the three schools had found fire safety issues and a weakened ability to withstand high winds or heavy snowfall.

Philip Watson, head of design at HLM, said: “HLM Architects were initially employed by Caledonian to design Sir Federick Gibberd College and an extension to Haygrove School. 

“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.”

Watson 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.”

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The DfE has confirmed that the schools, which were all completed between 2020 and 2021 using a modular approach, had not been built in accordance with the design so could not be assured as safe to occupy.

Caledonian Modular built all three schemes through the government’s £3bn modular schools framework, which launched in early 2020.

The firm remarked at the time that it would use offsite completion to “reduce risk, save time and optimise speed and efficiency of school design and delivery”.

HLM, which was named Building’s architectural practice of the year in 2022, said it does not believe that the closures should “tarnish the whole MMC framework or indeed the MMC sector”. 

“We have successfully delivered very many high quality MMC schools with other contractors and will continue to do so,” Watson said.

Danny Harris, regional director and head of schools and Colleges at Stride Treglown, the architect which designed Buckton Fields Primary School, told Building that the practice was “saddened” by the disruption caused.

“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,” he said.

The government’s technical assessments of the schools were ordered after defects were discovered at two partially completed Caledonian Modular schools in Cornwall.

The surveys at the two schools, carried out after the firm’s collapse, are understood to have raised significant concerns. Both schools have since been demolished.

The DfE said it is working with its technical advisors on a strategy to either repair or replace the three completed schools and will share more information as soon as possible.

Caledonian Modular owner JRL Group has been contacted for comment.