Essex school built by collapsed firm Caledonian Modular in 2020

The government has told a modular-built school in Essex to close due to structural safety concerns just weeks before the start of the autumn term.

The Department of Education’s (DfE) order came after technical surveys of the 630-place Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow uncovered issues with the main building and sports hall.

The school was built by offsite firm Caledonian Modular in 2020, which collapsed last year and was later purchased by concrete frame specialist JRL Group.

The autumn term for the whole school, which currently has 440 pupils, will now start on a later date than scheduled while staff prepare plans for how teaching will be delivered, according to BMAT Education, the multi-academy trust which operates the school.

Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow

Source: Caledonian Modular/ JRL Group

Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow

In a statement on its website, the school said: “BMAT Education was not involved in the commissioning, designing, construction, or quality assurance of these buildings and the DFE are taking full responsibility for resolving the situation. 

“Even though this is a situation not of our making, we are very sorry about it.”

Queries about the structure of Sir Frederick Gibberd College were raised after the DfE instructed a technical survey of the main school building in April.

Following further analysis of the survey findings, a risk assessment was delivered to the DfE and the Trust last week. The DfE was “no longer able to verify the structural safety” of the building and advised it to close, according to BMAT.

Two other schools partially built by Caledonian Modular at the time of the firm’s collapse, in Newquay and Launceston, have since been demolished.

The firm went under in March 2022 after 60 years of trading with pre-tax losses of £2.8m.

A report by the National Audit Office in June found there are now 700,000 pupils learning in buildings which the DfE believes require major rebuilding or refurbishment.

> Also read: How do we fix England’s crumbling school estate?

Affected buildings include 3,600 system-built blocks which are believed to be at risk of deterioration, while 38% of all school buildings are beyond their design life.

The department’s school rebuilding programme aims to rebuild or refurbish 500 schools deemed most at risk, although only 24 contracts for the work had been awarded by March 2023.

JRL Group has been contacted for comment.