Creating Cambridgeshire’s Schools

Bob Taylor
Cambridgeshire’s growing population needs more school places. We are supporting Cambridgeshire County Council’s programme of new-build and extended local schools.

This is an exciting time for Cambridgeshire. The city of Cambridge and its immediate surroundings are renowned as an international centre for science, technology, education, medicine and research. The wider East Anglia area has huge potential for economic growth, offering a compelling business destination that attracts new workers and their families.

This growth of new communities combines with a rising birth-rate to create more demand for school places, with required capacity forecast to steadily increase over the next decade. Cambridgeshire County Council has responded by pledging an additional 14,000 places between 2015 and 2021 - an increase of 19 per cent. The programme of new schools and extensions is under way, with some completed or in construction, and others in the planning/procurement process or at design/feasibility stage.

Since 2010, our team at Faithful+Gould’s Cambridge office has worked on over 50 schools, both primary and secondary, throughout the county. This high volume enables us to develop a close relationship with our client and to capture lessons learned. Our role comprises integrated project/programme management and cost management, NEC supervisory role, and health & safety services.

Like all local authorities, Cambridgeshire County Council has a duty to build schools efficiently, configuring the space to comply with or exceed the Education Funding Agency (EFA) baseline designs. Education budgets are always challenging and part of our role is to ensure that our client achieves best value for their spend. We often produce several feasibility studies, outlining cost plans for different options.

Some of our schools benefit from section 106 contributions from developers, and we advise on how to make best use of these funds. In some cases, this means providing independent cost analysis to align the expectations of all parties, clarifying costs and affordability, and bringing negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion. It’s important to achieve a collaborative relationship with the developer as well as our client – and this is something we do well.

Schools are multiple stakeholder projects, with parents, head teachers, community leaders, district councils and local design review panels contributing to the debate on achieving the best result. Part of our job is to facilitate decision-making processes, shaping aspirations into achievable realities – managing expectations and keeping the budget uppermost in everyone’s mind.

It’s important to achieve a collaborative relationship with the developer as well as our client – and this is something we do well.

Project timescales are typically challenging. As school buildings must be completed for the new academic year, there’s little room for programme flexibility. This puts pressure on construction resources and we have to ensure that all suppliers will deliver on time. We may seek creative ways of accelerating the programme – for example, one of our schools was the first in the UK to use a new off-site construction method.

At every stage we ensure that the project progresses smoothly and the Council is kept fully informed. We manage the total budget, not just the construction element, as well as the procurement process and the risk register.

We’re proud to now provide independent health & safety advisory services. We’ve been doing this for the University of Cambridge for some time and it’s great to be able to offer the same benefits for schools. We’ll identify key health & safety criteria for construction site management, audit contractors and produce benchmark standards for ongoing best practice. Smart technology enables us to provide online real time reporting to the client, contractor and project team.

We help both private and public sector organisations to develop business cases, exploring the associated risks and opportunities.

Many of the new schools form part of Cambridgeshire’s masterplans and we also have expertise in supporting the development of the entire masterplan, as well as its individual projects. We help both private and public sector organisations to develop business cases, exploring the associated risks and opportunities.

In Cambridgeshire, our proactive project leadership has enabled every school to open on time thus far, and to meet its budget goals. Nationally we have many years’ experience of different funding mechanisms and procurement routes, helping local authorities and schools achieve best value. Our experience includes nursery, primary and secondary schools, free schools and academies. We have also been involved at policy level, most recently as lead advisor to the EFA in the development of the baseline designs.

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