Capital Project Management
In August, the Department for Education (DfE) released the results of applications for free schools in the Wave 15 round. As successful applicants embark on the next stages of their free school journey, they encounter the challenging and time-consuming pre-opening phase. For many schools in the pre-opening phase, the initial hurdles involve finding and securing suitable sites and establishing a clear plan for their capital project.
This challenge arises from various factors. Identifying and securing sites in the appropriate location to meet demographic need can be extremely challenging, particularly in urban areas with a high density of development. Many trusts are also stretched for capacity, running lean senior and operations teams, when they embark on what is an intensive programme with a jagged timeline. Other trusts may also not have undertaken a capital project of this magnitude previously, with all the opportunities and risks this brings.
The Department for Education will oversee the execution of the capital project with a team of experienced project managers and technical advisers. Part of the DfE’s role is to guide the trust through the process, but there are also competing pressures on DfE as it seeks to manage cost, work across the whole programme and navigate a (hopefully smooth) political passage for the project. Furthermore, DfE’s own capacity is limited, especially when – as now – each of mainstream, SEND and AP waves are all aiming towards similar opening dates.
Support with Capital Project Management
Our capital partner, AMR Consult, specialises in adding capacity and expertise gained over 13 years of supporting free schools and trusts. At the heart of their approach is safeguarding the Trust's interests concerning school design by understanding the impact of design choices on educational delivery and the long-term costs of maintenance. Here are all the stages where AMR can support you during pre-opening:
• School Specific Brief (SSB):
This is a crucial stage in the project’s development as although this is one of the first steps in the process, and is undertaken before detailed design, the trust needs to be clear on as much detail as possible. Trusts need to be certain on issues ranging from the adjacency of subject types through to how many outside taps they might want and everything in between.
• Feasibility Study: This is a preliminary assessment to determine the viability of a proposed site for the school. It considers aspects like location, size, cost, environmental factors, and potential constraints. The study helps decide if the site is suitable and if the project can proceed to the next stages.
• DfE Delivery Framework:
The Department for Education (DfE) provides a framework that sets out the standards and requirements for site selection, design, and construction of free schools. It guides the entire process and ensures that the new schools meet government standards.
• Design and Build Procurement:
This refers to the process of selecting and contracting a design and build team to take the project from its design phase through to completion. It involves tendering, assessing proposals, and awarding the contract.
• DfE and Contractor Lead Design and Planning:
Once the design and build contractor is in place, the DfE works collaboratively with the contractor to lead the design and planning process. This ensures that the school's design aligns with educational and regulatory requirements.
• Commercial Negotiations Conclude:
All negotiations related to costs, contracts, and deliverables are discussed and agreed upon between the DfE, the trust, and the design and build contractor.
• Build Programme:
This is the final construction phase where the school's physical structures are erected. The build programme follows the approved designs and plans, and its progress is regularly monitored to ensure quality, safety, and adherence to timelines.
PAG and its staff have been supporting the creation and opening of new schools and trusts for over a decade, helping to shape and improve the education sector since the introduction of The Academies Act (2010). Our founder played a part in not only the creation of the first three free schools to open in the country, but also the first free school opened via the local authority presumption route.
More recently, we have supported the creation of a new branch of the famous BRIT School, the BRIT School North, as well as a huge number of mainstream, SEND, and alternative provision schools offering both primary, secondary, and all-through provision.
With our extensive experience of the sector, we have developed an incredibly strong, diverse range of skills and services for our clients, but are also smart enough to see when someone knows more than we do. This is why we have always fostered a spirit of collegiate collaboration at PAG and have developed a number of close partnerships with other industry experts to help deliver best-in-class services to our clients. When choosing PAG for your pre-opening project management, not only are you choosing a highly experienced team from a range of backgrounds, including MAT governance and direct experience working with the DfE, but you are also gaining access to a network of expert partners all with the same aim of providing the best education experience for students and staff alike.
If you wish to learn more about integral free school project management and how it can smoothen the pre-opening process, check our PAG Explains: PMC article.