At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw schools and colleges across the UK close early for the year forcing many students to take classes remotely. Not only was this disruptive to learning but also to construction works, as school budgets were revised to cover the cost of new COVID-19 safety measures.
As schools opened fully for the first time since March, buildings had to be modified to accommodate the new government guidelines. Additional hygiene and safety procedures were also introduced to stop the spread of the virus. As a result, many projects have either been paused or cancelled as funding is repurposed to cover the costs of these new requirements.
The average cost of additional cleaning regimes and supplies as well as signage, tapes and barriers came to £9,990 per school. It is estimated a further £16,000 per school has also been lost in income from sources such as renting rooms or after-school clubs.
Whilst education was a key contributor to the increased activity in the construction sector, the total value of education project-starts declined by 32% during quarter 3 of 20202 compared to the previous year. Investment in construction works during this period has been slow and sporadic reflecting local authorities’ tight financial positions to support schools.
However, earlier in 2020, the government reaffirmed its commitment to build or rebuild 500 schools across the UK over the next five years. This increase in capital investment is anticipated to help accelerate the delivery of much needed development works. As a result, 2021 should see a rise in the number of projects going ahead.
“Schools have had many challenges to deal with over the past year including adapting to remote teaching, providing catch-up support for students who may have struggled learning during lockdown, to introducing new cleaning regimes and safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
All of these factors have put an added strain on budgets this year, limiting the funds available to undertake essential maintenance or refurbishment works. Whilst the government announcement of £1bn capital investment is welcomed news, it is not likely to cover the backlog of repairs and rebuilding needed to bring many schools up to a satisfactory or better condition.”