Future proofing schools

Andrew Brookes talks about a new generation of schools that are adaptable, sustainable, and future proof for the needs of students and teachers

Willmott Dixon has delivered 50,000 school places in the last five years. This provides a high level of know-how, knowledge and understanding to meet the challenges schools in the UK are currently facing.

The future of education is 'Net Zero Carbon in Operation'

Sustainable schools are top of the political agenda. By incorporating energy-efficient design principles, sustainable schools mean lower operational costs and better environments to learn, ensuring a school's viability and endurance for future generations.

It's a key reason the Department for Education (DfE) stipulate that all new schools are 'net zero carbon in operation'. They will be designed for a 2°C rise in average global temperatures and future-proofed for a 4°C rise, to adapt to the risks of climate change, including increased flooding and higher indoor temperatures.

The drivers are simple, by delivering solutions for low carbon schools that are climate resilient, it will (as the Government states):

  • reduce energy demand
  • adapt to climate risks
  • drive innovation in construction
  • act as a catalyst for green jobs
  • deliver savings

The outcomes will contribute to a vibrant and resilient education community, including:

  • health
  • biodiversity
  • the environment
  • learning and play opportunities

Tarleton provided rich learning

Our extensive portfolio in sustainable schools includes Tarleton Academy (below), the first academy in the UK to be net zero carbon in operation.

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This school is an ultra-sustainable learning environment for 750 pupils. Procured through the DfE Construction Framework, Tarleton Academy is one of the DfE's flagship pilot projects, and includes an enhanced thermal building envelope, including increased airtightness and triple glazing.

Making Tarleton net zero was achieved through a design with 22 boreholes that are 150 metres deep for the ground source heat pump, along with roof mounted air source heat pumps to provide fossil free energy, with all energy use offset by 1,500 square metres of PV panels.

Passivhaus principles

Another way to meet the DfE's agenda is through schools that meet Passivhaus standards. These rigorous standards mean Passivhaus schools benefit from lower energy consumption and therefore operating costs, as well as reduced carbon emissions, providing a comfortable indoor learning environment throughout the year for students and staff.

Harris Academy in Sutton, the UK’s first Passivhaus secondary school, has 80% lower running costs than a conventional school - imagine the cost savings over the school's lifetime!

Passivhaus signifies a commitment to durability, resilience, and future-proofing against potential energy crises or regulatory changes, and delivering schools that meet these standards will soon become the benchmark for sustainable learning environments.

Schools that stand the test of time

Alongside the low carbon equation, the future of schools is in resilience, flexibility and adaptability to meet the changing curriculum, demographic rates and environmental considerations.

Our project, Stoke Newington School, delivered in 2008, won the award for ‘Building Resilience: Buildings that have stood the test of time’ at the Education Estates Awards 2023.

Collida Learning is Willmott Dixon's kit-of-parts secondary school system, that allows us to deliver schools that are flexible and sustainable.

The system is used on the DfE Construction Framework and delivers schools of any shape and size that can be tailored to the needs of end users and their sites. These schools can be internally reconfigured, using lightweight partitions and repeatable façade modules.

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The benefits of this pre-designed solution include:

  • Net zero carbon in operation
  • Lower embodied carbon
  • Low energy bills
  • Adaptive to climate change.

As the landscape of education evolves, the imperative to future-proof schools has never been more crucial. At Willmott Dixon, our commitment to delivering adaptable, sustainable, and resilient educational facilities is unwavering.