Building Work - Controlled and Foundation Schools

All school capital projects should follow the same series of steps:

Don't forget that your local authority has probably created their own guide to  Building woks that will be well worth looking at. I know that Essex and Southend both have excellent property handbooks that have been sent out to schools and they are well worth reading.

Deciding what needs doing

Before you can start a building project you need to decide what needs doing, if anything. This is done by the preparation and maintenance of a School Development Plan.

The School Development Plan is based on four things:

Condition Survey (What is this?)
Suitability Survey (What is this?)
Accessibility Plan (What is this?)
Governing Body’s Vision (What is this?)

Using the two surveys and taking into account the other needs of the school, the governors need to develop a plan to deal with the future educational needs of the children and the structural needs of the buildings. It should then be costed (fairly crudely at this stage) and prioritized to produce the School Development Plan. This can then be used to decide what work is required each year.

It is a living document and should be reviewed and updated regularly.

Employing a Consultant

Schools are strongly advised to employ the services of  professional property consultant when undertaking anything but minor works. Depending on the nature of the project this may be an architect, structural engineer, mechanical engineer or other professional appropriate to the work to be undertaken.

There may be a temptation to save money by not using a consultant but it is a false economy. There are many legal obligations and regulations relating to building work and it is quite possible to land in legal difficulties if professional guidance is not sought.

Apart from being able to manage the project for you and ensure you fulfill all the legal requirements they will be able to ensure that you get what you want from the project.

There are many things to consider when employing a consultant (See here). Probably the best approach is to invite three or four consultants to look round the school with you and tell them what problems you have and listen to what they have to say about them. Tell them your problems with the school buildings but do not tell them what your solutions are. Listen to what they have to say and you can see how well you interact and hopefully find one that understands what you are looking for.

Securing Funding and Notifying the Diocese

When creating a Development Plan it is very useful to include some idea of the cost of each potential project so that priorities can be set based on what can be afforded as well as need. Whilst many smaller projects can be costed fairly easily with a few phone calls, most schools do not have the expertise to estimate the cost of larger projects without help.

In some cases one of the governors may have some knowledge of the work to be undertaken and whilst they should not be expected to give a professionally accurate estimate they could be asked for a rough estimate. Some schools have long standing connexions with consultants who would be happy to give a rough cost for a possible project on the assumption that they will be given preferential consideration for the work should it go ahead.

In other cases schools have a contractual arrangement with a consultant who will provide valuations as part of their ongoing work for the school. However the costs are arrived at the problem is the same “where will the money come from?”

Schools have six main sources of funds for capital work:

Notifying the Diocese

No matter where the funding comes from if the school is undertaking a capital project they need to notify the diocese. Schools must submitt a Project Information form to give notice of the work (even if planning permission is not required). Diocesan Permission is required before capital work is undertaken.

A copy of the form can be found here. Please feel free to edit the years in the document as appropriate. 

Employing a Contractor

One of the benefits of employing a Consultant is that you can expect them to handle the employment of a contractor for you. They will specify the work, manage the tendering process (should one be necessary), vet the contractors, check the tenders/quotations received and ensure the work is of an appropriate standard.

Should you be working without a consultant you will need to do this work yourself.

In vetting a contractor you need to consider:

Managing the Contract

One of the benefits of employing a Consultant is that you can expect them to manage the project for you from concept through specification, tendering, construction, making good and finally checking the invoices.

Whether or not you have employed a consultant it is vital that there is only one point of communication with the contractor and if there is a consultant there should similarly be a single point of contact. This avoids confusion and helps to prevent the hijacking of the workers to do little jobs that are not part of the contract and can delay the work.



Rollover Additional Text

Condition Survey (What is this?)

Condition Surveys should be carried out on a regular basis (about every five years) and provide an assessment of the condition of the buildings (roof, windows, floors etc.) and the mechanical and electrical equipment (boiler, electrics, etc.). It also offers a priority level for any work required. The surveys are not thorough and are therefore not 100% accurate but are an excellent indicator of what work is urgent and needs addressing. For maintained schools the Local Authorities will usually arrange these but it is important that Academies arrange these themselves to ensure the buildings are maintained.

It is vital that when these surveys are being carried out, the school ensure the surveyor pays particular attention to anything they are concerned about.

Of course observations made by staff about the condition of the school also need taking into account, especially between surveys, and should not be overlooked because the survey does not show a problem.

Suitability Survey (What is this?)

Suitability surveys are generally carried out less regularly than Condition Surveys since the information tends to be much more stable (Classrooms don’t change size very easily). They look at the size and function of each room as well as other factors e.g. solar gain, etc. and assess how suitable the room is for its purpose. Because the main categories used to measure the suitability of each room are essentially teaching and learning based staff areas can never achieve a high priority and this must be borne in mind when using these reports. The report also includes Health & Safety issues.

Accessibility Plan (What is this?)

Schools' accessibility plans must show how they will improve access for disabled pupils by:

  • increasing access to the curriculum
  • making improvements to the physical environment of the school to increase access
  • making written information accessible to pupils in a range of different ways

Where this plan requires building work it should be included in the school development plan.

Governing Body’s Vision (What is this?)

The governing body should at all times be looking at the future requirements of education and what the school should be providing in five to ten years time. This should then be factored into the development plan.

There are many things to consider when employing a consultant (See here)

There are many things to consider when employing a consultant:

Membership of a professional body

The consultant should be a member of an appropriate professional body e.g RICS for a Chartered Surveyor, RIBA for an Architect.


You should be comfortable that the member of staff you are dealing with will be able to provide you with the right advice. How familiar are they with schools and the DfE Building Bulletins.


Can the company ensure that they are easily contacted when you need them?

Health and Safety

Are they familiar with the Health and Safety legislation relating to the project?


Do they have adequate professional Liability Insurance?


What other schools have they worked for and what do they think of them?

Personal Relationship

On top of all of the above how well do you get on with them. If you are employing a consultant you will have to work closely with them to get what you want out of the project. That relationship is key to the success of the project and once you are satisfied that the above are fulfilled it is probably the single most important factor.

Devolved Formula Capital (DFC what is this?)

Schools are given an annual sum of money (based on pupil numbers etc.) by the Department for Education for capital work. It cannot be spent on revenue items and must be accounted for annually on the DFC annual return. It can be held in a school bank account or by the diocese and any interest earned is counted as governors’ funds and can be used towards their 10%.
It can be rolled forward for up to three years, four if there is a very good and demonstrable reason. Schools can pool their DFC so that larger projects can be achieved. Where schools use the diocese to look after their funds this is automatically managed by the diocese.

Locally Authority Funds

Where a project is going to cost more money than the school can afford (at least more than one year’s DFC) the school can apply for Local Authority Funding.

Becaue of the pressure on LAs to provide places at the moment most authorities do not have any spare funds for non essential work in fact their maintenance programmes are mostly restricted to dealing with the most urgent problems only.

Governors’ Funds (what is this?)

Governors’ funds are money earned from letting the school buildings etc, governors’ investments, direct fund raising and other sources.

PTA funds (really?)

The PTA should never be discounted as a source of funding for capital work. They may be more than happy to contribute to some projects, 

Grants (what grants?)

There are many organisations that provide grants for schools and it may be possible to gain funding to support your project. Try checking the internet for what grants are available.

Delegated Budget (is that allowed?)

Whilst it is not recommended to use the delegated budget for capital work (not least because VAT must be paid on all capital work no matter how funded) it can be used to pay the 10%, or more if necessary, if the money cannot be found another way.

Membership of a Trade body (such as?)

Membership of a Building Work Trade Body

Is the contractor a member of an appropriate trade body?

Examples are:

  • The Glass and Glazing Federation
  • FENSA 
  • The Federation of Master Builders
  • Guild of Master Craftsmen.

There are others but check to see if it is a reputable trade body and not simply a pay to join organisation.

Technical Ability (how can I tell?)

Is the contractor registered with the appropriate body if they are undertaking any technical work? e.g. CORGI registration for Gas.

Electrical and plumbing work should also be undertaken only by competent tradesmen. Members of NICEIC or ECA for Electrical work or Approved by the local water authority for plumbing (member of the WIAPS). Whilst these are not demanded by legislation they should still be taken seriously.

Health and Safety (how can I tell?)

Health and Safety is a very serious issue in building work and it is essential that any contractor you employ is aware of the Health and Safety implications of your project.

The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) provides a photograph basing card for contractors that pass their Health and Safety test.

Insurance (what insurance?)

Do they have adequate Public Liability Insurance? Contractors should carry £5-£10m cover.

It is also important that you notify your insurer that you are having work done.

References (who do I ask?)

What other schools have they worked for and what do they think of them?

If they work on fairly large projects the Schools' Officer should be able to find out if they have worked for one of the VA schools in the diocese in the last few years.