Solving school overcrowding sustainably

14 February 2023

Prefabricated timber building can meet the UK’s desperate need for more and better school classroom space says Dr Mila Duncheva, business development manager UK & Ireland, Stora Enso Building Solutions

It’s no secret the UK is facing a shortage of school space – with classroom overcrowding a major issue around the country, particularly in the West Midlands and parts of Greater London. And whilst some existing schools simply do not have the capacity to accommodate expanding class sizes, other schools are using buildings that are barely fi t for use or are in desperate need of refurbishment.

There is an acute need for new school buildings in the UK. Currently, around one in five secondary schools are full or overcrowded, and 77,000 pupils across primary and secondary education are in school places that exceed capacity. But school administrators face huge constraints in terms of planning for new buildings. The construction process can be hugely time consuming – even leading to some schools deferring to temporary structures to conduct lessons.

Central government has stepped in – to a point: it launched the School Rebuilding Programme in 2020 – a decade-long modernisation scheme to rebuild or refurbish 500 schools. But with only 50 schools benefiting from the scheme each year, the scope of this important programme unfortunately falls short of the urgent need for more high-quality school buildings.

This defi cit could be linked to the national construction skills shortage in the construction industry, which urges us to train more people in sustainable design and construction. However, when thinking about the materials which could meet this urgent need, timber stands out for its sustainable and regenerative properties – typically reducing carbon emissions by 70% compared to traditional construction materials. Not only are wooden buildings more sustainable and just as affordable as steel and concrete, they also help create a better learning environment, and have been shown to have positive effects on both the health and well-being of children. By using timber, we can build fast, with a material that is positively impacting the well-being of both our children and our environment.

A solution that encompasses all these benefi ts has already been created: Sylva by Stora Enso. Sylva can best be described as tailor-made prefabricated building kits in renewable mass timber that consist of elements such as walls, fl oors, roofs, stairs, beams and columns. Unlike modular buildings, Sylva components are mass customised, making it possible to build practically anything from high rises and large industrial buildings to small (or large) community schools. Easy to build and including everything needed to create a modern, sustainable wooden building.

Typically constructed by a workforce of only five installers and one crane operator at a rate of less than nine minutes per m2 Sylva kit wall or floor area, wooden buildings solutions, like Sylva, allow educational buildings to be built time – and labour – efficiently.

Solutions like this can help to foster creativity, boost concentration and contribute to a more sustainable future, making timber, not just an adequate, but a transformative answer to the desperate need for new school buildings in the UK.

There is no room or reason to delay – we can and must build better schools today.

Dr Mila Duncheva