Making historic school buildings fit for modern education

MMC, modern methods, school buildings, construction,

Daniel Barker, head of education development at Darwin Group, explains how Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are proving to be an effective solution for revamping outdated educational buildings

The UK has one of the best education systems in the world, however, many school buildings are in desperate need of improvements to ensure that they can cater to the needs of staff and pupils.

Transforming educational builds using MMC allows for a range of sustainability benefits, from minimising waste and consumption of recourses, to creating spaces that use renewable energy.

The UK Department for Business and Energy and Industrial Strategy identified that education is the most cost-effective sector for the minimisation of environmental impact through carbon reduction, with 6,760 GWh of potential energy savings in schools.

From inception through to completion, we constantly strive to reduce the carbon footprint of our builds and embrace sustainable practices. Through our unique turnkey service, we collaborate with our clients and highlight the opportunities to embrace sustainable alternatives. We have a variety of cost-saving and environmentally friendly additions that can be installed as part of a build such as solar panels, energy monitors and improved insulation.


Sustainability is also a focus for us at our Shrewsbury-based factory. Our highly skilled team of designers and construction professionals work together to ensure that modules are bespoke to meet the client’s needs, reduce margins of error, and ensure that we use materials efficiently. This carefully controlled environment also helps us to minimise waste and provide predictability on budget and timescales.

Health and safety off-site and on-site

As with all live environments, health and safety for educational buildings is an area that needs to be carefully managed.

Due to utilising MMC, large parts of construction can be delivered off-site, dramatically reducing the time spent at the school and minimising disruption. We work closely with clients to create a schedule that considers the needs of the site users while completing the build as efficiently as possible. We also ensure that the construction site is safely cordoned off from other site users and that we have clear access to the area, creating a separate entrance where possible.

Covid-19 has escalated the need for clear and thorough health and safety measures across all parts of the process. We have implemented several advanced hygiene practises and social distancing measures to allow us to continue working throughout peaks of the pandemic and minimise delays for our clients.

Low-cost permanent solutions

Many schools that have been in need of urgent extra space have resulted to installing temporary portacabins. These low-cost solutions are designed to be temporary but due to lack of resources are often used for much longer. The low-quality structures are difficult to heat and often develop structural problems over time.

Where possible, we would advise schools to consider a permanent modular structure as a solution as they can still be budget-friendly but are far greater quality. They are also more easily modified should the needs of the school change.

Blending the old with the new

One of the common concerns our clients have when considering MMC for older, traditional school buildings is that a new build will look out of place on the campus.

We have a large portfolio of completed education builds which are first-class examples of aesthetically striking, yet still practical teaching environments. Our in-house designers consider how they can tastefully mirror the sites original architecture so that the original and new buildings work in harmony together.

On the inside, the new contemporary teaching spaces are far from traditional. Our design team ensure that the spaces receive maximum daylight through clever window placements. Many clients also opt for multi-use spaces which can be re-configured for different teaching styles.

Case Study: Eagle House School

At 200-years old, Eagle House School, in Sandhurst, Berkshire, is one of the UK’s oldest preparatory schools.

In need of a new space to house its early-years pupils, Darwin Group were appointed to deliver a brand-new wing for the nursery and reception classes, along with a complete refurbishment of part of the original school building.

The 535 sq. m development, for the independent day and boarding school, houses seven additional classrooms, a library, break-out teaching spaces, new toilets and a new music school. Darwin Group also delivered an access road to the rear of the school and landscaped the areas surrounding the new building.

The original main school building, first rented by Eagle House School in 1886, has red brickwork and large windows. Darwin Group’s skilled in-house design team worked closely with the school to create a concept that blended both the traditional and modern elements.

The eye-catching solution was to use stone cornices and a pitched tiled roof to replicate the original architecture of the main building. Eagle House School’s new pre-prep library also boasts large floor-to-ceiling windows, flooding the interior with natural daylight.

During the summer of 2020 and in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the school began to deliver online education and look after key workers’ children at school. This meant that the programme of works was accelerated to take advantage of the opportunity to build while many fewer children were in school.

We utilised our highly controlled construction facility in Shrewsbury and provided an efficient turnkey service that covered all stages of design, planning and construction from start to finish.

Our core aim is to create buildings that minimise environmental impact and we’re committed to minimising waste and consumption of recourses. As a result, Eagle House School’s new building has achieved a ‘Very Good’ BREEAM rating, meaning the school could save approximately 15.55% of its CO2 output.

Malcolm Young, Bursar at Eagle House School, said: “The staff and pupils absolutely love their new premises that are light, airy, spacious, well-appointed and fun to be in. The headmaster loves showing around prospective parents as the new build greatly enhances our whole school.

“The transformation has been remarkable. Darwin Group did everything from the blank sheet of paper in August 2017, all the way through to the finished product. This support was very comforting in mitigating risk and lots of surveys were carried out during the planning stages. The Darwin Group team also showed immense patience when allowing us to get really involved with the whole design process.

“It was a professional pleasure working with Darwin Group, the amazing interaction at all stages allowed us to really drill down into the detail and arrive at what we were hoping for.”


Daniel Barker

Head of education development

Darwin Group


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here