Securing a site

Once a free school has been approved, the focus quickly shifts to securing and developing a site. As it's one of the most common causes for delays during pre-opening, it’s critical your team members know their site management role. In this blog we outline the key things you need to do in preparation for securing a site.  

Get to know your project team

There are many stakeholders that will support the successful delivery of your free school site, including the Department for Education (DfE) and a number of external agencies. Building strong relationships, and scheduling regular meetings, will help to ensure that the site is delivered in a timely manner. A full list of roles in the project team can be found within this resource, but here are the roles you should assign early on:

  • Project Manager: Your day-to-day contact for everything site related.
  • Project Director: A civil servant who oversees several free school projects. This person is the point of escalation if you have an issue the Project Manager cannot resolve.
  • Site Manager: The site manager is responsible for the build on behalf of the contractor. You should engage closely with them.
  • Delivery Officer (Lead Contact): The main point of contact in the DfE for all non-capital elements of pre-opening.

Understand the stages of the capital project

The time taken to deliver a free school site varies by type and location. For example, some projects have challenges such as access arrangements or contamination, which need to be resolved before building can commence. The main stages of building a free school are:

  • Site selection: The DfE Property Team will search for a site for the school. A shortlist will be drawn up and any site constraints are raised to the academy trust.
  • Securing a site: Once the best option has been selected, Heads of Terms (HoT) will be drawn up and agreed. HoTs are essentially an agreement for sale. You can find out more here.
  • Feasibility: A high level design for the school will be drawn up to check that the build is deliverable. The academy trust is involved in initial design development.
  • Procurement: The DfE tender to procure a contractor for the site. The academy trust can meet with each contractor to develop a detailed design for the build.
  • Secure planning: The contractor finalises the detailed design and seeks to secure planning permission (hopefully, this is achieved first time!).
  • Build: Once a contractor is on site, on average a two forms of entry primary school will take 12 months to construct and a six form of entry secondary school will take 18 months to construct. Trusts should work closely with the Site Manager to plan the detailed finishes of the building.

Prepare for handover early

Academy trusts should think carefully about employing a Facilities Manager for a smooth transition into the building. Where possible, this appointment should be made early on. A good Facilities Manager will attend training and handover with the Contractor to ensure they know how all key systems operate. Upon handover, there is a one-year Defects Liability Period which guarantees the Contractor is responsible for any emerging defects and other problems. Beyond this, Facilities Managers should use the Good Estate Management Guide (GEMS) to avoid issues with estate management. It’s essential to know how all parts of the school operate, as voiding a warranty can be a very expensive mistake.

If you require further support, the NSN Delivery Programme is a bespoke support service that can provide personalised products for your project. You can find more information about our support here and you can access NSN’s multiple resources on site and buildings here.