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The Benefits of Early Preparation for SCA Funded Projects

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Robert Gould

Partner at Barker | Award-Winning Integrated Property Consultants

The importance of maintaining and enhancing school estates cannot be overstated. Every year, the Department for Education (DfE) allocates school capital funding to help improve the condition of school buildings. Many academies, sixth-form colleges and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) are reliant on this government funding to help keep their estates in good condition and improve the learning environment for students. 

For individual academies and smaller trusts the Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) needs to be bid for and annual bidding can be incredibly competitive. However, other types of funding like the School Condition Allocation (SCA) funding are automatically allocated to eligible bodies once they meet size thresholds. 

Since SCA funding doesn’t have a bidding process, it can be easy to overlook and many won’t think about how they’re going to spend this money until they receive it, resulting in them not spending it as efficiently as possible. The key to maximising the impact of education funding lies in early preparation. This not only ensures the strategic allocation of resources but also facilitates a smoother execution of projects with minimal disruption to the learning process. Below we have explored the benefits of early preparation for SCA funded projects, highlighting its importance for MATs aiming to maintain and improve their estates efficiently. 

Strategic Prioritisation Using Condition Surveys

To help determine what SCA funding should be used for, many MATs will undertake condition surveys. These comprehensive surveys enable them to assess the condition of their school estates and identify areas that require attention and improvement. By undertaking these surveys well in advance, MATs can gain valuable insights into the most urgent needs across their estates. This allows for a strategic prioritisation of projects, ensuring resources are allocated in a way that has the most significant impact. 

Having a targeted approach not only enhances the efficiency of investments but also contributes to the long-term safety and sustainability of school environments. Being proactive with condition surveys also helps identify potential issues before they become critical, enabling MATs to plan for preventative maintenance and upgrades. Finally, it also enables a transparent and evidence-based dialogue with stakeholders about where and why investments are being made, strengthening trust and support within the school community.

Planning Projects for Optimal Timing

The timing of projects, from minor repairs to major refurbishments, is a crucial consideration for schools, as it directly impacts the learning environment. Early preparation for projects funded by SCA allows MATs to meticulously plan renovations for periods when they will cause minimal disruption, such as the summer holidays. This foresight ensures that students’ education remains uninterrupted, which is particularly important during exam season. 

Scheduling maintenance and improvement projects during less busy times of the year can also reduce stress for teachers and support staff. They can focus on students without worrying about how the renovations will impact lessons. Additionally, early planning allows for a more thorough risk assessment, ensuring all potential hurdles are identified and addressed well before the project starts. It also provides an opportunity to inform the school community of upcoming changes and gather input that might influence project details.

Finalising Designs and Securing Planning Permission

The majority of projects, in particular complex refurbishments and expansions, require conceptual and technical designs. During the design stage, MATs can explore innovative design solutions that could enhance the functionality and sustainability of their estates, aligning with contemporary educational philosophies and environmental standards. Sometimes, projects will also need planning permission before they can commence. Starting the preparation process early gives MATs plenty of time to refine project designs, not only ensuring they meet all educational and architectural needs, but also adhere to planning permission guidelines. 

It can be easy to underestimate the planning application process and it can take longer than you may assume to be granted planning permission for projects. Having time to navigate planning permission if necessary and unravel complex planning issues ensures your project can go ahead as planned. By securing planning permission early, projects can avoid delays, ensuring timelines are met and construction can proceed without any problems. 

Securing Preferred Contractors

One of the most critical aspects in executing SCA funded projects is securing high-quality contractors who can deliver work to the highest standards and deliver value for money. Early preparation significantly enhances the likelihood of MATs being able to contract preferred specialists to assist them with renovations. By initiating the tender process well in advance, MATs can ensure they engage contractors with the required expertise and track record for their specific projects. 

This early engagement not only facilitates better planning and coordination but also guarantees projects are completed on time and to the desired quality, avoiding any compromise due to last-minute contractor availability issues. It also enables MATs to ensure budgets are maintained and procurement strategies are considered to achieve the best value for money. Involving contractors early can improve the planning phase too, exploring innovative construction techniques that could improve the overall outcome of the project. 

Ensuring Quality and On-Time Completion

Ultimately, the accumulation of strategic prioritisation, optimal timing, meticulous planning and securing the best contractors will ensure projects are completed on time and to the highest standard. Proactive planning can reduce the likelihood of unforeseen challenges and delays, which is particularly crucial for projects that require education funding where adherence to timelines and budget constraints is essential.

By ensuring renovation projects are well-planned and executed efficiently, MATs can maximise the impact of SCA funding, enhancing the learning experience for students and staff. This approach also allows for regular monitoring and adjustments as necessary, ensuring projects not only meet but exceed expectations. Not to mention, it helps plan other projects, such as energy efficiency projects or SEND projects, ensuring all work undertaken across individual schools is carefully organised to prevent any crossovers that may cause problems. 

Planning for SCA Funded Projects 

There are several benefits to preparing early for SCA funded projects and now is the ideal time for MATs to start considering how they’re going to spend their allocated funding. This not only ensures the optimal use of education funding but also contributes to the success of future projects, creating inspiring learning environments for students. 

Should you require any assistance with renovation projects, whether it’s bidding for funding, conducting surveys, designing extensions or securing contractors, Barker can provide end-to-end support. As leading education property consultants, we specialise in funding for schools and work closely with our clients to ensure the strategic development of school estates. Contact us today to find out more about how we can support your school. 

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