Essex school erected in three months closed weeks before new term starts

The Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow, Essex, has been closed with immediate effect by the Department for Education due to safety fears. (Google Street View)
The Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow, Essex, has been closed with immediate effect by the Department for Education due to safety fears. (Google Street View)

A school that was erected in just 12 weeks has been prevented from reopening after the summer holidays due to safety concerns.

Parents of pupils at the Sir Frederick Gibberd College (SFGC) in Harlow, Essex, received an email from the school on Monday saying the Department for Education (DfE) had ordered closure of the main building and sports hall "with immediate effect".

It went on to say that staff had only learned details of the situation in the past few days, and that it was an "extremely complex and unfortunate" situation.

In an official statement the BMAT Trust, which runs the school, said the closure followed a report by technical consultants working for the DfE which identified "structural irregularities".

It added: "Even though this is a situation not of our making, we are very sorry about it.

"The Trust has been acting on the advice of the DfE and its technical consultants throughout this process.

"BMAT Education was not involved in the commissioning, designing, construction, or quality assurance of these buildings and the DFE are taking full responsibility for resolving the situation."

Parents were swift to take to Facebook to share the news and, despite some criticism, others were supportive of the school and the situation.

Watch: Time lapse footage of the assembly of Sir Frederick Gibberd School

Tasha James, who has a child at the school, wrote on Facebook: "SFG needs support to make this work not parents bitching about how it’s affecting them I feel sorry for all the teachers."

The letter concluded: "If we all pull together, we will get through [this situation], and there will be better times for Sir Frederick Gibberd College and its pupils ahead."

Yahoo News has contacted the Department for Education for comment.

SFGC has 440 children aged 11 to 19 on its pupil roll, with capacity for 630. The main building was erected over 12 weeks during the first coronavirus lockdown in 2020.

BMAT Education Trust has confirmed that in April of this year the DfE instructed a technical survey of the main school building which "raised some queries about the structure", and that following further analysis of the survey information a report and risk assessment on the building structure was delivered to the DfE and shared with the Trust late last week.

It said: "Having regard to the reports received the DfE is no longer able to verify the structural safety of the building, hence their advice to close.

Local MP Robert Halfon has labelled the situation 'shocking'. (Empics/Alamy Live News)
Local MP Robert Halfon has labelled the situation 'shocking'. (Empics/Alamy Live News)

While this is an evolving matter, BMAT Education and Sir Frederick Gibberd College remain committed to delivering the very best education to pupils possible, while protecting all aspects of staff and student wellbeing."

It said that parents could expect an update on teaching plans on 25 August.

SFGC was built in a "modular style", meaning much of the construction work took place off-site, and the pieces were assembled on site, cutting the time taken to complete building.

The contractor, Newark-based Caledonian Modular, went into administration in 2022.

Local MP Robert Halfon, who represents Harlow, told ITV News it was "shocking" to learn of the school's closure and that he was working to find a solution that would not disrupt children's education.

He added: "This is a very trying time for the whole school community, and I would like to acknowledge the tremendous work of the school staff, who have already gone above and beyond to work at pace with the Department [for Education] to find solutions to the ongoing situation."

The DfE told Yahoo News: “We have identified concerns with building work carried out by a specific contractor that is no longer in business. The department is working closely with school leaders and the relevant local authorities to make sure pupils and parents are informed and appropriate temporary measures are put in place to accommodate pupils safely and protect their education."

“We recognise that while these are isolated issues, they are very concerning to children and their families. We will be investigating what has happened and continue to work with schools and local authorities to minimise the impact of closures and ensure continuity of education for all pupils.”