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Part of Pyrford Primary School's Yorkon design building being craned onto the rest of the building Part of the Pyrford Primary School Yorkon design being craned onto the rest of the building Students and teacher inside the Yorkon designed Pyrford School once it has been completed

New school standards

Ninety new schools in five years? It’s a tall order using conventional construction, but a standardised, prefabricated solution developed by Mott MacDonald and architect Bryden Wood promises to deliver, making life better for children and their teachers across the UK.

ClientEducation Funding Agency
ExpertiseResearch, development, engineering design and procurement


Mott MacDonald was brought on board by the government’s Education Funding Agency (EFA) in 2015 during the first phase of the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP), to research the modular construction market and lead procurement of a construction contractor. Phase one is delivering six design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) primary schools in Kent and Surrey.

The EFA subsequently retained Mott MacDonald for the next phase of the PSBP, which will involve the reconstruction or upgrading of 277 schools. About a third of those projects, spread across the south west of England, have been earmarked for DfMA. We’re the EFA’s technical advisor, managing design, through procurement, to construction. We have teamed with London-based architects Bryden Wood.

Not only were we tasked to develop a solution offering real economies of scale, it needs to work equally well for a wide range of school sizes – from the smallest taking in only one class per year, to the largest taking in three. Our modular design would need to make a functional, comfortable and replicable school that met stringent EFA rules for natural light, thermal comfort and ventilation. A 2.7m ceiling height and depth (corridor to wall) of 7.2m were specified.


After researching the modular construction market, we decided that the best modular design was Portakabin, using its Yorkon system, which has been tried and tested on dozens of previous schools, and hospitals, offices and warehouses besides. Yorkon is described as a ‘design and build’ solution. It employs a standardised ‘off the shelf’ kit of parts, but allows a high degree of variation in the way they are combined, offering the client a bespoke end product.

Portakabin reckons that Yorkon buildings are about 50% faster to erect than a conventional building of the same size. We wanted to know: How much more efficiency could we achieve if we came up with a brand-new module range, designed specifically for schools?


We estimate that fabrication and construction time will be comparable to any other schools made by Portakabin – about half the time of a traditional school build. Excluding time taken to complete groundworks and enabling. The modular school could be constructed in three months, compared to 10 for a conventional building. The weatherproof school envelope itself can be built in just 14 days.

Mott MacDonald and Bryden Wood have now been awarded the next stage of the EFA’s modular schools project, which focuses on secondary schools.

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