Written evidence submitted by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)
● To tackle the declining condition of England’s school buildings, the Government should:
○ Address the urgent Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) challenge by investing in quick practical research and development, led by relevant technology centres such as the MTC, working with industry to focus on data collection, growing the workforce, and developing remediation approaches, to achieve rapid intervention at scale.
○ Adopt “product platforms” across design standards to strengthen the DfE’s programme to improve school buildings. Embedding a manufacturing‑led approach to construction fully, will deliver better schools, more quickly, at lower overall cost.
○ Update procurement models to harmonise the process to implement value-based decision making, to reduce costs, and to accelerate project execution.
○ Improve quality assessment of building performance to inform remediation activities across the schools estate, to enable prioritisation of future remediation programmes.
● If the Government increases its focus in these areas, it will:
○ Reduce the construction costs of building renewals by up to 31% through more innovative technology.
○ Accelerate timelines for renovating schools by improving productivity, improving quality assurance, reducing errors, duplication and waste.
○ Detect future problems earlier and more easily, including through the use of advanced metrology and non-destructive testing.
○ Improve the long-term sustainability of buildings, reducing costs yet further in the future and ensuring life cycle performance.
● The MTC is pioneering technological development of manufacturing-led solutions. We develop and prove innovative manufacturing processes and technologies to achieve the goal of making the UK a global science superpower. We have a dedicated team focused on developing the latest digitally connected construction solutions, and we have led the Construction Innovation Hub project (2018-2022). This brings new opportunities for the public sector to procure better buildings, at lower overall cost more quickly through the adoption of innovative technology.
What should the Government do to improve the condition of school buildings in England?
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) outlined its concerns about the financial sustainability of England’s schools in March 2022. A core conclusion of the report was that the condition of school buildings in England is often inadequate.
As the PAC report noted, the underlying issue for schools in England is financial strain, with 11% of schools being in deficit in the year ending March 31 2020. This is unsustainable. The National Audit Office’s (NAO) recent report on school buildings found that 38% are believed to be past their estimated initial design life and in need of maintenance – meaning that around 700,000 pupils learning in a school that needs major refurbishment.
The current fiscal position means the significant increase in funding needed is unlikely to be forthcoming in the near future. To tackle these challenges the DfE needs to adopt a more radical approach. The current sticking plaster solution of only providing Urgent Capital Support for schools where there is a risk of immediate closure is not sustainable. For a sustainable long-term programme of cost-effective renewals, innovative solutions must be developed.
Work undertaken by MTC, on behalf of the DfE and other Departments, on Modern Methods of Construction has already shown that the implementation of a manufacturing-led approach accelerates the delivery of government construction programmes by:
One project we have undertaken with DfE has demonstrated the opportunity to save between 50-75% in labour costs by following a manufacturing‑led approach through the development of innovative products and processes. There is a need now to implement this approach at scale so that new school buildings can be delivered more efficiently and cost effectively.
To address the specific and urgent problem of RAAC a different approach to that currently being deployed needs to be adopted. MTC recognises the need for two critical activities:
MTC has undertaken a range of projects focused around improving asset inspection methods using Non Destructive Technology (NDT). For example, working with Network Rail MTC has developed a large scale sub‑surface Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) system for the automated inspection of railway tunnel linings which has enabled Network Rail to speed up the process of maintenance inspections by over 81%.
We believe the best approach would be to develop a strategy to replace RAAC products based on their type and application, using principles developed for the Platform Construction System under the Construction Innovation Hub programme, augmented by manufacturing disciplines to ensure a repeatable process can be followed in a structured and controlled environment.
A hub-based approach would be the most effective route to catalyse the development, verification and delivery-to-market for these two critical aspects, and the MTC is well placed to facilitate these.
The Government can achieve this by:
● Preparing a plan to address the RAAC problem. The MTC agrees with the NAO’s recommendations that DfE should quickly implement plans to deal with RAAC. We can accelerate the delivery of a detection and remediation programme which involves relevant technology R&D centres such as the MTC, by catalysing three key elements:
○ Developing automatic data collection – including a ‘heat map’ of results – for the assessment of building degradation;
○ Tackling the need for intervention at scale and pace by adopting a manufacturing-based approach to the delivery of a renovation kit of parts;
○ Growing the workforce of professionally-registered engineers, as the lack of appropriately qualified engineers is a major barrier to resolving issues around RAAC.
● Adopting product platforms across design standards. Product platforms are a basis from which bespoke construction parts can be created to fit specific needs, using digitally designed elements that provide improved and less costly outcomes for building challenges. Product platforms are already used in other industries such as the automotive sector, where a set of underlying common elements is shared across car models, and then customised according to each model’s needs. They can play a key role in harmonising the DfE’s efforts to improve school buildings.
● Updating procurement models. Publicly-procured social infrastructure represents around 14% of the total investment pipeline of the construction industry from 2021 to 2031. Despite its significant scale in the marketplace, the current public sector construction procurement system is fragmented, which leads to inefficiencies, higher costs, and delays to projects. Cross-departmental procurement decisions – which promote a harmonised, and digitised pipeline – are needed to streamline and accelerate the procurement process by aggregating demand for command parts. A ‘horizontal’ procurement model should be used to aggregate demand for common parts with consistent technical requirements across multiple projects.
● Improving quality assessment of manufactured assets. High quality assessment processes can improve the efficiency and productivity of school suppliers, while de-risking the manufacturing process. The MTC is well-positioned, if commissioned by Government, to provide support in this area, for example through its expertise in metrology and non-destructive testing (NDT), which are essential in assessing the quality and condition of manufactured assets.
How will this support the Government’s goals?
By adopting the suggested approach, the Government and DfE will achieve a number of important aims:
● Reduce costs. A greater focus on innovative technology will help to reduce construction costs of building renewals by up to 31%, reducing the Government’s social infrastructure spending by a potential £1.8bn per annum. In construction, estimates have found that they could provide a multiplier effect to increase real GDP by £7.8bn per annum. These savings are made through integrated commonalities across projects, while still catering for specific needs of buildings. Meanwhile, streamlining procurement processes will allow DfE to benefit from economies of repetition which is estimated to reduce costs by as much as 70% through reduced waste.
● Accelerate timelines for renovating schools. By providing a proven basis from which to build school buildings, product platforms will reduce errors and waste, and contribute to accelerated building processes. As well as accelerating the timeline for renovating schools, product platforms will contribute to the Government’s net zero targets through more efficient construction practices.
● Detect future problems earlier and more easily. Detecting existing issues in school buildings, with greater certainty, and preventing further decay, are key elements of the construction process to accelerate the process of improving school buildings and to cut costs. Alongside more RAAC-registered engineers, advanced metrology and non-destructive testing (NDT) can play a crucial role in effectively carrying out this process.
● Improve long-term sustainability of buildings. A new approach to RAAC, in coordination with industry, will accelerate the move away from the material, reduce disruption, and cut costs. Due to a lack of appropriately qualified engineers, we believe it currently costs one NHS estate £340,000 per year to monitor a RAAC building. Media coverage has reported that a single NHS Trust has been allocated £15m in 2021-22 and £19.9m in 2022-23 to address the most immediate RAAC issues. Monitoring costs may be even higher for schools as they are more complex buildings than hospitals, have more fragmented maintenance teams, have been subject to more changes due to regular extensions, and have less comprehensive access to historic data. The current approach is too slow and expensive owing to a lack of people with the right skills. The MTC is already testing new solutions to mitigating RAAC but if DfE wants to break out of the current trend of degradation, it must invest urgently in R&D activity which the MTC can deliver.
About the MTC
The MTC develops and proves innovative manufacturing processes and technologies in partnership with some of Britain’s leading innovators to achieve the goal of making the UK a global science superpower. A leader in translational research, we are part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and take ideas from academia and make them cost-effective for industry to manufacture. With the MTC’s help, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, Meggitt plc, SMEs and many more have invested in UK manufacturing capability to grow or reintroduce vital manufacturing functions to the UK.
The MTC has a dedicated team, focused on developing the latest digitally connected construction solutions. In our role, we bring together academics, policymakers and the whole industry supply chain to develop a faster route for innovative adoption of new technology in real-world construction projects.
An example of our leadership is in construction robots which are becoming more commonplace, despite reticence from some in industry to deploy them. We are driving adoption of these novel solutions which improve productivity and the quality of end products, while reducing manual operations. This leads to less errors, shortens construction time, reduces costs and increases safety in hazardous working environments. We are also proud to have led the Construction Innovation Hub programme 2018-2023, which has played a leading role in driving the adoption of innovative technology to improve delivery, resilience and performance of infrastructure.
 Committee of Public Accounts, Financial sustainability of schools in England, March 4 2022 (link).
 Committee of Public Accounts, Financial sustainability of schools in England, March 4 2022 (link).
 National Audit Office, Condition of school buildings, June 28 2023 (link).
 Department for Education, Condition Improvement Fund, May 22 2023 (link).
 See The Value of Platforms in Construction, April 2023 (link) published by the Construction Innovation Hub and Mott MacDonald with support from UKRI.