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Highfields Spencer Academy building by Morgan Sindall
Highfields Spencer Academy logo

Highfields Spencer Academy

Project value: £5.3m

Client satisfaction: 9/10

Considerate Constructors Scheme: 43/50

Social value generated: £1,549,583.76

SME spend: 87%

Local labour within 20 miles: 44%

Hours donated to voluntary projects: 86 hours

Car miles saved under green travel plans: 10,209


Highfields is a magical place already, the building is beautiful. The education design is so well considered and the space lends itself to be a really positive space for children."

Anna Jones

Principal | Highfields Spencer Academy

Utilising the best of modern construction methods to design and construct a new 200-place primary school for a new community.

Highfields Farm is a new housing estate in the suburbs of Derby. With section 106 funding in place, the team were required to deliver a brand-new school in time for the occupation of a pre-agreed percentage of properties on the estate. However, with an increase of housing developers from two to four on site, the percentage of house completions doubled quickly, increasing the importance and speed of the school being open and operational on time.

Morgan Sindall, working collaboratively with Derby County Council, Spencer Academies Trust, SCAPE and Lungfish Architects, have successfully delivered a one form-entry primary school that will provide a high-quality and inspiring learning environment that showcases the best of modular and offsite construction methods.

Highfields Spencer Academy is a fantastic and colourful learning environment for local children. Within weeks of being open, it has brought together the new community and has become an integral part of the neighbourhood. It is a key part of the County Council’s plan to meet its growing population and school places challenge.

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the pressures of Section 106 deadlines, the school was delivered in just nine months, completing early, within budget, snag free and scoring 9/10 for customer satisfaction.


Derbyshire's population is expected to increase by 10% by 2039. The need to provide more infrastructure, housing and school places has been one of Derbyshire County Council’s top priorities in recent years. With the addition of a new major housing development comprising of 1,200 homes, the council approached Morgan Sindall Construction, Lungfish Architects and SCAPE to support them in the delivery of a primary school to accommodate more than 200 pupils from the new, growing community.

The new Highfields Farm development in Littleover is being built by Taylor Wimpey, Barratt Homes and Miller Homes, with the £5.3 million school project being part-funded through Section 106 agreements.

Working together with the council and the academy sponsor, Spencer Academies Trust, the project team set out collaboratively to deliver a one form-entry primary school that will provide a high-quality and inspiring learning environment.

Utilising the combined experience and expertise in offsite construction and modular design from Lungfish Architects and Morgan Sindall, coupled with the speed of the SCAPE framework, the team worked to develop a solution for the council that not only created a striking new school, but enabled the project to be delivered efficiently within budget and tight timescales. Through comprehensive engagement meetings, the project was submitted to planning officials within six weeks of the first meeting.

The school needed to be handed over in July 2020, allowing Spencer Academies Trust to move in ready for the September term. This gave the design and project teams only 17 months to design and deliver the new school. This is where the offsite, modular solution came into its own. Having previously delivered Hackwood Primary Academy together - a nearby school constructed within a similar timeframe and utilising offsite solutions - an offsite approach to construction was identified as the best way to achieve delivery. This was even before the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold, because of the comparative speed and the removal of many of the variables, such as the weather, which can impact traditional construction.

During the pandemic, work onsite continued efficiently and safely. As much of the work on the 45 pre-fabricated modules was carried out offsite, it could be completed safely and efficiently, unaffected by the logistical COVID-19 challenges facing many construction sites around the country. The school’s external framework arrived with the windows and roof sections already in place, while M&E fittings were also completed within the factory. This also contributed to a reduction in subcontractor traffic to site, minimising local disturbance.

Work which needed to be completed onsite was carried out in line with government guidelines, and all members of the supply chain worked collaboratively to ensure each other’s safety and wellbeing. The result was a successful handover of keys which took place one week earlier than planned, as well as being under-budget.

As well as creating an inspiring learning environment and a central hub for the community, Highfields Spencer Academy handed over early, snag free and scored 9/10 for customer satisfaction. All this in just nine months, despite the logistical challenges posed by COVID-19.

Spencer Academies Trust believe that children learn best when they are engaged in an exciting, creative and tailored curriculum. With that in mind, the design boasts eight spacious classrooms, a landscaped garden and a ‘habitat area’ for a biodiverse outdoor learning zone, allowing the pupils to engage and interact with the external environment, increasing their stimulation and creating the opportunity for them to gain practical hands-on learning.

Internally, the large classrooms feature a modern and bright design throughout, to create a positive and engaging learning environment. The building delivers an effective healthy indoor environment with natural daylighting and ventilation along with thermal comfort and acoustics which have been designed to support educational attainment. Outside, the school has great sporting facilities with a hard play area, marked netball and basketball courts, and a large grass football pitch making this the perfect environment to learn and play.

The double-height hall, with it's colourful and striking windows, will be able to be utilised by the local community outside of school hours, and fronts the public square. The windows are completely flat to the façade and the optical illusion provides a welcoming impact, and creates animation from all angles.

For me as a headteacher, the experience was really positive. It had a great team and they did everything possible to make sure I was involved. We want it to be somewhere the children love coming to every day and the best example of that was one of our pupils asking their parents to drive past the school on a Saturday because they were sad it wasn’t open at the weekends. We’re so proud of it here.”

Anna Jones

Principal | Highfields Spencer Academy


Before COVID-19, the project team hosted numerous site visits to help pupils learn about construction and what the new school would look like. To keep this momentum, the team created a series of drone videos issued to surrounding schools and the community to keep everyone involved in the education of the build process.

The project team also held a large event at the local job centre in partnership with Randstat to offer 30 people CSCS training and opportunities for employment. As a result, eight people secured employment from the initiative.

Despite the pandemic, the team were still able to achieve a social value investment of more than £1,500,000 back into the local community.

The quality of the finish here is very high... I don’t see any difference from traditional to modular in the quality of environment it creates. That’s down to Morgan Sindall’s management – Brian and his team picked up on every little detail and their attention to detail was second to none.. They even ran the programme through such a difficult time as well (building through lockdown) and everyone was surprised that it handed over a week early."

Paul Cockayne

Principal Architect | Derbyshire County Council (now Concertus)


Car miles saved


Waste diverted from landfill


Labour within 20 miles

In collaboration with:

CE Awards 2021 OFFSITE HC
EE 21 Award Winners SOCIAL11 HS
Highfields Spencer Academy logo 02
LFA Primary Logo
Derbyshire county council

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