'Large cracks, flooding and black mould' at Harlow's closed Sir Frederick Gibberd College

Sir Frederick Gibberd College has been told by the Department for Education to stay shut due to building safety issues. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Staff and pupils at a school ordered to stay shut have told ITV News about large cracks in the walls, flooding and black mould in the building.

Workers from Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow, Essex, said they felt there was something "not right" at the new £29m complex.

Cracks were reportedly most noticeable in the sports hall, they said, which leaked so badly the plaster came off the wall.

Students were told this week their school would not reopen in September because of concerns about the "structural safety" of the main building and sports hall.

And on Tuesday, parents at Buckton Fields Primary School in Northampton were told the school building - built by the same firm - would close due to safety concerns.

Both closures come after advice from the Department of Education (DfE), which the Harlow school said was responsible for the buildings and their structural integrity.

The Sir Frederick Gibberd College in Harlow has closed after power cables were stolen over the weekend Credit: ITV News Anglia

The academy trust that runs Sir Frederick Gibberd College, BMAT, said the situation had been "extremely stressful" for everyone.

It said: "These buildings were commissioned by the DfE under an innovative modular building program by a constructor who has since gone into administration.

"We have been in dialogue with the DfE about the state of the building since late last year."

It added: "The DfE commissioned technical consultants to conduct inspections and we were only told over the weekend both buildings should be closed.

"Until then, we had been assured by the DfE that both buildings were safe. As the DfE has itself said, it takes full responsibility for this situation."

Sir Frederick Gibbert College Year 11 student Ronnie McManus Credit: ITV News Anglia

Year 11 student Ronnie McManus said it had been "quite upsetting" to learn that the start of his "most important year" in school would be disrupted.

He said: "We've been studying in the building for the last two years since it's been built, and all of a sudden, after two years, they're finding that there are structural problems in the main building and the sports hall, along with black mould."

He added: "Learning about it now, it sort of seems like I should've been anxious about it."

A frustrated Ronnie told ITV Anglia he had to spend Year 7 and 8 in mobile classrooms, and then Covid-19 happened, so learning became remote.

The school said plans on how teaching would be delivered for pupils were being drawn up, and said that the start of the new term would be delayed.

Sir Frederick Gibberd College Credit: ITV News Anglia

The DfE had ordered a survey after growing concerned about buildings built by a contractor which has since gone out of business.

That survey, shared with the trust late last week, "raised some queries about the structure", said the school.

The contractor, Newark-based Caledonian Modular, went into administration in 2022 and was later bought by another building firm, saving around 200 jobs.

Sir Frederick Gibberd College opened in 2019 and has 440 children aged 11 to 19.

It was built in a modular style - meaning much of the construction work takes place off-site, and the pieces are assembled on site, cutting the time taken to complete projects.

The college moved into its current site two years later.

A timelapse construction video posted by Caledonian Modular shows the buildings being assembled on site

The DfE became concerned after two other new schools in Cornwall, built by Caledonian Modular, had to be demolished before construction had completed.

The partially completed and hugely delayed Newquay Primary Academy was taken down in April, after the company went under.

The part-built Launceston Primary School also had to be taken down.

A third new school planned in the county, Sky Academy, was also set to be built by the firm, but no building work had started.

The DfE said at the time that the collapse of Caledonian Modular left "several construction issues that do not comply with the DfE's strict construction standards".

Harlow MP Robert Halfon said it was "shocking" to learn of Sir Frederick Gibberd College's closure and that he was working to find a solution.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Following surveys conducted at our request, 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."

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