Castleward Primary School

Sector: Education
Status: Completed August 2021

The Castleward area of Derby city centre, close to the railway station, is undergoing transformation as part of an extensive £100m housing-led regeneration scheme. More than 1,000 new homes will be built, creating an “urban village”. This is a priority project for Derby City Council, included in targets for both the City Centre Masterplan 2030 and the Derby City Local Plan.

With such a significant increase in population, more school places are required to service the new community, as well as improvements to highways and local amenities. A brownfield site, formerly utilised as a car park, was identified to become the new home to a one and a half-form entry primary school that will provide 315 pupil places and a 39-place nursery.

Procured through the SCAPE Construction framework and delivered by Morgan Sindall Construction, the £7.6m school was funded collaboratively by Derby City Council, the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, Homes England, and section 106 agreements. The new primary school will serve families from the new urban village and the wider local community.

Planning permission was granted in May 2020 with work commencing in the Summer amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this, Castleward Spencer Academy completed on budget and ahead of schedule in August 2021, opening its doors ready for the new academic year.

About the project

The brownfield site is small (a 5,200m² development area), almost half the size that usually required for a school, which significantly influenced the building design. To provide the most efficient outcome whilst providing a playful, innovative and creative space, our team used these restrictions as a catalyst for creativity, designing up instead of out.

Complementing the heritage of the local area, the school was built using traditional construction techniques and features a brick exterior. The building incorporates a mixture of one and two-storey blocks, with innovative play spaces on the rooftop areas and terraces. These play spaces are fun and engaging, and this approach allows the school to achieve more outdoor recreational space than the site would have traditionally allowed. The use of perimeter parapet walls, at a suitable height, has been included within the design to allow safe use of these roof areas, and there is a lift to provide access to the upper floors for those with disabilities and accessibility issues.

The security of the school site and safeguarding of the pupils is paramount, particularly with its city centre location. With that in mind, the design and position of the building was devised to optimise use of the land for the school and provide a clear, visible main entrance and secure line of sight to the building. Existing fencing and established hedgerows have been retained and enhanced to ensure a secure perimeter, with pedestrian access separated from vehicular access, minimising risk at drop-off and pick-up times. In addition, the building sits back from the boundary, to appear unobtrusive to the existing neighbouring buildings and to the young pupils when entering the school.

Due to the restricted nature of the site, the main hall was positioned at the heart of the building. All ground floor classrooms are accessed from this internal space, in turn freeing up the additional space required for internal circulation areas such as corridors, and allowing for a more compact building footprint. This also means that more space can be utilised externally for outdoor play areas. The hall itself is designed as a lightwell, rising to the full height of the building, providing substantial natural daylight into the core. The external windows and walls rise above the first-floor roof play deck to flood classrooms and corridors at both first and ground floor level with light, whilst the provision of high-level windows provides borrowed light to interior facing walls.

The hall amplifies a connection to nature, with the heart space of the school and its abundance of natural light, acoustic wall panels and a feature floor creating the appearance of looking up into a tree canopy. Folding, sliding doors to the hall allow the room to open up and create a larger space for whole school assembly, group activities, indoor play and wider community use.

“The wealth of natural light at Castleward plays a pivotal role in helping the children feel more connected to the outside, and it is aided by the use of colours that emulate the feeling of nature and gives cognitive benefits.”

Craig Taylor, Director


Castleward Spencer Academy is a contemporary building that, through sympathetic design, complements the heritage of the local area. Delivered ahead of schedule, defect free, and to budget, the project generated over £3m of social value for the local community.

The project team were tasked with delivering a refreshing and inspiring learning environment for the pupils. In all, the school houses 12 spacious classrooms and several ancillary facilities across two floors. These are ventilated to encourage an optimal learning environment and boast LED lights with daylight dimming, to maximise the use of natural light where available. The shared hall and studio library spaces at the heart of the school create a central learning area, allowing classes to showcase their work and providing the additional space for one-to-one support or small group work.

Internally, the design manifests around colour and its application to create an inspiring educational environment. Taking cues from the brick detailing and its context of a dense urban setting, green and blue palettes, elements of biophilic design and colour psychology ensure the spaces connect with nature.

"The ground floor interiors create a nurturing, calm and engaging atmosphere, improving efficiency, focus and long-term concentration, whilst the first floor will be blue, creating playful and friendly tones for the primary school which promote productivity and offer a slightly mature base, preparing pupils for progression to secondary school."

Craig Taylor, Director

Utilising the rooftops as an extension to the external hard play area not only addresses the small nature of the site, but it also creates a sense of progression through a child’s school life. It is intended that infants have use and access to the first-floor play deck, with junior pupils use of the second-floor play space. This also allows the school to achieve the necessary outside space required and reduce the impact of having smaller sports facilities.

Additionally, to maximise the efficiency of the school’s recreational space, the landscaping features a multi-use games area for team games including netball, basketball and football and individual games such as tennis.

The new primary school meets the needs of the growing Castleward community and has allowed Derby City Council to increase its school places, creating an attractive community hub for everyone to use, cementing itself as an integral cog for the future.

“We are delighted to be welcoming the first pupils to our newest primary school at Castleward. Its state-of-the-art design features such as the flexible use of space, the innovative outdoor play area and the security of a sprinkler system offer a superb environment for learning. The school will be vital in transforming the regeneration of an inner-city area into a thriving community.”

Cllr Evonne Williams, Derby City Council’s cabinet member for children, young people, and skills.