Schools tackle space crisis with outdoor canopies to extend their buildings.

As schools go back for the new term, many continue to face the challenges of overcrowding, with winter weather exacerbating the problem during break times. More schools are tackling their space crisis with outdoor canopies, to extend their buildings, economically, and quickly.


A growing problem


The average school class size for England has steadily increased over the last decade, with classes growing to an average of 24.54 pupils in 2020-21.


There are now almost 1 million pupils (over 900,000 according to analysis by The Labour Party) in ‘supersize’ classrooms of 31-35 pupils. The number of secondary school pupils in classes of 31+ has increased to almost one in every seven pupils.


The Department for Education has predicted that numbers in secondary schools will continue to rise as the population bulge primary schools have been experiencing since 2010 moves through the school system.


The impact of large classroom sizes on UK schools


Larger classroom sizes leave schools with resourcing, staffing and budget challenges, not to mention the pressure put on teachers, pupils, and the learning experience.


Schools must physically find the room to cater for everybody, during lessons, playtime, free time, and lunchtime.



School dining space is a major issue, say UK school leaders


Lunchtime is when overcrowding becomes painfully apparent. Making space for every pupil within the existing dining and playground space leads to common problems, including:


  • Pupils struggling to find somewhere to sit and eat
  • Canteen queues spilling into the rest of the school
  • Pupils ending up late to class or missing lunch


In feedback from senior school leaders, gathered by school space experts Canopies UK, 54% of heads said lack of dining space was a ‘major issue’ for them, with an average of 2.14 pupils to every available dining seat, across the primary and secondary schools surveyed.


Schools and colleges are extending their space


Commenting on the need to expand in a versatile way, Ian Hargreaves, Director at Canopies UK said:


“Secondary classroom sizes are set to keep growing. Schools can ease some pressure by extending their existing space and creating additional sheltered areas for seating. Outdoor dining canopies provide much needed extra space for eating and socialising, at a fraction of the cost of a building extension.”


Multipurpose space for lessons, learning, and more


Ian adds: “Creating extra room to seat pupils during lunch hours is useful throughout the school year. Beyond break times, expanding your dining space is useful for learning and extracurricular activities. Schools are using their canopies for active lessons, study groups, rehearsals, after school clubs, meetings, exams, and events like parents’ evenings.”


Schools are making their budgets go further with outdoor dining canopies


Whilst building extensions can provide a solution, they are not an economic option for every school. Outdoor canopies allow schools to get considerably more from their budgets.


Ian comments: “The cost of a canopy system is considerably less than an extension of the same size – around a third of the price. Unlike extensions, outdoor canopies don’t take months to build, and many don’t require planning applications.”


Case studies


How Winstanley College created their ‘garden room’

Winstanley College was crying out for extra dining and study space. They identified a need for a multi-purpose room that students could use during their free periods.


The college teamed up with Caterlink, their catering provider, who wanted to create more space to serve more students during break and lunchtimes.


They installed a freestanding canopy system with enclosed sides and a retractable roof. With heating and lighting, students use the space all year round. The college call their canopy the ‘garden room’ and use it for dining, studying, and parents’ evening.

A Winstanley College spokesperson said: “Our Cantabria canopy provides us with an outdoor dining area and a student space that’s used regularly by many of our students in all weathers. In the winter, it’s warm enough to use, as the glass sides keep out the cold, and in the summer, the roof and the walls can be opened back to let in the fresh air and sunshine.”


New dining hall for St Michael’s High School


St Michael’s in Chorley was desperate for additional dining space as rising numbers of pupils meant they’d outgrown their dining hall. They considered building an extension but decided to install a canopy instead. It met their budget and only took a week to install.

The canopy features a glass bespoke atrium and a watertight retractable roof. The interior provides 125m of covered space, including a hot food station catering for 1,200 pupils. St Michael’s now has a seat indoors for every pupil at lunch time.