School buildings: Capital funding 'well short of what is needed'

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

School leaders are not overly impressed at this week’s "announcement" of £1.8bn in funding for upgrading school buildings – saying it simply isn’t enough and it isn’t even new money.

On Tuesday (March 28), the Department for Education issued a statement detailing investment for the 2023/24 financial year of £2.5bn, including £1.8bn to “improve the condition of the school estate across England” and £286m to upgrade further education college buildings.

There is also £487m to support councils to provide additional school places needed for September 2026.

However, school leaders were united in their view that this funding would not be enough given the state of many school buildings across the country.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the funding “falls well short of what is needed”, adding that the money was not even “new”, but funding that had previously been allocated in government’s 2021 Spending Review.

It comes after the news earlier this year that at least 39 state schools in England have closed all or part of their school site in the last three years because of fears over dangerous buildings.

Furthermore, in December, the DfE’s annual report identified building collapse as one of six key risks facing the sector, with the risk level being raised to “critical – very likely” and labelled as “worsening”.

The DfE’s Condition of School Buildings Survey (2021) revealed that it would cost £11.4bn to “repair or replace all defective elements in the school estate”. (For more details, see our article here.)

The DfE said this week that schools and colleges will receive the investment to “upgrade classrooms and refurbish buildings”. The funding is in addition to the School Rebuilding Programme which will upgrade buildings at 500 schools over the next decade.

Of the £1.8bn, £1.1bn will be allocated to local authorities, large multi-academy trusts and large voluntary aided bodies through the School Condition Allocations. Around £200m will be given directly to schools through Devolved Formula Capital. And £500m will be available through the Condition Improvement Fund programme for smaller academy trusts and sixth form colleges.

Mr Whiteman added: “This falls well short of what is needed after more than a decade of underinvestment and the government has itself admitted that the risk of collapse in some school buildings is now ‘very likely’.

“This repackaging of previously announced funding only goes to highlight the shocking absence of a plan by the government to deal with the worrying condition of parts of the school estate.

“What we need is absolute clarity that wherever such risks exist, they will be addressed immediately and that the necessary funding will be made available to do this and help ensure the safety of pupils and staff.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “While we are always pleased to see any investment, this announcement comes against a background of inadequate funding that has literally left school buildings on the point of collapse.

“We have to seriously question whether the funding in this latest announcement – which is the result of adding up various funding streams – is anything like enough to meet the needs of an education estate that has been shamefully neglected over the past decade.”

The DfE says that since 2015 it has invested £13bn to upgrade school buildings. However, between 2009 and 2022, DfE capital spending has fallen declined by 50% in real terms according to a recent House of Commons briefing (Danechi & Long, 2023).

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