Union worried about funding for repairs to school buildings in England | School funding

School leaders in England are concerned that the government is cutting back on the renovation and repair of school buildings, despite the Department of Education’s recent revelation that there is a “critical – highly probable” risk of buildings collapsing.

The NASUWT union said this week’s budget had cut the DfE’s capital expenditure limits by £400m, from £6.3bn allocated in last November’s autumn statement to £5.9bn.

There have long been concerns about the safety of the English school estate, with buildings dating from the 1960s and 1970s approaching the end of their structural life and many riddled with asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said: “Now is the time to invest more in school buildings, not less, with the warning that some school buildings are in danger of collapsing. Schools are already reporting increased pressure on income as they have less money to spend on building repairs and maintenance.”

Julie McCulloch, the policy director for the Association of School and College Leaders, said the budget cut appeared to be a result of a failure to implement planned spending and she needed an explanation from the DfE.

“It is vital that everything possible is done to improve the condition of the school grounds as the department itself estimates there is a backlog of £11.4bn in repairs and remediation work and some school buildings are at risk of damage . collapse,” McCulloch said. “It is an embarrassing state of affairs and the government has not invested enough in the school building.”

A DfE spokesperson said the government’s investment in the school building was unchanged after Wednesday’s budget and that the NASUWT’s analysis was incorrect.

“The change in budget control totals between the fall statement and Wednesday’s budget document is a technical adjustment reflecting projections for how the academy sector spends government-provided grants – but does not change the amount made available to the sector. “said the spokesperson. said.

Research published by the Library of the House of Commons found that between 2009-10 and 2021-22 total capital expenditure on England’s state school estate fell by around 50% in real terms.

The DfE recently confirmed that at least 39 public schools had been forced to close in whole or in part over the past three years because one or more buildings were deemed unsafe.

In January this year, a woman was seriously injured by a falling piece of upholstery while waiting to collect her children from a primary school in Sheffield.

Freedom of Information requests from ITV News have found that at least 68 schools have buildings built with a type of reinforced concrete that is now believed to be capable of collapsing without warning.

The problem could be more widespread, as the study found that nearly 1,500 schools built between the 1960s and 1980s — when the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete was widely used — had not been checked to see if they were built with the hazardous material.

In 2018, a ceiling made of the same type of reinforced concrete collapsed at a primary school in Kent. The collapse occurred on a weekend when the school was empty, preventing any injuries.

Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokeswoman, said: “Children are trying to learn as their school buildings crumble around them. This is completely unacceptable and is yet another display of shocking negligence on the part of this Conservative government.”

The DfE’s latest annual report listed school building safety as one of the top six risks facing the department. Officials raised the risk of building collapse to “critical – highly likely,” with the problem being overseen by an interdepartmental board of permanent secretaries.

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