School rebuilding programme: £2bn for the next phase

A school rebuilding and repairs programme in England has been allocated £2bn to fund the next phase between 2015 and 2021.

This comes as the first school rebuilt under the £2.4bn Priority School Building Programme is opened.

Schools Minister David Laws said the scheme would “look at targeting individual school buildings, as well as whole school rebuilds”.

The ATL teachers’ union dismissed it as a “drop in the ocean” and said that hundreds of thousands of pupils would still be taught in sub-standard buildings.

The £2bn announced for upgrading school premises is part of the funding settlement for the six years of the next spending review.

Schools will be able to apply for funding and the intention is to focus on specific building projects, rather than whole-school rebuilding schemes.

Expanding places

As well as the pressure to create hundreds of thousands of extra places to meet rising pupil numbers, there is also a legacy of existing buildings which need to be repaired or rebuilt.

On Thursday, Whitmore Park Primary School in Coventry opened its completely rebuilt £5m school, replacing “dilapidated” former buildings.

Headteacher Caroline Kiely said: “I’m sure the new school environment will make a real difference to the staff and children.” And she hoped less money would have to be spent on running repairs.

After 11 months of building works, this is the first rebuilt school opened under the Priority School Building Programme, which is rebuilding schools in the worst condition.

It replaced the Building Schools for the Future programme, which was controversially scrapped four years ago by the incoming coalition government.

Schools Minister David Laws said: “The opening of Whitmore Park marks a major milestone in the Priority School Building Programme, which is making great strides in ensuring that vital building work takes place at some of the schools in the worst state across the country.”

But Dr Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said that funding which should have been spent on rebuilding schools was being used to open free schools.

“Hundreds of thousands of children are still in dilapidated schools with leaking roofs, draughty or baking rooms which this second phase of school building will not change,” she said.

“Thousands of schools and colleges which desperately need repairing, and were promised refurbishment under the previous government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, will get no help.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman rejected this: “It’s simply not true to say any money has been diverted from areas of need. In fact we are spending three times as much on addressing the shortage of places across the entire school system as we are investing in free schools – 28% of the Department’s capital budget compared to just 8%.”

‘Generating growth’

Nick Forbes of the Local Government Association said: “Extra money to repair crumbling school buildings is welcome news, but this is a highly centralised programme which could be more efficient if money was paid into a single pot in each area and councils were able to work with local schools and academies to decide priorities.”

The CBI welcomed the announcement as a benefit to the construction industry.

“Businesses will welcome this additional funding which is a critical investment for schools, and will have a knock-on impact in generating growth in the construction sector,” said Nicola Walker, the CBI’s director for business environment.

“Funding has been limited, and the building programme has seen slow progress so far, so this renewed push is encouraging.”

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