Hundreds of crumbling schools to be renovated, but critics say it won’t make up for ‘years of underfunding’ | UK News

Some 239 schools and sixth form colleges have received funding to replace crumbling facilities, but critics say the cost will be huge and classrooms are in poor condition due to “years of underfunding”.

The schools and colleges named are in addition to 161 previously given the go-ahead by the Department for Education (DfE).

This means that 400 out of 500 possible projects have now been selected for overhauls, through the department’s school redevelopment programme.

The DfE said last year that the most urgent need is in the East and West Midlands, and an estimated £11.4 billion is needed to bring school buildings up to scratch.

This is a marked jump from the £6.7 billion in maintenance backlog for schools estimated by the National Audit Office in 2017. Although there are no directly comparable figures, it is clear that the funding gap is widening.

Schools make up more than half of public buildings in terms of floor space, but they only receive around 15% of annual operating costs.

In fact, of all government departments, schools receive the least money for building maintenance per square meter of floor space.

The Education Secretary has said more funding will soon be announced for the final 239 schools to be approved for the scheme.

Speaking to Sky News, Gillian Keegan said it is “always a value for money issue” and “you have to make sure what you do makes sense and gives value to the students”.

Steven Marsland, headteacher at Russell Scott Primary in Manchester, said he has had “sleepless nights” worrying about the safety of children at his school.

He said he is happy to have his school selected for renovation, but added: “It won’t make up for the last eight years.”

Marsland said the school had been flooded with raw sewage on several occasions after it rose through the drain and classroom ceilings have collapsed due to faulty remodeling.

He said: “You just worry all the time.

“You have all these kids depending on you and one wrong call and they would pay the consequences.”

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Other teachers described moldy classrooms, faulty electricity and leaking roofs; most did not want to speak on camera because they were worried it would affect any funding decision.

Real investments in the education sector are half of what they were at their peak in 2010.

One reason for the change is that Labour’s Building Schools For The Future programme, which increased capital funding in the late 2000s, was scrapped by the Conservative government in 2010.

It is more important to look at trends, as spending of this nature is generally uneven because capital projects are long-term and the costs do not come at regular intervals.

If you compare the last two decades, it is clear that there was a greater commitment to capital investment in schools under the Labor Party.

The current government has pledged £19.4 billion in capital funding to support the education sector over the next three years, but a large proportion of this investment is for further education, not schools.

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said schools face “extraordinary challenges” and parents are “right to be concerned”.

She said many schools “are not fit for the future” and teachers cannot focus on education if they “have to manage inadequate facilities”.

Phillipson said: “This is not just about fixing immediate problems.

“It should be about making sure all our children have a brilliant environment to learn in because they need it if we’re really going to raise standards in all our schools and make sure children get the best start in life.”

The education secretary said the prime minister “sincerely means it” when he says education is a priority and a silver bullet.

Asked if she is taking on the job at a particularly challenging time, Keegan said the role is a “privilege” and she is “delighted” that education has been singled out for funding.

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