Hundreds of crumbling schools need upgrading, but critics say it won’t make up for ‘years of underfunding’

Some 239 sixth grade schools and 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 add to the 161 already authorized by the Department for Education (DfE).

This means that 400 projects out of a possible 500 have now been selected for reviews, as part of the department’s school reconstruction program.

The DfE said last year the most acute needs were in the East and West Midlands and around £11.4bn was needed to upgrade school buildings.

This is a marked jump from the £6.7billion maintenance backlog for schools estimated by the National Audit Office in 2017. Although these are not directly comparable figures, it is clear that the funding gap is growing.

Schools make up more than half of government buildings by floor space, but they receive only about 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 said more funding would soon be announced for the last 239 schools to be approved for the scheme.

Speaking to Sky News, Gillian Keegan said there was ‘always a question of value for money’ and ‘you have to make sure what you’re doing makes sense and brings value to students’.

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

He said he was delighted his school was chosen for refurbishment, but added: ‘It won’t make up for the last eight years.

Mr Marsland said the school had been flooded with sewage several times after coming up through the sewers and classroom ceilings had collapsed due to botched reconstruction.

He said: “You worry all the time.

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

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Other teachers described moldy classrooms, faulty electrical installations and leaky roofs; most did not want to speak on camera because they feared it would affect any funding decisions.

Real investment spending in the education sector is half of what it was at its peak in 2010.

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

Looking at trends is more important because spending of this nature is usually bumpy because capital projects are long-term and costs don’t occur at regular intervals.

Comparing the last two decades, it is clear that there was a greater commitment to capital investment in schools under work.

The current government has pledged £19.4billion in capital funding to support the education sector over the next three years, but much of that investment is in higher education, not schools .

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said schools are facing “extraordinary challenges” and parents have “a right to worry”.

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

Ms Phillipson said: “It’s not just about solving immediate problems.

“It should be about making sure that all of our children have a brilliant environment in which to learn, because they need it if we are really to raise standards in all our schools and ensure that children get the best start in life.”

The Education Secretary said the Prime Minister ‘meant it sincerely’ when he said education was a priority and a silver bullet.

Asked if she was taking the job at a particularly difficult time, Ms Keegan said the role was a “privilege” and she was “delighted” education had been chosen for funding.

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