School repairs bill highlights need for investment

Over £2,000 per pupil is needed to bring school buildings in Northumberland up to a satisfactory condition, new figures have revealed.

A report, published today by the National Audit Office (NAO), has found that deterioration in the condition of the school estate is a significant risk to long-term value for money.

Northumberland County Council is planning to invest more than £100m over the next three years in a range of new schools and improvements across the county.

However the leader of the council has voiced concerns this large level in investment in children’s futures could be jeopardised if the authority were to restrict its capital programme and reduce borrowing.

The NAO data shows  that the condition of school buildings in some local authority areas is much worse than in others. The Department for Education’s (DfE) property data survey estimated that schools in Northumberland, the Isle of Wight and Enfield would cost more than £2,100 per pupil to return to satisfactory condition or better.  In contrast, it would cost less than £100 per pupil in Stoke-on-Trent.

Nationwide it found a large number of school buildings require substantial repairs. These include a cost more than £500,000 to return each of 1,300 primary schools (8%) to satisfactory condition; and more than £1 million to return each of 1,200 secondary schools (35%) to satisfactory condition.

The DfE’s property data survey estimates it would cost £6.7 billion to return all school buildings to satisfactory or better condition, and a further £7.1 billion to bring parts of school buildings from satisfactory to good condition. The most common major defects are problems with electrics and external walls.

Northumberland has 178 schools, including 123 primary and 42 secondary schools.

Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “Providing high quality education in safe, modern and fit for purpose buildings is a key priority for this council.

“These figures highlight the shocking disparity between different parts of the country in terms of building condition and demonstrate why we are planning to invest over £100m in our schools over the coming years.

“We have already invested more than £12m opening new high schools in Alnwick, Bedlington and Prudhoe - but major schemes like this are only possible by having an ambitious and forward looking capital programme.

“If we were to restrict our capital programme, or reduce borrowing, projects like this simply wouldn’t be possible. While these are difficult financial times we should not be compromising our future generations by short-changing them on education.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today: “Having enough school places in safe, high-quality buildings in the right areas is a crucial part of the education system.

“The Department has responded positively to start to meet the challenges it faces in relation to the quality and capacity of the school estate. Significant challenges remain, however, as the population continues to grow and the condition of the ageing estate deteriorates.”
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