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Back to the Future?

Mike Hodgkiss
Mike Hodgkiss 28 March, 2017

In a recent report the National Audit Office states: “The condition of the school estate is expected to worsen as buildings in poor, but not the worst, condition deteriorate further. Pupil numbers are continuing to grow and the demand for places is shifting to secondary schools, where places are more complex and costly to provide.”

It went on:

“The department, local authorities and schools will need to meet these challenges at a time when their capacity to deliver capital programmes is under growing pressure as revenue budgets become tighter.”

Reading all of this made me feel like I’d jumped in to my Delorean with Dr Emmett Brown and travelled back to the 1990s. It was back then when it was a regular occurrence for the annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to condemn the state of school buildings only for ministers to complain that such reporting provided too much ammunition to government critics; sound familiar?

Commenting on the latest NAO report, Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools are having to cut all areas of revenue expenditure, including maintenance budgets, because the level of per-pupil funding is frozen while costs are significantly rising. As a result of this funding squeeze, it is increasingly difficult for schools to afford the costs of preventative maintenance and this situation is likely to result in the further deterioration of the school estate.”

It all brings to mind Building Schools for the Future (BSF) which was the name given to the British government’s investment programme in secondary school buildings in England in the 2000s. The programme was ambitious in its costs, timescales and objectives, with politicians from all English political parties supportive of the principle. On 5 July 2010 the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, announced that following a review, the Building Schools for the Future programme was to be scrapped.

The report from the NAO also raises questions about the cost effectiveness of the government’s Free Schools programme. The government wants to create 500 free schools by 2020, but there is a shortage of suitable sites – leading to the department paying “large sums” to secure land – the report says.

The average cost of the 175 sites bought for free schools is £4.9 million, but 24 sites have cost more than £10 million each. Twenty sites exceeded their official valuation by more than 60 per cent, “indicating that the department had to pay a premium to secure the land required.”

Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner, called on the Government to scrap “arbitrary” free school targets and focus on repairing existing schools.

But Toby Young, director of the New Schools Network, said that free schools offered better value for money than previous school building programmes.

I leave you with the worrying report from a study by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) found that one in five teachers have considered leaving their school as a result of stressful, overcrowded working environments caused by the poorly designed buildings they have to teach in.

So, the impact of all of this on learning is…?