16th May 2022

The Treasury Need £13bn for Urgent School Rebuilding Projects

Documents leaked to The Observer state that some school buildings are "a risk to life."

As part of a weekly update to No 10 from the Department for Education (DfE) on 30 March, senior officials working for education secretary Nadhim Zahawi pointed out the problem of deteriorating school buildings under the heading “upcoming risks and opportunities." The emails call for The Treasury to make extra billions available to increase the number of school rebuilding projects from 50 a year to more than 300.

The email reveals that the DfE is battling with the Treasury for £13bn to spend on school repairs. An official wrote; “School buildings: the deteriorating condition of the school estate continues to be a risk, with condition funding flat for FY [financial year] 2022-23, some sites a risk-to-life, too many costly and energy-inefficient repairs rather than rebuilds, and rebuild demand x3 supply. DfE continues to engage HMT to expand the School Rebuilding Programme by a similar amount, as discussed in Spending Review negotiations. This includes increasing the number of School Rebuilding Programme projects a year from 50, to over 300.”

NEU Response

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, blamed years of Tory cuts to capital spending on schools and said the current problems ranged from dangerous roofs to asbestos. In a statement, he said; “All children deserve to learn in high quality, safe and comfortable buildings. But in 2022-23, capital funding is £1.9bn less per year in real terms than it was in the last years of the Labour government. If the government had not cut Labour’s school rebuilding programme, £27bn more would have been spent on school and college buildings. So, while any money spent on school buildings is welcome, the scale needs to be judged against what has been cut, which is 50 times larger.

Official Briefing

An official briefing in the House of Commons library dated March this year labelled “School Building and Capital Funding” confirms the huge cuts in capital spending since the Tories came to power in 2010. It says: “Spending generally followed a downward trend between 2009-10 and 2013-14 and in the years since spending has fluctuated ... Overall, between 2009-10 and 2021-22, capital spending declined by 25% in cash terms and 29% after adjusting for inflation (2021-22 prices).” The leaked documents confirm a gradual deterioration over the following 11 years, despite repeated warnings that a crisis was approaching.

DfE Response

A DfE spokesperson stated: “The safety of pupils and staff is paramount. We have one of the largest and most comprehensive survey programmes in Europe, and this allows us to assess and manage risk in our buildings. We prioritise buildings where there is a risk to health and safety and have invested £11.3bn since 2015 to improve the condition of school buildings and facilities. In addition, our new School Rebuilding Programme will transform the learning environment at 500 schools over the next decade.”