Schools in England warn pupil safety at risk as repair funds dwindle | #schoolsaftey

Teachers in England have warned of the risk to pupil safety as the proportion of schools allocated government funding for repairs fell to an all-time low this year, according to new analysis.

State-funded schools and sixth-form colleges bid annually for capital funding to cover vital maintenance work, such as roof repairs and fire safety, through the Condition Improvement Fund (Cif).

In the 2023-24 financial year, only 19 per cent of schools — or 859 out of the more than 4,500 eligible — successfully secured funding, a Financial Times analysis of official data has shown.

This was down from 25 per cent the previous year and represents a record low in the number of schools to receive funding through the Cif scheme since it was launched in 2014.

“The rate of dilapidation of the aged stock outpaces the investment,” said Tim Warneford, an academy funding consultant. “Schools are in a condition where they pose a compliance and condition risk.”

Schools are already contending with a backlog of building repairs worth billions of pounds after years of operating on stretched budgets, according to education leaders.

The sector faces more than £11.4bn in backlogs of maintenance costs, according to a 2021 government report but the true cost could be as high as £15bn, according to some experts.

With schools less able to invest in building repairs themselves, the government has had to shoulder a greater share of the project cost, meaning it can support fewer bids.

Warneford said the steep rise in energy bills last year was the main reason school budgets had tightened.

“Energy bills have gone from 1.5 per cent of a school’s budget to between 3 and 3.5 per cent,” he said. “[Schools] are in a world of pain and they’ve also got massive pressures in terms of pay which are yet to trickle down.”

The average successful project bid in 2023-24 cost the Department for Education (DfE) £441,433, an all-time high and a 24 per cent increase on last year, the analysis showed.

However, the value of projects varied widely, from £20,000 to £4mn per allocation.

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Not all schools are eligible for Cif money, larger schools and academies receive annual allocations via a funding formula.

Didcot Girls’ School in the south of England, which this year applied for Cif funding to replace rotten and crumbling windows, had its bid rejected for the sixth time in a row.

Rachael Warwick, CEO of the school’s academy trust, said the government had indicated they would need to show they had been forced to cancel lessons in order to qualify for funding.

“More children will be educated in buildings that are not fit for purpose and in an environment which is neither safe, comfortable nor acceptable,” she said. “Children are being let down.”

The DfE said it runs a regular survey of buildings to understand the condition of England’s school estate. It has allocated £15bn in capital funding since 2015 and the Cif allocation is part of a wider £1.8bn committed in 2023-24 for essential maintenance and improvements.

In 2021, the government introduced a “school rebuilding programme” to transform 500 schools this decade.

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