Many school buildings in England are now in such a state of emergency that they pose a “risk to life”, according to internal government documents leaked in Observer.
Letters sent by senior officials working for Education Secretary Nadhim Zahavi on Downing Street show they have raised the alarm twice in the past six weeks.
Officials are urging the Treasury to urgently allocate additional billions to increase the number of school renovation projects from 50 a year to more than 300.
On March 30, as part of a weekly update to issue 10 of the Department of Education (DfE), senior officials cited the issue of demolition of school buildings under the heading “Upcoming Risks and Opportunities”.
They say: “School buildings: deteriorating school grounds is still a risk, with the condition of funding an apartment for FG [financial year] In 2022-23, some facilities are life-threatening, too many expensive and energy-efficient repairs rather than renovations, and restore demand x3.
The same email explains how DfE is struggling with the Treasury for the £ 13bn that is now available as a result of recent higher education reforms to spend on school renovations.
“DfE continues to involve HMT in expanding the school’s renovation program by a similar amount as discussed in the cost review negotiations. This includes increasing the number of school renovation program projects per year from 50 to more than 300. ”
On April 4, officials again raised the alarm under the same headline “Risks and Opportunities” and reiterated a warning that some school grounds pose a “risk to life.” The second email adds: “We would like to increase the scale of the school’s renovation.”
The revelations will put enormous pressure on both №10 and the Treasury to spend extra billions on school and student security at a time when they are already facing calls to help millions of low-income people survive the cost crisis.
On Saturday, Kevin Courtney, co-secretary general of the National Education Union, blamed years of cutting Tories for capital spending on schools and said current problems range from dangerous roofs to asbestos.
He said: “All children deserve to be educated in quality, safe and comfortable buildings. But in 2022-23, capital funding in real terms is £ 1.9 billion less per year than it was in the last years of Labor. Had the government not cut Labor’s school rebuilding program, another £ 27 billion would have been spent on school and college buildings. So while the money spent on school buildings is welcome, the scale should be judged by what has been cut, which is 50 times more.
“The problems that need to be solved are huge. And whether the issue needs to be addressed is potentially hazardous roofing, upgrades to ensure energy efficiency and to meet climate commitments, or basic repairs, the problem is growing because of the presence of asbestos in so many school buildings. The government needs to show much more ambition and urgently solve these problems strategically. “
An official briefing at the House of Commons library in March this year entitled “School Building and Capital Funding” confirms the huge reduction in capital expenditures since the Tories came to power in 2010.
It reads: “Expenditures in general tended to decrease between 2009-10 and 2013-2014, and in the years following the expenditures fluctuated … In general, in the period from 2009-10 to 2021-2022 capital costs fell by 25% in monetary terms and 29% after adjusting for inflation (prices 2021-22).
In a statement to the House of Commons in July 2011, then-Minister of Education Michael Gove said that the Labor design School Building Program for the Future “Was not as effective as it could have been.”
Gove said he does not prioritize schools in the worst condition and does not purchase new buildings as cheaply as possible. Instead, Gove has set up a priority school building program, which he said will be available to “all schools – academies, public schools and voluntary schools – and local authorities responsible for maintaining a number of schools.” He said it would solve problems and be available to schools with the “greatest need”.
But leaked documents confirm a gradual deterioration over the next 11 years, despite repeated warnings of an impending crisis.
MP Bridget Phillipson, the shadow secretary of education, said: “The Conservatives have let down an entire generation of children by cutting investment in our schools over the 12 years in power.
“Their negligence is now life-threatening, but the Secretary of State still cannot persuade the Chancellor to act. Labor would build a Britain where children come first, but the Tories stand by when England’s schools collapse. ”
In 2019 Guardian reported that more than every sixth school in England still needs urgent repairsand cited warnings that schools are “collapsing around teachers and students”. According to official figures at the time, 17% (3731) of schools found buildings with “elements” such as a roof, wall or window that required immediate action.
Of the 21,796 schools for which information was published, 1,313 had items that were assigned the worst possible condition, a grade of D defined as “expired and / or a serious risk of imminent failure”.
A DfE spokesman said: “The safety of students and staff is paramount. We have one of the largest and most comprehensive survey programs in Europe, and this allows us to assess the risks in our buildings and manage them. We give priority to buildings where there is a risk to health and safety, and since 2015 have invested £ 11.3 billion in improving the condition of school buildings and premises. In addition, our new school renovation program will change the learning environment in 500 schools over the next decade. ”