Government makes £483 million investment into upgrading school buildings

Published by Scott Challinor on June 28th 2021, 7:07am

The government has recently announced that thousands of pupils across England are set to benefit from improvements to their facilities, with £483 million to be invested into upgrading school buildings.

Challenges that schools have faced over the years around a lack of funding to go toward modernising their facilities and improving learning environments are well-documented. Speaking to The Parliamentary Review in 2020, Penny Howard, headteacher at Longney CE Primary School in Gloucestershire, said: “Our biggest challenge to date is funding. These problems have been well publicised, especially for authorities such as Gloucestershire, which is one of the lowest-funded counties.

“However, funding for building is causing us the most concern. There is limited funding for rebuilding schools, and these restrictions have a real impact on our environment. Only one class is in the main building of the school, with the three other classes housed in temporary classrooms. These buildings are upwards of 30 years old. We try to keep them refurbished but the reality is that they are not fit for purpose, with lighting and temperature control just being the start of the difficulties.”

In order to alleviate this issue as the government bids to build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic, almost half a billion from the Condition Improvement Fund is to be allocated to 1,199 schools across the country, with the northeast and northwest set to receive the most investment [£93 million across 273 schools].

The upgrades powered by the Condition Improvement Fund will lead to improved classrooms and more energy efficient buildings, thereby reducing energy bills for schools and helping drive the education sector toward net zero carbon emissions.

Site inspections and planning work has already commenced, with construction on the first of the upgrades to begin in autumn this year.

The separate School Rebuilding Programme announced by prime minister Boris Johnson back in 2020 has also been confirmed to be “on track”, with the first 50 schools to benefit from the initiative confirmed back in February.

Discussing the new funding programme, schools minister Baroness Berridge commented: “Alongside our ambitious rebuilding programme for schools over the next decade, this government is making sure children learn in the best possible environments. Providing every school with the financial support it needs to build back better for its students.

“Schools are the centres of our communities and both pupils and staff need to have up-to-date classrooms to learn and work in, that’s why the government is spending £1.8 billion this year alone to improve school buildings.”

Local authorities, larger multi-academy trusts and voluntary aided school bodies such as dioceses have already been allocated condition funding in 2021, determined by the latest data on their estates and assets.

However, concerns still remain around access to funding initiatives for smaller academy trusts, as Howard explains.

“While the move made by our school to becoming an academy has been a real benefit for school improvement and access to funding, allowing some maintenance to be carried out, there does not seem to be access to funding for replacing buildings that have come to the end of their life for a smaller academy trust.”

Under the new initiative, smaller academy trusts have been able to submit bids to the Department for Education for funding through the Condition Improvement Fund process for essential maintenance and upgrades, but not every school will be successful.

Indeed, it is only the 1,199 schools across the country with the most pressing needs that have thus far been allocated funding, with the successful applicants confirmed on Wednesday June 23.

The government says that the DfE is to confirm a further 50 successful school bids that will benefit from the School Rebuilding Programme later in 2021, with upgrades ranging from replacing or refurbishing individual buildings, right the way through to full school rebuilds.

The DfE will also open a consultation before the end of the year on how future upgrade projects are prioritised in the long-term based on levels of need. 

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
June 28th 2021, 7:07am

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