19.Between 2012 and 2014 the Department for Education (the Department) carried out a property data survey to examine the condition of school buildings. Based on the survey, the Department estimated that it would cost £6.7 billion to return all school buildings to satisfactory or better condition, and a further £7.1 billion to bring parts of school buildings from satisfactory to good condition. Common defects include problems with electrics and external walls, windows and doors. The survey was limited to assessing the condition of buildings and did not assess their safety or suitability.
20.Some 60% of the school estate was built before 1976. The Chairman of EBDOG noted that ‘“system” buildings (a method of construction that uses prefabricated components) from this period were definitely coming to the end of their useful lives. The Department said that it had some concerns about these types of school buildings and so had started “destructive testing” as it knocked down buildings to assess how much life similar buildings had left. It expects that the cost of dealing with major defects will double between 2015–16 and 2020–21, even with current levels of investment, as many buildings near the end of their useful lives. The Chairman of EBDOG illustrated the scale of the challenge by telling us that his own local authority, Hampshire, needed £370 million to repair its school buildings but received only £18 million from the Department each year.
21.The former head teacher of Hetton School described the impact of asbestos ceiling tiles at his school. He said that, before the school building was replaced, there were two or three occasions when the school had to be closed and students had to receive “defumigation treatment” following exposure to asbestos dust. The Department told us that it hoped this type of unsafely maintained asbestos was “reasonably unique” but offered little assurance that this was the case. Its property data survey did not assess the extent of asbestos in school buildings. The Department explained that it had separately asked schools to complete a voluntary questionnaire about asbestos in their buildings. However, just one in four schools had responded, of which 83% reported that they had asbestos. The Department told us that it had had serious concerns about 2% of schools, which it had subsequently followed up. It estimated that it would cost at least £100 billion to replace the entire school estate, which it believed would be the only way to eradicate asbestos from school buildings completely.
22.The Department told us that it was undertaking a second property data survey. This would be more detailed than the first survey and would gather more data about asbestos in the school estate. Until this work is complete, the Department will not be able to assess reliably how the school estate is changing and will not know the extent to which its funding is helping to improve the condition of school buildings.
23.The Department’s capital funding to improve the condition of the school estate will average approximately £2 billion between 2013–14 and 2020–21. It explained what it expected capital funding to be used for by describing four different kinds of building maintenance. The first is planned and preventative work, such as servicing a boiler or painting windows. The second is repair work to fix something that is broken. The third is compliance maintenance, such as electrical testing. And the fourth is capital replacement, which might involve a whole building or a major component such as a new boiler. The Department noted that it expected schools to cover the first three categories of maintenance from their revenue budgets. As we reported recently, however, these budgets are under increasing pressure with schools needing to make efficiency savings of £3 billion per year by 2019–20. The National Association of Head Teachers told us that the funding position was having a real impact on schools’ ability to maintain the school estate.
24.In addition, school leaders may not be incentivised to maintain their buildings as the Department prioritises buildings in the worst condition in allocating its capital funding. The Department acknowledged that there are currently limited mechanisms and a lack of information to hold local authorities and academy trusts to account for the state of their school buildings. It explained that its second property data survey of the school estate should provide information to help it hold local authorities and academy trusts to account. It also told us that it was laying the foundations of a stronger accountability system by publishing guidance explaining how school buildings should be maintained.
25.The Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) is run centrally by the Department and aims to replace school buildings in the worst condition. By February 2017, the first phase of the programme had delivered 178 of 261 new schools. The Department told us that, from the point at which individual projects were announced, PSBP built schools more quickly than its predecessor programme, Building Schools for the Future. However, it accepted that, from a schools’ perspective, the programme had “not been quick”. Schools in poor condition that were expected to be replaced under Building Schools for the Future had to wait for their new buildings, during which time their condition continued to deteriorate.
26.PSBP schools are based on standard designs and may not meet schools’ needs in full. They are typically smaller than Building Schools for the Future schools (15% smaller for a secondary school and 6% smaller for a primary school) with less communal space. The Department has not yet evaluated the performance of PSBP buildings.
27.On average, PSBP schools are one-third cheaper per square metre than Building Schools for the Future schools. The Department has reduced costs by simplifying designs and taking advantage of economies of scale. However, we heard that it has also moved some costs to local authorities and to schools, who may now have to pay for access routes, security, computer equipment and new furniture themselves. For example, the former and acting head teachers of Hetton School told us that the new building came networked and cabled but with nothing in it. The local authority had stepped in to help fund additional items and the school itself was also covering some costs. The Department told us that it did not fund new furniture and computer equipment to avoid wasting existing equipment that was still useable.
37 Qq47, 49; , paras 2.3–2.4
39 Q61; , para 2.1
40 Q18; (CFS 07) page 3
42 , para 2.10
44 Qq1, 2
45 Qq50–58; , para 2.3
47 Qq53, 59
49 , para 2.11
50 Qq72–75; , para 2.22
52 (CFS 02) page 3
53 Qq59, 60, 75
54 , paras 2.13, 3.7
55 Qq81–86; , para 2.13
56 , paras 3.8, 3.11
57 Qq13–17; , para 3.8
24 April 2017