Government announces £1 billion school refurbishment and reconstruction scheme, but asbestos worries persist

The Government has set out plans for the rebuilding or refurbishment of 61 schools with the help of a £1 billion fund, although unions have said the money still falls well short of what has been taken out of capital funding since 2010.

school building

“State of the art” improvement works proposed for schools

James Cleverly used his debut announcement as Education Secretary to confirm that the participating schools would be subject to “state of the art” reconstruction or refurbishment work.

It is thought that thousands of pupils will benefit from the investment in creating modern classrooms as part of the Government’s flagship School Rebuilding Programme.

It has been reported that the improvement work will begin immediately, with buildings set to be modernised and updated, and the scheme including new science laboratories, sports halls, music rooms, and dining areas.

The Government has also promised that the school buildings will be net-zero carbon in operation.

“Greener school sites that are fit for the future”

11 schools will be constructed in the North West as part of the scheme, as well as 10 in North East England and six in the Yorkshire and Humber region.

Mr Cleverly commented: “Our School Rebuilding Programme is already making a difference to the lives of pupils and their teachers. It is creating greener school sites that are fit for the future and that local communities can be proud of.

“We know how important it is to have high-quality school facilities. That is why we continue to invest billions in our rebuilding programme.”

Among the institutions selected to be part of the School Rebuilding Programme was Framwellgate School Durham, with headteacher Andy Byers stating that he was “absolutely delighted” by the news.

He added: “Our school was designed and built in the 1960s and is old and tired and very poorly designed. With a new building we will be able to give our students facilities and a learning environment which will inspire them, and our staff, in the working environment they deserve.”

Other schools that have been picked to take part in the programme’s first round include West Coventry Academy and St John Fisher Catholic High School in Wigan.

Comparisons drawn with previously cut school rebuilding plans

Less impressed by the proposals, however, was the NEU teaching union’s joint general secretary Kevin Courtney, who – while describing the programme as “welcome” – said that capital funding for schools this year was £1.9 billion below the level it had been in 2009 in real terms.

He said the newly announced plan needed to be compared with the “50 times larger” investment that had previously been cut.

Mr Courtney also referenced a 2017 National Audit Office report, which had shown it would cost £6.7 billion to restore all school buildings to a satisfactory condition. On top of this, he said, the report had stated that £7.1 billion would be required in order to elevate parts of school buildings from a satisfactory to good condition.

He continued: “The NEU believes these figures are likely to be an underestimate as they were formed from the DfE’s 2014 Property Data Survey, so parts of the school estate will have deteriorated further since then.

“The 2014 survey also did not take asbestos into account, so these figures make no assessment of the cost of asbestos management and removal.

“60% of schools were built before 1976 and around 85% of schools contain asbestos, which not only makes them more difficult and expensive to maintain, but a riskier environment to work or learn in.”

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