Crumbling schools get grant of pounds 5.4bn

Education: Thousands of old and dangerous buildings throughout the country can now be renovated, says Blunkett
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The Independent Online
SCHOOLS WILL receive pounds 5.4bn over three years to repair their crumbling buildings, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, announced yesterday.

Teachers welcomed the news that ministers were beginning to tackle the backlog of decades of maintenance work but the Conservatives said there was nothing new in the announcement.

Government sources said they were spending twice as much as the previous government would have done on improving school buildings.

Three years ago, a National Union of Teachers survey found that a quarter of 6,500 schools had part of their building closed because of danger to pupils and teachers. A third said that poor repairs had harmed the health and safety of pupils and staff.

Mr Blunkett said on a visit to Parliament Hill School in north London: "It will mean a new beginning for thousands of crumbling schools, as their leaking roofs, crumbling masonry and temporary huts are replaced.

"Already in the past 18 months we have made a substantial start. More than 6,000 schools have had money for badly needed improvements. For too long, many of our schools have had to live with poorly maintained accommodation.

"Pupils and teachers have a right to expect decent conditions in which to learn and teach: this new investment will go a long way to providing those conditions."

For 1999-2000, local authorities will be able to borrow pounds 454m, grant- maintained and church schools will be allocated pounds 242m and the Government will offer pounds 350m to support private investment in improving and maintaining school buildings and pounds 300m for New Deal projects. In the following year, pounds 1.5bn will be allocated and pounds 1.8bn in 2001-02. A further pounds 800m will be provided by local authorities.

The pounds 5bn includes some of the pounds 1bn from the windfall tax for school buildings announced shortly after the government took office. Mr Blunkett said the investment amounted to an extra pounds 750 per pupil.

David Willetts, the Tory education spokesman, attacked Mr Blunkett for "recycling" announcements. "Last week, they reannounced their Sure Start policy for young children. This week they are recycling the announcement of a capital investment programme for school repairs. There is nothing here which has not been announced several times already."

But Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Teachers and pupils round the country will welcome this investment in building stock. The environment in which pupils and teachers work can help or hinder educational development.

"My one concern must remain the involvement of private companies in the funding of this initiative. Caution is needed about the Private Finance Initiative, which relies on the vagaries of private companies' profit-making."