Crumbling schools to bid for pounds 1bn fund

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The Independent Online
Plans to distribute money for repairing crumbling schools will end a lottery which saw more than pounds 200 being spent per pupil on buildings in some parts of the country and less than pounds 5 in others, ministers said yesterday.

Fairer criteria for receiving funding would mean that schools won capital money according to need rather than on the basis of a complex formula.

However, schools seeking a share of a pounds 1.1bn pot of extra money for repairs announced in the Budget will have to show how they would use improved buildings to raise standards. Only those who clearly proved a link between their plans and pupils' achievement - for example by demonstrating how a new computer suite would be used to boost the skills of disaffected youngsters - would share in the "new deal" funding. To gain further cash, they would have to team up with the private sector or buy in services., perhaps in conjunction with other schools.

Stephen Byers, schools standards minister, announcing the plans at the Professional Association of Teachers' conference in Glasgow, said that the changes would allow schools to tackle "the scandalous repairs and maintenance backlog" in schools, estimated by the local authorities to cost pounds 3.4bn to set right.

However, he acknowledged that problems could not be solved quickly. "The backlog has accumulated over probably a couple of decades and we can't turn it round over a couple of years.It will take long-term planning," he said.

Traditionally, local education authorities have secured money for repairs and maintenance by bidding for government permission to borrow cash. In the current financial year, they have been allowed to borrow pounds 421m, according to a formula the government now plans to scrap, with five local education authorities, including Redbridge, Kingston and Enfield, gaining sums worth more than pounds 240 per pupil this year, while 16 have gained less than pounds 5 per child. In Havering, the authority has been permitted to borrow just pounds 2.26 per pupil for building projects, Bury pounds 2.65 and Camden pounds 2.96.

Under the new criteria, each authority will get at least a minimum annual allocation for essential repairs, plus extra according to need from "new deal" money, worth pounds 83m this year and pounds 250m for each of the next four years.

Authorities will have to draw up a register of all their land and buildings and prepare a plan explaining how they will manage their property. Then, in conjunction with schools, they will explain how the cash will be used to raise standards. Proposals might include adding an extra classroom to house computers currently based in corridors, allowing more children to benefit from new technology.