Over 250 schools to receive repair funding


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The Independent Online

Around 250 of the most dilapidated schools in the country are to be given funding to repair their buildings, ministers announced today.

In total, 587 schools in England had applied to the Government for money earmarked to fix those in the worst condition.

Of these, just under half, 261 in total, were told today that their bid for funding under the £2 billion Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) has been successful.

In a written statement, Education Secretary Michael Gove said he recognised that many of the schools which had applied but failed to receive funding will also have "significant condition needs".

He said: "I know that many schools will be disappointed not to be included in the programme. We have had to take difficult decisions in order to target spending on those schools that are in the worst condition."

The decision process, which has faced lengthy delays, was "robust and fair", Mr Gove insisted.

Work on the successful schools is set to begin immediately, with the first repaired and refurbished schools opening in 2014.

Mr Gove also said that 42 special schools, deemed to be in the worst condition, have been prioritised for work.

"I recognise that many of the schools that applied to the PSBP and have been unsuccessful will also have significant condition needs," the minister said.

"Some of those will have their needs addressed through the other funding we have made available for maintenance. Where that is not the case, I will use the information from the national programme of surveys we are currently conducting to ensure that, subject to funds available in the next spending review period, those schools which need renovation will have their needs addressed as quickly as possible."

The priority building programme was set up after ministers controversially scrapped Labour's £55 billion Building Schools for the Future programme in 2010.

Under the move, hundreds of schools which were expecting to have their buildings refurbished or rebuilt, saw their plans scrapped.

Applications for the new scheme were due in by mid-October, with an announcement on which schools would be funded originally expected in December.

Earlier this month, the Local Government Association (LGA) warned that tens of thousands of children are being taught in crumbling old buildings in the face of the funding delays.

It said there were concerns that if the scheme was heavily oversubscribed, then many schools in poor condition could miss out on funding, leaving youngsters in sub-standard buildings with leaky roofs, poor toilet facilities, inadequate kitchens and outdated security.

David Simmonds, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said: "This funding is the result of councils' pressure on DfE and will go some way to addressing the problems facing some of our most dilapidated schools. But we are still in a situation where more than 300 run-down schools have been left in limbo after lengthy delays in government decision-making.

"As champions for local children, councils will now work hard with the mums, dads and teachers who will have been left hugely disappointed by this announcement to put alternative plans in place to bring the standards of classrooms up to scratch. However, with councils' stretched education budgets having already suffered a 32% cut, there is little room for manoeuvre at a local level.

"Schools can wait three months to repair a leaky roof if they know that at some point it will be fixed, but the very suggestion that schools should wait several more years for answers, as suggested today, threatens intolerable delays that could severely impact on our children's education."

Katja Hall, chief policy director at the CBI, said: "This programme will help improve the quality of school teaching environments up and down the country, and importantly it will also support job creation and growth at a time when we need it most.

"The Government must ensure that the procurement process gets under way quickly, is well-planned and robust, and that Whitehall departments work together to deliver the programme effectively."

Nusrat Faizullah, chief executive of the school buildings organisation the British Council for School Environments, said: "It's great to finally see that some schools, at least, will be replaced or refurbished under the Priority School Building Programme.

"It's also good to see that schools in the very worst condition will be fast-tracked.

"But this is only a beginning. Hundreds of schools have lost out after being told by the previous government their schools will be rebuilt; they too must have their building needs addressed."

Mr Gove admitted today that the way in which he had announced that BSF was to be scrapped in the summer of 2010 was "clumsy".

He came under fire over his handling of the situation after it emerged that initial lists of affected works were strewn with errors.

Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "It was necessary to stop the BSF programme because it wasn't efficient but the way in which I made the announcement was clumsy. Absolutely.

"I acknowledged it then and I will acknowledge it now. It was insensitive. More than that, it understandably left people with a sense of uncertainty because they were led to believe by the previous government that their schools desperately needed rebuilding and then suddenly they were left high and dry."