Overcrowded and crumbling: cutbacks leave schools in crisis

Almost half of heads say buildings not fit for purpose after Gove axes £55bn building scheme

Richard Garner
Sunday 08 July 2012 22:56

Thousands of schools are in an unfit condition to teach their pupils, with many being forced to lay buckets out to catch the rain falling from leaks in the ceiling or teach their pupils in "temporary classrooms" dating from the 1950s.

A survey of nearly 700 headteachers revealed that four out of 10 believe their buildings are not "fit for purpose" to cope wth the demands of providing education in the 21st century.

Its findings coincide with massive cuts in the capital spending budget for schools. This year nearly 500 fewer schools will be refurbished than under the previous Labour government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme – 252 instead of 735.

The axeing of the £55bn BSF programme, which would have seen every secondary school either rebuilt or refurbished over time, was one of the first victims of the Coalition's cuts. The Education Secretary Michael Gove replaced it with the priority school building programme (PSBP), which will this year see a total of 261 schools either rebuilt or refurbished.

The east of England has fared worst, with a cut of nearly 80 per cent in the number of schools being given a facelift following the removal of the BSF programme.

At Forest Lodge primary school in Leicester, pupils are still being taught in temporary buildings put up in the 1950s. The school had been given top priority for rebuilding under the BSF programme - but have since been overtaken by another school overtook them and subsequently they were squeezed out of the repair prorgramme.

"We have a flat roof over most of the school," said Karen Cane, its head. "There are constant leaks. We had an adviser come in to monitor classroom observation and it was raining and water was dropping onto one child's work." The school has been given the green light for rebuilding under the Coalition's priority programme – but it could take between two and five years to complete the work.

At St Andrew's Church of England school, a 196-pupil primary in Warrington, Cheshire, buckets still have to be put out to catch the falling drops every time it rains. "The roof was failing massively when it rained and we had water dropping through on to the floor," said Keith Cahillane, its head. "I didn't think it was a proper situation for children to be learning in or staff to be teaching in."

Of 687 headteachers questioned in a survey for The Key, an independent advice service for schools, 270 said their buildings were not "fit for purpose". They added that they had suffered cuts of up to 75 per cent in their capital spending programmes for buildings and maintenance.

The headteacher survey was done before the Government announced the PSBP – but the majority of schools who put in for funding through it were turned down. In a ministe rial statement, Mr Gove acknowledged: "I recognise that many of the schools that applied to the PSBP and have been unsuccessful [there were 326] will also have significant condition needs.

"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 school s that are in the worst condition."

Case study: De Bohun Primary School, Enfield

De Bohun primary school in Enfield, north London, is described by its headteacher as "looking like a war-torn building" and "not fit for a school".

As is clearly visible from the photographs above, the main building is not in good shape. Cracks are visible in some of the walls which pupils pass on their way to lessons, and some pieces of masonry have come away from window ledges. The roof is also not in a good condition.

"This is a 1930s school which is a listed building – built in times when the classrooms were smaller now than they were then," said Terry Scott, the head of the 300-pupil school. The rooms are 45sq m in size, instead of the 65sq m specified as today's minimum requirement for teaching a class of 30 children.

The school – like many others in Enfield – is under pressure to take in more pupils because of a boom in the birth rate and the fact that many families are moving out of inner London to the suburbs because benefit caps mean they can no longer afford to live in the inner city area. The biggest problem is with the exterior of the building. "It looks like a war-torn building and is not fit for a school," said Mr Scott.

"Eight years ago a chunk of the facing fell off from the top. It would definitely have hurt someone if it had hit them. We also have problems with windows that don't open and – because it is a listed building – it is expensive to repair."

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