Each year, the DfE allocates funding to help with the maintenance and improvement of the condition of school buildings and grounds. This is called capital funding; and is distinct from revenue funding which can be spent to provide, for example, salaries, heating, lighting and small items of equipment.
The NEU believes that all children have the right to a place in a good local school; to be taught by a qualified teacher; in classes that are not overcrowded; and in buildings that are fit for purpose and provide all the facilities necessary for a good quality education.
The 2010s were a lost decade for education funding in general and capital funding in particular. According to a House of Commons Library Briefing Paper from September 2019, the real level of capital spending by the Department of Education fell from £8.8 billion in 2009-10 to a low of £4.6 billion in 2013-14. It then increased and reached a real level terms high of £5.9 billion in 2015-16 before declining again to £5.3 billion in 2018-19. This included an element of non-school spending but shows that capital funding has been on a journey downwards.
Annual real terms capital spending fell from £8.8 billion 2009-10 to £5.3 billion in 2018-19.
We know that many school buildings are crumbling after years of under-investment. The Department for Education commissioned its Property Data Survey in 2011 and completed it in 2014 at a cost of £25 million. This survey estimated at the time that it would cost £6.7 billion to return all schools to a satisfactory or better condition and a further £7.1 billion to bring parts of school buildings exhibiting minor deterioration from satisfactory to good condition. However, the DfE estimated that the cost of returning all schools to satisfactory or better condition would double between 2015-16 and 2020-21, even with current funding levels.
2014 survey estimated £6.7 billion to return all schools to a satisfactory or better condition.
DfE estimated cost would double between 2016 and 2021.
This 2014 survey also did not take asbestos into account, so these figures make no assessment of the cost of asbestos management and removal. 60 per cent of schools were built before 1976 and around 85 per cent of schools contain asbestos, which not only makes them more difficult and expensive to maintain, but a riskier environment in which to work or learn.
A substantial increase in capital funding is needed to ensure the school estate is safe, sustainable and conducive to learning and wellbeing. Within this, earmarked funding is needed for the phased removal of asbestos, starting with the most dangerous cases. If this issue is not addressed as a matter of urgency, lives will continue to be cut short through exposure to asbestos fibres.
The Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in Autumn 2020 covers the spending plan for the period to 2024-25. The NEU believes that the 2020s cannot be another lost decade for capital investment in the school estate – whether for constructing additional places or maintaining the existing school estate. The longer the Government waits, the more costly the eventual bill will be.