Commenting on Environmental Sustainability Review and Conditions of School Buildings, two reports published today by the National Audit Office, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“These reports rightly pull no punches on the Government’s stewardship of the school estate. Capital funding under this Government has declined by around 37% in cash terms and 50% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2021-22. With the school estate in such a perilous condition, and the need for investment in retrofitting never more compelling, the arguments for categorically and demonstrably reversing this trend remain potent.
“On sustainability, the National Audit Office notes that the Department for Education is responsible for 37% of emissions from public sector buildings but has not yet set a target to reduce them – despite schools, colleges and universities containing a generation of young people eager to learn how and to act. It is unacceptable that the DfE’s current schemes will not bring it close to achieving a 75% reduction. Nor is it acceptable that the DfE does not understand how the risks from flood, overheating and water scarcity apply to the education estate. Cutting the budget of a project aimed at introducing low-cost ways to increase resilience of the existing estate to climate change, from £90.5 million to just £4.6 million, is incredibly shortsighted.
“The DfE must act on the almost 13,800 system-built blocks it has identified as containing asbestos – especially as around 3,600 of these may be more susceptible to deterioration. Sitting on its hands is not an option.
“For those schools containing Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC), it is clear that the DfE should have begun its efforts to identify its locations sooner, as it is still woefully behind in gathering the information required in order to fully manage its potential risks.
“If we are to prevent something catastrophic happening, such as a building collapse, and to finally get to grips with the hidden killer asbestos in our schools, action must be taken - and significant funding put in place - to address the situation in a meaningful way. The era of hoping such problems will go away of their own accord is over.”