School buildings budget underspent

Department for Education underspend robs schools of £1.9bn to spend on crumbling buildings.


Schools could have an extra £36,000 each on average to spend on crumbling buildings if the Department for Education reallocated last year’s unspent capital budget, according to new analysis by the School Cuts coalition.

Despite Government spending on school infrastructure having plummeted since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the DfE still underspent its own capital expenditure limit by over £1bn in 2022-23 and another £900m in 2021-22.

If the 2022-23 underspend alone were redistributed to schools to spend on their own capital projects via the Devolved Formula Capital (DFC) route, it would mean an extra:

  • £36,410 for the average state-funded school in England
  • £27,119 for the average state-funded primary school in England
  • £81,328 for the average state-funded secondary school in England.

This funding was always earmarked for desperately-needed building and maintenance work across the education system. In 2022, the Treasury gave the DfE a Capital Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL) of £6,365m for 2022-23. Despite the National Audit Office and others reporting the desperate state of disrepair in our schools, the DfE only spent £5,348m in 2022-23, leaving £1,017m unspent.

Planned capital spend vs actual

This sum, like the £898m unspent the year before, was set aside for capital projects in education, and School Cuts argue that it should be kept for this purpose rather than returned to the Treasury. The DFC scheme already provides schools with sums of money to spend on their own capital works, and School Cuts believes it would be much fairer to redistribute the much-needed funds via this channel than for it to be lost back to the Treasury.

Possible reallocated capital funding by school type

The School Cuts website is run by education unions National Education Union, Association of School and College Leaders and school leaders’ union NAHT, supported by Parentkind and National Governance Association.

Daniel Kebede, NEU General Secretary, said:

“School buildings are crumbling around our children as they try to learn. Yet even the inadequate amounts of money set aside for their repair are being returned to the Treasury unspent. If bureaucracy and mismanagement mean that the DfE is not allocating this money where it is so desperately needed, the only sensible option is to give it directly to schools. They are best placed to know where it needs to be spent. Redistributing this money would make a tremendous difference at a local level, in a way that is tangible to pupils, school staff and communities.”

Paul Whiteman, NAHT General Secretary, said:

“Everyone – including government ministers at the Department for Education – know that far too many school buildings are simply not up to scratch, and in urgent need of investment. Parents, leaders, and teachers will be baffled by the Department’s inability to spend in full even the limited schools capital budget allocated to them by Treasury, at a time when schools are so clearly in desperate need of funds to carry out essential repairs and maintenance. This nonsensical decision will leave children learning in crumbling classrooms with damp, mould, and broken boilers.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, ASCL General Secretary, said:

“It beggars belief that not only is the amount of money allocated for the upkeep of school buildings completely inadequate, but the Department for Education cannot even manage to distribute the money that is available. Public funding is intended for the public benefit, not some sort of pass the parcel exercise between government departments. The next government must make sure that funding is both adequate and delivered to the frontline.”

Editor’s notes

  1. Overall spending on the school estate fell by around two-thirds in real-terms between 2009-10 and 2023-24.
  2. Devolved Formula Capital (DFC) was worth £1.363m in 2009-10 and £573m in 2010-11, but has since dropped to around £200m a year (cash, not adjusted for inflation).
  3. The DFC scheme allocates money to state schools in England directly, to spend on their own capital projects. In 2023-24, DFC funding rates were £4,000 per institution and £11.25 per weighted pupil, with an additional 8% for voluntary aided (VA) schools due to VAT rules.


HMT Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses (PESA), 1 May 2024

DfE, School capital funding allocations for 2023 to 2024, 22 May 2024

National Audit Office, Capital funding for schools, 22 February 2017

National Audit Office, Condition of school buildings, 28 June 2023

Department for Education, School capital funding, 11 May 2023

The School Cuts website was established in 2016. The website shows the impact of Government funding decisions on schools in England, including mainstream, special schools and maintained nursery schools. 


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