Industry analysts suggest that over a third (35%) of school buildings in England aren’t fit for purpose. However, with schools across England set to benefit from investment of over £1.4billion in buildings and facilities over the coming financial year, is this about to change? School Building Magazine Editor Joe Bradbury discusses:


School leaders have long been crying out for improvements and repairs to be made on their current buildings. Extra classrooms are required to meet bustling demand. 43% of school leaders in the south west and 41% in the south east saying their buildings are not fit for purpose at all.

A shocking report into the state of school buildings (entitled ‘Better Spaces for Learning’), industry experts RIBA highlighted the urgent need for school refurbishment throughout the country.

  • 1 in 5 teachers have considered quitting because of the wretched condition of the school buildings they have to teach in
  • The Government’s Education Funding Agency’s new school building programme is too rigid and is leading to waste and poor value for tax payers
  • Over 90% of teachers believe well-built and designed schools improve educational outcomes and pupil behaviour
  • Over-engineered schools, with Government-specified equipment that only costly consultants know how to operate, is costing £150 million per year which could have been avoided if schools were designed better.

These findings are taken directly from the report on the state of school buildings in the UK, published by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Using the largest ever analysis of primary and secondary school buildings in the UK, a nation-wide poll of teachers, and extensive engagement with school buildings experts, RIBA’s Better Spaces for Learning report makes the case for an urgent review of the Government’s Education Funding Agency’s current school building programme.

Needless to say, the announcement that £1.4 billion will be invested to maintain and improve school buildings around the country comes as welcome news to the school building sector. And this includes over £430 million from the Condition Improvement Fund, covering more than 1,400 projects.

The money also includes almost £800million for local authorities and larger multi-academy trusts to invest in improving and maintaining their schools.

The funding is part of over £7.4 billion capital funding allocated since 2015. In addition, the priority school building programme is rebuilding or refurbishing facilities at over 500 schools across England.

This investment comes after stats last week showed the government is on track to deliver 1 million new school places by 2020 – with 921,000 created since 2010.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said “Schools are much more than just buildings; they are the centres of communities, they are where children learn skills for the rest of their lives, and they are safe havens. That’s why it’s vital they are in the best possible condition. So as well as providing the resources for all schools to maintain and renew their facilities, this funding will target those schools with some of the most urgent need – making sure children don’t have to spend time in buildings that aren’t fit for purpose.”

For the financial year 2019–20, the £1.4 billion of funding includes approximately:

  • Almost £800 million for local authorities, voluntary aided partnerships, larger multi-academy trusts and academy sponsors, to invest in maintaining and improving the condition of their schools;
  • £433 million for the Condition Improvement Fund, which will cover 1,413 projects at 1,210 small and stand-alone academy trusts and sixth-form colleges;
  • Over £200 million of Devolved Formula Capital allocated for schools to spend on small capital projects to meet their own priorities.

Since 2015, the Condition Improvement Fund has allocated nearly £2bn for over 6,000 projects at more than 3,000 schools all over the country.

This year’s funding will go to projects that tackle building condition and health and safety compliance, such as replacing roofs, windows and fire alarm systems, to ensure that schools are kept safe and open.

On top of this the Department is announcing that over £8 million in interest-free loan funding will be split between 167 academies to pay for energy efficiency projects including heating controls lighting upgrades and insulation.

Retrofitting sustainability into our schools

A good school design can reduce running and maintenance costs, in some cases by more than several times a teacher’s average salary a year. If it was commonplace, perhaps it could prevent the English school estate from spending upwards of £150m annually on unnecessary operation and maintenance costs.

Just 5% of the nearly 60,000 school buildings across the UK are performing as intended and operating efficiently. The prevalence of damp, leaky classrooms and asbestos-ridden buildings in British schools means too many pupils and teachers are struggling to learn and teach in conditions damaging to their health and education.

Earlier this year the Department launched a new web-based tool to help schools switch to cheaper energy suppliers.

Figures from 2016/17 show state-funded schools in England spent more than £584 million on gas and electricity and the average secondary school spends around £90,000 a year on energy. If implemented properly, the funding could help the schools that receive it save around £1.8million a year, driving down the carbon footprint of the school estate and saving money in the process.

The money comes from the Salix Energy Efficiency Fund which is provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and administered by Salix Finance Ltd.

In summary

This country is in the grip of the worst shortage of school places in living memory. This report highlights the vital importance of school design and how it affects the general health and wellbeing of their users, our children and their teachers. As limited funding is available to deal with the growing problem, every penny spent on schools must deliver maximum value for money. 

How can we expect our children to compete with the world’s best when too many of our school buildings are substandard? Educational improvements resulting from the current programme of school building are not reaching the basic standards that British taxpayers and our economy expects. We need to do better for all of our children and their hardworking teachers. 

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