RAAC crisis has shone a light on chronic underfunding for school buildings, unions and governors tell Rishi Sunak

 

Eight education unions, along with governance experts, are warning the prime minister that chronic underfunding of school buildings has left many unsafe and that urgent action is now needed.

The Association of School and College Leaders, the NAHT school leaders’ union, the NASUWT and NEU teaching unions, GMB, UNISON, Unite, Community and the National Governance Association have today called on the government to invest at least an extra £4.4 billion annually in school buildings.

A letter from the organisations to Rishi Sunak says that the RAAC crisis in schools has highlighted the wider issue of the underfunding of school buildings, “which has left many unsafe and no longer fit for purpose”.

It also highlights that the unions are still waiting on answers from education secretary Gillian Keegan on several questions about the RAAC crisis that were asked more than two weeks ago.

The letter adds: “We met with Gillian Keegan on 18 September but have still not had a timeframe on when all schools at risk will be investigated by qualified structural engineers to assess the extent of the problem and measures that need to be put in place to rectify the presence of RAAC. Nor has there been a deadline set to clear RAAC from every school.”

The letter calls for an extra £4.4 billion to be spent annually to upgrade school buildings, bringing the total yearly spend to £7 billion. This is what the Department for Education’s own officials have previously recommended, the letter adds.

It also highlights that the DfE’s Condition of school buildings survey, published in May 2021, found that schools in England face a repair bill of an estimated £11.4 billion. And only four years previously, the National Audit Office (NAO) estimated a total repair bill of £6.7 billion.

“Although the two surveys calculated their estimates slightly differently, there is no doubt that the leap from £6.7 billion to £11.4 billion – almost twice the original amount – signifies a considerable worsening of the fabric of the school estate in England over just a few years,” it says.

It highlights reports that DfE civil servants had last year warned Downing Street that some school sites were a “risk to life” and demanded £13 billion for repairs.

The officials called for the Treasury to urgently make extra funding available, in order to increase the number of school rebuilding projects from 50 a year to more than 300.

The letter adds: “As education unions representing more than one million workers in the sector, we wrote to you in February 2023 with concerns about the school estate.”

Ms Keegan’s response to the unions’ letter stated that “the department is not aware of any open school buildings where we know of an imminent risk to life” and the risk rating “reflects the fact we have identified increased numbers of structural issues through our continuing engagement with the sector, and also the overall age of the estate”.

In their letter today to Mr Sunak, the unions and NGA bosses say: “This situation has now changed so we are writing to call on you to act, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that our school estate is upgraded and made safe for education in the 21st century.”

 

Source: TES

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