Education & Family

Safe schools 'will cost billions'

A school in Sandwell
Image caption Nine schools in Sandwell borough were among the building projects cancelled

At least £15bn is needed over the next four years to ensure structurally sound classrooms for all England's children, research suggests.

The government scrapped Labour's £45bn school building programme in July, saying it was wasteful.

The estimate is based on a survey of 40% of councils, with the results scaled up to represent all 152.

It is part of the Local Government Association's submission to the government's review of spending.

The Department for Education says it will set out plans for capital spending on schools after the comprehensive spending review on 20 October.

It has also launched a review into school building, chaired by Sebastian James of the Dixons group.

The survey was carried out jointly by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS).

The two groups say it shows that £15bn in the period leading up to 2015 is the minimum investment considered essential by local authorities, to ensure that every child can be taught in a classroom which is safe and structurally sound.

They say that beyond the bare minimum - a wider total of £29.3bn is required.

The figures form part of the LGA's submissions to the comprehensive spending review and the James review.

"Everyone is well aware of the difficult financial climate in which councils are operating," said Baroness Margaret Eaton, Chairman of the LGA.

"We need to work even harder to ensure that the money that is invested in school buildings represents the best possible value for the taxpayer."

Marion Davis, President of ADCS, said the survey showed there was an urgent need for continued investment in school building.

'Red tape'

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We're clear that all future capital investment needs to go where it is needed most. Ministers want to target schools in most disrepair far better and deal with the urgent demand for primary school places - a problem we cannot afford to ignore."

The spokesman said all future investment must be "realistic and affordable, offer far greater value-for-money, and have far less red tape and bureaucracy".

Some 700 planned building projects were put on hold when the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme was scrapped in July.

BSF was a sweeping plan to rebuild every secondary school in England.

Under it many ambitious, architect-designed premises were developed in consultation with schools.

But critics said it was overly bureaucratic and poor value for money.

Image caption Some recent school building projects were innovative, ambitious designs

Its initial budget of £45bn was later revised upwards to £55bn.

However, the cancellations were met with anger, partly because many projects had already involved costly and time-consuming planning.

Some were in dilapidated schools and institutions which relied on temporary classrooms.

The LGA has estimated that £203m has been spent by councils on BSF projects which were cancelled.

Ministers want to target schools in most disrepair far better and deal with the urgent demand for primary school places - a problem we cannot afford to ignore.

There was also anger sparked by mistakes in the list of cancelled building projects.

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