Boris Johnson’s pledge to rebuild crumbling schools is not what it appears

The promise of £1bn in funding is wholly inadequate to the task of repairing a decade of damage. 

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Boris Johnson has announced £1bn worth of funding for 50 major school building projects across England. He has also promised an extra £560m for repairs to school buildings.

This is different from previous school spending announcements and manifesto pledges from this government, as it concerns buildings and refurbishments rather than day-to-day education spending per child, according to the Department for Education.

No one can argue that schools need more funding. Their condition over the past decade has deteriorated. In January last year, a report for the New Statesman’s “Crumbling Britain” series found leaking library roofs and classroom gutters, classes in condemned buildings, holes in the floor and walls, falling ceiling tiles narrowly missing the heads of children, parents paying for new benches and resurfacing playgrounds, and head teachers cleaning toilets, when it investigated the state of England’s schools.

In 2010, Michael Gove as education secretary in the coalition government decided to scrap the Building Schools for the Future programme: New Labour’s £55bn plan to rebuild all English secondary schools, announced in 2004.

Some schools were left abandoned, and since that decision schools in England have suffered from ten years of underinvestment. Yet the new figure announced today is about six-sevenths’ spin, and one-seventh what is actually needed by our crumbling schools. In 2017, a National Audit Office investigation into the condition of the school estate in England found it would cost £6.7bn to return all school buildings to a satisfactory or better condition, and a further £7.1bn to improve parts of school buildings from a satisfactory to good condition.

That report, which forecast that the cost of addressing such major defects would “double between 2015-16 and 2020-21”, came out three years ago. So the figure is probably greater now – and makes the promised £1bn appear a large-sounding number plucked out of thin air, and inadequate to the task of repairing a decade of damage.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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