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Schools falling into disrepair because of government funding failure

More than four fifths of school leaders (83%) say they lack the funding needed to maintain their school buildings according to a new survey by school leaders' union, the NAHT.

Six in 10 (62%) are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the state of their school buildings. The survey of more than 1,000 members comes ahead of the NAHT’s annual conference in Newport, where members will debate issues including school funding.

Nearly a fifth (18%) of survey respondents reported that parts of their school estate, including specialist classrooms, laboratories, playgrounds, kitchens, and toilets can't be maintained.

Headteachers told of struggling to deliver a 21st-century education in outdated buildings, with only five per cent feeling they had enough money to ensure buildings met pupils’ needs. Over a third (37%) had to raise funds to cover estate management and buildings.

The latest National Audit Office report found that 700,000 children are learning in environments that require refurbishment. Leaders reported being forced to use classrooms that are damp and mouldy. In some cases, areas of schools remain out of bounds as they are simply not safe enough for use. Many schools are seeing an increase in the number of pupils with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) – which can require building adaptations, for example for wheelchair access – several respondents said there was not enough funding for such adaptations.

Capital investment in school buildings has been cut by 50% in real terms since 2010, just as many buildings are reaching the end of their life cycle.

School leaders said they could not invest in improvements to facilities for pupils because they are being forced to pour money into essential building repairs. Nearly all school leaders (94%) said the cost of building work had risen due to inflation. NAHT is calling for urgent government investment in school estates now, so the costs do not run further out of reach.

The NAHT wants to see additional investment of £4.4bn annually to upgrade school buildings.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union, the NAHT said:

“The crisis of capital investment in our schools has been brewing for 14 years, and it is now clear for all to see. In the last year, while the RAAC crisis has grabbed headlines, hundreds more school buildings have quietly slipped further into disrepair.

“Our children deserve to learn in safe, comfortable conditions. With a general election on the horizon, I urge all political parties to commit to a long-term plan backed up by serious new investment to ensure all school buildings are safe and fit for purpose.” 

Cindy O’Sullivan, Headteacher of Godsen House School, a state-maintained school in Surrey which supports children with SEND said:

“Our Grade II listed school building is over 230 years old, and we have been supporting children with special educational needs since the 1940s. The building and grounds are picturesque, but it is also rickety, decrepit, and woefully out of date, with leaky pipes, a sky-high heating bill, blocked drains, and rotting single-pane windows. We don’t have the budget to maintain the building and ensure children continue to receive the outstanding 21st-century education that they deserve.”

Tim Jones, headteacher of Spring Gardens Primary School in North Tyneside said:

“Over the last 14 years, our school, which is approaching its 100th birthday, has slowly been slipping into disrepair as funding for buildings has been cut – we are struggling to cover the cost of basic repairs. It's simply unfair to expect kids to learn, and feel inspired in classrooms that are damp, and mouldy.”

First published 29 April 2024