Condition of school buildings

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report of its study of school buildings. The report finds that an estimated 700,000 children are being taught in England in school buildings that need major rebuilding or refurbishment, which can negatively impact pupil attainment and teacher retention. The NAO states the Department for Education’s assessment of risk has, since 2021, increased. The assessed risk of death or injury from a school building collapse was raised to ‘very likely and critical’. 

NAO key findings:
  • In recent years, funding for school buildings has not matched the amount DfE estimates it needs, contributing to the estate’s deterioration.
  • DfE does not have a full understanding of estate management capability across responsible bodies, which could make it difficult to target guidance and support.
  • Since NAO last examined this topic in 2017, DfE has been continually enhancing its insights on the general condition of school buildings.
  • Around 24,000 school buildings (38% of the total) are beyond their estimated initial design life so generally require more maintenance than newer buildings.
  • Around 700,000 pupils are learning in a school that the responsible body or DfE believes requires major rebuilding or refurbishment.
  • DfE currently lacks comprehensive information on the extent and severity of potential safety issues across the school estate, although it has made progress in the last year.
  • Since summer 2021, DfE has assessed the threat to safety in school buildings as a critical risk. It does not consider its existing mitigations as sufficient to bring the likelihood of this risk materialising down to acceptable levels.
  • DfE is behind its initial schedule for awarding contracts on its programme of major rebuilding and refurbishment, which will impact on completion rates.
  • DfE is continuing to improve its formula for calculating maintenance and repair funding.
  • DfE directly allocates maintenance and repair funding to some responsible bodies but it has not formally assessed the appropriateness of its threshold for doing so.
  • Schools in smaller academy trusts may be missing out on funding for maintenance and repair.
The report highlights the ongoing concerns about schools containing reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a form of concrete liable to failure. The NAO's first recommendation states that the government should determine how and when it plans to have fully dealt with RAAC so that it is no longer a critical risk. The deteriorating condition of significant parts of the school estate also presents challenges for the DfE’s sustainability strategy.

You can read ASCL's response to the NAO’s call for evidence here and to the report here.

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