£1bn for school rebuilding projects in 2021, but details on new 10-year plan scarce

A new school rebuilding programme will see 50 projects split £1 billion in funding next year, the government has announced.

The funding, for projects due to start from September 2021, will form part of a “ten-year school rebuilding programme”.

However further information about the level of funding for the scheme will not be confirmed until the next spending review, leading to accusations the announcement is “spin over substance”.

The government has only said the new scheme would target schools in the worst condition – including “substantial investment” in the north and Midlands.

Rebuilds will also be “greener” and focus on “modern construction methods to create highly-skilled jobs and boost the construction sector”, the government pledged.

Details of the projects splitting the £1 billion will be confirmed in the autumn.

Meanwhile, ministers have also announced that an additional £560 million will be spent on repairs and upgrades to schools in 2020-21, on top of £1.4 billion already allocated.

The National Audit Office said in 2017 that it would cost £6.7 billion to bring all existing school buildings up to “satisfactory” condition.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL leadership union, said the situation was “likely to have worsened since then, leaving far too many children studying in buildings that are not fit for purpose”.

He added: “It is desperately needed, long overdue, and will require further investment over and above that outlined in this announcement, but it is a significant step in the right direction.”

Although the money is new, it is not unexpected.

Schools had been due to hear at the comprehensive spending review next month how much capital funding would be available for rebuilds and refurbishment in the coming years.

But the spending review has been delayed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

At the 2015 spending review, the then chancellor George Osborne announced £23.2 billion in school capital cash, to last five years.

At the time, the government said this was to be spent on reaching its target for new places alongside “refurbishing and rebuilding more than 500 schools”.

The government’s current school rebuilding scheme, which is called the priority school building programme (PSBP) was launched in 2014 and was supposed to be completed in 2021. But in 2018, it was revealed that the second phase of the programme was to overrun until December 2022.

It appears the rebuild funding announced for next year is substantially more per project than under PSBP. The £1 billion funding works out as £20 million on average per project.

A total of £4.4 billion was allocated for 491 PSBP projects, which works out at around £9 million, on average, each. However some of these projects were refurbishments, not total rebuilds.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, said the announcement was “spin over substance”, as it was “nowhere near” the amount the NAO said was needed.

“Schools need urgent investment to increase space now, not vague numbers pulled out of thin air.”

But education secretary Gavin Williamson said “we can be assured that for years to come this country’s education system will drive opportunity and prosperity for all”.

He added that “replacing and upgrading poor condition school and college buildings with modern, energy efficient designs will give our students and teachers the environment they deserve, and support them to maximise their potential.”