Capital funding delays force school to cut admissions

A school waiting for investment under the government’s flagship building programme has been forced to reduce its pupil numbers after classrooms were deemed so unsafe they had to be demolished.

Great Barr School in Birmingham has been given permission by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) to reduce its published admission number from 422 to 350.

The school, which was built for a roll of 2,355, wrote to the regulator after nine of its classrooms were found to be in such poor condition they had to be knocked down.

Great Barr was one of 277 successful applicants under the second wave of the government’s Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) in February last year.  Two hundred and sixty schools were accepted in the first wave.

The school is suffering from serious budget constraints because of a lack of demand for pupil places and is also set to lose a deputy headteacher, the Schools Adjudicator’s response showed.

“As a consequence of the declining roll, the school is experiencing financial difficulties which the governing body wishes to address by a number of means, including restructuring the staffing organisation, for example, by reducing the number of deputy headteachers from four to three.”

Once building work is finished, the roll is expected to shoot up again to meet increasing local demand towards 2020, Schools Week has learned.

The £4.4 billion PSPB scheme is already heading for a £178.2 million overspend in its first phase

The OSA said the building repairs would not be completed until 2019.

Former education secretary Michael Gove (pictured) said the PSBP would allow school repairs to be completed more efficiently and faster than the old Building Schools for the Future programme, which he scrapped in 2010.

Hundreds of schools had been due for funding under the old programme.

But the £4.4 billion PSPB scheme is already heading for a £178.2 million overspend in its first phase, after a lack of interest from builders slowed progress.

A government report said issues within the construction industry had led to “delays against our internal delivery programmes, expenditure slipping backwards and an increase in the overall cost to deliver the [PSPB] programme”.

Kaley Foran, a researcher specialising in school funding at education support company The Key, said: “Schools can find capital funding quite tight. Depending on the nature of the works that buildings require, the devolved formula capital allocation may or may not cover the costs.

“Local authorities also have some capital funding available for their schools, but this is unlikely to extend to every capital project that needs attention.

They will have to prioritise their spending in line with strategic priorities and need.”

The OSA said much of Great Barr needed repair. Schools adjudicator Jill Pullen agreed with the Great Barr’s assertion that, with the fall in pupil numbers, the factors constituted a “major change in circumstance” and agreed to reduce its pupil admission numbers for this year and 2017.

Pullen said the change for this year would allow the governing body to make savings by restructuring staff, without concern that a high number of in-year admissions would be needed. The change for 2017 would also allow the school to plan how to use its limited accommodation.

Emma Leaman, assistant director of education at Bimingham council, said after the new classrooms were built Great Barr planned to be back at full capacity with “pupil numbers set to rise”.

A spokesperson at the Department for Education said: “The PSBP is transforming run-down buildings to state-of-the-art facilities, targeting funding at those school buildings in the worst condition.

“Under Building Schools for the Future, the most expensive schools cost in excess of £45 million and took three years for building work to begin. We have cut this to one year under PSBP and the average cost of rebuilding has dropped by a third, giving young people across the country the modern learning environment they need to unlock their potential.”

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