Grammar schools get more condition improvement funding

Grammar schools have won a bigger chunk of government cash this year, despite having their own £50 million expansion pot.

Half of the successful bids in highly selective areas for the 2019-20 Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) went to grammars, despite them making up only one third of schools.

This marks a rise on the previous funding round, when grammars made up 42 per cent of successful bids in highly selective areas (where 25 per cent of pupils or more are in grammars).

The capital funding, this year worth £433 million, is mainly for building works to keep academy buildings safe and in good working order, but a “small proportion” is allocated for expansion projects.

The rise in winning grammar bids, announced last month, has surprised some, as selective schools were this year barred from applying for expansion money under CIF. The government instead set up a £200 million expansion fund, just for selective schools, to run across four years.

Ian Widdows, the founder of the National Association of Secondary Moderns, which represents non-selective schools in selective areas, suggested the rise meant other schools were missing out.

Given the “significant funding devoted purely to grammar schools” this year, Widdows said he expected the proportion of grammars receiving CIF funding to fall and was “disappointed” the opposite had happened.

“We are all aware that school budgets, in secondary moderns, grammars and comprehensives, are stretched to breaking point and so it is vital that the allocation of a limited pot of capital funding is done fairly.”

However a Department for Education spokesperson denied any favouritism in allocating CIF money. Applications were reviewed “on an individual basis and applicants must meet the criteria to be successful – this criteria does not take into account what type of school it is”.

All academies and sixth-form colleges, except those belonging to trusts with more than five schools, can apply to the CIF for condition improvement work to buildings. Only those rated “good” or “outstanding” can get expansion funding.

Analysis of successful CIF bids in highly selective areas by Comprehensive Future, the anti-grammar schools group, found grammars won 35 bids of 70 (50 per cent).

It is vital that the allocation of a limited pot of capital funding is done fairly

Nationally, grammar schools made up 9 per cent (47) of the 514 successful secondary school bids – despite only making up 5 per cent of secondaries in the country.

The bids show ten of the successful grammar projects were for roof repairs and nine for heating or boiler repairs. Most of the rest were for fire safety issues.

However, Chatham Grammar School for Girls in Kent won money for “urgent classroom block replacement” – suggesting grammar schools can use CIF cash to fund new buildings rather than just improve them, so long as they are not strictly expanding.

The DfE does not release how much each school received.

When asked about the difference in figures, Jim Skinner, the chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association, reiterated that “school type is not a factor”. But he said proportions could be skewed by the ban on applications from trusts with more than five schools.

As grammar schools were more likely to be “outstanding”, they would be more likely to convert and set up in standalone trusts – whereas failing schools were more likely to have joined a multi-academy trust.

Geoff Barton

A response from the National Audit Office (NAO) to Comprehensive Future in September suggested schools that successfully secured CIF cash might be better at writing bid applications.

Laura Brackwell, the director of the education value for money audit at the NAO, told the group that CIF decisions were swayed by “how convincingly” the bid was written and that some schools “may pay for consultants”.

“CIF allocations may have reflected the quality of applications, rather than the condition of school buildings”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the problem was not enough money available to meet the need for capital projects.

The DfE was “creating winners and losers”.