School buildings

Trusts lack building condition data despite DfE survey, cost-cutters find

Capital advisers programme will be expanded following positive feedback and after trusts predict savings

Capital advisers programme will be expanded following positive feedback and after trusts predict savings

A government scheme that sent qualified capital advisers into 70 academy trusts found four in five did not have sufficient data on the condition of their buildings.

This is despite the government having conducted a survey of every school in the country between 2017 and 2019 and shared those reports with schools, trusts and councils.

An evaluation of the pilot and first phase of the government’s “capital advisers programme” also found most trusts lacked asset management plans and estates strategies.

But the scheme received positive feedback from trusts, with 12 chains reporting estimated savings of £600,000 between them. The programme will now expand this year to a further 70 trusts.

It comes after the Department for Education admitted that repairing or replacing all defects in England’s schools will cost £11.4 billion, with the average secondary school needing £1.6 million worth of work.

Based on the school resource management advisers model, the government sent qualified advisers into 70 trusts between March 2021 and March 2023, making recommendations for better estate management.

Advisers then revisited the 20 pilot phase trusts and sent follow-up questionnaires to all 70 to check on progress.

Most trusts told to commission surveys

During visits to the first 20 trusts, four in five were told to commission condition surveys, and just under half remained non-compliant when revisited.

In the second phase, 78 per cent of the 50 trusts visited were told their data was insufficient.

This is despite the government having completed its condition data collection, a survey of every school in the country, in 2019. The reports were sent to schools’ responsible bodies, including academy trusts. A second nationwide survey is underway.

Government guidance on good estate management for schools states that responsible bodies should have both an asset management plan and an estate strategy.

But today’s report also shows 90 per cent of the 20 pilot trusts and 78 per cent of those in the second phase did not have an asset management plan, while 90 per cent and 70 per cent respectively were told to create an estate strategy.

Leaders thought they were doing better

During the pilot, advisers found a “contrast between the trust’s perception of their compliance [with estates management guidance] in comparison to the advisers’ assessment”.

There was also a disconnect in the first phase, with trusts on average believing they were operating in line with good practice in 70 per cent of areas. Advisers’ findings suggested this was actually closer to 45 per cent.

Eighty-five per cent of trusts said they were aware of the government guidance, but just 44 per cent said they were “actively” using it.

“Almost all” trusts stated that they were “unaware of the need for suitability and sufficiency surveys or placed them as a low priority in their action plan of improvements”.

12 trusts estimate £600k savings

But the involvement of advisers did have an impact, the evaluation concluded.

Revisits to pilot trusts found they had implemented 148 out of 385 recommendations, enabling a “25 percentage point improvement in aligning with good estate management practices”.

The first phase also received “positive feedback from almost all academy trusts”. Of 50 participating trusts, 40 said they expected to be able to reduce energy use and safe money as a result of the recommendations.

Only 12 trusts provided estimates of financial savings. They predicted they would save £600,000 annually between them.

This included one trust that said it would save £60,000 through “improved project delivery” and another that would save £16,000 in the “operation and maintenance” of their estate.

Following the evaluation, the programme will be expanded this academic year. Advisers will be sent to 70 more trusts, selected in the same way as those in phase one – based on condition need, geography, challenges and school characteristics.

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  1. It’s hardly a surprise. How many Trusts have a suitably skilled and qualified person running their estates? It’s the same in Finance, HR and IT. You get what you pay for and sadly most Trust’s won’t pay for what they need in these areas. Employ the right level of person and they will generate the savings with or without the governments advice.