Northumberland school buildings need £2k per pupil to bring them up to scratch

The new Duchess's Community High School in Alnwick was built with government funding topped up by county council investment.
The new Duchess's Community High School in Alnwick was built with government funding topped up by county council investment.
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More than £2,000 per pupil is needed to bring school buildings in Northumberland up to a satisfactory condition – far higher than in many other areas, according to a new report.

A report, published today by the National Audit Office (NAO), has found that deterioration in the condition of the school estate is a significant risk to long-term value for money.

The NAO data shows that the condition of school buildings in some local-authority areas is much worse than in others.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) property data survey estimated that schools in Northumberland would cost more than £2,100 per pupil to return to satisfactory condition or better. In contrast, it would cost less than £100 per pupil in Stoke.

Nationwide, it found a large number of school buildings require substantial repairs. These include a cost more than £500,000 to return each of 1,300 primary schools (eight per cent) to satisfactory condition and more than £1million to return each of 1,200 secondary schools (35 per cent) to satisfactory condition.

The DfE’s property data survey estimates it would cost £6.7billion to return all school buildings to satisfactory or better condition and a further £7.1billion to bring parts of school buildings from satisfactory to good condition. The most common major defects are problems with electrics and external walls.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Having enough school places in safe, high-quality buildings in the right areas is a crucial part of the education system.

“The Department has responded positively to start to meet the challenges it faces in relation to the quality and capacity of the school estate. Significant challenges remain, however, as the population continues to grow and the condition of the ageing estate deteriorates.”

Northumberland County Council’s Labour administration has used the figures to highlight its past and future investment in schools, suggesting that this ‘could be jeopardised if the authority were to restrict its capital programme and reduce borrowing’ – both sources of criticism from opposition councillors ahead of today’s budget meeting.

Council leader, Grant Davey, said: “Providing high-quality education in safe, modern and fit-for-purpose buildings is a key priority for this council.

“These figures highlight the shocking disparity between different parts of the country in terms of building condition and demonstrate why we are planning to invest more than £100million in our schools over the coming years.

“We have already invested more than £12million opening new high schools in Alnwick, Bedlington and Prudhoe - but major schemes like this are only possible by having an ambitious and forward-looking capital programme.

“If we were to restrict our capital programme, or reduce borrowing, projects like this simply wouldn’t be possible. While these are difficult financial times, we should not be compromising our future generations by short-changing them on education.”