Editor: It was notable that there was no additional funding for schools in the chancellor’s Autumn Statement, despite the continuing deterioration of the estate and issues with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).
The Department for Education has identified more than 210 schools as having RAAC structures, with an estimated 115,000 children being educated in them.
While the department has commendably scrambled to ensure that face-to-face teaching continues, most of the affected schools were not previously part of the government’s limited rebuilding programmes.
So, with no additional funding, and much resources within the department refocused on the RAAC issue, there are obvious conclusions to be drawn about the level of investment and renewal of the wider schools’ estate.
The issues faced by ageing school buildings go beyond RAAC. Many structures are life-expired, suffering from leaks, poor ventilation and problematic layouts. There is also an urgent need to decarbonise the estate if we are to meet our environmental objectives nationally.
We need to rebuild or substantially refurbish 300 to 400 schools a year just to maintain an estate that is now literally crumbling. Despite statements about the importance of education, Rishi Sunak, when chancellor, cut school rebuilding from 100 schools a year to just 50.
There was never an expectation that there would be some radical national infrastructure investment policy in this Autumn Statement, but that is what is needed.
Ben Marston, director, Jestico + Whiles