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Repair cash snub for school with condemned heating system

A school whose heating system was condemned after “flames shot out”, plunging classroom temperatures to 8ºC, is among those that have had bids for emergency repair funding rejected.

Just 826 projects at 733 schools have been allocated money through the Department for Education’s £450 million Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) this year.

The figures represent an almost 60 per cent fall in approved bids since 2020–21, when ministers gave 2,104 projects more than £563 million through the scheme. Bids from 1,283 schools were rejected this year.

The CIF pot is available to standalone academies or trusts with fewer than five schools wanting to keep a building “safe and in good working order”.

Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, bid for about £1.4 million to replace the heating system that operates across around two thirds of its site.

Issues with boilers, radiators and pipework have included regular breakdowns and leaks, and classroom temperatures ranging from “boiling hot” to “freezing cold”, according to head Matthew Evans.

Classroom temperature dropped to 8ºC

In October, two boilers were deemed unsafe by engineers after they emitted flames during a check-up and were found to pose a carbon monoxide risk. He stressed the issues were addressed before pupils were put at risk.

The situation resulted in classrooms getting “as cold as 8ºC” during the winter, forcing the school to lease boilers that cost “tens of thousands” of pounds.

Government regulations do not specify the minimum temperatures for classrooms in schools but the National Education Union has said they should be “at least 18ºC”.

Evans said it was “really frustrating. What I don’t understand is the school literally doesn’t have a functioning heating system. It concerns me that the funding that has been allocated to capital projects in schools can’t even cover keeping a heating system going.”

Meanwhile, almost 22 per cent of greenlit applications came from schools willing to stump up large sums towards the overall cost of the project.

Schools can only get full marks on the funding section of their bid if they pledge to pay more than 30 per cent of the work either out of their own pocket or via a loan, rather than relying fully on grant funding.

‘It’s a race to the bottom’

The average cost of a project rose, from £440,000 in the last round to £489,000, which suggests repairs have become larger and more expensive.

“[CIF] is supposed to assess the bids on the merit of their need, but clearly, if you’ve got money to invest, you’re going to pick up some marks,” said academy funding consultant Tim Warneford.

“It’s a race to the bottom. Only the schools with most urgent need are going to be funded.”

This month, Schools Week revealed the DfE raided capital coffers for £250 million to cover part of this year’s teacher pay grant.

It is understood that at least part of the underspend resulted from a slower-than-anticipated start to the school rebuilding programme, whose end date has now been pushed back two years to 2032 after its launch was impacted by Covid-19.

This funding pot is separate to CIF.

Buildings among the ‘big nasties’

The Public Accounts Committee said this week that school buildings are now one of the “big nasties” – the big spending problems that a future government must solve because of the “lack of forward thinking” of the current government.

It claimed the DfE had “failed to consider long-term value for money in school maintenance decisions. Problems with RAAC and asbestos have shown that, without a long-term plan, there is a huge impact when a problem crystalises.”

Gillian Keegan

It also noted 700,000 pupils were learning in schools that need major refurbishment and that 38 per cent of school buildings are beyond their initial design life.

Under the CIF scheme, special schools were most likely to be snubbed, as just 22 per cent of those that applied for cash were given the go-ahead. This compares to 34 per cent of primary bids and 43 per cent of secondary bids.

Only 29 per cent of eligible special schools lodged CIF bids – the lowest proportion of any school type.

Schools in the north east and south west were most likely to be snubbed.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the government was “continuing to invest in the school estate, so all children are taught in the best classrooms for generations to come”.

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