Britain’s School Buildings Continue To Crumble

In a previous article “Major Rebuilding or Refurbishment Work Required In Schools” we highlighted the issue of the number of state schools in England, approximately 38% of which were already past their estimated design life. Today Britain’s schools are back in the news.

The National Audit Office (NAO), the UK’s independent public spending watchdog and parliamentary body which “supports parliament in holding government to account [by improving public services through high quality audits]” and scrutinises and audits government departments and government agencies reported in 2023 that the “overall, the condition of the school estate is declining, and there are safety concerns about some types of buildings [where reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) – a form of concrete that is susceptible to failure, if not properly maintained, is present].” A press release published in June 2023 further highlighted the major issue of the state of repair and the need for urgent building or refurbishment work in many schools in England saying that since summer 2021 the risk had been assessed and there is the possibility of school building collapse or failure which could potentially result in death or injury.

The head of the NAO Gareth Davies commented at the time that “At present, 700,000 pupils are learning in schools requiring major rebuilding or refurbishment. The Department for Education (DfE) has, since 2021, assessed the risk of school building failure or collapse as critical and very likely, but it has not been able to reduce this risk. More widely, it has an ambitious strategy for decarbonising the education estate but no plan for how it will achieve this or how much it is likely to cost.”

Since the NAO report a new BBC Panorama documentary titled Britain’s Crumbling Schools #britainscrumblingschools has aired, again highlighting the state of disrepair of Britain’s schools. Panorama’s reporter Rahil Sheikh found that “concerns over crumbling concrete are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Panorama’s Investigation Into Britain’s Crumbling School Buildings

The Panorama investigation visited schools over the winter months and discovered that many schools were “struggling to keep children safe in their classrooms and hearing from children learning in gloves due to extreme cold.” Rahil Sheikh reported that headteachers said schools were in urgent need of repair and many school buildings were “not fit for purpose.”

Over a 3-month period schools were asked to send Panorama video diaries of the problems they faced on a day-to-day basis. The investigation revealed an increasing number of school concerns. The schools listed below represent the growing problems faced by schools across the country which is impacting students, staff and teaching.

  • Scalby School in Scarborough had to close two-thirds of its school buildings when they were condemned as being too dangerous for pupils or teachers to enter due to the presence of RAAC. This led to a lack of available space for a music room, food tech room and drama studio. Space for science labs and kitchen and dining areas were also affected. In 2022 the headteacher received a letter from the Secretary of State for Education saying that the school would be rebuilt. Months later there is still no confirmation date as to when the school rebuild will begin. In response to an enquiry by Panorama the DfE say that “the school will have a detailed programme plan to review by the end of January 2024 and will be more deeply engaged by the department from that point onwards.”
  • In St Peter’s Church of England primary school in in Budleigh Salterton, Devon children work in unheated modular buildings (or sheds, as the headteacher refers to them) built in the 1960’s as temporary accommodation, but which remain to this day. During the winter temperatures dropped to below 7°C. Children and staff resorted to wearing gloves and scarfs to try to keep warm. According to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which apply to all workplaces, including schools, suggests the minimum temperature for working indoors should normally be at least 16°C or 13°C if the work involves rigorous physical effort. St Peter’s was rated grade A, which means it had been assessed as in the best condition. There are more than 10,000 temporary school buildings in England alone.
  • Russell Scott primary school in Greater Manchester was refurbished by Carillion at a cost of £3 million. When pupils returned, they discovered the heating system didn’t work, windows wouldn’t close and the fire doors that had been installed were illegal. The school has had to be evacuated on multiple occasions due to flooding. When flooding occurs, teachers are called upon to use sandbags to keep the water at bay and the headteacher must employ extreme cleaners to rip out furniture and carpets after each flood. When it rains, water comes through the roof and runs down the walls. Children say that they have gotten used to seeing buckets everywhere and its now the norm.

Maintenance and Improvement Of School Buildings

The NAO’s Condition of School Buildings report published in June 2023 found that over the years the funding allocated to school buildings had not matched the amount that the DfE had estimated it needed to allow it to maintain the school estate. In 2020 the DfE reported that £7 billion would be required for “best-practice level of annual capital funding”. It recommended £5.3 billion a year as the capital funding required to maintain schools and mitigate the most serious risks of building failure once the School Rebuilding Programme (a program to carry out school rebuilding and refurbishment works) had been expanded. While waiting for the expansion of the School Rebuilding Programme the DfE requested £4 billion a year for 2021-2025. HM Treasury subsequently allocated an average of £3.1 billion a year.

The School Rebuilding Programme which began in 2021 states that “over the course of this decade 500 schools will benefit from the programme.” However, after 3 years only 4 schools have undergone a rebuild.

Author of the NAO report Emma Wilson said “The DfE has made much slower progress than initially expected with the school rebuilding programme. Both in terms of getting those schools on contract and ready for the build and also doing the construction itself, which will inevitably have impact on the rest of the schools that are following in the queue behind them.”

The Panorama documentary shone a light on the state of our school buildings. As a school refurbishment company, we’ve seen first-hand the shocking state of these buildings, and schools simply don’t have the funding to support them.

JBH Refurbishments, Experts In School Refurbishment

Whether you are planning a complete refurbishment of several areas of your school, a small classroom fit out, or need support with your school maintenance we understand what’s required to carry out a school refurbishment to the highest standards. We pride ourselves on creating quality school refurbishments.

With our years of experience we can advise on all aspects of your Kent or London school refurbishment and provide the right expertise for your project. Contact us via our contact form or by calling us on 0333 207 0339 today for a free on-site consultation.


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