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NAO Condition of School Buildings Report Draws Attention to Deteriorating Estates

A well-maintained school building is essential to providing a high-quality education. When an estate is deteriorating, it can have a negative impact on several factors. In addition to creating health and safety issues, poorly maintained buildings can influence pupil attainment and teacher retention. So, it’s crucially important for estates to prioritise ongoing maintenance.

A new report from the National Audit Office (NAO), Condition of School Buildings, has highlighted the declining condition of school estates. This report examines whether the Department for Education (DfE) is achieving its objective of ensuring school estates remain safe and well-maintained. This report draws attention to a range of building condition problems faced by schools, academies and sixth form colleges. Problems with asbestos and reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) are among the biggest concerns to pupil and staff safety. 

Years of underinvestment and funding shortfalls in the education sector have resulted in huge concerns about the buildings that students are learning in. In January 2023, there were 64,000 buildings across 21,600 schools in England and 38% of these buildings are believed to be past their initial design life. Although these buildings can often still be used with adequate maintenance, they can be more expensive to keep in good condition and tend to have much higher running costs due to their poor energy efficiency. The NAO report states that 700,000 students are learning in a school that requires major rebuilding or refurbishment. 

In recent years, the funding for improving school buildings has been significantly less than the amount the DfE estimated it needed. In its Spending Review 2020, the DfE recommended capital funding of £5.3 billion a year to maintain schools and mitigate serious risks of building failure. However, the HM Treasury only allocated an average of £3.1 billion a year resulting in the deterioration of estates. Since the summer of 2021, the DfE has escalated its concerns about the threat to safety in school buildings to the Government risk register.

This limited funding has resulted in responsible bodies prioritising school buildings in the worst condition, leaving less funding for effectively maintaining other buildings. This doesn’t offer good value for money in the long term and may not be the best use of the resources that are currently available. The DfE is continuing to improve the formula used to calculate maintenance and repair funding, which will help to ensure estates are getting the financial support they need. 

Although progress has been made in the last year, the DfE still lacks the comprehensive information required about safety issues to develop a longer-term plan to address them. It doesn’t have the insights needed to mitigate building safety risks by allocating funding appropriately. The NAO report has collated a number of recommendations for the DfE to ultimately improve the overall condition of school buildings in England. 

Whilst there is hope that the new NAO report will encourage more funding and support to ensure school buildings are safe and well-maintained, it’s important to be proactive in securing available funding to improve the condition of your estate. If your estate needs repairs and maintenance, it’s hugely beneficial to seek assistance when applying for capital funding. 

Since popular funding avenues like the Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) are so competitive, working with a company like Barker can help to ensure your CIF application is successful. Our no win, no fee bid writing services can help you to create the best environments for learning. In addition to supporting with CIF applications, we can explore new initiatives and funding opportunities to help you secure funding from any available stream. We have an outstanding track record of successful funding applications.

It’s beneficial to gain a better understanding of your estate’s condition too and booking a building condition survey can be very insightful. Learning more about the condition of your buildings can support funding bids and ensure you’re applying for the best possible projects. With extensive experience, our surveying team can provide accurate and practical reports, helping you to really understand your buildings. 

To find out more about how Barker can assist you, contact us today. 


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