Revealed: The urgent repairs that schools had to fight for

Repairs needed for ‘life safety’ are among 42 projects that the DfE refused to pay for until schools appealed
1st August 2022, 5:03pm

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Revealed: The urgent repairs that schools had to fight for

https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/general/revealed-urgent-repairs-schools-had-fight
Boat, sinking

Urgent electrical and fire safety repairs are among the projects that were initially rejected under one of the government’s flagship school funding schemes.

In total, 42 projects have been given cash after appealing their initial rejections to the Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) this year, Department for Education (DfE) data shows.

They include replacing a “failed” roof, work needed for safeguarding reasons, a new boiler “to prevent school closure” and “urgent fire compliance upgrades to address life safety matters”.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the fact that ”such important projects” have had to go through an appeals process reinforces its sense that the funding process “isn’t fit for purpose”.

The CIF is an annual round of capital funding that some academies, sixth-form colleges and voluntary aided schools apply for.

The DfE says that the “priority” for the funding is to address “significant condition need” and to keep buildings “safe and in good working order”, so projects usually focus on health and safety issues, building compliance or condition issues.

When schools apply, their applications are scored out of 100, with “project need” accounting for the bulk of the points.

Thousands of CIF bids fail

But only around a third of those that submit bids have them accepted, leaving thousands without money for works they believe are essential.

Those that are not successful can appeal if they think a ”material error” has been made in assessing the application.

Recently released data shows that 42 appeals were accepted this year, including an application for “urgent electrical and fire safety improvements”, another for an “urgent boiler replacement to prevent school closure” and another for “life-expired pipework and asbestos remediation”.

Other applications that were only accepted on appeal include a replacement for a “failed roof”, “urgent” window replacement works and multiple bids to replace windows.

Concern that schools have to appeal for ‘essential’ cash

Julia Harnden, funding specialist at ASCL, said it was “really concerning” to see that schools have had to go through an appeals process to secure funding for work that appears to be so “obviously essential”.

She added: ”Urgent boiler replacements, asbestos remediation, fire safety work and other examples would seem to be of critical and immediate importance. We have long had misgivings about the CIF as a way of funding capital works.

“It leaves schools having to jump through the hoops of a bidding process and we are not convinced that there is enough money in the pot in the first place.

“The fact that such important projects have had to go through an appeals process reinforces our sense that the CIF isn’t fit for purpose.”

Tim Warneford, managing director at Warneford Consulting, which works on CIF bids with schools, said it was “hard to comprehend” why some bids were rejected, only to be accepted on appeal.

“Given the paucity of feedback for CIF applications, it’s clear more transparency is needed on the appeals process,” he added.

The poor state of school buildings has been laid bare in recent times. Last year, a report by the DfE put the cost of repairing or replacing “all defective elements in the school estate” at £11.4 billion.

And an investigation by Tes earlier this summer revealed that more than 400 schools have had at least three CIF applications rejected since 2016 without a single successful bid.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Only a tiny proportion of total CIF applications were successful at appeal stage - reflecting the rigour of the original process.

“Applications to CIF are carefully assessed on condition need, the quality of the project plan and value for money to prioritise the most urgent works.

“We have invested over £13 billion in funding to improve the condition of schools since 2015 and supported more than 12,400 projects through the CIF.

“We continue to support CIF-eligible schools with urgent building issues through alternative funding, including Urgent Capital Support and the School Rebuilding Programme.”

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