Budget 'not fit for job'

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Assembly funding increase is not enough to restore our crumbling schools, warn heads. Karen Thornton reports

Increases in spending on school buildings announced this week are not enough to deliver classrooms "fit for purpose" by the Welsh Assembly government's deadline of 2010, headteachers have warned.

And they accused ministers of using "smoke and mirrors" to hit their target of spending pound;560 million on improvements by 2007.

The Assembly government has allocated just over pound;139m for school buildings for each of the next three years - up from pound;107m in the current year - giving a total spend by 2007 of pound;524m.

A spokesman said an additional pound;91m of school projects funded by private finance initiatives (PFI) meant it would exceed the pound;560m target. But councils can decide how to spend pound;220m of the pound;524m set aside by the Assembly - and may choose to prioritise other areas, such as roads, according to the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA).

Brian Rowlands, secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association Cymru, accused the Assembly government of "an element of smoke and mirrors" in its budget statements.

"It appears that PFI projects already completed or planned for are included to camouflage the shortfall. Many schools and LEAs will be extremely disappointed that hopes for urgently needed building improvements will be dashed. The settlement falls far short of expectations."

Brian Lightman, SHA Cymru's past president, noted that in England pound;2.2 billion has been allocated for improving school buildings this year. He added: "The commitment announced in this budget is wholly inadequate to solve the problems of Wales's ageing school stock."

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "As ever with education funding in Wales, we're in the dark about exactly how much money will be available over the next three years to improve school buildings. But the figures quoted this week fall far short of what's required.

"Cardiff alone is reported to have a repair bill backlog of pound;51.5m, a figure which puts this week's figures into context and casts serious doubt on the Assembly government's ability to make all schools fit for purpose by 2010."

Dave Brown, head of finance at the WLGA, welcomed the overall increases in capital spending. But he warned councils may, where they have discretion over funds, concentrate on other areas such as roads because schools have been a spending priority in the past.

He added: "Looking at the condition of schools in Wales, even with these funding increases we have to wonder whether all schools will be a pleasure to teach and learn in by 2010."

The Vale of Glamorgan needs pound;87m for major repairs to three of its secondary schools. One, 1,350-pupil Cowbridge comprehensive, is spread over three sites, one of which is mostly composed of 40-year-old temporary classrooms that leak in the rain. The roof of another building is propped up to prevent it falling.

Head Margaret Evans said teachers, who move between the sites, are having to keep resources in the boots of their cars and work doubly hard to overcome the limitations of small classrooms and the lack of specialist facilities.

She said: "I don't think some of our buildings are going to be standing in another year, never mind another 10."

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