Buildings far from fit

21st April 2006 at 01:00
Most authorities set to miss school repairs target, report James Graham, Karen Thornton and Nicola Porter

A ministerial goal of ensuring all school buildings in Wales are "fit for purpose" by 2010 will be missed in at least half of local authorities, according to a TES Cymru survey.

Poor school buildings are a problem throughout Wales, ranging from leaking inner-city secondaries built in the 1960s, to Victorian rural primaries lacking staffrooms, halls and even indoor toilets.

Spending per head on school buildings by Welsh councils has almost doubled in the past five years. But with no guarantee of further funding increases from the Assembly government, 11 of Wales's 22 local education authorities say the 2010 deadline will be missed. Only Merthyr Tydfil has so far claimed to be on target.

However, the Assembly government is concerned that not all LEAs are putting all the extra cash it has provided into schools.

Heather Loveridge, assistant director of education in Flintshire, which has an outstanding repairs and maintenance bill of pound;29 million, said: "We have no chance (of hitting the 2010 target).

"I'd be very surprised if any authority in Wales could confirm that. We have a huge backlog of works because of historic under-investment. You don't just catch up on that in a couple of years."

Powys, with a pound;50-60m repairs backlog, will also miss the target. A spokesman said: "The additional funding provided by the Assembly government has helped and some progress has been made.

"But existing funding levels would have to at least double to have any prospect of all schools being fit for purpose, and we would probably need until about 2020 to achieve it."

Graham Avery, senior assistant director in Bridgend (maintenance bill Pounds 12m), said: "We are not being provided with sufficient funding from our own reserves and the Assembly to do the work."

Blaenau Gwent - which spent pound;100 per head on school buildings in 2004-5, the third highest level in Wales - is hoping they will all be fit for purpose by 2012.

Figures produced for Assembly members investigating school funding show that capital expenditure per head of population on education has increased from pound;26 in 2000-1 to an average pound;49 last year (2004-5).

Wrexham was the biggest spender at pound;128: it has recently completed a major reorganisation and rebuilding of secondary schools.

However, Anglesey and Ceredigion spent only pound;22 and pound;27 respectively per head on school buildings - although they are Wales's highest per-pupil revenue spenders.

The government currently gives pound;143m a year for school buildings, and has pledged to continue spending at that level until at least the end of the decade, to ensure all schools are "in good physical shape and properly maintained". It has promised a progress report on its 2010 goal this summer.

At a pre-Easter meeting of the Assembly's school funding committee, the minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, Jane Davidson, was pressed by Liberal Democrat Peter Black on whether the target would be met and if LEAs were doing enough.

She said: "Pieces of data by unitary authority show that between 2000 and 2004-5, funding for capital projects doubled from pound;76m to pound;148.2m. We are concerned that not all local authorities are adequately using that education spending on schools. We must focus on what money LEAs are putting into capital spend."

She rejected figures prepared by the Welsh Local Government Association, suggesting spending is significantly higher in England, where ministers have pledged pound;7 billion to rebuild or refurbish more than half of its 17,762 primaries by 2022.


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