Cash for building work could be cut

6th July 2007 at 01:00
A SHAKE-UP in the way cash is distributed for building projects could leave some schools thousands of pounds out of pocket, say headteachers. It could mean scores of newer schools holding back plans to install media suites, workshops and other facilities for the new 14 to 19 diplomas.

A typical 1,200-pupil comprehensive built five years ago could lose around pound;20,000 a year for the next five years.

Under new proposals, schools which have been rebuilt or modernised within the past 10 years will receive 50 per cent of the full rate of devolved formula capital which is provided to schools for small-scale building projects every year.

At present, new schools receive nothing for the first three years and then 65 per cent for the following seven. They qualify for the full rate after 10 years.

The changes will benefit newly built schools. But schools built around five years ago, which missed out on funding in their first three years, will see their allowance cut fro 65 to 50 per cent.

They will have to wait another five years before they can qualify for the full rate, when they will no longer be classified as "new".

Headteacher Malcolm Trobe, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Malmesbury school in Wiltshire would lose around pound;20,000 a year.

The comprehensive, built under the private finance initiative in 2002 is typical of many that stand to lose out.

Mr Trobe was planning a programme of works to adapt drama and technology departments for the diplomas but these may have to be cut back.

Despite these fears, new schools set to be built or refurbished under the Building Schools for the Future programme will benefit from the plans as they will receive a share of the funding as soon as they open.

Mr Trobe said: "I welcome the idea that schools will be entitled to 50 per cent of the full amount straight after they are first built as that is much better than receiving nothing.

"But this system could punish schools that are in the middle who have benefited from schemes such as PFI, but still have plenty to do to keep up. Ten years is a long time in education, and requirements of the curriculum change fast, especially in ICT."

He warned that money stored up in the first few years could possibly fall prey to local authority "clawback" schemes, in which councils claim back school surpluses.

The changes were outlined in a consultation document on capital funding released this month.

Other proposals suggest local authorities and schools will be expected to prioritise improvements to school kitchens.

Extra money would be provided only in exceptional circumstances in authorities where more than 20 per cent of schools do not have kitchens.

The three existing grants for school technology will also be condensed into one, allocated on the basis of pupil numbers and levels of deprivation.

The consultation paper is also inviting views on how capital spending programmes can provide incentives for reducing surplus places. The deadline for responses is July 26.

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