Council fails to repair schools

29th January 1999 at 00:00
INSPECTORS have condemned "unacceptable" school buildings in Rotherham, which they say are seriously affecting pupils' and teachers' work.

Their criticisms, in a report published this week, are the result of an order by Education Secretary David Blunkett, in response to mounting concern over the state of school premises in the Yorkshire authority. The report revealed leaking flat roofs at the end of their useful life, rotting woodwork, poor toilets and overcrowding.

Parts of schools had been forced to shut and further closures are threatened with many buildings requiring urgent repairs.

Staff were diverted from classrooms to organise repairs and improvements.

The report was published as ministers announced a pound;7 million budget to help councils prepare asset management plans.

The inspectors said: "It is self-evident that there will be an adverse effect on teaching and learning in schools operating in buildings that are not weatherproof, warm and fit for purpose.

"The council has a responsibility to ensure that it provides and maintains a minimum standard of shelter, comfort and safety required for uninterrupted teaching to take place in all of the schools in the borough."

Part of one school - Wales comprehensive - had to be closed for two weeks last summer because its roof was leaking. Staff and pupils' work was disrupted for two terms. Staff placed markers on the floor so that buckets could be strategically placed to catch rainwater.

The joint inspection by the Audit Commission and the Office for Standards in Education also found:

* toilets that had not been refurbished since a school was built in the 1920s;

* dangerous surfaces at a school with visually-impaired children;

* a substantial refurbishment programme was compromised by a failure to ensure that the building was watertight.

The report acknowledged the council had tried to address problems but said it must develop and maintain an asset management plan and restart essential weatherproofing. They found the authority had no up-to-date plans and records for its 138 schools and until recently no full condition surveys.

Rotherham was criticised for failing to allocate enough money for essential repairs and maintenance and ordered to investigate alternative funding. Over the past three years the council has allocated nearly pound;10 million less for education than the Government said was necessary.

The inspectors warned: "Rotherham is not alone in having problems." Its problems were, however, unusually acute.

Rotherham's key stage 2 results for English and maths are well below the national average.

Council leader Keith Billington said: "The condition of some of our school buildings can be explained by the fact that for 18 years the government refused to give Yorkshire schools enough money to carry out vital repairs in schools.

"I am pleased the new Government is helping us put that right."

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