'The one who shouts loudest gets the money'
Schools most in need of vital repair works will miss out on the cash required to refurbish dilapidated buildings because of a lack of "know-how" when it comes to bidding for money, according to headteachers.
The Department for Education announced two weeks ago that it would be accepting applications from academies for capital grants to carry out essential repair works. But this has led to concerns among heads' leaders that the decisions about where the money is spent will be based on the ability of an academy to write a convincing bid rather than actual need.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has questioned whether forcing academies to compete for cash makes sense, especially as the government is already assessing the needs of every school as part of its school buildings survey.
"We do not want to return to a bidding culture where having the know-how and time to write a good bid is the key to getting the funding," said ASCL deputy general secretary Malcolm Trobe. "In many areas this government has freed schools from the worst excesses of bureaucracy, and we welcome that. We would not want to see a return to form-filling and jumping through hoops."
The ASCL also criticised the fact that the money is only for academies. While local authority schools have their own fund, Mr Trobe said that this is not at the same level.
"The provision of fit-for-purpose school buildings needs to be properly planned and prioritised for all schools regardless of status," he added.
The Education Funding Agency opened the latest round of bidding for the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund on 19 October, giving academies two months to lodge their applications before the deadline closes in mid-December.
Last year, more than 1,000 academies put forward bids for 2,465 projects totalling #163;1.16 billion, but the DfE made just #163;276 million available, leaving nearly half the schools without the money required to patch up their buildings.
The Department has said it has a larger pot of cash this year, but concerns remain that it will not come close to the amount necessary to carry out all the works needed by academies.
Roger Leighton, headteacher of the Sydney Russell School in Dagenham, East London, said that while his school has just undergone a #163;25 million refurbishment thanks to Building Schools for the Future, under the new system other needy schools could miss out.
"It is a real problem for heads," Mr Leighton said. "For most heads they are just getting through their day-to-day and do not have the time to sit down and put a bid together. Too often it is the one who shouts loudest who gets the money, even when the other person has a leaking roof or broken boiler. It is not a good way forward."
The British Council for School Environments (BCSE), a charity that lobbies for improvements to school buildings, said that weaker schools missing out on vital capital funds is a significant problem. "Bidding for grants is a real skill, that's why you have stronger academies and - as Building Schools for the Future showed - stronger local authorities when it comes to getting money," BCSE chief executive Nusrat Faizullah said.
"It is generally the weaker schools that are the last to know about these pots of money and they are usually the ones most in need of it."
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We agree that schools should be free from excessive bureaucracy. Academies seeking funding for maintenance projects simply need to complete a one-page form and provide supporting evidence - this is not a lengthy or technical process.
"The funding allocation for academies is calculated on exactly the same basis as the overall allocations to local authorities for their maintained schools."
DEMAND AND SUPPLY
Last year's bidding process
#163;1.16bn - Amount applied for by schools for rebuilding work.
#163;276m - Amount available from the government for rebuilding work.
1,071 - Number of academies that applied for cash.
571 - Number of academies that received cash.
2,465 - Number of building projects requiring funding.
773 - Number of building projects that received funding.