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Dilapidated, leaking and impossible to heat

news | Published in TES magazine on 7 September, 2012 | By: Richard Vaughan

Half of teachers say lessons are hindered by run-down buildings

The full extent to which schools are suffering with leaking roofs and broken boilers was revealed this week as more than half of teachers claimed that their lessons are being hindered by the inadequate state of school buildings.

A survey of more than 2,000 teachers, conducted by TES and ITV's Daybreak programme, also revealed that one in five respondents felt their classrooms were unfit to teach in, while more than a quarter said that they would not want their own children to attend their school because of its state of disrepair.

The figures lay bare the condition of the country's school buildings, which have little hope of being refurbished or rebuilt due to swingeing cuts to schools' capital budgets.

More than two-thirds of teachers taking part in the survey felt their school needed modernisation, while more than 86 per cent believed that improved facilities would have a positive impact on their pupils' learning and behaviour.

The British Council for School Environments (BCSE), which lobbies for improvements to school buildings, said that poor classrooms act as a "real barrier" to how well pupils can learn.

"We are in serious need of a full overview of the state of the school estate, because the classroom environment can play a significant role in learning outcomes," said Nusrat Faizullah, the BCSE's chief executive. "The most recent estimates suggest 70 per cent of schools are beyond their design life," she added.

Hundreds of schools had been expecting to receive money to either rebuild or refurbish their classrooms under the vast £55 billion school rebuilding programme, Building Schools for the Future (BSF), brought in under Labour. But in one of his first acts as education secretary, Michael Gove axed the scheme, branding it a waste of public money, leaving many heads, teachers and pupils reeling.

According to Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, many schools that believed they were in line to receive new buildings spent their annual maintenance budgets on other priorities than the upkeep of their existing classrooms.

"This has exacerbated the problem," Mr Trobe said. "Many heads thought there was no point spending money to carry out repairs when they were about to get a new building, but then BSF was scrapped."

Furthermore, since dropping BSF, the Department for Education has also slashed the general maintenance budgets handed to schools each year, leaving heads with less money to patch up leaking roofs.

Julie Scott, headteacher of Thomas Walling Primary School, Newcastle, said that she has seen her maintenance pot significantly reduced. "In the past we have received over £30,000 every year in the capital fund, but that has been cut quite drastically and we now only get £7,000, which goes nowhere when we think of the things we need to replace," she said.

In May this year, the government announced a £2.5 billion, five-year package called the Priority School Building Programme, intended to meet the needs of schools that are in the worst state of disrepair. However, just 261 schools will be rebuilt or refurbished under the scheme, leaving hundreds of schools with sub-standard facilities.

Adele Simpson, headteacher of Moorside Community Primary School in Halifax, said she is constantly having to make do and mend, and is now finding it difficult to continue to run her school. "I feel our situation is really desperate - we can't go on like this," she said. "It's like an uphill battle at school. We are forever patching up areas that have leaked or have fallen down."

A spokesman for the DfE said that the questionnaire failed "to give an accurate picture of the state of our nation's schools".

"We have replaced previous schemes that didn't help the schools in the greatest need and launched the Priority Schools Building Programme to target the worst school buildings first," the spokesman added. "By 2015 we will have spent over £17 billion on school building projects and creating new school places to ensure schools meet the needs of their children and teachers."

STATE OF DISREPAIR

50.5% of teachers who responded to the poll felt their lessons were hindered by the state of school buildings.

20.2% believed that their classrooms were unfit to teach in.

28.9% would not want their own children to attend their school because of disrepair.

68.5% said their school needed modernising.

86.2% believed that modernising their school would improve learning.

24.4% had previously been turned down for funding.


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