Rishi Sunak is to blame for cuts to a school rebuilding programme, a former senior Department for Education official has claimed.
Jonathan Slater, who served as permanent secretary at the department from May 2016 to August 2020, said he was “absolutely amazed” the decision was made by the Treasury to halve the programme.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that up to 400 schools a year need to be replaced, but the DfE got the funding for just 100 while he served which he described as “frustrating”.
More than 100 schools were ordered to close over concerns about collapse-prone reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) just days before pupils were due to return from the summer holidays.
Widely used in the 1960s and 1970 with a lifespan of 30 years and a texture described as “bubbly”, the material was flagged as a safety risk in 2018 following the collapse of a school roof in Kent.
A report published in June revealed 400 other schools could be impacted by the material’s long-term use, putting an estimated 700,000 pupils at risk of being crushed.
But the former chancellor’s alleged refusal to fully fund the programme to rebuild England’s schools is very much the tip of the iceberg of this latest government scandal.
With public infrastructure including hospitals and courts now at risk of collapse, it was revealed by Labour’s Bridget Phillipson that Michael Gove had scrapped a multi-billion school rebuilding programme in 2010.
Rebuilding scrapped despite ‘glowing report’
The £55 billion project dubbed Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was proposed by former prime minister Gordon Brown, but eventually scrapped by the Tories shortly after taking office in 2010.
In 2016, former education secretary Michael Gove admitted ditching the planned scheme was one of his “worst mistakes”, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show it had “taught him a lesson”.
It wasn’t until 2012 that the public discovered the scheme had been scrapped despite a “glowing report” of the renovation programme.
Disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, the report by Partnerships for Schools, which oversaw the programme, said that at 62% of schools samples, GCSE results were improving at a rate “above the national average” as a result of renovation.
It also found the attendance improved in 73% of schools.
It added: “There are clear patterns of improvement that compare favourably with both local and national data. The patterns are significant and need further investigation to provide explanations about the impact of the BSF process.”
At the time Gove claimed there was “no firm evidence” of improved exam results as a result of renovation and the report was never published.
More than 700 school building projects were cancelled when BSF was scrapped.
At the time, a DfE spokesperson told the Guardian: “Our priority is to deliver robust standards and high quality teaching to all pupils.
“As well as launching the Priority Schools Building Programme we are providing extra capital investment to support the provision of new school places and meet essential maintenance needs.”