£1.3 billion in funding is being added to a £10 billion program to rebuild the most dilapidated school buildings in England. In addition to making more money available for school rehab, the Coalition government is also pledging that the rebuilding program, scheduled to be completed in 2021, will be finished ahead of schedule in 2017, writes Angela Harrison of BBC News.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander announced the changes to the Commons as part of his speech on the government's capital spending plan. He added that in addition to improving old school buildings, the spending will be used to create up to 1 million new school spaces throughout England over the course of the next ten years.
Department for Education officials later said the £10bn would be spent on repairs and maintenance of schools outside of the 261 on the Priority School Buildings Programme, which involves larger-scale, re-building schemes. Other schools are also waiting for repairs and have been checked, alongside all schools, in a national survey, before decisions are made. The results are expected this autumn.
The previous Labour government under Prime Minister Gordon Brown was on track to implement a similar, though more expensive, Building Schools for the Future program. Once the coalition took power, the program, which was projected to cost more than £50 billion, was scrapped and the more economical building scheme was developed to take its place.
The building rehab/replacement program took some time to kick into gear because the government had difficulty securing private financing. As a result, only one school is currently in the process of being rehabbed, but government officials have already said that construction work on other schools is set to begin soon.
Other capital spending – £7.5bn – is going to create 500,000 new school places by 2021, in existing as well as in new free schools and academies. Mr Alexander's figure was higher – at one million school places – but this is understood to include places the government had already pledged to create by 2014-15. There is a severe shortage of school places in some areas, mainly at primary school level, linked to the rising birth rate.
Last week, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that the government was planning to maintain the current level of education funding in the near future, and added that additional money was going to be made available for the creation of 180 new free schools to be opened during the 2015-16 academic year.