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26.04.17

PAC: Government spending ‘over the odds’ on creating free schools

Concern has been raised that the government’s system of funding to build new schools and create places is “poor value for money,” the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has today stated.

In the ‘Capital funding for schools’ report, the committee said that the Department for Education (DfE) is paying well over the odds to build 500 free schools whilst the condition of many other existing schools across the country continues to deteriorate.

The cross-party committee of MPs also told the DfE it needed to use its funding “in a more coherent and cost-effective way,” or risk falling short of creating the 420,000 new school places that are required by 2021.

It also issued the latest warning to the government that maintaining the school estate posed a “significant challenge” over the next few years.

A number of measures were recommended by the committee, including the DfE working with local authorities on an individual basis to properly understand local demand for school places.

Another move that the PAC recommended was to use information from the property data survey to develop a robust approach to hold local authorities and academy trusts to account for maintaining their school buildings properly.

The report stated: “Having enough school places in safe, high-quality buildings in the areas where places are needed is a crucial part of an effective education system.

“Without this, parents may have less choice, pupils may have inconvenient journeys to school and the learning environment may be less effective, putting educational outcomes at risk.

“Many school buildings are old and in poor condition, and the condition of the estate is deteriorating. Poorly maintained buildings can affect the quality of children's education, and in extreme cases schools may have to close while buildings are made safe.”

Today’s news follows another warning from the Committee in March that education standards were rapidly declining in the UK – and that the government did not understand the severity of the problem facing the country’s young people.

Before that, the NAO claimed that the state of school buildings in the UK had fallen to a critical level, as it would now cost authorities a huge £6.7bn to improve the estate to being either “satisfactory” or “better condition”.

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