Sunak cut repair budget against department advice, DfE chief claims 

No new funds will be provided to fix or replace a slate of more than 100 schools told to close immediately due to fears over structural integrity. 

The Department of Education (DfE) issued the order to close last week after the collapse of a beam, previously thought to be safe, made of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete. 


Source: DfE/Flickr

Gillian Keegan, secretary of state for education

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said yesterday on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg that the government would “spend what it takes” to ensure children can attend school safely. 

Treasury briefings later in the day clarified that, confirming that any such funding would come from the DfE’s existing budget for buildings and that schools, academies and local authorities would not be given extra cash to bus pupils to alternative sites. 

This morning, education secretary Gillian Keegan made a series of broadcast appearances explaining that the DfE would cover all of the capital costs relating to the crisis, including temporary classrooms and remediation work, while revenue costs – such as furniture for temporary classrooms – would be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

She told Sky News that the DfE had already procured a stock of portable cabins from three suppliers for schools in need of temporary accommodation. 

Eight structural surveying firms have been appointed as well as one national propping company. 

“Normally we wouldn’t do this, the responsible bodies would do it. But to make it more efficient we’ve centrally taken that on board so that we can pay for it and make sure that it is very quickly available,” she said. 

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Regarding the refurbishment and rebuilding work itself, Keegan said the department was “committed” to funding it, but that it needed to “get a case together to figure out how much it is going to cost”. 

Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson blamed the crisis on the 2010 decision to cut Tony Blair’s school building programme and said using already-allocated money to fix the issue would be “storing up problems for the future” by funnelling money away from other necessary work to upgrade schools and remove dangerous asbestos”. 

The news comes alongside revelations by the DfE’s former permanent secretary that prime minister Rishi Sunak refused to fully fund school repairs during his own time as chancellor. 

Jonathan Slater led the department for four years between 2016 and 2020, overseeing a survey of schools which found the backlog of repairs had grown, with between 300 and 400 schools needing to be replaced each year. 

They were granted funding to replaced just 100 annually, which was subsequently cut in half as part of the 2021 spending review – despite the department’s request that it be doubled. 

“The frustrating thing in this particular case is that we had carried out a survey. We knew what was needed, we knew that a proper rebuilding program was going to be required otherwise these sorts of panics would take place, and now they have,” Slater told the Today programme this morning. 

Later this morning, Sunak rejected Slater’s claims, insisting the 50 schools a year he committed to funding in 2021 was in line with what the government had previously done.  

He further said that it was “utterly wrong” to blame him for the failure to tackle the RAAC crisis and said the timing was “frustrated”.

“New information came to light relatively recently,” he said, emphasising that the government had acted “as swiftly as possible”. 

According to education minister Gillian Keegan, 90% of the 15,000 schools built in the period in which RAAC was used had responded to prior government surveys. 

Of these respondents, only 1% were found to have RAAC. Fifty two of these were initially identified as “critical” cases and were remediated, while a further 104 were deemed non-critical. 

Last month, a ceiling at one of these “non-critical“ schools collapsed unexpectedly, leading to a change in status for all 104. 

Keegan told BBC Breakfast that, given the roughly 1,500 schools yet to return their surveys, there could be hundreds more RAAC cases to be identified.