Estimate means repairs would cost more than £15.8bn allocated for schools over next five years

Schools across England are facing a huge maintenance backlog that would take £22bn to fix, according to shocking estimates revealed by the government’s leading adviser on future school building work.

Sebastian James, who led the inquiry into schools’ procurement to which the government is expected to respond next week, revealed that the latest estimate is far worse than the £8bn backlog previously cited.

This means that just to make the repairs would take far more than the £15.8bn allocated by the government for all schools capital work over the next five years.

Speaking at the Review of Education Capital conference in London last week, James added that the annual “treading water” requirements to keep the school estate in its current condition are estimated at about £1.6bn, meaning that the maintenance problem will worsen each year unless it receives investment.

The extent of the maintenance problems faced by schools has remained hidden over recent years after the previous government stopped a programme of collecting data on the condition of the school estate. In his review, James recommended that a rolling survey programme should be established examining the condition of about 20% of the estate every year.

Tim Byles, the former chief executive of delivery agency Partnerships for Schools, said: “As a nation, we are appalling at maintaining buildings. We need to make sure we have a proper whole-life system in place.”

The revelations, which come days before the government is expected to respond to James’ recommendations on schools’ procurement, will pile added pressure on the government to put in place a school renewal programme to replace the scrapped £55bn Building Schools for the Future programme.

However, sources close to the process have warned that the government is likely to put many of James’ recommendations out to further consultation rather than endorse them, which would delay a new programme. It is understood that James has been approached over leading an initiative to implement the government’s thinking, but is only likely to do so if the majority of his reforms are accepted.

Coming soon: Education White Paper

Building is to launch its Education White Paper later this month featuring exclusive information, data and insight on the education sector as well as a definitive overview of the market and a comparison of key industry players. The White Paper will include a survey of local authorities and their construction needs, full information on pupil place shortages across the country and expert analysis on the much awaited government response to Sebastian James’ review of education construction.

To pre-order a copy of Building’s White Paper on Education, contact Rinal Pandya on 0207-955 3874 or email