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Schools crisis: Sunak halved budget for rebuilding programme

Rishi Sunak slashed the government budget for school repairs by half in 2021, a former civil servant has claimed

The prime minister, who was chancellor at the time, cut the funding for repairs, meaning only 50, rather than 100, schools could be refurbished every year.

Former civil servant Jonathan Slater said Sunak made the decision as part of a review of the school repairs budget, the BBC reported today (Monday, 4 September).

The revelations come as scores of schools in England were forced to shut buildings constructed with ageing Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) components.


Slater, who was the most senior civil servant at the Department for Education (DfE) between May 2016 and August 2020, said the decision was made in spite of two surveys within the past 10 years which revealed a school rebuilding programme was needed on a huge scale.

He said repairs were needed on 300-400 schools a year built using post-war concrete with a 30-40 year lifespan. He added that the Treasury’s initial decision only to rebuild 100 schools a year was already ‘frustrating’, given ‘your priority was safety’.

Slater said in 2021 the DfE asked the chancellor to double the number of schools repaired to 200 a year, but added: ‘I thought we’d get it but the actual decision made in 2021 was to halve down from 100 a year to 50 year.’

Last week it emerged dozens of schools in England had either fully or partly closed over repair issues, including concerns over potentially unsafe RAAC concrete, just as the new academic year is set to start.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said 104 schools still contain RAAC, but has warned the true number could be in the hundreds.


Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Keegan revealed that around 10 per cent of schools in England (1,500) had failed to return the results of a DfE survey attempting to identify RAAC in school buildings, out of a total of 15,000 schools surveyed.

Of the schools which have responded, about 1 per cent have been built using RAAC, Keegan told the BBC.

RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete used between the 1950s and mid-1990s, which has been shown to be prone to failure with age and resulted in a primary school roof collapsing ‘with little warning’ in 2018.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report published in June highlighted ongoing concerns with the use of the material in schools, while the DfE has assessed the possibility of a school building failure in England causing death or injury as ‘critical and very likely’ since summer 2021.

Students are now returning to schools in Wales and Northern Ireland, where RAAC checks are ongoing, while students returned to school last month in Scotland, where ministers say there is ‘no immediate risk’ from RAAC.

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