The withdrawal of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) funding has led to a number of difficulties at a local level for both local authorities and schools.
Although the amounts of funding available are still significant – more than
£2 billion was made available to schools and local authorities in 2012/13 – they are undoubtedly reduced and will not cover all projects that had been in the pipeline. However, the need for investment in buildings rather than education generally is, arguably, not as pressing as it was.
So what is currently available? A total of £800 million of “basic need” funding has been allocated to local authorities to fund projects at any publicly funded schools, including voluntary-aided schools, academies and free schools, where they address basic need pressures.
Local authorities have also been allocated £686 million of maintenance capital to support the needs of the schools that they maintain and for the Sure Start children’s centres in their area, determined by school and weighted pupil numbers.
Maintenance capital is also on offer to academies and voluntary-aided schools, with £276 million and £174 million respectively available. This is calculated based on pupil numbers and reflects the governors’ 10 per cent contribution and eligibility for VAT.
These allocations have been abated where schools have been or are about to be modernised through the BSF programme, or through privately financed projects.
A total of £200 million of devolved formula capital has been allocated directly to all publicly funded schools, based on a national formula of £4,000 per school and a weighted per-pupil sum, and a total of £107 million for 16 to 19 maintenance, devolved formula capital and basic need funding.
There are also a number of niche funds available to cater for more specific needs. For example, the Demographic Growth Capital Fund aims to increase the number of places for young people aged 16 to 19 as a result of demographic changes, increasing participation or increasing capacity for local provision for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.
Additionally, the Sixth Form College Capital Expansion Fund makes available £4 million to successful, popular 6th-form colleges wishing to expand their existing facilities and floor space so that they can accommodate more learners.
And the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) addresses the highest priority needs, with 42 schools in the very worst condition and all special schools included within the programme taken forward immediately.
Alternatively, schools can look at obtaining lottery funding (including funds from National Heritage, the Arts Council and the Sports Council) or European Funding (including funding from Structural Funds, Community Initiatives and Community Action Programmes).
We can expect more funding to be made available in the near future. In addition to targeting spending on those schools which are in the worst condition, the Department of Education (DfE) has stated that its priority in spending capital has been to increase the number of new school places. Since announcing the PSBP last July, the government has allocated £1.1 billion in additional funding to address the need for new school places.
The DfE plans to use the information from the national programme of surveys it is currently conducting to ensure that, subject to funds available in the next spending review period, those schools which need renovation will have their needs addressed as quickly as possible. By next autumn, it hopes to have details about the condition of every school in the country. Information on the condition of all schools was last collated centrally in 2005.
With the scale and speed of change, there is some uncertainty about how capital projects will be funded in future, particularly for academies. We may see the clustering of schools to give projects scale and realise efficiencies, but we are very much in the early stages of the process.
However, there are a number of things that schools can do now to help them to secure funding. First, it is important to understand the funding that is available and in particular the criteria that will be applied so that time is not wasted on futile bids.
Second, communication is key. Many lessons can be learned simply by speaking to schools that have embarked upon similar projects, and can make the whole process run a great deal more smoothly.
You may also consider seeking external professional support at an early stage – this can be inexpensive and factored into project budgets.
Refurbishing schools on a budget
Today’s schools are looking to create airy, comfortable, agile spaces that can be adapted for many different learning experiences. They want an environment that makes a great first impression and that is at the same time technologically versatile, sustainable, secure and a good fit with the school’s identity and the community’s needs.
A limited budget may leave schools feeling such a vision is unachievable. However, simple refurbishment can make a significant difference, even when money is tight. Student safety
There are a number of ways in which safety and security can be improved on a budget. For example, toilets are traditionally an area in which bullying is more likely to occur, however by creating a unisex facility that creates integration this can have a huge impact at a minimal cost.
Improving lines of sight throughout the building for teachers is also effective and can be achieved by reducing or completely removing small corridors through simple redesign by taking down partitions or replacing them with part glazed segregations.
Older buildings can suffer from outdated heating systems. Minor adaptations to the building fabric can dramatically improve the situation, such as with window replacement, cavity wall insulation or installation of a building management system. One school I know solved the issue by adding draft lobbies onto doors that opened up onto a courtyard, which controlled room temperature without throwing the environment into disarray.
By removing a solid partition wall, schools can create one large classroom with breakout areas, or replace it with a moveable wall for flexibility, creating an environment for a multitude of teaching and learning opportunities. Changing furniture, fixtures and equipment, too, can change the feel of a room and provide a platform to facilitate group working. They can also be updated with a small budget.
Integrating the community is about making others feel comfortable and welcome in the environment and giving them a sense of belonging. It is relatively inexpensive to create a multi-use area, which can be securely zoned off for out-of-hours use by the public. This space is front-of-house, includes a reception area, and provides the opportunity to use computers for self-learning, purchase food and drink, and during the day can be used by students for dining, group work and computer use.
Integrating the vision
A simple repaint incorporating graphics and bold colours reflecting school values or a specialism can inspire pupils and teachers. This can cheaply, easily and quickly create a brand for the school within the existing space, and can be applied only to entrances, for example, where first impressions count.
With clever plantations and the use of hard and soft landscaping, schools can bring learning outside in an amphitheatre-style setting bolted onto existing learning spaces. This enhances the school setting, improving its image within the community, at the same time as supporting educational attainment. The creation of allotments or wildlife zones for example provides real curriculum enhancement opportunities and a sense of attachment for the students.
Vincent King is a partner at law firm Cobbetts and Andy Shaw is director of construction services at Styles & Wood.