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Sunak has refused to fully fund repairs to England’s crumbling schools, ex-official says | Schools

Rishi Sunak refused to properly fund a school reconstruction program when he was chancellor, despite officials presenting evidence that there was “critical risk to life” from the collapse of concrete panels, said the former chief official of the Ministry of Education.

After the department told Sunak’s Treasury that there was a need to rebuild 300-400 schools a year in England, it only provided funding for 100, which was later halved to 50, said Jonathan Slater, permanent secretary of the department from 2016 to 2020. .

Tory ministers more generally thought a bigger funding priority was to build new free schools, Slater told BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Monday, as pupils returned to many schools in England to the new quarter.

“For me, as an official, it felt like it should have come after safety,” Slater said. “But politics is about choice. And it’s a choice they made.

Amid a growing political and educational crisis over schools built of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) between the 1950s and 1990s, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said it was still unclear how many of them might be affected and how many might have to close. , with engineers still to inspect more sites.

Keegan insisted the DfE had taken a ‘very cautious approach’ to these issues and parents should be reassured that the ‘vast majority of children will return today’.

In a damning interview on Monday morning, Slater said two surveys of Raac in schools revealed the extent of the work needed on a construction method that is supposed to be time-limited to around 30 years of use, with a risk in some cases of sudden and catastrophic disaster. failure beyond that.

He said it was “frustrating” that the Treasury is only funding between a third and a quarter of the work needed.

“With the Treasury, of course, there’s a concern that there’s never going to be enough money for everything, but we were able to present some really good data,” Slater said. “We weren’t just saying there was a significant risk of death, we were saying [there was] posed a critical risk to life if this program was not funded.

While he was permanent secretary, in 2018 a concrete block fell from the roof of an elementary school, Slater added, “so it wasn’t just a risk. In fact, it was starting to happen.”

Asked on Today about the lightened reconstruction program, Keegan framed it as a standard funding discussion between a department and the Treasury, saying Sunak’s department may not have considered the specific plan to be d ‘A good price-performance ratio.

“There’s always a challenge when it comes to putting together a funding case and figuring out how much you get,” she said. “And each department will always present arguments to get more than they actually get. What you have to do is demonstrate good value for money.

Following Slater’s comments, the Liberal Democrats said ministers must release evidence presented to the Treasury by the DfE.

Munira Wilson, the party’s education spokesperson, said: “This explosive revelation shows that the responsibility for this concrete crisis rests firmly at the door of Rishi Sunak. It cut funding to repair crumbling classrooms when authorities said it needed to be increased. Today, children and parents across the country are paying the price for this disastrous and short-sighted decision. »

Raac: Pressure test shows risk posed by spalling concrete – video

Speaking earlier on Sky News, Keegan said the DfE “is not strictly responsible for the [school] buildings’, as they are maintained by the councils or academy chains, but would fund any work from the department’s existing budget.

“There will be some in some cases where they have quite an extensive Raac, so they might close so we can set up temporary accommodation,” she said.

“Many schools are either looking for alternative accommodation, if they are part of a multi-academy trust or local authority, or moving to another classroom, if they have a free classroom. If it’s in the whole school, it becomes more difficult,” she said.


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