Public Accounts Committee criticises DfE’s capital strategy
May 5, 2017
“The system for funding new schools and new places in existing schools is increasingly incoherent and too often poor value for money” – so opens the House of Commons, Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) critical report into the way in which the Department for Education (DfE) distributes capital funding. Published on 26 April 2017 the report looks at funding provided both for additional school places and improving existing buildings. It makes seven recommendations for DfE.
The PAC commented that it was not convinced the DfE was funding the right number of places in the right areas and could not explain to the Committee how it assesses whether an area had too much spare capacity. The PAC said it was equally unclear what the DfE meant by its aim “to provide parents with choice’ – as there was no definition of how much spare capacity was deemed to provide ‘meaningful choice’.
The committee accepted that the DfE has made progress to understanding the state of school buildings, but said it still did not have good enough information, particularly in relation to the prevalence and management of asbestos in schools. It recommends that the DfE should set out by December 2017 how it will address this gap in knowledge. The report goes on to say that there is not enough focus on routine maintenance and DfE should develop mechanisms for holding local authorities and academy trusts to account for the state of their school buildings.
Finally it considers the schools built under the Priority Schools Building Programme and the fact that the DfE does not have sufficiently robust mechanisms for assessing the quality, suitability and value for money of buildings provided under the programme. In particular it was critical of the fact that the DfE had endorsed the provision of some schools built without adequate on-site outdoor space.