Following a recent National Audit Office report which estimated that improving the condition of school buildings would cost £6.7m, the Public Accounts Committee took evidence from both acting and former Head Teachers of Hetton School in Sunderland.
The Commons spending watchdog also found that too much money is being paid for the land and buildings needed for new free schools, saying the Education Funding Agency has paid above the market value in 60% of cases.
Craig Knowles and Phil Keay told MPs they have to close various parts of the school due to bad weather and concerns about asbestos, adding that the school building “was not fit to have children in for several years”.
Mr Knowles told the Committee he will have to make two staff members redundant due to the high costs of equipment for the school.
MPs heard that removing asbestos from schools would cost £100m.
Former Head Phil Keay said: “In terms of the asbestos, most of the asbestos is encased, but there were some ceiling tiles which are taped together, so therefore should be fairly secure, but on windy days, literally the wind got through the building, would open doors and would lift ceilings. And when ceilings lift, the dust then falls.”
He added that on several occassions, the building had to be closed off and students were sent to a “defumigation van” to ensure any traces of dust were removed.
The Public Accounts Committee said it challenges the Department for Education on ensuring the school estate is physically fit for purpose, and examines whether it is creating school places in areas where there is sufficient demand.
Last week, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a further £216m investment in school maintenance, to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools. The money will be allocated over the course of two academic years, with half spent in 2018-19 and the other half in 2019-20.
Also giving evidence were Jonathan Slater, DfE Permanent Secretary; Peter Lauener, EFA Chief Executive and Mike Green, EFA Director of Capital. You can watch this session on Parliament TV.
‘Too much paid’ to build free schools (BBC)