Are we playing whack-a-mole with the £1bn capital school

funding announcement? Comment by STEVE VOLLER, founder of Altuity

Years of under-funding have exacerbated the problem of the condition of school buildings to such an extent that the £1bn spend on re-building schools in England over 10 years, as announced by the Government at the end of June, is nowhere near the level needed to secure a “world class” environment for children to learn in. Although the funding

announcement is good news, it’s worth spending a few minutes looking behind the headlines at the detail and the scale of problem

this funding is trying to tackle. The first 50 projects of the 10-year programme will be announced

later this year, with construction work starting in September 2021. The money for the next nine years will be set out in the Autumn spending plan. A further £560m is to be made available for school repairs and upgrades, in addition to £1.4bn in school condition funding already committed in 2020-21. So far so good but it the raises the question as to how much of the

£1bn is incremental over what would have been spent over 10 years anyway. In fact, it’s worse! 24 hours after the announcement TES stated the

£1bn comes after cuts to the Department of Education’s (DfE) capital budget of £760m since last September. This means the net increase is actually £240m. This matters because the DfE, through its Property Data Survey

Programme (PDSP), gathers data on the condition of school buildings. The National Audit Office (NAO) in 2017, reporting on the survey results, commented: “Common problems included faults with electrics, walls, windows

and doors … it would take £6.7 billion to restore all schools to at least a ‘satisfactory’ condition, and a further £7.1 billion to take them all to a ‘good’ condition.” This money would be split £5.5 billion for major repair works and

£1.2 billion to replace parts of buildings at the end of their lives or “at serious risk of imminent failure”. Unfortunately buildings deteriorate over time so the above costs will

have increased by now. The DfE while recognising the difficulties in forecasting deterioration rates projected: “…the cost of returning all school buildings to satisfactory or better

condition will double between 2015-16 and 2020-21, even with current levels of funding, as many buildings near the end of their original design life.” When looked at the overall need identified through the DfE’s own

school survey programme the figure of £1bn would be inadequate in itself. However, when looked at in the context of the cuts to capital spending the net increase of £240m is woefully inadequate. It’s roughly enough for one new secondary school per year. This is a whack-a-mole approach to budget allocation. Take away funds and then have them pop back up (after a delay of several years). The education estate needs long-term commitment of regular funds

at sufficient levels if we’re to make headway against rapidly deteriorating buildings. Next time you go to the pier or amusement arcade, if you hit 1 in 14

moles (or, given their propensity to breed, more like 1 in 21 based on the above DfE figures), would you consider that a job well done?

Activism and protest: shaping the future

Comment by BEKI MARTIN, Executive Director at charity Facing History and Ourselves UK

The brutal murder of George Floyd on 25 May has rightly sparked widespread outrage and activism across the globe. In the UK, marches have been, and continue to be, held in numerous cities: people have taken to the streets to protest against systemic racism, police brutality, and the mistreatment of black people, both here and in the US. These protests have not only pushed for justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, they have also called for honest engagement with the racism that operates across all levels of society. They have also forced us as a nation to examine not only the present and the fact that the society in which we live prioritises the needs of white people, but also our past and the sad truth that much of this country was built on the suffering and exploitation of other human beings. The toppling of the statue of Edward Colston, Member of Parliament, philanthropist and slave trader, in Bristol both symbolically and physically captures this need to shake up our foundations and actively engage with our past.

The activism and protests that we are witnessing now follows a long history of people speaking out and marching to demand change: the abolitionists used petitions and sugar boycotts to pressure the government to end the slave trade; the Suffragettes used hunger strikes and civil disobedience to secure women the vote; the organisers of the Bristol Bus Boycott, Paul Stephenson and Roy Hackett, used boycotts and protests to challenge racial discrimination in Bristol, subsequently paving the way for the 1965 Race Relations Act. Something about what is happening now, however, does feel different. Perhaps it is the fact that the internet enabled a worldwide witnessing of events happening in real time as well as facilitating the sharing of stories of discrimination and social organising; perhaps it is that large swathes of the population have had more time to reflect on the economic and social inequalities that the Covid-19 crisis has thrown into sharp relief; perhaps it is that a great need for change has been simmering beneath the surface and George Floyd’s tragic murder has motivated a new generation to lead action. It is, no doubt, a combination of factors, but it seems a movement is being set in motion and it is clear we must do all that we can to ensure that it succeeds. We cannot sit back and assume that centuries of oppression will correct itself.

As educators, we can help create change that lasts beyond the media cycle, to shape a fair future in which everyone can thrive. If we harness the engagement with activism sparked in our young people students will see that they have a voice, and that using it can lead to change. Through using the lessons of history, we can enable them to understand the UK’s past and help them think about what they can do to create a more just, fair and compassionate society.

To start the conversation with your students, take a look at our resources: and-uks-colonial-past democracy/protesting-discrimination-bristol

July/August 2020 21

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