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Monday, February 18, 2008

In denial

Although this morning's Western Mail reveals that the repair backlog in Welsh schools has risen by more than £200m in 18 months, the question has to be asked as to whether the Welsh Government is still in denial on this crisis.

Government figures tell us that they face an £818m backlog in school repairs and maintenance. Conveniently, it has pledged to spend £708m over the next four years. Yet a Pricewaterhouse Coopers report for the Welsh Local Government Association in June/July 2006 put the backlog at £1.6 billion, at that time a difference in resources required and funding available of £749 million. Since then a large number of local Councils have completed their asset management plans inevitably pushing the final bill upwards.

My best guess is that we now need more than £2 billion to make all Welsh schools fit for purpose, a target which, as late as 3 October 2007, the Education Minister believed was achievable by 2010. Realistically, she needs to work in partnership with local Councils to find an additional £1.3 billion to get anywhere near that target. To do so by 2010 is clearly not possible.

The Minister and her government are living in cloud cuckoo land both on their targets and the level of funding they are providing. The sad outcome is that it is children's education which will suffer as a result.
Maybe NUT should get a bit more active...and Governments should concentrate on maintaining existing schools rather than building new ones?
The problem is that many of the existing schools are not fit for purpose in more ways than their basic condition. For example they do not have disabled access, they are an obstacle to delivering a 21st Century curriculum, they do not have suitable play areas. In many cases the most economic solution is to build a new school rather than repair an existing one.
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