Many parents, myself included, are anxiously counting down the hours ahead of our children starting back at school this week, silently praying that we will not receive an email to inform us that the new term is being postponed or moved online because of RAAC issues with school buildings.
Today’s BBC Radio Four interview with Jonathan Slater, the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education, was enlightening as he described the Treasury halving his Department’s budget request in 2021 to tackle RAAC and other school repair issues.
A former top civil servant accuses Rishi Sunak of failing to fully fund a critical schools rebuilding scheme when he was Chancellor.
Jonathan Slater tells @BBCNickRobinson 300-400 schools a year needed to be rebuilt but there was only funding for 100, which was further cut to 50
— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) September 4, 2023
In the real world inhabited by teachers and parents allocating funds to fix dangerous buildings might seem like a no-brainer, but in the cut-throat world of Westminster Treasury funding, is all too often allocated according to the political heft of the Secretary of State heading the Department in question.
This becomes all the more apparent when you look at the history of the Department for Education and its dire track record of success in real-term school funding in recent years.
Bean-counters at the Treasury clearly had few qualms watering down the DfE’s 2021 requests for both additional funding school repairs and the Education Recovery Commissioner’s catch-up plan when the department was led by Gavin Williamson. Yet just months later (February 2022) former Education Secretary Michael Gove secured £4.8bn for the new Levelling Up White Paper showing that despite post-Covid economic restraints new funding was available and possible for those with the political clout to argue for it.
On the day when Keir Starmer is widely rumoured to be considering a reshuffle of his top team I hope he is paying attention to the importance of the role of Shadow Education Secretary in his Shadow Cabinet . I also hope that our current Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has enough political capital to be able to secure a timely injection of cash into our crumbling schools estate at this critical time. Our pupils and teachers deserve a political heavyweight in Sanctuary Buildings fighting their corner.