Former Education Official Reveals Significant Reduction in School Repairs During Sunak’s Tenure
In a recent revelation, Jonathan Slater, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Education (DfE) from 2016 to August 2020, has disclosed a startling decline in the number of school repairs during Rishi Sunak’s tenure as chancellor. Slater expressed his astonishment at the lack of increased funding for classroom refurbishments in a spending review conducted in 2021, during Sunak’s term as chancellor.
Funding Shortfall and Frustration
Slater emphasized the pressing need to replace up to 400 schools annually. However, during his tenure as the senior official at DfE, funding was secured for only 100 schools, a situation he found deeply frustrating. Slater left the department with optimism that additional funding would be allocated to address this issue.
The 2021 Announcement
In February 2021, while Rishi Sunak held the position of chancellor, the government unveiled plans for just 50 schools to benefit from its new 10-year rebuilding program. Slater pointed out that although education ministers supported the rebuilding program, the real challenge lay in persuading the chancellor to approve the necessary funding.
Slater disclosed that the initial request in the 2021 Spending Review was to double the annual allocation from 100 to 200 schools, which he believed was practical. However, to his surprise, the chancellor’s decision in 2021 was to cut the program’s size in half.
Slater commented, “Boris Johnson had been appointed prime minister, he wanted to put more money into schools, we were told. I actually did think this time we would be able to increase funding for the rebuilding program. The spending review was completed the year after I left the department, and I was absolutely amazed to see the decision made by the Government was to halve the school rebuilding program from 100 a year to 50 a year.”
In response to these claims, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended his actions, stating, “Actually one of the first things I did as chancellor, in my first spending review in 2020, was to announce a new 10-year school rebuilding program for 500 schools. Now that equates to about 50 schools a year, that will be refurbished or rebuilt. If you look at what we have been doing over the previous decade, that’s completely in line with what we have always done.”
The state of England’s aging schools, as highlighted by a National Audit Office report, has become a contentious issue, with up to 700,000 children being taught in buildings in dire need of replacement or major refurbishment. Safety concerns regarding Raac (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete), widely used in school construction from the 1950s to the mid-1990s, have resulted in more than 100 schools in England partially or fully closing just days before the start of term.
At present, the Department for Education has not disclosed the names of the affected schools, and Rishi Sunak has not yet responded to Jonathan Slater’s claims.