Poorer schools are more likely to miss out on government cash for crucial building repairs than well-funded ones, data shows.
Freedom of Information (FOI) data shows a huge disparity in schools that can access a crucial source of repair money, called the Condition Improvement Fund (CIF).
Around 4,500 schools in England are eligible for the fund, and they can apply for the money under a bidding process through the Department for Education (DfE).
But one of the criteria to decide winning bids is if a school can already make its own contribution to the repair work, which critics argue puts better-funded schools, or ones that can source more donations from parents, at an advantage.
FOI data previously reported by Tes found that 56 per cent of applications that pledged to contribute at least 30 per cent of the total project cost were successful, compared with just 30 per cent of those that pledged less than 5 per cent.
The DfE has said the figures are an “oversimplification” and that “the overriding element of any application is project need.”
But Robin Bevan, a headteacher at Southend High School for Boys, told i the process naturally limits the access for urgent repairs to the least well-funded schools”, who may struggle to make contributions from their budgets or parents.
“These are often the schools most likely to be in need of investment”, he added.
Last year the fund provide £498 million for 1,405 projects, meaning many schools get hundreds of thousands for the work.
School-funding differs massively between different types of schools, and the funding streams differ too. For building money, local authorities and larger multi-academy trusts (MATs) get building money direct from something called the School Condition Allowance without having to bid.
As part of the bidding process for CIF, the DfE scores each bids out of 100 with the urgency of the work – “project need” – accounting for 60 points. The cost of the project makes up 25 points and “planning” – which includes timescales and delivery plans – counts for 15 points.
A total of 6 of the points in the cost category are awarded for whether schools are able to make “significant (and affordable) contribution” to the work from other sources.
Tim Warneford, who works with schools as a consultant on their funding bids, said competition for money is “tight” and a point or two could make all the difference to whether an application was successful.
“I even had a school once where someone on reception manually sounded air horn made up part of their fire alarm system as the sound didn’t reach certain parts of the school,” he said. “They had to continue doing that the year before they got funding approved. They missed out by a point initially and only got the money after a second application.”
Julia Harnden, funding specialist at the Association of School an College Leaders (ASCL) said schools went through “a labyrinthine” process in order to secure funding for work that is “essential”, and in some cases miss out on this funding.
“It inevitably favours schools that are able to put more resources into the bid process. The result is that the CIF does not necessarily follow need and the funding available is not sufficient for the level of remedial work that is required to the school estate in any case. It is effectively a way of rationing the paucity of funding for capital work” she said.
Stephen Morales, CEO of the Institute for School Business Leadership (ISBL) which represents those who work in finance in schools, said the system to applying for CIF was “adversarial”, and that lots of schools in need missed out.
He said he believed that the revelations around RAAC were just the “tip of the iceberg” and had “shone a spotlight on generation neglect of school and other public sector buildings, which cuts across multiple parties’ time in government.”
He also cited the School Rebuilding Programme (SRP), which had 1,105 applications for major building replacements or repairs. Only 400 projects have been announced.
The DfE previously said of CIF: “Applications to the fund are carefully assessed on condition need, the quality of the project plan and value for money to prioritise the most urgent works.”