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AHR project St Anne's Academy

Plot of gold

Allan Hunt says the Spending Review painted a promising picture for new schools

Posted by Stephanie Broad | December 11, 2015 | People, policy, politics, money

The Chancellor’s Spending Review announcement of £23 billion in capital investment in schools over the Parliament is surely welcome. While details are not yet clear on how this pot will break down across the various areas covered – 500 new free schools, 600,000 new school places, the rebuilding and refurbishment of over 500 schools and tackling essential maintenance needs – it’s a promising picture for schools looking to upgrade or expand their existing estates.

The route to this pot of money, however, also remains a little vague. How much of this funding will be centrally driven, and how much devolved to schools? Given there is clearly cash available – but that we don’t yet know for sure when or how this cash might be parcelled out - it has never been more important to be ‘funding-ready’. That means getting clear now on both the current condition of your school or academy’s estate and of your plans for its future. This is even more the case for those sixth form colleges who are now for the first time able to apply for academy status (with the VAT benefits that entails). Especially if a college chooses not to join an academy trust, liabilities will fall to the college that would, previously, have been the responsibility of a local authority, including the maintenance and development of the estate. 

Birkenhead Academy by AHR

Regardless of circumstance, then, the time is right to get a solid grasp on the condition of your estate and to begin to anticipate future needs. These needs may be simple ongoing maintenance but, especially given that the 600,000 new school places will demand increased classroom capacity for many schools, are just as likely to involve a mixed programme of work ranging from maintenance through to remodelling and expansion.

When considering your estate, it also helps to think long-term when choosing a consultancy, since working collaboratively with the same firm from early stage development and bid work through to actual delivery on-the-ground of both maintenance and larger-scale projects produces a joined-up approach. Long-term collaborations help to reduce inefficiencies – an issue which was on everybody’s mind at the recent Academies Show in Birmingham – but also enhance the level of understanding that the consultant can bring to your school’s unique issues, needs and desires. 

So whether you are considering converting to an Academy and concerned to understand your estate more deeply, looking to expand or improve your current facilities, or simply wanting to get ahead of the curve on regular maintenance works, it will pay to be funding-ready.

Allan Hunt is Director of AHR Building Consultancy

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