School repair shame

CHILDREN across North Somerset are being taught in decaying, crumbling schools which need about �30million of repairs to bring them up to scratch.

The Mercury has uncovered a catalogue of problems with the buildings children are being taught in across the district.

Shocking sums of cash needed to repair and refurbish each primary and secondary in this area can be seen in the table in this week’s Mercury and headteachers have this week spoken out about the poor state of their schools.

The problems at each, many of the most serious type, were discovered after North Somerset Council carried out a survey of the buildings.

The results of this survey, unearthed by the Mercury through a Freedom of Information request, show that even the better-maintained schools need significant cash injections.

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The survey in 2009 found more than �30million of investment was needed to address all the outstanding conditions, the most serious of which required �23million.

Cash-strapped North Somerset Council carried out �1.8million worth of repairs after the survey, but has only been able to plan �2million into the budget for work in 2012/13.

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The recent effects of several schools becoming academies since the survey was carried out has reduced the local authority’s responsibility for maintenance, but the backlog of repairs North Somerset is responsible for still totals more than �20million.

One of the schools in the worst condition in this area is Churchill Academy and Sixth Form. It can still bid for central Government funding despite the fact it has become an academy.

The survey showed it needed nearly �2.4million worth of repairs and refurbishment carried out.

Headteacher Dr Barry Wratten said: “Our buildings are in poor condition, we have to do something.

“We are preparing to make bids to the Government to refurbish elements of our building. These will be submitted in the next few weeks.

“We have recently worked with some architects to develop a master site plan, exploring conditions, priorities and potential changes.

“We are increasingly excited by this – relatively small scale projects that will redevelop the site bit by bit.

“We are hoping such a holistic approach will find favour with the Government, given the poor condition of the school buildings generally.”

At the last count Worle Community School needed more than �2.1million spent on it to bring the Redwing Drive site up to scratch. Headteacher Peter Binding says until last April the school used to get �166,000 per year from central Government for maintenance, but this has dropped to just �30,000.

He added: “We are trying to maintain buildings on very little money. The situation has certainly not improved since the survey was carried out.

“It isn’t the local authority’s fault. The main issue is that more central Government money is needed to maintain schools.

“One of the main problems we get is with flooding – this causes us big problems.”

Neville Coles, headteacher of Priory Community School in Worle, which recently became an academy, says local politicians need to make a fuss about the poor funding North Somerset gets for its schools.

He said: “As anyone who has visited Priory will know, we have an outstanding site. But much of this is down to our own hard work and our great site maintenance team.

“North Somerset is rated as 141st out of 150 local authorities in terms of what we get from the Government for each student - this impacts on academy funding as well.”

North Somerset councillor Mike Bell says he will be lobbying for fairer funding for schools across the area.

He said: “At the current rate of progress it would take a decade to bring our schools up to scratch and of course, in the meantime, many more will fall into disrepair.

“Our schools do a fantastic job in the circumstances to deliver the standard of education they do, but they need more support from the local authority and from central Government to address significant and long-standing building repair issues.

“While we all recognise the difficult financial position facing the country, the investment in our children and young people is one which we cannot afford not to make.”

* To see how your child’s school fared see this week’s Weston Mercury.

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