RAAC issue shows schools deserve a political heavy-weight to fight their corner

Caroline Wright – Director General at BESA

Many parents, myself included, recently counted down the hours ahead of our children starting back at school, silently praying that would not receive an email to inform us that the new term was being postponed or moved online because of RAAC issues with school buildings.

A recent 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 (listen here).

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, it 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.

As we get closer to a General Election, with Keir Starmer planning his top team for a future government, I hope he pays 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.