Understanding funding decisions related to maintaining school buildings in England

Findings from a qualitative study exploring the decision-making process behind how schools and responsible bodies make decisions in relation to school maintenance and investments have been published by the Department for Education.

The author(s)

  • Sarah Knibbs Public Affairs
  • Lucy Lindley Public Affairs
  • Emily Mason Public Affairs
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Ipsos MORI, in partnership with the Education Policy Institute, carried out qualitative interviews with schools and responsible bodies on behalf of the Department for Education. The aim of this study was to understand funding decisions related to maintaining school buildings in England.

Key headline findings include:

  • Schools commonly defined building maintenance as the small-scale works carried out as part of the day-to-day running of the school to ensure that pupils have a safe environment in which to learn.
  • Health and safety was the primary maintenance concern across all schools but the quality of the learning environment and the cosmetic appearance were also considered.
  • Schools did not necessarily have a plan or strategy in place for building maintenance, reflecting that it was often difficult as there was a need to meet immediate issues.
  • The ease with which schools accessed capital funding for more significant investment varied by the type of school. Some local authority maintained schools in the sample reported being unable to access funds unless they were able to contribute themselves (with many being unable to from existing reserves). Academies were generally aware of the funding streams available to them, but some still faced challenges in navigating the process.
  • There were examples of expenditure on capital projects leading to savings on revenue including the replacement of faulty equipment to save ongoing repair costs and the installation of new windows to reduce energy bills. In general, however, schools did not view their expenditure as being a trade-off between revenue and capital (i.e. one leading to savings on the other).
  • Overall, schools felt that the overall level of funding available meant making a choice between meeting immediate needs and investing to make future savings – schools tended to prioritise the former.

Technical note

  • Overall, 40 in-depth telephone interviews were carried out: 29 with schools, and 11 with responsible bodies.
  • The sample of schools encompassed a cross-section of primary, secondary and special schools by age of buildings, financial position (revenue and capital), and condition of the school estate.
  • Data for schools was collected from individuals who played a key role in the school’s financial decision-making, including headteachers, business managers, and financial officers.
  • Data for responsible bodies was collected from individuals with significant responsibility for capital funding allocations, and their role varied depending on the type of responsible body they were situated in. This research reflects findings from two dioceses (associated with voluntary-aided schools), four local authorities (who were responsible for local authority maintained schools), and five academy trusts (who were responsible for the academy schools that formed their trust).
  • Fieldwork was conducted by Ipsos MORI researchers between October and December 2018.
  • This is a small-scale qualitative study which, by its nature, is not designed to be statistically representative.

The author(s)

  • Sarah Knibbs Public Affairs
  • Lucy Lindley Public Affairs
  • Emily Mason Public Affairs

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