Jobs could be at risk at a school as it deals with the ongoing cost of its new build to replace its crumbling classrooms.
The former headteacher and acting headteacher at Hetton School gave evidence before a House of Commons committee, revealing how children had to be “hosed down” in an asbestos decontamination unit, while the school had to close when bad weather put them at risk of being covered by the cancer-causing material.
It was also told there could now be job losses at the school as it looks to balance the books over ongoing issues with the deal which finally saw a replacement building constructed.
The Public Accounts Committee looked at the capital spending on schools and put the spotlight on the Department for Education and Education Funding Agency on whether they delivered effectively on buildings.
Their appearance was organised by Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, who has raised concerns about the financial impact of the Government’s Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP).
She is worried the Government was allocating money for the construction of new free schools at a time the department estimates almost £7billion is needed to bring every existing school in the country up to a satisfactory standard, and a further £7billion to bring them up to good condition.
Demand for places is also rising, with another 420,000 more places need across the country by 2021.
Hetton School was originally listed in Labour’s Building Schools for Future project, which was scrapped by the Coalition Government in 2010, before it announced in 2012 it would be one of the first secondary schools to be built under PBSB.
Mr Knowles told the meeting he welcomed the new building, which opened in September, but said it was struggling to meet the ongoing costs of the private finance scheme, and that redundancies at the school might be necessary.
He also highlighted the unforeseen additional costs it has had to bear.
A whole generation of schoolchildren suffered while the government struggled to fund a new capital programme.”Bridget Phillipson
PSBP funding only covers the costs of an unfurnished building, with the school reliant on Sunderland City Council to cover the additional cost of £325,000 for desks, tables, IT equipment and furnishings.
After the hearing, Ms Phillipson said: “Hetton School is a prime example of why the DfE needs to think carefully going forward.
“The government’s misguided decision to cancel Labour’s successful Building Schools for the Future project in 2010 led to years of delay that had a real impact on this school’s ability to provide pupils with a safe and stable learning environment.
“A whole generation of schoolchildren suffered while the Government struggled to fund a new capital programme.”
A report on the issues discussed will be published once all the evidence before the committee has been considered.