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'£15bn needed' for safe schools

Around £15 billion is needed over the next four years to guarantee every child a school place in a safe environment, research has suggested.

Nearly £5 billion is considered essential for the next financial year (2011-12) alone to ensure youngsters are taught in safe and structurally sound classrooms, it found.

The study, conducted by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), questioned local councils on their capital needs for education and children's services, and how much of this is necessary to meet mandatory requirements on providing school places and health and safety. Around 40% of authorities replied.

The findings, extrapolated to include councils that did not respond, show that £15 billion is the minimum investment, considered "essential" by local authorities, to ensure that every child has a safe school place.

Of this, £4.7 billion is deemed essential for 2011-12.

Overall, councils said they need £29.3 billion over the next four years - including the £15 billion "essential" investment.

This money includes a small amount for children's services capital investment, such as children's homes.

LGA chairman Baroness Margaret Eaton said: "Everyone is well aware of the difficult financial climate in which councils are operating. We need to work even harder to ensure that the money that is invested in school buildings represents the best possible value for the taxpayer.

"Our children need schools which are safe, clean and attractive places in which they can learn. Spending money to maintain or replace existing school buildings is unavoidable. Areas experiencing booming birth rates need to be able to expand primary schools so that every child has a place not too far from their home."

Concerns have previously been raised that not enough is being done to tackle a shortage in primary places, a particular problem in big cities such as London. The shortage has been blamed partly on rising birth rates and funding issues.

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