Belfast Telegraph

Older schools 'not fit for purpose'

Many ageing schools in Northern Ireland are not fit for purpose because of years of under-investment, a government spending watchdog has said.

More than half of the estate is not ideally suited to deliver the new curriculum and many buildings need costly repairs, the Northern Ireland Audit Office added.

The £292 million maintenance backlog is equivalent to £900 per pupil. The report said there had been significant under-spending on the schools estate during the 1990s.

"The age profile of the schools estate at that time meant that over 50% of the estate was not ideally suited to deliver the new curriculum and the condition of many buildings rendered them unfit for purpose and costly to maintain," it added.

The probe by Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly - School Design And Delivery - also identified significant problems with the general quality of the schools estate and the planning process for the delivery of the capital building programme.

The Department of Education and education authorities were taking steps to reduce temporary accommodation but there were still nearly 3,000 temporary units in use.

Barriers to the delivery of schemes include legal issues around site acquisition, waiting for approval from other statutory agencies like the Planning Service, reviews of long-term pupil enrolments and a legal challenge to the department's Construction Framework.

It said the planned establishment of the Education and Skills Authority presented a significant opportunity to address many of the issues raised. In the projects which were being delivered there was clear evidence of improvements in design quality.

The report said: "There is a pressing need to progress the capital investment programme in order to improve the schools estate and enable the effective delivery of the curriculum."

It added: "Improvements to the schools estate, while previously constrained by a lack of resources, are now being constrained by delays in delivering projects."

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