West London Primary Free School (WLPFS), London, which opened in 2013, needs replacement roofs, ceiling replacement and associated asbestos removal, newly-released Department for Education data reveals.
The free school, part of the Knowledge Schools Trust, shares a site with another KST free school, Earls Court Free School Primary. WLPFS has successfully bid for funding from the DfE’s Condition Improvement Fund (CIF*).
It’s odd that the DfE should have to provide funding for essential refurbishment so soon after saying work on the free school had been completed. It was only in January that WLPFS appeared in the DfE’s updated list showing capital costs for free schools where all works are said to be finished and costs were no longer ‘commercially sensitive’.
It appears that work at WLPFS has not been finished or there would be no need for CIF funding.
This raises two questions
First, if roofs and ceilings need replacing so soon after the DfE signed off the capital costs, were these costs signed off prematurely?
Second, the defects were noticed within five years of the school opening. The school was not a new building - £2m was spent on refurbishing it. But the school now has to request CIF funding for necessary renovation. This raises questions about the quality of the initial refurbishment or whether any inspection post-refurbishment was adequate.
WLPFS is not the only free school where capital works are said to have been completed but which have successfully bid for CIF* funding. The first free schools opened in 2011. None can be older than seven years. It’s concerning that some free schools where capital works are said to have been finished are now requesting CIF funding.
FOOTNOTE: One-fifth of all free schools were still in temporary accommodation in November 2018. 43 opened recently in 2017 or 2018. But some are still waiting for permanent buildings.
The DfE has only released capital costs for about 130 free schools (not including UTCs and studio schools). Many unreleased capital costs will, of course, be for recent openers still being refurbished or free schools in temporary accommodation. But there are five free schools opened in 2011 where capital costs are still unknown. They include the first Knowledge Schools Trust school, the high-profile West London Free School.
*Note: CIF funding can only be requested by academies or free schools which are either stand-alone or in a trust with fewer than five schools. Many free schools are in larger trusts and would not be eligible for CIF. Any building improvements at these free schools would be financed from a different source. I have not investigated these.
CORRECTION16.26. Typo corrected