Leeds City Council has announced plans to completely rebuild a school in north Leeds, but warned the Government needs to do more to support the city’s education infrastructure.
Early plans for a £20m-plus revamp of Benton Park Secondary School in Rawdon – which would eventually increase the number of students from 1,225 to 1,500 – are set to go before the council’s influential executive committee next week.
However, the authority’s head of education has warned the city still faces a £100m backlog in school repairs, while a senior council officer said the authority may soon need the equivalent of “one new high school per year” if increases in the number of pupils in the city continues.
Speaking this week about the plans, Coun Pryor said: “This is a rebuild and expansion.
“Between £20m-£25m is the general price for a high school. For Benton Park we are trying to use money from a number of different pots.”
“It shows that we as a council, when we can build things, and when we are allowed to, we can do a good job and get it done quickly.
“I want to do what we are doing with Benton Park in so many other locations across Leeds, but the government is preventing that.
“They need to seriously look again at how they are funding councils overall, but specifically around maintenance, repair and rebuilding schools.”
It follows a letter sent by the city’s education lead Coun Jonathan Pryor last month to education secretary Damian Hinds, where he warned Benton Park, Royds and Wetherby High Schools were in such a state of disrepair that they would soon have to close if pleas for extra funding were ignored.
Coun Pryor added: “Our backlog of repair work is around £100m, and on top of that we have the three schools named.
“The government’s response to this is that they gave us £6.7m last year – use that. That is about three or four per cent of what we need. We are underfunded by 96 per cent.
“I think the minister was hoping I would hear £7m and think ‘wow, that’s a big number’, but in terms of what Leeds needs, it’s relatively small.
“We are never going to leave a school in a position where children are at risk, but we are having to think about the future, we are having to plan ahead, and unfortunately the government is not doing that.”
Coun Pryor cited Guiseley School, which was given the green light for a rebuild earlier this month having received a grant from the government’s priority schools building programme (PSBP) in 2014 – but said such a grant would no longer be available to other schools in future.
He added: “The government has told us that the scheme is closed, and no other schools can apply, even though quite a few of the schools in Leeds needed repair only one was awarded it.
“What we really need is for the government to reopen PSBP and make it more efficient and fit for purpose.”
Although detailed plans for Benton Park School are not yet available, a consultation document released last summer stated that the council wanted to expand from 245 to 300 year seven pupils by 2021, eventually increasing the school’s total capacity by more than 250 pupils.
Phil Mellen, the council’s deputy director of education, said: “It will be great news for that school, and also for us as a council. With the limited resources we have, we want to target them where they are most needed.
“We can’t just open new schools anymore, we either have to expand existing stock or work with the regional schools commissioner around free schools.
“We have to think strategically. We can’t afford to spend £60m a year on new schools because the money simply isn’t there.
“We are trying to make this as close to nil cost to the council as possible, so there is money coming in as well as money coming out.”
“We could probably identify about half a dozen other schools that are in a similar condition, and we have the same desire for them to be either extensively refurbished or rebuilt.”
He added there was a bulge in the number of pupils currently going through primary school and, when added to the fact Channel 4 was planning to relocate to Leeds, the authority was expecting an increase in families requiring school places.
“We are a growing city,” he said. “We will see more families moving into the city in the future. We are looking at that expansion, and how to meet that demand.
“It almost averages out as a new high school a year, if numbers continue to grow in the way that they have.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Education said: “Since 2015, we have allocated £6 billion in capital funding for maintaining and improving the condition of school buildings.
“As part of this, we have provided an annual School Condition Allocation to Leeds local authority to invest in maintaining the schools for which it is responsible, including £6.7 million this year.
“The Priority School Building Programme is rebuilding or refurbishing buildings in the worst condition at over 500 schools across the country.
“A new school Condition Data Collection, due to complete in autumn 2019, will provide an update of the condition of state funded schools in England, so that we can carry on targeting funding to those schools that need it most.”
Early plans will go before Leeds City Council’s executive committee on Wednesday, February 13.