With mass school closures now taking place over fears about dangerously crumbling concrete, Jonathan Slater, who was permanent secretary at the Department for Education from 2016 to 2020, told the BBC that Treasury officials had been informed between 300 to 400 schools a year needed rebuilding.
Not only that, Mr Slater said the Treasury was told in stark terms that the issue was a “critical risk to life if this programme is not funded” and in 2018, a concrete block had fallen from the roof from a primary school.
“It wasn’t just a risk, it was actually starting to happen,” he said.
The initial decision was to fund rebuilding 100 schools a year and Mr Slater said he was astonished that a request to double that to 200 a year was not only rejected by then Chancellor Mr Sunak but the actual size of the programme was then halved to 50 schools a year.
When asked about the comments yesterday, Mr Sunak said it was “completely and utterly wrong” to suggest he had cut the budget.
He then added: “Actually one of the first things I did as chancellor, in my first spending review in 2020, was to announce a new 10-year school re-building programme for 500 schools. Now that equates to about 50 schools a year, that will be refurbished or rebuilt.”
That answer not only confirms a central detail of Mr Slater’s criticism but also implicates Mr Sunak more directly in the issues playing out today by highlighting the chosen funding level was his decision.