Background to the report

In January 2023, there were 21,600 state schools in England, educating 8.4 million pupils. Between them, these schools have around 64,000 buildings, which vary in age and design.

Jump to downloads

Overall, the condition of the school estate is declining, and there are safety concerns about some types of buildings.

The ‘responsible body’ in control of the school, usually the relevant local authority, academy trust or voluntary-aided body, must manage the condition of its buildings and ensure they are safe.

The Department for Education (DfE) has overall responsibility for the school system in England. It sets the policy and statutory framework and has ultimate accountability for securing value for money from the funding provided to schools, including for school buildings. DfE distributes funding to local authorities, academy trusts and voluntary-aided bodies, and also delivers some programmes itself.

In 2017, we reported that DfE was making progress in improving school buildings in the worst condition. But we also found that the school estate’s overall condition was expected to worsen as buildings in poor, but not the worst, condition deteriorated further.

We concluded that, to deliver value for money, DfE needed to make best use of the capital funding it had available and continue to increasingly use its data to inform funding decisions

Scope of this report

This report examines whether DfE is achieving its objective to ensure the school estate contains the safe and well-maintained school buildings that it regards as essential for a high-quality education.

Our evaluative criteria for assessing value for money include whether DfE has:

  • a good understanding of the condition of school buildings
  • appropriate arrangements to allocate funding for school buildings in line with need
  • effective ways to support the sector.

In line with DfE’s policy responsibilities, we only consider schools in England.

The report covers:

  • the school system and DfE’s overarching school building maintenance approach (Part One)
  • DfE’s understanding of the condition of school buildings (Part Two)
  • how DfE matches funding to need (Part Three).

Details of our evidence base are set out in Appendix One.


DfE is accountable for providing those bodies responsible for school buildings with the funding and support to enable them to meet their responsibility to ensure school buildings are safe and well maintained.

Following years of underinvestment, the estate’s overall condition is declining and around 700,000 pupils are learning in a school that the responsible body or DfE believes needs major rebuilding or refurbishment.

Most seriously, DfE recognises significant safety concerns across the estate, and has escalated these concerns to the government risk register.

Although it has made progress in the last year, DfE currently lacks comprehensive information on the extent and severity of these safety issues, which would allow it to develop a longer-term plan to address them. It has announced that, where RAAC is identified in schools, it will provide funding to mitigate any immediate risk.

DfE has improved its understanding of the general condition of school buildings. This has helped it to allocate funding based on better estimates, and target schools assessed to be in the poorest condition.

However, there is a significant gap between the funding available and that which DfE assesses it needs to achieve its aim for school buildings to be safe and in a good condition for those who learn and work there. Funding is also often used for urgent repairs rather than planned maintenance which, as DfE itself acknowledges, risks not offering good long-term value for money.

DfE must ensure that its approach delivers the best value from the resources it currently has available.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (28 Jun 2023)

Latest reports