School Design and Delivery

“There is clear evidence of improvements in the overall design quality of recently built and refurbished schools and it is evident that concerns expressed about design quality in my 2004 report are being addressed by the Department of Education.” That is one of the key findings to emerge from today’s report by Kieran Donnelly, Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland.

His report, which examined the design quality of the learning and teaching environment, also reviewed the robustness of the Department of Education’s strategic planning and management of the school estate in Northern Ireland.

Main Findings

  • Under-investment in the schools estate has resulted in a maintenance backlog currently standing at £292 million, equivalent to £900 per pupil. The legacy of this is an estate that is not ideally suited to deliver the current curriculum and the condition of many buildings makes them costly to maintain.
  • Improvements to the schools estate are being constrained by delays in delivering projects; the majority of current schemes are expected to take at least six years to complete from when they were originally announced.
  • In the five years to the end of March 2010, while £1.2 billion had been made available to the Department, total expenditure was £857 million (£353 million less than originally made available to the Department).
  • There is too much surplus capacity in the education system. In the period from 2003-04 to 2008-09, school closures and rationalisation proposals have reduced the number of schools by 75. However, despite this surplus capacity in 2008-09 was estimated at 54,000 places, an increase from an estimated 35,000 in 1999-00.
  • While the schools reviewed by the NIAO were found to have a good civic presence and in most cases their design offered the potential for community and out-of-hours use, the potential for community use was not being fully exploited.
  • It is important that the Department and education authorities evaluate and learn from their projects. Timely evaluation of completed projects is an essential aid to improving future project performance, achieving best value for money from public resources, improving decision-making and learning lessons.