Do we take Scottish Government achievements too much for granted?

By stewartb

We learn today of the Westminster government’s plans for new investment in the school estate in England:

  • £1bn for 50 major school building projects is being promised
    • a further £560m for repairs to crumbling school buildings.

The BBC News website reports: “The 50 school building projects, which will be identified later in the year, will start from September 2021, in a 10-year programme with £1bn in funding. There will be an extra £560m for upgrades and repairs to schools for the next academic year – and £200m for improving further education colleges, which was previously announced, will be brought forward.


For context

As the BBC News article notes, the National Audit Office has identified a backlog of £6.7bn repairs needed across England’s 21,000 schools. And in a damning article in December 2019, The Guardian reported:

‘Buildings at more than one in six schools in England require urgent repairs, a Guardian investigation has found, leading to warnings that they are “crumbling around teachers and pupils”.

Almost 4,000 schools across the country have been judged by surveyors to be in need of immediate restoration work, and many more were found not to have the paperwork required by law, including electrical test certificates, fire risk assessments or asbestos management plans.’


Taking things for granted?

It’s too easy sometimes to take for granted what the Scottish Government has delivered over the past 10 years  – whether on Scotland’s school estate or on other things! Or perhaps some voters may simply forget what’s been achieved. Or might we just lack knowledge or awareness of what’s actually been delivered?

Looking to the future

In announcing his big plans for school buildings, PM Johnson – who leads a government with essentially unlimited ‘borrowing’ powers – is reported as saying: “It’s important we lay the foundations for a country where everyone has the opportunity to succeed”. Indeed!

The Scottish Government – a government with severely limited borrowing (and limited fiscal and no monetary) powers – recognised exactly this but way back in 2009 when it launched the ‘Schools for the Future’ programme at a time when the Tories in Westminster were fixated with austerity.

When this school building programme – a collaboration between the Scottish Government and local authorities – was launched in 2009 it was valued at £1.25bn. The plan was to deliver 55 new or refurbished schools. Through effective and efficient management, including through the Scottish Futures Trust, together with an uplift of the overall budget to £1.8bn, the number of projects in the Schools for the Future programme increased to 112. The Scottish Government provided £1.13bn with local authorities contributing £665m. 

A list of the school building projects with funding allocations can be found at the link below.


More investment

In September 2019, the Scottish Government published its new Scottish Learning Estate Strategy and announced further funding for school buildings. With COSLA, the Scottish Government launched the first phase of a programme of school projects as part of a new £1bn Learning Estate Investment Programme. The Government will contribute between £220 million and £275 million in a partnership with local authorities across the country to replace 26 schools, with a further phase of investment to be announced later.  The new funding will kick in from 2021 when the current school building programme ends.

See also:


Statistics on capital investment in school buildings are pretty dry albeit important. So it’s interesting – especially for those who don’t visit schools any more – but also relevant, to be more aware of the nature of the schools built in Scotland over the past ten years.  In design, in energy management, in construction – there has been considerable innovation.

Here are some examples of what has been delivered:

Not just about new builds

The Scottish Government’s most recent school estates survey data (September 2019) provide additional information on the state of Scotland’s schools beyond just the new builds under the Schools for the Future programme.


This records that since 2007-08, 928 schools in Scotland have been built or substantially refurbished. (This number only includes builds or refurbishments costing at least £0.5 million for primary and at least £1 million for secondary and special schools.)

The same survey reveals that the proportion of schools in Scotland classed as being in good or satisfactory condition increased from 61.1% in April 2007 to 88.3% in April 2019. (In 2019 just four schools were classed as in ‘bad’ condition, 0.2% of the total estate.) The school estates statistics for 2019 also show that the proportion of pupils educated in good or satisfactory condition schools hit a record high of 89.6%, up from 60.8% in 2007.

(For perspective, as of 1 April, 2019 there were 2,010 primary schools, 356 secondary schools and 124 special education schools in Scotland operated by local authorities.)

Final  remarks

Of course a prudent government must commit to an ongoing process of investment in maintenance and renewal of the school estate. This is what the Scottish Government in partnership with others has been doing.

But education is not just about schools. Let’s not forget Scotland’s Further Education Colleges:

  • £900 million has been invested in college estates over last 10 years, creating:
    • 15 new campuses
    • 9 major campus upgrades
    • 5 new specialist facilities.