Half of respondents to ATL survey say their schools are embarking on recession-busting building projects


Independent schools are beating the recession and building new sports facilities in a bid to attract parents, according to a survey by ATL.

The survey of more than 1,500 teaching staff working in independent schools shows 48.7% of respondents saying their school has planned or on-going building projects for this academic year to make schools more attractive to prospective parents.

Overall the most frequently mentioned projects were new or improved sports facilities such as sports pavilions, changing rooms, Astroturf, sports pitches and swimming pools.  A couple of teachers reported new rowing facilities and one mentioned a go-kart track.  All of which will help former pupils from independent schools continue to win medals in future Olympics and other world sporting events.

The other most commonly reported building projects were new classrooms, new or refurbished boarding houses, performing arts blocks including theatres and a Greek theatre at a boarding school in Berkshire, science labs, and facilities for sixth formers.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said:  “It’s wonderful that so many schools can afford to up-grade their facilities and invest in our children’s future.  Hopefully we will see some future Chris Hoys, Matthew Pinsetts, Helen Glovers and Heather Stannings winning golds for Britain in the Olympics in a few years time.

“But schools must not loose sight of their most important asset, their staff.  Shiny new sports halls and rowing clubs are great, but without their dedicated staff the pupils would not be able to reach their potential.  While fees go up to pay for these facilities, staff are seeing their living standards fall as their pay is frozen or increased at a rate below inflation.  All independent schools should reward their staff fairly.”

Among the less usual new facilities, one school is building an animal sanctuary, another an art gallery and a West Sussex prep school has a biomass fuel project.

Grand schemes reported include £9 million on a theatre and science labs at one school and 40 new classrooms at another.  A prep school in Derbyshire has just completed a new music, languages and SEN block, is about to complete a new humanities and English block, to be followed by a new design, technology and art block.

A Home Counties school has “a £4 million architect designed pre-prep school in early design stages”; a boarding school in Leicestershire is building a “multi-million pound maths building”; and a prep school in Edinburgh has just completed new changing rooms costing £1 million.

Some schools have been able to afford new sites or whole new schools.  A school in Northampton opened a new junior school in February, a Shropshire day school bought and converted a house to create a sixth form centre, a Hampshire prep school has bought a neighbouring state school site and converted it for its own use, a Gloucestershire prep school is extending into the house next door, a boarding school in Kent has bought land to expand onto, and Ravenscourt Park and Kew Green Prep schools in West London are building a senior school which will open in September 2013.

At the other end of the scale some schools’ building work is more basic.  A school in Middlesex is carrying out “repairs to a building as a wall is coming apart”, another school is “mending and patching up a roof”, and a teacher in a Cheshire school said it plans: “If money can be raised, to replace old classrooms.”

A teacher in England said:  “Everything is stretched so tight now that we are not really able to cover basic needs.  No spare rooms, no spare staff, no money for anything, rooms in disrepair.”

While the majority of building work is to enhance facilities for pupils, some members reported their school was building new staff housing and a few mentioned new offices.

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