Condition Improvement Fund 2021-22: A fund for all seasons?

April is traditionally the month the ESFA publish their Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) awards. A funding stream applicable to those eligible academy schools who are not in receipt of the formulaic School Condition Allocation (SCA) and who have fewer than 3,000 pupils and 5 schools within their trust.

The number of CIF applications submitted every December, total some 4,500, leaving the ESFA and their team of assessors the task of marking them and announcing the details of the circa 1,400 successful projects, around Easter time.

Given the deadline extension from December 2020 to January 2021, and all the other associated pandemic related impacts, it is hoped that the announcement will be sometime in May, which would still afford consultants and their supply chain partners, adequate lead-in time to mobilise and deliver over the summer holiday period.

The pandemic played havoc with the timeframe in 2020, with the Spring announcement ultimately deferred until the last day of June. The inconvenience of this delay was undoubtedly sweetened by the further tranche of CIF, published in early August.

The two tranches resulted in the largest ever CIF pot, totalling £716 million, which funded 2,056 projects for 1,791 schools. This largesse was naturally welcomed all across the sector.

Whilst the additional funding, sugar coated the pill in the short term, the lateness of the hour, resulted in the loss of the usual 6-week delivery period over the summer holidays.

Uncertainty as to the announcement also saw delivery partners pursuing alternative lines of inquiry and with the delay, there were less resources than usual to deliver a larger number of projects than was previously the case. This in turn lead to works starting later in the year.

Whereas in previous years external works such as roofing were completed in time for the new term in September, in 2020, many had not started before Autumn and, with it, the less than ideal weather conditions.

The difficulty of scheduling delivery of works that affect an entire school, such as a heating and distribution project, caused delays until the Winter months of 2020/21, which had a domino effect in terms of projects being completed in time for the 31st March 2021, deadline.

The impact of the pandemic also had a detrimental effect on those trusts whose budgets were premised on the generation of income through out-of-hours lettings, which underwrote their financial contribution to the CIF bid.

It will be very interesting to see whether there has been a significant reduction in the number and level of financial contributions from schools this year and whether this affects future contributions.

Unless this year there is an even larger injection of funds from the Treasury, there will again, be more unsuccessful bids than successful ones. More disappointed schools than happy ones.

For those schools who miss out on the funding, they face a further year of dilapidation of their asset and associated disruption to the delivery of the curriculum. Staff and pupil morale drops when the teaching ad learning environment is poor and there are now embryonic signs of a causal link between condition and attainment.

The number of submissions that fail to reach the award threshold, as a result of their not accruing marks available within the Value for Money section of the application, due to ‘insufficient financial contributions’, poses the question as to whether the fund now disproportionately favours those trusts who have the financial wherewithal to invest in the project and penalise those schools with greater condition need but less financial resources.

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