Navigating the complexities of condition improvement funding

For academies, securing condition improvement funding (CIF) can be crucial to maintaining the condition of their estate. Here, Allan Hunt, Director at building consultancy and architecture practice AHR, outlines how academies can maximise their chances of successfully securing a grant.

Academies and schools have a duty of care to their growing number of pupils to ensure their learning environment meets every health and safety requirement. One aspect of this is making sure their buildings remain in good condition.

For academies that are part of a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), it’s commonplace to have a dedicated estates management team responsible for maintaining the condition of their premises. But individual academies that are not part of a MAT are unlikely to have the support of an estates management team.

For these individual academies, the management of their building condition often falls to the leadership team – who have a long list of other priorities they also need to deal with.

To add to the challenge, unlike the larger MATs, individual academies and small trusts do not receive a School Condition Allocation from the Department for Education to fund any necessary building work. Instead, academies must apply for condition improvement funding themselves, which can prove a difficult and time-consuming task. 

Understanding the criteria

Before submitting a bid, it’s important for academies to understand the fund’s criteria, and whether the improvement works they require fall into the relevant categories.

The fund does not cover purely cosmetic improvements, instead prioritising safety concerns. For example, fire safety improvements, electrical safety concerns and emergency asbestos removal usually form the basis of a viable bid.

Weather tightness, continuous heating and water supply are also eligible, and roofing and window projects will also be considered if they are found to be sub-standard.

Academies rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, can also apply for CIF to fund expansion work but achieving funding for this is very competitive.  

Submitting a successful application

The Condition Improvement Fund is heavily oversubscribed, which means an application must meet the relevant criteria and include the correct level of detail to stand the best chance of success.

And while it may be tempting to include sections about an academy’s history or ethos in an application, it is the detail and evidence provided on the scope of work that will inform whether the bid is successful or not.

It may be difficult for academy leadership teams with little experience in this field to provide the level of information required. It’s also important that accurate cost estimates are provided.

The most effective way of avoiding unsatisfactory applications and evidence is to commission a professional survey. Having one undertaken will provide a full overview of the current condition of an academy’s estate. This means that leadership teams can prioritise what work needs doing and by when. It also flags any issues that could arise in the future, helping academies to avoid any nasty surprises and plan their budget accordingly.

New technology can help make the process simpler and more efficient. Innovative techniques can help accurately capture the spatial dimensions of an existing building and quickly produce 3D imagery, virtual tours and schematic plans. It also creates a central visual source of information on the condition of buildings across an estate. And as this is integrated with cloud technology, these images can also be easily accessed on desktops and mobile devices without the need for specialist software.

The information gathered will help academies to create their development plans. This, alongside an up-to-date schedule of condition for an academy’s estate, means that leadership teams are well positioned to stay ahead of likely repair work. It can also help put funding bids together more quickly and effectively when immediate repair work is required.

Overcoming complexities

For any academy leadership team looking to undertake refurbishment work or submit a CIF application, there are multiple criteria that need to be addressed, which can make it a daunting task. But the complexity of applying shouldn’t deter leadership teams.

Understanding what’s required for a successful bid and undertaking preparation, including commissioning building surveys and creating a development plan, will go some way in simplifying the process. The benefits of a high-quality learning environment shouldn’t be underestimated and can play a big role in enhancing pupils’ education.