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Nearly 600 of Britain's grant-maintained schools will start extensive building and repair work within the next two years, and more than half of these will be spending between £250,000 and £1

This surge in spending on grant-maintained schools will offset the savage cuts in public cash for repairs to council schools.The country's 677 opted-out schools are funded directly by the Government and are free from the legal controls which restrict council spending.Responses from nearly half the schools say their buildings need major renovation. The most common repairs required are to flat roofs, window and door frames and building services.More than half the schools rate interior and exterior redecoration as a 'desirable' repair, while a further 11 per cent are planning even larger building programmes.With the transfer of power away from local authorities to governors and head teachers, the schools are being left to their own devices and are turning away from local education authority advisers.About two-thirds of schools preferred to use a traditional contract and showed little interest in design and build.The questionnaire shows that most schools are considering joint ventures with the private sector and that nearly one-in-five plan to sell land to raise cash.Education secretary John Patten said that schools will be allowed to mortgage their premises to borrow money, but he has not yet given details of how this will work.From April opted-out schools will be supervised by the Funding Agency for Schools which will be chaired by Sir Christopher Benson, the current chairman of the Housing Corporation.Labour's shadow education secretary, Ann Taylor, last week claimed the Government has cut money for building improvements to council schools by more than 90 per cent in the past two years.She said so much of councils' capital allowances is earmarked for specific uses that only £7.5 million is now left for such projects as the building of new laboratories. Two years ago, this figure was £133 million.But a spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: 'We are not able to say if her figures are accurate as we do not know the basis for them.' CONSTRUCTION NEWS