THE Government needs to spend £6.7bn to bring all existing school buildings up to a satisfactory standard, according to a report by spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO).

It said the cost per pupil was up to £1,500 in large swathes of the North-East with a similar figure required in North Yorkshire.

There were regional differences however. In County Durham the figure was £1,334 per pupil, but in Darlington £759.

Other areas breaking the thousand pound per pupil barrier in terms of returning buildings to a satisfactory condition included Hartlepool (£1,129) and Redcar and Cleveland (£1,142)

The NAO said the Government was pouring billions into building new free schools in England while existing state schools were crumbling due to lack of repairs.

It said with ministers committed to creating 500 new free schools by 2020, the Department for Education (DfE) was facing an estimated bill of £2.5bn by 2022 simply to purchase the land needed to build them.

While free schools were helping to meet the demand for additional places in some areas, the NAO said that some free schools were opening in areas where there were already plenty of places, creating spare capacity which could threaten the financial sustainability of other schools.

Much of the existing school estate is over 40 years old, with 60 per cent of buildings built before 1976 and requiring major refurbishment.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman John Pugh said: “It is a disgrace that kids in the North-East have so many school buildings in urgent need of improvement.

“The Conservative government is throwing a fortune at its pet free schools programme, including spending up to £30m just to buy sites on which to build a free school.

“This is an eye-watering waste of money, and really disgusting when children in the North-East are being deprived of the money they need.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “As the NAO acknowledges, we have made more school places available and in the best schools.

“The free school programme is a vital part of this. More than three quarters of free schools have been approved in areas where there is already demand for new places and the vast majority are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.

“The Government is making a huge investment in the school estate of £23bn up to 2021, to create a further 600,000 new school places, deliver 500 new free schools and rebuild and refurbish buildings at over 500 schools.”