Poor rural school report for the Coalition Government
No rural schools will have been rebuilt under the current government when the general election takes place next year. This has prompted criticism that the government’s school-building programme is no more efficient than the one it replaced and is a “poor show”.
In May 2010, the new coalition government moved quickly to scrap Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme. The new education secretary Michael Gove told the Commons that Labour’s programme had been hit by “massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy”.
Some 735 proposed BSF projects were abandoned. They included a number of rural schools such as Sunnydale in Shildon, County Durham, Millom School in Cumbria and Tor View School, Haslingden, Lancashire.
Two years after scrapping BSF, Gove launched the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP), which, like its predecessor, is mainly funded through Private Finance Initiative schemes. Under PSBP 261 schools were listed in the proposed first round of building. It was not till summer last year that construction started on any of the projects.
In May, Whitmore Park Primary School, Coventry became the first to get a brand new school as part of the scheme. In the North East only one school - Ian Ramsey in Stockton on Tees - will have been rebuilt by the 2015 general election. In Devon the situation is even worse and not one of the ten schools identified for rebuilding will be completed by the time people go to the polls. In most cases the construction companies who have rebuilt a school will continue to profit over the following 25 to 30 years by providing maintenance and lifecycle services.
One headteacher, who did not wish to be named and whose school is among those currently being rebuilt, said: “When the coalition scrapped the BSF programme and replaced it with PSBP it was on the grounds they would be more efficient and effective. I do not think they can claim that now and many other heads feel the same.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We expect between 10 and 15 of the schools in rural areas to be under construction by spring next year and we are on course to rebuild 29 rural schools by the end of 2017 under our PSBP.”
None of which has impressed Barbara Taylor, secretary of the National Association of Small Schools, who said: “NASS is unaware of any rural schools where rebuilding has started under the Government's priority schools building programme. This is unfortunate as there are a number of outstanding small schools that are continually oversubscribed and unable to expand because of lack of space on the site and/or absence of funding."