Blair to unveil £40bn schools renovation programme

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Every secondary school will receive a facelift under a £40bn building replacement and renovation scheme to be announced by Tony Blair today.

During the first phase of the project, ministers will increase spending on school infrastructure to £5bn in 2005-06, and the initiative is scheduled to continue until every school in England is improved.

Ministers believe that the environment in which a pupil is taught is vital to achieving improved standards. The Prime Minister became convinced of the argument after talking to the head who turned round the first school in the country to be declared failing by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog.

Sir Geoff Hampton, who took the Northicote school in Wolverhampton off the "hit list" of failing schools, told the Prime Minister that his priority was to improve the buildings. He said: "Having a school that looks good is about telling children they're worth something."

The drive will be a mixture of renovations to existing school buildings and the establishment of new schools - including up to 60 City academies, serving deprived inner-city areasand run by private sponsors. Some of the work involve public-private partnerships - under which the building is leased to the local education authority by the private builder after the work is completed.

The drive comes as part of a concerted attempt by Downing Street to divert attention from the aftermath of the Iraq war and focus on home affairs.

David Miliband, the School Standards minister, told a conference in London yesterday that the Government needed to tackle under-performance in schools: "The data commands that we are humble about under-performance as well as proud of achievement." He said the Government deserved praise for putting 25,000 more teachers and 90,000 more support staff in posts compared to staffing levels when Labour came to power in 1997. He said the Government should also be praised for giving more than half of secondary schools specialist status.

He told the conference that one in four 11-year-olds were still struggling to read, write and count well on leaving primary school and that while 75 per cent of middle-class teenagers got five good A* to C grade GCSE passes, only 25 per cent of working-class pupils did.

He said that in schools with the worst record in boosting achievement a child could lose a year's progress compared with the average increase in performance between the ages of 11 and 16. "The data demands that all of us engage seriously with the needs of youngsters born equal but educated unequally," he said.