'Schools on the cheap' move attacked

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Local authority and teachers' leaders are warning that plans to abolish minimum space regulations in schools may lead to "cheaply-built" buildings and overcrowded classrooms.

The move was announced on Friday in a Parliamentary written reply by the schools minister, Robin Squire, and is the culmination of a review of school premises regulations begun in 1990.

These determine the amount local authorities can borrow to spend on school buildings. Other regulations control space in specialist areas like laboratories.

On Friday, as the Prime Minister, John Major, trumpeted the Government's plans to boost sport in schools, Mr Squire announced that the regulatory burden on schools would be "substantially reduced".

"We propose to consult on a revised set of school premises regulations which will dispense with the statutory area standards for teaching accommodation and recreation area," he said.

But education leaders believe the move will lead to bigger classes from September, as the education spending squeeze begins to bite.

A survey last week by school governors warned that more than a third of primary schools would have classes of more than 30 children at the start of the new term.

And local authority leaders warned yesterday that de-regulation could mean a return to the cheaply-built schools of the 1960s, many of which now require extensive repairs.

Graham Lane, education chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, yesterday said the announcement was "alarming" and that the AMA would be seeking clarification from ministers.

"The fact that it was made while Mr Major was running around kicking a football and distracting attention shows it is not insignificant," he said.

"The inevitable conclusion must be that this decision has been taken in the knowledge that class sizes are rising. The Government knows it and they are removing one constraint on it happening."

Peter Downes, president of the Secondary Heads Association, said he too found the announcement "sinister".

"Removing these regulations means the Department for Education and Employment could require schools to take in more and more children, cramming them into the space available, and not provide any more capital resources for schools to provide more buildings. This could potentially be very bad news for children."

Shadow education secretary David Blunkett said he would be following up the "potentially- serious implications" in Parliament this week.

A DFEE spokesman said yesterday: "This is all part of deregulation whereby local authorities and school governing bodies are able to manage school premises as they see fit."