Abolition of school building rules given firm backing

THE ABOLITION of school building regulations, setting minimum repair and maintenance targets, is being considered by ministers.

The Department for Education said yesterday that a review of the regulations, set up in October 1990, was complete.

It had originally been suggested that the review of the 1981 Education (School Premises) Regulations was designed to update the regulations, under which a pounds 2bn backlog of work has been identified.

But the National Audit Office revealed in 1991 that ministers were planning to consider 'any recommendations arising from the review for bringing the regulations up to date or abolishing them'. The abolition option was strongly supported by two former education ministers yesterday. Sir Rhodes Boyson, an education minister from 1979 to 1983, said: 'I have always seen these regulations as a bureaucratic monstrosity.

'I'd do away with them and put the schools under basic local authority standards. That decision would be in line with the instincts of the Prime Minister to cut back on useless regulation.'

Bob Dunn, a minister in the department from 1983 to 1988, said: 'The regulations made some sense in 1981 when the schools came under local education authorities. But now we have a patchwork of different schools - grant-maintained, city technology colleges, specialist schools - it is very hard to square the circle and I'd be inclined to dump them.'

Eric Forth, who represents the same right-wing tradition as Sir Rhodes and Mr Dunn, is the minister with responsibility for school building and could be expected to share their view.

Ministers believe that the case for abolition has been strengthened by the opting out of schools from local authority control. The Comptroller and Auditor Gneral said in 1991 that he had been told by the department that opted-out schools carried out routine repair work 'more speedily, more extensively and at a lower cost than previously'. Baroness Blatch, the minister responsible for the opted-out (grant-maintained) sector, announced yesterday the distribution of pounds 77m worth of building grants - including pounds 17.8m based on a formula of pounds 11,000 per school and pounds 20 per pupil.

A spokesman said that formula was much more generous than the deal offered to state schools, but he did not know what state schools were getting because that was up to local education authorities to decide.

The Government has already allocated pounds 500m for the grant- maintained schools' capital programme over the next three years. There are currently 337 schools operating on a grant-maintained basis, with a further 48 approved.

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