Labour's school building scheme 'wasted £2.5bn'

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Saturday 09 April 2011 00:00 BST

The days of swanky new flagship academies operating in "truly world class" school buildings are over, according to a government review published yesterday.

Instead, the schools of the future will be built to a more standardised design which can be replicated across the country.

The review, headed by Sebastian James – head of group operations at Dixons, says that Labour's school building programme wasted as much as £2.5bn a year in bureaucracy and design costs – about 30 per cent of the cost of the programme.

The academies project under Tony Blair opened with a fanfare of publicity and designs devised by leading architects such as Norman Foster. However, the review concluded: "There is very little evidence that a school building that goes beyond being fit for purpose has the potential to drive educational transformation."

Indeed, it adds that some research suggested that pupil performance often "dipped" during and after rebuilding work.

The report also says that – with schools and local authorities negotiating their own building designs with construction firms – there was a lack of expertise which led to increased costs. What was needed was a standard set of designs which could be adapted for projects around the country, backed up with the appointment of a central body to carry out negotiations on cost.

The review was ordered in the wake of the decision by Education Secretary Michael Gove to slash Labour's school-building programme – under which every school in the country would eventually be rebuilt or refurbished.

In a letter to Mr Gove, Mr James said: "Because procurement has not been sufficiently centralised and because the Government has not ensured that contracts are always negotiated by those who have the appropriate expertise, the public sector has failed consistently to get the value it should have done – given the commercial leverage that this scale of programme could command."

Mr Gove said: "The system we inherited had profound problems.

"We must have a system for school building which is much simpler, less bureaucratic and which targets priority projects."

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