Hundreds of schools still waiting for new buildings a decade after Gove axed rebuilding scheme

Exclusive: 'After ten years, pupils and teachers have been left paying the price of learning and working in crumbling buildings that are not adequate'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 05 July 2020 15:23
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Hundreds of ageing schools where rebuilding schemes were axed by Michael Gove in hugely-controversial cuts exactly a decade ago are still waiting for new buildings.

A total of 715 schemes bit the dust when the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was scrapped in July 2010 – in what the former education secretary now describes as “a fiasco”.

Just 389 schools have been rebuilt since, The Independent can reveal, under replacement schemes which were slow to get off the ground and have hit delays since.

The NASUWT teachers’ union said the figures showed the decision to axe BSF had left teachers and pupils “paying the price of learning and working in crumbling buildings”.

The long wait to rebuild schools is revealed days after Boris Johnson announced £1bn for new projects – as part of a £5bn infrastructure spending boost – to begin from September 2021.

Labour argued the cash injection for school buildings was less than half “the £2.77bn cut in capital funding in the past 10 years”.

Meanwhile, the completion date for the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP), which was intended to rebuild or refurbish 537 schools by the end of next year, has been delayed by 12 months.

All but four of the 260 schools in phase one have been refurbished or rebuilt, but only 133 of the 277 in phase two – a total of 389 schemes completed.

On 5 July 2010, within weeks of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition taking office, Mr Gove triggered a political storm by announcing the death of the BSF scheme, immediately killing off a total of 715 promised projects.

The then-education secretary argued it was dogged by “massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy”.

However, it came as George Osborne sought huge infrastructure spending cuts as part of his austerity programme – and as Mr Gove sought to release cash for his Free Schools programme.

Rebuilding plans that had taken years to develop disappeared at a stroke, forcing local councils to spend huge sums patching up crumbling buildings.

In a speech last weekend, Mr Gove admitted: “My cancellation of the [Gordon] Brown government’s Building Schools for the Future programme was a political fiasco.”

He also argued it had “led to a method of commissioning new school buildings that saved the taxpayer billions”.

But Dr Patrick Roach, the NASUWT’s general secretary, said: “The decision in 2010 to scrap the BSF programme has meant that, after ten years, pupils and teachers have been left paying the price of learning and working in crumbling buildings that are not adequately repaired, maintained or fit for purpose.

“Parents expect their children to be safe when they send them to school and staff are entitled to work in an environment where their health, safety and welfare is protected.”

Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education spokesperson, said: “Children and staff are struggling in unsuitable, inaccessible and inadequate premises, and teaching and learning is suffering.

“Boris Johnson’s announcement this week of new funding for schools doesn’t go even halfway to fixing the £2.77bn cut in capital funding in the past 10 years.”

But a Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Building Schools for the Future programme was poor value for money and did not target schools in the greatest condition need.

“Since we closed the programme in 2010, we are delivering schools more efficiently and targeting money where it is needed.

“We have also announced another £1bn to kick start a new ten-year rebuilding programme.”

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