All new school building schemes have been scrapped by Tory education secretary Michael Gove in a move to save billions of pounds. New Labour’s “Building School for the Future” (BSF) initiative promised a total of £55 billion over twenty years to replace a disintegrating building stock.
Now, only around half of the 1421 schools in line for new investment will receive necessary funding. These schools had already secured or received the money before the general election.
Gove’s decision to scrap new building schemes can only mean one thing: that a large bulk of future generations of children will be taught in crumbling, leaky, rickety, sub-standard classrooms.
We can level many criticisms at the previous government’s education policy but Blair and Brown did not skimp on financial investment. We should, however, note some of the problems with the scheme.
First and foremost: there is no direct link between brand new shiny buildings and the quality of education. In whatever circumstances they find themselves, teachers teach and children learn.
Second: the BSF schemes were plagued with a many layered bureaucracy, involved sham consultation processes and provided a feeding ground for over-priced and ultimately useless consultants.
Third: many of the resultant buildings — no matter how architecturally pleasing — were not fit for purpose. Amongst other things I’m thinking of the building projects that left no or little room for open space and play areas.
However, that was then, this is now. If you teach, are taught, or have children attending class in a portakabin, expect them to be there for some time.
If your classroom freezes in the winter and boils in the summer, then Gove says “tough”!
If the windows let the rain through and if the roof leaks, just “deal with it”.
If you’re irritated that the school down the road has a new building but yours doesn’t, then embrace the “choice” agenda — move down the road or set up your own school.
There is now a growing market within the education sector. The proposal to introduce “free schools” and the acceleration of Academy status for the best performing institutions are drivers in this market. What the withdrawal of BSF money will do is create another sub-sector: on the one hand “shabby but successful” schools which will survive market competition and on the other “crumbling and failing” schools that will wither in the new conditions.
You need be neither a crystal-ball gazing mystic nor a professor of sociology to work out which communities will be deprived of a local school: the deprived, the multi-racial or the overwhelmingly white working-class estates that circle northern towns and cities.
The teachers’ unions and anti-cuts campaigners should vigorously oppose the scrapping of extra investment. We should be clear, however, that the shape of any future school building scheme should be defined and designed by those who will use them: the teachers, students and communities.