Class inaction

Head teacher tells Mark Metcalf school building in North East is poor show

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Ian Ramsey School in Stockton on Tees will be the only North East school to have been rebuilt under the current government when the general election takes place next year. This has prompted criticism that the government’s school-building programme is no more efficient than the one it replaced and is a “poor show”.

In May 2010, the new coalition government moved quickly to scrap Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme. The new education secretary Michael Gove told the Commons that Labour’s programme had been hit by “massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy”.

Some 715 proposed BSF projects were abandoned. They included a number of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council schools, including Nunthorpe, Redcar Academy, Eston Park, special schools Kilton Thorpe and Kirkleatham, and Laurence Jackson Secondary School in Guisborough. Projects stopped in Durham included a new school to replace Spennymoor and Tudhoe Secondary. Projects stopped in North Tyneside included Seaton Burn College and Longbenton Community College. Fourteen rebuilds in Sunderland were halted.

‘Poor show’

Two years after scrapping BSF, Gove launched the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP), which, like its predecessor, is mainly funded through Private Finance Initiative schemes. Under PSBP 261 schools were listed in the proposed first round of building. Ian Ramsey School was given the go-ahead last year to build a new school and work is due to be completed later this year.

The government has just announced that Miller Construction has been awarded the first batch of schemes under the PSBP in the North East. Six secondary schools and six primary schools will be rebuilt at a total cost of £120 million. Two – Mandale Main Primary and Laurence Jackson Secondary – are from Redcar and Cleveland Borough. Others include Hylton Castle Primary in Sunderland, Longbenton Community College and Roman Road Primary in Gateshead.

Construction of new buildings is due to start from December 2014, with planned completions by August 2016. None will be completed by May 2015, the date of the general election. Once built, Miller will provide maintenance and lifecycle services over a 25-year period.

One local headteacher, who did not wish to be named and whose school is among the 12 being rebuilt, said: “I am more relieved than anything as we started this process under the last government.

“When the coalition scrapped the BSF programme and replaced it with PSBP it was on the grounds they would be more efficient and effective. I do not think they can claim that now and many other heads feel the same. To have rebuilt just one North East school during their term of office is a poor show.”

‘On course’

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are on course to rebuild 34 schools across the North East by the end of 2017 under our PSBF. Compared to the previous government’s programmes we have cut costs by up to 40 per cent and reduced the time it takes to get on site from three years to one.”

But the local headteacher responded: “I feel this is being economical with the truth as we have already undertaken two years planning work under PSBP.

“Also building projects do often have a record of costing more by the time they are completed, whilst some of the proposed rebuilds are cheaper because the quality and space for teaching is not going to be as good.”

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