Sunday, 16 May 2010

£57m BSF money frozen

One of the themes of my General Election campaign here in Darlington - a campaign, by the way, which produced an increase in our vote from 7,000 to 10,000 (23.4%), against the general trend elsewhere - was that voting Conservative and getting a Conservative Government would lead to the withdrawal of our promised £57m Building Schools for the Future money for the rebuilding or renovation of Longfield, Hurworth and Branksome schools.

Although many cherished Lib Dem policies have made it into the Coalition's platform, on education it seems to me that the Conservatives, with their plans for "free schools", hostility to the BSF programme and continued support for University tuition fees, have taken the lead. The Guardian reported yesterday that the Building Schools for the Future programme has been frozen pending review.

I could not support this policy if, indeed, the Coalition Government decided to withdraw this funding. We would effectively have a two-tier school system in the town, at least in terms of bricks and mortar. We know that the education provided by these schools is good and that buildings do not a school make, but with parents across the town seeing some pupils learning in bright new well-equipped classrooms with the most up-to-date equipment, while others struggle on in a range of outdated and temporary accommodation, it will certainly seem to parents that some pupils have a built-in advantage.

No doubt our new MP is making our case. I have written to both Sarah Teather and David Laws urging them to use their best endeavours to ensure that projects already in the pipeline are allowed to complete their course.


jane said...

For years we have been assured by both the DCSF, the Labour Government and Local Authorities that "academies are financed on exactly the same basis as community schools".

If the argument for dumping BSF is that it will provide funding for "free" schools, that is a tacit admission the costs of fragmenting and privatising education are high.

The Anti Academies Alliance has just produced a worrying briefing on the "Swedish Model". It can be read/downloaded at

Mike Cartwright said...

BSF was indeed one of themes during the General Election, but sadly views were often mis-represented...mainly by the Lib Dems it seems...a trend that is perhaps continuing (even though really Mike we should be friends!).

David Laws (then Lib Dem Education Spokesperson) had said the Lib Dems would, like the Conservatives, review the BSF programme. It seems the Lib Dems, like the Conservatives, were concerned about the excessive millions being spent on "Consultants" which would be better spent on quality buildings and IT.

Therefore it seemed odd to me to see Lib Dem leaflets being stuffed through letterboxes during the campaign warning that the "Tory axe hangs over Darlington school rebuilding programme", when essentially the Lib Dems had the same BSF policy (which as I understand it isn't to axe funding but reduce waste).

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.....

We need all party support here in Darlington to make sure that the £57M which was promised by the last Government is honoured and Branksome, Hurworth and Longfield Secondary Schools are rebuilt/refurbished.

Stop the points scoring, think of the children and get behind the effort to secure the funding. I am 100% behind you Mike B.

It is totally and utterly wrong that these 3 secondary schools miss out. It is unfair on the pupils who attend the schools and staff who work in these schools. They must not be denied excellent educational facilities which the children and staff in the other 4 secondary schools in Darlington enjoy.

Mike Cartwright said...

Oh I agree Alan we all need to support the refurb/rebuild of Schools in Darlington.

But I also firmly believe we should ALL stick to the facts and that scaremongering helps nobody.

james said...

Same old Tories, only painted blue and yellow this time.

james said...

As Jane says, if BSF is ditched the money can go towards helping big businesses take over education - and eventually running schools like our railways, energy companies, etc.

I sense that both wings of the Tory-Liberal party in Darlington aren't happy with the Age of Austerity their leaders are ushering in.

Show some enthusiasm, guys! Don't you know we're all in it together...?

ianh said...

BSF is far from perfect in terms of delivering new school due to both its timescales and costs.

However, our schools are in desperate need of this investment, with the likes of Hurworth already suffering lost school days due to gas leaks etc. This school was built in the 1960s with a limited design life, long since past and is now suffering, to the detrimnent of our childrens futures.
The tories record in delivering new buildings is woeful (or even non-existant locally)and the lib-dems must assert the need to continue with those schemes already progressing under the bsf programme.
If the likes of Hurworth is to continue delivering a world class education (top 1% of state schools nationally and in the top ten schools for value added) for children from right across the town then the ridiculous "swedish model" must be abandoned. We should instead be investing in success and examplars of good practice that schools like hurworth represent.

jane said...

The real problems could be ahead. Someone could come along and say "We'll give you the money but you must become a trust or an academy." In both scenarios you can lose control of the school, the curriculum could be downgraded and, depending on who the sponsor is, money could be spent on the PR than on the substance.

Local authority new build schools have been cheaper than others. Under both trust and academy status the land and buildings are handed over for free to the sponsor or trust.

Although school buildings are important, one student in Bradford summed it up nicely: "it would be nice to have new buildings, but what makes a school are the parents, the students, the staff and the community working together". Out of the mouths of.......

ianh said...

Jane is absolutley right.
Here in Hurworth we know only to well the important role a school plays as part of its community.

Hurworth has achieved outstanding success, thanks in part to this community role.
However this has been despite the quality of the buildings rather than because of them. There will come a time before too long when patching up the failing infrastructure will no longer be a viable option.
As a result of the lea ridiculous closure plans in 2005, Hurworth ia already a Foundation School, taking it out of their control. (though still playing a full, non-selective role for the whole borough)
If schools such as hurworth are to continue to prosper, they must get the investment they deserve.

(apologies for going on about hurworth in particular, but that is where my 3 kids have received an outstandung start in life)

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes....

I, like Ian H. have to declare an interest too. My youngest son goes to Longfield.

I recall that when the closure plan was being trailed round Governing Bodies in 2005 the Council's representative showed us the how bad the fabric of Hurworth School was and we are now five years down the line. Ian is absolutely right the buildings at Hurworth have gone beyond their expected lifespan and need to be replaced urgently.

ianh said...

thanks for the support Alan.
I and others have been imploring politicians of all hues of the need for this investment for years now.
BSF is far from perfect but it does at least put a value in putting schools at the centre of communities. It did seem to represent the best hope for the re-build of the remaining darlington secondary schools.
Any "freezing" of plans just means further delay and decay. And what about all the time and energy already spent by the schools and la on this project? Will Mr Gove be re-imbursing them for their wasted efforts?

The "swedish" model is a foolish proposition and would undoubtably lead to extradordinay disruption and yet more waste in the secondary sector.

Regardless of what these Oxbridge grandees would have us believe, the Comprehensive system can and does work, given skilled leadership and support.