School rebuild joy turns to frustration
- 12 March 2013
- From the section Education & Family
When Maggie Rafee and her pupils heard last May that their school was to be rebuilt as part of England's priority school building scheme, they were ecstatic.
The 1950s-built Alperton Community School had been in a crumbling and dilapidated state for a number of years, and was getting increasingly difficult to patch up.
"We were delighted and excited to learn that we were one of about 200 schools who would be included in the programme," the head teacher said, adding that she expected things to move very fast.
"I thought we would have a new school open by September 2014."
But that joy turned to frustration when, to her horror, she discovered that a new school was not expected to be built until early 2018.
This was something of a double blow as the school had already been disappointed when a previous rebuild was axed when Building Schools for the Future was scrapped by the Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2010.
She continued: "What are these children going to do who are in the school now, and what are all the children and families of those who are going to come here going to do?
"This is an outstanding school and our children learn very well here, but they deserve better and there are aspects of the school that I worry aren't even safe."
As well as a dilapidated appearance, the school in Brent, London, is afflicted by a very leaky roof.
"When it rains it comes in everywhere and sometimes we have to close the classroom and move the students and it does interrupt their learning and it is very, very difficult," says Ms Raffee.
There are problems with the mechanical infrastructure of the building, and there are parts of the school that have been closed off, she says.
She said architects had warned her that the types of material that the school is built from makes it vulnerable to "potential collapse". It also suffers with poor windows, with panes of glass that are very loose.
"Now if I didn't think it was safe, I couldn't allow students to come in to the building, but there are times when I worry that there will be something that just tips it over the edge."
The school had been earmarked for a re-build on the wider rebuilding programme, Building Schools for the Future, but then the entire programme was scrapped by Education Secretary Michael Gove.
At the beginning of the September term, Mrs Rafee was informed it would not be until 2014 when a rebuild and investment package including her school's needs would be prepared for the private finance market. The Alperton rebuild is to be put together in an investment package with those of a number of other schools to make it an attractive prospect for investors.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said works to Alperton Community School were not delayed. She said the school was contacted in July 2012 to inform them that planning work would start between July and September 2014 and that this had not changed.
"We would anticipate that schools within the batch that it is in will see building work start in 2016, with schools being completed in 2017 and 2018."
Ms Rafee, however, says she is mystified by the time the project is taking to get off the ground.
"I just don't understand why, if the money is there and it is ring-fenced, and there are private finance investors out there that want to build this, then what is the delay?
"One does just wonder could some of the money that has been directed to free schools be directed towards mine so it could be rebuilt more quickly?"
She adds: "I do worry because there is going to be an election in 2015 and will the same thing happen again?"