Education & Family

School buildings will still get cash, Gove promises

Blueprints (Stock photo)
Image caption The Building Schools for the Future scheme was axed on 5 July

Investment in school buildings in England will continue, despite the abolition of a major building scheme, the education secretary has stressed.

Michael Gove said "hype" over the abolition of Building Schools for the Future had led the public to think there would be no future spending.

He said officials checked the list of schools affected "diligently", despite errors for which he has apologised.

Mr Gove also defended his academies and free schools policies in front of MPs.

Giving evidence to the cross-party Education Select Committee, he said money would be made more directly available to schools to develop their buildings in the future.

He said the decision to cancel the programme had not been an easy one.

"It wasn't an easy announcement to make, because inevitably I was in the business of disappointing hope."

Mr Gove was asked whether the announcement had been a "PR disaster" where the public was left with the impression the government was ending all school building.

He replied: "An impression has been created that with the ending of BSF, that means schools capital ends overall and that's because so much rhetorical hype was invested in BSF by the previous government.

"But as you know, BSF was only a third of capital investment overall in schools and in fact by ending this bureaucratic scheme we make it easier to allocate capital to schools in the future.

"One of the things we want to do... is ensure that there is more money particularly for primary schools, particularly for schools in dilapidation than might otherwise have been the case."

Mr Gove said the spending commitments made by the previous administration were not sustainable and said tough times were ahead.

"But it's important that we communicate to schools, to parents and to pupils that capital investment in schools will continue," he added.

List errors

Mr Gove also responded to a question about mistakes in an initial list of schools affected by changes released by the Department for Education.

"There were some regrettable errors... which were wholly my responsibility."

Also appearing before the committee of MPs, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education David Bell said the errors made by officials had put Mr Gove in a "invidious position".

"In the end we were all disappointed that we didn't get the list right for the Secretary of State," he said.

Mr Gove said: "With the benefit of perfect twenty-twenty hindsight, we can acknowledge that mistakes were made, but I just want to stress that my officials were diligent in ensuring that the list was checked... but ultimately the responsibility is mine."

On Tuesday, Tim Byles, chief executive of the Partnerships for Schools agency, which oversees BSF, said he had urged officials to check data before publishing the list.

Mr Byles told the committee of MPs the checks were necessary because of "the inherent risk of errors".

He admitted that Partnership for Schools was responsible for one of the most well-publicised errors - the listing of nine schools in Sandwell as "unaffected" by the cuts, when in fact the building programme had been axed.

Shadow Education Secretary Ed Balls told the MPs on Tuesday that the decision to scrap the rebuilding scheme was foolish, chaotic and "last-minute".

Academies

Mr Gove also faced questions about his policy on academies and free schools.

He was quizzed over the speed at which the Academies Bill has been pushed through Parliament.

"The haste is because I believe we desperately need to transform our educational system.

"I think that despite the best efforts of ministers who have held this office before me, that our educational system in this country is not good enough."

Mr Gove was asked whether he was convinced looked-after children, children with special educational needs and those from disadvantaged backgrounds would not be further disadvantaged by the Academies Bill, which will see many "outstanding" schools opting out of local authority control.

"Not only am I convinced that they won't be further disadvantaged, I am convinced that they will benefit from these changes," he said.

"The reason we're introducing these reforms is specifically to address the fundamental problems we have with lack of opportunity in so many areas."

The reforms would give teachers greater autonomy to "work in the interests of our young people," he said.

Asked the same question, Mr Bell said the changes would make opportunities available to a wider range of people.

"The more power you devolve to the level of the individual school, the more likely you are to get the best outcomes for the children and young people concerned."

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