Thursday 9 August 2007

Building blocks

Today's report from the Education and Skills Committee on the government's massive school building programme is a rather more sensible and sober affair than the silly account of it on this morning's Today programme, which claimed that MPs thought the £45bn for Building Schools for the Future should be spent on teachers. Of course, it is right to keep the issue of value for money under control. But the BSF programme is now fully integrated with programmes to lift standards, including Academies, and ensuring good teaching facilities and environmental sustainability. On Today, we were treated to a report from Clacton, where the local Tory MP Douglas Carswell whined that a relatively new school 'might have to close', therefore the investment in schools was wasted. Of course, rather than rambling on the radio, Mr Carswell could have a chat with Tory-controlled Essex County Council, whose brainchild this possible closure is, and ensure that the facilities are used for education within the schools' consortium. Perhaps he has not caught up with the development of federations and trusts, of which the Essex schools' model is actually quite good. Equally, we should not forget (even if a young Mr Carswell missed it at Charterhouse) that before PFI allowed a gear-change in investment under Gordon Brown, our state school buildings were a disgrace. Crumbling buildings, rotting labs and dismal sports facilities were commonplace in the 1990s, when the Conservative government let investment to fall to a piffling £700m a year nationwide, not even allowing necessary repairs. Since 1997, over a thousand new schools have been built. There have also been tens of thousands of new computers (which often support lessons) and thousands of labs, sports pitches and teaching rooms. Investment in schools is investment in teaching and learning, and is helping to improve standards and encourage record numbers of graduates to enter teaching.

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