Building schools fiasco

The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.

What a balls-up. Or, since it happened under the new incumbent, what a Gove-up.

I’m referring, of course, to the fiasco that was the announcement of the slashing of the Building Schools for the Future programme.

Education secretary Michael Gove ended up issuing fourth or five statements about the schools that will keep their funding since they are so far down the road that it would be more expensive (not to mention impractical) to stop the programme than to carry on. Former secretary Ed Balls was, of course, laughing his socks off at the hash that Gove has made of it all.

Like of lot of things that governments – all governments, not just the previous one – run, BSF was cumbersome and inefficient. I was talking to a chap the other day who is a parent governor of his local primary school. For years they had been trying to get two new classrooms built and every year they were turned down.

Why were they turned down? Because in their calculation of how much space the school required, the powers that be took the corridors into account, meaning the school was, in effect, too big already. Every year the school was told to reply the following year in case things changed. And what do you know – a change of policy later and it was told it met the criteria to be entirely rebuilt. A whole new school, instead of two extra classrooms, a change of heart that sent the project costs rocketing.

How many other schools are out there who, had the processes been different, might have got the extra two or three classrooms they desperately needed, but which now have to make-do and mend.

So, inefficient and unwieldy, though BSF was, closing down so many projects does seem to me to be throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. However, there is evidence of a surge in interest for RMI work from schools who aren’t going to be rebuilt but know they need to fix the leaky roof. So any merchants with friends and contacts in local schools could probably benefit.

Balls has of course been making hay with the BSF cuts, even appearing, placard in hand, at a protest of teachers. I’m all for standing up for your principles, but this is a man standing to be leader of the Labour Party and, by extension, a possible world leader. I grew up in the Eighties, when the thought of another Labour Prime Minister was nonsense, but since 2007 all bets are off. Balls, for me, just doesn’t have the gravitas that would make him leadership material.

David Milliband though is a different story. And on that subject, at an event at the LSE last night to launch his memoirs, Lord Mandelson told the audience that, had it come to it, he would have supported Milliband in a leadership contest against Gordon Brown.

I don’t know whether Milliband should be pleased or terrified at that prospect. I hope he has a long spoon.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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