Friday, 9 July 2010

Cancellation of Building Schools for the Future

I can speak with some experience on this topic, since my school was rebuilt in 2004. And I'm not convinced that the school building has such a major impact on education - it never really had one on me - and Douglas Alexander is certainly making too big a deal of it when he says cancelling the programme represents "a pre-meditated assault on the life chances and opportunities of children in some of the poorest communities in England".

Because however much money they threw at rebuilding schools, Labour's educational policy can be seen as fulfilling the above phrase (maybe not the pre-meditated bit, but the rest definitely). It's methods of education that matter, and in fact things like discipline too. If money is spent on building programmes instead of textbooks, I can't see the benefit. Unless the textbooks are rubbish.

If pupils aren't given the skills to succeed in life and at work, and are instead trained to pass exams (as has happened), they will have less opportunities. If degrees are devalued, as has happened, they will have less opportunities. If time is spent revising and taking exams, there is less time for education, and thus less opportunity. If policy favours trying to push the D grades up to C grades, and not focussing on those below and stretching those above, then opportunity will be limited. The building, 'world-class facilities', blah blah, are irrelevant.

But I also think it's been blown out of proportion for a couple of other reasons. Firstly that Gove apologised was both right but completely in contrast to what Ed Balls would have done - blamed his civil servants; and yes, it was a civil servant's (or quangocrat's) fault, but Gove took responsibility. But the second one is more important - and I think reflects why BSF has been cancelled - is that it was a terribly inefficient way of building schools - John Redwood puts it better than I would - emphasis mine:
In the statement I heard Michael Gove make he was clear in saying he was cancelling the approach of Building Schools for the future because it was an expensive, long winded and inefficient way of building schools. He did not say he was cancelling all new schools building. Indeed, if he is right and he can save substantial sums on the box ticking detailed regulatory approach of the old programme this could leave him with more money to spend on bricks and mortar. This message has got entirely lost in the broadcasts and newspaper stories about cuts, leading most people to think there will now be no new schools.
This is exactly the point - and I am confident that new schools will be built under the free schools and academy legislation anyway - and this will be at the demand of parents, with facilities parents demand. Going back to my new school building built in 2004 - the corridors aren't wide enough, and too much 'traffic' meets in the middle of the middle floor, where a staircase and 3 corridors meet. This means that there have to be teachers controlling the flow, some corridors are one-way, etc. The old school had several blocks, separate doors for different blocks - and it worked much better. And they also inexplicably built it for 1200 pupils when the school had 1500 pupils and was still growing - and there's talk of building new classrooms in the attic to rectify this. This failure I can only assume is partly because of the bureaucracy, because of some rules in place perhaps.

It's also true, as Redwood says, that less money on bureaucracy should lead to more being spent on the actual school - and maybe even more schools being built and more quickly too. It might even free up money to be spent on just improving facilities in current schools, buying new football goals maybe - the sort of investment that will produce better effects than just building a new school.

How I would love it for, in a few years, Labour to realise that their rubbish, overbureaucratic programme saw less schools built than under a Conservative government that apparently wants to destroy life chances. They might come up with a new reason for opposing it then. Maybe that the schools don't have enough bike racks and are then affecting educational opportunity. Or maybe they will have become a serious party by then, I don't know.

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