Gove apologises over school building list errors

Education Secretary Michael Gove made an apology to the Commons

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Education Secretary Michael Gove has repeatedly apologised for errors in a list about schools building programmes in England which are being scrapped.

In stormy scenes in the Commons, Mr Gove was attacked by Labour MPs who said the 25 errors in the list were "intolerable" and "astonishing".

Mr Gove said he understood MPs' "passion" about the issue as Speaker John Bercow tried to calm MPs.

Labour's Tom Watson shouted at Mr Gove that he was a "miserable pipsqueak".

The West Bromwich East MP, whose constituency includes Sandwell - which Mr Gove admitted had been among those boroughs most affected - was ordered to withdraw the remark by the Speaker.

'Regrettable error'

The Commons chamber was unusually packed for an evening as Mr Gove delivered his apology - for breaching Parliamentary etiquette in the way the list was originally released, and for inaccuracies in the list.

The coalition government's decision to axe the Building Schools for the Future programme means 715 schools will see their rebuilding projects cancelled.

A number of schools that thought their building plans had been saved have now been told they are being axed.

Mr Gove told the Speaker: "I'm grateful to you and to the whole House for granting me the opportunity to make this statement, and once again to unreservedly apologise."

Amid anger from Labour MPs he repeatedly apologised and said they had sought to ensure the new list was "as complete as possible and as accurate as possible". He said he took "full responsibility for that regrettable error".

Start Quote

The chaos and confusion around this statement was frankly astonishing”

End Quote Vernon Coaker Shadow education minister

It came after shadow education minister Vernon Coaker said Mr Gove should apologise to MPs in person - and Speaker John Bercow agreed with him.

Mr Coaker said 25 schools on the list had errors, nine of which had been listed as going ahead with rebuilding projects which had been cancelled and a further seven which had been listed as "unaffected" had since been told their plans were "under discussion".

"The chaos and confusion around this statement was frankly astonishing," he said.

'Not appropriate'

He suggested Mr Gove had been "dragged kicking and screaming to this House to apologise" and said he should apologise "to the country for shattering the dreams and hopes of so many pupils and schools".

Mr Gove flagged up the borough of Sandwell as among those areas most affected by errors and said he wanted to "underline how sorry I feel towards them and to the parents and teachers involved".

But the area's MP, Tom Watson, stood up, pointed at Mr Gove and shouted across the chamber that he was a "miserable pipsqueak" who had "cynically raised the hopes" of people in his area. The Speaker ordered him to withdraw the remark, adding it was "not appropriate".

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The situation is bizarre and disgraceful and it is something we will have to challenge because the impact of not going ahead on our educational facilities will be dire”

End Quote Steve Eling Deputy leader of Sandwell council

Mr Gove said he understood the "passion" Mr Watson brought to the issue and said he was happy to visit West Bromwich to apologise to those affected.

But in rowdy scenes, Conservative MP Tony Baldry accused Labour MPs of "synthetic anger" on the issue, saying his constituents understood that Labour had "left the cupboard absolutely bare".

And Nick Boles got a big cheer from his Tory colleagues when he accused Labour of running around promising schools rebuilding programmes they knew they could not fund.

But another Conservative MP, Ian Liddell Grainger, told Channel 4 News the government must "reconsider" its plans: "If necessary we'll come to Number 10 with all the heads and the children. This is the future for our children."

'Bizarre'

And shadow education secretary Ed Balls questioned whether a "proper process" had been followed and said the government could face legal challenges from firms expecting to build new schools.

Mr Gove has said due to the financial situation - the government is trying to reduce the £155bn budget deficit - it has to prioritise funding.

The government says it will focus on creating new places for the growing numbers of primary school pupils and expand the Teach First scheme. Mr Gove had accused the school renewal scheme of being inefficiently administered.

The errors in the list affected schools in areas including Sandwell, Derby, Northamptonshire, Peterborough, Doncaster, Greenwich, Staffordshire and Bexley.

The mistakes have infuriated Sandwell council, where schools thought they had received good news.

Steve Eling, its deputy leader, said the situation was "bizarre and disgraceful" and hopes for new schools had been "stolen from under our noses".

A corrected version of the list of cancelled projects has been given to the House of Commons library.

This revised list is also available on the Department for Education website.

Mr Gove, along with coalition partner Sarah Teather, had announced the scrapping of more than 700 projects to improve or rebuild schools.

NASUWT teachers' union leader, Chris Keates, said: "The fatal inaccuracies on the government's list of schools affected by the decisions on future BSF projects will take a wrecking ball to the hopes of school staff and pupils whose futures depended on having their school buildings transformed."

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