Hundreds rally over cuts to school building programme

Staff and pupils joined the Save Our Schools lobby

Hundreds of teachers, councillors and pupils have protested over the axing of England's school rebuilding programme.

Led by trade unions, the Save Our Schools lobby urged ministers to reconsider the move which led to the halting of 735 school projects.

The scrapping of the school building project was attacked by a teachers' leader as "reckless and arrogant".

Prime Minister David Cameron has described the cancelled programme as "hopeless" and "not properly funded".

But Chris Keates, leader of the NASUWT teachers' union, accused the coalition government of "arrogant, indecent haste leading to reckless decisions and mistakes".

Ms Keates and other teachers' leaders addressed a protest rally in Westminster. Other regional protests were also scheduled.

On Monday the Church of England expressed "serious concern" over the decision to scrap rebuilds at 23 of its schools, and to review plans for another 18.

'Bureaucratic'

Its education spokesman, Rt Revd John Saxbee, wrote to Education Secretary Michael Gove saying some of the buildings had "very serious health and safety issues and may soon become unusable".

"Making the programme more efficient is one thing, but decimating it in this way is quite another," he wrote.

Joining the protest

Gordon Phillips, head teacher of Meadows Sports College in Sandwell, is joining the lobby, along with teachers, governors and heads from other schools in the area.

His school for pupils with learning difficulties lost £2m refurbishment money because of the axing of the BSF scheme.

He said: "I am hoping that by going and showing how much concern there is about this decision, we might get some of our money back.

"With special needs children in particular they can't fight for themselves so we really have to be their advocates.

"The Queen's government originally agreed that all these schools would have that funding to improve their standards."

Mr Cameron told the BBC the Labour government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was "bureaucratic", and would take three years and cost £250m before a single brick was laid.

"It was a hopeless programme and it's right that it's been stopped so we can get it right for the future," he said.

Mr Cameron added there would still be some money for school building and improvements - but not on the scale of the BSF programme.

Shadow education secretary Ed Balls said axing the BSF programme was "exactly the wrong thing to do now", and risked creating unemployment just as the economy was emerging from recession.

He told the BBC: "The money was there, and at this crucial time for the economy the right thing for us to do is to support hundreds of thousands of private sector construction jobs while we transform the life choices for children."

Two weeks ago Education Secretary Michael Gove announced the BSF programme to rebuild all of England's schools by 2023 was being completely scrapped.

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PDF download Full list of BSF projects and main errors: Check the schools in your area [238KB]

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The announcement was criticised as being badly handled with repeated errors on published lists of projects affected. Mr Gove was later forced to apologise in the House of Commons.

He told the BBC the Building Schools for the Future scheme was "incredibly wasteful", with a typical 30% of the cost of projects being spent on commissioning before any building work commenced, compared with 10% for a normal construction project.

Local authorities say they have spent at least £160m which will now be lost because of the scrapping of school building plans.

Ed Balls: "It's just the wrong thing to do to be cutting this now".

This is in addition to the estimated £100m which construction companies say they have spent on cancelled bids.

Mr Gove said there would be a new programme to allow dilapidated schools and those in disadvantaged areas to receive "the money they deserve" but it would take time to get it set up.

Led by the NASUWT teachers' union, head teachers, school support staff, governors and councillors were among those who gathered for the protest at the Houses of Parliament.

Five other unions - the NUT, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, GMB, Unison and Unite - also took part.

The leader of the NUT, Christine Blower, said: "Cutting the budget to rebuild schools is a huge blow to those that have been promised the sort of facilities you would expect in a modern school."

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said the lobby and rally had captured the public mood of deep concern about the programme of cuts.

"Here we have a government which has axed, with breathtaking speed and no consultation, hundreds of school building projects, put thousands of construction workers on the dole, denied hundreds of unemployed young people apprenticeship opportunities and has not even been able to produce an accurate list of which schools are affected."

She said run-down and dilapidated school buildings were not being replaced while others in good repair were getting brand new buildings because they were becoming academies.

A Department for Education spokesman said it was not stopping school building.

It was simply going to replace the "wasteful and costly BSF" programme with a more realistic and efficient alternative.

It said it was reviewing capital spending in a way that would target schools in the greatest need.

Meanwhile, construction firm Glenigan has released a report on BSF, which claims education projects make up almost a fifth of all construction projects started in the past 18 months.

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