Education & Family

Teachers and parents demand retreat on school axe

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Media captionStaff and pupils joined the Save Our Schools lobby

A rally of teachers, school staff and parents has called on the government to change its mind on cancelling school rebuilding projects.

Hundreds of representatives from schools across England challenged the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme.

An angry parent said her child was being used as an "ideological pawn".

The Department for Education says the rebuilding project had been hampered by "needless bureaucracy".

The Save our Schools rally had been organised by teachers' unions in response to the cancelling of hundreds of school building projects.

'Shameful'

Addressing the protest in Westminster, Shadow Education Secretary Ed Balls accused the coalition government of mounting "the biggest assault on comprehensive education for 60 years".

Describing the morale-boosting benefit of new facilities, Mr Balls said that a pupil in a newly built school in Knowsley had said to him: "We never thought anyone would ever think we were worth this."

Image caption Teachers and parents marched past the Department for Education

But he said it was "shameful" that such investment would now be stopped.

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

The TUC's general secretary, Brendan Barber, said the decision over cutting school rebuilding was "more about ideology than necessity".

About 700 parents and teachers attended the rally, which paraded past the Department for Education building in Westminster.

Parent power

Lynn Stables, a parent with a child at Fernwood School in Nottinghamshire, which is to miss out on rebuilding, said parents were "devastated" that their children would lose out.

She was angry that the decision to cancel rebuilding appeared to have taken place without ministers coming to see what they were stopping.

And she was unambiguous about the political power of parents affected by these decisions - saying that she was a "parent and a voter - and that parents would be rethinking about how they voted".

Julie Morgan, a parent from Queen Elizabeth's Mercian School in Tamworth, called on the rally to "imagine our outrage" at the cancelling of £100m of school improvements in the town.

"It's about the breaking up of state education," she said - and that children were being used as "pawns in an ideological chess game".

Christine Blower, leader of the NUT teachers' union, predicted that the row over cutting school building would continue next term - and said that the coalition government had "misjudged how people feel about this".

In particular she suggested that the Liberal Democrats would need to "go back and read their own manifesto" as they were now governing on a "false prospectus".

Safety worries

The coalition will have wanted to draw a line under this debate over school rebuilding, particularly when it became so entangled in a bungled announcement.

Image caption Parents Linda Morgan and Lynn Stables warn about the strength of feeling over cutting schools

But complaints about the wielding of the axe have continued.

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

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.

But the government has repeatedly argued that the end of Building Schools for the Future does not mean the end of school rebuilding - and that a review of capital spending will report later this year.

And it has said that a more efficient, less bureaucratic system will be a more effective way of targeting funds at schools that need repairs.

Prime Minister David Cameron has supported the scrapping of Building Schools for the Future.

"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.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said Building Schools for the Future had suffered from "overspends, delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy".

"The whole way we build schools needs radical reform. That is why we are reviewing the whole schools capital programme, so we can get a new process that is simpler, cheaper, and faster."

Despite threats that there would be legal challenges against the cancellation of building projects, so far there have been no compensation claims from local authorities or private contractors.

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