Education & Family

MPs told advice to check school building list ignored

The education department has been accused of ignoring advice to double-check data before publishing a list of cancelled school rebuilding projects.

The Building School for the Future scheme was scrapped earlier this month.

Education Secretary Michael Gove had to apologise after an inaccurate list of schools in England affected by the decision was published.

Tim Byles, head of the Partnerships for Schools agency, said the list should have been checked with councils.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee, Mr Byles said he told officials to be careful because of the risk of "inherent errors".

Mr Byles, chief executive of the delivery agency for the rebuilding programme, said school closures, amalgamations, mergers and name changes meant some of the information held was "fluid".

"When we were asked to provide a detailed list of all schools - both those in procurement and those in pre-procurement - we advised the Department [for Education] that it would be wise to validate this information with each local authority due to the inherent risk of errors.

"This advice was not followed and a number of errors arose."

Sandwell error

Mr Byles, who was appointed in November 2006, admitted Partnerships for Schools was responsible for wrong information published about the Building Schools for the Future projects in Sandwell.

Nine schools in Sandwell were originally told by the government their projects were being saved, but it later emerged they had been put on the wrong list and would have their schemes cancelled.

Mr Byles said officials "working late into the night" had put in the wrong data relating to schemes at differing stages in the area.

"I want to make absolutely clear that was a mistake by Partnerships for Schools and I take full responsibility for that."

Mr Byles also told the MPs there was "inherent waste" in the BSF system because of European Union rules.

"Is there bureaucracy and waste? Yes there is.

"I'm on the record several times as saying that the system under which we must operate for these, what are called complex procurements, as defined by the European Union Commission, mean that there is inherent waste in the system."

The rules mean two schemes have to be fully prepared for each building project and then the local authority decides which to proceed with - the other is "put in the bin".

"That can't be sensible from the man-in-the-street's view," Mr Byles said.


Also giving evidence to the committee, Shadow Education Secretary Ed Balls said the decision to scrap the rebuilding scheme was foolish.

Mr Balls said the decision had been chaotic and "last-minute" and had dashed the hopes of some 700,000 plus children.

He said it also put construction jobs at risk and would see capital funding diverted to free schools, which would lead to greater social division.

Responding to questions about the inaccurate list, Mr Balls said good government was about "taking your time and getting it right".

More than 700 secondary schools which had not reached financial close on their building works saw their projects cancelled when the BSF scheme was halted.

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