I know that pupils, parents, schools and communities across the West Midlands will have been understandably distressed and concerned by the confusion following my decision to end the last government’s school rebuilding programme.
I wish in particular to apologise to people in Sandwell, who are doing such a great job, where schools were wrongly informed their rebuilding would proceed under Building Schools for the Future when, sadly, it will not.
When I met the leaders of Sandwell Council on Thursday, I promised to visit the area soon and to meet with the pupils, parents, headteachers and teachers who have been affected. I look forward to doing so and top of my agenda will be the future of school building.
Because the end of the Building Schools for the Future scheme doesn’t mean the end of investing in our schools. As I explained to the councillors, I am still absolutely committed to rebuilding and refurbishing schools. I don’t want to see any pupils learning in classrooms which are not up to standard and there are schools, including many in the West Midlands, that do desperately need to be repaired. What I also said was that I don’t believe that the Building Schools for the Future programme was spending taxpayers’ money anywhere near efficiently enough – and money wasted on this is money that can’t go on training great teachers or keeping class sizes down. That was why I want to review all of the different ways in which we build schools to ensure that money is allocated quicker, more efficiently and, most importantly, more fairly.
The Building Schools for the Future scheme has been characterised by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy. Even the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects called the programme “wasteful and bureaucratic” and said we could do more for less. Before any project is approved, local councils have to navigate their way through over 60 official documents. It is no surprise that it can take almost 3 years before a single brick is laid and some councils have only just started building new schools despite starting the process 6 years ago.
This bureaucracy meant that schools built under the programme cost three times more than similar private sector buildings and twice what it costs to build a school in Ireland. Only 96 brand new schools out of a total of 3,500 secondary schools have been built in the 7 years since the last Government launched the scheme – and the bill has rocketed by at least £10 billion.
The whole way in which we build schools needs to change to ensure that more money is not wasted on pointless bureaucracy, to ensure that buildings are built on budget and on time, and to ensure that a higher proportion of capital investment gets rapidly to the schools that need it most. That is what I have asked my review team to do.
And at the same time, I want to invest more money in great teaching. While we have the best generation of teachers that we’ve ever had, we need to do more to make opportunity more equal. It is a sad reflection on our education system that, in the most recent year for which we have data, just 45 of the 80,000 young people from the poorest families made it to Oxford or Cambridge.
We are determined to ensure that every child has access to excellent teaching, especially the poorest. And that is why we will now double the number of highly accomplished graduates teaching in our schools, recruit hundreds more graduate teachers into areas of poverty where they can help raise attainment in the most challenging schools and also fund the expansion of graduate teachers into primary schools for the first time.