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Academies handed #163;800m for rebuilds

The Government is to release #163;800 million-worth of capital funding over the next 18 months to build or refurbish dozens of academies across the country.

The move will mean the go-ahead for construction work on 71 academies that was put on hold last year when education secretary Michael Gove called a halt to the school building programme Building Schools for the Future (BSF).

But six local authorities are still waiting to hear from Mr Gove on the fate of their own school rebuilding projects, collectively worth around #163;1 billion.

A judicial review brought by angry local authorities in February forced the Department for Education to re-examine the BSF programme, and there has been criticism that the #163;800 million announcement has come before Mr Gove's verdict.

Among the six local authorities to mount the legal challenge was Sandwell Council, and councillor Bob Badham, Sandwell's cabinet member for children and families, said he felt let down that academies were being given the green light ahead of maintained schools.

"It just shows you that the local authorities have been treated in a really bad way," Councillor Badham said. "There's no point pulling any punches - we feel very much let down by the system. We have proven and re-proven our case."

Mr Gove's decision on capital funding marks the first major school rebuilding work to take place since the Coalition came to power. Around #163;550 million will go to 43 academies in the South of England while the remaining #163;250 million will pay for 28 to be built or refurbished in the North.

Partnerships for Schools, the Government agency responsible for overseeing school construction, said work will start on Portslade Aldridge Community Academy in Brighton and Kearsley Academy in Bolton next month.

Kearsley Academy will more than double in size once the work has been completed, expanding from 400 to 950 students, including a new sixth form.

Kearsley principal Nigel Jepson said he had not given up hope of receiving funding despite the uncertainty around capital expenditure.

"We're very happy it has been given the go-ahead," Mr Jepson said. "I have always been confident that it would happen.

"But in these times, when so many BSF plans were falling through, you can never be quite sure.

"But we always made a good case for the creation of a new school up here."

The news was also welcomed by charity the British Council for School Environments (BCSE), which said it signalled the Government's intentions to step up its academy expansion programme.

BCSE chair Ty Goddard said: "This is good news for everyone working in the sector and it also shows Michael Gove is picking up the pace on education reform."

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