Ministers 'retract' buildings pledge

Not all secondary schools will be rebuilt by 2015, despite a pound;6.3billion investment. Michael Shaw and Jon Slater report

Investment in school buildings will rise to pound;6.3 billion by 2007-08, the Government announced this week, but ministers are backtracking on their plans to rebuild or refurbish every secondary by 2015.

A typical primary will receive pound;34,000 a year to spend on buildings and information technology and a typical secondary pound;110,000 under the three-year capital investment programme.

But the promise that all secondary schools in England would be rebuilt or refurbished by 2015 appears to have been retracted.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, told Parliament earlier this year that spending plans ensured all secondaries could be improved by that date.

The Labour website says that one of the party's key pledges is:

"Every secondary school will be rebuilt or refurbished by 2015."

But a note in an announcement published this week by the Department for Education and Skills revealed a significantly less ambitious target for the Building Schools for the Future programme. It stated: "By 2016, major remodelling (at least three schools) will have started in every single authority."

This contrasts with earlier statements, including one made by the Education Secretary to the House of Commons after the Budget earlier this year.

Mr Clarke described the planned spending, then added: "This will ensure that, through our Building Schools for the Future programme, by 2015 every secondary school can be refurbished or rebuilt with world-class technology in every school and the best state-of-the-art learning in every classroom."

The DfES said there had been no changes to the building programme and that the definitive description of the scheme could be found in the department's five-year plan which states that the work would be completed 10 to 15 years after 2005.

The Prime Minister also referred to a 10 to 15-year time-scale when he spoke about the project last year.

A DfES spokeswoman said that if any ministers had suggested an earlier target date it had been accidental.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, called the apparent changes a "dishonest con trick which dwarfs many other crimes by politicians".

"It means that as few as 14 per cent of schools could be being rebuilt by 2016," he said. "At that rate it could take another century to complete the other schools, by which time they will have to start again."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said that some schools might be disappointed to wait longer than 2016 for new buildings. But he said: "We shouldn't carp about this unprecedented investment in school buildings. This is fantastic money after 20 years of neglect."

The announcement on school buildings was made two days before Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, delivered his pre-budget statement. As The TES went to press, Mr Brown was not expected to announce any new money for schools. But a national adult training strategy to tackle shortages of skilled staff and help unemployed people back to work was expected to be included.

Yesterday, local authorities were expected to receive their funding allocations for 2005-06.

The announcements show how much headroom each authority will have to provide services and give schools money over and above the guaranteed rise of 5 per cent per pupil for primaries and 4 per cent for secondaries.

Total spending is expected to increase by about 7 per cent.

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