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Relief for Hague's alma mater

WILLIAM Hague's fond recollections of Wath comprehensive on the plusher outskirts of Rotherham don't mention the grotty temporary classrooms that have served generations of students.

In the last few weeks, the worst have been bulldozed to the relief of head Robert Godber who has been there long enough to have taught young Hague politics and remains an admirer of his.

An inspection three years ago said the appalling conditions endured by staff and pupils were a major obstacle to progress. The fact that buliding is underway is a sign, says Mr Godber, of change at local-authority level.

Rotherham is the only area to have had a national inspection report devoted solely to the awful state of school buildings. That was followed by full inspection last November which condemned the councillors' under-funding of schools and attacked what it described as inward-looking culture in the education authority.

Since then, the director and asssitant director of education have taken early retirement. Private consultants The Office for Public Management, proposed creation of a "brokerage" that will allow schools to select services from a range of approved providers.

However, the education service loooks unlikely to be haded over to the private sector. Instead the job of leading the drive to improve will fall to Di Billups - former assistant director in Lincolnshire, first brought in in April by the Department for Education and Employment - who has now been appointed executive director of education.

According to Phil Marshall, head of Clifton, a large comprehensive serving a deprived part of the centre of Rotherham, schools are looking to a pound;60 million private finance initiative bid to tackle the backlog of repairs.

"There has been no external maintenance in Rotherham for more than 10 years," he says. "The evidence is there in rotted window frames and rain buckets.

"Now, there is money coming into schools. We all complain about the bureaucracy attached, but there is more money. National funding is coming in with Excellence in Cities," he said.

Inspectors pointed out that Rotherham spent the least of all metropolitan authorities on schools. Councillors have now pledged to spend at least the level recommended by the Government.

In their defence, Labour councilors insist they had to make hard choices in an area devastated by the collapse of the coal and steel industries meaning high spending on social services.

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