BSF echoes Victorians' vision for new schools

11th July 2008 at 01:00
One is a massive programme of investment in school buildings, intended to transform the way that education is perceived by teachers and pupils
One is a massive programme of investment in school buildings, intended to transform the way that education is perceived by teachers and pupils.

The other is Building Schools for the Future, the Government's pound;45 billion scheme to refurbish every secondary by 2020.

In 1870, 1,200 school boards were given responsibility for Government-funded schools. This led to new schools being built at a rate that would put Building Schools for the Future (BSF) to shame.

Jacob Middleton, an historian at Birkbeck College in London, says building schools in the past was not dissimilar to the current process.

Tim Byles, chief executive of Partnerships for Schools, which runs BSF, has spoken of "positive benefits new and remodelled secondary schools will have on transforming education, leading to ... better behaviour and performance."

The Victorians also believed that pedagogy and architecture were linked, says Mr Middleton.

Then, as now, deprived areas were targeted. In April, schools minister Jim Knight said: "We now want to target children and schools with the greatest needs."

In 1870 Government commissioners said many of the capital's schools were "dark and low, often inconveniently small, scantily furnished and badly ventilated."

Working class children in the inner city were the greatest priority. Nothing would do so much to "elevate the masses" as an attractive school environment, said Liberal politician A J Mundella.

But there has always been controversy. BSF should have built around 100 schools since 2004, but only three have been completed.

Meanwhile, Victorian school boards struggled to control costs. Percy Dane, political commentator of the time, said: "Money to the tune of thousands is borrowed to erect a fine, ornamental structure, which is duly erected at double the cost of a neat, substantial structure."

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