High anxiety over building programme

13th February 2009 at 00:00
National Audit Office says heads feel overwhelmed by scale of Building Schools for Future and its impact on their other duties

The government's vast secondary school rebuilding programme is placing school leaders under "considerable pressure", a document released yesterday revealed.

A National Audit Office report has shown that the sheer "scale and complexity" of the Building Schools for the Future scheme is leaving heads and other senior staff feeling the strain.

The document says: "The scale of the task when renewing entire school estates, and the complex delivery arrangements, increases the burden on both schools and local authorities.

"BSF requires significant time commitment from school leaders, who told us that it creates considerable pressure on their ability to carry out their other duties."

Despite the guidance available from the National College of School Leadership - funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families - many heads feel isolated once the building process begins.

The report goes on: "Schools and local authorities have to manage the transition and early operational stages without central support. School leaders in our focus groups told us they often felt left to manage alone."

The document also reveals that the cost of the programme is set to soar by up to Pounds 10 billion. The total bill now stands somewhere between Pounds 52 and Pounds 55bn, rather than the original estimate of Pounds 45bn.

Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, said the price jump was down to mismanagement by the department. "The Government's shambolic handling of its project means it will now cost the taxpayer up to Pounds 10bn more than planned," he said. "Ministerial estimates about cost could rise by more than 20 per cent overnight.

"At a time when family budgets are more stretched than ever, we simply cannot afford this level of mismanagement in Ed Balls' department. The taxpayer will end up forking out more, and children won't see the improvements they were promised for years."

The rise in costs has been put down to the widening of the programme's remit to include, for example, the academies programme.

But a sharp hike in building costs - twice that of inflation - was also thought to be a major factor.

According to the National Audit Office report, additional annual funding of between Pounds 900 million and Pounds 1.2bn will be needed to keep the scheme on track.

The document claims that Partnerships for Schools, the body overseeing the school rebuilding programme, will find it "very challenging" to complete all 3,500 schools by 2020.

Tim Burr, the Auditor General, blamed the programme's difficulties on over-ambitious targets in its initial stages.

"Partnerships for Schools and the Department were too optimistic in their early plans, though programme management has since improved. But it remains a real challenge, in difficult market conditions, to deliver the 250 schools a year that will be needed, to include all schools by 2020, as currently planned," he said.

- 'The Building Schools for the Future Programme: renewing the Secondary School Estate.' - National Audit Office.

BSF hiccups

- DCSF and Partnerships for Schools too optimistic about how quickly the first schools in the Pounds 45bn programme could be built.

- Scaling the programme up to deliver all 3,500 new or refurbished secondary schools by 2020 will prove challenging.

- The cost has risen: the original estimate was Pounds 45bn; the National Audit Office now says Pounds 52-55bn.

- Cost of each school averages Pounds 1,850 per square metre; academies averaged Pounds 2,240.

Source: NAO.

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