Private investors invited to bid for Pounds 18m contract
About 15 schools are considering multi-million pound redevelopments under the four-year-old Private Finance Initiative, which encourages individual firms or consortia to pay for large building projects in return for revenue from facilities on the completed sites.
Philippa Roe, head of education on the executive of the Private Finance Panel, which is running PFI, said interest in the scheme was increasing "at an exponential rate".
Between five and 10 GM, six local authority and two voluntary-aided schools have been or are likely to be given "pathfinder" status, allowing them to carry out PFI feasibility studies.
The Funding Agency for Schools has received more than 100 enquiries about PFI and is preparing to send out guidance notes to all GM schools on how to prepare private funding plans.
Pimlico School, a 1,450-pupil local authority comprehensive in Westminster, is closest to obtaining PFI funding. The school, whose chair of governors is Labour home affairs spokesman Jack Straw, is about to publish an advertisement in the Official Journal of the European Commission (OJEC) inviting tenders for the contract to build an Pounds 18 million school on its present site (PFI schemes must be announced in OJEC and schools could, in theory, opt for European investors).
A spokesperson for Westminster City Council said: "Pimlico's maintenance bill is excessive and there are design and structural problems with the existing buildings. Minimising the disruption to the life of the school will be of paramount importance in assessing bids."
The FAS has allocated Pounds 20,000 towards a Pounds 30,000 PFI feasibility study at St Wilfrid's High, a GM school in Blackburn (coincidentally Jack Straw's constituency). It wants to sell off its run-down lower and upper school building - a seven-minute walk apart - and build new Pounds 10m premises on its 18-acre playing fields.
John Leigh, chair of governors, said: "This is an exciting scheme which will enable us to concentrate our energies on education instead of property maintenance."
The Private Finance Panel hopes the Pimlico and St Wilfrid's projects will serve as models for schemes throughout the country. Miss Roe added: "Once the first PFI building contract has been signed, I think many more schools will sit up and take notice."