Queue-jump plan to speed school building
Secondary teachers stuck in shoddy, badly built classrooms will have to wait longer than expected for brand new buildings in many areas of England.
But reports suggesting that the Government's entire scheme to refurbish or rebuild all secondary schools will be shelved appear wide of the mark.
Last month, Jim Knight, schools minister, said the Building Schools for the Future programme would be completed by 2020.
Ministers now do not believe the project will be completed by 2022 at the earliest. Projections from Partnerships for Schools, the organisation responsible for delivering the programme, indicate a finish date as late as 2025.
Those involved in the scheme deny claims it will be shelved, but admit its ambitions have altered.
With around half of local authorities now involved in the building programme, the Government needs to decide how to distribute funding to the other half.
At present, councils have to be ready to improve seven or eight schools at once before they can get any money.
Last week the Government began talks on a new system, which will allow local authorities to get funds for smaller projects involving four or five schools.
The idea is to help those at the back of the queue jump to the front, that is if they are in a position to start building.
According to ministers, this will allow authorities to target schools with poor results, and those in pockets of deprivation. It will also mean schools not having to waste money on short-term repairs while they wait for larger-scale funding to be made available.
Under the initial targets, at least 100 new schools should have opened by last Christmas - but only one did. The TES revealed last year that government officials have admitted there was a worrying lack of capacity to deliver a building project on such a grand scale.
Part of the problem in the programme's early stages was that funding was targeted at authorities in the most deprived parts of the country, which were also often those least able to complete the building schemes in time. However, critics say the changes will make the scheme less ambitious.
One senior source close to the programme said: "Clearly, things are not moving as quickly as they should and the Government wants to improve its score in the run-up to a general election.
"Number crunching becomes the focus and the original objectives tend to be overlooked. It stops having the same broad sweep."
The source added that dramatic changes in teaching and learning are not possible because the focus is not on one area at a time."
Authorities that are in a position to move up the pecking order have welcomed the proposed changes. John Sinnott, chief executive of Leicestershire county council, said: "There has been government frustration about the speed of delivery, and they want to see progress.
"We have a record of delivery. A lot of our schools are from the 1960s and are not of the standard we want to see in the 21st-century. Clearly, Building Schools for the Future is vital for us to make the necessary changes."
2002: The TES reveals that the Government is planning to rebuild or refurbish every secondary school.
2003: Building Schools for the Future (BSF) is unveiled by David Miliband, then school standards minister, who promises "inspirational, well-designed schools to motivate teaching and learning".
2006: Government officials admit in December that the programme is seriously behind schedule and suffering from a lack of expertise.
2007: The Commons education committee questions the use of the Private Finance Initiative to deliver new schools, warning councils could be paying for unsuitable buildings.
2007: The first new school, Bristol Brunel Academy, opens in September; 100 schools should have opened by the end of the year, but only one did.
2008: Michael Tippett School in Lambeth, the first special school built under BSF, is officially opened by Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, on April 8.
2009: Partnerships for Schools, responsible for delivering BSF, predicts 35 schools will be complete by the end of the 200809 financial year, and 115 the year after that.