Schools left in 'limbo' as door closes on rebuild funds

1st June 2012 at 01:00
Unsuccessful applicants 'gutted' after Gove names the lucky few

When Michael Gove announced the fortunate schools that will receive money to rebuild their crumbling classrooms last week, the country was enjoying the hottest day of the year so far. Sweltering in their greenhouse-like school, staff at Sacred Heart Primary in Tipton, West Midlands, were anxiously hoping to see their name among the 261 identified by the education secretary as being in most dire need of refurbishment. It was not.

Sacred Heart had pinned its hopes on the government's #163;2.7 billion Priority School Building Programme to enable it to refurbish the school and offer an environment suitable for its growing number of pupils. Along with 326 other schools that applied for funding, it was left disappointed.

"The chair of governors and I were absolutely gutted when we found out we weren't successful," said Melanie Gee, Sacred Heart's headteacher. "You are always hopeful with these things, but at least we know what the decision is now."

A combination of leaking roofs and ill-fitting windows means that the 90-year-old school is a fridge in the winter. And matters do not improve when summer arrives. "We cannot keep the windows open because of health and safety, so when it is a hot day it can be very difficult to cool the school down," Mrs Gee said.

Now it has missed out on the government's priority funding, Sacred Heart has just #163;5,500 this year to try to maintain its ageing building. "When we sent out questionnaires to our parents, the one thing that kept coming up was the need for a new school, but I will have to inform them that we weren't successful this time round," Mrs Gee said.

Sandwell Council, which took Mr Gove to the High Court after he scrapped the #163;55 billion Building Schools for the Future programme, condemned the education secretary's decision to overlook 14 of its schools, including Sacred Heart.

"This announcement is a slap in the face for thousands of pupils," council leader Darren Cooper said. "We put in 17 primary and secondary schools for refurbishment or rebuilding and have been told we can go ahead with just three. It's a half-hearted botch job that will impact on young kids in a deprived area."

Mr Gove said he was aware that many of the schools that had been unsuccessful also had "significant condition needs", but he signalled that some could be forced to wait for years before their problems were addressed.

The comments were criticised by the Local Government Association (LGA), which said hundreds of schools were now in "limbo" over the future of their buildings.

"Schools can wait three months to repair a leaky roof if they know that at some point it will be fixed, but the very suggestion that schools should wait several more years for answers ... could severely impact on our children's education," said David Simmonds, chair of the LGA's children and young people board.

At Sacred Heart, Mrs Gee had little hope that any money would come her school's way soon, but said she had to remain positive. "It is no good seeing just the negatives; we will have to do what we can to improve the school for our children. It just means trying to do it on a limited budget, and maybe something will come our way further down the line," she said.

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