Taskforce is ready to report on life after BSF

1st October 2010 at 01:00
Team led by Dixons Retail head prepares to hand over initial findings on funding of school buildings

Ministers and civil servants will next week begin poring over the initial findings of a taskforce review of state school funding in the wake of the decision to ditch Building Schools for the Future (BSF).

The interim report was due to be completed by today, but it is understood it will be delivered to ministers on Monday.

Brought together by Education Secretary Michael Gove, the team, led by businessman Sebastian James - an Eton contemporary of David Cameron - had been given an end of September deadline to tie in with this month's comprehensive spending review, to be announced by chancellor George Osborne on October 20.

A spokesman for the Department for Education confirmed that ministers would study the recommendations of Mr James, who is in charge of group operations for electronics retailer Dixons Retail, before beginning their final negotiations with the Treasury about how much money the Department will have to save in forthcoming cuts.

"This report will feed into those negotiations," the spokesman said. "It's about ministers knowing what money they need to go forward."

But he refused to confirm reports that every BSF project axed by Mr Gove will be resurrected, using a less expensive method of building.

"We don't comment on leaks," he said. "The final report will be published at the end of the year."

The spokesman admitted that BSF projects had taken too long to get off the ground, but he declined to comment on speculation that in future there will be a greater reliance on modular construction - pre-fab - to speed up building times.

Off-site construction is also cheaper and, according to reports, BSF schools have been costing #163;1,000-#163;2,000 per square metre compared with #163;500 in the US.

The team led by Mr James - which also includes Tesco's director of property services, Kevin Grace, and former Oxford University vice-chancellor John Hood - finished compiling evidence for their report two weeks ago. The DfE spokesman said the team had spoken to parents, teachers, heads and local authorities as well as builders and architects.

Toby Young, a leading advocate of free schools, which will use off-site construction, said using cheaper alternatives to BSF should be encouraged and would not have impact on children's education.

"We don't need signature buildings designed by (architect) Norman Foster to meet standards," he said. "It's just a form of vanity on the part of a local authority."

He said evidence of the link between school environment and education outcomes was "fragile at best" and added: "If we want to improve education, we are better off investing in teachers and not buildings."

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