Education Jul 12 2010

Join the fight back on BSF and Gove’s pet projects

Once upon a time there was a Tory Secretary of State for Education called John Patten. He was generally thought to be a hapless disaster, whose time as a Cabinet minister in the early 1990s was taken up with trying to get as many schools as possible to opt out of local authority control. He even had a counter, proudly displayed on his desk, to show visitors the number of schools that had taken this decision.

Over the past few days his successor Michael Gove has started to look like a ‘Patten’ in the making. Though suave, charming and clever – his picture adorns the walls at the Oxford Union – he seems to lack some basic political skills, like knowing how not to alienate your own side and thousands of parents.

In his preoccupation with his few ‘pet’ projects – academies and free schools – he seems to have barely registered that there are a further 20,000 plus schools in this country facing budget cuts and the possibility of no new capital investment for many years.

A lot has been written in the past fortnight about his decision to stop, very abruptly, the re building of 700 schools, whose teachers and pupils have spent years planning work that was due to start imminently.

Much of it has embraced the government spin – that BSF was a wasteful and overly bureaucratic programme – rather than focussing on the real aim, which is to redirect the money into new ‘free’ schools.

But since the school my daughter attends, and the school where I chair the governing body, were both in the list of ‘stopped’ schools, I have used my Guardian column today to speculate about what sort of school system we may be heading for, under Gove’s erratic leadership of what is clearly a highly political agenda.

It is partly true that BSF was wasteful and overly bureaucratic, but that could have been rectified without axing the principle or cutting money to all the schools currently involved.

More offensive has been the claim that children don’t need shiny new buildings to learn well. In the end, education is about the quality of the teaching, but fantastic buildings help, especially for children whose own homes are cramped and lack outdoor space – that’s what they get at schools like Eton and Robert Gordon’s College where the PM and Education Secretary were educated and I doubt very much that the parents there would settle for less.

Much of BSF was not about creating shiny new palaces but about refurbishing existing overcrowded spaces, fixing leaky roofs, knocking down rotting toilet blocks, and creating the sort of facilities that parents in the private sector take for granted,

We can fight back though. There is a lobby of Parliament on Monday July 19th which starts with a rally at Westminster Central Hall at 1 pm to be followed by a lobby of individual MPs. Information on how to take part can be found here. If you are affected by this decision and want to do something about it, do please come along.

6 Responses to “Join the fight back on BSF and Gove’s pet projects”

  1. Mr_waite says:

    The argument that children do not need shiny new schools is as transparent as the one used by the last Tory govt – class sizes don't matter. If pupils have to work in third world conditions, their education will invariably suffer.

  2. Susan Pike says:

    England has to admit that we have an asset-stripping government. The Tory/nouveau Con coalition is doing no more than Kraft: as long as the balance book looks good to the bond men, it's all OK. People don't actually come into it. Especially if they are poor. Roll up, roll up for the sale of the century! Schools, health care trusts; you name it, it's going cheap. And the glory is, it's unaccountable! Gove's policies have the merit of being transparent. The mismatch between the funding of new 'schools' and the refusal to meet the capital funding of promised rebuilds demonstrates to even the most true of blues that his aim is to destroy state education.

    Actually, I live in a Tory part of the world and have been amazed at the unexpected and passionate conversations I've been having with the most unlikely people, all worried about the dismantling of our social infrastructure. We're all a bit stunned and, like you, not quite sure of our tactics. The Clegglet's blithe misinterpretation of our seeming silence is quite amusing. He has plenty to look forward to – in the private sector somewhere.


  3. Sarah-dodds says:

    Sadly, I live in an area that still has the 11+. As a teacher and parent I am sick to death of the inequality and injustices this results in. I see talented kids I teach not get through the 11+ because parents were unable to pay for private tutoring, while their more mundane middle class peers breeze in, assisted by their parents' ability to pay. Luckily for me, my year 5 daughter, and the community in which we live we have a wonderful comprehensive with an inspirational head right around the corner. I will fight to keep it that way, but if Gove gets his way I fear that even graver injustices are just around the corner.

  4. Ian says:

    I live in Hull and at the moment our projects are going through. The school I work in is due to be BSFed in 2012 but the reality is little money will come our way. Current projects will be completed but those in the pipleline will be stalled or curtailed. Hull is the political home of John Prescott and Alan Johnson. I very much doubt a Tory adminastration funding projects in this city. Which is a great shame as many of our buildings are crumbling away.

  5. Roger says:

    Firstly the whole BSF decision is breathtakingly bizarre. The best solution would have to been to suspend for 6 months, streamline the process and then prioritise based on the state of the buildings. School children have a right to decent facilities; I bet none of the current cabinet were ever taught in portakabins. The other group to suffer are the construction firms.
    The whole education system will be balkanised with a range of different school types with councils reduced to looking after those kids the free schools and academies don't want. Also bizarre is that the government went to Sweden, picked up one idea and ignored the rest of Swedish Society. You will also lose a lot of the collaboration work done between schools and schools will have to take on alot of the HR and other services that the councils do for them.
    Not surprising that this looks as if it was designed on the back of an envelope. Once worked for an organisation designed by Michael Forsyth and one of his business chums in Scotland on the back of a menu.

  6. Mark says:

    The fightback starts by holding the labour leadership candidates to account. David Miliband is partly responsible for the education fiasco that the people of this country are experiencing. Labour gets humiliated at the ballot box and those who were the closest to Brown and Blair are contenders for the leadership. More of trhe same will take Labour even further backwards.

Leave a Reply