Gove defends government spending on school buildings

Former education secretary reacts to National Audit Office report saying that state schools have been left to crumble

CREDIT: This story was first seen in TES

Michael Gove has defended government spending on school buildings, after a major report said that billions of pounds have been poured into new free schools while existing state schools have been left to crumble, TES reports.

In a series of tweets, the former education secretary insisted that the National Audit Office (NAO) study showed that government reforms mean that spending is now more effective.

And he argued that schools in England are now built much more efficiently.

In its report, the NAO said £6.7bn was needed just to bring all existing school buildings up to a “satisfactory” standard, with a further £7.1bn required to restore them to a “good” condition.

But with ministers committed to creating 500 new free schools by 2020, the NAO said the Department for Education was facing an estimated bill of £2.5bn by 2022 simply to purchase the land needed to build them.

In his first tweet, responding to the report, Mr Gove said: “Have read NAO report on school capital – it makes clear that our reforms mean spending is more effective and new school places better.”

He followed this up with: “It’s important to realise that capital spending was in a huge mess when we took office in 2010 – BSF [Building Schools for the Future] was shockingly wasteful.”

He added: “Thanks to a series of changes – including the Sebastian James review – schools are now built much more efficiently.”

Mr Gove also tweeted: “The Labour government had no effective plan to deal with rising pupil numbers and no decent info on the condition of the estate.

“The report makes clear we built new capacity in ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools rapidly and improved renovation and repair work.

“In addition, it’s important to note free schools are more likely to be ranked ‘outstanding’ than other state schools.”

Under Mr Gove’s tenure, BSF, a Labour programme to rebuild or refurbish secondary schools, was controversially axed, and a new scheme to build new schools and renovate existing ones was drawn up.

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This included the Conservatives’ flagship free schools – new state schools free from local council control and with powers over areas such as the curriculum and staff pay.

The NAO’s report concluded that the DfE had already spent £863m on land acquisitions for free schools over the past five years – in some cases paying “premium” prices because of a shortage of suitable sites.

While free schools were helping to meet the demand for additional school places in some areas, the NAO said that because local authorities did not control their numbers they were not necessarily “fully aligned” with local needs.

Some free schools were opening in areas where there were already plenty of places, creating “spare capacity” which could affect the future financial sustainability of other schools in the area, it warned.

A Department for Education spokesman said that the report acknowledged that more school places have been made available in the best schools, and that the free schools programme was “a vital part of this”.

“The government is making a huge investment in the school estate of £23 billion up to 2021, to create a further 600,000 new school places, deliver 500 new free schools, and rebuild and refurbish buildings at over 500 schools,” he said.

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