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Last Updated: Friday, 11 May 2007, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
Heads highlight building problems
Repairs
Teachers said there were delays in repairs and maintenance
Billions of pounds could be jeopardised if ongoing problems with some school building projects are not addressed, school leaders have warned.

Teachers say many of the firms which build and maintain schools provide a poor service or have put up their fees.

They also claim that time that should be spent on school work is being wasted resolving contractual issues.

The Department for Education and Skills said contractors which fell short were obliged to pay heavy penalties.

Time and energy that should be spent on students' education are having to be expended on continuing negotiations with contractors
Malcolm Trobe
ASCL

Schools built under the private finance initiative (PFI) are designed, constructed and maintained by private sector firms which then lease them back to a public authority.

But the head teacher often has to deal with day-to-day contractual issues.

The government admits there were teething problems with early PFI school building projects but claims the lessons have been learnt.

However, the Association of School and College Leaders says "legacy issues" remain unresolved in many places.

It argues that if the contractual issues which are so burdensome to school leaders are not dealt with they will compromise the education of a generation of students to come.

ASCL president Malcolm Trobe said the idea that contracting out the school building process would free up head teachers to concentrate on education has turned out to be a myth.

'Profit Margins'

He said: "These PFI legacy issues are proving to be a considerable burden to school leaders, very time consuming and energy sapping.

"Time and energy that should be spent on students' education are having to be expended on continuing negotiations with contractors to resolve minor issues.

"Unacceptably high management fees for what is often mediocre service are taking away money that should be spent on improving resources for learning.

"In many cases, PFI contractors have shown that they are more interested in their profit margins than the welfare of students and the community."

Mr Trobe said: "There are issues that need to be resolved at a national level rather than be left to each school or local authority to attempt to solve."

In a report to the DfES, the association cites a litany of problems its members are having to deal with in PFI schools.

These include long delays in taking action on basic maintenance and repairs, normal wear and tear being charged to the school and shoddy fittings that were not fit for purpose when they were installed.

Penalties

Many also claim access to school buildings out-of-hours can be too difficult or too expensive to obtain.

A spokesman for the DfES said PFI contractors were expected to deliver excellent service to schools and value for money for the taxpayer.

"That's why heavy financial penalties are negotiated into contracts with local authorities, if contractors fall short.

"Those who are involved in negotiating and managing contracts are supported at every step of the way.

"No change of contractor can be made unless the local authority agrees and prices cannot be changed arbitrarily."

The DfES pledged to work with all the parties involved in such projects and to give direct support to the local councils drawing and handling contracts.

It added that a new central helpdesk had been set up to assist with resolving any problems between local authorities and providers.




SEE ALSO
New schools 'not fit for future'
29 Mar 07 |  Education
Delays hit school building scheme
15 Dec 06 |  Education
Many new-built schools 'mediocre'
03 Jul 06 |  Education

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