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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Blair applauds school rebuilding
part of a montage from DfES brochure
A government brochure showcases new school buildings
The government says its programme of school refurbishment across England in the past 10 years is "truly historic".

The Department for Education and Skills said there had been 1,106 new schools, 27,000 new or improved classrooms and 1,260 new children's centres.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said good facilities were vital for a good education. On a farewell tour, he said 140 more schools would become trusts.

School leaders have warned of ongoing problems with some building projects.

The Association of School and College Leaders said in a report submitted to the education department (DfES) that unresolved "legacy issues" with Private Finance Initiative projects were sapping head teachers' time and energy.

Mr Blair is visiting five education establishments in England, as he prepares to hand over the leadership of the Labour Party.

As he set off on the tour, the Department for Education and Skills published a 64-page brochure about the school refurbishment record.

It is claiming "seven classrooms built or upgraded every day for 10 years".

Investment

In a foreword, Mr Blair said: "The programme of renewal is truly historic. It compares to the legacy of the Victorians and the post-war generation."

The prime minister said the investment would continue so that "every child has the modern facilities they deserve by 2020".

He has also announced that more than 140 primary, secondary and special schools have applied to become trusts in the last six months, alongside 69 full pathfinder schools piloting the new status.

There are now plans "to work towards" having 300 schools converted or committed to trust status by the end of the year.

Concerns

The director of the British Council for School Environments, Ty Goddard, said the unprecedented investment was a huge opportunity to transform education and communities.

But he added: "The procedure of securing money through capital investment programmes for schools is complicated and time consuming, and doesn't allow enough room for teachers and pupils to be properly involved in the design and build process."

Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts said the truth was we had got fewer bigger schools, which was not what parents wanted.

"For example, Labour boast that there are 96 new special schools, but the truth is that 146 have closed since 1997, with a net loss of 9,000 special school places. Blair's government is spinning to the end."

'Sounds familiar'

The report from head teachers about concerns with building work struck a chord with Peter Harrison, chair of governors at The Hazeley School, Milton Keynes.

It did open on time, but with a marquee providing the only large spaces and that only because the governors had foreseen the problem
Peter Harrison
The Hazeley School
The first of three building phases was due to have been completed in July 2005, ready for that September.

"It did open on time, but with a marquee providing the only large spaces and that only because the governors had foreseen the problem and insisted on it being available as a contingency," he said.

In an online diary about the project, Hazeley head teacher Iain Denning at the time praised the dedication of his staff.

"They are the ones who made BT connect the phones, got the IT system to work, called the power company to make sure we had power, worked all through the summer including weekends, moved furniture, carried boxes and sorted deliveries, made do with toilets with no power and no doors," he wrote.

'Outstanding'

Mr Harrison said the builders were still there, even though the next phase was underway with different contractors.

"Despite these problems and the time that professional school staff have to spend on managing the workarounds, Ofsted judged the school as "outstanding".

"How much better could we be without having to constantly deal with building project problems?"

Milton Keynes Council said in a statement: "We acknowledge that there are ongoing faults with the construction of some parts of the building and are working with the contractor to resolve them."


SEE ALSO
Heads highlight building problems
11 May 07 |  Education
'Education, education, education'
10 May 07 |  Education
Blair's classroom: the verdict
10 May 07 |  Education

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