By Dickon Hooper
BBC News Online, Bristol
By 2010, there could be 12 new secondary schools in Bristol.
The diggers have already moved on site at Portway
Eight will be built under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI); work is under way on four.
Building firm HBG won the £120m contract to rebuild and maintain, over the next 25 years, Henbury, Portway, Bedminster Down and Monks Park schools.
Four others - Hartcliffe, Whitefield Fishponds, Brislington and Speedwell Technology College - will be rebuilt or refurbished with £150m of PFI money under the 'Building Schools for the Future' programme.
Bristol is pioneering this scheme, pushed hard by Schools Standards Minister David Miliband, which promises the rebuilding or refurbishment of all English secondary schools over the next 15 years.
Two other schools scheduled for the city will be built under more traditional arrangements: Fairfield School on the site of St Thomas More and a new North Bristol Institute in Redland and Cotham.
Two new Academy Schools are also planned: the City Academy to replace St George, and one at Withywood.
Gordon Clements, PFI team leader at the council and ex-head teacher of Brislington, told BBC News Online: "We are talking about a continuous stream of new schools coming on board.
"Henbury will open next August; then Portway at Christmas and Bedminster and Monks Park in Easter 2006 - just as we sign the deal on the next four.
"We expect the first of these to open in 2007."
This is a major education programme for Bristol: the last secondary to be built in the city was Whitefield Fishponds in 1972.
Although money has been available in the past for basic maintenance work, it was "never enough" - hence the need for rebuilding now.
And here we tap into the thinking behind the rebuilding: PFI is the only way to change the school environment to suit children's needs, say the schools - better attendance and grades should follow.
Steve Davies, new head at Portway, said: "Education is changing: we are cramming children into buildings that were fit for a different type of education."
Mr Clements agrees: "Teachers and governors will get back to the core business of teaching. Someone else will take on the other business of leaking roofs and so on.
Henbury is scheduled to open in August 2005
"It won't happen overnight, but we would expect to see better results from better schools."
But PFI is controversial: Could we not just rebuild schools using traditional government cash and means?
Mr Clements said: "The only way to get sufficient funding to build a new school is through PFI.
"In the past, rich LEAs could find their own money or the Dfes would provide a new school if you could convince them of a genuine need."
After paying an annual charge over 25 years, the council will own the rebuilt schools.
The schools being rebuilt agree that PFI is the only way for them to get what they want.
Elaine Miller, business manager at the sports college, Portway School, added: "At this stage, PFI is working - the school we are going to get will be a lot better.
"The only problem we have is that we don't have any playing fields anymore. We have negotiated with a local cricket and football teams to use their fields."
The council says an offsite playing field is also available.
"But I don't think, without PFI money, we could have financed anything on this scale."
And Sarah Wilkinson, PFI consultant for Henbury School, added: "The LEA has been excellent: they have followed the theory to a tee. There has been full involvement of the school."
The council is keen to push how PFI will redevelop the education landscape.
At Hartcliffe, for example, an 'educational campus' is planned, to range from early years through further education and vocational training.
Special needs provision at Hartcliffe and Brislington schools is also being considered.
This is a major education project for Bristol.
It is ambitious and costly: too costly and too important to fail.
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