N.B. The author is Tim Hewish – my Parliamentary Researcher — Steve
Building on our visit to Durand Academy, I listened to Monday’s Today programme on Free Schools where the question posed was: How can the Government afford to hand out extra capital to Free Schools when the Department of Education has had cut backs?
During the debate, Toby Young, founder of West London Free School, said that an average maintained school cost £36m for a four form school using the old BSF money. However, an estimate of his own four form school is projected to be a third of that.
The assertion from Francis Gilbert, from the Local Schools Network, said other maintained schools have had their capital funding reduced, while the money has been ploughed into Academies. Although, surely contained within the Government’s policy is an incentive to apply for Academy status in order to help below par schools from slipping further into educational breakdown. As opposed to the same 30 year cycle of throwing money at State institutions and doing little to correct systemic failure.
However, there is one important caveat that currently hampers the full realisation of Academies which is while schools in Sweden and USA raise their own money for building costs, in Britain we do not. This is something which should, as Conservatives, strongly consider. Abroad, they are run for profit: businesses are allowed to run and generate wealth for these schools. More should be done to push this angle.
Specifically talking about bricks and mortar, as Mr. Young stated clearly, by refurbishing existing buildings Academies use, not building brand new palaces of learning, the costs are kept down.
Allied to this and with reference to a Policy Exchange report, Building Blocks the author comments that:
Labour ministers have stated again and again that smart new buildings will raise achievement. Research suggests that it is certainly true that poorly designed and maintained buildings do have an effect on pupils and teachers. But the evidence for good design raising achievement is at most tenuous and at worst non-existent.
As Mr. Young attests on his own blog:
It’s worth bearing in mind that the total cost of the programme so far is less than the cost of one secondary school built by the previous government. I’m thinking of Christ the King, a new school in Liverpool that was unveiled with great fanfare by Ed Balls two years ago. Instead of classrooms it would have “home base areas”, instead of teachers “progress leaders”. Ed Balls said it was “more than just a school” and represented “the biggest transformation of education in the borough for two generations”.
In fact, Christ the King proved so unpopular with Liverpool parents that its closure was announced last month. The build cost of the school was £24m, but the Liverpool Echo estimates the total cost to the taxpayer will be £157m, thanks to the fact that it was built with a PFI scheme
Moreover, Francis Gilbert says that expanding existing schools would be much cheaper. But is this actually desirable to have a mega school of thousands of pupils?
Coupled with the preposterous claim that expanding existing schools would raise results is simplistic rhetoric that Big is Best or Might is Right, which is straight out the Big Government socialist play book. People of this mind set do not want Free Schools, for that very reason, because these schools are free from unnecessary control and meddlesome diktats.
Also another sleight of hand is when Mr. Gilbert says 86% of schools according to Ofsted are good or outstanding. This isn’t true. In fact, 86% of the last cohort of schools measured that were good or outstanding, this is very different, as not all schools get an Ofsted inspection every year.
Furthermore, Mr. Gilbert’s notion that Academies may limp along and we, as tax payers, have to fund their failure is equally misleading. What about the billions Labour have spent to see just 15.6% of GCSE pupils achieving A*-C grades in the combinations of core academic subjects which make up our English Baccalaureate. In 2009/10, only 22% of pupils were entered for exams in those subjects. On top of this, England fell from 7th to 25th in reading, 8th to 28th in Maths, and 4th to 16th in Science. Could this generational failure be any clearer cut?