Desperately-needed rebuilding work that was promised to schools across the West Midlands has been described as a ‘sham’ after it emerged virtually none of the work is currently going ahead.
More than a dozen schools across the region are still waiting for urgent refurbishments following the cancellation of a major building programme in 2010. Long-awaited building work in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Staffordshire is unlikely to begin this year, ministers have admitted.
The schools concerned have been identified as being ‘‘in need of urgent repair’’ by the Department for Education.
It follows Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to cancel the Building Schools for the Future programme in 2010, which put a sudden halt to plans to refurbish or rebuild 13 schools in Birmingham and nine in Sandwell, and sparked a furious response from parents and councillors.
Mr Gove announced that he was introducing a new scheme called the Priority School Building Programme, and in May last year the Department for Education named 261 schools across the country which would be rebuilt or refurbished under the programme.
Ministers have now confirmed building work will actually begin at fewer than one of ten of these schools this year.
Education Minister Elizabeth Truss, in a Commons written answer, said: “On May 24, 2012, the Secretary of State for Education confirmed that 261 schools will be rebuilt, or have their condition needs met through the Priority School Building Programme.
‘‘We plan to have approximately 20 to 25 projects on site by the end of this year and a large number of procurements for other schools in progress.” Schools had been divided into 11 batches, and only work on the first two batches was at an advanced stage, she said.
“For the first two batches of schools, the business cases have been prepared and approved, contractors have prepared tenders and the Department for Education has evaluated these tenders and selected the contractors who will undertake the works. Planning applications will be submitted in the next few weeks and construction work will start in the summer.”
The first batch includes six schools in Coventry, while the second batch includes two in Birmingham. However, there are four more Birmingham schools named by Mr Gove as requiring work which were not included in these batches and where no building work will take place this year.
These are Castle Vale Performing Arts College, ARK Kings Academy (previously known as Kings Norton High School), Plantsbrook School and Turves Green Boys’ School. Three Sandwell schools, Hall Green Primary School, Harvills Hawthorn Primary School and The Phoenix Collegiate, were also named by Mr Gove as requiring work, but are not included in the early batches.
In Staffordshire, Clough Hall Technology School, Gnosall St Lawrence C of E Primary School and Moorgate Community Primary School are in the same position while two Wolverhampton schools, Edward the Elder Primary School and Wood End Primary School, are in the same position.
Councillors have attempted to determine when building work will take place.
Sandwell cabinet member for children and families Bob Badham said: “I have written to the minister because of the time it is taking and we expect to hear back from the Education Funding Agency in the spring.”
Labour MP Tom Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) said: “Despite Michael Gove giving the impression that the Building Schools for the Future programme would be replaced, these figures published by his own minister show it was just a sham.
“Like everything Mr Gove says, you have to look at the small print.”
Stephen Twigg, Labour’s shadow Education Secretary, said: “We have seen huge cuts under David Cameron’s government to the budget for school buildings.
“It is no wonder that many schools are in poor repair.”
Wates Construction has won a government contract to build six schools in Coventry, including Whitmore Park Primary; Wyken Croft Primary; Richard Lee Primary; St Thomas More Primary; Ernesford Grange Secondary and Alice Stevens Secondary Special School.
In Birmingham, Heathlands Junior and Infant School and Hallmoor School are to be included in the second batch of schools to be rebuilt, and work is expected to begin this year or in January 2014.