Crumbling schools could be handed a lifeline after the High Court ruled the scrapping of Building Schools for the Future programme was “an abuse of power”. Kat Keogh talks to a Sandwell headteacher who said the decision could be the Government’s chance to “put things right”.
When William Branney took over as head of Stuart Bathurst Catholic High School five years ago, it was clear things had to change.
With a leaking roof, archaic heating system and pupils packed into temporary classrooms, the school in Wednesbury was “not fit for 21st century purpose”.
The school set about applying for the Labour government’s ambitious Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, a £47 billion investment programme with an aim to rebuild or renew nearly every secondary school in England.
Stuart Bathurst submitted a fully-costed, 20-page plan, and was allocated £14 million to transform the existing school building.
But with a change in Government came a change in priority, and the school was one of nine in Sandwell whose rebuilding projects were halted by the decision to end BSF last July. Mr Branney said the news came as a “devastating blow” to staff and students.
He said: “It was a shock for everyone, especially the pupils who were very disappointed. “When I took the headship here five years ago, BSF was on the horizon, so to have that taken away was a blow,” he explained.
“The building is crumbling around us,” he added. “The roof is a major issue and leaks when we have any major rain or snow, our heating system is 50 years old and there are no longer parts available, so half of the boilers don’t work and our art block is housed in temporary classrooms, and we have a school that is not fit for 21st century purpose.
“Our dining room has to cater for 820 pupils in a school built for 500, so we are bulging at the seams. We use every nook and cranny.”
But schools like Stuart Bathurst could now be handed a lifeline after Mr Justice Holman slammed Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to scrap BSF as “unlawful” in the High Court last week.
It means Mr Gove will have to reconsider his decision to cancel £138 million building plans for Sandwell.
But there is no guarantee the long-awaited work will go ahead, because the Government could still conclude that it made the right decision.
Sandwell Council now intends to apply for a costs order against the Secretary of State in the High Court.
Darren Cooper, Labour leader of Sandwell Council, urged David Cameron to come to the borough to see for himself why new schools were needed.
Mr Cooper has also written to Mr Gove “to plead with you to keep a promise you made last year”.
“You said then that you would visit Sandwell to talk to the pupils, heads and teachers in the schools which you had decided would not now be rebuilt,” the letter says.
“Mr Gove, you have not yet kept your promise. In the months since your decision on BSF you have managed to travel to the West Midlands – but not to find time to come to Sandwell.”
Though there is no certainty the work will go ahead, Mr Branney added he was “optimistic” that some repairs will be carried out in his classrooms.
Mr Branney said: “I’d like to think there is strong leadership with a strong vision for the future in the coalition Government, who have the chance to redress this error.
“We are hopeful this news will mean they have the opportunity to put things right for the children of today, and to put them first.”