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Church expresses "serious concern" at axing of secondary school re-building programme

The Church of England's lead spokesperson on education issues, the Rt Revd John Saxbee, has written to Education Secretary Michael Gove to express his serious concern at the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme in secondary schools.

As the House of Commons begins to debate the Academies Bill, the Church is signalling its deep disappointment at the recent announcement in another area of education policy, which it says will see the fate of the learning environment of at least 30,000 young people doomed to dilapidation for the medium term.

Bishop John's letter focuses on the impact on the 23 Church of England secondary schools which were anticipating major building work in the near future but which have now been told it will no longer go ahead, and a further 18 CofE academy building projects now under review. He also reflects on the impact on the wider education system, highlighting concern about the impact on communities under-served by the education system in the past, and predicting strong resistance from local communities to the sudden halt of the programme.

Bishop John argues that the Government's policy "needs to be re-visited and revised so that new proposals can be brought forward which will give hope to those who currently feel very deflated and whose aspirations and hard work appear to have come to nothing."

 

The full text of the bishop's letter follows:

 

15th July 2010

Dear Secretary of State

Building Schools for the Future

I am writing to express serious concern about the impact for the Church of England of the intention to cancel the BSF programme for secondary schools.

As you know, the Church has over 200 secondary schools and currently sponsors 27 open academies with several more in the pipeline.  Many of our schools are in areas of severe deprivation and they achieve above the norm outcomes for their pupils.  Our long standing service to such communities is a key part of the Church's mission in education - a fact which I know you support, and it is in this context that I write.

Both the Board of Education and the Council of the National Society are very mindful of the Government's commitment to reducing the national debt, but we have serious concerns about the impact of the demise of BSF on our school system.  Making the programme more efficient is one thing, but decimating it in this way is quite another.

In overall terms, the key facts are:

  • 23 Church school projects with a combined capital value of £306m have been stopped;
  • 18 projects, mainly new academy buildings, with a combined capital value of £315m are under review;
  • Most of the projects affected are in areas of severe deprivation;
  • The buildings are in a very bad state, often under maintained pending anticipated rebuilds, and this seriously impairs the chances of raising standards;
  • Some buildings have very serious health and safety issues and may soon become unusable. Others have acute structural problems;
  • The impact on local communities affected by stopped projects will be very serious and will be actively resisted in many places;
  • The projects under review are mainly academy projects.  Cancellation or reduction in capital spend will compromise the Funding Agreement which has been signed in good faith that a new build was part of the deal. Co-sponsors may pull out if new buildings fail to materialise;
  • The aspirations in education briefs and expressions of interest may be unattainable if new facilities fail to materialise;
  • Several of the stopped projects have involved years of hard work to re-establish the prospects of good schools in the area.  The remnants of these projects may be unworkable in existing buildings.

This policy needs to be re-visited and revised so that new proposals can be brought forward which will give hope to those who currently feel very deflated and whose aspirations and hard work appear to have come to nothing.

We join with you in seeking financial prudence, increasingly efficient use of capital and the need for improved standards in our schools.  We have been encouraged by the way in which the Coalition Government has signalled a commitment to work with us to drive up standards in our schools, and we stand ready to work with you to ensure that progress is not threatened by failure to provide school buildings to a standard our children require and deserve.

Yours sincerely,

 

Rt Revd John Saxbee

Bishop of Lincoln and Chair, Church of England's Board of Education