Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:
"Building Schools for the Future, the programme by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to renew every secondary school in England, has been beset from the beginning by poor planning and persistent over-optimism. This has led to widespread disappointment in the rate at which schools are being completed, inevitably damaging confidence in the Department’s ability to complete the programme even by the revised date of 2023.
"Centralising the management of the programme has had benefits. But the Department and Partnerships for Schools must dispel the air of complacency which surrounds them - by indicating in detail how they propose to speed up the pace of delivery and finish the programme on time. It’s going to be a tall order to double the number of schools being procured and constructed.
"The Department should also explain how it is going to measure the success of the programme in contributing to improved educational attainment and the life chances of children. We need to know how far the estimated £52 billion to £55 billion spent will deliver the envisaged educational outcomes. And schools and local authorities themselves should be provided with more help than they have been given so far on how to achieve these educational objectives."
Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 27th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, examined the cost and progress of the programme, the use of Local Education Partnerships, the efficiency and effectiveness of the central programme management and the effect of the recession on the programme.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families' Building Schools for the Future Programme (BSF) plans to renew every secondary school in the country, by rebuilding half of them, structurally remodelling 35 per cent, refurbishing per cent and providing Information Communication Technology to all. Its aim is to use capital investment in new buildings as a catalyst to improve educational outcomes. The Department estimates that the programme will cost £52–£55 billion over its lifetime.
The Department was over-optimistic in its original planning assumptions for BSF, creating expectations for the speed of delivery that could not be met. Of the 200 schools originally planned to be completed by December 2008, only 42 had been by that date. Although the Department had hoped to deliver the programme over 10–15 years, it now expects it to take 18 years, with the last school completed in 2023.
Local authorities are responsible for the local delivery of BSF. They plan, procure and manage the BSF school buildings. In 2004, the Department established Partnerships for Schools to manage the national delivery of the programme. It also invited Partnerships UK, a joint venture between the Treasury, Scottish Ministers and private companies with an interest in public-private partnerships, to provide advice and help manage Partnerships for Schools.
The Department and Partnerships for Schools encourage local authorities to procure their schools through a Local Education Partnership. These are 10-year partnerships to procure a flow of projects, structured as joint ventures between the local authority, a consortium of private companies that build, finance and maintain schools, and Building Schools for the Future Investments (a joint venture between the Department and Partnerships UK).
It is too early to conclude whether BSF will achieve its educational objectives. To date, over-optimism has meant the programme could not live up to expectations. Establishing Partnerships for Schools to manage the programme centrally has helped local authorities to deliver more effectively, but while Local Education Partnerships have potential advantages, their value for money is yet to be proven. And it will be very challenging to deliver all schools by 2023.