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Schools revamp

PUBLISHED: 11:14 09 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:57 03 July 2010

When Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was unveiled by the government in 2003, it was hailed as the biggest revamp of school buildings since the Victorian era.

When Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was unveiled by the government in 2003, it was hailed as the biggest revamp of school buildings since the Victorian era.

Ministers pledged to rebuild or refurbish all 3,500 high and special schools in England over a number of years, replacing numerous complexes that are rundown and undersized.

As is so often the case, bold promises have fallen into the wide gap between truth and reality.

The £55bn nationwide programme has long been well behind schedule, and a recent Commons public accounts committee report said it was “poorly planned and persistently over-optimistic”.

The plan was for BSF to take 10-15 years, but the latest estimate is 18 years.

Norfolk has been waiting patiently to find out when it will be included in the programme. It values the total work at £700m, while Cambridge-shire's work will cost £500m and Suffolk's £790m.

In July, Norfolk heard it had narrowly missed out on getting its first batch of schools included in the latest wave of BSF projects.

It was the latest setback of many in six years.

In 2003, Norfolk - and all other authorities - put forward proposed projects, with schools grouped in geographic areas.

The then Department for Education and Skills (DfES) ranked the bids using indicators of educational and social need. The Norfolk bid was put in the later years of the programme, with the former western area (including Thetford) in waves seven-nine from 2011 onwards, the central area in waves 10-12 and the north, south and east in waves 13-15.

In 2008, Norfolk was told by the government that it would allow “some flexibility” to meet local needs. That allowed the county to drop the area model and come up with groups of schools on the basis of greatest need.

In May this year, the council submitted its “readiness to deliver” document to the government quango Partnerships for Schools (PfS), with projects totalling £100m in the first batch. A series of follow-up batches grouped schools together, each valued at £111m in total.

The document was assessed by the organisation, but Norfolk narrowly missed out on being included in the latest wave of BSF.

County Hall officers sought guidance from PfS on why its proposals had not succeeded, and were told that any projects in the first wave for Norfolk must be “shovel ready”, without any doubts over sites or ability to get going.

The advice prompted another rethink, with two schools - Chapel Road Special School at Attleborough and Charles Burrell High at Thetford - dropping out.

Along with the two projects not being “shovel ready” because sites had not been confirmed, the move enabled the overall value of the first wave in Norfolk to be cut to £80m - the new maximum total cost recommended by PfS.

It means a number of schools will now be waiting hopefully to hear if they will be rebuilt or refurbished in the next few years.

They include:

The Park High in King's Lynn, which is in old, cramped and unsuitable buildings. The £24m BSF money would pay for it to be replaced by an academy on a new site as part of the South Lynn Millennium Community scheme.

Costessey High, near Norwich. A report to Monday's county cabinet says the condition of the school's main block is “poor”, with the majority of rooms below the government's guidelines size limits. The condition and size of the buildings “limits the opportunities” for teaching and learning. BSF money of £22m would transform it into an academy, made up largely of new buildings.

Marshland High, West Walton, which the report says has a “poorly laid out” main block and “undersized classroom spaces”. Science, performing arts, music and ICT are said to be “limited” by space. If the bid is successful, the school would get £15.3m for a “substantial rebuild” of the site.

Yarmouth High, which has a “limited site”. Despite a recent £4.8m building project, the report says many teaching and specialist areas are “undersized and poorly equipped”. BSF money of £12.4m would enable extensive remodelling of the school.

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