There has been a lot of speculation on this site about government capital funding for existing and new 'free' schools. This story in last week's Financial Times
( written by usually very reliable and well informed journalists but behind a form of paywall) was revealing. It claims that internal government estimates suggest £8.5 billion is needed simply to fix the backlog of repairs in schools that were not covered by the last government's £55 billion BSF programme.The government's school capital budget for the rest of this Parliament is £16bn.
We know that condition checks have been going on in schools across the country over the past six months and it would appear that these prove many schools need urgent work to bring them up to a reasonable standard. The story's authors claim that these figures have become a 'source of panic' within the DFE. Not surprising . Building costs are going up above the rate of inflation and, if basic and essential condition work is undertaken, and new primary school places are created in the areas where there is a dire shortage, there won't be much left over to replace the yawning gap left by the abolition of BSF, let alone fund free schools that may not be needed.
The report also suggests that the James Review, set up in the wake of BSF abolition, has been delayed because Michael Gove demanded re-writes of the documents to make them more critical of Labour's record in office. If that is true it indicates an even more petty political streak in Gove than we had suspected. James will apparently announce a new streamlined procurement process and more standardised school design, not necessarily a bad thing if it helps to spread these scarce funds more equally. The real question is how those funds will be prioritised once condition need and new places have been accounted for. One anonymous official in the story is quoted as saying that the failure to get a decent capital settlement for the DFE was the 'critical mistake that will take Gove down'. No wonder he doesn't want to say how much he is spending on free schools.