‘Excited students and staff… were joined by council dignitaries, representatives from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and the building contractor, Galliford Try, for a turf-cutting ceremony,’ trumpeted a Department for Education press release
when work finally began on construction of replacement school buildings at Hessle, Yorkshire.
But it wasn’t just in Hessle where the symbolic spade cleaved the sod. Similar groups of excited students and staff, council big-wigs, ministry minions and builders were seen in Withernsea, Newark and Hartlepool
The start of construction work to replace dilapidated buildings at schools which successfully bid for funding under the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) was celebrated in remarkably similar press releases. The articles contained chunks of cut-and-paste: the same statements by schools minister David Laws (although the names of the schools and builders were changed); the same puff for PSBP and the same Notes for Editors.
You have to sympathise with DfE staff charged with spinning Government initiatives which aren’t quite as wonderful as claimed. 580 schools applied for PSBP funding but DfE decisions about successful bids were delayed. In the end, fewer than half (261) were successful. 46 of these would not receive grants but would be financed by private finance funding – something criticised by George Osborne when he was shadow chancellor.
When Laws announced
the completion of the first PSBP-funded school, Whitmore Park Primary School, the DfE publicity machine must have found it challenging to praise the opening of one rebuilt Coventry school four years after ex-education secretary Michael Gove cancelled Building Schools for the Future. Twenty schools in Coventry had been given the go-ahead under BSF. All were halted
After Laws’ earlier announcement, the Local Government Association criticised
the way the Government allocated money for school capital projects. There were too many confusing sources, the LGA said. The system should be simplified by putting the available funding into one pot.
If the DfE publicity team can receive some pity (but not a lot) for generating positive PR in such circumstances, then spare a (little) thought for the EFA representatives standing on a building site, perhaps in the drizzle, watching with fixed grins as yet another shovel slices through clay. And remember, this ceremony’s likely to be repeated 261 times…. in the first phase. There’s a second phase which will generate more obligatory appearances and more cloned press releases.
But the greatest sympathy should go to heads obliged to make ingratiating speeches thanking the DfE for allowing their run-down school with rotten windows and a leaky roof to be rebuilt. And that’s especially true if it’s one of the schools where work stopped four years ago when BSF projects in the pipeline were halted.