Politics Magazine

New Schools Must Be Built Now

Posted on the 15 March 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

The Coalition Government was eager to scrap their predecessors’ Building Schools For The Future scheme, claiming that new school buildings were not a priority in times of austerity. Also, the diversion of funds towards a visible public service that isn’t the army is alien to Tory thinking. Fortunately, the move didn’t seem to be a terrible problem… Until it emerged that a spike in births means that 250,000 extra places are needed in primary schools (ages 4-11) by autumn 2014. Austerity-hit local councils, which have a legal obligation to provide schooling for every child, are now facing such uncertainty over central government funding for construction that they feel unable to take action.

I suspect that, as depriving children of school places is illegal, the Government will find a quick fix which creates spaces without forking out for construction of new classrooms. In line with Michael Gove’s pattern of reversing all changes made by New Labour in the field of education, we might see the lifting of the cap of 30 pupils in a class. If my guess, and it is just an educated guess, is right, it would represent a regression away from the human-scale teaching which should be our aim.

There is definite room for improvement in the British education system. Though it is secondary schools (11-18) which have much greater issues, it’s true to say that we have too many failing institutions letting down older and younger children. The biggest problem primary schools face is a lack of resources.

I’m no expert in education policy, but I will attempt to offer my opinion of various proposals in more detail in a few days time. In the meantime, there is a short-term problem to address.

Central government must allocate funding to councils over the next few years to build completely new schools. A return to the mobile classrooms of the underfunded 90s system, or building further over whatever patches of playground remain, will not do. The trend should be towards less crowding in schools, and the best way to do this is to establish new institutions. In order to minimise costs, the new buildings could be adapted to support other community services outside of school hours and during holidays.

Later: the long term future of schooling

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