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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The need to invest

In many ways it is not the age of our school buildings that is the issue but whether they are fit for purpose. It is possible to get by in a 100 year old school building that has been modernised and can accommodate the curriculum, though it is also true to say that many schools do not meet that criteria and either need to be replaced or updated at significant cost.

Having said that the Tory Shadow Education Minister is absolutely right to highlight the fact that the Assembly Government have not been addressing this issue adequately. I am pleased to have him join me in a crusade I embarked on in 1999.

The Labour Assembly Government promised to put a specific sum in over the four years of the last Assembly but fell short. Instead they are counting the amount Councils have invested themselves together with private finance funding in an effort to cover up their own inadequacies. A billion pounds may have been invested in schools since 1999 but most of this came from local authorities not from the Assembly Government.

I am a member of a local Council which inherited a £150 million backlog of repairs and modernisation from the previous Labour Administration. We have recently published an ambitious strategy to tackle this problem but without a significant uplift in Assembly funding it cannot be delivered.

The Government are sitting on a £400m capital pot that remains unallocated. We are all waiting with baited breath to see what they are going to do with this money. If a large chunk is not spent on school buildings then in my view the Labour Plaid Cymru One Wales Government will have failed in their duty of care to teachers, pupils, their parents and local communities. Let us hope that the Education Minister has the clout to get a decent share of ths fund.
"...I am a member of a local Council which inherited a £150 million backlog of repairs and modernisation from the previous Labour Administration..."

Says it all!

Do you think the necessary building work will be done under this administration? They can't get the insulation of old people's houses sorted out, let alone do anything major like modernise 100 year old schools or build on brownfield.
There are some very nice, spacious modern schools in Wales. Though they are in the minority: most are Victorian, cramped, damp. What a lot of them need is flattening and rebuilding. However

1) what are you going to do with the children in the year or so it would take to build a new one?
2) Is the new one going to be built to sufficiently high standard that it will still be here in another 100 years? You know what I mean, no hideous corrugated iron portacabin type things.

The problem I forsee is that schools are the heart of the community. Still. If you're flattening it to build a new one, children will have to go out of the community to school, which will find deep opposition. Alternatively, if a new school is built on brownfield, and isn't in the heart of the community, you will find opposition to that too.

So any new or temp school needs to be in the same village as the old one, probably not more than half a mile away from it. Difficult? Maybe, but not a big of a problem as you would have with thousands of villages protesting against upgrading plans. We're not talking Post-Office level stuff here, we're talking mass exclusions and pickets.
...So keep educating them in damp, overcrowded Victorian Schools?
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