Schools set for £500m windfall

SECONDARY schools across Suffolk are poised to benefit from a windfall worth up to £500million to fund building and modernisation work, it was revealed last night.

By Danielle Nuttall

SECONDARY schools across Suffolk are poised to benefit from a windfall worth up to £500million to fund building and modernisation work, it was revealed last night.

Schools Minister Jim Knight confirmed yesterday the county was one of 33 local authorities set to reap dividends under the latest roll-out of its Building Schools for the Future modernisation programme.

The announcement means Suffolk will now have access to a huge pool of funding - estimated last night at £500million - which will be spent on improving the county's secondary schools through extensions and by possibly building brand new schools.

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The Government aims to transform all secondary school buildings over the next 15 years and plans to invest a total of £17.5billion in capital support between 2005 and 2008.

Schools in Suffolk could benefit from the additional funding on offer as early as 2008, but education bosses warned that strong business cases would have to be drafted first before Whitehall would release the cash.

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A county council spokesman said: “Building Schools for the Future is a massive programme of providing funding to rebuild the vast majority of secondary schools in the county.

“It means that each county, including Suffolk, will have a fairly hefty amount of money as long as it proves there is a good business case for the proposals. They are not going to just hand over a big wedge of money for schools.

“The figure that might be involved for Suffolk is £500million for secondary schools. That's dependant on convincing the DFES the proposals are spot on and that the proposals meet the anticipated needs of children and young people in the future. It's not money for nothing.

“It could be extensions; it could be totally new buildings. There are any number of possibilities and options.”

A review of schooling in Suffolk, which looks at the possibility of abolishing middle schools, is currently under way.

The Government is insisting that from 2007, pupils in 14-19 education have access to a whole range of subjects which are offered in places such as colleges and further education. This means schools will have to re-assess the way they work.

The county council spokesman said the Government's funding offer was tied up with the review as Suffolk needed to have school building structures which were fit for purpose in 20 to 30 years.

“It's not that the buildings are in dire straits. It's really the case that when you think that some of the buildings have been standing there for 60 years up to 100 years, then you're talking about huge material changes in the size of the population, the demographic effects on the area, the demands of the education system and the training system,” he said.

“There are great rewards for those areas that can put forward the best cases and those areas will get the first shout of this wealth of money.”

There are 109 local authorities who are now involved in the Building Schools for the Future programme.

In making yesterday's announcement, Mr Knight said he was “delighted” to confirm Suffolk's inclusion in the programme.

“It is now up to the authority to begin planning how it will take it forward in a strategic way. My message to the education system - central and local government, schools and communities, and the private sector alike - is to get on and deliver.”

n The county council has launched a public consultation on its review of schooling and forms for those wanting to take part are available for all libraries, council buildings and on its website

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