Essex schools to be given £1bn lifeline

EVERY secondary school in Essex is to be given a facelift in a £1billion scheme which will be rolled out across the county over the next decade.

By Annie Davidson

EVERY secondary school in Essex is to be given a facelift in a £1billion scheme which will be rolled out across the county over the next decade.

Special schools and referral units for problem pupils will also be revamped under the project which is part of the Government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF).

Primary schools in Essex will benefit from a smaller scheme which will see £7.5million spent on selected schools over a 14 year period.

Ken Dobson, manager of capital programme and building development, schools, children and families directorate at Essex County Council, said work would begin this year and possibly continue as far as 2020.

Each school must be individually assessed to determine whether it needs rebuilding, refurbishing or a mixture of both before the improvements are put before Essex County Council for approval.

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The scheme would not include a proposed academy in Colchester to replace Alderman Blaxill and Thomas Lord Audley schools which, if approved, come under a different programme.

Mr Dobson said schools in south Essex would be included in wave four of the programme which starts this year, west Essex would be in 2011 and north and central Essex would begin sometime between 2017 and 2020.

“We don't know precisely when (north Essex would start), all the programmes are dependant on future Government public spending decisions but this is the current programme from the Department for Children, Schools and Families,” said Mr Dobson.

“The schools would be replaced where required or significantly improved.

“The programme is undertaken with Partnerships for Schools, an agency the Government set up to deliver the programme nationally.

“The Government set funding for the programme based on a formula including the number of schools and the number of projected pupils which sets the overall funding level.”

Mr Dobson said the programme was “very regulated” and each school would be brought before the county council for changes to be approved before work started.

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of Essex National Union of Teachers, said last night said the organisation had campaigned for many years for funding to improve school buildings.

He said: “School buildings had got into an atrocious state and many schools in Essex should have been replaced years ago.

“Most modern schools built in the sixties and seventies were only designed for 25 years service so some have gone almost double that in any event.

“That the Government is committed to renewing schools is something we broadly welcome - it is a major undertaking.

“The environment in which children learn has a crucial impact on the quality of their learning, so 21st Century appropriate buildings are, I think, a huge part of the learning experience.

“Poor buildings have a negative impact on students' learning - there is no doubt about that.”

Mr Glazier added that the union had concerns about the project being run via a private finance initiative (PFI) which he said was “the one criticism” of the Building Schools for the Future programme.

The project is outlined in an Essex County Council agenda for the Children, Young People and Schools Policy Development Group which will meet tomorrow.

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