Halting school building is a big blow for town

The Government cuts that hurt us most are obviously the ones where something we already have is taken away from us.

 The impact of the loss is tangible as it often results in the loss of jobs and the withdrawal of services.

 One of the most significant cuts that this Government has brought about however, is not something Hartlepool already had.

 It was a programme we were about to benefit from and one which, in my view, would have positive transformation that the town would have seen for a generation.

The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme and the Primary Schools Capital Programme (PCP) would have brought in more than £150m over the next few years to completely rebuild all our secondary schools and rebuild or refurbish a lot of our primary schools.

The Government changed at the last election, the new lot said we were skint and immediately put a stop to both programmes. The news came as a crushing blow to Hartlepool especially as we were so close to getting our hands on the prize.

So close that we actually managed to squeeze through the rebuilding of Dyke House, Jesmond Road and the refurbishment of Rossmere.

Something is better than nothing and the funding for those three schools is very much welcome.

The new buildings look fantastic. It is undeniable that the old buildings were well past their sell-by date and very expensive to run and maintain.

Time will tell whether the new buildings have any effect on the schools’ results, although all three are already performing very well. It has got to give everyone a huge boost going into a brand new school every day.

When St Hild’s, the Sixth Form College and the College of Further Education were rebuilt, there was enormous positivity surrounding everyone connected to the establishments.

There was an air of optimism and that must surely translate into a better teaching and learning environment for everyone.

Can you imagine what the prospects for future generations of our young people would have been if every single primary and secondary school in the town was rebuilt?

We already have fabulous schools, wonderful teachers and great children who want to learn. Unfortunately, some of the schools are crumbling and budgets are having to be diverted to repairs and maintenance of buildings rather than being spent on education. That isn’t fair on our young people.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, said when he got rid of BSF that bricks and mortar were not important, the country did not need to waste money building a lot of new schools and what is important is the quality of teaching in the classroom.

I don’t remember many people agreeing with him at the time and he seems to have changed his mind recently as he announced a new programme of building schools but it has to be done through the PFI route.

A report was considered at this week’s cabinet meeting and we have four schools that are deemed to be potentially eligible to qualify for a PFI.

Cabinet members had grave concerns especially as we see so many other schools suffering severe financial difficulties having gone down the PFI route themselves.

I understand that the governing bodies of the schools concerned are also very sceptical about this programme so it is far from certain that any school in Hartlepool would benefit from it.

The problem is that it is the only show in town when it comes to getting funding for a much-needed new school. Some schools are desperate for a new building for a whole host of reasons.

The dilemma is whether they balance the risk of shouldering years of debt in order to provide their pupils with the very best start in life or do they soldier on for a few more years until we have a Government that gives a higher priority to education and providing the best possible schools?