School buildings axe challenged

Students and teachers join together in a Westminster demonstration last July against the coalition’s ‘Big School Fiasco’
Students and teachers join together in a Westminster demonstration last July against the coalition’s ‘Big School Fiasco’

A Judicial Review into the government’s decision to scrap the Building Schools for the Future scheme opened yesterday at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Six councils are urging the High Court to overturn the government’s decision to scrap Building Schools for the Future schemes in their areas.

More than 700 rebuilds were cancelled when the £55bn scheme was axed by education secretary Gove in July.

The councils involved in the legal bid to overturn his decision are: Waltham Forest, Kent County Council, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Newham Council and Sandwell Council.

Grounds for the challenge include the failure of the Department for Education to consult on its decision to axe the scheme or give reasons for allowing which schemes would go ahead and which would not.

Waltham Forest Council leader Councillor Chris Robbins said: ‘We have significant levels of deprivation in our borough and Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to raise the aspirations of our entire population.

‘That chance has been snatched away from future generations and will have a devastating impact for years to come.

‘We stand to lose £275m of investment. Because the government wouldn’t sit down amicably and explain their decision to us, this judicial review is the only avenue left open, so with some regret that is the path we have followed.

‘We know that the economic situation means tough decisions are required, but we need to come to a better arrangement than a total withdrawal.

‘We have a growing student population and will need 500 extra places in the next few years. Our schools simply won’t be able to cope without major investment.

‘It is difficult to focus on attainment and raise standards in the classroom when the classrooms are falling down.

‘All the schools that were refurbished have seen improved GCSE results and we expected to see similar improvements in the schools scheduled for BSF work in the future.’

The High Court hearing begins in earnest today, after a day of reading papers yesterday, and is due to last a week.

• Initial results from an online opinion survey of teachers on pay and pensions, conducted by the NASUWT teachers’ union, show that there is growing anger among teachers that they and other public sector workers are being unfairly targeted by the coalition government.

Chris Keates, NASUWT General Secretary, said: ‘Teachers are fearful about the cuts and for their jobs.

‘The claim that there is no alternative to freezing pay, and attacking pensions to tackle the deficit has a very hollow ring when millions of pounds are being frittered away on flawed experiments with free schools and academies and on bankrolling independent schools with state funding.’