No new tables and chairs for crumbling schools says minister

First published in News

CRUMBLING schools which are waiting for vital rebuilding funds will not be given new tables or chairs, ministers admitted yesterday (Monday, June 16).

About 20 schools across the North-East and North Yorkshire are described as a “priority” by the Government, because they are in such a poor physical state.

They are supposed be rebuilt by 2017, although the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) has been plagued by lengthy delays and uncertainty.

Now the department for education (DfE) has revealed it will not pay for “loose furniture” – including tables and chairs – unless the schools are also expanding their pupil numbers.

If they are simply being rebuilt to the same size, they will be told to save cash by re-using their existing furniture.

In the Commons, ministers came under pressure from MPs in places where the first PSBP schools are being revamped, including Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith.

Jim Cunningham, a Coventry MP, said: “A school in my constituency has just had a new building built under PSBP.

“However, the Education Funding Agency has informed them that there is no funding to cover furniture for the new building.

“This is presenting serious problems for the school and I’m sure for many other schools. Can the Government look into funding to help buy desks and chairs?”

But, in reply, David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools minister, defended the decision to pay for only “fixed furniture and equipment” at the new schools.

Arguing it would be “ridiculous” to provide new tables and chairs, he told MPs: “Where there is existing equipment that can sensibly be reused in the new buildings, we ask schools to do that.”

The decision is the latest twist in the frustrating saga of the priority schools programme, first announced three years ago.

Some of the 20-odd schools in the region have been fast-tracked and will be rebuilt with direct DfE grants - with work to start before next year’s election.

Others - including Seaham School of Technology, in County Durham, Mandale Mill Primary School, in Stockton-on-Tees, and Laurence Jackson School, in Redcar and Cleveland – are awaiting a private finance initiative (PFI) scheme.

However, the successful contractor was announced only last month - and there is no date set for the work to get underway.

Some schools – including St Joseph's Roman Catholic VA Primary School, in Coundon, County Durham - are even further back in the queue and must await a fresh £2bn spending round, to begin next April.

Originally, the DfE suggested many PFI schemes would go to market in 2012. Across England, work has started on just 29 of 261 “priority” schools.

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