Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Building Schools for the Future – why Michael Gove is wrong to condemn spending on consultants

I was very interested to read this post on BBC News :  School consultants ‘earned £170m’ , reporting on Shadow Children’s Secretary Michael Gove’s statements claiming that Local authorities were wasting large sums of money on consultants to help them through the government’s Building Schools for the Future programme – commonly referred to as ‘BSF’.

At a local level I’m very involved in a particular BSF scheme – and it would be inappropriate to make comment which related specifically or politically to that project.

I did however feel that Michael Gove’s comments – if reported accurately – were particularly below the belt, and I feel compelled to flag this up – I’ll try and do this in a non-partisan way.

Building Schools for the Future  (BSF) is a huge long term project to rebuild or substantially replace all of the country’s special schools. As such it commands (at national level) broad cross party support. Although implemented by the Labour Government at a national level, local authorities of all political persuasions right across the country  have worked very hard to move this scheme forward.

It’s been a long process, and I believe the schools which are opening this week as a result of the scheme represent Waves 1,2 and 3 of the project. Waves 4,5 and 6 are in an advanced state of preparedness. Future waves are at various stages – from submitting Outline Business Cases, through to not having started at all. So straight away it’s clear that the process is only part way through – so why Michael Gove should comment that so few schools have benefited is a mystery.

Anyone remotely close to the action in BSF though can not fail to have noticed that the scheme does indeed generate a whole industry of  consultants and supporting professionals – who must (as Michael Gove points out) cost large amounts of money.

I wonder though whether Michael knows whether the people working on these projects – Head teachers like myself; Local authority officers and planners, who are  on the workstreams for BSF have any knowledge of how to design a school ?

Well I for one haven’t really.

Have I got any knowledge of how to incorporate sustainable energy efficient and environmentally friendly features into a school – adhering to PassivHaus principles ?

Well no I haven’t – I’ve only learned about them through this scheme.

Have I got any experience or knowledge of how to negotiate a multi-million pound deal with mutli-national consortia, who have far more business expertise than I have, and ensure that we get the school we need for future generations of children. Well no I haven’t .

So I wonder who helps the people in schools and local authorities to plan these ambitious, and immensely complicated projects ? Well Mr Gove it’s actually the consultants that you’ve been complaining about. They are the people who are ensuring that the people who really know about schools, but don’t know much about architecture, facilities management contracts, or competetive dialogue processes,  are still ble to provide their vital input into the building and refurbishing of the schools of tomorrow – and also ensuring that we get value for money, with high quality designs which will provide us with schools fit for purpose for decades to come. I’ve dealt with lots of them in recent months, and most of them are extremely skilled professionals, extremely hard working, and not always particularly well paid.

I feel that Michael Gove’s comments do little to reflect the efforts of Council members from all parties – Conservative included – who together with officers and other professionals have worked tirelessly on these projects and are now beginning to see the spectacular fruits of their labours.

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September 8, 2009 - Posted by | education, politics | , , , , ,

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