Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Building Schools For the Future: Public Accounts Committee Report

This came out a while ago and I only just got around to reading it. Anyone wants to read the whole document can access it here. It is only a dozen or so pages.

The Committee outlines the strengths and weaknesses of the programme so far (as they see it). Reading the transcripts of the interviews with the head civil servant and the head of PfS (Partnership for Schools), (David Bell and Tim Byles respectively) it is clear that political allegiances affected attitudes. The labour members seem less critical than their Conservative counterparts.

The bits that held my attention on the train down to London are as follows:
  1. The plans for delivery were unrealistic. Even after a review and a rescheduling the Committee still thinks PfS have got an almost impossible target to complete by 2023. As they say 'poor planning has heightened expectations and created disappointment' p8.
  2. School leaders haven't had the support they need, they 'manage the transition and early operational stages without central support and often feel left to manage alone' p9.
  3. The LEP is the preferred procurement vehicle for each local authority going through BSF and it is a very new thing. It is important to know if it is value for money. The committee has this to say; 'Although on paper LEPs look like they might provide cost benefits it is too early to tell whether they will, and their value for money is unproven.' p10. And, 'only 14% of local authority BSF managers ... believed that their LEP would produce cost savings and only a quarter said that overall it was a good approach' p11. Tim Byles told the committee that 'if you talk to people once they become engaged in the project and in this way of delivery they tend to change their view very considerably'. I hope he doesn't mean that those who are against the LEP approach just don't understand it, but it would be easy to interpret his comments in this way.
  4. The Committee are generally positive about the contribution of PfS. They do say that PfS 'has focused insufficiently on achieving the intended benefits of operational LEPs and the intended educational outcomes in schools' p13. There are some eye-watering figures for funds expended on consultants, for example PfS paid KPMG £ 1.3 million over three years for the services of just one person (p20).
The report underlines some of the issues identified by earlier analyses of the BSF programme. Lack of support for school staff engaged in thinking through how to turn millions of investment in buildings and ICT into significant educational change, is my top concern. In my view, investment in people is the most effective way of transforming our schools. Judging by the actions of government this isn't a very widely shared point of view.

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