Why Labour will make fixing perilous state of schools a priority

Labour shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan MP explains why the Conservatives’ track record on managing school estates shows it’s time for a change of government

Last week, Labour brought forward a parliamentary motion that gave Conservative MPs a choice.

They could choose to be transparent with parents and school staff about which school buildings are at risk of collapse or they could choose to side with a government that wants to keep parents and teachers in the dark.

They chose the latter.

Time drags on

It’s now been two years since the Condition of School Buildings Survey revealed “alarming” problems within the school estate.

It’s been one year since a leaked government report revealed that school buildings in England are now in such disrepair that they posed a “risk to life”.

And it’s been six months since the Department for Education raised the risk of school buildings collapsing from “critical” to “critical – very likely” in its annual report.

Yet, despite these repeated warnings, there is no urgency from the government to fix the problem or allay the concerns of parents.

This has not been for the want of trying from Labour. We have repeatedly asked the government to identify which buildings are worst affected.

In December, schools minister Nick Gibb said he would publish the data on these dangerous buildings by the end of the year.

In January, he said the data will be “published shortly”.

In February we heard nothing. In March we heard nothing. And in April, you may have guessed, we heard nothing.

We’re now in June, and parents, staff and pupils still don’t know if it’s their school that is potentially “very likely” to collapse.

Warning signs and near misses

During last week’s debate, the schools minister again stated that the data would be published “as soon as possible”, and promised to disclose it before MPs break for summer.

However, given the government’s track record on this, I think we could be forgiven for saying that we will believe the data will be published when we see it.

It is no wonder why our nation’s school buildings are in their current state.

For 13 years, we have seen too many cut-price sticking plaster solutions and inefficient repairs when green rebuilds and a long-term plan were required.

From visiting schools across the country, I’ve seen the impact of this first-hand.

Far too many children are still attending schools in ageing buildings, with unmet repairs, cracked walls, asbestos and crumbling roofs. We know this has major knock-on effects on children’s learning and behaviour.

I’ve heard from teachers and school leaders of a number of near misses, and too often we have seen stories of injuries to adults, caused by faulty school buildings, that would have been much more tragic had a child been standing in the same place.

Time to transform schools again

The last Labour government transformed our country’s school estate.

Widespread modern rebuilds led to improvements in standards and behaviour, and made school a safer place for children to learn.

In 2016, Michael Gove himself admitted that he regretted scrapping the Building Schools for the Future programme, which caused over 700 school building projects to be cancelled.

It seems the lessons learned by the levelling-up secretary still haven’t been passed on to his colleagues.

You would think the least the government would do is be honest with teachers and parents about the real state of their school buildings.

Unfortunately, whether it’s on lockdown parties, speeding tickets or school buildings, we have been shown that this is a government incapable of transparency.

That is why we will keep pushing ministers to stick to their latest promise to publish the data by summer. Given their track record to date, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Across the country, families deserve transparency on this. Wherever they live, they also deserve the opportunity to send their child to an excellent local school.

This will only be done by investing in brilliant state education for all and by recruiting thousands of new teachers – commitments a Labour government would follow through on.

While Conservative MPs last week sided with a government that has been complacent on education and kept parents in the dark on school buildings, I know which side a Labour government would choose. We’ll be on the side of parents, school staff and children.

Stephen Morgan MP is the Labour shadow schools minister

Source: TES

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