Last Updated: 27 July 2011
Created: 27 July 2011
This week the government made a series of very welcome announcements on education funding with the aim of making the system fairer and less bureaucratic. This is especially significant here in Swindon. Last night, the Borough Council was told that our local schools will need more than 40 new forms of entry by 2026 to cope with the forecast increase in population. The estimated cost of providing these extra places is £130m, so it’s vital that we get this right.
One of the announcements was a wide-ranging consultation on the way new schools are paid for and how they’re designed, and this is an area in which Swindon is already leading the way. The Council has been undertaking some pioneering work on so-called modular schools. These are standardised buildings which allow a school to expand simply and cheaply just by ‘plugging in’ another module when required. And let’s be clear: these are not the shabby old pre-fabs that so many of us remember from our school days; these are high-quality buildings at the cutting edge of 21st century design. I asked a question in Parliament to support this excellent work and pointed out that these generic modular schools come in at approximately half the cost of a new design. If this is successful we would be able to divert savings to improving our existing school stock. This was warmly welcomed by the education secretary Michael Gove, so Swindon is well and truly on the map.
Of course none of this is possible without money, so I’m delighted that Mr Gove announced an extra £500 million of capital funding will be available this financial year for areas where rising pupil numbers is putting severe pressure on school places. Here are some interesting figures to be going on with: Swindon’s funding is £4,696 per pupil, per year, against a national average of £5,247. This review offers an opportunity for us to secure a fairer deal after we were short-changed by the last government for so long. It was shameful that no provision was made for the mini-baby-boom, so now we have to play catch-up. It’s not only new schools that are the issue; maintaining our existing buildings is just as important, so I’m glad that Mr Gove announced a new privately-financed school building programme which will focus on the school buildings in greatest need of repair.
I know from my ten years as a ward councillor in Abbey Meads that pressure on school places is a huge issue for local families. I am delighted that the government is taking positive steps to address the problem, and that Swindon Borough Council is leading the way in finding really clever long-term solutions.