The government is certainly making political capital out of its successes, with ministers opening new schools up and down the country
This September’s return to school has come with plenty of additions to the classroom. Kids can now take diplomas in construction, for example, or learn about being happy. But for thousands, the return will be etched in their memories for life. Instead of the leaking roofs and portable huts they have grown up with, they will find themselves in bright modern rooms, or tapping away on wireless-enabled laptops in a spacious atrium (see page 36).
After a slower than slow start, Labour’s grand plan to transform every secondary school in the country is finally bearing fruit. One reason is that Partnerships for Schools has at last listened to the industry’s complaints and is cutting some of the red tape that entangled many firms trying to enter the market. That, and the fact that other markets are drying up, makes schools glittering prizes. It is an astonishingly ambitious project – the target is 230 schools a year. If it goes well, it will leave this administration with the kind of legacy that Blair and Brown have been grasping for. Of course, good education requires more than just good buildings – as Chris Woodhead reminds us on page 46. It also needs good teachers and smaller classes. The industry has no influence on teaching methods or class sizes, but the building fabric it creates will affect children for generations to come. That’s why the build quality has to be exceptional and Cabe has to have enough teeth to ensure school design really is inspirational: a pass is not good enough; every school should be aiming for A*.
Another doubt is whether this project will be seen through to the end. The government is certainly making political capital out of its successes, with ministers opening new schools up and down the country. But what of the Conservatives, who could feasibly be running the show by 2010? The fact that our columnist Michael Gove, the Tory spokesman for education, elected not to write about schools this week (despite being asked) couldn’t possibly have anything to do with shadow chancellor George Osborne’s announcement that his party wouldn’t stick with Labour’s spending plans, could it?
The late Lord Taylor probably wouldn’t have been impressed. The empire he founded in 1921 at the age of 16 was this week sold for a mere £74m to Vinci. The price reflects how the fortunes of the firm have changed in recent years. As a construction company, it’s certainly not the giant it once was – its turnover is £600m and its operating profit is £17.8m, reflecting its position as an appendix to Taylor Wimpey, the UK’s biggest, and now most troubled, housebuilder. Vinci has big ambitions for the UK and this deal gives it the scale it needs to realise them. One might expect a certain degree of cost savings to follow – and it might make sense for Norwest Holst, also part of the Vinci stable, to be integrated with the Taywood operation. Let’s just hope the sale brings the firm the sense of purpose that it has been crying out for.
Denise Chevin, editor