Accounts committee says 'poor planning' has led to 'widespread disappointment' at pace of school rebuilding

The government's flagship capital education programme, Building Schools for the Future (BSF), has been criticised as “over-optimistic” by MPs.

A report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee said that the scheme to rebuild England's secondary schools had created expectations that could not be met.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said: “BSF has been beset from the beginning by poor planning and persistent over-optimism.

“This has led to widespread disappointment in the rate at which schools are being completed, inevitably damaging confidence in the department's ability to complete the programme even by the revised date of 2023.”

Of 200 schools planned for completion by December 2008, only 42 were finished on time. And the overall timescale for the programme has slipped from 10-15 years to 18 years.

But schools minister Vernon Coaker said the data on which the MPs had based their findings was out of date and the programme had quickened in pace.

Of 200 schools planned for completion by December 2008, only 42 were finished on time

He said the number of completed schools had almost doubled to 78 since December last year – the end of the period considered by the committee. The 200th school is expected to complete in the middle of next year, he added.

“We've never been complacent about BSF. BSF is a completely unprecedented project, not a race to spend money,” said Coaker.

“We've always been upfront about the early delays but we've listened and learned lessons. We want value for money from every single penny of taxpayers' money – which is why we insisted that the early projects took far more time to improve their proposals.

“We've now slashed procurement time and costs and improved management on the ground so that projects are now being delivered on time and on budget.”

The committee called for delivery body Partnership for Schools to set out in detail its proposals for accelerating delivery.

Tim Byles, chief executive of Partnerships for Schools, said: “This is very much looking at BSF through the rear view mirror, based on evidence gathered back in 2008.

“This is not a question of complacency. It’s a straightforward analysis of the facts. As we have said for two years now, the early assumptions – made before the programme began – were over optimistic. In 2005, new targets were set and since then BSF has met or exceeded the target for schools openings. The National Audit Office stated that to deliver the programme by 2023, 200 schools must be in construction by 2011. Our detailed planning confirms that we will significantly exceed this, with 300 schools in construction by 2011, most of which are already under contract. As such, assuming continued levels of investment, the vast majority of projects will be completed by 2020, delivering world-class learning environments to all young people and teachers in England.”