Rather than shutting down for the summer holidays BSF schools will open their doors to the local community
Like many of you, I have just returned to the office after my summer holiday. Only by taking some time out, stepping away from the day-to-day routines, do you realise quite how much has been achieved since the last time you packed your suntan lotion - or in my case walking boots - and switched on your Out of Office.
When I headed off on my travels in summer 2008, 13 BSF schools were open and 20 deals had reached financial close. By the end of the summer term this year 87 schools across England had benefited from Building Schools for the Future (BSF) investment - that is, new or refurbished buildings, additional facilities and state-of-the-art ICT - and despite the well-documented economic challenges affecting us all, contracts have now been signed for 41 BSF schemes.
If BSF has been seen as a good investment prospect, relatively speaking, throughout the course of 2009 then the announcement in July that 18 more BSF projects would be launched before the end of the current financial year must be of further interest to the construction industry. Following rigorous assessment of their plans, Barnet, Bolton, Hampshire, Peterborough, Sunderland and Wigan will be the next to start their journeys to deliver BSF - by providing new schools fit for the needs of communities in the 21st century.
Gone are the days when the school remains a silent empty place from mid July to September. Today, BSF schools are often as busy in the holidays as they are in term time, with their sports facilities, libraries, dance and music studios, ICT suites and business centres buzzing with activities for people of all ages. BSF as a catalyst for regeneration, with schools as hubs for local people and local services is something we have long advocated. The £200m Co-location Fund, managed by PfS on behalf of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, recently announced the 101 projects to receive funding with children's centres, careers advice, youth clubs, health services, and independent housing for young people leaving care among them.
Joining up funding streams and having a single conversation with local authorities - as we are doing with co-location and will do even more from October as PfS assumes responsibility for the management and delivery of all school building and refurbishment programmes - will help us improve outcomes for children and young people by maximising the capital investment available.
Back at my desk, memories from this summer of climbing Snowdon - of pressing onwards and upwards despite some challenging conditions and the reward of breathtaking views from the top - remain. With more than half of England's local authorities now engaged in BSF we're past the foothills, looking forward to steady climb to the summit and to sharing our collective progress with you in my monthly reports.