Sorry for BSF errors but not for scrapping it, says Gove

30 Jul 10
Michael Gove was forced to defend his troubled start as education secretary to a group of cross-party MPs this week
By Lucy Phillips

28 July 2010

Michael Gove was forced to defend his troubled start as education secretary to a group of cross-party MPs this week.

Giving evidence to the education select committee on July 28, the Tory MP said he took full responsibility for the errors in a list of Building Schools for the Future projects affected by his decision to scrap the £55bn programme.

His permanent secretary David Bell also came under pressure to admit that he had not passed on advice from Partnership for Schools before Gove’s inaccurate statement in the Commons on July 5. PfS, which runs the scheme, said the data should have been checked with local authorities first.

Gove said: ‘At no stage did any official say to me “delay this announcement” and no-one said to me explicitly that this information should be validated at local level ... [but] ultimately when things go wrong the secretary of state must acknowledge responsibility, which is why I made an apology.’

The education secretary acknowledged the ‘heartbreak’ caused by the decision to cancel more than 700 planned secondary school redevelopments.

But, he added: ‘I did not take that decision with any pleasure or relish. But if you look back at the history of BSF the whole programme was misconceived.’ He claimed the scheme, set up by the previous Labour government, did not target the most dilapidated schools and that ‘the procurement model meant everyone had to sink a huge amount of costs into the process before bricks were laid’.

In an earlier evidence session, shadow education secretary Ed Balls hit out at the decision to abandon the rebuilding programme. As well as dashing the hopes of thousands of children, it would divert capital funding to the government’s new free schools, creating greater social injustice, he told the committee.

The committee also scrutinised Gove’s decision to rush the Academies Bill through Parliament, allowing schools to opt out of local authority control. But the education secretary said he had to act quickly because of huge inequalities in educational attainment, claiming that ‘rich, thick kids’ did better than ‘poor, clever children’ before they even started school.

‘The reason I am unapologetically in a hurry to make these changes is that these children only have one chance and we have to get on with it to make sure they have a better life,’ he said

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