Ministers ignored officials’ advice not to publish an error-strewn list of scrapped school building projects before it could be double-checked, a quango boss has suggested.
The Department for Education was told that the list needed to be seen by local authorities before it could be released to the public, according to Tim Byles, chief executive of Partnerships for Schools (PfS).
PfS is the body responsible for overseeing the £55 billion Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, which was axed by Education Secretary Michael Gove earlier this month amid much controversy.
Mr Byles told the Commons education select committee that there had been “a number of misunderstandings circulating around the handling of the Secretary of State’s recent announcement on BSF”.
More than 700 secondary schools which had not yet reached financial close on their building works saw their projects cancelled as a result of Mr Gove’s decision, and he came under fire over his handling of the situation after it emerged that initial lists of affected works were strewn with errors.
It was suggested by some at the time that responsibility for the errors lay with PfS.
Mr Byles told the cross-party group of MPs: “When we were asked to provide detailed lists of all schools, both those in procurement and those in pre-procurement, we advised the Department that it would be wise to validate this information with each local authority, prior to publication, due to the inherent risk of errors.
“This advice was not followed and a number of errors arose.”
Mr Byles told the committee this advice had been given because PfS is required to hold data only on schools that have reached the procurement phase of works. While they also have data on schools that local authorities would like to enter the BSF programme, this information is “fairly fluid”.
Mr Byles admitted that an error which saw several schools in Sandwell, West Midlands listed as continuing, only later to be informed they had been scrapped, was PfS’s fault.