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Ministers ignored school list errors

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.

Readers' comments (1)

  • A typical excuse of a failed Project Mananger/Civil Servant and further evidence of an ineffective yet grossly expensive quango! A critical key skill required - maintaining good updated comprehensive Progress and Status Records for "any time" senior management decision making has not been provided.

    Anyone with any Project Management experience and responsibility on such a Project would have had a "live" spreadsheet or database, continuously updated from inputs from each School Project, listing all School Projects under their supervision/monitoring with sufficient broad detail to provide, almost immediately, the confirmed status of each School Project, the current works status/stage of progress, the originally budget, current budget and current forecast final costs, current progress compared to original and current programme, and forecast completion date.

    In that way Senior Management - in this case the Minister, would have had the correct updated and confirmed Status Report he may require at anytime to make a Senior Management decision!

    On their own admission this quango, from top downwards has failed in its duty! How many similar examples of lack of adequate monitoring and control are there in all the other quangos, and how much money has been, and is still being wasted?

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