Blair tours ‘historic’ school building legacy

Tony Blair is leaving behind an “historic” school building programme, he claimed today, as he toured new and improved schools across the country.

The outgoing prime minister has been visiting schools with the education secretary Alan Johnson to highlight the £31 billion the Labour government has invested in improved facilities.

School investment has been “Victorian” on scale, Mr Blair claimed. A report published by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) reveals more than 1,000 schools have been built over the past decade, benefiting hundreds of thousands of pupils.

Mr Blair said: “If you think back ten years there used to be crumbling school buildings, often outside toilets, kids getting taught in portacabin classrooms. Well what’s happened over the decade is immense.

“Essentially we’ve renovated the capital infrastructure of the schools in Britain, and we’re going to carry on doing it so that over the next few years even more schools are either refurbished or completely rebuilt so that we’ve got the facilities – the absolutely world class, top class facilities – that we need in the country.”

According to the DfES report, 1,106 new schools have been built since 1997 along with 1,260 new children’s centres. In additional 27,000 classrooms have been improved or newly built.

This equates to seven classrooms built or upgraded each day on average, and two entirely new schools and two children’s centres built on average each week.

However, opposition politicians warned Mr Blair not to try and claim education as his legacy as he prepares to leave office.

“The bricks and mortar will last long after Tony Blair has left Downing Street, but so will the problems he leaves behind in schools across Britain,” said the Lib Dems’ education spokeswoman Sarah Teather.

She continued: “How can children excel when they are taught in crowded classrooms with teachers who are often not specialists in their subject?

“Teachers rightly bemoan the missed opportunity to modernise the curriculum and end the mountains of tests and targets. Head teachers have been deluged with crippling amounts of central government regulation and paperwork.”

Similarly, the Association of School and College Leaders warned private finance initiatives used to fund many building projects were disproportionably taking up head teachers’ time and energy.