Whatever happened to the James Review?

Sarah's picture
by Sarah
On 8 April Sebastian James produced his extremely overdue report on schools capital (having originally promised an interim report in September 2010 and final report in December.

So far the government have made absolutely no response to it - nor undertaken any consultation with local authorities or schools about its contents. Here we are in July 2010 with absolutely no idea of the arrangements for capital beyond March next year or what Michael Gove thinks of Sebastian James suggestions.

And yet Partnerships for Schools (soon to be defunct) are running a conference this coming Friday about the implementation of the proposals at which the outgoing and incoming chairs of PfS will be speaking along with Sebastian James himself. No invitations were issued to this conference to local authorities as far as I'm aware so it's unclear just who this forum is intended for! Will this be another response slid out onto the website with no notification that we will have to discover for ourselves?

When will this government start talking to the people who are actually engaged in trying to make the education system in this country work and who still have involvement with the vast majority of schools remaining as part of the local authority family of schools? When will they start exercising the same transparency themselves over the capital funding of Academies and Free Schools as they expect from local authorities? When will they stop pretending to be interested in local decision-making and accountability while removing any democratic accountability from the education system and centralising increasing numbers of powers to the Secretary of State.

And why is Andy Burnham silent on all of this - can it be embarrassment that his party opened the door to this disastrous chain of events?
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 07/07/2011 - 09:02

It should be remembered that Tim Byles, the ex-chief executive of Partnership for Schools (PfS) is setting up his own company, Cornerstone, to purchase and refurbish un-used public buildings and sell/rent them back to the public sector. I raised my concerns about this in an earlier thread. These concerns included this question: if Cornerstone becomes the preferred option for capital projects in the public sector, will this be unfair competition?


Cornerstone operates from the offices of SOLACE, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers in Whitehall. This raises these questions: is Cornerstone paying the full market rent for the use of these offices? If it isn't, could this put Cornerstone at a competitive advantage compared with other firms who might want to bid for public sector capital projects?

And is there any link between the Government's lack of response to the James review, the setting up of Cornerstone and the demise of PfS?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 07/07/2011 - 13:26

A Policy Exchange conference (4/7/11), “Where Next for the School Estate?” discussed future school provision. Tim Byles said his company Cornerstone could “deliver a commercial return to investors” and a “social return”: the public would get much-needed premises and Cornerstone would give a share of its profit to the “third sector”. He said Cornerstone was a “mutual… a new breed of "public sector entrepreneurs” which would acquire surplus public sector assets and change them into “mixed developments” – one part delivering a commercial return and one part being “given back” to the community for public use such as a library or free school.

One speaker said that after thirty years if the demographic changed then Cornerstone could return and convert buildings to another use. So someone expects Cornerstone to be around for quite some time, then.

During the question-and-answer session, Byles said a system like Cornerstone was needed to avoid “reinventing the wheel”. This would avoid the construction of “monuments to the egos of head teachers” based on “crazy, half-cocked” ideas about education (I think that statement might have come from Toby Young).


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 07/07/2011 - 13:27

Barry Sheerman, MP and former chair of the Education Select Committee told the Policy Exchange conference that he was concerned the DfE didn’t have the expertise to procure new buildings but local authorities did. He warned that centralised procurement could go against local wishes, foisting “flat-pack” schools in areas where something else might be more suitable.

During the question-and-answer session Barry Sheerman said this, “What people wanted was a good system of education delivered by an enlightened and progressive local authority. What worries me at the moment – we are putting very little trust ideologically in the ability of local authorities to deliver and so we’re opening up, you know, an anarchic situation where schools do their own thing and gradually the most prosperous schools in the most prosperous areas will drop out leaving the less popular schools on their own”.

One speaker (it might have been Sheerman) said the spending power of the DfE was the same as it was in 2007/8 and he thought it would be better to do the very best that could be done with that money rather than bringing in private investment which wasn’t “a magic wand”. He reminded the conference of the situation when Jarvis, a private contractor with a large number of LA projects, had gone bust. Many LAs had suffered as a result.


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 07/07/2011 - 13:30

Toby Young was the most entertaining speaker at the Policy Exchange conference although for most of the time only his shoulder and one whirring hand were visible. His description of his attempt to lease a school from the Saudis was very funny. He ruled out two schools sharing one premises (co-location) and said surplus places were needed to facilitate choice (OECD would agree with him on that point, although the UK system of money following the child means that spare places are not funded). The DfE buying sites for free schools was not the right solution in the long term, he said, although that was what had happened with the West London Free School, and purchasing public assets for conversion was expensive. He concluded that the most cost-effective way of providing new schools was inexpensive new build. Toby dismissed the idea of school buildings being “transformational” – educational attainment meant exam results (OECD doesn’t agree on that point).


Note to Toby: if I’ve misrepresented you, please correct me. It was often difficult to decide when watching the YouTube video who was speaking. The panel sat in front of a large window and the participants were in partial shadow. As you were at the far end you were barely visible (your head bobbed in and out of view occasionally). And the noise didn’t help – there was a very squeaky door, and a mobile phone rang (this belonged to a member of the panel – very bad manners, I thought).

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.