School Buildings – Northfield Deserves Better Than Flag Waving


In my experience, people in this area don’t like Conservative Ministers making flag waving visits whose purpose is only to promote their local Party cheerleaders, not to face up to the problems their policies are causing to real people locally.

We’ve seen quite a few ministers descending on Northfield like this recently.

Only this week we have seen the Prime Minister himself boasting that four local schools will get building work done under his “Priority Schools Building Programme” (PSBP).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased that Merritt’s Brook Primary Academy, Reaside Primary Academy and Colmers School will get much needed work done. But let’s not kid ourselves that the Tories’ PSBP is more than a poor shadow of the last Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme, which gave new leases of life to schools across the country.

BSF offered great potential for our city too but, in Birmingham as elsewhere, it relied on Councils sorting out their bids. Sadly Birmingham’s Conservative-led Council made such a horlicks of their priorities at the time that Northfield got very little attention at all.

Of course we will never know if Birmingham’s (then) Tory administration would have eventually got its act together over BSF. Because in 2010, their Conservative friends took over in Government and scrapped BSF altogether. So schools in Northfield had to wait. Again.

And so it goes on. Take Turves Green Girls School and Technology College, which has long done a brilliant job breaking stereotypes and creating career pathways for young women in engineering and related occupations. But their building has not been fit for purpose for years. Birmingham’s Labour Council put Turves Green Girls forward for rebuilding under the new PSBP. It’s been rejected for support by David Cameron’s Government.

Or take Balaam Wood Academy in Frankley – a secondary school in one of the most deprived parts of south west Birmingham. It has faced multiple challenges over the years and is now doing an amazing job in transforming itself. But it needs rebuilding to secure its future and to give local young people as good a start as those in more affluent areas. I have personally raised the issue on the floor of the House of Commons. It too has been turned down under PSBP.

Or Jervoise primary, another school whose turnaround in the past few years is astonishing and which you cannot visit without feeling a buzz from the atmosphere created by an inspirational head and dedicated staff. But the building lets them down and it has been known to do so for years. A priority for the Government under PSBP? No.

Or look at Victoria – a school for young people with special needs. Its leaders put together a partnership to create a new specialist arts college building on site with a real campus feel, which I opened last year. As recently as last month Victoria’s Head was rightly celebrated in Downing Street as a community hero. She and her team do an amazing job but the main school building has long needed a major revamp. Have they got support for it from the Government under PSBP? No.

And remember, there is no appeal against the Governments decisions’ under PSBP. That is it.

Ministers will no doubt claim that tough times require tough decisions on priorities. Fair enough. But I for one cannot see why schools like the four above are turned down as priorities when millions are made available for new ’free schools’ – even in areas where no new schools are needed.

Of course, schools themselves, Councils, academy trusts and others will do the best they can with the maintenance funds they get – and a new move to three year allocations will help them do that.

But schools like Turves Green Girls, Balaam Wood Academy, Jervoise and Victoria have a right to expect better than the treatment they have got from this Government. Skills, aspirations and opportunities for the future are built in schools and the state of school buildings matter. That is why all of us have a right to expect more than flag waving photo opportunities from Conservative Ministers and their cheerleaders here in Northfield. 

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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