Summary of The James Review

10th April 2011

In July 2010, Michael Gove announced the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future and delayed all capital spending until the release of a review of the best way to procure future school builds. If Sebastian James could efficiently run 500 electrical stores, the logic followed that he could build schools cheaper than Labour’s £2,000 sq.ft average.

In the same week as Gove announced the cancellation a plumber visited Mojammel’s school to fix a ceiling leak for the tenth time in 5 years. In every OFSTED report since 2001, the school was told its building was inadequate for purpose and impossible to renovate without a site for decantation. Staff and pupils patiently waited the first wave of BSF so a local site would become available. Work was due to start 3 weeks after the announcement. The news hit the school hard.

Flash-forward to April 2011 and the James Review is finally released. It is a fair document, making the following points:

  • Without objective criteria for who needed a good school, some of the worst schools have been left the longest

  • BSF took too long to complete projects

  • Too many stakeholder voices meant projects become over-complicated

  • The need for ‘unique’ schools meant lessons were not being learned between developments

  • Schools vary in their ability to maintain a good condition of property

So far, so fair. As befits a report written by someone so experienced, the James Review recommendations are solid and, if correctly implemented, could avoid the problems of BSF.  Key recommendations include :

  • Money for building projects should be centralised and held at the Department of Education

  • ‘Flat-pack’ standardised schools will be designed, evaluated and re-interpreted at each site to save time and cost

  • 1 in 5 schools will be deemed ‘innovative’ and allowed extra capital to test new technologies – no guidance is given on how these schools will be decided

  • Stakeholders can feed into the choice and evaluation process only

  • Standardised agreements for maintenance must be provided with responsibility given to a body for overseeing that schools meet these requirements

(The full recommendations list can be found in Appendix A.)

Mojammel Khakwani brushes dust from his mosque hat and begins wailing: “I’m writing a letter to Cameron about this, Miss. I’m scared learning in this building. I’m fed up of stuff falling on me and the cramped tables. This is nonsense.”

When I first started teaching Mojammel he wrote a story about how he wanted to become a Jihadi terrorist. Writing letters to the Government is a significant step forward.

The James Review has clear omissions – when exactly will we get these flat-pack schools? Who decides which school deserves ‘innovation’? But if flat-pack schools will get a ceiling over Mojammel’s head, if those ceilings will be functionally designed and well-maintained then that will be good enough for now.

*Name changed to protect identity