School forces climbdown over money to keep computer system

EDUCATION bosses have been forced into an embarrassing climbdown after a school threatened to reject its share of £120m in Government funding.

Tollbar Business Enterprise and Humanities College, in Grimsby, initially refused to join the flagship Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project, which promises to create world-class teaching facilities in North East Lincolnshire.

But the school now stands to receive 13.9m for building improvements after managers backed down on a plan to replace its successful computing system with an outsourced service run by a private company.

Tollbar's principal, David Hampson, said the original deal would have saddled the school with an inferior information communications technology (ICT) system costing more than 300,000 a year.

"Nothing could improve on our service here – we have set up a system that is second to none and I was having to relinquish that to get a system managed from outside," he said.

"We were quite happy to lose the build money if we had to in order to maintain the integrity of the service we have here.

"We have retained our autonomy and, as far as I am aware, we are the only college in the country that has managed to do this."

The BSF scheme, to cost 120m over six years, will involve rebuilding or refurbishing facilities at seven schools and amalgamating two others.

Council chiefs expect the first schools to be ready by September 2012, with the rest open by September 2017 at the latest.

The scheme's Strategy for Change document, submitted to the Government, says the proposed centrally-managed ICT system is inextricably linked to the building programme.

But project leaders were unable to convince Tollbar to sign up to the ICT contract and were faced with the possibility of the school pulling out of BSF altogether unless an agreement could be reached.

Mr Hampson still has reservations about the scheme, even though the school has now won concessions from those in charge.

"There is a tremendous amount of money being wasted in BSF as there is a lot to do with quangos and consultants going on before we get anywhere near the build," he said.

"I wish they would give me one-tenth of what they are supposedly going to spend on the place, then I would be much, much happier.

"We will not be having any building here until 2013 – that is if we get any building at all, given the parlous state of the current government."

Tollbar has more than 2,000 pupils and was rated "an outstanding college that provides excellent value for money" by school inspection body Ofsted in April.

The inspectors' report added: "The application of ICT to promote students' independence and progress in all areas of the curriculum is also a major strength."

Mr Hampson said: "One of the things Ofsted saw as important was that the ICT system we had was a major contributor to raising standards at the school – there is no way I am going to relinquish that control."

No-one council or Government Schools department spokesman was available to comment.