Teachers preparing for protest rally against £55bn cuts blow

TEACHERS are to descend on Parliament today for a rally in protest at the Government's decision to scrap a £55bn school building programme.

Hundreds of schools promised new facilities lost their funding when Education Secretary Michael Gove axed the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme.

The move, described by teaching unions as a "huge blow", has affected almost 100 projects in Yorkshire and left the region's education leaders warning of a shortage of places.

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Today's rally, organised by the NASUWT union, will feature speeches from campaigners including the Labour leadership candidate and Yorkshire MP, Ed Balls, followed by a demonstration at Westminster.

It will coincide with the second reading in the House of Commons of a controversial Academies Bill, which would allow teachers, parents and community groups to found their own "free schools".

Unions fear that the new Bill is being rushed through Parliament without proper consideration.

Christina Lewis, Unison's national officer for education, said: "At the same time that they are making savage cuts, the Government is focusing all its efforts on rushing through the new Academies Bill. This will see academies benefit from capital investment, regardless of whether they are in areas of greatest need.

"The Government needs to stop rushing and slashing and ask the public what they really want."

Mr Gove, who announced the BSF cuts two weeks ago, has faced strong criticism for his handling of the decision.

He was forced to apologise to the Commons, and later said sorry again to council leaders, after it emerged an initial list of 715 affected projects was strewn with errors.

Many schools which believed they had escaped the axe later discovered their projects would not go ahead.

The cuts in Yorkshire include dropping plans for new buildings at Campsmount Technology College in Norton, near Doncaster, which was ravaged by fire last year.

There are 82 schools across the region which have seen rebuilding or refurbishing schemes axed and a further 11 will see their future decided on a case-by-case basis by Ministers.

The leader of Kirklees Council, Mehboob Khan, said the scrapping of BSF meant his district's schools had missed out on 450m.

"Parts of the education system in Kirklees have not been modernised for 25 years and there is massive demand from teachers and parents to tackle underachievement.

"Unless we get this investment we will be writing off a whole generation of young people from being able to fulfil their potential.

"We have spent nearly 4m of council tax-payers' money, encouraged by the Government, to work up all of the bids, carry out site survey assessments and engage with architects, as well as consulting tens of thousands of parents and students. We are absolutely shocked and still reeling from the Government's blow to the people of Kirklees."

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "These cuts will inflict major damage on education provision in schools already in a dire physical condition and the public is right to be angry."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said there was little justification for fast-tracking the Academies Bill.

"These are not matters of national security or economic meltdown," she added. There would be little opportunity for it to be properly scrutinised.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said enough time had been set aside for a thorough debate on the Bill.