By Tim Montgomerie
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Responding to Michael Gove in the House of Commons a few minutes ago, Labour's education spokesman Andy Burnham wished the Education Secretary the "best of British luck" in getting any coverage for what he has just announced. He'll need more than luck, Mr Gove will need a miracle to get any significant coverage in either the broadcast or written media. But the blogosphere to the rescue…
So what did the Education Secretary announce?
- He announced a full survey of the state of school buildings. Labour stopped collecting information in 2005 so there is a lack of knowledge of which schools are in worst repair.
- He announced a standardisation of future school designs. Ed Balls' complex BSF programme had been a windfall for innovative designers and consultants. They, for example, came up with the idea of designer toilets for schools that are too expensive to replace when broken. Gove's new approach will save money and ensure robust, fit-for-purpose classrooms and other facilities.
- Through efficiency savings he's found another £500 million that will be spent on school repairs in areas of greatest need. Despite the deficit reduction programme the Coalition will be spending more on school buildings in this parliament than Labour spent in its first two. More significantly it will be spending that money more wisely.
- Gove also announced a £2 billion privately-financed schools construction initiative that will replace 200 schools in the worst state of repair. Many of these will be open in September 2014. He promised tighter regulation of contracts to ensure no repeat of Labour's expensive PFI schemes.
- Finally the Secretary of State announced a consultation that will take Britain towards a fairer national funding formula. This is potentially the most significant of his announcements. It might just take us towards the previously aborted ambition for a voucher-based funding system where money follows parents' choices.
Today was further confirmation that education policy is one of the Coalition's most important areas. Last week there was progress on school discipline. Nick Clegg is determined to get a high profile Liberal Democrat into Gove's team so that he can share in more of the success of this department. David Cameron should resist this. The Department is working well. It's a perfect illustration of his belief in keeping ministers in place for long enough so that they become masters of their brief.