Old school buildings must benefit young

STEVE DOWNES Plans to reuse a host of soon-to-be-empty school buildings will hinge on whether children and young people will benefit, education chiefs said last night.

STEVE DOWNES

Plans to reuse a host of soon-to-be-empty school buildings will hinge on whether children and young people will benefit, education chiefs said last night.

Five Norwich schools will close in July as part of a multi-million-pound reorganisation to ensure children in Norwich follow the rest of Norfolk in starting high school at age 11.

Now, in the wake of controversy over the proposed sale of the Blackdale school site, guidelines have been drawn up to determine the fate of the school buildings and playing fields.

The overall project will see 30 schools closing or merging to create 14 primaries, all but one of which have headteachers appointed to take charge from September. Five new-build primaries - Lakenham, Bluebell, Heartsease, Mile Cross and Lionwood (at Thorpe Hamlet) - and building to accommodate an additional year group at Taverham High are being funded by the £79m Norwich schools private finance initiative (PFI) project.

The schools at Lakenham and Heartsease will open this September, with the others to follow in September 2008.

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The guidelines came as it emerged that the Norwich schools PFI project was one of the schemes examined by the National Audit Office, which last night published a report saying private firms were being put off PFI.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, a member of the Commons public accounts committee, said: “It is clear from this report that the private sector is cooling its enthusiasm for PFI..”

Norfolk County Council signed a 26-year contract with construction services firm Kier Eastern in March last year to carry out the work.

A previous PFI project to deliver similar changes in Yarmouth and a host of Norfolk market towns collapsed in November 2004 when Jarvis could not find a local contractor for the work. School mergers as part of the Norwich PFI project mean land and buildings at South Harford Middle School, Wellesley First, Woodside First and Dowson First/Mile Cross Middle School will no longer be in use from July. A voluntary organisation has already shown interest in the Wellesley First site.

Land at Lakenham First School, which the council leases, could also be given up, while the review includes part of the playing field at Hewett School and land at the Blyth-Jex School, which will be freed up when the school switches to a single site.

Of the first and middle school sites, only South Harford has a playing field.

Guidelines for the future of the sites say reviews should be conducted with local consultation. Decisions should focus primarily on how children, young people and their families benefit.