Actions speak louder than words, Mr Gove

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PRESSURE is mounting on council chiefs to make a clear commitment for the rebuilding of an Alnwick school as major Government funding is pledged.

A new privately-financed programme, which will see schools in the worst conditions repaired or replaced, was announced by education Minister Michael Gove on Tuesday.

Campaigners say it paves the way for action at the Duchess’s Community High School where pupils and staff endure appalling conditions on a daily basis.

After visiting the school last year and describing it as having ‘some of the worst buildings I have seen’, Mr Gove is now being asked to put his money where his mouth is.

Northumberland County Council has also been criticised for failing to properly prepare for changes to Government policy with a lack of financial investment in recent years.

Alnwick Coun Gordon Castle said: “Enormous pressure must now be put on the council and Government and we must maintain this pressure.

“We have got a commitment from Mr Gove with this policy, now we need action.

“We need a new high school, the sooner the better.

“The Duchess’s is very successful and it is extremely well managed. It is a place that people are happy to send their children to in terms of provision but the actual facilities are disgraceful.

“I am very pleased that the Minister has seen them and I do hope that affected his decision to introduce this programme.

“He said all the things we know and I hope that this means we are top of the list.

“But there is something missing and that is county council money.

“I am still very disappointed that the Liberal Democrat administration has not seen fit to allocate money that might be added to this pot of money.”

But Coun Castle added that while the announcement is good news it should be approached with caution as the school has been let down before.

“If Alnwick’s high school doesn’t qualify for this funding no school will,” he said.

“We’ve got a Lib Dem MP saying all the right things and a Lib Dem administration doing all the wrong things.

“The county council needs to bid for this. I can’t believe the administration would fail to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Coun Castle has written to Coun Jeff Reid, leader of Northumberland County Council to ask what the Executive will be doing.

His letter said: “Following today’s [Tuesday’s] announcement by the Education Secretary that money will be made available to rebuild dilapidated schools, may I ask how the Executive will respond and what steps will be taken to access this money in respect of The Duchess’s Community High School?

“I would further wish to know if any NCC funding will be made available in the event that government money is insufficient for the full cost of a rebuild.”

Maurice Hall, headteacher at the Duchess’s is urging those with ‘influence’ to do everything they can.

He said: “It is pleasing to note that Michael Gove’s announcement will allow all schools to apply for capital funding based on levels of dilapidation rather than exam results or socio-economic factors.

“His comments increase the possibility of securing money for new educational facilities in Alnwick.”

In total £2billion will be made available for up to 300 schools with the first open in 2014.

Local authorities, schools and bodies responsible for them have to apply for the funding between October 3 and 14.

In his statement to the House of Commons Mr Gove said: “I believe strongly that those in genuine need should receive the funding they deserve, and no part of the country should be favoured over any other.”

Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith, who was in parliament when the announcement was made, said: “I am very hopeful that in a scheme which focuses on schools in urgent need of new buildings the Duchess’s will be a leading candidate. The Secretary of State knows the condition of the buildings and recognises that it has a very strong case.”

He added that as a result of discussions with the Minister a team of civil servants from different parts of the Department for Education will be meeting this summer to see how the school’s ‘unique circumstances’ can be addressed.

Coun Jeff Reid, leader of the council, said: ““The County Council will do everything in its power to help secure new school buildings for Alnwick.”