Friday, 11 February 2011

What Burnham got wrong and what he missed...

Andy Burnham has made a key mistake in his reaction to the decision at High Court today relating to cuts to the Building Schools for the Future programme.

At around 10.30am a judge said that Michael Gove’s decision to withdraw funding for school rebuilding projects in six council areas was “unlawful”.

In a piece on the Labour website the shadow education secretary writes: “The ruling calls into question every school building scheme cut by Michael Gove.”

That is not the case and the judge specifically said so. In fact Mr Justice Holman said: “The decision [to cut funding] is now over seven months ago, and in my view any other authorities would now be far too late to apply for judicial review.

“I do not mean to trivialise so important an issue, but it may be said that fortune has favoured the brave.”

In other words – if you’ve brought you case, well done you for having the gumption, but if you haven’t the door is closed.

I’ve already heard of councils thinking this case means something significant for them. It doesn’t, and it’s unfair of Burnham to stir hopes in the way he has.

What he has missed in his statement is that the case does open up the fundamentals of Government education policy to a clear line of political attack which will play very well with Labour supporters.

This case was brought by councils – big education authorities who had the financial and legal clout to push the Government back to the drawing board.

Would a free school set up by parents, or even a city academy run by education professionals, have the power to do the same? What would one free school be able to do if the Government decided to cut off its funding?

So this case says something very significant about the balance of power between local and national government and how that balance may shift massively if councils lose overall control of education.

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