EDUCATION in Huddersfield stands on the brink of a radical transformation.
Kirklees Council is drawing up plans to spend £200m of Government money on schools in south Kirklees.
The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) proposal will affect every high school in the town, with some expanding, some being revamped and some closing.
The only part of the plan already revealed is the closure of Fartown High School next year, along with a proposal to build a new school in the grounds of All Saints’ Catholic College, Bradley Bar.
But – with the national debt at such a high level – will this £200m ever make it to Huddersfield?
Sitting Labour MP Barry Sheerman thinks it will.
“I think it’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re going to see the programme pushed back over more years but it doesn’t matter if it takes a long time, as long as we get it right.
“We very much need new schools.”
Mr Sheerman visits schools across the country in his role as chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families. He believes education has improved dramatically in the last 13 years of Labour rule.
He said: “There’s been a rapid improvement in school standards and the quality of teaching. We’ve also put a lot of money into early years development.
“People say all sorts of things during the election, but the truth is that there has been a substantial and continuous improvement in school standards.”
As a member of Kirklees Council, Clr Andrew Cooper is one of those who will decide on the future of education in Huddersfield.
The Green candidate is much less confident than Mr Sheerman about the £200m investment.
“It’s the woolly mammoth in the room,” he said. “The funding crisis means you have to ask if this money will be available.”
Clr Cooper added: “BSF seems to be about having fewer schools and bigger schools. We want to see smaller schools closer to the community.”
However, the Huddersfield Green Party candidate said schools in the town had improved in the last few years.
He said: “The school I know most about is Newsome High and that really has improved in recent years, there’s a much stronger head teacher there who sets the tone for the whole school.”
James Blanchard of the Lib Dems believes Huddersfield badly needs new schools.
He said: “We’ve got schools which were built after the war and designed to last for 20 years. You can buy all the books in the world, but if the school’s falling apart around the children’s ears, they’re not going to get the proper start in life.”
Mr Blanchard explained that his party would target school funding on deprived areas. He said: “We would give Kirklees an extra £25m for the poorest pupils to give everyone the best start in life.”
Paul Cooney, of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, said: “I’m doubtful that the BSF money will ever come because I lack belief in the Government generally.”
If new schools are built in Huddersfield, Mr Cooney wants them to be controlled by Kirklees.
He said: “Schools should be controlled by democratically-elected local councillors. I’m very much against the academy scheme, which allows businesses to run schools and set the curriculum.
“Education should be left to the professionals.”
Despite being at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Rachel Firth of the BNP shares Mr Cooney’s scepticism about BSF funding.
She said: “Labour promises everything and delivers nothing.”
Mrs Firth added: “I’m not going to knock the schools in Huddersfield, some of them are doing really well. But we’d like to see some changes in the education system, like giving young people more technical skills and restoring discipline to the classroom by giving authority back to the teacher.”
Conservative candidate Karen Tweed could not be reached for comment yesterday.