Building the Education Revolution

The Building the Education Revolution (BER) Implementation Taskforce today released its interim report, finding that while quality infrastructure has been delivered within the required timeframes, project costs in some areas have been substantially higher than would have been the case before the BER.

The Taskforce was set up to examine complaints about BER projects and whether the projects are delivering 'value for money'. Its main focus has been the Primary Schools for the 21st Century (P21) element of the BER.

The Taskforce found that many of the reported problems have to do with the BER's aim to provide quick economic stimulus as part of the Labor Government’s strategy to counter the effects of the global economic crisis. As the BER guidelines state, the BER projects had to be commenced as quickly as possible to support job creation. The use of design templates was encouraged to assist this process.

The Taskforce received complaints from 254 schools – about 2.7 per cent of all participating schools. NSW government schools accounted for 56 per cent of these complaints and 20 per cent were from Victorian government schools. According to the report, most of these complaints raised ‘very valid concerns, particularly about value for money and the approach to school level involvements in decision making’.

While the Taskforce has found that P21 is delivering quality infrastructure within the required timeframes, for 22 education authorities project costs have been substantially higher than would have been incurred pre-BER. The Taskforce therefore recommends that where funding for BER projects has not yet been committed, the projects should be delivered according to pre-BER capital works programs, including more involvement in decision-making by schools.

This report is the latest from a number of government inquiries (federal and state) about the implementation of the BER, including the Australian National Audit Office and a Senate committee. There are also parliamentary inquiries occurring in NSW and Victoria, and audits have been conducted for the Queensland education department.

In the Prime Minister's response to the report, she welcomed the Taskforce's scrutiny, admitted that lessons have been learnt from the BER's implementation and announced that if re-elected her Government will implement all of the report's recommendations. She also justified the BER's implementation as a matter of economic urgency: '... we made a judgment to invest in schools and to avoid recession ... I stand by that judgement and I would make it again today.'

The Coalition has promised that if elected it will redirect unspent BER funds to schools, and enable schools to directly manage the building projects and decide what infrastructure they need.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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