Secretary for Education blames confusion for ministry's communication with schools over buildings as minister calls it inadequate

The Government has announced a short and sharp inquiry into school properties with the new Education Minister saying the system is bordering on crisis.

It's blaming cost escalations and the fact some schools are expecting exciting bespoke projects that cannot be delivered on.

Cashmere High School was promised 14 new classrooms, but they were paused. Its principal last week warned of an impending crisis.

"It's getting to the crisis point, most definitely, and if something doesn't change, we are going to be in a crisis," said Joe Eccleton.

On Monday, the Prime Minister agreed.

"Quite frankly, our Government has inherited a school property system that I think is bordering on a crisis," said Christopher Luxon.

Since September last year, the Ministry of Education has been reviewing its school building programme.

Just no one told the principals. Papamoa College also had some of its building work suddenly paused.

"The communication from the ministry has been extremely poor," principal Iva Ropati said.

Education Minister Erica Stanford said her expectations for adequate communication haven't been met.

"Schools deserve clarity on their builds," she said.

The Secretary of Education on Monday blamed the ministry's communication on confusion.

"We should always be considering whether or not we can be better at communicating situations," said Iona Holsted.

"These are complex building issues. They are very personal to principals and we are dealing with a lot of different schools. So there is room for confusion at times, and I think it is incumbent upon us to keep on working on that."

There are currently 350 projects on hold while the ministry looks for value for money but the new Government wants to get to the bottom of how exactly there are so many problematic projects.

"It is not unusual to have isolated examples of projects that experience delivery challenges, but this is of an unprecedented scale," said Stanford.

Holsted said she didn't believe it was fair to say the costs have blown out.

"We're assessing how we'll get best value for money for each build and we'll continue to do that."

A new ministerial group is being set up and will have three months to go over which schools were promised what, when and how much.

"What we are talking about here is short, sharp surgical review teams where we have got a really big problem and we need to get to the bottom of it really really quickly," said Luxon.

Stanford said the new Government has evidence the previous Government knew.

In a statement, Labour leader and previous Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government's actions were "a desperate attempt to create an excuse to cut much-needed school building projects".

"The school upgrades announced by our Government were made on Ministry of Education advice and were based on condition assessments. The process for school building work was changed under the last National government and we continued the approach they put in place."

Holsted said she believes the ministry has been transparent.

The Education Minister couldn't make any commitments about any of 350 building projects on ice.

Stanford said: "The ministry will be going through a process of redesigning, rescoping and reprioritising with those schools to make sure we get good value for money."

Likely cold comfort to schools like Papamoa which just need to know what the plan is.