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School Places

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 29 June 2006

10. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Department for Communities and Local Government on the provision of additional school places in Northamptonshire to accompany planned housing expansion. (80888)

Local authorities are responsible for planning school place provision in their area, as I made clear last time we had oral questions. Decisions are taken locally and Ministers have no role in the process. The Milton Keynes and South Midlands learning and skills group meets regularly to enable joint and long-term education planning across the area, which includes Kettering. The group includes the Government office for the east midlands, local authorities and other key stakeholders, and its last meeting took place on 27 February 2006.

With 100,000 new houses planned for Northamptonshire over the next 15 years, there is growing local concern that the present strain on school places will be exacerbated. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be sufficient Government financial and other support to the local education authority and other agencies involved to ensure that there will be full and complete provision of school places for Northamptonshire’s growing population?

We are confident about the level of capital support that we are giving Northamptonshire and, indeed, the country as a whole. Northamptonshire and its schools are receiving capital support of more than £90 million over the current spending period. That includes more than £8 million that is based on the new pupil places criteria. It is up to the Tory council in Northamptonshire to spend that money wisely. We must not try to learn any lessons from the Conservative party on capital funding. When it left office, it was spending £600,000, but we are now spending 10 times that on capital.

I welcome the £120 million that the Labour Government are spending on schools in Northampton, which means that every single school in Northampton is being either rebuilt, or substantially extended. Will he join me in praising the head teachers who have managed their schools superbly through a difficult reorganisation and, in many cases, while their schools have been building sites? We are now seeing the first real signs of improvements in performance in the schools. Will the Minister come to Northampton to see some of the wonderful new buildings that are being completed and to meet the head teachers to talk about the improvements that the children are achieving?

I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and pay tribute to the head teachers who do a superb job to sustain high-quality education, despite the building work that goes on around them as a result of our £6 billion capital spend—that is the budget for this year and it is, of course, rising. I visited a school in Lancashire last week on which a big capital spend had just been completed. The teaching of art classes had carried on in a room with only three walls for a few months while the building took place, yet the school still produced absolutely first-class GCSE results.

Would the Minister, after visiting Northampton, North, come to Wellingborough to see John Lea school? Unfortunately, the school is not there now. Instead, there is a housing site. That is because the Government and a Labour-controlled county council knocked the school down. What a disgrace.

I know that the hon. Gentleman gets agitated about these issues. It is difficult for me to visit a school that is not there; I would struggle with that. I know that the hon. Gentleman is continuing to talk to his hon. Friends who run the county council to ensure that they provide proper provision for his constituents.