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Schools

Volume 455: debated on Thursday 11 January 2007

Local authorities are required to inform my Department of their plans for new schools only when they publish statutory notices, so we cannot say how many schools for those aged three to 19 there will be in 2012. There is currently one maintained school for those aged three to 18, one for those aged four to 18, one for those aged three to 16, and one for those aged four to 16. There are two academies for those aged five to 19.

I hope that the Minister will find time to visit Selby Park school in my constituency—it is such a school, in a mining village, and it has been an outstanding success—both to look at its success and think about how that could apply elsewhere in the country, and also to discuss with other schools in mining villages in my constituency whether that model would suit them in improving attainment in future.

I am certainly aware of the successful amalgamation of three schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency to form the new Selby Park school. That is a tribute to the work of teachers, pupils, governors and the Labour-controlled county council. I am also aware that the head teacher, Dave Harris, leads the consortium for all-age schools. I will try to find time to pay a visit to his constituency and have the discussions that my hon. Friend talked about.

We already know that, in the run up to 2012, the Government are going to spend billions of pounds on rebuilding schools or building new schools, which is welcome. However, we also know that by the time we get to 2012 the number of pupils being educated in those schools will have fallen. Do the Government recognise that that challenge of demographic change requires not only that they respond with new buildings, but that they transform the curriculum being delivered within those new buildings so that we drive up attainment and staying on rates at 16?

As we roll out the building schools for the future programme—a £45 billion investment in secondary school buildings and transforming secondary education—we will certainly look to local authorities to make sure that they take proper account of falling rolls and propose imaginative schemes to address that. That will work alongside the most ambitious reform of qualifications, with the introduction of specialised diplomas, for many years. We want to make sure that local authorities, in their vision for building schools for the future, are also accounting for the needs in relation to the 14 to 19 reforms.

There are two systems in the Stafford constituency: some parts have primary and secondary schools, while others have first, middle and secondary schools. Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever the structure, if we give teachers and schools the tools to do the job, they rise magnificently to the challenge? Is that not borne out by the Sir Graham Balfour high school in Stafford, which is strongly improving, as is shown by the latest performance figures? I know from experience that it has become very popular since the two-site school was replaced by a modern private finance initiative building.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments and join him in congratulating Sir Graham Balfour school on its results, which show the benefits of the imaginative work of its head teacher and the commitment of its governors and pupils. They are part of the excellent results that are being announced today, which show that in the past 10 years the proportion of children getting five GCSEs at A* to C has increased from 45 per cent. to 58 per cent. If maths is included, there has been a rise of 9 per cent. over that period. We should all be celebrating that success, and schools and pupils throughout the country should be proud of their results.

In the past 10 years, the number of pupil referral units has increased from 309 to 449. Does the Minister think that that trend will continue?

Pupil referral units perform an important function. I am examining the situation carefully because the performance of PRUs is variable and there is evidence that when local authorities delegate the management of PRUs to partnerships of schools the units become more successful. I am not that interested in the overall number of PRUs; I am more interested in their success.