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Academy Schools

Volume 456: debated on Thursday 8 February 2007

Academies form part of the local family of schools and are at the heart of their communities. We hope that they will play a full part in offering extended services.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Extended schools are proving their worth in terms of community links and improving attendance and attainment. Nowhere is that more important than in academy schools such as those in my constituency, which serve exceptionally deprived populations. The Westminster academy will be located in a ward in which 83 per cent. of all children live in workless households. Does my hon. Friend not agree with me that it is therefore extraordinary that existing academy schools have to pay VAT on their community activities? That is an additional financial penalty and an obstacle to their providing precisely the extended sports, drama and other facilities that those communities desperately need. Will my hon. Friend please sort out the situation immediately?

I am very much aware of the difference that the extended schools activities in my hon. Friend’s locality are making—I gather that more than 60 local activities are being delivered through extended schools—and she is right to highlight that point. She is also right to make the point about VAT—an issue on which she has previously had an Adjournment debate. It is an anomaly that we need to work through, and our officials are engaged in that process. I have become immersed in the issue in the past 24 hours and have got to know more about VAT and schools than I ever thought I would. This is an incredibly technical and complex subject, concerning paid-for activities in new buildings such as city academies, which have charitable status.

It involves those activities that form more than 10 per cent. of the business usage, of the school day or of the area used of a school. We are taking a close look at the issue and I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to work with Treasury officials to get it sorted out as soon as possible.

Is the Minister aware that Park high school in Gaywood in my constituency is considering relocating and reopening as a city academy school on a new development in South Lynn? That is obviously an exciting development, but it will be a long and complex process. Will the Minister agree to meet me, the chairman of governors and someone from the local education authority to discuss the project?

I am delighted to hear of the hon. Gentleman’s support for city academies, which is understandable. Places in city academies are three times oversubscribed—three applicants for every place—and they are seeing a sixfold improvement in GCSE results. City academies are doing some 20 per cent. better than the schools that they replaced, so I can understand why the hon. Gentleman supports the principle. Whether I meet him or whether I know a man who will—probably Lord Adonis, who has responsibility for city academies—I am sure that it will be possible. I expect that they will be able to correspond with each other to help to make that happen.

Does the building schools for the future programme provide that all schools that are rebuilt or refurbished have to make sufficient provision for extended school activities?

I am told that such schools are expected to have 500 sq m for community provision, so the answer is yes. As highlighted already by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), a range of activities and extended services are taking place in city academies, involving not only pupils but their parents. I am sure that we will see more such activity in the future as we roll out the city academies programme. Our target is to have some 400 across the country.