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The Challenge Programme

Volume 476: debated on Monday 19 May 2008

8. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the London, Manchester and Black Country Challenges; and if he will make a statement. (205972)

Since 2003, our London Challenge programme has brought wholesale improvements in secondary schools, with results rising faster than nationally. Those successes will now be extended locally and across the country. The programme has already been introduced in Greater Manchester and the black country and our proposed new legislation will ensure that every school is a good school, with local authorities using their powers—and Challenge using its powers—to intervene when necessary.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Sandwell schools in the black country have improved their educational performance significantly since 1997, but it is recognised that there is still further to go to meet the skills demands of local employers. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how much money will be targeted on schools in the black country and in what specific ways work will be done with the schools to raise the skills levels?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in praising Sandwell council, which last year had the seventh biggest improvement in school results in the whole country, and the 20th biggest increase over the past 10 years. I am happy to praise local authorities—Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat—that make progress on standards. I refuse to run down the contribution of local authorities in the way that Conservative Members do at every opportunity. It is quite right, however, to continue to work with Sandwell so that results continue to improve in the future. I also support the council in its work in opening academies. We are allocating £23 million to the Black Country Challenge over the next three years, but the money will be well spent only if it is spent in partnership with local authorities rather than in opposition and conflict.