There are currently 203 academies open in 83 local authorities. Academies with results in 2008 and 2009 showed an increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five A to C GCSEs, including English and maths, at 5 percentage points—an increase on last year’s academy improvement rate of 4.3 percentage points. That was, of course, double the national increase. Interest from schools in joining the academies programme has been excellent: as I mentioned earlier, more than 1,100 schools have already registered interest with my Department.
I know that the Secretary of State is aware that in Hastings we have two new academies scheduled for next year. We are very pleased to have two very important sponsors—Brighton university and BT. May I ask what plans he has, and what steps can be taken, to encourage a high quality of sponsors to participate in the academies?
I thank my hon. Friend for her impassioned advocacy for improving educational opportunities for children in her constituency. I had a chance to see just how dedicated she is to supporting them when I visited her constituency during the general election campaign.
Those who wish to sponsor academies have repeatedly said to me, in opposition and in government, that the bureaucratic burdens laid on them by the previous Government acted as an impediment to their doing the work they wanted to do to help children in disadvantaged areas. The Independent Academies Association, under Mike Butler, wrote to a Minister of State in the previous Government and pointed out that the work he was trying to do to help disadvantaged children was directly impeded by the bureaucratic burden imposed on him by the then Secretary of State. I am confident that an increasing number of sponsors, philanthropists, charities and others who want to help our poorest children will find that the changes we are bringing about enable them to do a fantastic job, not just in Hastings but across the country.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his plans to revitalise the academies scheme. A great number of schools are looking forward to embracing the academies freedoms that will come with it, including the European school in Culham in my constituency, which is seeking to use its specialist multi-language curriculum for the benefit of the state sector. What plans does he have to make sure that more children have such excellent language education?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for those words. I am also much in accord with him in believing that this Government should have a place at the heart of Europe. That is why I was so disappointed to read in The Observer yesterday that the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) wanted to rewrite the treaty of Lisbon and the treaty of Rome.
Order. Let me just say to the Secretary of State that I know he is enjoying himself, and I am delighted to see him enjoying himself, but he must not enjoy himself at the expense of people lower down the Order Paper who want to get in and whom I want to accommodate.
I know that the Secretary of State will want to be known as a Minister who keeps his word and who is consistent in his policy. Will he therefore confirm that the brand new academy linked to MediaCity in Salford, which is included in the £135 million Building Schools for the Future programme, will go ahead? Those programmes have got to financial close, and if he were not to proceed with that world-class academy it would give the lie to his party’s commitment to progress on the whole of the academies programme across the country.
Under the Academies Bill, the sole arbiter of applications for academies is the governing body. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the wider community has an interest in this matter? Not only the governing body should be included, but parents, local authorities and the wider community so that it understands the needs of the many and not just the few.
It is because I am committed to the needs of the many and not just the few that I want to see this programme, which has done so much to raise attainment for disadvantaged children, move forward. I would like to see governors and head teachers working with other schools and other groups within the community to drive up attainment. That is why those who currently lead our schools will, I know, have those conversations. I prefer to give them the freedom to do so rather than to patronise and to busybody by insisting that they do so.
May I ask the Secretary of State whether the academies programme will continue to provide an alternative route to accessing funds for new school buildings? I am thinking in particular of Withernsea high school in my constituency. I wonder whether he or the Minister with responsibility for schools might be able to visit Withernsea, see the school and see how it might benefit from joining the academies programme in future.