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School Funding Reform

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2011

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on our plans to reform school funding. As Members across the House will know, the current systems for funding schools—both their revenue and capital needs—are too complex and lack transparency, which is why I want to make the way we fund all schools fairer, simpler and more efficient.

I want to turn first to capital spending. Capital investment is crucial to education reform, but at a time of economic difficulty we need to ensure we are getting the maximum value for every penny we spend, and we must ensure that tight resources are targeted on those most in need.

In order to ensure that we could target money on those areas in absolutely greatest need, last year I had to take the difficult decision to stop a number of school rebuildings planned under the Building Schools for the Future programme. In areas where planning was most advanced, more than 600 projects will go ahead, but other projects were stopped. I recognise the deep disappointment that was provoked in communities where hopes had been raised, but we had to ensure money was spent efficiently, and the design of the old BSF scheme was not as efficient as it could have been. Specifically, it did not prioritise schools in the worst condition and it did not procure new buildings as cheaply as possible.

In order to ensure that we spent money properly, I asked Sebastian James of Dixons store group to review the entire Department for Education approach to capital funding. His report makes compelling reading and I commend it to the House. He found that the whole capital system was bedevilled by a complex allocation process with multiple funding schemes, a lack of good- quality building condition data, inefficiency in building design, a lack of expertise in improving new buildings, a failure to make procurement as efficient as possible, a lack of clarity on maintenance, and overly complex regulatory and planning requirements. I am grateful to Sebastian James for his exceptionally thorough work, and I wish to accept the majority of his recommendations, subject to a thorough consultation process over coming months.

Specifically, I have accepted the recommendation to conduct a full survey of the school estate. The last Government stopped collecting any data on school condition in 2005, which has made fair distribution of funding much harder. I have also accepted the review’s recommendation significantly to revise the school premises regulations, so that a single, clear set of regulations applies to all schools. I intend to consult fully on this in the autumn. In addition, I have accepted the recommendation to move towards greater standardisation of design. One of the aspects of the BSF programme that Mr James criticised was that each school was separately designed, costing unnecessary millions in consultancy fees and often resulting in buildings that were not fit for purpose. Greater standardisation will reduce costs, improve quality, and limit the opportunity for error.

However, I recognise that in the short term schools around the country are facing real and pressing problems. The most pressing problem is ensuring that every child has a school place. In some local areas, there are simply not enough school places to meet rising demand. Local authorities have told me that insufficient attention has been given to this issue in the past, which is why I have already doubled the sums available to meet this pressure, announcing £800 million of additional spending given directly to local authorities to meet the demand for school places. Today, thanks to efficiencies and savings that we have identified, including in BSF projects, I can announce an additional £500 million to fund more new school places in the areas of greatest need.

Funds will be allocated this financial year to the local authorities with the greatest demographic pressures so that they can provide enough places, especially at primary schools, in September 2012. Details of those allocations will be provided over the summer and finalised in the autumn. But that is not all. I am also aware that many of our existing school buildings across the country are in desperate need of repair. I am grateful to hon. Members from all parties who have shown me and my colleagues schools in their constituencies that desperately need investment. The energy and skill with which so many colleagues have lobbied underlines how effectively so many hon. Members across the House represent the most needy in their constituencies.

We have already made £1.4 billion available this year to deal with maintenance problems. Overall, we are spending more on school buildings in every year of this Parliament cumulatively than the previous Government spent in every year of their first two Parliaments. But I want to do more, which is why today I am launching a new privately financed school building programme to address the schools in the worst condition, wherever they are in the country. The programme will be open to local authorities and schools that had been due funding via BSF but, critically, it will also be open to those which, despite real problems, had never been promised BSF funding. I believe strongly that those in genuine need should receive the funding they deserve and that no part of the country should be favoured over any other. Individual schools and local authorities will all be able to apply, and I am launching the application process today. The scheme will be rigorously policed to ensure that we do not incur the excessive costs incurred by previous privately financed schemes. The programme should cover between 100 and 300 schools, with the first of these open in September 2014, and is expected to be worth about £2 billion in up-front construction costs.

Some of those local authority areas that had experienced the termination of their BSF projects asked for a judicial review of my Department’s decisions. In February, Mr Justice Holman found in favour of the Department on the substantive matters in dispute, but he found against me on procedural grounds and asked me to look again at the decision in six local authorities. He stressed that the decision to restore all, some or none of the projects was a matter for me. Over the past few months, Ministers and officials have listened carefully to the case made by the six local authorities and I am very grateful to them for the timely and constructive way in which they have presented their case. I have today written to those authorities to let them know that I am minded to indemnify them for contractual liabilities resulting from the stage their projects had reached but I am not minded to restore their specific BSF projects. They now have a further opportunity to make representations to me before I take a final decision.

I appreciate that the local authorities and their representatives will be disappointed, but let me also make it clear that this decision, if confirmed after any representations have been made, does not mean an end to new school buildings in their areas. These local authorities will all be eligible for support from the new programme that I am establishing to cater for population growth in the areas most in need and the new programme to cover the worst dilapidation. That is central to my reasoning on why I am minded not to restore their specific projects. I want to ensure absolute fairness in the distribution of the resources at my disposal. Because the previous Government chose to not to collect data on the condition of school buildings after 2005, I do not have the facts to judge how the needs of these schools compare with the needs of other schools around the country. The fairest thing that I believe I can do is to help to meet the costs which might arise from the stage these projects had reached and then to invite the affected schools to apply to the new school rebuilding programme and be assessed on an equal footing with everyone else, on the basis of need. Of course, should any of those local authorities have severe population pressures, they are likely to receive a portion of the £500 million fund that I have announced today.

I would now like to turn to schools revenue funding. The current system is of course extremely complex, opaque and often unfair. Most colleagues will have lived with the inconsistencies for years now, as similar schools in different parts of the country received widely differing and inequitable levels of funding, and the problem with the system we inherited was recently underlined by concerns expressed over academies funding. Under the system set up by the previous Government, academies received money in lieu of services that would previously have been provided by their local authority, but local authorities continued to receive the same funding as they would if they were still providing those services. That meant that local authorities were, relatively speaking, overfunded for duties they no longer discharged, so at the spending review we announced that from now on we would deduct money from local authorities to take account of the fact they no longer provided services to academies.

The huge success of the academies programme, with 803 open and more than 800 more in the pipeline, has meant that we need to reconsider the issue, and a number of local authorities have asked us to reconsider the amount of money deducted, so today I am publishing a consultation document for local authorities explaining the basis on which it is intended that the money will be deducted this year and next.

This area, however, is only one of those in which the funding system that we inherited is failing to meet the needs of the 21st century. Much wider reform is needed, so today we are also publishing a consultation proposing a fair and comprehensive reform of the way in which schools revenue funding is calculated overall. At present, similar schools in different areas can receive very different amounts of funding for their pupils. That is not fair on head teachers, teachers or pupils. That is why I am proposing a new, fairer national funding formula, with appropriate room for local discretion, in order to have a simpler, fairer and transparent system.

The problems with the current system run very deep, and we will not be able to solve them overnight. We want to consult and take everyone’s views so that we know how much change schools can cope with. We will not introduce change until we are confident in the new approach, and certainly not before 2013, and we will ensure that there are substantial transitional arrangements, but we are determined to start moving as soon as we can towards a system which ensures that all children are given the right level of funding to meet their needs. If that is taken together with our investment in 100 new teaching schools, announced last week, our investment of an additional £300 million in the early years, and an extra £2.5 billion in the pupil premium, I believe we can now begin to ensure that our schools are funded in a way that is modern, fair and just.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and wish him the best of British in securing media coverage for it.

Let me begin on the subject of revenue. Across the House, we share a responsibility to ensure that the £35 billion budget for schools in England is spent as fairly as possible, giving every young person the best start in life, and I can assure the Secretary of State that we will work constructively with him to achieve that. The current system is not perfect, and the principles he has set out are a good basis on which to build, but the devil really is in the detail, and changes need to be considered very carefully.

With that in mind, may I welcome the Secretary of State’s conversion to the merits of consultation before imposing change that affects the lives of young people? Three times he has failed to consult and then been forced to change course under the threat of legal action: on Building Schools for the Future, on the education maintenance allowance, and on academy funding. Today, we have some grounds for hope that he has learned his lesson, with one major caveat. Is it not odd timing, to say the least, to start a 12-week consultation just as schools and colleges start the long break? Will the practical effect of that not be that it is a rushed six-week consultation that will coincide with the start of term, when people’s minds are elsewhere? Given that his announcement has far-reaching implications for every school in the land, and given that these changes are planned to come in only from September 2013, will the Secretary of State agree to a 12-week period of consultation from the start of the school year?

On a national funding formula for schools, the Secretary of State will know that that has been considered in the past and there is considerable scepticism about the ability to deliver it fairly. Does he accept that a rigid national funding formula could bring lots of winners and losers and remove local government’s ability to ensure fairness across an area? Will he commit to retaining as much flexibility as possible and will he ensure that any changes are carefully managed so that we do not see wild swings in school budgets?

As I have said, the changes will take effect from 2013-14, but we know that the Secretary of State was recently forced to agree to an interim review of academy funding. Will he update the House today on the progress of that review and how it will link to the consultation he has announced? Equally, can he assure the House that this review of funding will take account of responses to the special educational needs Green Paper, as parents of children with SEN will have concerns that giving more direct funding to schools will give them fewer guarantees over the funding available for their children?

The Secretary of State was silent today about 16-to-19 funding, which is perhaps not surprising, as it is the subject of a devastating report today from the Education Committee. Is it not the case that changes to post-16 funding, and reductions in funding to school sixth forms, could see some forced to close their doors? He has promised a review of post-16 funding. Would it not make sense to conduct this review concurrently with the consultation that he announced today?

The Secretary of State mentioned progress on academies. It is clear that we are moving at pace to a very different school system. An all-academy world where schools are directly contracted to London under a national funding formula will feel very different from the world we have known. It also raises the question of what happened to localism. Can he tell us what, if any, ongoing role he sees for local authorities in education? His consultation talks ominously about “chains of academies”. Can he tell us today how big he expects these chains to become, and whether he will place any limits on their expansion?

On capital, we will look carefully at the announcements that the right hon. Gentleman made today. Let me set out the context. At the spending review, the schools capital budget was left in tatters. His own officials briefed the Financial Times that the Secretary of State had folded too early in negotiations with the Treasury—possibly the understatement of the year. From that much-reduced budget he is funding his pet projects and giving them priority. There will be deep disappointment in the six local authorities that were forced to take legal action because he failed to consult them first. He says he has listened carefully to them. He made a promise to visit Sandwell, for instance, which I believe he has never carried out, so how can they have any confidence that he has properly looked at the condition of schools in Sandwell, and that this is not just a hollow exercise that has been ordered by a High Court judge?

The Secretary of State said today that he would meet the costs—that he would indemnify the six local authorities concerned. How much will he now have to pay to those schools? Is that not money that could otherwise have been properly spent on schools and children? It is a waste of public money in the current climate. How much money has he spent on legal costs since he became Secretary of State? He has never been out of the dock since taking on that job. We need to know how much money he has wasted.

In my constituency, the Secretary of State is funding free schools, having terminated the Building Schools for the Future programme. That has led to concerns that existing schools are trapped in crumbling buildings while the Secretary of State is funding one of his pet projects. It raises the question whether he can live up to the fairness and transparency about which he spoke today. Can he explain to the House how it is fair to fund the creation of surplus school places in cities such as Bristol, when he is failing to fund basic need in primary schools up and down the country? Is that not ideological rather than fair? With a much reduced budget, should he not be prioritising basic need? And can he tell us what is transparent about a free school programme where cheques are handed out around the country, but parliamentary questions from Members on all sides about the costs of that programme go unanswered?

The statement comes on a day when the Conservative-chaired Education Committee has delivered a devastating end-of-term report on the Secretary of State’s conduct. The education world has learned through bitter experience to be extremely wary of his announcements on funding. As ever, we will be watching closely to see whether the reality matches his rhetoric.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the broadly constructive tone of his response. He asked a series of detailed questions, which I shall do my best to reply to in the time available.

On the timing of the consultation, plans to move towards a national funding formula were outlined in the education White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, which was published last autumn. There has been extensive engagement on the ground with local authorities and school leaders, not least through the task and finish group of the ministerial advisory group on local government finance. This consultation is a step towards ensuring that we can move in the right direction, but judging by the response that we have today, I know that there are many people who are impatient for us to proceed. We will make sure that in the consultation there is, as the right hon. Gentleman requests, appropriate room for local authorities to stress the importance of flexibility.

In the consultation documents, which are available in the Vote Office now for all Members, we emphasise that there are a range of options, and it is clear that we want to ensure that there is appropriate local flexibility—not just room for local authorities to allocate resources to those schools most in need, but greater transparency, for example, over the operation of schools forums. I hope the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will engage constructively in making sure that those decisions on the ground can properly balance school autonomy with local accountability.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the interim review on academies and LACSEG—the local authority central spend equivalent grant. We are specifically consulting today in a way which can ensure that local authorities are funded fairly, and that we do not have the double funding that has arisen under the complex funding system that we inherited. As a result of that consultation, I hope we can provide a reassurance to all students in all schools.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about special educational needs. In the consultation overall on schools funding, we make it clear that high needs pupils are a specific priority. There will be a block of funding in the overall dedicated schools grant which is for them and which will be disbursed at local authority level. The central role of the local authority in protecting vulnerable pupils will be protected, and I am sure he will want to work with us in ensuring that that is successfully implemented.

On 16-to-19 funding, it is critical that we ensure that we align any reforms with the Wolf review, which the right hon. Gentleman so warmly welcomed just a few months ago. Wolf argued that we need to ensure that when we reform the funding of 16-to-19 education, we do not recreate the perverse incentives in the old system of 16-to-19 funding, so we aim to align that reform with the broader reforms to improve vocational education.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about progress on academies. Like him, I am delighted that so many schools have now become academies. He asked about the sustainable level of growth of chains. I believe that chains such as the Harris group, Ark or the United Learning Trust are doing an amazing job on the ground, working with local authorities and turning round schools in the worst condition. As far as I am concerned, they should grow at the fastest sustainable rate. That is why we are making the reforms that we can. Our aim always is to help those children most in need, and those academy chains have helped those children most in need.

On negotiations at the spending review, I am proud of the fact that at the spending review we were able to secure the best revenue settlement for any domestic Department, apart from the Department of Health. I am proud of the fact that as well as guaranteeing fat cash payments for all schools for the rest of the spending review period, we secured additional money for the early years and for the pupil premium. I am particularly proud that we have since then ensured that on our capital budget, we have driven forward efficiency. The James review and the associated steps that we have taken have meant that we have liberated an extra £500 million for basic need.

The right hon. Gentleman asked if I would listen carefully to representatives from Sandwell and other local authorities. I shall. I appreciate the particular concerns in every local authority, but the vital thing is that we need to be fair to all local authorities. There are local authorities represented across the House that were not in the BSF scheme and have not had their case heard, and we need to ensure that they receive the funding that they deserve.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked me about basic need and the importance of prioritising it. We are spending 62.5% more on basic need than the previous Government. They were specifically warned in February 2010 that local authorities were saying that basic need funding was far from adequate, and they were invited to undertake an urgent nationwide review. No action was taken. The lead member for children’s services in the London borough of Newham, the Labour councillor Quintin Peppiatt, said:

“We gave warning for the last five years through various deputations that this was a real problem, and I have to say it was not taken with the seriousness that it should have been. At last, serious action is being taken and not a moment too soon.”

Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is another statement to follow and a series of very heavily subscribed debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, as a consequence of which there is a premium on brevity from Back and Front Bench alike.

I welcome the statement from the Secretary of State. Too many areas, particularly rural areas, have suffered from grossly inequitable funding for too long. I welcome what the Secretary of State said because rural areas have additional costs, which are not met by current funding. Can he assure the House that we will not falter in moving to fairer funding and we will put real need ahead of political convenience in bringing forward a national funding formula in due course?

May I say to the Secretary of State that “modern, fair and just” is a description that we all aspire to for educational funding, but is he not missing off his list—and adding—the danger, “highly centralised”? For many of us who believe in a good education system in our country, there is a real fear when the Department takes so much responsibility into the centre. Also, will he stop members of his party from criticising, in a very unfair way, Tim Byles, who is a fine public servant and did a very good job with Building Schools for the Future? It does no one any good to revile fine public servants of his character.

The hon. Gentleman makes two very fair points. On the first, we want to strike the right balance between local accountability through local authorities and school autonomy. The consultation seeks to do that, and I will welcome his response to it. On the second point, let me place on record here, as I did in my letter thanking Tim Byles for all his public service, that I am immensely grateful to him for his work. I have criticisms of the way in which BSF was run, but those are not criticisms of Mr Byles or of any of his team; they are merely a reflection of the difference of opinion between myself and the previous Government on how capital spending should be prioritised. Let me underline that Mr Byles is an exemplary public servant, and I hope that we can continue to work with him in future in whichever role he pursues.

Glossopdale community college in my constituency was not due any imminent BSF funding despite being in desperate need of renovation, or even rebuilding. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that schools that genuinely need renovation or rebuilding will be given priority in the new capital programme?

That is absolutely correct. What I want to do is make sure that the schools in greatest need receive the funding. Resources are limited and it will be difficult to prioritise, but we must be fair.

On Thursday I will meet school governors from Walthamstow. The Secretary of State has just, again, cruelly dashed their hopes that our fears about the lack of school places and the condition of our schools in Walthamstow will be acknowledged. Will he join me at the meeting on Thursday and explain for himself why he will give Waltham Forest the money for its legal fees but not the money to fix the leaky roofs and the asbestos problem that we have in our schools, or for the school places that we so desperately need?

That was a passionate case well made, but I have to emphasise that I need to be fair to all local authorities. That means that we will look at the condition of schools in all local authorities, and the evidence will be sifted objectively. I am aware that Walthamstow, like many London boroughs and many areas in the south-east, is facing particular pressure on primary school places. Because Building Schools for the Future was primarily about secondary school places, we need to ensure that the absolute need for every child to secure a school place is at the front of everything we do.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. This long overdue review of the funding formula will ensure that there is a much fairer system across the country, and will involve looking at the possible double funding of local authorities and any potential overpayment that academies have had over and above LACSEG—the local authority central spend equivalent grant. That is due to replace the services that local authorities provide. On capital, will he ensure that there is a constant review to see whether there is any underspend from any other programmes in the Department or other money that could be channelled elsewhere? Will he also ensure that schools that need renovation or rebuilding will be prioritised?

We will absolutely seek to ensure that academies are fairly funded and that they are neither penalised nor overfunded. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to emphasise that in some cases we need to look again to ensure that there is absolute propriety. On the broader question, we will continually seek to bear down on inefficiencies, and money that we liberate will go to those most in need.

Five schools in my constituency lost out with the cancellation of BSF, including St John Bosco and Holly Lodge. Those schools will have their hopes raised by the Secretary of State’s announcement of the new private capital fund. Can he tell us how quickly decisions will be made on the allocation of that fund? Will deprivation be a criterion according to which it is decided which schools will get money, and will there be scope for match funding by local authorities?

I hope to take decisions this autumn. I would not wish precipitately to raise hopes in any part of the country, but we will seek to work constructively. Deprivation obviously figures in revenue funding, but in capital funding the question I have to ask is: which schools are in the gravest danger? We need the information now to ensure that every child is in a safe school place, whichever part of the country they are in. Obviously, if a council such as Liverpool is prepared to work constructively, we will work constructively with it.

I warmly welcome the statement, which I know will be read with great interest by, in particular, the governors and head teacher of St John Bosco college in my constituency. My local authority despaired of the—often—30 months of bureaucracy that preceded any BSF project getting to the construction phase. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the new capital programme will be a big improvement on that?

We will absolutely ensure that capital gets to those who need it more quickly, as a result of the James review recommendations.

I welcome what the Secretary of State said about additional school places from September of next year, but what help can he give to parents and children in the Sale area of my constituency—Trafford residents in an area run by the Conservative party—where we have long waiting lists and insufficient primary school places? That is the situation now: what help can he give? Will he also consider what help he can give to schools in the Sale area in the year ahead?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his typically well-made point. One reason why schools are oversubscribed in Trafford is because it has such a superb local education authority and so many brilliant schools. I enjoy working with Trafford because it is such a good local education authority. Wherever there is basic need we will do everything we can to support it.

Knights Templar school in Baldock in my constituency is an outstanding community school that provides an excellent education for children from all backgrounds. It has recently become an academy, but its buildings are dated and in some cases need rebuilding. Will an academy of that sort be able to apply for the new private funding that my right hon. Friend has described, and what is the application process?

Yes. All schools—academies, community schools and voluntary-aided schools—and local authorities that are responsible for the maintenance of a number of schools will be able to apply this autumn.

As a member of the Education Committee I was recently invited to a meeting with Lord Baker and Lord Adonis, who told me they had managed to secure £150 million from the Treasury for an experiment in university technology colleges. That £150 million would go a long way towards reinstating the education maintenance allowance, which is the one big thing I have seen in 30 years of working in education that has made a real difference to the participation of poor pupils and to narrowing the attainment gap. The Secretary of State tells us that we cannot afford EMA, which we know works, so how can we find £150 million for an experiment, when we have no idea whether it works or not?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making those points, but we must agree to differ on EMA. I think that the new learner support fund that we are introducing with the discretionary capacity that local colleges and schools will have to support students will effectively meet needs. On university technical colleges, I do not believe that they are an experiment; they are on the ground and working well already. I was pleased to read a speech by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) only last week in which he reflected on his visit to a university technical college that JCB helped to establish.

In that speech, the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the success of the Conservative donor, Sir Anthony Bamford, in helping to establish that school. I, too, should like to pay tribute to Sir Anthony Bamford, who is a great man. May I underline the fact that that is a cross-party initiative? Lords Baker and Adonis are heroes and their work deserves to be supported.

The Secretary of State knows that Ian Ramsey school in my constituency has a particularly dire need for capital investment to secure its future in the buildings that currently exist. If it applies for the new funding that he has announced today, how soon at the earliest might it get a decision and some certainty about its future?

I had the pleasure of visiting Ian Ramsey school, which is a superb school with great leadership that also enjoys the advocacy of a great constituency Member. Like every other school, it should be able to apply and should know this autumn.

The Secretary of State said in his statement that he would police the new privately financed school building programme to ensure there are not the excessive costs incurred by previous privately financed schemes. Can he give some more detail about how he intends to do that?

We have benefited from looking at some of the PFI schemes that were inaugurated under the previous Government. The James review drew various appropriate lessons about how we could ensure, through standardised design and more effective procurement, that we can save money right at the beginning of any process. My colleagues in the Treasury have today published a report revealing how it has managed to bear down on costs in existing PFI schemes, never mind new ones. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to Ministers in the Treasury, and to the campaigning energy of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman). Together, they have ensured that we will make sure that PFI works in the interests of the whole public.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of the fair funding formula, which is something I have been championing for more than 20 years, since local management of schools let the genie out of the bottle, with local authorities publishing school spending. It is not fair that one school gets £4,000, while another gets £8,000, for the education of young children. Can I get an assurance from the Secretary of State that he will look into rural funding and so-called leafy suburbs, and that they will not be left out? They have always been penalised in the past by local authority funding. Will he also look at the funding for Lees Brook school, which takes a lot of pupils from my area, and is falling down? I have sent him the documentary evidence of that.

Will the full survey of the school estate include sixth-form colleges, and can they bid for capital support under the new private finance initiative scheme?

We want to make sure that all schools are capable of bidding under the scheme, and we want to make sure that the gateway into such bidding is fair. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman to make sure that there are no anomalies that mean that any institution that educates children is excluded for any reason. I shall seek to work with him, given his experience as a distinguished former further education principal.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of more basic need funding. I urge him and the Government to focus on Stratford town, where there is a severe shortage of primary school places.

There are many parts of the country that have serious problems with population growth, including Stratford-on-Avon, not least because it is such an attractive town that has enjoyed effective representation for many years.

I speak as Member of Parliament for one of the six boroughs that took legal action, and I wish to express our deep disappointment at the Secretary of State’s announcement, particularly for Perryfields and Bristnall Hall schools. Year after year, much-needed refurbishment and repair has been put on hold by the Department for Education, because those schools were in the BSF programme. They now face inadequate overcrowded buildings and a rising school population. Does the Secretary of State understand how let down they feel, and will he come and meet them so that they can get that view across?

The right hon. Gentleman is a formidable constituency Member of Parliament. He invited me to make sure that I made this announcement before the House rose for the recess, and I am happy that I could do so. I appreciate that Sandwell, like many other local authorities, will want to make its case fairly, so I want to make sure that it is heard alongside every other local authority in a way that is fair to all.

The Secretary of State kindly arranged for civil servants to visit Montacute school, an outstanding special school in my constituency. They subsequently wrote a report on its condition and fitness for purpose. When will he release the contents of that report, and can he give the school some indication of when it will hear, and how to apply for funding if it has to do anything more, in the light of his statement?

That work will help to inform decision making. I will work with the hon. Lady to make sure that she can do the best job possible for that school, and other schools in her constituency that wish to apply.

The Secretary of State knows that the outstanding and good schools that are most likely to become academies under his system will probably have less need for support for special needs, behavioural support and advisory services. Does he agree that it follows that the academies that he is creating will be tempted not to buy back support services from local authorities under current arrangements, which will mean big cuts in authorities such as Sefton, where seven schools are becoming academies. Will he review funding arrangements for academies so that support services available within local authorities are—

That is a thoughtful question, but behind it lies an uncomfortable fact for the hon. Gentleman. If the majority of good and outstanding schools are in leafy suburbs or richer areas, that only underlines the way in which Labour failed to advance social mobility in their 13 years in power.

The Secretary of State will be aware from representations that I have made to him that, as has also been said by Opposition Members, there is an urgent need to get capital funding into schools in Sandwell. Does he agree that now is the time to draw a line under the BSF programme and find innovative ways of getting capital into Sandwell schools in the most cost-effective way possible?

I entirely agree, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the effective way in which he has lobbied for a more imaginative and sensitive response to school building in future. He has specifically argued that we should ensure that we safeguard the interests of the schools in the west midlands that are in the greatest need, whether in Sandwell or in adjacent boroughs. I commend him on his statesmanlike and constructive approach.

At a time of devastating cuts to local authority budgets, will local authorities face yet another in-year cut for which they will not be able to budget? As there is an economy of scale in providing services to schools, will children in non-academy schools suffer because of that deduction from local authority funding?

Again, that is a thoughtful question. First, our consultation on reform of LACSEG—the local authority central spend equivalent grant—is designed to balance stability with a reflection of the fact that some local authorities no longer discharge such responsibilities, but still receive funding. On the second point made by the hon. Lady, it is only fair to say that in our consultation we point out that some economies of scale that are claimed do not materialise on the ground— but she will have an opportunity to contribute to the consultation, and I look forward to hearing her thoughts.

Will the new capital building programme offer opportunities for special schools such as Crowdys Hill in Swindon, which has ageing buildings and limited space, so that they can benefit while avoiding the pitfalls of previous PFI schemes?

Absolutely. It is critical that we recognise that some schools that have not received the investment that they need are special schools—or, indeed, schools with a large proportion of students with special educational needs. We will ensure that the scheme takes account of their specific needs.

I would expect Birmingham to be one of the local authorities to benefit from the Secretary of State’s announcement of extra funding in areas that require extra places. Given Birmingham’s Lib Dem/Tory-controlled administration’s ability not to do what Government want them to do, irrespective of which party is in government, will he keep a close eye on it so that it does not waste the money that it did on BSF, and spend a million on architects when it comes to bidding for money for extra places?

As my noble Friend Lord Adonis has pointed out, education in Birmingham needs many things to change, and I suspect that the hon. Lady and I know just how much change is needed.

My right hon. Friend’s focus on special schools will be particularly welcome to the Ridgeway, St John’s and—oh my goodness. [Interruption.] The Grange, Ridgeway and St John’s—I am terribly sorry, Mr Speaker, I shall not live that one down. May I ask my right hon. Friend, particularly on the issue of capital allocations to schools that are transitioning to academies, for an assurance that the scheme will not be used by local authorities in any way, shape or form as a brake on the decisions by those schools to become academies?

That is a very fair point. I have sought in the consultation—and we will seek in the decisions that we make—to be absolutely fair and balanced. It is no secret to anyone in the House that I am a great champion of school autonomy and I am critical of local authorities that have not done their job well. However, local authorities have a vital role to play in future, which is why the huge increase in basic need funding will go directly to local authorities, which are best placed to make those decisions. That balanced approach, encouraging autonomy while respecting local authorities’ critical role, is the right way forward.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is deeply insulting to parents who have wanted a community secondary school for their area for more than 20 years to hear the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) criticise Bristol free school, particularly when many of those parents are frantic about the shortage of primary school places in Bristol? That ticking time bomb should not have been a surprise, given the baby boom four years ago, and the certainty that children grow up.

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. It is incumbent on all of us to recognise that the provision of schools in Bristol has not been good enough for far too long, although recent changes have brought about real improvement. Some of those changes have been driven by councillors who have shown imagination, but they have also been driven by organisations that have helped to establish new schools and to extend the academies programme. Bristol free school should be seen in that light. It is an effort to drive up attainment in an area that has underperformed for far too long.

There could be no greater evidence of the inequities in the funding system than the situation in the East Riding of Yorkshire and in North Lincolnshire, where per pupil funding is well below the national average. Similarly, many schools are leaking, despite the 13 years in which we were told that there was investment. Having been through the BSF process both as a schoolteacher and as a local councillor, may I have an assurance that there will be an end to all these expensive airy-fairy vision statements and massive consultancy fees, as well as perfectly functional buildings in one local authority area being knocked down only to be replaced with butterfly-shaped schools, while others in more affluent or more rural areas do not receive any money at all for their schools?

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Swindon borough council on seeking to design and build a generic modular school at half the cost of a bespoke new design?

I warmly welcome the commitment to a new national funding formula—something for which I have been calling since I made my maiden speech. Today the Secretary of State will receive a letter signed by all six Worcestershire Members of Parliament urging him to press ahead with these desperately needed reforms, and to close the appalling £1,100 gap between Worcestershire and the neighbouring authority of Birmingham. May I urge him, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chair of the Select Committee on Education, did, to press ahead with the reforms and not to listen to the siren voices calling for delay?

My hon. Friend makes an impressive case for Worcestershire, as do my hon. Friends the Members for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), for Redditch (Karen Lumley), for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier). I am very sympathetic to the case they make.

Wiltshire schooling has long been among the least well funded in England, so I welcome the Education Secretary’s review of the fair funding formula for schools. Will he give particular attention to the challenges in rural areas faced by small primary schools—that is, those that we still have left?

That is a very fair point. In our consultation we are explicitly saying that there should be a fixed sum for all primary schools, to ensure that smaller primary schools remain viable.

Woodlands school in Basildon has just received the excellent news that its much-needed rebuild is to proceed. However, may I ask my right hon. Friend to adopt a slightly more flexible approach so that if schools wish to keep some of their existing better-quality buildings they can do so, to meet local need?

I absolutely support local flexibility, and I think that Essex county council has shown admirable imagination in the past in doing just that.

Parents, pupils and teachers alike at the four schools in Swanwick and Alfreton in my constituency that lost their BSF funding will head into the summer in a much more optimistic mood following the announcement that there might be some funding coming their way. Will my right hon. Friend advise them on whether they should think about dusting off the radical BSF plans that were scrapped—or should they perhaps be looking for a simpler and more cost-effective approach to replace buildings that are in desperate need of rebuilding?

May I press the case for Northamptonshire, where the number of primary school places is struggling to catch up with population growth that is among the UK’s fastest?

I am very much aware that all of Northamptonshire, east and west, is benefiting from population growth. It is critical that we meet basic need pressures wherever they are. They are most acute in London and the south-east, but there are many parts of the country where the population is growing fast.

I welcome this announcement. The shortage of primary school places is due in part to the baby boom, as we have heard, and it is staggering that those warnings went ignored for so long. In my constituency this has been compounded by massive residential estates on brownfield sites, leaving my schools to struggle and the situation to get worse. I urge my right hon. Friend to give due consideration to that, and to the schools that are suffering.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Our population has risen for a variety of reasons, and unfortunately the previous Government did not prioritise that in the way they should have done, but I am grateful that the right hon. Member for Leigh is now emphasising that basic need should be our shared first priority.

I welcome today’s statement, especially the announcement on capital funding, and ask the Secretary of State to keep the very patient King Richard school, and other schools in Portsmouth, at the forefront of his mind as the process develops. I ask him to go further on funding reform to ensure that as well as fairness, we have more flexibility in how we spend per pupil funds in the independent sector, if that is the best provision for the child.

I am in favour of more flexibility overall, but we need to recognise that money spent on state education should stay in state schools. There are many great state schools in Portsmouth, and I was fortunate enough to talk yesterday with the leader of Portsmouth city council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, and appreciate how hard he is working, along with my hon. Friend, to ensure that Portsmouth gets the support it deserves for its state schools.

In making the new capital programme more efficient than BSF, will my right hon. Friend confirm that sums of money will not be earmarked and siphoned off for things like the unnecessary IT projects that led to such cost overruns under BSF?

That is a very distinguished point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds). One of the problems with BSF is that £210 million was spent by local authorities on consultants, including IT consultants, and some of that money was invested in material that we would not describe as state of the art. It is critical to ensure that we get value for every penny we spend. Information technology is critical to effective learning in the 21st century, but so is ensuring that we get proper value for money.

The Education Secretary will know from his recent and very welcome visit to my constituency how grateful parents and teachers will be for his announcement today about changing the schools funding formula, under which pupils in my constituency have for far too long received almost half the spend per pupil received for pupils from areas with similar levels of deprivation in other parts of the country. My right hon. Friend will also know that we have a short-term immediate problem with LACSEG funding. I seek an assurance that his Department’s officials will work closely with the local education authority to try to overcome those problems before the start of the new school year.

I very much enjoyed my visit to Gloucester and Stroud on Friday, and the first thing I did when I arrived at the Department on Monday was to instruct my officials to co-operate with Gloucester city council and the Young People’s Learning Agency to ensure that we deal with this issue.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. Parents in the city of Winchester will have heard his statement loud and clear, despite various other noises going on in the media today. What guidance has his Department issued to local authorities in recent years about the need to keep spare capacity in the primary system?

That is a typically shrewd point from my hon. Friend. One of the problems we inherited is that under the system that prevailed under the previous Government, guidance was given in 2007 to reduce surplus places, particularly in the primary sector, and we now have a basic need problem. It is good that the Opposition now recognise that we should prioritise meeting basic need.

The Secretary of State knows that Mildenhall college of technology in my constituency is one of the most dilapidated schools in the country. The skylights are falling in: it turns out that no one fixed the roof when the sun was shining. Will he give me an assurance that fixing the school will be promoted, and that a date will be set for when we can start to rebuild it, so that children can be educated somewhere they can be proud of?

This will be a needs-led process. Putting the jargon aside, that basically means that the money will go to the schools in the worst condition. I hope that we will see that building commence in 2014.

I welcome the statement, and I am particularly interested in the private finance side of things, with regard to improved specification systems. Will the Secretary of State consider the need to build in more capacity when looking at the school funding formula, so that schools can plan ahead?

That is a very good point from another member of the Education Committee. One of the things we want to do is to ensure that good schools can expand. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) made the point earlier that when we have good schools we often find that the original pupil place planning is out of date. We need a system of school buildings that is flexible enough to accommodate parental choice.

How quickly will many of the oversubscribed primary schools in my constituency, including Lindley junior school, which is going through a consultation on becoming an academy school, find out what share they will receive of the £500 million of additional funding for new school places?

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly his commitment to fairer funding for schools. As he will be aware, Devon languished close to the bottom of the funding league table under the previous Government. Will he assure me that he will look very carefully at the possibility of improving the relative funding for schools in Devon?

I visited almost all the local authorities in the F40 area—very possibly because they contain a number of Conservative-Liberal Democrat marginals. For a variety of reasons, I want to ensure that I am fair to all local authorities, which is why we will prioritise funding on the basis of need.

The London borough of Harrow was at the absolute bottom of the queue for BSF funding, because all the secondary schools are outstanding despite being in very poor buildings. At the same time, there is a basic need case estimated for 16 forms of entry at primary school within the next four years, which is the equivalent of two additional secondary schools. How quickly can we start to see some finance flowing to get the places for the children who need them now?

I hope that the finance will be flowing in this financial year. That is the intention. I appreciate that Harrow, like a number of local authorities in London, including Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham, has specific problems. We need to look at them all in the round in order to ensure fair funding for all.

There is huge pressure on school places in the borough of Croydon, partly as a result of the UK Border Agency’s presence there, and we did not get a single penny of funding from Building Schools for the Future, so I very much welcome what the Secretary of State has said. In the absence of the right hon. Member for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks), may I give a particular plug for the Archbishop Lanfranc school in connection with rebuilding?

That plug has been registered, and I hope that it will appear in the South London Press and other newspapers that circulate in Croydon.

My constituency has one or two of the primary schools that are now in urgent need of repair. How long will it take before the doomsday survey of the fabric of our schools is completed and the funds are therefore available?

We are prioritising that survey and we hope that it can take place within a year, but that need not mean that schools have to wait. They can make clear their specific needs and we will look at the evidence, judging school against school so that those most in need are prioritised.

In contrast to the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), my constituents are passionate about a university technical school and we have put in a very strong bid because of all the benefits of vocational education that it may bring. Residents will also welcome the £500 million extra for deprived areas. Will my right hon. Friend set out how that money will be allocated?

We will seek to allocate that money to the local authority areas where there is the greatest population pressure. I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for the principle of university technical colleges, which enjoy growing support across the House.

Let me take this opportunity to inform the House that after the Front-Bench exchanges had been completed, we had 32 minutes of questions from Back Benchers, and the pithiness of those questions and of the Secretary of State’s answers meant that in those 32 minutes we got through 44 inquiries. The Secretary of State has, I think, set a record in this parliamentary term. He has won the trophy; I hope he is pleased.