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School Priority Building Programme

Volume 561: debated on Monday 22 April 2013

7. What recent assessment he has made of the school priority building programme; and if he will make a statement. (152080)

17. What recent assessment he has made of the school priority building programme; and if he will make a statement. (152091)

We are making good progress in delivering the first schools in the priority school building programme. Unlike previous programmes, we are tackling schools with the greatest needs first—those in the very worst condition and special schools. The first contracts for these schools have been let and building work is to start in the next few weeks.

In July last year Harrow council wrote to the Education Funding Agency seeking to secure some resources, in part from the priority school building programme, for the rebuilding and expansion of Vaughan and Marlborough schools in my constituency. Given that as of Friday, almost 10 months on, Harrow council had not received a reply to the letter, will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives from the schools to discuss how we might move the situation forward for Vaughan and Marlborough schools and secure the resources to facilitate their expansion?

I note that Harrow council has welcomed the fact that eight of its schools are within the priority school building programme, but I can only apologise to the hon. Gentleman that the local council has not had a response from the EFA after such a long period. That is clearly not acceptable. I believe, though, that the council has met EFA officials on a couple of occasions. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that a letter will be going out this week from the EFA, and I am delighted to meet him if he would like to do so, after he has seen the contents of that letter.

The Minister may be aware that Luton has one of the highest proportions of school-age children in the whole country. Indeed, at one time a few years ago my constituency had the highest number of school-age children as a proportion. Will the Government continue to give serious consideration to Luton as a priority area, given that several of our schools are still bursting at the seams?

Yes, Luton is a priority area. Some of the first batches of the privately financed priority schools will be in the hon. Gentleman’s area and we expect those, after proper approval, to be released this spring. We are currently carrying out a survey of the entire school estate and later this year, when we have that evidence, we will be able to prioritise in a sensible way future allocations of capital.

I thank the Minister and the Department for enabling a much-needed and long awaited investment in one of my schools, Marling school in my constituency. Does he agree that this is an example of a paced and sensible capital investment programme?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Compared with the Building Schools for the Future programme, this is a programme that is on time and on budget and is delivering extra investment in the schools in the country that need it most.

Will the Minister join me in celebrating the fact that Kettering Science academy and Kettering Buccleuch academy both have a complete set of brand, spanking new buildings and that, together with the dynamic leadership of the heads and sponsoring organisations, this will help transform two of the worst performing schools in Kettering into two of the very best?

I entirely agree. My hon. Friend will be aware of the additional capital announced by the Secretary of State at the beginning of March for all areas of the country, not only for new build, but to improve the existing school stock.

Thousands of parents are desperately anxious that their child still has no place at primary school next year, and others will be taught in larger classes further away from home. Will the Minister explain to those worried mums and dads why the Government are building two out of five of their flagship free schools in areas where there are already enough places?

I am delighted to explain the priority school building programme. Unlike its predecessor programme, it prioritises those schools in the worst need, and I am proud that it is doing so, in contrast to the previous scheme, Building Schools for the Future, which did not do so. On the issue of primary places, I caution the hon. Gentleman not to lecture this Government when his Government ignored the warnings of the Office for National Statistics and eliminated 200,000 primary school places.