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Secondary School Places (Essex)

Volume 565: debated on Monday 24 June 2013

The hon. Gentleman may be keen to be a Minister, but he is not there yet, and I am in no position to appoint him.

I apologise, Mr Speaker.

Local authorities are responsible for ensuring that there are enough school places to meet demand in their areas. The Government are committed to improving quality and choice through the expansion of the academies programme, university technical colleges and sixth forms, and through the opening of free schools.

The Minister will be aware that Essex county council is currently consulting on proposals to close the Deanes school—most recently rated by Ofsted as “good” with elements of “outstanding”—in my constituency. Clearly, the loss of the school will greatly reduce choice for parents, so will the Minister meet me to discuss the options to try to resist the plans?

In spite of my tardiness in rising to the Dispatch Box, I am aware of the situation at the Deanes school and of my hon. Friend’s robust representation, as always, of the concerns of her constituents. Although the matter is primarily one for the local authority, as she will understand, I would be delighted to meet her to discuss the issues on the ground, which I know are of great importance to many of her constituents.

The last Labour Government’s policies, which were backed by Labour in Colchester, would have led to the closure of the Thomas Lord Audley school. Thanks to the coalition, that school has been saved and is going from strength to strength. The Secretary of State will recall from his visits to Colchester, however, that there is still a question mark over secondary school provision on the Shrub End estate. Will he agree to meet a delegation from Colchester to see whether we can save that school, which Labour also wanted to shut?

I am sure that either the Secretary of State or I would be delighted to meet a delegation from my hon. Friend’s constituency. Both the Secretary of State and I have been to his constituency a number of times, and I am sure that we will do so again.

Is my hon. Friend aware that 350 secondary school students in Harlow are eligible for free school meals, but because they go to Harlow FE college, they do not get them, whereas the kids who go to the one sixth-form school in the constituency do get them? Please will my hon. Friend remedy that anomaly and ensure that free school meals are available for all eligible students?

We are aware of that long-standing anomaly in the system, and we want to fix it. However, such matters depend on the budget allocations that we are given by the Treasury, and these are obviously difficult times. We shall have to look at the situation after the announcement of the spending review settlement.