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School Places: Essex

Volume 659: debated on Monday 29 April 2019

9. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the adequate provision of school places in Essex and other areas of high growth. (910563)

One of the first decisions the Government took on coming to office in 2010 was to double the capital expenditure on creating new school places, after the previous Labour Government cut 100,000 school places. Since 2010, some 921,000 new school places have been created, including 450 new free schools. More than £12 billion has been committed since 2011 to delivering those new schools and new school places.

My constituency is growing very fast and we need more school places. We have a new all-through school opening, but many of the other schools are expanding their places and then struggling because the funding comes with a lag. Come the spending review, will my right hon. Friend and the Education team support a campaign for fairer funding for schools in areas of very high growth?

The national funding formula allocates £287 million nationally in growth funding and local authorities also have the ability to top-slice their wider schools block funding if necessary to supplement growth funding. In 2018-19, Essex has been allocated £6.8 million in growth funding through the national funding formula growth factor, but we will, as my hon. Friend requests, make a strong case at the spending review for the right education funding for all areas.

From some of the answers from Ministers today, anyone would think they had not been in government for nearly a decade.

School places are really important for parents, but often at this time of the year many of them find it is not they who choose the school their sons and daughters will go to but the school that chooses which pupils to accept. Can I remind Ministers of the pledges they made before the last general election? Parents in Essex and across the country were promised a review of school admissions in the Conservative party manifesto. Will the Minister keep to that promise?

What I will tell the hon. Lady is that last year—which is the latest for which we have figures— 97.7% of families achieved one of their top three primary school choices, 91% achieved their first choice of primary school, and 93.8% achieved one of their top three choices of secondary school. In 2010, when we came to office, just 66% of pupils attended a good or outstanding school; today the figure is 86%.

When Aspire alternative provision Academy in Harlow was taken over by the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust in 2017, it had a healthy balance and a strong business plan. Since then, it has been revealed on the BBC’s “Panorama” programme that TBAP had been in serious debt, and its public accounts were found to be inaccurate. Aspire has been dragged down with it. Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely necessary for Ofsted to inspect multi-academy trusts to prevent that situation from occurring again? How will he support Aspire, whose headteacher is here today, and which wants to be brokered to another MAT?

As my right hon. Friend will know, we issued a financial notice to improve to the TBAP trust in August 2018, long before the “Panorama” programme was broadcast, because we were concerned about poor financial management and controls. That notice will remain in place until we are satisfied that the trust has taken effective action to address our concerns. We always act swiftly in such circumstances, and our primary concern has been to preserve the education of children and limit the impact on the taxpayer.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) on running in the marathon yesterday, while also expressing some surprise that he is nevertheless still leaping to his feet with notable alacrity.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. That is very kind. All the pain is worth it for two great causes.

Corby is the fastest growing town in the country, and it is essential for school places to keep up with that housing growth. What reassurance can the Minister give parents in my constituency that both the policy and the resources are in place to achieve exactly that?

Let me add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on his achievement in the London marathon. He will be pleased to know that in 2019-20 we have introduced a new formulaic approach to the allocation of growth funding to local authorities in the NFF. It is a fairer system, because it is based not just on what the authorities spent in the past but on the actual growth in the number of pupils. We will, of course, always keep this issue under review.