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Free Schools and Academies: Planning Policy

Volume 670: debated on Monday 20 January 2020

9. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on ensuring that the development of free schools and academies is not restricted by planning policy. (900247)

Officials have worked with their counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on all aspects of planning policy for new schools and existing academies. New national policy and guidance sets out the positive approach that local planning authorities should take in the assessment and determination of planning applications for schools.

Since its launch in 2014, the Gatwick School has been very successful and is looking to expand its capacity, but it is coming into difficulties—there are suspected ideological differences—with Crawley Borough Council planners. What advice can my right hon. Friend give to the school so that it can overcome that obstacle?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s commitment to the schools in his constituency and his support for the Gatwick School in particular. As he said, the Gatwick School opened in 2014 and is providing good school places in Crawley, with its EBacc entry level significantly above the national average, for example. Officials are engaged in the planning process to achieve permission from Crawley Borough Council, which will enable us to deliver the permanent school accommodation and facilities for pupils.

In those conversations with local authorities, will the Minister also talk to them about current children’s social services practice to make sure that the deep lessons of the Greater Manchester review are learned and that practice is changed so that vulnerable children never again have wrong assumptions made about them?

The hon. Member will be aware of the review of children in need. It highlights the importance of schools being aware of those children who are known to social workers and who have particular problems so that we can make sure that they get pastoral support in school and that expectations remain as high for them as for other pupils in the school.

Free schools have been a huge success—I mention Michaela Community School, which I co-founded and chaired, and which I know the Ministers are familiar with—but too many parts of the country are without access to one. What plans do the Government have for increasing the number of free schools and has the Minister read my recent report “Fight for Free Schools”, published with the Centre for Policy Studies, which has some useful ideas for how to achieve to that?

I will certainly read my hon. Friend’s report, and again I pay tribute to her for what she has achieved with Michaela Community School. The free schools programme as a whole is hugely successful and she can be assured we are committed to continuing it. In 2019, seven out of the top 15 secondary schools in terms of progress 8 scores were free schools, including three in the top five: Eden Boys’ School in Birmingham, Eden Girls’ School in Coventry and of course Michaela Community School in Brent.