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School Rebuilding Programme

Volume 711: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2022

[Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered rollout of the School Rebuilding Programme.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Miller. I am grateful that this debate has been granted as it is of great importance to my constituency and, I imagine, that of every Member here today.

Shortly after I was elected to represent City of Durham in 2019, one of the first items that came across my desk was a letter from Andy Byers, headteacher at Framwellgate School, inviting me to visit the school to see for myself the condition that it was in—and I was appalled.

Framwellgate School was built in the 1960s and, sadly, it shows. The school is too small, and cannot grow to meet the needs of an expanding pupil population and changing curriculum. It is spread across multiple blocks and has no social space for pupils. An increasing number of pupils need more specialist provision and more space. The upper floors have no disabled access and are not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I have not even mentioned that the site is extremely prone to flooding.

However, as frustrating as it was to see the learning environment for pupils in my constituency, it was even more frustrating that Framwellgate School had already been approved for a rebuild in 2009 under the previous Labour Government, who recognised the poor condition of the school and its potential impact on the education of young people in Durham. Sadly, in the year after the coalition Government came to power, plans for a rebuild were promptly scrapped by the then Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). Now, 12 years after it was first allocated for a rebuild, the school has been overlooked for two rounds of funding under the current scheme, despite many of the issues that first made it eligible for a rebuild getting worse. Framwellgate School’s case is truly a desperate one.

I applied for this debate because the problems are not limited to a single school. I have had almost identical discussions as those with Mr Byers with the headteachers across the constituency. I have spoken extensively with Mr Hammill at St Leonard’s, which is similarly overdue a rebuild. The roof is in a shocking condition. Like Fram, it has extremely limited disabled access, and the very fabric of the building is completely inefficient. On top of that, one primary school head wrote to me with a shocking analysis of her school:

“Our school is in a dreadful state—the classrooms are poorly ventilated and are freezing in winter and boiling in summer. Our junior yard is not stable, tree root damage is prolific, our drains block regularly, we have ever increasing cracks in the walls and the floors, leaks under the floor and from the roof in some places, rising damp, a lifting hall floor.... I could go on!”

I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for educators, pupils and parents who share the same goal of wanting every child to have the best possible start in life, only for their efforts to be limited by the poor condition of many of our schools. Whenever I have visited a school in Durham, I have been struck by the dedication and passion of the staff, and the inquisitive and talented pupils.

I have witnessed at first hand the role that our schools play in the community and the effort that they put into the wellbeing of children in Durham. Yet, when the Minister hears stories of flooded classrooms, overcrowded schools, rising damp and poor ventilation, can they honestly say that the pupils at those schools are learning in the best possible environment? Ministers are always happy to talk about levelling up in the vaguest possible terms, but they cannot claim to have come close to levelling up the north-east until the children in our region have the same life chances as those in the wealthiest regions. That can be done only by transforming the infrastructure and resources across our region, and much of that has to start in our schools.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Of course, the Levelling Up Secretary of State is the same person as the Education Secretary who vandalised our schools up and down the country, and cancelled the Building Schools for the Future programme. Will my hon. Friend confirm that that was vandalism and levelling down at its worst?

I had not realised it was the same Secretary of State. Given his agenda to level up, I would have thought that if he understood what was going on in schools, he would start to rebuild them. That would be an excellent start, especially in the north-east, which is very much in need of levelling up, whatever that might be.

The state of Framwellgate School and St Leonard’s in Durham is the perfect yardstick for the Government’s pledge to level up the north-east. Given that Framwellgate was first selected for a rebuild under the previous Labour Government more than a decade ago, can the Minister honestly say that education has improved in the City of Durham? The Government cannot even commit to rebuilding a school that the Labour Government pledged to rebuild in 2009.

We have had 12 years of Conservative Government, and the condition of many of our schools continues to deteriorate. The school is not asking for a lot—only for what it was promised. In comparison, let us consider the case of Belmont Church of England Primary School and Belmont Community School, which were allocated funding for a new, state-of-the-art joint campus under the then Labour-run Durham County Council. That goes to show the difference that Labour makes when we are in power.

Before I go on, I extend an invitation to the Minister present or to the Minister for School Standards, when he watches the debate later: come to Durham, please. Let me show them the condition of some of the schools in Durham, such as Framwellgate School, so that they can see for themselves the conditions that many of our children have to learn in and many of our staff have to work in. If it rains the night before, though, they might want to bring their wellies.

I will speak about the roll-out of the school rebuilding programme more broadly. I have a number of concerns, many of which have been expressed to me by headteachers in Durham. The first is the lack of transparency in the first stages of the programme regarding how and in what order funding is awarded, and the difficulties that that has caused to schools. After consulting headteachers in Durham last year, I called for a list ranking the conditions of all applicant schools to be published, so that each school could see where they were in the queue for a rebuild and their need compared with that of other schools.

That would combat the growing concern among headteachers that schools in electorally advantageous constituencies are being targeted for building projects. Such concerns are driven by the lack of transparency in the process, with unclear criteria and unpublished condition data collection reports. That is not helped by the superficial nature of CDC surveys, which are simply not fit for purpose. I know for a fact that Framwellgate School felt it necessary to invest in its own intrusive surveys to demonstrate the issues of electrics, drainage and so on, and to show its extreme need.

In addition, many heads are frustrated at having to apply to the condition improvement fund to carry out refurbishments, repairs and maintenance when they are held to account by the Department for Education for not maintaining their buildings or the site, while also trying to avoid limiting funding opportunities for a new build. I have been told explicitly by one headteacher that the two schemes conflict and the process is not joined up.

Heads point out that they could apply for and receive funding to repair the roofs of their school, only to find a year later that they had been successful in their school rebuilding programme bid. That has meant, potentially, a massive waste of public money, especially if the amount of CIF investment will turn a school that is in need of a rebuild into one that is fit for purpose. Schools continue to age and decline, reducing the impact of maintenance funding. Countless schools have exceeded the life of their buildings, resulting in the Government throwing good money after lost causes when it could go towards a new build.

The final issue that has been raised with me in my discussions with headteachers is that, even when headteachers are successful with a bid, they will receive an off-the-shelf school with little scope for a joined-up approach that meets the specific needs of the school or the community. With that in mind, I have some questions for the Minister about the design of schools under the programme.

First, how much scope is there for schools and communities to input into the design of a school and can other funding from local authorities, such as that resulting from the sale of land, be incorporated? Secondly, what have the Government learned from the pandemic about ensuring adequate ventilation and air-cleaning in buildings, and will that learning be incorporated into the design of new builds? Similarly, what have they learned from the pandemic about supporting teachers with the technology that they need, and how will such technology be incorporated into new buildings? Finally, how does the Government’s school rebuilding work tie in with their work on achieving net zero and their manifesto commitment on retrofitting public buildings?

The Government will no doubt point to the size of the rebuild programme and will argue that it is simply not possible immediately to fund a rebuild for every school in need. However, there must be recognition that the decision to scrap the Building Schools for the Future scheme has meant that schools that were already in need of rebuild are still in desperate need, while schools that previously could have waited for work are now in similar states of disrepair, creating an even greater need across the country. It will therefore be of little consolation to my constituents in Durham to hear that a school on the other side of England will receive a rebuild while their local school fails and falls further into disrepair, damaging the life chances of the children who attend it.

I truly hope that the Government listen to the concerns of Members present here today, and ensure that every child in Durham—indeed, every child across the country—has access to a school building that is fit to learn in.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mrs Miller, and to be called to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), my fellow County Durham colleague, on securing the debate.

The Government are determined to help people to receive the best possible start in life, creating a level playing field by transforming the education system to ensure that people gain the skills they need to fully unleash their potential. A key part of achieving that is delivering great school buildings that ensure that tens of thousands of pupils and their teachers have a sustainable learning environment, and that deliver value for money for the taxpayer.

It is an incontrovertible fact that the last Labour Government built a huge number of schools, including many that I attended as a child. In the general election of 2017, when I stood as a candidate in Redcar, I visited my primary school, my junior school, my secondary school and my two colleges in the hope of having photographs taken outside of them, and every single one has been demolished and rebuilt in the space of the last 20 years. However, many of these new schools are now suffering, having been locked in private finance initiatives that leave them hamstrung.

Under these schemes, a contractor takes responsibility for constructing new school premises and/or refurbishing existing ones. The relationships that these deals have fostered between contractors and schools is akin to a zero-sum game, with the more investment that schools receive translating into less profit for the contractors. PFI firms would rather do nothing and continue to profit than fulfil their repair duties.

With the first schools built under PFI contracts due to be handed over to local authorities soon, we are already seeing problems arising, with schools potentially being handed over in a run-down state and contractors failing to finish vital improvement works before their contracts expire. The Department for Education is rightly supporting those schools, but it is important that we recognise that this is the legacy of a Labour Government that did not consider the future impact of their actions. It is welcome that this Conservative Government took the decision to ditch all new PFI projects all together in 2018.

The Government have a well thought-out plan for the future of school buildings. I welcome the Prime Minister’s 10-year school rebuilding programme, our commitment to rebuild 500 schools in England and the transformation that that will bring to the education of thousands of pupils. It is welcome that the details of the first 100 projects have now been announced and that the first commenced in autumn 2021. Those initial rebuilds will create modern education environments, providing new facilities, from classrooms and science labs to sports halls and dining rooms.

We are also demonstrating our commitment to levelling up all regions of the UK, with 32 of the latest projects announced being based in the midlands and the north-east. Our investment of £2 billion in the school rebuilding programme comes on top of the Government’s £1.8 billion in 2021 for school repair and upgrade projects. That funding brings the total amount allocated for improving school conditions since 2015 to £11.3 billion.

In Darlington, we have seen investment of more than £4 million in schools, including The Rydal Academy, Heathfield Primary School, Haughton Academy, Marchbank Free School, Longfield Academy, Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, Mowden Infant School, Corporation Road Community Primary School, Mowden Junior School, Hummersknott Academy, Abbey Infants’ School and Abbey Junior School.

More than £10 million is also being invested to support school sports and swimming facilities in England, and will be distributed through Sport England. That targeted investment for selected schools will build on existing funding to help schools open their facilities outside school hours and encourage pupils to be more physically active. Alongside that, the Government have plans for a £1.5 billion pot of investment over five years to transform the further education college estate. I am also glad that £2.8 billion of capital investment is being provided across the 2021 spending review period to help establish institutes of technology across the country. I wholeheartedly welcome that funding, which will make a real difference to school conditions.

While we have an Education Minister here, I want to press her on one point relevant to my constituency. Our amazing special education facility of Beaumont Hill Academy in Darlington has sought for many years to take over the empty, abandoned former Sure Start centre to expand its teaching facilities for a growing cohort of children. I have pressed multiple Education Ministers on the issue, but do not seem to be able to break the deadlock. Will the Minister advise what more I can do to help ensure that Beaumont Hill can gain access to this presently abandoned property, which is serving no useful purpose to the taxpayer?

The Conservative Government continue to create a level playing field for students: increasing funding for education, establishing education investment areas in places such as mine in Darlington and now ensuring that students have the environment they need to thrive. I look forward to supporting my ministerial colleagues as we continue this work, which I know will give pupils in Darlington a better start in life.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair today, Mrs Miller. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for bringing forward today’s important debate. I could not help but notice that the majority of MPs in the room are also MPs in the north of the country who desperately need investment in our education system.

The estates of many schools in York are in need of capital investment. Tang Hall Primary Academy, which was at the very top of the list in 2010 for Building Schools for the Future funding, is still yet to be rebuilt. The school had to introduce a new uniform that included hoodies and mittens for the children to be warm enough in their classes, but also recognise that in the summer the classrooms rapidly turn into greenhouses that are too hot to work in. It is schools like this that need to be rebuilt to ensure that our children get the best possible education.

We have Carr Junior School, where I have been shown the leaky pipes and the need for investment that has yet to come forward, or Millthorpe School, where they are constantly dodging pieces of masonry falling from the buildings. Many of our schools need that capital investment, but today I want to highlight the plight of All Saints Roman Catholic School, a split-site secondary school. The school provides an outstanding environment for children to learn, due to its special ethos and the dedication of the teaching staff. However, the school itself is another story altogether. Parts of the school date back over 300 years, as Mary Ward determined that girls should be able to access education. The Bar Convent museum adjacent to the school maps its journey from 1686, and part of that school is still in use today. It is well worth a visit to the museum, but clearly a school should not be a museum, it should not be a building site and it should not be unsafe.

When it comes to funding, the school is under the Catholic diocese of Middlesbrough but is the only school in York outside of the academies system. It therefore has segregated funding, which, due to its being the only school, is based within the diocese of Leeds. However, as it is the only school there is no flexibility around that funding, meaning that it cannot be joined with other funding to bring about capital rebuilding projects. Indeed, most of it is being absorbed by patching work, bringing in repairs. Patching in and of itself, however, is no solution at all.

There must be a whole new build for the school. The school has applied for the school rebuilding programme and has a new site where it could be developed. Further, it will recover much of the funding with the capital receipts from the sale of its current site. Therefore, on an economic basis, it really needs investment. The disrepair of the sites is really astounding. I have had the tour with the estates team at the school; it is taking ever more of their time just to try to keep the site safe, which is a major challenge.

Both sites have public access, one to a public cemetery in the middle of the school site. There is no segregated outdoor space, and in fact you have to pass through the school car park, which is the only play area for the children as well, among the teachers’ cars. That is completely inappropriate. The other site is on a public right of way towards the racecourse. Needless to say, the behaviour of inebriated racegoers poses a risk, as they urinate on their way back to the city through the school premises, so the safeguarding risks need to be taken into account in the programme for rebuilding schools. Teachers also constantly have to move between the school’s two sites down a snickelway at the back of the schools. Of course, in the winter dark, they often do not feel safe as they pass through those streets between lessons.

The school is old. Its masonry is falling off, and any repair needed is highly expensive. That is partly because the school is in a conservation area, in the sight of the York Walls; it has to reach an aesthetic standard to be considered appropriate, so a walkway repair that would normally cost about £5,000 would be £11,000 at the cheapest. The portico, which needs to be replaced, adds nothing to education or the school environment but costs the school £20,000. That is just patching work. We could also talk about the guttering system, which has to meet a particular standard, and other aesthetic features of the school because it is a heritage site.

I witnessed holes in the floor of the school gym—in fact, when I went around, there was a new hole where the feet of children playing sport had gone through. Where there are ceiling tiles, they have been falling as well. The cost of the floor repair alone is £60,000—even more for the whole gym. Clearly, this is just sending good money after bad, or bad money after good, to try to address the serious repairs that are needed.

The school needs new boiler systems. The fire alarm needs replacing as it cannot be heard throughout the site. The school is cramped; the corridors are so narrow that a wheelchair cannot pass through. There is currently a wheelchair user at the school, and they are really worried about how they will be able to access their education. The stairways are winding staircases where it is difficult to pass people—they were designed for servants. It is totally inaccessible and there is no facility for lifts in such a place.

There is much ingress of water in the school. As we will probably hear repeatedly this afternoon, flooding is common and there are a lot of residual plumbing issues. I have to say, the stench in some of those corridors turns one’s stomach, and unfortunately, that is the environment in which the children have to work. The dining facility is so small that each child can spend only six and half minutes at lunch, so they are not even getting the social space they so desperately need. The labs date back to the middle of the last century and are unsuitable for science today. The domestic science kitchens date back half a century and need replacing. Some of the teaching areas are in former aircraft hangars, which are too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Lessons take place in stables, no longer fit for horses, yet children learn there, including using steep stairs to the hayloft. Is that what the Government envisage as a suitable learning environment?

The sixth-form block will cost £40,000 just to be reclad. Again, because it is in a heritage area, it has to be either reclad or taken down. If it is taken down, there will be no sixth form at the school. Even to enter the sixth-form block, students have to descend a very steep path, which is dangerous when icy and pretty inaccessible. No one knows what the next challenge will be, but each morning the estates team worries about what the next cost will be for the school. None of that adds to the children’s education and none of them can realise the ambition that the school has for them.

It is not an environment conducive to learning. I cannot believe that there is a more urgent case on the Minister’s desk. The new build proposed would end those challenges and enable All Saints to focus on excellence, and the very special environment that teachers bring to pupils, many of whom struggle, to help them flourish. Just imagine what they could achieve if they had a school that was designed for the modern age. My plea is that the Minister takes back the story of All Saints and enriches the school rebuilding programme to replace the school with a new school facility that those pupils and teachers deserve.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller, and to take part in a debate that has been brought by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), who is a fantastic campaigner for her area. I am at risk of plagiarising the speeches so far—not the political bits, but the talk of the schools and the underlying reasons that this is such an important debate.

As constituency MPs we have the opportunity to talk about not only national policies but the amazing work happening in schools in our areas. I am here to talk about a school whose motto is “Inspire to make a difference”, and that is Derby High School in my constituency, which I visited last week. When we talk of inspiration, as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, it is provided not only by the teachers and committed staff, but by the facilities—or lack of them—in a school.

The school was built in the late 1950s and, apart from two relatively small capital investments, there has been no investment in the structure of the building since 1959. Children are having lessons in classrooms with buckets next to them—for when rain comes through the roof, which has crumbled and fallen in again. It is not unusual for masonry to fall into the classroom, so that children have to go elsewhere. Their learning is taken away from them because they cannot sit in a classroom.

Some of the science labs go back to the 1950s. Compared with other schools in my area, which have been lucky enough to have new building investment, the difference is plain. The school is too small for the number of pupils. Thanks to its great reputation and where it sits, it is oversubscribed and has to deal with all sorts of issues. The corridors are small, as the hon. Member for York Central mentioned. It is not a safe and secure environment.

I was lucky enough to speak last week with the senior leadership team, the staff and the kids, who were absolutely wonderful. They had produced a video to convince me and others of the work that was needed. They appreciated everything that was done, but would at least like the opportunity to have facilities to inspire them and those that follow them at the school, to ensure that they can achieve their potential.

The best bit of my job—I think we would all agree with this—is meeting people in my constituency who inspire me on a daily basis and reinforce to me the reasons why I became a Member of Parliament. It has nothing to do with a political badge. I am motivated by what motivates them.

Lynn Provoost, who is part of the senior management team at Derby, took my breath away by articulating with members of staff what could be achieved in that school. She said that they

“work with young people to believe they can achieve, so they are capable of making a difference to this world”,

and that what they do in the school is for the good of the town, not just for Derby.

We do not talk enough about the central role of schools within the community. They are the providers of education; that is their primary role. But Derby High School is at the centre of a community. It is a wide, varied, happy and brilliant community. In that school, 26 different languages are spoken. There are all sorts of ideas about how things could be improved. I have worked on and, thankfully, been part of a successful bid for “Institute of Technology” status, which the Minister knows all about, involving Bury College and the University of Salford. It is about creating the conditions for training opportunities to be put in place to ensure that young people from my area achieve their potential, and it is for pupils aged 16 and onwards.

The school has gone out of its way to ask the University of Salford and other educational providers whether they can develop an academy or facility to offer post-16 pupils the skills training that we are seeing being put at the forefront of Government policy. The school is innovative in finding different ways to maximise its potential. It is looking at how it can improve its offer in terms of special educational needs and development.

There is brilliant teaching and support there, but there is no room for the extra facility that could get to the heart of the levelling up we have been talking about. Forgive me for repeating it again, but this is a brilliant school. It has all the potential in the world—all the drive, all the passion. It has everything that a successful education provider and community asset has, but it is housed in a building that is too small, is falling apart and has no investment for all sorts of reasons. We need to change that.

I would like to talk about the partnership potential in some of the issues we are talking about. The English Cricket Board is running an urban cricket programme. Members of Parliament can go to the ECB and at least try to work in partnership. I have had talks with the ECB regarding investing £350,000 in an urban cricket facility in my constituency. I was hoping that it would be at Gigg Lane, but for various reasons it may not be there. In my area, kids love playing cricket but there are no facilities. Not only is there potential in what the Government are doing by investing billions into schools rebuilding, but by working with partners we can increase and improve those facilities.

I think others in this room were at the same event when the Lawn Tennis Association talked about looking to invest huge sums of money into grassroots tennis facilities. Certainly, for a school like the Derby school, that will be most welcome. We have heard that the Football Foundation is looking to invest in 3G and 4G pitches and is identifying school playing fields throughout the country that could benefit. I have had the opportunity to speak to the foundation about that, and I am sure other Members have.

I had a political speech written out. I was going to make some political points, but I will not make them. I shall repeat what I said at the start of this debate. “Inspire to make a difference” is not exactly a catchy line, nor what many people believe us politicians do. We can create the circumstances and opportunities for those people in our constituencies, such as Lynn Provoost and all the brilliant teachers at all the brilliant schools in my area, to change young people’s lives, but they must have the correct facilities.

Derby High School has been nominated as part of the current round of the rebuilding schools programme. I hope that the excellent Minister will take away the message that an investment in Derby is an investment in young people and my town and has the potential to change the world.

I beg your indulgence, Mrs Miller, as I was on Westminster Bridge, so I was late to the debate. I know that everybody in this room would like to put on the record their thoughts for the survivors who were on the bridge this afternoon. Many of us who were MPs at the time will remember the terrible events, and the experience of being in the Chamber that day five years ago.

I also thank the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly), whom I follow, because I could not agree with him more about the cricket. That is the theme of my short remarks about the sports hall for Highgate Wood School. It is a very mixed local authority school, with some proud alumni, including the journalist Robert Peston, who some people might know from the ITV show, “Peston”. It has the worst sports hall I have ever seen.

The Minister’s colleague from the other place, Baroness Barran, was very indulgent and gave me 20 minutes by Zoom in January. I want to use this further opportunity to make the case for the school that we all have in our constituencies that takes every child. When a child falls out of another school, this is the school that picks them up. This school has a big heart and is very community-minded. It takes children with a range of special educational needs, who are just hanging in there in mainstream education. It also teaches GCSE at year 11.

There are more girls than boys in this school. As a great champion for young women, Mrs Miller, you will agree that it is important that girls at particular times of the month have a decent place to change. The current facilities in the sports hall at Highgate Wood School are completely unacceptable. “Dickensian” is the only word I could use to describe the prison-like toilets and changing room facilities and the serious problem with water ingress and subsidence. The appalling changing and toilet areas can be very off-putting for girls in particular.

The school currently has a number of bulge classes, once again being a school with a very big heart. When we had the bulge that happened in London schools around 2006 or 2007, it immediately said, “We can do this: we can have more classes.” It was able at the drop of a hat to provide more classes. There are 270 students in each year, which is way above the 240 students that the school is built and designed for, yet that was the school that said, “Don’t worry—we will become a several-form entry school.” That is why I am here today—because the 1,600 pupils at Highgate Wood School deserve better.

The local authority has a lot of dilapidated Victorian primary schools, which it is currently rightly prioritising, but in terms of secondary schools, I have never seen a worse set of facilities for the basic provision of sport. We know the importance of sport post-covid. The hon. Member for Derby talked about the Lawn Tennis Association and the importance of inner-city cricket. Why cannot inner-city kids learn cricket the same way—

It would be an honour to be the hon. Member for Derby, but I am the Member for Bury North talking about Derby School. One of the important things about Derby is that we have seen, with the potential threat to Derby County football club, how sport in every possible way has the ability to inspire people of every age group, including at school, and that the opportunity to participate is so important. Does the hon. Lady agree?

Of course I agree with that. I thank the hon. Member for the clarification on the Derby and Bury boundary. While I am talking about boundaries, I will conclude with the comment that many Members will know my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). My local government area shares Tottenham, Hornsey and Wood Green. Sometimes Hornsey and Wood Green slightly miss out, because the Tottenham side of the constituency tends to have on paper certain indices of deprivation. As many Members who have different borough boundaries and different arrangements for which children go to which schools will be aware, Highgate Wood School takes a number of children from the Tottenham area. It is a very mixed school and the best in education. It is rated a “good” school by Ofsted, despite the dilapidated facilities for sports provision.

I hope the Minister will make the case for that school, because it is being a good citizen. We all know that during covid, our schools had to pull together. They had to do more than they would normally do. I hope that we can reward the schools that make the effort, take in the difficult children to educate and try somehow to be as ambitious as possible. That includes ambitious on a really high level of sports teaching, and also in providing the teaching of PE teachers, which is what this school does. It provides teaching for PE teachers, but has the worst facilities that I have ever seen.

I hope that the Minister will give due regard to these remarks and work with the local authority to provide the necessary funding for up-to-date and correct facilities for Highgate Wood School.

It is a pleasure to serve, probably for the first time, under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on securing this important debate, one that speaks to the value placed on education and the environment that surrounds pupils. I had the privilege of being educated at an amazing state school, but it had ivy growing in the windows and across the ceiling—that always felt like a juxtaposition. While it has been the launchpad for the things that I have achieved in life, and hope to still achieve, there was a sense of being slightly unloved in a portacabin at the back of the grounds, heated only by a gas heater. The only thing that it achieved for me was creating an early entrepreneurial spirit; I used to take bread and butter in and make toast on the gas heater at the back of maths class—perhaps the Health and Safety Executive would not enjoy that.

I have attended this important debate to highlight a couple of points. First, I thank the Minister and the Government; Tarleton Academy in west Lancashire is an early recipient of the £50 million condition improvement fund. It has received funds to rebuild the school. I have gone around the school and the stories that we have heard today are absolutely spot on; there is water running down the walls of a 1950s construction at Tarleton. The school is fighting a constant battle. To say that Lesley Gwinnett, the executive head—who is wonderful—and her team were ecstatic to get the money is to underplay it.

I visited Tarleton Academy, and I hope the Minister will take into account a couple of points. Interestingly, in contrast to the stories told by the hon. Member for City of Durham, Tarleton Academy found the expectation of leadership engagement in the school-build programme to be very high—considering they are focused on their educational duties. They were not complaining, but they raised the point that it was a lot to expect them to make sure that they got the school that they needed and wanted for the community. In genuine gratefulness, they fed back whether that could be a consideration in future roll-outs. They sorted themselves out in the local community, through their own skill and hard work, but it was a point that they wanted to make. There is a fine balance between getting an identikit box and having something that people can engage with.

The other point I will make is similar to those that other hon. Members have made about sports facilities. Tarleton Academy is in a series of different vintage buildings, some of which are 1940s Nissen huts. However, because it is in such a community-minded village as Tarleton, the swimming pool, which is in a separate bit, is used by the community and the 1940s hut, used for educational purposes, is also used by the air cadets. There is a sports hall that is used by the community and there is a big piece of grass at the back that is primed for a 3G astroturf pitch.

Lancashire is a desert for sports provision. The nearest astroturf pitch to Tarleton is at Bamber Bridge, and that is a 35-minute drive away. I have been working with Football Foundation and speaking to Sport England because the community want that sports pitch. There is a real drive from Betty at Tarleton Corinthians to either get a 3G pitch that they can share with the school at their site, or a 3G pitch at the school that Tarleton Corinthians can share. I appreciate that may be something that the Minister does not have at her fingertips, but can she consider that?

Finally, I have one question on a theme that was addressed by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West). Penwortham Girls’ High School is the only non fee paying girls’ school for seniors in the whole of Lancashire’s educational system. Although I am slightly biased having attended a state girls’ grammar school, that really did give me a boost, and it is part of the overall provision that is possible. The gym in that school is very decrepit, and while the school is not in need of either a rebuild or a CIF despite its age, its sports facilities are in a very difficult state and its staff are finding it very challenging to find a process through which they can target that kind of sub-school rebuild activity. I promised them wholeheartedly that I would raise this matter with the Government.

In summary, as many Members have said, having the right building is absolutely vital to how pupils see themselves and how they can engage in the maximum amount of learning. It is wonderful that the Government are looking beyond some of the issues that PFI has caused to celebrate the educationalists in west Lancashire at Tarleton Academy, and I hope that in her response, the Minister will be able to say how we can help future cricketers. As a final aside, Lancashire county cricket club has decided that Farington is where it wants to put its training centre. While Derby to Bury is probably an hour’s drive, Bury to Penwortham is only about 35 or 40 minutes, so if the budding cricketers my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) mentioned want to come to South Ribble, they will find a very warm welcome there.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Miller, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for securing this important debate. I know she has been robustly interrogating Ministers on this issue, as well as that of school transport. She is a credit to her city and her constituents, but sadly, the decay of our school estate is a national challenge. The chorus of cross-party voices raising individual cases today and at Education questions last week demonstrates the gravity of the problem we now face up and down the country.

Today, we have heard from a number of speakers on a range of issues affecting our nation’s schools. All spoke with passion about the contribution that schools make to communities and constituencies across the country. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham is a tireless champion and a strong voice for her constituency schools—schools that are not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, with issues with roofs, ventilation, heating, and rising damp. This is important, because we want the very best for our children and our communities. My hon. Friend then went on to helpfully describe the broader points about the Government’s school building processes, specifically the CDC surveys, and the off-the-shelf nature of builds.

From my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), we heard the story of All Saints—falling masonry, heating and ventilation problems—and the complexity of funding programmes and the barriers that creates, especially in a historic city and heritage area such as York. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) covered a range of issues facing her constituency, and the importance of investment in school sports. I hope she will be in her place for tomorrow’s debate on the importance of physical education in the curriculum, in which a number of those issues will also be raised.

The fact is that our school estate is crumbling. According to the Department for Education’s own conditions survey, one in six schools in England requires urgent repair, and more than 1,000 had elements that were at risk of urgent failure. The 1960s is a more representative era of our school estate than either of the past two decades. Millions of children are now passing through a school estate that is not fit for purpose, which has been a political choice of successive Conservative Governments. As we have heard, within weeks of taking office in 2010, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition cancelled the Building Schools for the Future programme. Of the 715 school rebuilding projects planned when that programme was scrapped, just 389 were rebuilt by its successor, the priority school building programme.

The shadow Minister is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that even the Secretary of State for Levelling Up said in a press interview that the worst thing the Government had done was cancel the Building Schools for the Future programme in 2010?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Labour Government of the past should be proud of its achievements in improving schools across our country. I know that Conservative Members also mentioned the significant investment that took place under the last Labour Government; long may that continue when we elect the next Labour Government.

Once all the schools are complete, we will still be 178 schools short of the programme’s original 715. Even schools that are lucky enough to get contractors on site face significant issues, as we have heard. A school in my constituency found that the work was of shockingly low quality, creating a number of serious defects that pose a risk to students and teachers. I know that colleagues have similar stories.

I am certain that the Minister will tell us proudly about the extra funding announced last year, but I suspect even she knows that that rings hollow compared with the scale of the task before us. She will know that capital spending has decreased by 25% in cash terms, and by 40% after adjusting for inflation, which continues to rise, in addition to a decline in basic needs spending. Two years of late decisions in awarding funding under the condition improvement fund have left schools in limbo and delayed up to 1,000 improvement projects.

Although the existence of the school rebuilding programme demonstrates that Ministers are at least dimly aware of the challenge presented by our crumbling school estate, even a cursory glance shows that the programme is grotesquely inadequate. Ministers said that the programme will partially or fully rebuild 500 schools over the next 10 years. Yet the Department’s own 2019 conditions survey found that almost 4,000 schools—17% of the entire school estate—are in need of immediate repair, so the number of schools covered by the programme is woefully inadequate and completely arbitrary. That is why I believe that Ministers created a postcode lottery on school repairs, which they know will not clear the backlog.

In the meantime, dedicated teachers and parents are left to make do with leaking facilities, dangerous wiring or allegedly temporary cabins that were built a decade ago. Well-meaning right hon. and hon. Members come to this place, caps in hand, to plead with Ministers on the merits of individual schools. Colleagues across the House are understandably desperate to support schools in their patches, as we have heard so powerfully in the debate, but that is no way to build a school estate that supports the next generation.

Our aspiration for the quality of the school estate should be to match and to enable the ambition of young people in this country, but the disrepair of the school estate is now approaching national crisis status. The total cost of repairs is now eye-watering, and a decade of inaction from the Conservative Government means that it is rising every day. The real cost is to our children’s education; a generation has now passed through schools that are not fit for purpose. Sadly, children are once again an afterthought for this Government.

Is the Minister satisfied that the Government’s school rebuilding programme matches schools’ need? Will she publish a full regional breakdown of the data on grade and priority of repair that was collected as part of condition data collection 1? How many applications have been received for the latest round of the school rebuilding programme? Of those applications, how many fell into the C, D and X grades identified in the condition data collection 1 programme? How will the Government prioritise urgent repairs for schools that bid unsuccessfully for the next round of the school rebuilding programme? How many representations have Members made to the Minister, and how has she taken account of them in the programme’s bidding process?

Schools are worrying more about their energy bills this year, so can the Minister explain how the condition data collection 2 process will support the transition to net zero? Will it pay particular attention to the inadequacies of ventilation demonstrated during the pandemic? Finally, ahead of tomorrow’s fiscal event, has the Department made any formal representations to the Chancellor for new funding for repairs to the school estate?

I echo those who have said what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on securing the debate. I am also a constituency MP, and I recognise many of the challenges that hon. Members have raised.

Good-quality buildings are absolutely essential to support high-quality education so that pupils gain invaluable knowledge and skills, as well as the qualifications that they will need to unlock their futures. All pupils deserve to learn in an effective and safe environment, which is why the school rebuilding programme is a priority for the Government. I will talk about the details of the hon. Member’s specific schools later on, and I am sure I can arrange a meeting with her and the Minister for School Standards, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). On the hon. Member’s question of when we will publish the details, we will publish nominations of schools after the selection process this year. We cannot comment on individual schools at this stage while the process is live, but I assure her that we will publish that.

The Prime Minister announced the new school rebuilding programme in June 2020 as part of the plans to build back better. We have confirmed the first 100 schools in the programme as part of the commitment to 500 projects over the next decade, tackling the school buildings most in need of replacement or significant refurbishment. The programme will transform the education of hundreds of thousands of pupils around the country, including many pupils who attend the schools that have been referenced. Children and teachers will continue to benefit in the decades to come. The programme will replace poor condition and ageing school buildings with modern facilities.

All new buildings delivered through the programme will be net zero carbon compliant and more resilient to the impact of climate change such as flooding and overheating, contributing to the Government’s ambitious carbon reduction targets. We achieved a significant milestone in September, with a number of these first projects having already started on site. An example of that is West Coventry Academy. The expansive school site consists of 17 blocks with significant condition needs across it, including integrated buildings. All existing blocks were demolished and replaced by a new teaching block, including a new sports hall and swimming pool.

The programme represents a substantial investment in our schools in both the midlands and the north, with 70 of the first 100 projects included in those regions. I know the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) mentioned that the majority of Members present in the debate are from northern constituencies.

I said the majority. Working closely with the construction sector, the programme will also invest in skills—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson), supporting construction jobs, investing in efficient technologies and enhancing productivity and skills, all of which will help drive up growth and build back better from the covid-19 pandemic. The school rebuilding programme is the successor to the priority school building programme. PSBP1 was announced in 2012, and PSBP2 was announced in 2014. The PSBP has rebuilt and refurbished those buildings in the very worst condition across the country, covering over 500 schools. Two schools in the city of Durham have benefited from the priority school building programme, alongside five additional schools across the county of Durham. At one of those schools, West Cornforth Primary School, the school community has been delighted to say

“goodbye to the old and hello to the new!”

They have settled into their new school building, which is a fantastic success story in the hon. Member for City of Durham’s region. Bishop Barrington Academy said:

“There is a very positive feel about the direction we are moving in. We have a wonderful, new, multi-million pound building that we have exciting plans for…We believe strongly that our students deserve the very best and the facilities that we provide at Bishop Barrington are certainly world class.”

We are working hard to improve how we deliver and how we innovate where possible. We are at the forefront, using modern methods of construction to deliver school buildings and investing in the industry to support innovation, and we are increasing our adaptation of standardised designs, moving towards a platform approach of construction and off-site manufacturing.

I am unashamedly going to make a plea for another northern school—County High School in Leftwich, which the Minister might be familiar with. It is desperate, like a lot of schools, for community sports facilities, working in partnership with us. Beyond today, I would like to meet the Minister about that project, to help move things forward.

As the hon. Member knows, I attended the school in question, although I have not been back for many years. I will pass on the meeting request, and I am sure that either the Minister for School Standards or the Minister for the School System would be delighted to meet him to discuss the specifics of that school.

As I have said, we are committed to delivering net carbon in operations solutions for the new buildings covered by the Department for Education—a point raised by various Members, including the hon. Member for City of Durham. Every new school built will have a low energy use, better performance and environments with natural ventilation. They will be resilient to longer-term climate change and will improve the landscape and outdoor facilities. Key components of our strategy include increasing insulation, better air tightness, green roofs and energy-generating solar panels, flood-resistant drainage systems and low carbon emissions, all of which will help tackle the numerous problems referenced today.

We moved at pace to prioritise the first projects—the first 100 in the last year—so that we could begin to tackle some of the poorest conditions on the school estate in this country. The first 100 selected for the school rebuilding programme were prioritised either because they have buildings of specific construction types that require replacement or because they have buildings with the highest condition needs. We will, of course, subsequently publish the full nomination at the end of the process, as well as the methodology for prioritisation, which was a point raised by the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan).

Two schools in County Durham have been selected for the new programme: Sugar Hill Primary School and Woodham Academy. Work is ongoing to complete the feasibility study on both projects, with construction expected to start early next year. The Department is committed to running a fair and transparent process—a point made by a few hon. Members—for prioritising projects for the school rebuilding programme. As I have said, we will publish the prioritisation of the two rounds in due course.

The school estate in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has received substantial investment. As he said, that is levelling up in action and is helping the next generation. I listened to and understood his points about Beaumont Hill Academy taking on an individual building. He is an assiduous campaigner and has raised the issue with previous Ministers responsible for the school estate. I am confident that the Ministers for the School System and for School Standards will be happy to meet him to discuss that in detail.

The constituency of the hon. Member for York Central has received substantial investment—more than £1.5 million—for condition allocations. We will announce shortly the schools that have passed the bar in the nomination process, so I ask her to be patient in waiting to see whether her schools are on the list. I am sure that other Ministers in the Department will be happy to speak to her, although at this stage they will be limited in what they can say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) is another keen campaigner for the schools that he represents, particularly his high school, which sounds extremely impressive. I am sure that he will have a visit from a Minister shortly, if he has not already had one. I heard the concerns he raised and will pass on his excellent representations to my ministerial colleagues.

As I have said, the first 100 schools were prioritised using the data available to the Department. That was to ensure that the programme commenced swiftly and that the work could begin as soon as possible on the first projects, ensuring safe buildings for our children. That minimised the burden on the sector.

I know that education is a devolved issue, but will the Minister join me in commending and congratulating the DUP Education Minister in Northern Ireland, Michelle McIlveen, on her announcement yesterday of £749 million of capital investment for more than 20 schools? Portadown College and Killicomaine Junior High School in my constituency are on that list.

The Minister will know the importance of schools being very much in the heart of their communities. A school in my constituency faces imminent closure, much to the despair of the community. I oppose the closure. If there is any learning here in GB on schools being right in the heart of their community, will she share it with me, and will she also ensure that the Lurgan campus of the senior high school does not close?

Obviously, I cannot comment on specific schools and, as the hon. Member points out, education is, of course, devolved. Nevertheless, I absolutely praise any educational investment and specifically investment in schools. I agree with her about the power of education and a good school, and I am sure that the Minister for School Standards would be only too happy to meet her to discuss exactly what we are doing here in England, to see whether there are any learnings that will help her.

Last year, we consulted on the approach to prioritise the remaining places in the programme, so that we could take account of the views of the sector in developing a longer-term approach to prioritisation. We wanted that approach to be fair, robust and capable of being consistent with comparisons between schools, while as far as possible minimising the burden on the school sector.

The public consultation started in July 2021 and ended in October 2021, and it took place alongside a number of consultative events. The consultation sought views on the objectives of the programme, the factors that should inform prioritisation, and the process and evidence of the data to be used. As part of that, we were keen to test how additional evidence of need could be gathered and assessed, and we recognised that data collected by the condition data collection does not provide a complete view of the condition needed within a school. For example, as it is a visual survey, it cannot be used to identify any structural weaknesses.

We received 205 responses in total from a wide range of stakeholders, including large representative bodies, as well as feedback from our online engagement events. I thank all Members and their constituents for contributing to the consultation. The primary goal of the consultation was, of course, to seek views on how we can effectively prioritise the funding available and, obviously, please all hon. Members in this House. We asked questions about the objectives of the programme, the school characteristics that we would consider to inform prioritisation, the delivery of the programme and the impact on individuals with protected characteristics.

The Department held a number of sessions with different stakeholders, and the consultation put forward three broad approaches to prioritising schools for the future programme. The majority of respondents—60%—put the lead approach as their first choice for prioritising school funding. This involved a light-touch nomination process, whereby responsible bodies can request that we consider a school’s condition data collection, alongside the ability to submit supplementary professional evidence of severe need that was not captured in that data. We have now implemented that approach.

We also consulted on how we would compare different schools that need to be rebuilt. This includes asking whether respondents agreed that we should prioritise schools based on severity of need, rather than simply on volume of need across the site. This is the approach that we took in the first two rounds of the programme, and it has the benefit of ensuring that the programme would not simply favour larger schools. We also plan to continue to prioritise schools with the higher intensity of need.

We have made our plans for future selection rounds based on experience of the first two rounds of the programme and the feedback from the consultation. Guidance for responsible bodies has been published on, to support them to nominate schools for the programme and to provide additional evidence of severe condition, which is needed for the current round of specialist resource provision.

I raised the issue of safeguarding in relation to All Saints School and the fact that there is public access to the grounds. How are such issues taken into account when considering the priorities?

Of course, safeguarding is always fundamental when we consider school estate and schools in general. I am sure that the Minister for School Standards will meet the hon. Member as soon as possible within the next few weeks to discuss the particular issue of safeguarding. It is concerning that it has been raised in this House and it needs to be treated with sensitivity and urgency, so I will ensure that that happens.

Did the consultation give any weighting to schools that have been particularly generous in taking children in response to unexpected demand? There have, for example, been bulge classes. Therefore, given the sheer number of students, the impact of not having, for instance, good sports provision affects more children. Has any weighting been given to the fact that some schools are more generous than others? Some school governing boards say, “Yes, we’ll meet the challenge”, but others are a little more selfish and say, “No, we won’t,” with their school buildings experiencing less wear and tear as a result. The school fabric can end up looking very tired if there are an extra 30 children in every single year in a school of 1,600 children.

We are trying to prioritise the state, standard and condition of the school, so that this is done purely on need. As the hon. Member pointed out, taking additional pupils will produce further wear and tear, deteriorating the school estate. That would show in the evidence of how that school is performing against the standard. I am confident that that would have been picked up, and it can be looked at in detail once the nomination process has been published.

We also set out the expectation that the programme is looking to select schools in very poor condition that need refurbishing, and we are ensuring the best investment for the limited number of places in the programme. Our plan is to allocate places in the programme based—we have laboured this point today—on the condition of the buildings. We will continue to monitor the cases brought to our attention throughout the prioritisation process. Where necessary, we will of course modify our approach to selecting schools, to ensure that the most urgent building needs are prioritised. We have also reserved the right to add schools to the programme in exceptional circumstances. I urge hon. Members to continue to communicate concerns to Ministers in the Department.

On 3 February, we published our response to the consultation, alongside opening the process for nomination to the programme. Later this year, we intend to select schools provisionally for up to 300 of the remaining places in the programme, reserving some places for the future. Local authorities, academy trusts and voluntary aided school bodies have been able to nominate schools that they consider appropriate for the programme, using the online portal. The nomination process is now closed, but professional evidence of severe need may be submitted until the end of the month.

Framwellgate School Durham, a secondary academy with the Excel Academy Partnership and referenced by the hon. Member for City of Durham, has continued to highlight the need for rebuilding. We will consider carefully the nominations made to the programme. Many schools will likely receive a visit from our technical teams over the coming months. I hope that the hon. Member appreciates that the process for selecting schools is ongoing, so, as I said, I cannot comment on the success of individual cases, but I hope that that reassures her that her school is certainly in the mix.

Schools selected will be informed that they have been provisionally allocated a place on the programme. Projects will enter the delivery stages over the coming years. We plan to publish the long list of nominations in due course.

Improving the condition of the school estate is a priority for the Government. As I have said, in addition to the rebuilding programme the Department provides annual capital funding to schools and to those responsible for school buildings to maintain and improve the condition of their schools, particularly given wear and tear. We have allocated £11.3 billion for that purpose since 2015.

We expect to allocate condition funding for the 2022-23 financial year this spring, to answer the hon. Member for Portsmouth South. The responsibility for identifying and addressing conditions concerns in schools lies with the relevant local authority, the academy trust or the voluntary aided school body. They may prioritise available resources and funding to keep schools open and safe, ensuring that day-to-day maintenance checks and minor repairs happen.

Local authorities, large multi-academy trusts and large voluntary aided bodies such as dioceses receive an annual school condition allocation to invest in their schools. In the 2021-22 financial year, Durham County Council was allocated more than £7 million in SCA funding—a substantial sum—and the council is responsible for prioritising the funding across all its maintained schools, to ensure that they remain safe and operational. Small academy trusts, small voluntary aided school bodies, and sixth forms and colleges are instead able to bid into the condition improvement fund. The outcome of that latest round should be published later in the spring.

Investing in our school building project is vital to delivering world-class education and training, so that pupils gain the invaluable knowledge, skills and qualifications that they need to succeed. That is exactly why the Government have committed to 500 places over 10 years in the school rebuilding programme, alongside significant annual investment in improving the condition of schools across England. The programme will support levelling up by addressing significant poor conditions across the estate, underpin high-quality education, grow jobs and drive greater efficiency in delivery.

I thank all hon. Members present today, including the hon. Member for City of Durham, who raised this important issue and secured the debate. As we all know, education can be transformative and is vital to our levelling-up agenda. The Government are committed to ensuring that the very bricks and mortar are there to help deliver and facilitate that education.

I will be brief. I thank all hon. Members who have taken part today and I am glad that we have had a constructive debate. It is great to hear about the new schools being built in County Durham. Unfortunately, none of those are in my constituency, but I am sure that the staff and children of Bishop Auckland and Sedgefield will be delighted. I welcome the fact that the criteria and the weightings will be published, because that is what heads have been asking for and they would like to know why those schools were chosen over theirs. I would be delighted to meet the Minister to discuss Framwellgate School Durham, and I hope that that invitation will also be extended to those interested headteachers. Finally, I hope that future bids by City of Durham schools are successful so that the children and educators in my constituency can have the best possible learning environment.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered rollout of the School Rebuilding Programme.

Sitting suspended.