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Flooding: Schools and Children's Services

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The recent flooding has brought widespread damage to large areas of central and northern England.

The Government are very grateful to the committed staff in schools, early years and childcare settings and local authorities who have worked so hard to contain and reduce the effect of the flood waters, to get many schools and early years settings back in use and to provide places in temporary or alternative accommodation where necessary.

In the flood-hit regions, numbers of schools that lost teaching days included 91 in Kingston upon Hull, 72 in East Riding, 72 in Doncaster, 66 in Sheffield, 27 in Lincolnshire, six in Nottinghamshire, four in Derbyshire and two in Rotherham. Only eight of Kingston upon Hull’s 99 school sites were unaffected—65 primary schools, 13 secondary schools, 10 special units and three nurseries were all temporarily closed. Nine sites were still closed last week. The local authority has found temporary premises for the children affected. Kingston upon Hull calculates that the flooding resulted in losing 107,000 pupil days, but prompt action by the schools and council avoided losing up to 90,000 more. In Doncaster, six schools were damaged and closed at some point, but only one is still closed. In the east Midlands, five schools have all their pupils in temporary premises.

Our main aim is to help as many of these schools and early years settings as possible to reopen at permanent premises by the start of the September term and, where that is not possible, to help to ensure satisfactory alternative arrangements so that no child suffers educationally because of flood damage. There is still an immense amount of hard work to do. The immediate dangers are over, but every child and young person and their parents will rightly expect no let-up in efforts to get back to normal as quickly as possible.

To that end, my department is working closely with the regional government offices and local authorities to:

assess fully the extent of the damage to schools and early years and childcare provision (including children’s centres), both buildings and equipment;

assess the impact that the floods have had on children and young people’s ability to learn and make the progress that we expect (this includes any impact on examinations or course work); and

take decisions on how best to get children back into proper permanent educational accommodation.

Already the Government have allocated £14 million and have widened the rules on Bellwin funds to deal with flood damage. In addition, my department will make available an initial sum of £10 million for flood-affected schools and children’s services. My officials, with colleagues from government offices, will hold detailed discussions on an area-by-area/case-by-case basis to determine how best to provide both interim and long-term solutions. As part of these discussions, we will:

determine how best we can use and, if necessary, rephase the significant capital investment planned over the next five years to address the needs of the schools most affected;

decide what additional educational support we can give schools and other providers to help to maintain standards while there is disruption;

and look to fund, in particular:

extra surveyors—to be arranged through existing departmental call-off contracts—to help authorities accurately to assess damage and more quickly to reach a clear picture on the cost of repairs;

temporary accommodation for those settings that will still be in such accommodation in September;

additional summer activities for young people who cannot yet return to their homes and are living in caravans or other temporary housing; and

family support workers to help with longer-term pressures on family life for families who have been seriously affected by the flood waters.

In addition, I have already written to:

exam boards, asking them to ensure that, where exams were disrupted, cases seeking special consideration are dealt with promptly and with due consideration; and

Ofsted, asking for inspections to take proper account of the disruption and loss of school days and records caused by the floods.

The Minister for Schools, Jim Knight, is working closely with the Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes MP, to oversee implementation of the above programme of DCSF work on flood recovery. These Ministers are seeing daily progress reports from departmental officials. DCSF is playing its part in the flood-recovery inter-ministerial group chaired by Local Government Minister John Healey.