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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr. Robin Squire): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) on securing this debate and on the manner in which he deployed his case. If there are any points at the end that he feels that I have not addressed, I know that, with his usual persistence, he will bring them to my attention. He mentioned that, like me, he is what must seem like a veteran on the 1979 intake. Those of our intake are very good on timing and nothing could be better on timing than for this debate to take place on an afternoon when an earlier debate also necessitated my attendance.

My hon. Friend made a passing reference to Cardinal Newman school. I shall respond on that point equally briefly. I am aware that the matter has been outstanding for some time. I assure him that we are doing our level best to bring the outstanding issues, some of which are quite complex, to a successful conclusion. I undertake that I shall reach that conclusion as soon as I possibly can.

The main issue of the debate is Icknield high school. I have noted my hon. Friend's kind invitation to visit the school and I hope that in time I shall be able to respond to it. Let me make it clear that capital grants for self-governing schools come under two different categories. First, there is a formula grant which all self-governing schools can claim, which is for small-scale capital works. For 1994-95, it is an average of £28,000 for a secondary school, with a minimum of £16,000. I may say more about that later. Secondly, for major capital projects, schools are invited annually to submit bids. They are evaluated on a competitive basis against the criteria announced by the Secretary of State and with regard to the overall level of capital funds available. Icknield school submitted a bid for the second type of funding.

It is always a disappointment for a school when it has a capital project turned down. Sadly, such disappointments are inevitable when demand always outstrips supply and hard choices must realistically be made. That is not only true for self-governing schools but a fact of life across all educational sectors. Nevertheless, a substantial amount has been made available for 1994-95 which, especially in the present tight economic climate, reflects the Government's full-blooded commitment to self- governing schools. I shall say more about that in a moment.

I assure my hon. Friend and the governors, staff and parents at the school that the bid was given full and careful consideration. I understand only too well the effort that goes into preparing such bids ; rejecting them is certainly not something that we do lightly. In the case of Icknield high school, we followed standard procedure in obtaining detailed advice on its bid both from Ofsted and from our


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in-house team of architects before coming to a final decision. Although the bid as presented was turned down, the school has since been invited to bid for emergency funding on health and safety grounds. Officials from my Department contacted the school in January setting out the criteria for emergency grant, and we are awaiting details from the school on what needs to be done. Once the details are available, we shall of course consider the case for emergency funding as a matter of urgent priority.

I can certainly assure my hon. Friend here and now that any projects required on emergency health and safety grounds will receive full funding if the school cannot itself find funds for the work. That is true for all self-governing schools--all may apply for funding where children would otherwise be put at risk or sent home. I know that my hon. Friend, who is assiduous in his work as a Member of Parliament, will communicate that to Icknield school as soon as possible.

Finally, in this context, it should be remembered that Icknield's bid was only one of nearly 1,000 bids received and that it was competing with all of them for a share of the available funds. In such circumstances, there will always be some schools which miss out, even though their bids are for thoroughly worthwhile projects. That, as I have said, is an unfortunate fact of life where a large number of schools chase a limited resource.

I think it is instructive, however, to take a step back at this point and look at the full scope of capital funding available for self-governing schools. In December, the Government announced a package of more than £150 million for capital work at self-governing schools. As a consequence, two thirds of schools new to the sector stand to gain support for large-scale capital projects. As we have made clear many times, it is vital that schools entering the sector are established on a sound footing, and the latest package underlines our commitment to that goal.

Of the £150 million, £37 million will be provided to enable new and existing schools to begin work on major projects in the next financial year. In addition, funding had been set aside for projects for new schools entering the sector between September 1993 and January 1994. Announcements will be made about that next month, and the new work will build on the substantial capital work that has already been carried out in self- governing schools over recent years.

Almost £28 million is being provided in 1994-95 for continuing work in schools on projects started last year. That means that next year major capital work will be taking place in around half of all the self-governing schools which were operating by September 1993. In addition, more than £30 million worth of projects in 82 schools have been identified as high priorities for funding in 1995-96. They will all receive funds in 1994 -95 to start development work on the projects. Even that is not the end of the story, however. As well as allocations for major capital projects, self -governing schools receive a formula capital allocation. Thirty million pounds has been set aside for capital formulae in 1994-95. It is available to all self-governing schools and will be at an enhanced rate over last year, including a £16,000 minimum level which will be of particular benefit to smaller primary schools.

Mr. Carlisle : May I express the gratitude of Icknield high school for the increased capital funding that it receives? To save time, may I again ask my hon. Friend to consider whether, when he examines capital funds and the


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reports that he receives, a school should be physically visited and inspected by members of his Department and of Ofsted so that officials might acquaint themselves with the condition of the buildings in question? In some circumstances, a written submission may not be sufficient to give a clear picture.

Mr. Squire : I had carefully noted my hon. Friend's point the first time and I must now note it doubly carefully. Perhaps he will allow me to come back to him, but I can say now that, where there was any doubt, a physical visit would certainly be made as a follow-up. However, I should like to pursue that issue some other time and get back to him later, as he would expect.

I was talking about formula capital allocation. I know from my personal experience, from visiting schools and speaking to many teachers and governors, that schools


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enjoy the flexibility provided by formula allocations. It is entirely up to them to determine their priorities for the funding and I am sure that they will continue to use it productively. Although in particular instances we cannot provide schools with all that they would wish for, the funding that we are making available for capital work will help self-governing schools to thrive for the benefit of their current and future pupils and the local communities that they serve. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate the constraints under which we have to work and will continue his support of the growth of the self- governing sector, something that he made clear. It is already clear that the self-governing sector will be the model for all maintained schools in the 21st century.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o'clock.


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