Estelle Morris: There was a lengthy and very constructive debate on school companies during our consideration of the Lords amendments to the Education Bill yesterday. The assurance that the Minister for School Standards gave to the House was that schools wishing to set up such companies must obtain the LEA's permission. That will act as the safeguard. If we want to free up schools and encourage them to innovate, sometimes we have to allow them to have different structures in which to do so. I am on the side of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), who on Report welcomed companies as an innovative way of raising standards and devolving responsibility to schools.
Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): Does my right hon. Friend remember hearing the Opposition spokesperson say that we do not particularly like listening to heads? The head teacher whose pupil, Fiona White, is doing work experience with me, tells me that he has already targeted the extra investment going to his school. The head teacher to whom I spoke last week confirmed that she now has a full staff for the coming year. The head teacher to whom I spoke the week before was delighted with the money that has gone into the capital programme. If the Opposition spokesperson does not want the money going to schools in his constituency, there are plenty of head teachers in mine who would be prepared to take it off his hands.
While my right hon. Friend is transferring that money to Lewisham, will she explain more about the excellent idea of extended schools and the help that they will give to the poorer communities in constituencies such as mine?
I, too, have found that head teachers have very much welcomed the grant. I do not want to sound complacent, because I know that some heads face great challenges in recruiting for September, but the excellent school that I was at in Chelsea this morning had also recruited to full complement. We need to get a balance in our discussions and acknowledge that there is much that is good in our schools and much that has improved. Many heads and teachers truly value the resources that we have put in, and have spent them to good effect.
Extended schools will gain approval from all parties. Schools are sometimes the only place in the community that offers professional advice and support and has the space and equipment to serve people. It is wrong that they should be available only from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm. We plan to make them centres of their communities in urban and rural areas. I have heard ideas ranging from having a health centre on site to having the local post office there. I know that a local police station in the north-east has an outpost at a school. Schools are part of the community. Their core job is teaching pupils, but there is no reason why we cannot have joined-up services that go beyond education, and extended schools will be funded to do that.
Ann Winterton (Congleton): I welcome the Secretary of State's emphasis on diversity in education. Will she give an undertaking to consider the particular circumstances of Sandbach school in my constituency, which I believe is unique in that it is an independent comprehensive school where all the pupils are paid for by the state? It wants to retain that status. Will she investigate whether we can resolve the problems that face it?
I welcome the extra expenditure on education, but what can the Secretary of State say to Cheshire parents about the share that they will get under the funding formula? Will they be worse off, or will they be considerably better off, and is it not time that the fair funding formula situation was resolved?
Estelle Morris: I am aware of Sandbach school, because it is an anomaly within the system. I think that the former Minister for School Standards visited it only earlier this year to have discussions with the head. Because I am not aware of the technicalities, may I resist answering the question from the Dispatch Box but promise to answer it in the near future?
Irrespective of the funding formula, Cheshire will get its extra share of the schools standard grant, which is not weighted, which is one of its benefits for areas that consider themselves underfunded through the formula. All the hon. Lady's schools will get an increase in revenue and capital, subject to our agreement on the release of the grant. It is well worth her looking at the consultation document, and I know she will, because she is an assiduous representative of her constituents on the matter of education, as I know from the many letters that I
Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): Will my right hon. Friend explain exactly what she means by one-size-fits-all schools? Perhaps a list of them could be made available in the Library, because I have never come across one. How does she propose to prevent the specialist school system, as she envisages it, from becoming progressively two tier or three tieror perhaps even four tierand increasingly selective?
Estelle Morris: On the one-size-fits-all issue, of course, teachers always think that their school is special; they know the ways in which it differs from neighbouring schools. No one is saying that such differences do not exist, but as I have always said, the perception of comprehensive schools is that of sameness and uniformity. The differences that exist are not celebrated; they are not outwardly visible to parents and to those in the wider community. My point has always been thatas I made clear in the statementschools do indeed have different strengths, but we do not make the most of them. We do not incentivise schools to use those strengths, and we do not reward them for developing them. In terms of the difference of opinion between us, part of squaring the circle is acknowledging that schools do have different strengths, but that the comprehensive system seems to flatten and hide them, rather than raising and cherishing them, and incentivising more schools to celebrate their differences.
On the two-tier system, it is always difficult to get from where we are to where we want to be, but my hon. Friend should bear it in mind that, over time, every school that wants to become, and is capable of becoming, a specialist school will be able to do so. It is in order to get to that point that we have made more resources available every year. If we did not changeif we were not brave enough to take that riskour school system would not deliver what my hon. Friend and I want. I should also point out that the ability to select by aptitude is available not only to specialist schools but to any secondary school that feels that it has a specialism.
Bob Russell (Colchester): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the quality of teaching accommodation is important? If that is the case, will she hazard a guess as to how many temporary demountable classrooms will be replaced at the end of four years? After five years of a Labour Government, there are more demountable classrooms in my constituency than there were in 1997. I suggest that she start with the St. Andrews infant and junior school, which has 11 demountable classrooms.
Estelle Morris: I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for making representations about schools in his constituencythat is his responsibility and his right. However, I suspect that there are fewif anyMembers of this House who cannot point to significant capital investment in schools in their constituencies, regardless of the political party that they represent. The figures show that £700 million was invested in capital in 1997, but by the end of this spending review that will have risen to £4.5 billion. Because we do not run such matters from the
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): A few years ago, under a Conservative Government, half of all secondary schools in the Tory flagship council of Westminster were failing in terms of special measures or serious weaknesses; now, none are. That is a tribute to many people, but certainly to the strategy and investment of this Government.
The key factor for the majority of pupils is to be taught in schools with a mixed intake, but inner-London schools rarely have such an intake. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that she is doing everything possible to direct the resources necessary towards meeting the needs of inner-London schools? In some cases, there is a 50 per cent. turnover between key stages, two thirds of all pupils receive free school dinners, and two thirds speak a language other than English. Indeed, up to 70 different languages are spoken in the home. Those schools need a mixed intake and additional resources. In welcoming the strategy and the resources outlined by my right hon. Friend, I ask her to guarantee that inner London will receive the attention that it deserves.