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12 Dec 2002 : Column 504—continued


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation) and Order [28 November],

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 18 December, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 29 October 2002 ]


Mr. Deputy Speaker : With permission, I shall put together the remaining motions.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

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Proceeds Of Crime

Question agreed to.



Woodside Adolescent Unit

7.23 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I rise to present a petition on behalf of residents of the Epsom and Ewell area, relatives of those treated at the Woodside Adolescent Unit and others across the south-east of England concerned about the unit's future. For the information of the House, the unit is a psychiatric unit aimed at young people; it was a pioneer in its field and faces closure as a result of the transfer of services across the border into London.

The petition declares:

To lie upon the Table.

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Food Supplements

Mr. John Horam (Orpington): The petition that I have the pleasure of presenting is on behalf of more than 600 consumers of food supplements and natural health products in Petts Wood, Orpington and the surrounding areas. The signatures were collected by the Health Matters store in Petts Wood in my constituency.

The petition declares:

To lie upon the Table.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): The House may have a strange sense of déjà vu when I present my petition on behalf of Ralph Pike, who has collected 5,435 signatures on behalf of Consumers for Health Choice. The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): My petition is identical to the two that have just been introduced, so I shall not repeat the text. In this case, the petition was organised by Mr. Fordham of the Spice of Life health food shop in Bemisters lane, Gosport, and was signed by more than 200 of my constituents. The fact that an identical petition should come from three different constituencies underlines the widespread concern about the matter.

To lie upon the Table.

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School Closures (Leeds)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

7.27 pm

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East): I feel out of place, as I do not have a petition to present.

I am very grateful to Mr. Speaker for this opportunity to raise important matters relating to school closures affecting my constituents. Some of my colleagues may want to speak about schools in other parts of that great city of Leeds, if they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am aware that the Minister has less statutory involvement in school closures than before, but certain aspects of the current educational unrest in Leeds lead to his and his colleagues' doors, and this is an excellent chance to acquaint him and the Department with the difficulties that they are unwittingly causing.

The Minister will be aware that Education Leeds is reviewing both high schools and primary schools, which is sensible and necessary on both demographic and educational grounds and is clearly overdue. My remarks today are definitely not about being defensive over the closure of buildings. The demographic changes alone make some closures inevitable. This is about three issues on which departmental involvement is in danger of distorting sensible educational decisions and, above all, undermining the democratic process.

The first issue concerns academy status, which has ministerial blessing and has been conferred on Agnes Stewart Church of England high school. The plans agreed with the Minister envisage a new Agnes Stewart Church of England academy, merged with Braim Wood boys high school on a new site in Fearnville fields.

Agnes Stewart school has been in special measures and is now regarded as having serious weaknesses. Instead of being given this new status and some #18 million in funds from the Department for Education and Skills, it is more of a candidate for closure. It has let youngsters down for many years, as scrutiny of the Ofsted report and of exam results over the years will clearly confirm.

Braim Wood—the school that Agnes Stewart is taking over as part of the move towards an academy, and which, in effect, it is closing down—is smaller, but it has double the exam successes of Agnes Stewart. Braim Wood's size may well be explained by the education authority's making public its desire to let Agnes Stewart take it over. That has resulted in Braim Wood's being blighted, and parents are understandably not over-keen to send their children to a school in which their education will clearly be disrupted. Regardless of that, it has had a decent Ofsted. It is in a very attractive, semi-rural location and is well placed to attract a social mix. Whether the single sex aspect can be justified is forming, and has formed, an interesting part of the consultations.

A really controversial aspect of the academy is the proposed new site on Fearnville fields. I should point out that I live on a nearby estate, and have done so for the past 20-odd years. Residents' meetings have made it absolutely plain that they see no environmental sense in the proposal to build on one of the much prized and very scarce green spaces in the inner city. Perhaps even more

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importantly, nor do they see much educational sense in building there. What enrages local people is that, on standing in the field—the proposed site of the new academy—and looking northwards, one can see just 700 yd away a redundant high school building that is still standing. It was closed some five or six years ago, and is being used by the council for other activities. This raises some obvious questions. Although it is being used for various purposes, it could be made available, and it has land within its curtilage on which another school could be built. In other words, an educational establishment is still standing within 700 yd of the proposed site.

Local people ask the obvious questions: if there is a need for the school in that vicinity, why ruin green fields, when an educational establishment is located so close? Even more pertinently, they ask, XBefore you build a school there, is it not worth examining the reasons for the closure of the former high school?" As a local councillor at the time of the closure, it was evident to me that the high school closed because it failed to achieve a social mix. My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon), a distinguished former teacher-lecturer, contributed to what little success that establishment achieved, but even that failed to prevent its closure.

This issue is linked to the Minister for School Standards because it was he who agreed last July to the plan to build an academy on that site. His Department and Education Leeds have since spent an estimated six-figure sum on developing that plan. The trouble is that Education Leeds has bid for an academy according to a specific timetable, and it is under the impression that it has #20 million to spend on this project. The problems are twofold. Having consulted interested partners, it is discovering not only a lack of support for Braim Wood's closure to accommodate the proposed Agnes Stewart Church of England academy, but real puzzlement at, and strong hostility towards, such use of the site.

The second part of this exercise is the young persons academy—a different type of academy that will attempt to provide 16-plus education in the inner city. That comes to Leeds like a thief in the night and is just as welcome.

In inner-city Leeds, we have the usual problems with 16-plus education: small sixth forms, with little breadth of choice. The building of an academy is one way forward but, as the House will agree, it is not the only way. Schools in the outer suburbs have been encouraged to form partnerships and networks. That could be the answer in the inner city; for example, partnerships could be formed with local further education colleges.

The Leeds academy is described as having 900 students, yet there is no indication of where they will come from. There are two obvious places: the further education colleges and the existing schools. That must have an adverse financial effect on both sectors, but that is spelled out nowhere—nor are we told which sixth forms are to be affected.

Once again, a bid has been made. The Minister has agreed to the concept and to the money, but the consultations are unreal because the full details and consequences are not spelled out. Furthermore, some people feel that money rather than education is leading in this case.

The proposals for the young person's academy led to the most outrageous part of the whole exercise. To find a site for the academy, Education Leeds decided to

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demolish one of the best primary schools in inner east Leeds—Shakespeare primary school, which is in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn). It is an award-winning school and the decision seemed dreadful. Under the guise of dealing with surplus places, Education Leeds decided that it could save Shakespeare but only at the expense of another fine primary school in the vicinity—Ebor Gardens.

The proposal is that Ebor Gardens be closed and demolished and that Shakespeare be moved to that site to make room for the academy.

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