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Mr. Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has made a very serious accusation that is completely untrue. I remember answering his and other Members' questions on this issue and I referred them to the very clear statements in the five-year plan and the "Building Schools for the Future" document. The latter states:
"The Government will expect local projects to provide a proper evaluation of academy options and that such reform is critical in order to demonstrate the expected impact on educational standards of large-scale capital investment".
That remains the position and, if the hon. Gentleman likes, I can quote from the five-year plan. I have asked for the parliamentary question that he says I did not answer to be investigated, but the position is absolutely clear and has been repeated in all our discussions throughout the country.
Mr. Willis: Before signing off a parliamentary question, the Minister should actually look at it, rather than simply writing back to the Member concerned, saying that he will provide an answer in the future, particularly in cases where the policy is clear. That is an arrogant way to deal with such matters. Why is Newcastle being forced to include an academy that it does not want?
Mr. Miliband: My understanding is that the Liberal Democrats won the local election there promising to have an academy.
Mr. Willis: The Minister makes light of this issue, but the reality is that, as Members know full well, no money can be accessed unless an academy is included. It would be a very sad group of local councillors who, given the option of a £100 million-plus building project, did not meet the Government's expectations. Can the Minister point to a single major "Building Schools for the Future" project that does not include an academy? Can he point to a single secondary school negotiation currently taking place that does not include an academy? If he can, he will have a better case.
At most, 5 per cent. of our 3,500 to 4,000 secondary schools might become academies by 2010; the majority will not. The majority of heads and staff working in some of the most deprived areas and difficult of circumstances are delivering brilliant results. They get not a word of praise from the Minister. Unless they are prepared to go down this route, they will not be trusted with the freedoms and flexibility that would enable them to do an even better job for their children. What a wonderful Christmas present from the Minister.
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Valerie Davey (Bristol, West) (Lab): We all recall that when the project was launched it was defined as a radical new approach to bring the cycle of failing schools in inner cities to an end. The project was launched by the then Secretary of State with a vision of excellence and diversity. It was to be a vision of transformation. I want largely to celebrate the project through the eyes of one of the new academiesthe Bristol city academy. I want to look at how it emerged and assess its prospects for the future.
The academy lies in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) and it was precisely one of the inner city sites that the then Secretary of State had in mind for the project. It had and has an excellent head teacher in Ray Priest, initially head of the St. George community college, and was supported during the early years of the present Government, both as part of an education action zone and as part of the excellence in cities initiative. The idea of collaboration supported the school and saw it develop into an academy.
I congratulate the chairman of governors, the staff and the consortium of sponsors who came on board. Interestingly, the consortium was led by the university of the West of England and Bristol City football club. No one individual came in with a lot of money and his own theory of education. What happened was due to organisations that had already supported the school and its emphasis on sport. Bristol City football club was committed to serve an inner city area; and UWE was interested in raising standards in an inner city area, so it fully collaborated in the project. The academy was born out of collaboration and I trust that it will continue that way. As long as the present head remains there, I have no doubt at all about that. Collaboration with the local education authority, Bristol city council, was also important. The collaborative work goes on and the present head and governors are in place.
The academy is celebrating excellence with diversity. Educational attainment, judged by those gaining five A to C grades in GCSE, is steadily improving. It has gone up from 17 per cent. to 22 per cent. and now stands at 33 per cent. I take note of what other hon. Members have said about sixth forms. Significantly, where last year the academy sent only two students to university, this year it sent 17, including one to Oxbridge. Those young people were still supported by the education action zone. Indeed, the EAZ helped to ensure that all those students took a laptop, or equivalent funding for it, to university with them. The academy has grown and developed out of collaboration, which I believe provides a model for the future.
While this school has succeeded, the LEA has had the difficult task of closing two other schools in Bristol. I am not saying that the closures are the direct result of the academy. Rather, they are the result of the changing demography within Bristol, whereby more people are now living in the inner city. We have succeeded in building on brownfield sites and many more people are moving into areas around the school, which will benefit from it. In other areas, schools have had to shut. Either of those schools could presumably have become a foundation school. Even if they did not, however, it was
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the LEA that had to take responsibility for shutting them, with all the anguish and concern that that caused to parents and children. We have to have a strong LEA taking strategic decisions, and it should be involved in the strategic decisions of the academies. In my book, the academies should still be within the LEA's remit.
For now, there is a successful academy, and I can do nothing except celebrate what has been achieved. It has, however, been done against a specific background, and I cannot say, for the long term, whether, under a different head and a different management, that school might not, as it becomes more and more popular, select its young people, instead of the local community choosing to go, in a very celebratory way, to a brand new school.
We have to conceptualise what will go on in future, therefore. If we have, as we do now, 16-plus in the hands of the learning and skills councils, if 5 per cent. of academies are independent but publicly funded, and if more and more foundation schools become independent, is it, indeed, the long-term objective of Ministers that all secondary schools will be outside the LEA? That is a question for the long term, but I would like an answer from the Minister. What is the ultimate long-term objective of the policy? Are the Government saying that only an independent sponsorsomeone from outside the immediate education sectoris capable of bringing new imagination and creativity to failing inner-city schools?
In LEAs, where things have gone badly wrong, another LEA has come in alongside the LEA to support it in difficult circumstances. I do not want the expertise of LEAs to be taken away to other agencies and sponsoring bodies so that we undermine the democratic accountability of schools. Ultimately, it is only through the collaboration of primary schools with secondary schools, and of secondary schools with secondary schools, that we will get the best attainment for our young people at every level.
We must not forget the extensive parental choice that the Government have developed and encouraged. Parents seeing a new school and all the extra facilities that academies and foundation schools have will of course gravitate towards those schools. As a Labour party member, however, I want to be assured that the fundamental principle for education is that every child matters. If every child matters, we cannot allow some to steam ahead at the expense of others.
Like other hon. Members, I do not damn outright the concept of the kind of mutual approach that I have seen at the Bristol city academy. I can see what has happened, and I can see the value of it, but if every child matters, the two schools that have shut in Bristol needed as much care and protection from the LEA and from the Government as was put in to enhance the achievement of the young people in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East. We must have a broad-based policy. We cannot embark on an expensive project for 5 per cent. of our schools if it will be to the detriment of even another 5 per cent., let alone a larger proportion, which it could well be. I am looking for an in-depth analysis. Like the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), I want to know why we have not yet received the initial report from
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PricewaterhouseCoopers. It may only be short term, but if it is available it should be in the public domain, as should the report that is to be delivered this month.
Let us have transparent government. Let us see what is happening. Let us celebrateas I dothe Bristol city academy, but let us use that experience as a lesson for the future. Let us understand exactly what the long-term objectives are for the relevance of LEAs in what is a difficult position: transformationanother word used by the former Secretary of State. It is a hugely difficult management skill to get from failing schools to successful schoolsto take a changing demographic situation and ensure that schools are available where they are needed. Capital investment is recognised and valuable, but it must be in the right place and at the right time. The wishes of children and their parents must be recognised.
I celebrate what I have seen in the city of Bristol, but I want recognition of the real concerns that are being expressed by the Select Committee and others as we suddenly go from 50 to, perhaps, 200 schools by 2010.
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