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Mr. Miliband: It certainly is an "Alice in Wonderland" world where capital does not count as money. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record, it will be absolutely clear that he complained about the £25 million that was being spent. In recurrent terms, academies are funded at a rate comparable with other maintained schools, their building plans are based on the same cost benchmarks as all other schools whose buildings are approved by the Department for Education and Skills, and they are receiving an initial substantial capital investment in their building, which is simply part of the "Building Schools for the Future" programme.
Mr. Miliband: Well, I would say that I rest mine, which is that local authorities and local people recognise the potential of academies to contribute to educational transformation. Academies do not make a monetary profit for their private sponsors. Procurement and payment for services must be in line with legal requirements and conditions attached to Government grant. Sponsors are involved for philanthropic purposes, and we should welcome them.
Academies are required to follow the school admissions code of practice, and to comply with admissions law, which does not allow them to hand-pick pupils. The data on free school meals percentages in the academy programme show that they are way above the national average in all but one case. On a related point, academies do not have special privileges to exclude pupilsmy exchange with the hon. Member for Chesterfield made that clear or at least demonstrated that any suggestion that the school that he mentioned was engaging in underhand practice was wrong. They work by the same rules as other schools.
Although academies are taking on some of the toughest schools in the country, their record over the last three years is worth examining. In relation to fixed-term exclusions, the academies' total of 832 in 200304 is a significant reduction on the 1,271 in the previous year. We have dealt with the King's academy in Middlesbrough, but the Manchester academy reduced exclusions in its first year by more than 80 per cent., and the Walsall academy, which the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) has visited, has improved attendance for students from the predecessor school by more than 10 per cent. in the first half of the school year.
The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough accused me of refusing to answer a question, and claimed that I was not answering him properly and simply fobbing him off. He tabled a question on 29 November for an answer on 2 December. A named-day reply was sent and the full answer has gone today. My reply simply said that we would get to the bottom of the issue and write to him with the full details. I certainly
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was not fobbing him off, and as I said in the debate, we have stuck rigorously to the words of the "Building Schools for the Future" prospectus in February 2003, repeated in the five-year plan.
A final myth is peddled about academies: that they are somehow a cancerous growth in the middle of a local system of education, not just inhibiting collaboration but destroying it. Let me take the example of sixth form provision. If the hon. Gentleman considers the funding agreement for the Manchester academy, he will see that collaboration on 14 to 19 provision with other local providers, be they schools, work-based learning or further education colleges, is written into it. It is also alleged that somehow LEAs are being forced out of the programme. Every academy is put to the Department with LEA support, and that is written into the legislation. In relation to the "Building Schools for the Future" programme, that is a massive vote of confidence in the ability of local government to help to lead reform in the strategic way that was mentioned.
As for the demand that we make sure that all projects in "Building Schools for the Future" have quality at their heart, imagine the row that there would be if we said that there were no quality thresholds for distributing £2.2 billion of public money a year. It is absolutely right that we have those quality thresholds, and I am happy to defend them.
Now is not the occasion to debate the Conservative party's proposals for abolishing LEAs or abolishing the proximity rule in relation to admissions. I look forward to doing that during the general election.
and it has remained so. The five-year-olds who entered primary school in September 1997 achieved the highest standards of any generation of 11-year-olds. Today, they are in year 8, the second year of secondary education. Every English secondary school is on the road to developing a centre of curriculum excellence, every English secondary school is benefiting from the key stage 3 programme and from massive investment in buildings and technology, and every school is benefiting from the work force agreement. Not every school will become an academy, but for those in greatest need, it is right that we make the greatest effort. Academies make that effort, and I hope that the whole House will support pupils, parents, governors and sponsors in that project.
It being Six o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates) and Order [29 October 2002].
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