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School Refurbishments

4. Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): How many schools will undergo a major refurbishment in 2005. [31312]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle): We are investing £5.5 billion in school buildings and information and communications technology in 2005–06, including £2.1 billion for "Building Schools for the Future". The first wave of investment will enable BSF to transform secondary schools in 17 local authorities, including Stoke. BSF aims broadly to build half the schools, refurbish 35 per cent. and carry out minor works on 15 per cent.

Mr. Flello: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for making almost £200 million available to Stoke-on-Trent city council as part of the first wave. I am delighted that the Sandon new school will be up and running by 2007. Will my hon. Friend urge the local education authority to consult widely on how the money will be spent and which new schools will be developed, particularly with respect to Longton and Edensor high schools?

Maria Eagle: Yes, my hon. Friend will be well aware that the organisation of Stoke schools is a local matter that is subject to statutory procedures. Any proposals will have to go through those procedures, a large part of which requires consultation—and preferably agreement—locally. If local agreement is not reached, however, provision can be made for conclusions to be reached.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): The Minister will know that in Scandinavian countries, schools are built for the future through the principle of school choice. In Sweden, for example, that has resulted in 500 new schools. Translated into this country, that would mean 5,000 new schools over the period of a decade. In his foreword to the education White Paper, the Prime Minister spoke in glowing terms about the Swedish reforms, but no mention is made in the body of that paper and if funding does not follow—

Mr. Speaker: Order. By my reckoning, the question is about the refurbishment of schools. The hon. Gentleman is going far too wide of the mark.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): As my hon. Friend is aware, part of the programme is about extending the school day and ensuring that pupils have access to sports facilities. Will she ensure that the refurbishment links in closely with the new opportunities fund, which I believe is still lagging a little behind? It is important to make strategic choices about where the sports facilities go in local schools to match the needs of local communities.

Maria Eagle: Yes, my hon. Friend is right to mention both extended schools and the possibilities that they provide for children and young people to have somewhere to go and things to do. He is also right to stress the importance of sport and ensuring co-ordination between different capital funding streams. He will be aware that, during the spending review period, £17.5 billion of capital investment is going into our schools. That should equate to many new sports facilities all around the country.
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Temporary Classrooms (Dorset)

5. Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): How many temporary mobile classrooms are in use for mainstream lessons in schools under the control of Dorset local education authority; and if she will make a statement. [31313]

The Minister for Schools (Jacqui Smith): Dorset local education authority did not include any data about temporary buildings in its asset management data sets returned to the Department, but I understand that there are approximately 220 temporary mobile buildings at their schools. Dorset schools will receive nearly £90 million for buildings over the next three years.

Annette Brooke: I thank the Minister for her answer. Is she aware that 35 of those classrooms are on the site of Lytchett Minster upper school, representing 52 per cent. of its classrooms? They have been there for five and a half years, following a serious fire. To date, the Conservative-controlled county council has not even submitted a planning application. Meanwhile, costs are escalating, so will the Minister and her officials investigate what can be done to break through this impasse and ensure that this really good school can keep up its high standards?

Jacqui Smith: I can understand the hon. Lady's frustration on behalf of her constituents, particularly in view of how long those classrooms have been there since the fire at Lytchett Minster school. There is, of course, a limit to what the Government can do to ensure that Conservative authorities carry out their responsibilities, but I am sure that they will have listened carefully to what the hon. Lady has said today. I hope that they will make good use of the considerable extra investment in school buildings that the Government are putting into Dorset.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does the Minister agree that a bigger issue facing parents in my constituency is the county council's refusal to promote change, competition and choice by not allowing Highcliffe comprehensive school to expand—an expansion that could be facilitated by the use of temporary classrooms?

Jacqui Smith: If the hon. Gentleman is talking about Dorset, I am sure that he has taken up this issue with his political colleagues on the county council. This issue has been very important to this Government. In fact, we have facilitated, through capital funding, the expansion of popular and successful schools. It is of course important that local authorities also bear in mind the needs of parents and the need to ensure fair access to a diverse range of schools, and that they use the additional funding that the Government are making available to ensure that that happens. The hon. Gentleman will doubtless put pressure on his political colleagues to ensure that they do.

Further Education

6. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): What discussions she has had with the Treasury about further education funding for Somerset. [31314]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Phil Hope): On 21 October, the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), wrote to all MPs setting out the strategic direction for the learning and skills sector for 2006–08. This includes a greater funding focus on our priorities of ensuring a place in school or college, or an apprenticeship, for all young people; and—as was mentioned earlier—a focus on adults who lack a solid foundation of employability skills. These priorities are spelled out in the 14-to-19 White Paper and in the two skills White Papers that were agreed with the Treasury. They are also reflected in our FE allocations to providers in Somerset, which increased by 4 per cent. above inflation this year.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Will the Minister comment on the fact that if a 16 to 18-year-old goes to a secondary school, they attract automatic funding for the school, but not if they go to a tertiary college? That puts Somerset at a severe disadvantage, because we have five excellent tertiary colleges that attract a lot of pupils from outside the county boundary, where funding does not follow the pupil. The situation is made much worse by the Government's cut in adult education funding to those colleges. Will the Minister look again at the particular problems faced by such colleges in Somerset—problems caused by his Department and the Treasury?

Phil Hope: There has been no cut in FE funding; indeed, it has increased by some 48 per cent. in real terms since 1997. That contrasts starkly with the four years in the run-up to 1997, when the average funding unit per FE student fell by about 14 per cent. So let us be clear: resources have been going into FE. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the differing funding rates for young people in different institutions. If he was in the Chamber earlier, he will have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State point out that we are closing the funding gap between FE and sixth forms. It will be down to 8 per cent. next year and we will narrow the gap further. That will mean that young people can look forward to continuing investment in their education—in Somerset and elsewhere.

John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con): Is the Minister aware that in my part of Somerset, Weston-super-Mare college, of which I am a governor, is suffering—along with many other colleges throughout the country—from a problem that the Association of Colleges has identified as arising from the introduction of the new entitlement to free level 2 courses? That has meant a substantial loss of fee income to FE colleges from large employers in industries such as construction, engineering and catering. Such money must now be made up by the taxpayer as a dead-weight cost of the new policy, before any additional educational benefit is achieved.

Phil Hope: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised the question of level 2 funding for adults in the workplace. We have a huge skills gap, as Members in all parts of the House recognise, and we need to shift our focus—as we are doing—in the way that the Foster report described, on to providing funding for adult skills
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in the workplace. This system will provide a huge opportunity for colleges in the next two years, as the demand-led roll-out of the national employer training programme gives employers free, full-level entitlement. They will be able to choose the colleges that provide the training that they want, at the time when and in the place where they want it. That demand-led system will drive up skills in the work force, and provide a good opportunity for investment and for the provision of training by FE colleges.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): To return to the county of Somerset, does the Minister appreciate the difficulties that we are experiencing, as even a cursory comparison of funding for FE colleges in Somerset with that for other authorities in the south-west shows? The disproportionately high number of 16 to 18-year-olds in Somerset who go to FE colleges—rather than school sixth forms, of which there are very few—has produced a distorting effect that has squeezed substantially adult education in Somerset's FE colleges. Will the Minister talk to the Learning and Skills Council about this and look again at the figures? We are concerned that some very good college education is being lost as a result.

Phil Hope: I want to make two points. First, to meet the needs of young people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and its neighbours, funding for 16 to 18-year-olds in Somerset has gone up by no less than 12 per cent. Secondly, although there has been a shift in public funding for adult places, the hon. Gentleman should ask his local colleges about their fee structure. We are asking colleges to collect more fee income from adult learners as part of the process of rebalancing what is provided by taxpayers, learners and employers. We believe that there is scope to increase colleges' fee income so that they can maintain the courses that people value.

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