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I accept that there is a kind of paradox, and as politicians, we are aware of it. On the one hand, it is desirable to involve all and sundry in visioning and in thinking bright, bold thoughts for the future. On the other hand, it is possible to set hares running, and fears of closure justifiably upset schools, parents and staff. If, at the end of the day, the capital is not forthcoming, or if the plans turn out to be widely opposed or hard to progress, public visioning just leads to pain.

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On the other hand, private scheming—I use the phrase in its proper sense of thinking up schemes privately—can lead to the worse evil of general paranoia. In Sefton at the moment, we seem to have private scheming and public kite-flying. The Minister can help relieve that problem by telling us what is promised to Sefton. Is it capital credits or a private finance initiative? Is Sefton expected to get the green light, as the media are saying? What does the Department know of Sefton’s plans? Has it seen them? How much has it promised in response to those plans? What is likely to be the effect of the squeeze on public spending, which we can all see coming, on boroughs such as Sefton that have come late to this scheme, in the last few phases of its operation?

No one can be against Building Schools for the Future as an investment or an idea, but we can be against rushed-through plans, secrecy, a lack of financial clarity, uncertainty, financial dependence and unquantified costs. Those are things that it is probably worth being against, if we are in favour of investment in school building and refurbishment. Governments and local government historically find it easier to deliver infrastructure than educational improvement. That is the general conclusion that I have reached after many years of thinking about how we develop the education system. One thing that definitely hampers educational improvement is uncertainty and upheaval. Getting schools to run well is by no means easy; it is no mean trick. Disruption in school life, on the other hand, is relatively easy; it can be dealt with by something as simple and straightforward as the change of a headmaster. School systems, when they run well, need to be well looked after. What I would like the Minister to do in his response is lay out on a national and local basis—perhaps even to the level of what is happening in Sefton—where we are now, and what we can expect next.

10.8 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) on securing this important debate. Building Schools for the Future is the most significant and most exciting programme of public investment in schools for more than 50 years. I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss it before the House.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that he had been a member of the teaching profession, and as a former teacher myself I can confirm that before 1997—and certainly before 1994 when I left the teaching profession—our school buildings were in an extremely poor state, after decades of neglect under previous Governments. I taught in some fairly dodgy buildings during my teaching career, spending a lot of it in temporary portakabins that regularly leaked in the winter. As someone who was born and brought up in a new town, I also understand his point about buildings that are all of the same vintage. I hope that I will be able to put his mind at rest a little during the debate.

The hon. Gentleman said that the provision of new and refurbished schools was neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for good education—I hope that I recall what he said correctly. Of course, that is the case. It is not enough just to have good buildings. As I hope to show, however, it can make a direct contribution to
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the education of young people when we improve buildings, and Building Schools for the Future is doing that already.

Since 1997, including before the current programme, we have taken decisive action about that lack of investment over many decades. We have increased capital investment sixfold in real terms, to £6.4 billion this year, and I do not think that we should apologise for that. Every community has benefited, with more than 1,000 newly built schools and 27,000 new or improved classrooms built—I checked my notes twice before accepting those figures. We have made a remarkable achievement over the past 10 years.

As the hon. Gentleman said, his constituency is in the local authority area of Sefton and currently falls within waves 10 to 12 of the Building Schools for the Future programme. Based on current plans, the transformation in his area is not due to begin until later in the programme. Given his remarks, perhaps he will feel reassured by that. He will also know that we are currently consulting on changes to the way we prioritise our investment. Later this year, we will invite all the authorities in waves 7 to 15 to revise their expressions of interest. Those revised expressions of interest will then be prioritised into a new national programme. The hon. Gentleman may therefore wish to encourage his local authority to start considering how to revise its expression of interest.

Sefton has not formally started in Building Schools for the Future, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but is constructively discussing its BSF plans with my Department. I confirm that the private finance initiative will be defined when school plans are firmed up, which will obviously take place in the near future. In the meantime, he will be aware that Sefton local authority and its schools will be receiving capital support of £55.5 million over the next three years. In addition, every typical unmodernised secondary school of 1,000 pupils will receive £113,000 to spend as it wishes on buildings and information and communications technology, with a typical unmodernised primary school receiving £34,000.

We recognise that local areas such as Sefton will want to begin investing the Building Schools for the Future money, so we have introduced a separate one-school pathfinder scheme, which means that all local authorities can get started on at least one major project in their area. The project in Sefton is Litherland high school, which I understand is not in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which will receive about £23.68 million. That project is making good progress. The outline business case has been accepted and the local authority envisages construction starting in April 2009.

We have begun to lay the foundations, but the scale of the challenge is enormous. Eight out of 10 of our schools are more than 30 years old; most were never meant to last as long as they have done. Building Schools for the Future is the Government’s response to that situation and to those decades of under-investment. It will refurbish or rebuild every secondary school in England, creating world-class facilities for generations of school children to come.

The programme is gaining momentum. A total of 13 new or rebuilt Building Schools for the Future schools are now open nationwide, from Newcastle in the north to Bristol in the south. In September, after the summer holidays, a further 22 are expected to open across the country. According to local authority plans,
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a total of 30 such schools will open this calendar year, rising to around 150 in 2010 and 200 or more per year thereafter. Over the next 15 years, BSF will help to improve the school experiences of 3.3 million young people.

I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman made in his thoughtful way, but what I have described is a practical expression of what the ambition of the programme—he rightly said that it was an ambitious, massive investment—really is. Sometimes people seem to be saying, “That may be all very well in practice, but how will it work in theory?” I do not think that that is what the hon. Gentleman was saying, but it is a practical way of describing the ambition of which he spoke.

Given the scale and lifespan of the programme, it is crucial that we continue to analyse progress and improve performance so that we deliver the best possible results for the large sum that—as the hon. Gentleman pointed out—the Government are investing.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister intend to institute a proper, thorough audit of the people who run Building Schools for the Future? They are, after all, profit-driven. That is fine: it is not a problem. However, it becomes a problem when the scale of the operation offers them what is virtually an open cheque. I hope the Minister will want to institute a proper and rigorous audit of their performance.

Kevin Brennan: A capital programme of this scale does have to be audited properly and rigorously, although—and I do not think my hon. Friend was suggesting this—I do not think that profit is a dirty word. Even in a traditionally funded—a publicly funded—capital programme, the contractors would be making a profit from building the schools. There is nothing new about using the private sector to build schools. I do not think we know of any schools in whose building, or indeed maintenance, the private sector has not been involved. However, my hon. Friend is right to suggest that expenditure on this scale needs to be properly audited.

We have learnt from early delays in some of the projects, which arose largely because the projects focused, rightly, on the areas of greatest social deprivation and educational underperformance: in other words, the most urgent cases. Since the end of 2006, however, we have introduced measures specifically designed to ensure that local authorities are ready to hit the ground running as soon as they enter Building Schools for the Future. Those changes have resulted in significant improvements in delivery time scales, and our recently announced streamlining of the procurement processes will reduce them still further.

Building Schools for the Future is not just about bricks and mortar; investment on this scale brings huge opportunities for change. We are working with local authorities to make sure that BSF works as a catalyst for the broader educational transformation that we want to see, so that all young people can make the most of their talents and achieve their very best, regardless of their background. As the hon. Gentleman said, the legacy of BSF will be measured not by the numbers of new buildings or the size of classrooms—important though that is—but by the success of the investment in improving the young people’s aspirations and the prospects of children and communities across the country.

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Research shows that we are achieving well according to that measure. The National Foundation for Educational Research recently examined the impact of a new environment on students and teachers at one of the first BSF schools, with impressive results. Once the school had moved into its new buildings, 87 per cent. of students felt safe most or all the time, up from 57 per cent. in the previous school buildings; 77 per cent. felt proud of their school, up from 43 per cent.; 61 per cent. said they enjoyed going to school, up from 50 per cent.; and 77 per cent. expected to stay on in the sixth form or go to college, up from 64 per cent. BSF is not just a facelift for schools.

Dr. Pugh: I note the successes in pupil experience. The Select Committee said that pupils should be involved. Clearly the more that pupils are involved in the planning process and asked about their preferences, the more likely such successes will be. Does that not argue for less haste in the process, and a more careful consultative progressing of schemes?

Kevin Brennan: I agree, and I do not think any Government have done as much to promote the pupil voice as this Government, in all sorts of ways. That includes making pupils part of the plans for new schools, and allowing them to own those new schools. That has significantly improved as a result of some of the changes that we have made. As I have said, however, we have seen significant improvements in pupils’ experience in a school that has already been built. That does not come directly from us. The National Foundation for Educational Research worked with those pupils and received those findings as a result. This is not, therefore, just a facelift, but it is a thorough renewal that will help pupils enjoy and achieve, position schools right at the core of their communities and help to revitalise local areas.

We must ensure that it is a renewal that will last. This is a once-in-a-generation programme. We have not seen anything like it for the past 50 years. As a recent Select Committee report on BSF said, we must make sure that its impact is sustainable, and that it continues to inspire long after the smell of fresh paint has faded away.

Three critical factors will help to ensure that we produce schools fit for the 21st century. First, wide-ranging consultation and careful planning is part of the process. Early engagement and consultation with the whole school community is an important part of the development phase of a BSF project. When a local authority joins BSF, it must produce a strategy for change, which sets out how its investment will support the changing demographics and educational needs of the area. The authority needs to demonstrate that in preparing the strategy it has carried out proper consultation with its stakeholders, and that the resulting strategy has been accepted and is supported by all these groups. Corresponding work is also done at school level, and the local authority must provide the appropriate support for schools to carry it out. In particular, we have engaged with the Sorrell Foundation, notably through the “joinedupdesignforschools” project, to develop best practice in reflecting pupils’ views in the design of their schools. However, we recognise that more work needs to be done to explore how schools can more fully involve students
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and parents in the planning process. We are currently producing guidance material on preparations for BSF, which will include advice on such matters.

The second key for success is that the buildings themselves must be sustainable. We have already set high standards for sustainability, but we want to go further. We are making an immediate requirement that new school buildings achieve a 60 per cent. carbon emissions reduction, and we are backing that up with £113 million for energy efficiency and renewable energy measures in about 235 new school buildings. For the longer term, we announced in the children’s plan, published in December last year, our ambition for zero-carbon new buildings by 2016, and we have now appointed a task force to advise on how this goal can be met. We know this will not be easy, but we have a moral responsibility to future generations to try to achieve it.

The third issue is information and communications technology managed services. Advances in information technology have already revolutionised teaching and learning. I am sure that when the hon. Member for Southport, as a former teacher, visits schools, he is as taken aback as I am by the extent to which technology is now integrated right across the curriculum. From interactive whiteboards to online learning resources, just as in the world of work, computers are now at the core of a school’s work and are an important means by which young people communicate, express themselves and develop their creativity and learning. Provision for excellent ICT facilities that can adapt to technological developments as they happen is, therefore, essential for any school for the future.

In addition, the new diploma programme will lead to increasing numbers of students attending courses in more than one location. They will, therefore, need to be able to access their files and resources from a number of locations and from home.

Mr. Purchase: Will the Minister make it his policy that it need not be the central contractor who gets in on the private finance initiative for ICT, but that a local authority with a good record in provision of equipment through its buying policies and in providing good support, which is the most important factor in ensuring ICT gives value for money, can do so too?

Kevin Brennan: Obviously, we want BSF projects to include an area-wide, commercially managed service for ICT that can respond to the changing requirements of schools and of technology. By procuring ICT on an area-wide basis, schools can make substantial savings, ensure the highest standards and enjoy ICT services and resources tailored to their individual needs and specialisms. A managed service frees schools from the burden of procuring and managing their ICT systems individually, so that they can focus on their core business, which is teaching and learning.

All Members of the House will agree that a school building should be a great source of pride for pupils, teachers and communities alike, and only modern and well-equipped classrooms can support the world-class education that we want for all our children.

Dr. Pugh: I hate to use the expression “one size fits all”, which is such a cliché in this place, but clearly there are different ways in which ICT can be provided, and
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nobody can be sure that the way the Minister advocates is the perfect way. The only thing that can establish that is some kind of empirical evidence or fact-finding after the measure has been implemented. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be an examination of the need for diverse ways of providing ICT, rather than a one-size-fits-all plan, which may or may not be the ideal?

Kevin Brennan: BSF ICT is not a one-size-fits-all system. Individual schools will have the opportunity, through the local choice fund, to specify key ICT resources—hardware and software—while still ensuring full compatibility and integration with a county-wide ICT infrastructure that allows students full access to their personal learning space from locations other than
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their home schools. I therefore do not accept that this will be a one-size-fits-all approach. It will certainly give individual schools that opportunity, while still ensuring the compatibility and integration that we want to see across the area.

Building Schools for the Future is the most ambitious programme of investing in our schools for more than a generation, and despite the reservations and concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman, it will be well received and will be seen as one of the great achievements of this Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Ten o’clock.

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