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19 Jan 2010 : Column 44WH—continued

The Government believe in an active industrial strategy, which was set out in the "New Industry, New Jobs" document and outlined more recently in Lord Mandelson's speech on growth, which I commend to all hon. Members,
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if they have not read it already. The Government are strongly committed to promoting growth, which will be an intrinsic part of reducing the deficit over the next four years.

The Government not only talk about action, but invest in industry. We have heard about the launch investment given to Airbus, which represents a £340 million investment in the aerospace industry, in which we are the second most powerful manufacturer behind the United States. We have also heard about the car scrappage scheme, which provides support for our automotive sector. Conservative Members did not oppose it, despite the fact that they consistently opposed other such investment on the Floor of the House. When we said that we needed to invest in the economy to support it, the Conservative party did all that it could to oppose us at every stage.

Similarly, the construction industry has been supported and sustained through a difficult recession over the past year by the £3 billion of public investment that the Government put in. The Conservative party opposed that investment. The loss of jobs had that policy not been pursued would have had a profound effect on all our communities. That is the difference between our parties' approaches to manufacturing, and it can be seen in our communities.

No one will doubt my commitment to manufacturing. I have been in the House for nine years talking on behalf of a manufacturing constituency, and my father worked in manufacturing for more than 40 years. In my current role, I am hugely encouraged by the fact that I meet individuals in British manufacturing who believe that we have a great future built on innovation and partnership. In the automotive sector, the Government have just set up the Automotive Council so that we can-I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle)-develop supply chains and ensure that smaller businesses benefit as prime companies produce world-beating products.

In that respect, I had the pleasure of going to see the Mini plant in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith). BMW came to the UK to invest and it has made a fantastic job of taking a totemic British product out to the world and developing hugely impressive facilities. It has worked in partnership with the trade unions, been supported by them and produced a world-beating product. We therefore have world-beating products in aerospace and the automotive sector.

The UK is an innovative country. We have a great fund of ideas and we are determined to seize the opportunities that lie ahead in the manufacturing sector. The Government strongly believe that the future lies in a low-carbon manufacturing strategy, which will involve exploiting opportunities in the UK. We have heard the sad story of Vestas on the Isle of Wight, and I am afraid that many members of the Liberal Democrat party have opposed the development of onshore wind turbines, which has led to the diminution of the UK market and
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not helped the development of the industry. The Government are working hard on the development of offshore wind capability, which will also provide an opportunity for the steel and cable sectors. Indeed, I visited a cable company in Ely that was supplying a wave project off the shores of Cornwall. We need to tell business that that type of project and opportunity will be available over the next few years.

We are talking about not only a domestic opportunity, but an exporting opportunity for industry. Although the disappointments at Copenhagen raise difficult issues, we know that we have a low-carbon future, and that is true not only in the UK, but outside it. We have heard reference to the exchange rate, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) not only for initiating this important and informative debate, but for his views on devaluation. He gave us an interesting resumé of devaluation policy and political history over the past 50 years, which I enjoyed very much. The exchange rate now gives us an exporting opportunity. We have the ideas and we are an innovative country; indeed, we were the first industrial nation and we have a proud history of innovation, thanks to James Watt, George Stephenson and the rest. We have ideas that are being put into practice now.

I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) said about Manchester university and the work that needs to be done to develop finance. The innovation investment fund has been set up to support businesses in all parts of the country working with universities to develop innovative products. In my role, I have been fortunate enough to see some tremendous products, which will become world-beating products in due course. We need to support businesses to export such products, and my good friend Lord Mervyn Davies is working hard with UK Trade & Investment to develop the UK's exporting potential.

I am short of time, but I want to touch briefly on training and skills. We have heard a lot about Germany, and we need to emphasise the importance of the apprentice and technician class there. That is something that we want to develop strongly in the UK, and we are making increasing use of apprenticeships. We need to get into schools to indicate the importance of the industrial sector. Yesterday, I heard of a project being developed by Nissan, which will see 2,500 schoolchildren go into its factory in Sunderland to find out how exciting the manufacturing industry is and how exciting careers in industry are.

When I talk to many of the leaders of UK manufacturing companies, many of whom were apprentices themselves years ago, they tell me that they are committed to carrying forward the message that manufacturing in the UK has a great future, that we need to work to improve the proportion of the economy that is based on manufacturing and that the rebalancing that is taking place in the economy gives us an opportunity to ensure that Britain manufactures better than anyone else in the world.

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Schools (Sutton)

12.29 am

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Miss Begg, may I tell you that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) would also like to make a brief contribution to the debate, as the matter affects both our constituencies? The Minister's office will, if it has done its homework, have spotted from past debates that the matter was first raised by the two Members of Parliament for the constituencies in the London borough of Sutton as long ago as May 2001, when the Minister was Estelle Morris, who subsequently became Secretary of State for Education and Skills and is now in another place. The Minister may not feel that our arguments have any validity, but he must at least acknowledge that they have been consistent over the past nine years. Nine years after that debate, the issues are just as pertinent.

Sutton has outstanding schools. That is in no doubt. I checked the Times Online website yesterday and several Sutton schools-Nonsuch, Wilson's and Sutton grammar-appear high on its list of high-performing schools. Also, interestingly, Stanley Park high school, one of our local comprehensive schools, has recently been identified as one of the top 10 fastest improving schools in England, which is a tribute to the excellent work of the head teacher, governors, teachers and pupils. We have a very good range of schools in the borough and their strength has made Sutton a victim of its own success.

Anecdotally, if the Minister wanted to come to Sutton, he could see children from all over London and the south-east piling off trains at Carshalton and other local stations, to go to schools in the borough. The statistics on children educated in the London borough of Sutton who come from other boroughs or counties show that in some selective schools, just a quarter of the year 7 intake comes from within the borough, with three quarters coming from outside of borough. In others, the ratio is slightly lower, but still perhaps one third come from within the borough, and two thirds from outside. By contrast, many of the comprehensives take, as one would expect, a significant percentage of their pupils-close to 100 per cent.-from within the borough. If those figures are averaged out across the borough's secondary schools, the ratio shows that roughly two thirds of pupils in our schools are from within the borough and one third are from outside it. That, again, is a reflection of the very strong performance of Sutton's schools.

When we have argued in the Chamber for changes to the system, which would give Sutton pupils greater priority in Sutton schools, the Government have said that we are arguing for the removal of choice. In the debate held nine years ago, the Minister responsible spoke about asking

Unfortunately, her argument does not stack up. In Sutton, there is limited choice, if any, for most pupils, for the simple reason that the pupils with choice are either those who score a very high result-not just a pass-in the 11-plus or its equivalent, or those, clearly, whose parents can afford to pay for private education.

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Apart from those two categories, for the overwhelming majority of parents and pupils in Sutton, the only choice, if they are lucky, comes from their happening to live close to a comprehensive school. If they do not-the schools are located in such a way that they may not, if they live in certain parts of the borough-they may have no choice, or none of a school in the borough. Thus parents who live literally across the road from a very good local school, to which they are keen to send their children, are told, "I'm sorry; we can't give you a place there, but we have identified a place in a Croydon or Kingston school"-although, incidentally, parents who live in the vicinity of those schools have voted with their feet to take their children elsewhere. The borough therefore has to tell parents, "We can offer you a school that is far from where you live, and one to which ideally you would not want to send your child."

The principal factors in play are the Greenwich judgment and selection. In relation to the Greenwich judgment, I understand the Government's argument-I think it is a strong one-that if a school is located close to a boundary with another borough it does not necessarily make sense to say that the borough in which the school is located should have exclusive rights over places. I acknowledge that, but equally it is not right that the borough should, as in the example I just gave, have to tell parents that although they are Sutton council tax payers they cannot be offered a place in a Sutton school. That is just as ludicrous as a pupil who lives across in the road in, say, Merton, being unable to go to the school in Sutton. That issue needs to be addressed, and perhaps more flexibility could be shown on the operation of the Greenwich judgment to allow Sutton at least to be able to make parents an offer of a school place in the borough.

The second issue is selection. As I have acknowledged, some schools in Sutton are among the highest achieving in the country academically, because their admissions are based on selection. I think that the decision about whether schools should operate selectively should be taken locally by councillors, but there are ways in which those schools could tweak their admission procedures to allow entry to more pupils from the borough. For instance, a system that would still require children to pass the 11-plus or its equivalent, without requiring them to get 98 per cent. in the exam, could be a way of ensuring greater representation of local children in local schools. It is disappointing that the schools adjudicator did not support the borough when it deployed that argument. A further issue concerns faith schools. One of Sutton's faith schools uses a very tight definition of Christianity, and if it were to be slightly more flexible about its focus on Catholic religion, rather than Christianity, it might allow more local pupils to get in. Selection and the Greenwich judgment have affected the borough significantly. We can change those things slightly to improve the probability that Sutton schools will be for Sutton pupils, and to make that a reality.

I have one further point to make, which I have not mentioned to the Minister-unless my office managed to get the message through to him-about something that was confirmed for me on Friday about the new Stanley Park high school. I was informed a couple of months ago that it was proceeding full steam ahead. The school will be built with Building Schools for the Future funding. I was told that the primary care trust
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and the local authority had agreed the sale of the land; the PCT land was to be sold to the borough. A couple of months ago, I was assured that the problem was resolved, but I understand from my meeting on Friday that it is not.

If the Minister is to take one thing away from this debate, I hope that he will talk to whichever Health Minister has responsibility for oversight of the primary care trust and ask him to say to the PCT, "We need you to make a decision on this, because the future of a new school built with Building Schools for the Future funding depends on you releasing that land." That has to happen promptly if the school is to open in September 2011. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the subject is raised elsewhere. We need an answer, because I want to see that school opening its doors in September 2011. I am sure that the Minister-he is an Education Minister-would also like to see that happen.

12.40 pm

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I strongly endorse that last request to the Minister. Indeed, I echo much of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), and I congratulate him on securing this debate.

I first referred to the question of school admissions policy in my maiden speech in 1997. The matter has been raised many times in one way or another, and I am sure that that will continue. At its heart, the debate is about what is fair. It is about how to ensure a fair system for allocating school places and for allocating resources to ensure that everyone who wants a place gets one.

Arrangements for secondary school places in Sutton are complex. Competition for places is incredibly fierce, because the schools are popular, not least because we have a mixed economy of comprehensive and selective schools in Sutton, all of which are successful. Changes to admission rules, particularly by selective schools, are altering the character of the schools' intakes. They are changing from local schools into regional or sub-regional schools. As a result, even bright children in Sutton struggle to secure places, and coaching is seen as an essential investment. Coaching, which is paid for privately, is a great way of excluding many of those who cannot afford to pay for it. That is now happening in Sutton. Those who can afford it can buy the coaching and bump up the chances of their child getting a place.

A straight count of high school places in the borough suggests, on paper, that there is no problem. However, that is not the reality experienced by those of my constituents who live in Worcester Park. They live on the edge of the borough, and it seems that they do not benefit from the Greenwich judgment, because there are no schools in the vicinity on the other side of the border. It is for that reason that I strongly support my hon. Friend.

We need legislation that will bring some flexibility, allowing admission authorities to prioritise places for children resident in the borough-if necessary, by clarifying or, in my view, by overturning the Greenwich judgment. We also need a strengthening of the role of the school admissions forums. In my experience, they are tied down too much by vested interests. They need to be genuinely of and for the interests of parents and the borough, and they should speak first and foremost for those interests.

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Last week, my hon. Friend and I met the Minister for Schools and Learners, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker). I suspect that the Minister knows about it, as we were making a case for additional funding to support the schools' and Sutton council's efforts to deal with the rapid and rather unexpected rise in demand for school places, which has occurred as a result of a 29 per cent. increase in the birth rate between 2001 and 2008. That increase is not spread evenly across the borough, but is concentrated in Worcester Park and certain parts of central Sutton. For various reasons, a higher proportion of parents are electing to send their children to local state primary schools. The combination of a higher birth rate and a higher number electing to go to local state primary schools is causing pressure.

We welcome the fact that the Government have set up the basic need safety-valve fund to help to deal with that pressure, but we are sad that Sutton was not successful. However, £30 million is still left in the fund, and between £2 million and £3 million would enable Sutton to plan to provide not only additional classroom accommodation but the essential space for staff and children to meet the Government's standards and avoid the risk of schools being cramped and overcrowded.

I hope, Miss Begg, that you and other hon. Members will understand that I shall have to depart shortly, because St. Dunstan's Church of England primary school is visiting the House today with its head teacher, Mrs. Christine Smyth. Earlier, I took the school on a rather inadequate tour, but I hope that everyone found it useful. It is one of those Church of England schools that operates a generous and fair admissions policy. I have not been told to say that; it is true. I shall soon be given a rough grilling by the pupils. I look forward to reading and discussing with my hon. Friend the Minister's response to the debate.

12.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Mr. Iain Wright): It is good to serve under your chairmanship again, Miss Begg. May I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on securing this debate? He said that he has mentioned the subject in the House a number of times. He is right that it is an important matter; it is about the provision of good, fair and quality schools.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter today. As a long-standing Member, I am sure that he will agree that, thanks to unprecedented and sustained rises in investment from this Government, and the huge amount of work undertaken by teachers, governors, parents and pupils, the quality of learning in Sutton's schools is higher than ever.

Education spend per pupil has increased by 34 per cent. An extra £1,160 is being spent on each pupil. That spending has helped to fund a rise in the number of teachers from 1,390 in 1997 to 1,850 last year, and a massive jump in the number of teaching assistants from 160 in 1997 to 560 last year.

Tom Brake: I agree-praise where praise is due-that there has been a substantial and welcome increase in investment, which is why I am absolutely desperate that the investment that the Government, to our satisfaction,
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have already agreed to provide in relation to the new Stanley Park high school is allowed to proceed, and that the primary care trust does not get in the way of that. I ask the Minister to pursue that point.

Mr. Wright: I acknowledge what the hon. Gentleman says. I was not aware of the problems at Stanley Park. I pledge to take the matter away and to write to him as soon as possible. He will be aware that local authorities and primary care trusts are autonomous. However, by working in partnership, a good solution can be found that is in the interest of all.

I turn to the importance of capital; the hon. Gentleman will understand that it provides investment in buildings and facilities. He will know better than I do that in 1997, capital spending on Sutton's schools was £4 million. Last year, it was £20 million. I realise that he will want me to address the specific concerns that he rightly raised today, but it is worth acknowledging that in the last dozen years, thanks to Government money, Sutton has built three new schools and substantially rebuilt a further six. It has added 169 classrooms and 61 science labs, and has improved sports facilities and modernised kitchens at a further 11 schools. Not only are Sutton's children and young people benefiting from higher standards of teaching, but they are being taught in modern, world-class and fit-for-purpose buildings and facilities. I hope that he does not mind my mentioning those matters, but it is important to put things in context, given the real success that has taken place over the past 12 years.

The hon. Gentleman raised several concerns. I have dealt with Stanley Park, and have pledged to write to him on that subject. His central theme, however, was the provision of fair and accessible places for his constituents and their children in his constituency, and the question of out-of-borough students attending Sutton schools. He will know that local authorities have a responsibility to ensure fair access to educational opportunity. Councils are in the driving seat to ensure fair access for students. He will also know that maintained schools and academies, as well as local authorities, admission forums and school adjudicators, are all expected to act in accordance with the school admissions code and associated legislation. The Government have provided a strong framework for admissions authorities, so that they can set fair arrangements that support equity of access.

Each school has an admissions authority to set its admission arrangements and decide which children will be offered places-for a community or voluntary-controlled school, it is the local authority; for a foundation or voluntary-aided school, it is the school's governing body. Grammar schools can lower their testing pass mark to help to accommodate some of the hon. Gentleman's concerns, or they can set a percentage to allow more pupils from the local area to be admitted.

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