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2 Feb 2010 : Column 71WH—continued

2 Feb 2010 : Column 72WH

Of course, the presumption against school closures does not prohibit closures, and the proper statutory process has to be followed. As the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell pointed out, there are surplus places in Cornwall, and that is an issue for the council to address. My information from the Department suggests that there are 4,450 surplus primary school places in Cornwall, which is 11 per cent. of the total capacity, so there is a significant difficulty, irrespective of the funding regime. However, I take the point that sometimes such decisions should not be made only on the basis of place numbers but should take other factors into account.

Julia Goldsworthy: On spare places, is it not also a concern that many of the village schools are old buildings? On my understanding, places are calculated on the basis of the square footage of the entire school, not just the classrooms. Inappropriate buildings compound the problem by allocating places where there is not even space for teaching. Does that not need to be taken into account?

Mr. Coaker: Of course all those things need to be taken into account. That is why it is better for the local authority to determine school organisation in an area-in consultation with local Members of Parliament, local councillors and the public-as it knows best how to do so, and will know the particular buildings of every school. That is a matter for people to consider as decisions are made on the best way forward.

Matthew Taylor: My hon. Friend's point was that the 11 per cent. figure is deeply misleading. There are schools that could not accommodate the theoretical number of pupils because the structure of the building is not appropriate. It is merely based on the square footage, but if we were building a modern school, it would look very different. The figure of surplus spaces is exaggerated, and in a school of 30 or 40 pupils we are talking about three or four seats. That might be the kind of flexibility that is needed for a revolving community.

Mr. Coaker: I accept that point. The argument is not about bringing that number to zero. It is used as a figure across the country as a guide to the particular problems regarding surpluses. As I have said, it will then be a matter for the local authority to consider as it takes forward the school organisation plans.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the necessity for Cornwall county council to be imaginative and consider things such as federations, sharing of governance and all the other arrangements around the clustering of schools that can lead to school improvement, and to significant savings and efficiencies. I join the hon. Gentleman in asking Cornwall county council-and local authorities up and down the country-to consider those imaginative sorts of governance arrangements, which are primarily about school improvement but can also provide some of the efficiencies needed to maintain schools that otherwise might face closures. I would support that.

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for this debate. He made a very important point. There is a more general issue about the reform of the dedicated schools grant, and I urge him to try and influence that.

2 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).

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