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The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): There are currently 203 academies open in 83 local authorities. More academies will open in September, with numbers continuing to grow each year now that the programme has been opened up to all schools. For the academies with results in 2008 and 2009, the increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths is 5 percentage points, an increase on last year's academy improvement rate of 4.3 percentage points, which is double the national average.
Bob Blackman: Progress in opening academies under the last Government was extremely slow. Some 1,100 schools have applied for freedom from local authority interference, and freedom to set their own standards to ensure they demonstrate the highest possible quality. What comfort can the Minister give to ensure that those applications will all be honoured, and that those schools will not be dissatisfied?
Mr Gibb: I hope I can give my hon. Friend the comfort he seeks. Of the 1,100 schools that have applied, 626 are outstanding and we have said that we will provide them with a fast-tracking process. That should give him the comfort he seeks.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and wish him well in it? He shadowed me on a number of occasions, and now I am shadowing him. However, is not the excellent progress made by academies in the past 12 months the result of the involvement in their development of parents and teachers and, as the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) said, of local authorities? Is placing such power in the hands of the Secretary of State not therefore a huge step backwards and a hugely centralising measure? Why are local decision making on the development of academies, parent power and devolution being replaced by centralisation and the exclusion of parents, local authorities and teachers from that process?
Mr Gibb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words; it is nice to be on the Government side of the House, instead of on the other side. However, this is not a centralising but a decentralising measure, beyond the local authority and down to the school level. This is about trusting professionals and having faith in the autonomy of schools. Our advice to schools is that it is important for them to discuss with parents and pupils their intention to convert. Existing legislation for setting up academies does not require such consultation with parents, so even when the hon. Gentleman was the Minister for Schools, there was no requirement for academies to consult parents.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I warmly welcome all the Ministers to their posts. May I ask a question both as a Member of Parliament and as the chair of governors of a Church of England primary school? Could the follow-up to the Secretary of State's letter to outstanding schools such as ours include a letter to the chair of governors setting out the advantages and disadvantages of academy status to schools, and the advantages and disadvantages, if any, to local authorities and to diocesan boards of education?
Mr Gibb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Of course the advantages of academy status are very clear: this is about trusting professionals to run their schools without interference from politicians and bureaucrats, either locally or nationally. I am sure that all the people he refers to will be aware of that. In the last set that we have seen-that of 2009-the results of a third of all academies showed an increase of more than 15 percentage points compared with those of the schools they replaced, so the advantages of academy status are very clear.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Sarah Teather): We will reform the schools system so that children with special educational needs and disabilities get the best possible support. We will improve diagnostic assessment for schoolchildren, prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools and remove the bias towards inclusion to give parents more choice.
Stella Creasy: Given that one in five children in this country has identified special educational needs, what measures will the new Government take to ensure that they are able to access the same level of funding and services for the provision of their teaching that they enjoyed under the previous Administration? How will any such measure fit into the new free school model that the Government propose, given the role currently played by local authorities in providing those services?
Sarah Teather: Nothing has actually changed in the relationship between local authorities, academies and free schools with regard to special educational needs. Schools will continue to get the funding that they need, and local authorities will continue to have a very important co-ordinating role. We will work very closely with the Local Government Association to ensure that these proposals are implemented in a way that ensures that schools get the funding they need.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): The copy of the coalition agreement, which enjoys pride of place on my bedside table, does indeed say exactly what the Minister said in her reply about ending the bias towards inclusion and preventing the unnecessary closure of special schools. Will she explain to the House in a little more detail how the Government propose to fulfil those praiseworthy pledges?
Sarah Teather: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks about the pride of place in which the coalition document is held, but I suggest that he should get better material to read before he goes to bed. [Hon. Members: "Ooh!"] It is a very good read, but it is not necessarily the most riveting. A number of important reviews have taken place in this area, for example, the Lamb and Balchin reviews. Ofsted is also about to produce a review of special educational needs, and I shall take great note of all those as we consider the way forward.
Mr Speaker, you will recall that earlier this year, at Clarence house and in the presence of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the Labour Government announced the provision of £500,000 towards the establishment of a stammering centre in the north of England to complement the excellent work of the Michael Palin centre in London. Will the hon. Lady reassure the House that the money for this important work for children with speech and language difficulties in the north of England will still be provided-yes or no?
The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): There are currently 203 academies open in 83 local authorities. Academies with results in 2008 and 2009 showed an increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five A to C GCSEs, including English and maths, at 5 percentage points-an increase on last year's academy improvement rate of 4.3 percentage points. That was, of course, double the national increase. Interest from schools in joining the academies programme has been excellent: as I mentioned earlier, more than 1,100 schools have already registered interest with my Department.
Amber Rudd: I know that the Secretary of State is aware that in Hastings we have two new academies scheduled for next year. We are very pleased to have two very important sponsors-Brighton university and BT. May I ask what plans he has, and what steps can be taken, to encourage a high quality of sponsors to participate in the academies?
I thank my hon. Friend for her impassioned advocacy for improving educational opportunities for children in her constituency. I had a
chance to see just how dedicated she is to supporting them when I visited her constituency during the general election campaign.
Those who wish to sponsor academies have repeatedly said to me, in opposition and in government, that the bureaucratic burdens laid on them by the previous Government acted as an impediment to their doing the work they wanted to do to help children in disadvantaged areas. The Independent Academies Association, under Mike Butler, wrote to a Minister of State in the previous Government and pointed out that the work he was trying to do to help disadvantaged children was directly impeded by the bureaucratic burden imposed on him by the then Secretary of State. I am confident that an increasing number of sponsors, philanthropists, charities and others who want to help our poorest children will find that the changes we are bringing about enable them to do a fantastic job, not just in Hastings but across the country.
John Howell: I congratulate the Secretary of State on his plans to revitalise the academies scheme. A great number of schools are looking forward to embracing the academies freedoms that will come with it, including the European school in Culham in my constituency, which is seeking to use its specialist multi-language curriculum for the benefit of the state sector. What plans does he have to make sure that more children have such excellent language education?
Michael Gove: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for those words. I am also much in accord with him in believing that this Government should have a place at the heart of Europe. That is why I was so disappointed to read in The Observer yesterday that the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) wanted to rewrite the treaty of Lisbon and the treaty of Rome.
Mr Speaker: Order. Let me just say to the Secretary of State that I know he is enjoying himself, and I am delighted to see him enjoying himself, but he must not enjoy himself at the expense of people lower down the Order Paper who want to get in and whom I want to accommodate.
Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): I know that the Secretary of State will want to be known as a Minister who keeps his word and who is consistent in his policy. Will he therefore confirm that the brand new academy linked to MediaCity in Salford, which is included in the £135 million Building Schools for the Future programme, will go ahead? Those programmes have got to financial close, and if he were not to proceed with that world-class academy it would give the lie to his party's commitment to progress on the whole of the academies programme across the country.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Under the Academies Bill, the sole arbiter of applications for academies is the governing body. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the wider community has an interest in this matter? Not only the governing body should be included, but parents, local authorities and the wider community so that it understands the needs of the many and not just the few.
Michael Gove: It is because I am committed to the needs of the many and not just the few that I want to see this programme, which has done so much to raise attainment for disadvantaged children, move forward. I would like to see governors and head teachers working with other schools and other groups within the community to drive up attainment. That is why those who currently lead our schools will, I know, have those conversations. I prefer to give them the freedom to do so rather than to patronise and to busybody by insisting that they do so.
Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): May I ask the Secretary of State whether the academies programme will continue to provide an alternative route to accessing funds for new school buildings? I am thinking in particular of Withernsea high school in my constituency. I wonder whether he or the Minister with responsibility for schools might be able to visit Withernsea, see the school and see how it might benefit from joining the academies programme in future.
9. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): How much funding he plans to allocate to (a) Slough borough council and (b) other local authorities where there are insufficient primary school places in order to increase the number of such places available in the current financial year; and if he will make a statement. 
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): School capital allocations announced in 2007 for the current spending period include £1.5 billion for new pupil places. Additionally, around £1.9 billion is allocated for primary school modernisation, some of which will fund new places. The capital support for Slough and its schools this year is some £25 million, including nearly £9 million specifically for new primary school places.
Fiona Mactaggart: I am glad to hear that that £9 million is confirmed. It was given by the previous Government to increase the number of our primary places. We still have 60 reception and year 1 children who do not have places for next year and those funds are essential to provide them, but a note from the Library advised me that £32 million of Slough's external finance, which includes a number of grants in relation to education, is at risk. As we have not had a detailed breakdown of what funds to local authorities have been protected by the Government, can the Minister assure me that £1 in £6 going from the Government to Slough borough council will not be cut by the coalition Government?
Mr Gibb: Despite the fact that the Government inherited a public finance deficit of £156 billion, we have been able to say that there will be no cuts in front-line funding for schools, Sure Start or 16-to-19 funding.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): There are currently 23 all-age academies open that include primary provision. The Academies Bill will also open up the academies programme allowing all primary schools to apply to become academies in their own right. There has been a very high level of interest from schools with more than 250 outstanding primary schools already registering with the Department. We expect the first of those schools with an "outstanding" rating from Ofsted to open as academies from September 2010.
Mr Turner: The Minister may recall that in the early years of grant-maintained status, secondary schools were able to opt out, but primary schools had to wait, although subsequently they found that the operation was relatively easy. Will he ensure that, this time, primary schools have the opportunity as quickly as other schools?
Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend will be pleased to see in the Academies Bill, which is receiving its Second Reading in another place, that primaries will be able to apply for academy status. Indeed, the 250 outstanding primaries that have registered an interest with the Department will be fast-tracked to that status by, I hope, this September.
The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): I am currently reviewing the methods by which capital has been allocated to schools, to ensure that we can build schools more effectively and cost-efficiently in the future.
Tony Lloyd: I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. During the period of the last Labour Government, many roofs were repaired-when the sun was shining. Can he give an absolute guarantee that schools in a constituency such as mine, which were not part of that programme but still need some catching up, will be rebuilt or properly maintained?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a number of great schools in his constituency that have benefited from investment, not least Manchester academy, which is achieving outstanding results. Manchester is approaching the conclusion of its final business case for specific funding under the Building Schools for the Future programme. I want to make sure that before we go any further we strip out any bureaucratic costs with which either Manchester's council tax payers or
Manchester's teachers might be saddled to ensure that we get the maximum amount of spending to the front line.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): May I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment in general to driving up education standards across the country and in particular for his commitment, I hope, to the new academy to be formed by the merger of Central Technology college and Bishops' college in my constituency of Gloucester? As he knows the timing insisted on by his predecessor on the other side of the House was incredibly tight and caused the academy to be formed in late July and to open next term. Parents, staff and pupils are all desperate for further information on progress that I understand depends on my right hon. Friend's Department's confirming absolutely that the academy is going ahead. Could he confirm that his Department will help with announcements-
Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm as soon as possible that two schools in my constituency-President Kennedy and Woodlands, where the buildings go right back to the late 1960s and early 1970s and one of whose buildings is being held up on all four sides by scaffolding-will figure in the programme, and when can he confirm that to them?
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that funding under the Building Schools for the Future programme had been allocated on the basis of deprivation, not the state or dilapidation of the building. I will consider the two schools that he mentions and write to him.
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