HC Deb 20 January 2000 vol 342 cc961-3
5. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

What steps he has taken to enable local education authorities to improve a secondary school's infrastructure if pupil numbers are substantially increased. [103679]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

My Department provides financial support where a local education authority has shown that there are insufficient school places in an area to cope with the projected increase in pupil numbers. This support covers the additional teaching area that is needed, as well as any necessary expansion to schools' ancillary areas.

Mr. Jack

I thank the Minister for that reply. However, there seems to be a breakdown between the policy intentions that she has outlined and the reality for the Lytham St. Anne's high technology school in my constituency. She may be aware that it has received a great many extra pupils over the past few years, but the infrastructure of the school has not expanded to meet that demand. For example, there is a restriction on the number of pupils who can take school dinners, because they have a problem in getting them through in the lunch hour. Is there any further guidance that she can offer me on the steps that could and should be taken by Lancashire education authority to deal with that problem? If not, the school will not be able to function as effectively and efficiently as it should to serve the extra pupil numbers.

Jacqui Smith

Given the concern that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed about school infrastructure, I am sure that he will welcome the doubling of investment in school buildings that will be made under this Government.

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, the Government have provided financial support for 374 secondary and post-16 places in the Fylde. That support amounts to £2.6 million. I also understand that two major extensions have been completed to the Lytham St. Anne's high school and a 175-place extension is planned. There has also been work to provide additional toilets and a purpose-built staff room. The Government have made the money available to the local education authority, and it appears to be being spent in the school.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

May I take the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the more than £170 million package of infrastructural improvements that has been put together for the Bradford district school reorganisation? I commend to my hon. Friend, for example, the project at the Salt grammar school in my constituency, where a new 29-classroom block is being planned to provide for extra pupil numbers. I urge her closely to monitor the financial package in the Bradford district so that we can complete the important transition to the new system on time and to budget.

Jacqui Smith

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the significant resources that the Government put into general investment in school buildings and surplus place reorganisation, and the capital expenditure that that necessitates. I can assure him that we monitor carefully the spending that goes into surplus place reorganisations to ensure that that process takes place and that it is based on value for money; and to ensure also the objectives that the authority has set down.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Does the hon. Lady agree that school sixth form may require expansion to meet demand? Does not the issue of where the capital funding will come from remain unsolved? At the same time, the safeguards that the Government have developed for funding the continuation of sixth forms, let alone their expansion, depends on the flimsiest of defences: a single year of baseline numbers. There is also the threat of withdrawal of sixth forms by the Learning and Skills Council for alleged inadequacy. Does not this amount—in the view of schools and local education authorities—to a set of proposals for 16 to 19-year-olds that aims a pistol at the heart of sixth forms?

Jacqui Smith

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense, given the clear objectives that have been laid down by the Government in relation to post-16 education: to bring at last some coherence to the system that funds education and training, to promote high standards for all our children post-16 and to protect school sixth forms that are doing a good job.

To return to the question, we want the doubling of capital investment that the Government have undertaken to ensure that, for all children in school, both pre-16 and post-16, we no longer have what we inherited from the previous Government: crumbling schools, leaking roofs and a failure to promote the standards that this Government are promoting.