HC Deb 04 July 2002 vol 388 cc376-7
2. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

What additional assistance she plans to give to education authorities to accommodate demand for places in individual primary schools which are heavily over-subscribed. [64396]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband)

The planning of school places is a local matter. However, the Government want popular schools to be able to expand, which is why the Education Bill makes a promise to schools that they themselves will be able to make proposals to offer more places.

Roger Casale

I thank the Minister for that reply and declare an interest: I have two young daughters, one of whom is applying for a reception place in a Merton school. I welcome the plans for reform, but they will give little comfort this year to parents applying for Hollymount school in my constituency, where there have been 80 applications for 30 places, or Pelham school, which is also over-subscribed. Will my hon. Friend work with the local authority in Merton to see whether anything can be done to alleviate pressures on individual schools in respect of this year, so that parents do not have to take their children up to two miles outside their local community to go to school?

In addition to the extra money and his reforms, will my hon. Friend also ensure that—in practice as well as in theory—it is parents and not local education authorities who determine where our children go to school?

Mr. Miliband

I am glad to say that the Government are already working with Merton LEA. My hon. Friend will know that £5 million has been given to Merton as part of the class size initiative, which has helped to hire 105 teachers and create 21 new classrooms. The capital projects that the Department is sponsoring will include the

specific requirement that we take account of increasing places in popular schools. There is a partnership in that regard, and we can work on it.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

The Minister says that this matter is determined by local people, but when does he expect to respond to the Government's consultation paper of last year on school admissions? Has he also had a chance to read what the Leader of the House said during last week's business questions? He said: I understand the frustration of the hon. Gentleman's constituents if a decision is imposed by people outside their locality."—[Official Report, 27 June 2002; Vol. 387, c. 965.] The comment related to Ecclesbourne school, whose governors agreed to change the catchment area. The change was supported by Derbyshire county council and Derby city council, but was overruled by the school adjudicator, who had never even visited the area. How does that constitute determination by local people?

Mr. Miliband

We are studying the responses to the consultation, and we shall ourselves respond in due course. I am not familiar with the individual case that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but I should point out that the adjudicator is an independent person, and that for the adjudicator to become involved, there must have been local objections to the plan.

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

The success of the Government's development of brownfield sites means that—certainly in the case of Bristol—more families are now living in cities. Is inner-city development a factor in the long-term planning of the Department for Education and Skills?

Mr. Miliband

Obviously, the Department, along with LEAs, has to take a medium-term view of capital needs; that is the purpose of the asset management plans that every local authority has. On that basis, we can plan with some confidence for the demographic changes ahead.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)

Is it right that the lack of funding in Bovey Tracey, in Devon, should result in its not having a new school? Parents will have to transport their children to outlying developments some two or three miles away. In Shaldon, which is in desperate need of a new school hall, children have to be walked along a main road to their daily assembly and classes.

Mr. Miliband

I am afraid that I cannot comment on those individual cases, but I do know that in the near future the Government will consult on local funding plans, and that the needs of rural schools will be taken into account.