HC Deb 24 October 2002 vol 391 cc385-6
1. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

What provision he has set aside for the creation of a specialist academy in Ramsgate. [75264]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband)

Before I answer that question, it is right that I put on record the deep shock and sadness felt throughout the education world at the resignation yesterday of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris). Her contribution to education over the last five years has been immense. Pupils are taught better, in smaller classes, by better-paid, better-trained, better-supported teachers, thanks to her outstanding efforts. That is her legacy. She pioneered important reforms in our education system, but she did more that that. She acted at all times with complete integrity, total dedication and one goal—not her advancement but the advancement and achievement of pupils. Everybody with an interest in education will deeply regret her departure, and the world of politics is a much lesser place as a result of her absence from the top table. Politics needs people like my right hon. Friend.

The House will also have gathered, from the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), that the Prime Minister has appointed him Secretary of State for Education and Skills. My right hon. Friend is not known as a quiet man, and the House will have many opportunities to question him in his new role. For the next hour, however, he will leave the questions to me and my more experienced ministerial colleagues.

As for the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), the Department has offered development funding to a partnership between Roger De Haan and Kent local education authority to draw up detailed plans for a proposed academy to replace Ramsgate school in Kent. We are determined to do all that we can to help deeply disadvantaged pupils in that area. All local interests will be fully consulted on the proposals.

Dr. Ladyman

May I say that I very much share the sentiments expressed about my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris)? In view of the personal nature of her statement last night, may I ask on behalf of hon. Members, certainly on the Labour Benches, that our love and best wishes be passed on to her? I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) on his appointment; it is an excellent choice.

As for the Ramsgate school, the announcement by my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards is potentially the most exciting prospect for education in my constituency in a generation. I say that not just as a Member of Parliament but as a father of a young girl who is keen—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a supplementary question.

Dr. Ladyman

Will my hon. Friend assure me that the creation of this new school will not simply displace the problems currently experienced by the Ramsgate school elsewhere in the constituency?

Mr. Miliband

I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that the proposed academy is designed to be of benefit to many pupils in the area. The development funding is offered on the basis that the LEA and the sponsor will come forward with a proposal to help raise standards across the area with coherent provision across selective and non-selective schools in his constituency.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

I, too, welcome the involvement of Roger de Haan in local education in Thanet. Will the Minister assure me, however, that the proposal will not in any way be allowed to override his Department's duty to meet the needs of my constituents living in Cliftonville, Dane Valley and other areas of North Thanet, for whom the Ramsgate school might as well be on the moon?

Mr. Miliband

We are determined to do all that we can for all pupils in Kent. As the hon. Gentleman knows, funding has risen substantially in the area, which will lead to the provision of more teachers and more equipment. The academy initiative is designed to raise standards across the board.