HC Deb 12 February 2004 vol 417 cc1549-51
2. Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

How many new (a) primary and (b) secondary schools have been built in England since 1997. [154511]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

Twenty thousand schools have benefited from additional Government capital investment since 1997. We do not hold information about the precise number of new schools that have been built. However, we have made available significant support to build new schools and to expand, replace and repair existing school accommodation.

Mr. Pike

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The Government's record since 1997 has been excellent. However, I was disappointed to learn, following today's announcement of wave 1 of the building schools for the future programme, that the Lancashire bid, which includes schools in Burnley and Pendle, is first reserve and has not been given the green light. Yesterday, one of the head teachers in Burnley—Stephen Ball from Ivy Bank school—told me that heads in Burnley are devastated by that news. We need those new schools now. We want a green light, not an amber light, so what can my hon. Friend tell me?

Mr. Twigg

I understand my hon. Friend's disappointment, because Lancashire's proposal has real strengths in terms of its education vision and capacity to deliver. As he will know, given his comment about the amber light, Lancashire is one of only two authorities that have been placed on the reserve list: some 40 applications have not yet received even an amber light. We are absolutely committed to working with Lancashire and other authorities to secure the renewal of secondary schools in every community. That will take 10 to 15 years.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

The Minister may be aware that a new secondary school is planned for Macclesfield to replace two schools that are closing, one of which does not have enough pupils entering it. That is part of a huge, ambitious learning zone project. I understand that the decision to pass the learning zone project is likely to be made in a matter of days, if not hours. Can the Minister give me good news for my local parents, students and all the partners in that fantastic project?

Mr. Twigg

I fear that I must give the hon. Gentleman another amber light, rather than a green one or, as he might fear, a red one. I am not in a position to answer him now, but I will check on the situation and contact him later today.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale) (Lab)

Rochdale has been one of the many net beneficiaries of the huge investment in education, both primary and secondary—since 1997, primary schools have received an increase of more than 40 per cent. In furthering that commitment, will my hon. Friend ensure that the new buildings will be built in line with agreed policy on enhancing schools for the future, and reward authorities such as Rochdale that are co-locating special schools with primary schools?

Some schools built as private finance initiative projects have only one hall. In the light of yesterday's warning about childhood obesity, that creates a problem, especially in rainy places like Rochdale— beautiful, rainy Rochdale—because children cannot take part in lunchtime activities, which generally help in maintaining their health and well-being. Will my hon. Friend consider that issue?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady should try for an Adjournment debate on the subject.

Mr. Twigg

I should be happy to respond to an Adjournment debate; my hon. Friend represents her constituency very well.

My hon. Friend is right. We are considering an important programme of investment, but it is not simply about replacing existing buildings. It means investment and reform going hand in hand. One of the aims is precisely to address issues of healthy education, to which she rightly referred.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD)

The House will find it difficult to accept that the Department for Education and Skills does not know how many new schools have been built since May 1997. Will the Under-Secretary undertake an audit of all the demountable classrooms in my constituency in 1997 compared with today to ascertain how many have been replaced with permanent accommodation? Will he also hold an inquiry into the expansion of the Gilberd school?

Mr. Twigg

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I was slightly surprised when I was given a brief that told me that we do not know the number of new schools. However, I think that that is because in some cases we are considering brand new schools, and in others refurbishment and the co-location on one site that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) described. The local process is the asset management planning process, which the hon. Gentleman's local authority should pursue with regard to demountable classrooms. If that is not happening, I encourage him to write to me.