Building Schools for the Future

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 14th February 2011.

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Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 3:33 pm, 14th February 2011

I want to emphasise, first, that the purpose of the urgent question was not to score points, but genuinely to elicit information, and secondly, that the court action was not taken light-heartedly but because, in the case of my local authority, Waltham Forest, we felt that there was no option as the urgency had become so great.

In my constituency, which is not unusual, seven schools were due for rebuilds-George Mitchell, Buxton, Belmont Park, Norlington, Connaught, Leytonstone and Lammas, which is on the boundary between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend Stella Creasy. We were also expecting a new school to be built to deal with the rising demand for places in secondary school. That brings me to the crux of the argument, which is that by 2014 we will be 500 places short in secondary schools. That is a minimum. Waltham Forest is usually a recipient of migration from central London, which means that the actual demand could be 600, 700 or perhaps more. At present, 500 is the bare minimum.

There are three other points to be considered. One is that the structure of many of the schools in question is dreadful and literally falling apart. Teachers, pupils, governors and other staff have fought valiantly, and BSF was the light at the end of the tunnel until it was taken away. Secondly, a number of the schools that I mentioned serve some of the most deprived areas in London, which means some of the most deprived areas in Britain-areas that are struggling with all sorts of problems. Thirdly, some of the schools were on the verge of being decanted, expecting the work to start. In the case of Leytonstone, the school was hours away from moving students to other premises in the expectation that building work would start.

I want to ask a number of specific questions. What is the time scale for finding a replacement and addressing the judgment? Will the Secretary of State approach the matter with an open mind? He has already said that he would, but I want him to reiterate that. Will he consult openly with the schools and the local authorities, but in a fairly tight time frame because matters are becoming so urgent? Lastly, the argument is not about bringing back BSF. We recognise that it has gone, but as he said, we expect a replacement to be announced, and so far that has not happened. When will a replacement be announced?