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School Places (Barking and Dagenham)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:16 pm on 17th March 2016.

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Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 5:16 pm, 17th March 2016

I congratulate Jon Cruddas on securing this debate. I also congratulate him and Dame Margaret Hodge on speaking so passionately about the educational opportunities available to young children in their constituencies. This debate is timely as it allows me the opportunity to set out clearly the Government’s position on the provision of sufficient quality school places across the country as well as, more specifically, in Barking and Dagenham. I agree with the right hon. Member for Barking that this is about not just the availability of places but the quality of the school buildings.

First, I want to take the opportunity to reiterate that ensuring that every child is able to attend a good or outstanding school in their local area is at the heart of the Government’s comprehensive programme of reform of the school system. We know that our growing population means that new school places are needed in many parts of the country, so the Government are absolutely committed to providing capital investment to ensure that every child has a place at a school.

We have already shown the strength of our commitment to ensuring that good quality places are available, and we are investing a further £7 billion to create new school places between 2015 and 2021. We are also investing £23 billion in school buildings to create 600,000 new school places, open at least 500 new schools and address essential maintenance needs. This is on top of the £5 billion we allocated to local authorities to invest in school places in the last Parliament, which was over double the amount spent in the equivalent four-year period between 2007 and 2011. Today, we released new data showing that nearly 600,000 additional pupil places were created between May 2010 and May 2015, with many more delivered since then and in the pipeline; 150,000 places were delivered between 2014 and 2015 alone.

The hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham mentioned the Budget, and referred to the absence of commentary on school places. I want to draw his attention to an announcement that we have made today. We are announcing £1.1 billion of funding for local authorities in 2018-19 to create the school places needed by the 2019-20 academic year. I know that he is concerned about that matter. This is part of the £7 billion that I referred to earlier and, alongside our investment in 500 new free schools, we expect this to deliver a further 600,000 new places by 2021. In making these allocations, the Government are continuing to target funding effectively, based on local needs, using data we have collected from local authorities about the capacity of schools and forecast pupil projections. Those are the announcements that we have made today, and I will definitely ask the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Lady to look at the detail.

Returning to the central point of the debate, ensuring that every child has access to the benefits of a good-quality education is a fundamental responsibility of everyone across the education system. As the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham knows, the statutory duty for providing school places rests with local authorities. Our financial commitment is therefore a concrete demonstration of the level of importance that the Government attach to the provision of places and of our wider commitment.

Our manifesto referred to the creation of 500 new free schools, and 40 applications have been approved since the election in May, with many more entering the process. We continue to encourage businesses, cultural and sporting bodies, charities, community groups and parents to come forward with their proposals for new schools, adding to the nearly 400 schools opened since 2010 and the more than 190 currently in the pipeline.

It is important that local authorities across the country seek to capitalise on the opportunities presented here. The free schools programme is working alongside local authorities to create the school places we need in order to provide a good education for all our children, and many authorities are choosing to work actively with the Government to meet the challenge. I pay tribute to all those in authorities and in schools who have helped to deliver the significant progress of recent years. The task is not yet done, however, as the increase in the number of pupils moving through the primary phase is now beginning to be felt at secondary level. Local authorities and schools must rise to that additional challenge. We should not pretend that that will be easy, which is why we are committed to helping through funding and through establishing new schools directly under the free schools programme.

London’s situation is unique, and the unsurprising surge in pupil numbers has been mentioned. As a thriving global city, London has a large part to play in meeting that challenge. Some 34% of new places delivered by 2015 were in London, and the capital will clearly have a big part to play in coming years. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the London borough of Barking and Dagenham has played its part in that regard. The local authority has effectively created places to meet demand, but it will face, as he pointed out, further challenges as pupil numbers continue to rise and larger primary cohorts transfer into the secondary sector. Rising pupil numbers in neighbouring local authorities will also reduce the number of pupils able to take up places outside Barking and Dagenham, further increasing the challenges to be managed.

The way we provide funding for new places is based on local authorities’ assessments of the number of pupils that they expect to have, taking local factors into account. That approach has helped the Government to allocate Barking and Dagenham a further £6 million, taking the total to £167 million in funding for school places from 2011 to 2019, on top of more than 3,300 places in free schools that we have funded centrally. The funding has been put to work. By May 2015, there were 7,450 more primary places and 4,450 more secondary places than there were in 2010, with plans to create many more when they are needed in the coming years. Barking and Dagenham has four open free schools, including an all-age special school. In addition, it has a university technical college and a further secondary school is due to open in 2017.

Of course, providing sufficient quality places is about not only capital investment, but ensuring that revenue money for schools gets to where it is needed most. The hon. Gentleman was bang on the money when he talked about the likely consequences of the national funding formula for Barking and Dagenham. In the spending review, we delivered on our manifesto pledge to maintain per pupil funding for the core schools budget for the duration of the Parliament, providing an overall real-terms protection. That includes protecting the extra funding for our most disadvantaged children through the pupil premium, worth over £2.5 billion this year. Next year, we will be providing over £40 billion of schools funding, the highest ever level of any Government.

We also committed in the spending review to introduce a national funding formula for schools and for pupils with high needs from 2017 to ensure that funding reaches the places where it is needed. I believe these reforms will be transformative and the biggest step towards fairer funding in more than a decade.

The current funding system is unfair and out of date. It means that a primary pupil with low prior attainment in Barking and Dagenham attracts £800 to his or her school, but in neighbouring Newham the same child would attract nearly £1,800. The situation is similar for pupils with high needs—funding is not correlated to need and there is wide local variation in the way children’s needs are assessed. Earlier this month, we launched the first stage of our consultation on proposals to end this postcode lottery and to put in its place a funding system that gives every pupil the same opportunities in education; where children with the same characteristics and the same needs are funded at the same rate, wherever they live; and where there is one, consistent, fair formula, instead of 152 local variations.

Across all our proposals for a national funding formula, we want to deliver three key priorities: to allocate funding fairly and get it straight to the frontline; to match funding to need, so that the higher the need, the greater the funding; and to make sure that the transition for such significant reforms is smooth. The proposals in our consultation include arrangements for funding schools with significant growth in their pupil numbers, and I look forward to the response to the consultation from the Barking and Dagenham local authority. This Government are committed to long-term investment in education. We have already protected revenue funding for this Parliament and we are acting now to make sure this money is allocated equitably for all pupils, wherever they are in the country. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham for raising this important issue today.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.