Building Schools for the Future (Liverpool)

– in Westminster Hall at 4:27 pm on 30th June 2010.

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Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Labour, Liverpool, West Derby 4:27 pm, 30th June 2010

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Benton. It is particularly appropriate that you are in the Chair for this important debate, because you represent my neighbouring constituency of Bootle. I also welcome the Minister to the Chamber and congratulate him on his appointment to one of the most interesting and enjoyable jobs in Government. I am delighted that all four of my colleagues from Liverpool are here for this debate because that demonstrates the incredible strength of feeling across the city on the issues that I will raise and that my colleagues will, I am sure, mention in interventions.

The focus of the debate is the importance of investment in education in Liverpool. It is important for the life chances of children and young people, for social mobility and justice, and for the future economic prospects of the city. A vibrant knowledge economy is absolutely crucial for a city such as ours, and that is especially the case if we are to meet the challenge of increasing the role of the private and voluntary sectors in the city region's economy.

I shall quote from two business leaders in the city of Liverpool. First, Chris Musson, chief executive of the Liverpool science park, said:

"The future for cities like Liverpool has got to be in higher value economic sectors. Investing in education and creating a generation of state of the art new schools is a vital element in the bigger economic picture. At Liverpool Science Park we are providing support to new knowledge-based businesses. If we, in conjunction with our partners, are to continue to grow the commercial knowledge economy it is vital that there is a qualified and capable supply of talent from which knowledge-based companies can recruit."

Another business leader, Frank McKenna, who chairs Downtown Liverpool in Business, said:

"The Building Schools for the Future programme is as important to our future economic success as the Liverpool One retail development or the Capital of Culture. Investment to transform education is essential to the development of a high-skill, high-value economy in Liverpool."

Over the past 13 years, we have seen a remarkable improvement in attainment in Liverpool's secondary schools. In 1997, the city had one of the lowest attainment rates at GCSE; just 32% of 16-year-olds achieved five or more A* to C grades. The most recent figures available show that in 2009 that attainment rate had grown from 32% to 74%, which is 8% higher than the national average. I pay tribute to the hard work of staff and students, backed by their parents, and the local authority in achieving that incredible transformation. Liverpool's Building Schools for the Future programme is designed to learn from that educational progress over the past 13 years so that we can promote excellence in all Liverpool schools.

I want to say a few words about Building Schools for the Future nationally. I had the privilege of serving for three years as a Minister in what was then the Department for Education and Skills, when my right hon. Friend David Miliband led the original proposals for Building Schools for the Future. We looked at decades of low investment in school buildings under Governments of both main parties, frankly, through the '70s, '80s and '90s. We looked not only at the physical fabric of schools, important though that certainly is, but at a programme that, more importantly, would support improvement, innovation and change in all our schools. That is a massive challenge, so we had to decide where to start. We made a deliberate policy decision to give priority to those areas with the highest levels of social and economic deprivation. That is why Liverpool is one of the first beneficiaries of Building Schools for the Future, the biggest ever investment in education in the city.

There are six schemes already under way as part of a £135 million wave 2 investment, and I am pleased that three of them are in my constituency: West Derby school, including Ernest Cookson school; Broughton Hall high school; and Cardinal Heenan high school. I have had the opportunity to visit all three of them. They are already excellent schools and have hugely impressive plans. What is most striking is the ambitious education vision at the heart of their plans. I am especially pleased to have been invited to open the brand new West Derby school in September.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

Does my hon. Friend agree that the programme is vital for the whole of Liverpool, that schools such as Archbishop Blanch school, St Hilda's school and Shorefields school would benefit from participating in it and that it would be very cruel to crush their ambitions through any clawback on projects already in the pipeline?

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I thank my hon. Friend and hope that in the course of my speech all my colleagues will have the opportunity to intervene, so that all the schools benefiting from Building Schools for the Future in Liverpool can be mentioned in the debate. The programme is about education transformation, led by the schools themselves; it is not some central Government initiative being handed down from on high. Many of the schools in the programme are already high achievers, but they are being constrained by their buildings.

Wave 6, the next wave of Building Schools for the Future, involves 26 Liverpool schools, with a promised investment of £350 million. The council has identified two sample schools: Archbishop Beck school, which is in the constituency of the my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram; and St John Bosco school. Five years ago, Archbishop Beck school was in special measures, but it has made huge progress since then and its results are now above the national average. Ofsted has judged the school to be "good, with many outstanding features". St John Bosco school, which is in Croxteth in my constituency, was last month judged by Ofsted to be "outstanding". I visited the school last month and was hugely impressed by the focus on standards, the high proportion of the girls who are going on to university in what is a very deprived community and the active involvement of the students themselves in the development of the Building Schools for the Future plans.

Five other schools in my constituency are in wave 6, two of which are special schools: Clifford Holroyde school, a wonderful school for children with severe behavioural difficulties; and Sandfield Park school, which has plans under Building Schools for the Future to increase the school roll from 70 to 100, which will mean fewer Liverpool children with disabilities having to leave the city for their education. De La Salle school in Croxteth is also an outstanding school, and it is due to become an academy as part of the programme. Holly Lodge school in West Derby is a fantastic school that desperately needs that investment. It has exciting plans that it has worked on for four years, and the head teacher has told me that they will be devastated if the investment falls through. St Edward's college, a well-known, highly renowned and popular local school, is also in wave 6.

For all those schools, Building Schools for the Future brings benefits to the schools and also to the wider community, such as better sports and arts facilities-the Holly Lodge school proposal includes plans to open a local cinema, in partnership with FACT cinema in the city centre-adult learning opportunities and extended schools services. The programme will bring high-quality education to many of the communities in Liverpool that we represent, which provides the best hope for social mobility. That is an argument of social justice, but it is also an argument of hard economics. Liverpool's Building Schools for the Future proposals offer a systematic and structured new set of relationships between every secondary school and an identified business partner. That builds upon existing links between a range of Liverpool businesses, such as Jaguar, Everton football club and Merseytravel, and schools, first, to support learning and teaching in the schools and, secondly, to help shape the skills of the future work force.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office), Shadow Minister (Justice)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, and we all fully support what he is saying. I will not give a litany of schools in my constituency, but does he agree that in deprived communities such as Speke, which I represent, building new schools has played a key part in decreasing disadvantage and increasing attainment and that not continuing with the programme would put us at risk of becoming incapable of enabling our children to fulfil their true potential and to contribute in adult life as we would wish them to do?

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The progress I mentioned when I gave the statistics at the beginning of my speech is testament to all sorts of things, not least the hard work and professionalism of the teachers, the teaching assistants, the young people and their parents. It is also testament to the extra investment that has come into schools in Liverpool, which has provided new facilities in schools and new members of staff through the support work force. I am confident that the schools to which I have referred that are already coming through as part of Building Schools for the Future will deliver real change. We are a quarter of the way there, so it would be a great shame if the schools that are due to come in though wave 6 do not get that opportunity.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Mr Benton, in your constituency and mine, we were due to start phase 1 of Building Schools for the Future this year, but that has been put on hold until the review is carried out. My hon. Friend will recognise that many students from Liverpool attend schools in both our constituencies. In mine, Crosby high school and Chesterfield high school are due to be collocated, and I hope that he will join me in saying how important it is that that goes ahead, as Crosby high school is a specialist school and its children, who have special needs, will benefit from being on the same campus as a mainstream school.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I certainly concur with everything that my hon. Friend says. As part of the programme, a number of the schemes-in Sefton, as well as Liverpool-seek that collocation between existing special schools and mainstream schools. That can have some important educational benefits, but also obvious social benefit for students in both sets of schools. I thank him for taking the opportunity to raise that point.

As well as the business links between the schools and particular local employers, Building Schools for the Future can also support regeneration in communities, many of which suffer from high levels of long-term unemployment. An obvious way that happens is through the programme's immediate economic impact on the construction industry. The Minister may be familiar with a report published by the UK Contractors Group last year entitled "Construction in the UK economy: The Benefits of Investment". It estimates that every £1 the Government invest in building a new school has a net cost of just 44p to them, but a wider total economic benefit of between £3.80 and £5. In this economic period, when we have come out of recession but have a fragile economic recovery, a programme that gives such a boost to the local economy and the construction industry is surely a worthwhile one with which to continue.

Liverpool estimates that Building Schools for the Future wave 6 will create at least 200 new apprenticeships for local people, and I am sure that the same will apply in Sefton and neighbouring authorities that seek to benefit from the programme. Building Schools for the Future can prepare the young people in schools today for the jobs of tomorrow and provide much needed jobs and apprenticeships today for young people and older people in our local communities.

The Government have been clear since the election that they are reviewing Building Schools for the Future-indeed, there were rumours that we could expect an imminent announcement on its future direction. I would like clarification from the Minister on, first, the time scale for the review. Clearly, the uncertainty hanging over schools-not only those in Liverpool-is itself damaging, so they would like a sense of how quickly decisions will be made. Secondly, what are the criteria against which central Government will make the decisions, and, thirdly, what opportunities will exist for MPs, local authorities and schools to make representations as part of the review? I would like to bring a delegation from Liverpool to meet the Secretary of State at his earliest convenience to make the case for Liverpool's Building Schools for the Future programme.

I know from previous encounters, when we were on opposite sides of the House to those we are on now, that the Minister is personally deeply committed to high educational standards in all schools. I hope that he will take the opportunity today, first, to congratulate the schools and students in Liverpool on their fantastic progress over the past 13 years; secondly, to recognise the considerable hard work put in by the schools and the city council to develop their Building Schools for the Future plans; and, finally, to give us some optimism that that work has not been done in vain.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree

I thank my hon. Friend for securing today's debate. It is a timely debate; I have a meeting on Friday in my constituency with six schools that are expecting building work later this year under Building Schools for the Future wave 6. It is not only with the heads and their chairs of governors, but with members of the local business community, who, as my hon. Friend highlighted, are very supportive of the scheme. Does he believe, as I do, that every teacher deserves to teach, every student deserves to learn and every parent deserves to know that their children are being taught in an environment fit for the 21st century? It will be a travesty if all the Liverpool schools in Building Schools for the Future wave 6, including the six in my constituency, are not built later this year.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

My hon. Friend makes the case powerfully and eloquently on behalf of all the schools in her constituency that are part of the programme. As I said at the beginning, there is a vision here. It started with Ministers in the previous Government but was based on the evidence of schools such as the ones my hon. Friend cites, which is evidence that very poor buildings hold back schools that, in many ways were doing well and making great progress, but that could become schools that do excellently, if they had the necessary facilities and buildings.

Photo of Steve Rotheram Steve Rotheram Labour, Liverpool, Walton

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on one of the most important issues affecting our great city; its importance is proven by the presence here today of not only the five local MPs but our near neighbours. Its importance to our city is obviously predicated on the need to continue the educational transformation within Liverpool that was outlined earlier. The programme is important because that £350 million of investment will create employment and apprenticeships.

Health and health inequalities in Liverpool have not been mentioned. My constituency, unfortunately, still has two wards that rank in the top 10 of the indices of multiple deprivation. The opportunities provided by £350 million of investment will help tackle health inequalities in my constituency.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I shall conclude to give the Minister a chance to respond. I thank my hon. Friend; he makes the case powerfully, and it takes me back to where I started. When we looked at the programme nationally, we deliberately started with constituencies like his and mine because they have the levels of deprivation and inequality to which he referred.

For the life chances of children and young people in Liverpool and for the future of our city region's economy, I urge the Minister and Government to give Liverpool's Building Schools for the Future programme the green light.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 4:47 pm, 30th June 2010

I congratulate Stephen Twigg on his return to the House and on securing the debate. He always showed great commitment to and ambition for children and young people as an Education Minister, and he is a great advocate for Building Schools for the Future. I am happy to add my congratulations to his. I congratulate the schools throughout Liverpool that have made such great advances on their educational achievements and I also congratulate the teachers and students on what they have achieved in recent years.

It is the Government's ambition to raise the quality of education for every child. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, I am a passionate believer in high quality education, and so are the Government. We want to raise the standard of education in every school. Too many children still leave primary school without having achieved the basic standard in reading. We need to sharpen the curriculum, restore confidence in our exam system, ensure that young people go on to work, further or higher education with the skills and qualifications that are valued by colleges, universities and employers, and create a platform for success for the pupil. A first step toward that ambition was the introduction of the Academies Bill, which aims to give more schools the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms that academies have, so decisions about what is taught, how it is taught and how the school is run are placed back in the hands of the professionals.

As has been said, school buildings have a real place in our ambitions for school improvement. As Mrs Ellman said, it is vital for all schools in Liverpool. As Maria Eagle said, building new schools helps to tackle disadvantage and educational under-achievement. As Bill Esterson said, new schools can bring in things such as co-location between mainstream and special schools, and as Luciana Berger said, every child and teacher deserves to be in a building fit for education and for the 21st century. Finally, Steve Rotheram emphasised the importance of educational transformation and the need to tackle health inequalities. All those were important points to make in this debate, and I agree with all of them.

Teaching is probably the most important factor bearing on pupils' outcomes, but it is right to say that the environment must be conducive to and must support education as far as possible. Good buildings, classrooms and equipment are necessary for children to learn, and to make their school a place where they feel happy and secure. Schools will continue to need rebuilding and refurbishing in the future, and, with a rising birth rate, more school places will be needed, which will, of course, require capital spending.

However, we also have to acknowledge, as the Chancellor made clear in his Budget last week, that we are living in a difficult fiscal climate in which £1 of every £4 that we spend is borrowed, and, increasingly, professionals across all public services are being asked to do more with less. That is the reality of the times in which we live, but, despite the deficit that this Government have inherited and the need to make £6 billion of savings this year, we have protected front-line funding for schools, sixth forms and Sure Start, and we remain committed to investing in the schools estate to ensure that pupils are educated in buildings of a good standard where they feel safe, comfortable and ready to learn.

We need to ensure that we are securing for teachers, head teachers and the taxpayer the best possible value for money as we seek to bring expenditure under control. That will mean some tough decisions. BSF was a flagship programme of the previous Government, who aimed to rebuild or refurbish every secondary school in the country by 2023. Where it has delivered, some impressive new buildings have been built, but that has been at great cost.

Rebuilding a school under BSF is three times more expensive than building a commercial building, and twice as expensive as building a school in, say, Ireland. The programme simply has not delivered as it should have. Of 3,500 secondary schools, only 5% have been rebuilt or refurbished, or received BSF funding for information and communications technology. That is just 178 schools-astonishingly few, considering how much has been spent.

The programme never really got off on the right foot. In February 2004, the Department's goal was to build 200 schools by 2008, but, of those 200, only 42 were completed by the end of that year. Ambitions for the programme started out as unrealistic and then became unfeasible. Last year's National Audit Office report on BSF said that for the programme to realise the ambition of rebuilding or refurbishing every secondary school,

"250 schools will need to be built a year and the number of schools in procurement and construction at any one time will need to double" from the next year. That clearly is not sustainable, particularly in the current climate.

The NAO report also documented the tremendous waste that has become synonymous with BSF. The budget bulged from £45 billion to £55 billion, and the time scale increased from 10 years to a projected 18 years. Of the £250 million spent before building began, £60 million was spent on consulting or advisory costs, supporting layer upon layer of process. There are eight official stages to the BSF process, but each one contains its own substrata of complexity. The second stage, strategic planning, has a further nine stages that lead to the completion of a strategy for change. Process upon process, cost upon cost-BSF and its administration and procurement processing have not represented good value for money. We support capital investment, but we need to ensure that procurement minimises administration and consultants' costs.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

I want to be clear about what the Minister is saying. I take on board his point about getting procurement right, but is he saying that he will commit to the BSF programme once he is satisfied that the procurement is right?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

The hon. Gentleman will just have to wait until I finish my comments.

It should also be borne in mind that, in the previous Government's final Budget, it was clear that if Labour won the general election, they would cut capital spending across Departments by more than 50% over the following three years. Some of those cuts inevitably would have fallen on schools. Indeed, Ed Balls, who is now the shadow Secretary of State for Education, admitted in the House that school capital spending was not protected under Labour's plans.

As the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby said, Liverpool was one of the first local authorities to enter the BSF programme: it has one school open and another 34 in the programme. We are acutely aware that a great number of parents, pupils and school staff are affected by decisions about school building projects, and we have no wish to keep anyone-not even the hon. Gentleman-waiting longer than is absolutely necessary. The wave 2 projects in his constituency are already under construction. As such, it is unlikely that any changes in the BSF programme would impact on projects that are so far advanced.

I hope that that will go some way to reassure the hon. Gentleman about the projects in his constituency, but we cannot yet confirm the future of individual projects. I am afraid that I cannot offer him or any other hon. Member present today any further reassurance, but I would be happy to keep in touch with all those who have taken part in the debate.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I will happily give way to the hon. Lady and then to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office), Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am grateful to the Minister. We heard from the Leader of the House last week that there might be a statement this week about BSF-he said so clearly. Are we still to get that statement this week, or has it slipped back until next week?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I can assure the hon. Lady that there will be an announcement shortly.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I mentioned this in my speech-I realise that the Minister has a short period in which to respond. Would the Secretary of State be willing to meet a small delegation from Liverpool that would include the leader of the council, Councillor Joe Anderson, and the cabinet member for education, Councillor Jane Corbett?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I can certainly offer the hon. Gentleman a meeting with Lord Hill. I dare not speak on behalf of the Secretary of State, but I know that my noble Friend Lord Hill would be happy to meet him and a delegation from Liverpool to discuss the details of BSF in Liverpool. All hon. Members present would be welcome at that meeting.

We are committed to raising standards in all schools, right across the education sector. In doing so, we will focus on raising outcomes for all pupils, on reducing bureaucracy and on restoring our education system to being one of the best in the world. Capital investment remains important to our programme of school reform, but it must be efficient and cost-effective, and it must reflect the best possible value for money so that children benefit from the best possible standard of education and teaching.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.