§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Dorset, South)
I should like to take this opportunity to raise the question of the urgent need for new buildings for Bovington Wool Primary School. I first raised this matter on 11th July during Question Time, and when I did so the Minister explained that, in accordance with the policy laid down in the 1958 White Paper, he was concentrating the attention of his Department on secondary schools in order, as 2044 he said, to advance the policy of secondary education for all.
I do not doubt the good sense of concentrating attention on secondary educacation, and I may say in passing that Bovington is fortunate in having a fine building for its secondary school, but I think that the Minister and many hon. Members, as a result of seeing the N.U.T. survey of primary schools, are aware—and the Minister as a consequence of the survey that he is conducting must be even more aware of this—that there are many appallingly bad premises for primary schools in this country.
I am raising this matter of Bovington Primary School not merely because the premises are quite appalling, but also because when the buildings were put up in the first place they were never intended to be used as school buildings, and are therefore doubly unsatisfactory for the purpose.
I wish in passing to draw the attention of the House to the fact that recent educational research has emphasised the importance of the primary stage in education, and I suggest that the buildings, and surroundings in which young children grow up are, if anything, more important than the buildings and surroundings in which those over 13 and 14 grow up. Primary school buildings are of enormous interest and importance.
I am not suggesting—and I hope that nothing I say will be so interpreted—that the Minister is not interested in primary education. I am certain that hon. Members are aware of the Minister's interest in this subject, and the initiative that he has shown in setting up the Plowden Committee to study the problem of primary education is an indication of it, but I am sure that among the points which the Plowden Committee will want to emphasise when its report is eventually published is the importance of the physical environment in which young children are educated.
I turn now to the specific problems of the school that I wish to discuss. First and foremost, the numbers on the school roll are indicative of the problem. There are about 360 on the roll. There is no sense in which the school is one whose numbers are likely to fall. The figure will remain constant, or, if anything, will rise. A fair proportion of the children come from families of Army personnel 2045 because this school is situated in the middle of a large Army camp. A proportion of the children come from civilian families, and their parents, in some cases, are employed in Bovington Camp.
This school could present an enormous challenge. There is no question but that, when people come from other parts of the country and send their children to this school, the resultant mixing of the children in the classes could act as a stimulus to the progress of the school. On the other hand, when a school is provided with bad surroundings and had classrooms, it can act the other way and cause even greater problems for the teachers employed there.
There is another point which I think it would be just and fair for me to raise. A number of hon. Members are becoming increasingly disturbed by the lack of married quarters for Service personnel. I am certain that the amount of wastage that has occurred in the Army has been due in part to the lack of facilities of the kind that I have mentioned. The Government are anxious to maintain their recruiting campaign. It is, therefore, important that the schools available for the children of Army personnel should be good ones. This is particularly important because Army personnel are liable to have to move from place to place, and we should compensate them by providing the best possible premises for schools.
I was interested to read in the Dorset Evening Echo that boarding premises are being provided for Bovington Secondary School. If this is so, I think that some consideration should be given to the primary school as well. I am criticising the condition of this school, so I think I ought to make it quite clear that I have visited the school and have inspected the site and the premises with great care. I met the staff, and I pay a tribute to the headmistress and to her staff for the way in which they are working under extremely difficult conditions.
In a recent letter the headmistress said:We are quite a happy staff and have bright patches in our life. I think putting up with inconvenience and hardships is inclined to make a staff pull together more.… We are all very keenly interested in the answer that you will get on 11th July. At least it will put us on the map.Is it necessary to put these facts on the map in order to draw the Minister's atten- 2046 tion to the desperate needs of this school? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman shares my view that it is a disgrace that we should have to ventilate the poor conditions in which the children are having to learn and the teachers are having to teach.
I shall now describe some of the conditions at the school in case this information has not percolated through to the Minister. The buildings are a collection of temporary buildings put up during the First World War. They were not intended for school premises at all. The floors are weak, and, as I said on 11th July, the floor in the entrance hall is positively unsafe. Most of the main parts of the building is of corrugated iron, and a lot of this is rusted and in poor condition. The headmistress reports that there are about ten to twelve places where the roofleaks, and that the heating system is totally inadequate. There are a number of coke stoves in various classrooms, and I am told that in winter these stoves give off the most appalling fumes. In addition, the sanitary condition is far below modern standards, and the back fittings of the water closets are badly rusted and in need of replacement.
When I went round the buildings recently, I was aware that many of the classrooms had a damp feel about them. The doors, and window frames fitted badly, there were cracks in the walls, and parts of the building were extremely draughty. I therefore ask the Minister whether or not it was right, during Question Time on 11th July, to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the health of both teachers and children was likely to be affected by these circumstances?
Since 1947 other classrooms have been provided in this school, and since 1959 one terrapin-type classroom, which is a pleasant contrast with the rest of the school, has been provided. The school has no playing fields, even though it is situated in a rural area where facilities of this kind could be provided. The only place where the children may play is on an irregularly-shaped playground which makes supervision by the staff at playtime extremely difficult. The matter is all the more serious because, bordering the playground, there is a dangerous corrugated iron fence, and it is extremely difficult 2047 for the staff to stop the children climbing it, with the possibility of doing great damage to themselves.
I first heard about this school early this year. The matter was raised by the Wool Parish Council. The Minister will be aware that since 1960 that parish council has taken a considerable interest in the problem and expressed concern about the circumstances in which the school is situated. Matters have been delayed because of the necessity of finding a new site to build a new primary school. Now that site has been found, and it is worth pointing out that the War Office wants the existing site of the school towards the end of 1967. The Minister admitted this in his reply to my Question.
I think that I am now justified in asking him whether, if the school does not find a place in the 1963–64 programme, he can guarantee that these new premises will be ready when the War Office requires the present site for its own development. I ask this question because, regrettable as it is, many schools in the past have taken up to three years to build, and since there is a large primary school population in this place, I am anxious to see that buildings are available, quite apart from the question of the appalling buildings in which the children have had to exist up to the present.
The matter was brought to a head locally when the school had to be closed down last winter because of the very bad weather. Education ceased in the school, because the winter conditions made the buildings almost uninhabitable for education purposes.
I ask the Minister to give this matter his very sympathetic consideration. Does he really consider it enough to say, as he said in reply to my Question:… it would be worth the authority putting this project forward in the 1965–66 programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1391.]Does not he regard it as a little more urgent than that? Perhaps I may quote from a letter written by the Ministry of Education to the Clerk of the Wool Parish Council. It said:Priority has to be given to new schools for children who would otherwise have no schools to go to; to the reorganisation of all-age schools and to the improvement of secondary school provision. The replacement 2048 or improvement of sub-standard primary schools is not excluded, but every case has to be selected on its merits, and the worst schools selected first, so it is bound to be some time before all unsatisfactory primary schools are replaced.I draw the special attention of the Minister to the phrasethe worst schools have to be selected first,It seems to me that I have in my constituency the worst, or at least one of the worst, schools in the country. The buildings are in an appalling state. They were never intended for a school in the first place. I therefore ask the Minister to give sympathetic consideration to this case for the 1964–65 programme.
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ The Minister of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)
I should like to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Barnett) on the extremely clear and admirably concise way in which he put his case for the Bovington Primary School. His closing words reminded me a little of the remark which Sir Thomas More made many centuries ago:Even if there is only one shrewish wife in the world every man thinks that he hath her.I can tell the hon. Member straight away that there is no dispute that the premises of this school are unsatisfactory and will clearly have to be replaced. What we are now considering is whether this replacement can be carried out in the 1964–65 building programme. I must tell him, at the start of my speech, that the programme is now fully allocated—I shall have a little more to say about that later—and that it will not be possible to include this school in the 1964–65 programme.
As I explained to the hon. Member on 11th July, in the matter of improvements and replacements for next year I have deliberately concentrated, as in the previous four years, on secondary schools. But the hon. Member reasonably said, in effect, that if this school cannot be included in the 1964–65 building programme, what then? He asked me whether I could not go any further than I went on 11th July, looking towards the future. Although this afternoon I cannot make a statement about the 1965–66 building programme only a fortnight after I have announced the final figures for 1964–65, I can certainly tell him that 2049 this project was put forward for the 1964–65 programme as a purely replacement project, but as the hon. Member rightly said, the site on which the school is situated will be required by the end of 1967, and the lease will be up; I can, therefore, tell him that this replacement project would undoubtedly have a high priority, not only in the authority's eyes but in the Minister's eyes, for 1965–66, not only because of the condition of the school but because of the time factor arising from the final termination of the lease.
When, on 11th July, I said that it would be worth the authority putting this forward far the 1965–66 programme, I meant to convey a hint that this project would definitely have a higher priority for the following year, from the Ministry's point of view, partly because, in 1965–66 I hope that we shall be able to make a start on primary school replacements—and even under that heading this school would have a high place in the queue—but also because of the time factor arising from the fact that the lease runs out by 1967.
Meanwhile, I have one or two more things to say about the school and also about the Dorset building programme as a whole. The hon. Member is absolutely right in the importance he attaches to primary education. There is one thing about the school that, despite the very unsatisfactory buildings, makes it a little more fortunately placed than some primary schools. There are nine classes, and the average size of class is 34. As he says, it has a first-class headmistress and a good staff, and the size of classes is below the average for the country. All the classes are below the size laid down in the Ministry's regulations. From that point of view the school is not badly favoured, and that is an important point.
As for the building itself, I recognise that one of the main irritating features must be the roof. It is not just that the water comes in, but the fear that the water will come in, that must concentrate the greatest exasperation all the time. Therefore, I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Member that I have learnt from the Dorset authority that this summer it intends to spend £550 in providing a bitumen covering for the roof of the main building.
That will not make the roof thoroughly serviceable, but it should help during the 2050 remaining years of the school's life to reduce the discomfort and irritation caused by these leaks. During the last eight years one of the worst rooms has been taken out of use and replaced, as the hon. Gentleman said, by a terrapin class-room. I am also told that the authority has spent over £3,000 on a number of small extensions, even including the provision of new floors in a number of class-rooms and also some new wash basins.
So far as Dorset as a whole is concerned, I must say that if one takes the period 1960–65 Dorset has not, I think, come off too badly from the point of view of school buildings. It has had 21 projects altogether—11 secondary and 10 primary. The current value of the programmes is nearly £1,900,000 for a school population of 44,000, so Dorset has a total school-building programme rather above the average for the country as a whole taking into account the size of the population.
The hon. Gentleman has, if I may say so, with great reason and moderation not pressed his case today about the other school which he raised with me, the Weymouth County Grammar School. I realise the anxiety caused to the authority by the omission of the extension of that project for 1964–65, but, of course, it is a fact that in the 1964–65 programme there is a large project valued at over £300,000 for the Poole County Grammar School.
Therefore, to sum up what I have to say about Bovington, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the project will definitely have a much higher priority for the next building programme in 1965–66 purely because of the condition of the school and also because of the time factor arising out of the end of the lease. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that I am taking an unfair advantage of the situation, and that I will not be trespassing on your patience too much, Mr. Speaker, if for a moment I take the opportunity to say one or two other things about school building in view of the fact that we are on that subject.
Next Tuesday, I shall be announcing in the House the additional projects that I have been able to approve for the 1964 major school-building programme. Within the total value of the extra £5 million 2051 which I announced a fortnight ago I have now approved about 30 additional projects, full details of which will be given next Tuesday in the Official Report, mainly to replace or improve existing secondary school buildings. I shall also be announcing with full details a further 45 projects totalling £2.3 million, mainly to accommodate increasing numbers of pupils or to keep pace with new housing. They will come out of the reserve of money which I mentioned when we first debated school building at the end of March.
I mention this for two reasons. The first is that naturally, hon. Members like the hon. Gentleman opposite very reasonably raise particular cases of bad schools and they get debated at some length in the House. Possibly we do not pay quite so much attention to the schools which get through the programme. For example, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) devoted four columns of HANSARD of 26th March on the wrongness of the Ministry at not replacing St. Mary's Secondary School, Derby. That school will be in the list published on Tuesday of next week.
There is just one other point I should like to suggest. During the five years 1960–65, out of a sum now rather more than £300 million for school building starts, something like half the money will have gone either to replacement projects or projects needed to reorganise all-age schools. I claim that when these programmes and these projects are all completed—only about one-quarter have been so far—this is going to mark an important step towards the achievement of secondary education for all.
Very roughly speaking, I think that if one spent £¼ million on a secondary school replacement this means that 1,000 children over a period of 10 years have a very much better opportunity of an advanced course in a secondary school. Therefore, even if one deducts the number of grammar school projects between 1960 and 1965—and I must say some of the most deserving cases in the country have been grammar school projects, where advanced courses have largely been the rule now for a long time for all the pupils, and the wastage from grammar schools at the age of 15 has been getting less—our programme for 1960– 2052 65 will mean that over half a million children in the country for a period of 10 years will have an infinitely better opportunity of advanced courses leading to higher educational qualifications than ever before.
I mention that because recently there was a very interesting debate in another place to which I was lucky enough to be able to listen. In an extraordinarily interesting speech which was critical of the Government, the Baroness Wootton—it would be wrong for me to quote her—raised the question whether I was really acting on my principle when I said that I did not start from the assumption that potential intelligence and ability were distributed unequally among different sections of the community. The noble Lady raised the question whether, having enunciated that principle, I really acted on it.
I think that the concentration by the Government on secondary school improvements between 1960 and 1965 will mean a considerable extension of opportunity to hundreds of thousands of children in the community who did not have that advantage before. It is, of course, easy to speak about maintained schools from the standpoint of this Dispatch Box. It is another matter to have to make the best of unsatisfactory conditions and there are many schools still having to make the best of these conditions for a number of reasons. But I do not think it fair to say that the primary schools have been left out by the Government during these five years.
After all, the successive instalments of teacher training expansion will prove of more benefit to the primary schools than any other. The decision to build up the training college population to a total of 80,000 students by 1970 will make more difference to primary and infant schools than to any other. But I certainly recognise the great problems caused for many primary schools in all parts of the country and I assure the hon. Member that, quite apart from the special circumstances of Bovington where the lease is running out, it is my hope that we shall be able to make a start with primary school replacements in the building programme beginning in the year 1965–66.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes past Three o'clock.