HC Deb 08 July 1959 vol 608 cc1523-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Brooman- White.]

11.18 p.m.

Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)

I wish to raise tonight the subject of the position of the new Church of England school to be built at Goodworth Clatford. Perhaps I may be permitted, first, to run over the history of this matter as it affects that village and the adjoining village of Upper Clatford.

The school was bombed during the war, and pupils from Goodworth Clatford have gone since then to school in Upper Clatford, where the old Church of England school has found great difficulty in coping with the increased number of children attending it from both villages. Finally, it was decided that if the Church could find the money and land could be purchased, a school for both villages could be built at Goodworth Clatford and the sub-standard premises at Upper Clatford could be closed.

There have been a number of delays. There was delay in obtaining the site because the owner was in the Far East, and it was not until January, 1955, that the diocesan director of education told me that the matter had been put into the hands of the district valuer. Then it was not until a year later, in January, 1956, that I was informed the owner had instructed agents in England to negotiate with the local education authority.

While these delays were going on and while it is, I think, fair to say there were differences between the parent-teachers' association in the village and the education authority, people who had been unable to send their children to a decent school were passing every day a site where the "pub" had been bombed and where a new "pub" had by then been built. However, finally, in March, 1956, I heard that the Hampshire education authority had included the building of a new school at Goodworth Clatford in its programme for 1957–58. It will not surprise you to learn, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of Education of the day refused permission for the school to be built.

In October, 1956, after further lengthy correspondence, the Minister of the day said that this was not a case of rebuilding a bombed school, but of replacing an existing school. This is a rather narrow point, because this was replacing a school that was bombed. Merely because the children from that village have had to go to another village school, and it has now been decided to close that other village school because it is substandard, seems to me to make a rather delicate point to argue that the new school at Goodworth Clatford would be a replacement of the existing school and not of the school that had been bombed.

However, because of the credit squeeze and the economic position in 1956, 1957 and 1958 I accepted, and, I think, with heavy hearts the people in the village accepted, that a new school could not be built. But in October last I wrote to the Hampshire county education officer to ask about the possibility of building a new school at Goodworth Clatford, as it was obvious that the credit squeeze was now being lifted, and as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was dropping hints in one or two newspapers that it might be possible in the foreseeable future to enlarge the school-building programme.

I was told that the new school had been submitted once again by the Hampshire education authority in its programme for inclusion in the financial year 1960–61. I finally heard that on 1st May this year. We waited with great drawing and holding of breath, and my joy can be imagined when, after this long history which goes back to long before I had the honour of representing the Basingstoke division in the House, I received a letter dated 20th May from the Parliamentary Secretary which read: I am glad to be able to tell you that we have included this project "— that is, the new primary school at Good-worth Clatford— in the approved Major Building Programme for 1960–61 which is being sent to the Hampshire local education authority today. I wrote to the 20 or 30 residents of these villages who had written to me personally, to the secretary of the parish council, and to the local newspaper and I received many letters thanking me and saying that all the rude things which the writers had been thinking about the Parliamentary Secretary could no longer be true. But one letter was not so laudatory. It was from the county education officer, saying that he had been informed that the new school was to be built in 1961–62.

I wrote immediately to the Parliamentary Secretary and received a letter dated 3rd June in which he said, quite calmly: I am sorry to say that there was a slip in my previous letter and that I quoted the wrong year. The Hampshre local education authority put forward the new primary school at Good-worth Clatford for inclusion in the 1960–61 building programme, but we were not, in fact, able to fit it in that year and we have included it in the 1961–62 programme. I am sorry about this slip as I feel that it will disappoint people a little. That was the most mammoth understatement of the year. My hon. Friend went on to say that it would really make no difference at all because 1960–61 merged imperceptibly into 1961–62.

I went to see my hon. Friend, and after, if I may say so, receiving no joy from him in the matter, I put a Question to my right hon. Friend the Minister on 25th June. My right hon. Friend said that he, also, was sorry that the wrong year had been quoted. I tried to point out to my right hon. Friend exactly how bad were the facilities for education in Goodworth Clatford at present—a totally inadequate school originally built for one small village and now having to serve two growing and expanding villages.

I pointed out to my right hon. Friend the way in which the hopes of the people, the parents, the children and the school teachers, who live in these villages had been raised by the Parliamentary Secretary's letter of 20th May and how now they had been dashed. I asked whether it was not possible to put this school back into the 1960–61 programme, because I said: Otherwise, it will be difficult in these villages to maintain the confidence of the parents or teachers in my right hon. Friend and his Ministry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1959; Vol. 607, c. 1382.] Quite frankly, that is the position. I received some support from the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), who asked my right hon. Friend whether he was aware that he had, in fact, placed me in an impossible position and bitterly disappointed the parents in this part of the county for which both of us sit.

There the position remains at the moment. But I would suggest that after so long a history and after so many disappointments the people of these villages have a right to some consideration and to some speed in the rebuilding of their village school. At present, the children of both villages have to go to the school in Upper Clatford.

I would like to quote from a letter, which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has seen and which is dated 7th November last, from a constituent who lives in the village of Upper Clatford. She wrote: There is a formidable list of reasons for urging that building should start on a new school as soon as possible. May I give you some of the outstanding ones, not necessarily in order of importance.

  1. (1) There is no flush sanitation, which, in these days when such importance is attached to hygiene, seems rather ridiculous. There are eighty-two children in the school at present and there is no hot water available, except by boiling a kettle. The only means of washing hands is in one sink in a small cubbyhole near the front entrance, and four enamel bowls which are some considerable distance from the lavatories that are up a number of steps leading to the playground.
  2. (2) The cloakroom space is totally inadequate and coats etc. of 7–9 years age group have to be kept in their own classroom.
  3. (3) The playground is very unsuitable being a small square of asphalt surrounded by grass which, in the weather we expect, is often unusable."
I suppose that at present it is rather more usable.
  1. "(4) Two-thirds of the children stay to dinner, there is no kitchen and preparations for serving the meal are carried out in one of the classrooms which means the children either miss some working time or are working while the meal is being prepared. The washing up is also done in the classroom (without running hot water or sink).
  2. (5) The Women's Institute Hut, some hundred yards away, is used for the infants, which means they have to walk backwards and forwards seven times a day, along a road which is becoming increasingly busy.
  3. (6) The school entrance is right on the road mentioned above, except for a very narrow footpath.
  4. (7) It has been suggested that the village hall be used for physical education. If this is sanctioned there will be more walking hither and thither carrying all equipment.
  5. (8) From the Head Teacher's point of view, she has no privacy; any interviewing of parents or making of telephone calls has to be done in the classroom with the children present, or they have to be sent out to the playground.
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  7. (9) There is no coal storage available, and it is stacked against one wall causing dampness. Several other walls are damp and there is dry rot."
I suggest that at a time when we are saying, with a certain amount of truth, that "people have never had it so good" at a time when we are trying to pretend that children are receiving a decent education, schools like this, for which, for various reasons, nothing has been able to be done, are now a blot on the landscape, not only of Hampshire, but of the twentieth century. I should have thought that such a situation should be remedied as soon as possible, as soon as the economic situation enabled a greater volume of work to be tackled. I should have thought for this reason, if not for the honour of the Parliamentary Secretary, he should fulfil the undertaking given to me in his letter of 20th May.

11.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)

I very much regret that tonight I find myself in some measure of controversy with my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth); partly because I am well aware of the interest he has always taken in education in his constituency since he became the Member for Basingstoke; partly because he and I have known one another for a number of years and, finally—if it is not improper to refer to it—because I well remember an occasion when I was helping to pilot a somewhat controversial Budget measure on which he was one of only two hon. Members who gave me some support.

I recognise that an error in a letter of mine has caused, as it certainly must have done, a great deal of disappointment in the constituency of my hon. Friend. I say frankly that it was a mistake and should not have occurred. I take full responsibility for it. I have done my best to explain the reason for the error to my hon. Friend and all I want to do tonight is to acknowledge it.

I must repeat that the official letter sent to the Hampshire local education authority, announcing its full building programme, which was sent at about the same time as I wrote to my hon. Friend, stands as the authoritative statement of the building programme. The reason why this error occurred, which I so much regret, is because this year, for the first time we invited local education authorities to submit projects for two building programmes together, namely, for the two years, 1960–61, and 1961–62. We had received originally from Hampshire a list of proposals for the two years at a total cost of £3.4 million.

We have not been able to allocate to Hampshire as much as the local authority would have liked. But out of the total sums available for school building in England and Wales amounting to £55 million in 1960–61, and £60 million in 1961–62, we were able to allocate nearly £1¼ million for 1960–61 and over £1 million for 1961–62. I think that it is generally recognised in Hampshire that though these figures were not quite so good as the local authority would have liked, they were reasonable.

May I say, also, that I recognise as well as any hon. Member that Hampshire is one of the extremely good local educational authorities. I can safely say that I do not know of any authority which adopts a more responsible and cooperative attitude to its building programme, and I am sorry if present discontents elsewhere make this remark less widely publicised than otherwise it might have been.

This sum of almost £1¼ million allocated for 1960–61 was not sufficient to enable the new school at Goodworth Clatford to be included in this programme. In allocating projects for 1960–61 we try to follow the order of priority put forward by the local education authorities. That is normally, though not invariably, the procedure when an authority submits a programme and we are not able to meet all its wishes, so that, as a rule we do give priority to those projects which the Authorities have said are of the greatest importance.

I realise that Hampshire was reluctant to see the Goodworth Clatford school kept back to the second year, but it is only fair to remember that the local educational authority, which is in a good position to assess the needs of the county, did not find it more urgent than other projects which have been included in the first year's programme. Though omitted from the 1960–61 programme the Good-worth Clatford school was, naturally, at the top of the queue for the next year, and has rightly found a place in the 1961–62 building programme.

Though much of the resources available under the five-year building programme envisaged by the Government's White Paper will be devoted to the replacement or improvement of old schools, none the less we have frequently still to face, in these years, the problem of providing more schools and school places for additional numbers of children, and the Hampshire authority will have a lot to do in this way during the two years 1960–62. In fact, about two-thirds of its programme for the first year is needed for providing additional places for increased numbers of children, and most of the rest is for badly needed improvement of secondary facilities. I mention that point to explain why the school at Goodworth Clatford has not secured a higher priority.

As I said earlier, Hampshire always adopts an extremely responsible attitude towards its building programme, and I do not think that we have done too badly in giving it about two-thirds of its total request. Indeed, I think that is the view of the Hampshire education authority itself. But I realise that this cannot be a very great consolation to a community which is anxious to see its new school built very soon and which, for the reasons which my hon. Friend has so clearly explained, finds any delay very difficult to tolerate.

Moreover, I recognise that the publication of the Government's White Paper on Secondary Education, with its big plans for the rebuilding and improvement of old schools, has, naturally, encouraged many people to look forward to great progress. But we must remember that the tasks which face us are still very substantial in bulk, and also that it is a five-year programme on which the Government have embarked. I make this point to make it clear that we have many urgent tasks to tackle, and that it is unrealistic to expect to be able to tackle them all in the first year of the building programme. Indeed, many schools will not be as fortunate as the school at Goodworth Clatford, and will have to wait even after the second year. I am very glad that Goodworth Clatford is, at any rate, fortunate enough to be included in the second of the five annual programmes envisaged in the White Paper.

For the first time in our history we have announced the programmes for two consecutive years at the same time, and this means that local educational authorities have very much more time in which to plan projects and, consequently, be in a better position to start these projects early in the second programme year. In the past it has often been difficult for authorities to start projects early in the programme year, and I hope that one of the advantages of our announcing the programmes for two years together will be that it will enable many projects to start rather more promptly than otherwise.

It was entirely in that context that I wrote the final sentence in my letter to my hon. Friend of 3rd June, when I said: I hope that Hampshire will be in a position to start a school in the early part of 1961–62. If they can do, this project should not be very much later in starting than it might have been if it were in the 1960–61 programme. As a result of announcing two years' programmes at the same time the county can start planning for the new school now and can get right ahead as soon as the 1961–62 year starts.

I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that the particular programme year in which a school is to be built need not make very much difference to the time at which it actually starts and, still more important, the time at which it actually becomes available for use. The crucial point is how soon the school will be completed and available for use. I know one thing: that its completion and availability for use will be widely welcomed in my hon. Friend's constituency, and that, however much disappointment there may be about this decision, and however much regret over the error in my letter, for which I sincerely apologise, I do not think that he could possibly have represented the interests of his constituents in this matter more ably than he has.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Twelve o'clock.