HC Deb 24 July 1963 vol 681 cc1659-66

1.35 a.m.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I wish to raise the problem of the primary schoolchildren at Osbaldwick. Osbaldwick is a rapidly developing dormitory area on the outskirts of York. In 1939 the population was 296. By 1951 it had grown to 882. In 1955, when the population was 1,443, the local education authorities decided that the existing school premises for primary schoolchildren were quite inadequate and completely out of date and decided to builda new primary school. The Minister, in December, 1956, agreed that a new primary school was necessary but did not allow them to start building until 1958, when he allowed them to build two classrooms on the selected new site. That is the picture of what has happened.

Now the population of Osbaldwick is 3,192 and that is just about double what it was when the Minister decided that a new seven-classroom school should be built. As the newcomers to Osbaldwick are mostly young couples with children the school population is rising faster than the population. Today, there are 286 primary schoolchildren; next year there will be 305; by 1967 the number will be 350.

How are these children being educated? There are 66 who are being taught in the old, out of date village school; 35 are being taught in a prefabricated classroom; and 75 in the two classrooms on the new site which the Minister agreed to in 1958. That is 176. That leaves 110 children who cannot be accommodated in school premises in the North Riding. Of those, 77 are sent over the county boundary into the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Longbottom) where they are being taught at Darwent school in a very similar area of rapid development, and it is already overcrowded.

The 33 leftovers, by the generosity of the vicar and the church council, are being taught in the church hall when it is not being used for any other purpose. This means that the teaching of the children of primary school age in Osbaldwick is being carried on on five different sites, four of them under the same headmaster. I shall make many criticisms today of the conditions in which these children are being taught, but I want to make it absolutely clear at the outset that I have nothing but the highest praise for the headmaster and his assistant teachers for the way they are carrying out what is very nearly an impossible task.

Looking at the conditions in which these children are being taught, I want to concentrate chiefly on the two buildings—the old village school and the church hall. The old village school is a typical nineteenth century building, one large hall partitioned off into two classrooms, and 66 children are being crammed into those two classrooms. There is one wash bowl for each class room of 33 children, but no hot running water at all. The sanitary arrangements are completely unsatisfactory. Each classroom is heated by a very old-fashioned stove and the classrooms are extremely cold. That was the standard accommodation 60 years ago, but it is completely unsatisfactory in 1963.

The church hall is very much worse and quite unsuitable for modern education. But we must remember that it is being used only because otherwise the 33 children had nowhere isle to go and the church stepped into the breach. When I visited it on 8th June I found there was only one water closet for the 33 children, the teacher and the kitchen staff who cook the meals. There was one other closet, but it was completely dilapidated. It had a broken basin, and had not been used for many years. There are no washing faciities for the children. The only tap is in the kitchen used by the kitchen staff for cooking the meals.

This is a very old, dark building with no heating except an old-fashioned stove which throws out carbon monoxide fumes but little heat. Earlier this year a 10-year-old child was carried out unconscious, overcome by carbon monoxide fumes. It is so cold that even early this summer the parents were ordered to ensure that every child had on two jerseys before they came to school in order to keep out the cold. What will happen in the winter I leave the Minister to imagine. There is insufficient room for storing clothes, and so the children are told not to take any wellingtons because they have nowhere to put them.

As the church hall is required for other purposes such as a baby clinic and public library four afternoons a week, the children have to leave the school premises on those occasions. They either go out for a nature walk or are sent home. There is no playground for the school. It is sited at a very busy and dangerous comer, and so parents are warned not to send the children too early for their own safety.

I cannot understand how the Ministry inspectors could not have commented adversely on the premises. In another capacity I am Vice-President of the Independent Schools Association, and as such I have found the Ministry inspectors refusing to register schools because they do not have first-rate or palatial conditions. But in this village these children are being taught in sub-standard premises quite contrary to every public health or education standard.

These being the conditions in which children of primary school age have been educated in Osbaldwick, what is being done by the Minister or the local education authority to remedy what is now a grevious problem but in the next few years will be greatly aggravated? The local education authority says that it has pressed the Minister year after year to be allowed to build the school that he told it it could build in 1958. That was five years ago. I gather that the Minister's answer will be that it did not press quite hard enough.

But I do not want to apportion any blame tonight. I want to have this scandal put right and the new school built. When the Minister turned down the proposal for the school to be built in this year's programme, the local education authority decided to build a further instalment of two classrooms in its minor works programme.

I do not blame it for that. I merely comment that it is a very odd way of conducting a school building programme. One puts in a scheme which is turned down and then one jobs it in under a minor works programme.

When I asked my right hon. Friend on 11th July to allow the local education authority to complete the remainder of the school in the 1964–65 programme so that at least there might be continuity of building in this later period, he refused, saying that it was not sufficiently urgent. So, as far as I can see, we now have the ridiculous position that this new school will be built in three stages, with a three or four year gap between each stage. That, I submit, is good sense neither educationally nor economically. The cost of the building will be very much increased and while the Minister is delaying the number of primary school children will increase.

By 1967, the agreement with York Corporation to have up to 80 children educated at the Derwent School will have ended. What will happen them if the Minister's decision means that by that time no new school premises will be built other than the two classrooms in the minor works programme? It will mean that there will be accommodation for 160 of the 350 children in the four class rooms but that the remaining 190 children will have to be accommodated in the present unsuitable premises. In fact the problem in 1967 will be aggravated a great deal compared with what it is today.

If the Minister will not change his mind and insists on adhering to his refusal to include completion of the school in the 1964–65 programme, he should at least allow the local education authority to use the device it is using this year and put the remainder of the school in the minor works programme for the following year.

I will recapitulate the story. Seven years ago the Minister decided that a new school had to be built. Four years ago he allowed two classrooms to be built. I received the following letter from the secretary to the local education committee, which included this statement: A forward estimate of primary school numbersat Osbaldwick is being made each school term; that is to say, to estimate what the numbers will be a year ahead, and as soon as it can be demonstrated to the Minister that the existing accommodation must be supplemented, the Minister will be asked to allow for the rest of the new school to be built forthwith, and I have no doubt that the Minister will then agree. That letter was dated 9th September, 1959. Since then, these regular forward estimates have been given to the Minister. At what stage did he disabuse the local education authority of its confident belief that he would agree to the completion of the programme it put forward in 1959? I cannot believe that this story of muddle and delay is typical either of the Minister or of the North Riding Education Committee, but I do believe that the parents going to live on the outskirts of York, out of York, have a right to expect that in this new, 20th Century dormitory area, children should be educated under modern 20th Century conditions. This state of affairs reflects no credit on our education authorities, and I ask the Minister to put it right.

1.50 a.m.

The Minister of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) for raising this matter this evening. He and I have discussed it and I will certainly do my best to answer the points which he has raised. When I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, I was able to be of assistance on one school building matter in my right hon. Friend's constituency. I am sorry that, for reasons which I shall explain, I cannot be as forthcoming on this occasion. No one who follows these matters could be in any doubt as to the enormous amount of interest and concern which my right hon. Friend shows in these school building matters in his constituency.

The history of this matter is as follows. In 1956, Lord Eccles, under Section 13 (4) of the Education Act, 1944, approved in principle the establishment of a new county school to replace the old Church of England controlled school in Osbaldwick, but although my predecessor gave approval, the school itself was never put into the building programme as a major project. Instead, permission was given for a first instalment, costing up to £10,000 to be carried out as a minor work, and this instalment is at present used as an annexe to the old school.

I do not know—I do not have the full details before me of what happened to the school—whether proposals were put again between that date and 1964–65. but the North Riding education authority entered this project as number six in its order of priorities for primary school proposals in 1964–65. Altogether, it submitted six primary school proposals of which three, being proposals for basic needs, were approved—the Marske Roman Catholic Primary School, the Huntington County Primary School and the Catterick Camp Infants School.

North Riding education authority put in its case for this school on two grounds. The first was the ground of basic need. This arises, as my right hon. Friend has made plain, from the fact that York cannot make the Derwent accommodation available beyond 1965. The extent of the basic need could be met by a second minor project which the authority now proposes to undertake. Within the allocation made to the authority, it is perfectly entitled, of course, to spend part of that allocation on this second stage to the basic need element in this school project, if it so desires.

I venture to say to my right hon. Friend that it is not exceptional when the whole of a major project cannot be approved in the building programme for the basic need aspect of that project to be carried out by means of minor work. I recognise that it is not ideal from the authority's point of view, because the school building has to be carried out in stages, but there is nothing exceptional about what the authority is proposing to do in this case.

The second ground on which the authority put forward this proposal was that it wished to replace an old and unsatisfactory school. Of course, the completion of the school must be classed as the replacement of existing accommodation. Here I can only repeat what I have had to say in the House on a number of occasions this year—that during the period of the five-year building programme between 1960 and 1965 we have done a large number of replacement and improvements. Even leaving out reorganisation, replacements and improvements have accounted for something comfortably over £100 million of the total programmes, but we have not been able to include primary school replacements. We felt that it was necessary to give first priority to secondary school replacement in accordance with the priorities laid down in the 1958 White Paper.

I should like to add one further point at this stage and that is to say something about the size of the North Riding programmes generally. I have looked carefully at the figures and it is fair to say that over the five years between 1960 and 1965, the North Riding has had a series of programmes which, added together, are more than proportionate to its proportion of the school population of England and Wales. Furthermore, if one considers the 1964–65 programme by itself, certainly as compared with many authorities, the North Riding did not come off too badly.

For the programme for 1964–65, the North Riding asked for a sum totalling £845,000. A total of £620,000 was approved straight away and an additional project costing £59,000 has been submitted and approved since then. Thus, having initially asked for £845,000, the North Riding authority has been granted a total of £680,000 for 1964–65.

I have mentioned the three primary schools which were included in the programme. Also included in it are three secondary schools: the Marske county modern school, Cleveland grammar school and the Eston, South Bank Victoria Street county modern. When one considers programmes in the country as a whole, the North Riding can be said to have had a fair share of the resources which were going.

Whatever may be said locally about the programme for next year, I have received no official representations from the North Riding authority either about the exclusion of the project in question or about the size of its programme generally. I have received a number of deputations on the subject of building programmes, but I have received no specific request for a deputation or any specific representations from the North Riding authority.

When I was able to announce a further increase of £5 million in the building programmes, I considered carefully the representations which my right hon. Friend had made to me. More than £4 million of this money will go towards replacements and improvements. In addition, I have included in the programme out of the reserve about £1½ million worth of additional projects, mainly for basic needs, since the initial programmes were announced in February this year. Indeed, the £59,000 project which I have mentioned falls into that category.

I was, however, bound on consideration to feel that the basic needs aspect of the Osbaldwick project could be done out of the minor works allocation and it was not possible to include the whole sum in the building programme because this was a primary replacement project and I felt bound, in the last year of the five years covered by the 1958 White Paper, to give priority to secondary replacements. As I have said, during these five years we have donea considerable level of secondary replacements and improvements. It is in the next stage of school building that we must look at the prospect of making a start on primary replacements.

There remains the question of whether, in the interim before the whole new school can be completed and the use of the old premises discontinued, anything can be done to improve conditions there. I understand that certain small improvements are to be carried out. What is, perhaps, more important is that it will be possible to discontinue the use of the church hall, at least for the present, when the two additional classrooms are available. I recognise the problems that arise from the use of the church hall, to which my right hon. Friend gave considerable emphasis, and I understand that when the two additional classrooms are available, the use of the church hall can be discontinued.

It is for these reasons that after much thought I felt bound not to include this project for 1964–65. As I have said, it did not have at all a high position on the local authority's list, and looking over the whole period from I960 to 1965, the whole of the five years covered by the White Paper, I feel that the figures I have given reveal the North Riding as having had a fair share of the resources available and I do not think that there can be a serious grievance about the sum of money that has been allocated for major building for the year 1964–65.