HC Deb 09 June 1964 vol 696 cc402-12

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

11.59 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

My object tonight is to ask for priority in the major school building programme approved by my right hon. Friend's Ministry for one major project in the Borough of Ilford, which I represent, and which will next year be part of the London borough of Redbridge. My right hon. Friend will be already aware that the failure of Ilford to secure one single project in the school building programme up to the end of 1967–68—which means that it has not secured a place for four years running—has been a grievous shock to the council, as well as to the school governors, the teaching staff and the parents concerned.

I have considered personally the representations made to me with the greatest care. I have discussed this matter with the chairmen of the Essex County Council and the Ilford Borough Council education committees, and I have direct personal knowledge of all the buildings and all the neighbourhoods concerned. I recently made a visit with the borough education officer to two of the schools I shall mention, and I have discussed the whole problem with the chairman of the governors. I have come to the conclusion that I owe it to the borough to bring forcibly to the notice of my right hon. Friend a state of affairs which I am sure will cause him concern.

The urgent project that I want to commend to him is the new school on a new site for the Ilford County High School for Girls. This directly affects, as I shall explain, the following three secondary modern schools—the Gearies' Girls' School, in my division, which is now grossly overcrowded with 433 pupils, the Dane Girls' School, which is equally overcrowded with 301 pupils, the Dane Boys' School, overcrowded with 333 pupils, and, finally, the Girls' County High School itself, with 501 pupils. That makes a total of 1,597 pupils affected by this one scheme.

Inclusion of this one project in the building programme would have the following beneficial effects. It would solve all the deficiency problems at the Ilford County High School for Girls—a grammar school. It would enable the Dane Girls' and the Gearies' Girls Schools to be amalgamated into one school in the building now occupied by The Girls' County High School, which is far superior to the ones in which they are now separately housed. By taking the girls out of the existing Dane building, it would enable the Dane boys to spread themselves into the whole Dane building and thus give an interim period for readjustment before they, too, would be housed in another new building.

I have mentioned in passing the gross overcrowding in the Dane school building. I have seen it myself, and I should like to convey to my right hon. Friend something of the reality of it. Although I am concentrating on this one project and illustrating the urgent necessity for it by reference to this one pair of schools in this one building. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be aware that there are other schools in the older parts of llford that are in a very similar plight, notably, the Downshall Secondary Modern Boys' and Girls' School and Gearies' Boys' Secondary Modern School.

I wish that my right hon. Friend would convey to the noble Lord an invitation to come down to see the two Dane schools in this one building. He would find it a moving experience, and I do not know whether he would be more inspired or more horrified. Let me preface my observations by this one quotation about the girls' school. This school offers notable examples of the triumphing of spirit over matter, of vision over material difficulties. The building and site seriously cramp the school, and it is doubtful whether they can ever be made adequate to serve the purposes of secondary education. The girls' school occupies the first and second floors of the building; the boys' school uses the ground floor. Agreeable decorations, beautiful arrangements of flowers and of children's paintings and the display of fine pictures give grace and dignity to the hall and the Headmistress' room, but cannot disguise the fact that almost every side of the work suffers from the inadequacy of the building. This description of the school was written by H.M. Inspectors as long ago as 1957. One has it there from a source of impeccable reliability. And to my mind it is the triumph of spirit over the squalor of the building that is so poignant. The building is an old solid school board building built before 1904. it shares with a primary school an island site the total area of which is under 2 acres. On this island site there are 296 secondary modern girls, 314 secondary modern boys, 330 juniors and 223 infants, a total of 1,163 children. The secondary school itself, with a total of 610 pupils, is on a piecse of land 0.72 acres in extent.

Consider the girls' school, for example. The main entrance to the school would be considered bleak and furtive for the back door of a Victorian workhouse. The walls inside are harsh brick and the floors of merciless concrete. The whole atmosphere is dank and dismal, no matter how ingeniously it may be painted up. But it is not so much the aesthetic as the practical inadequacies of his building and its surroundings which should concern us. Leaving aside the brutish awkwardness of the so-called playgrounds, which are no more than a few square yards of puddled tarmac, every single respect in which modern education has progressed creates insuperable problems in such an old and cramped building. It is adapted to the days of "reading and writing and' rithmetic taught to the tune of a hickory stick".

The one hall space has to serve for physical education as well as assembly, and all the gear has to be stowed somewhere somehow in passages and cubbyholes all over the school. Clothing is stowed in wire cages in passageways. The headmistress's study is partitioned off from this one common place, and the anteroom to it is occupied by the school secretary. Since this anteroom has also to be used as a sick bay, it is occupied by the three or four girls who may happen at any one time to be unwell at school and who are lying about under blankets on chairs arranged to make up some sort of bed.

When the girls change lessons, each class has to troop through other classrooms. Lessons have to be arranged so that nothing is done which requires concentration when one of the three other schools that share the site is using the playground. Music, which is a great feature of the life of the school, cannot be played out of earshot of the classrooms. The tiny rooms which serve for teaching the arts of home-making, cooking and sewing have also to be used for school meals, so that the paraphernalia has to be cleared away and reassembled before and after each meal. The teaching of mathematics, which has made such huge strides recently, is cripplingly handicapped in the poky classrooms, with miniature desks and no space for drawing boards or proper-sized paper, let alone the kind of models which modern concepts of the teaching of mathematics require The science laboratories, and the technical workshops in the boys' school, are utterly inadequate. There is no space for a library separate from the holding of classes.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows very well what I mean. He has seen more schools than most people, and he has seen the best, too. He knows the standards which modern school buildings achieve

If the conditions for the girls are unsatisfactory, the conditions for the staff of 29 women teachers are indescribable. The staff room would be more what one would expect to find in the fo'c's'le of a windjammer in the 1860s than in a common room for professional people in the 1960s. This is very serious, because the staff who have made the school and known it and loved it for decades are the stayers, but new staff will not put up with this state of affairs. It seems terribly unfair that these people, who put up with so much and who have always had to make do and mend, should see no light at the end of the tunnel, when other teachers in Ilford and Outer Essex have such marvellous conditions in the splendid new schools which have been built.

I make no apology if what I have said sounds rather like a long whine and "bellyache". It is. It comes properly from me, and I do not think that it could, in all honesty, be otherwise. But I want to make clear that this complaining is totally unrepresentative of the patience, courage, resourcefulness and creative joy which makes this depressing place radiant with delight, happiness and constructive effort. In fact, it really is more than anything else because I could not bear to see these marvellous people getting the muddy end of the stick, when they are being so fine and brave, that I am raising this matter tonight. Also, it is becoming painfully invidious that there should be such disparity between the conditions of children who go to older schools like this one, and like Gearies or Downshall, and those who, through the mere accident of geography, go to one of the many beautiful new schools in other parts of the borough.

I have tried to tell my right hon. Friend tonight some of the things that are in the hearts of the people whom he and I try to serve, but I do not want him to think that the Ilford Education Committee, or, for example, the governors of Dane School, or, least of all, the staff of this and other older schools in the borough, are truculent, intemperate or stupid, or unaware of his difficulties and those of the noble Lord—or, indeed, the difficulties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They know as well as anyone of the special problems of Essex because of the vast expansion of the population in that county and of the school population especially. They know as well as anyone the special priority which has been given to Essex in approvals of school building programmes

Also, they know perfectly well the facts of economic life. They realise well that every brick and every man hour which is used to build new schools is a brick and a man hour that cannot be used for building new hospitals, roads and houses. They realise that "Gouverner, c'est choisir", that one cannot have everything and there has to be a choice of what one has and where and when one has it. The people on whose behalf I am speaking are not party to any captious or carping criticism, and they are certainly not anxious to make party political capital out of the inevitable limitation of our resources, of which they are well aware. They are not unreasonable people. But they do feel that their genuine needs are being overlooked in the perspective of the undoubted needs of other parts of the county.

It is because I sympathise with them, and it is on their behalf, that I ask my right hon. Friend urgently to impress upon the noble Lord the needs of the borough of Ilford in future school-building programmes, especially in regard to the older schools in the borough which, although they can be made to serve a purpose, are really not up to the standards which we are now achieving in secondary education in other parts of the borough and of the county.

12.13 a.m.

The Minister of State for Education and Science (Sir Edward Boyle)

I should make it plain that I no longer am associated primarily with that part of the Department's work dealing with school building, although I do not want to run away from this subject tonight, because one of the last functions which I performed as Minister at the end of March and the beginning of April was, as it were, supervising the school building programmes for 1965–66 and 1966–67. I should not, however, be replying to this Adjournment debate tonight but for the fact that it was thought that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary would not be back from an engagement in time to speak. In fact, he was back in the House—I mention this for the sake of anyone who scrutinises the Division lists—but it had been arranged that I should reply to this debate. That explains my presence at the Box.

There are two main points that need to be considered in answer to the fair and temperate speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Ire-monger), whose concern with the education service is well known to all parties in the House. The first question is whether we are, in general, devoting sufficient resources to educational investment and to school building; and secondly, whether, within that total, Essex is getting its fair share. A third question which I add is whether we are devoting sufficient resources to improvements. Those are three main questions to which I wish to address myself. Then, I will say something about the future, as my hon. Friend has asked me to do.

First, as to educational investment and school building, the figures are well known but I will repeat the overall figures. At the beginning of this Parliament, total educational building starts were at an annual figure of £90 million. By the end of this Parliament, we are planning for an annual total of educational building starts of £200 million a year. That is an unprecedented rate of increase in any Parliament. The Government's educational record can always be made to seem less encouraging if one takes one particular defect, as my hon.

Friend did. But I believe that this is a case where one must consider the Government's efforts over the whole field and not this one aspect of education. In the case of school building, as is well known, we had at the beginning of this Parliament a £300 million programme over five years. That programme will have been considerably exceeded over the five years. But it was clear to me last year when planning the next phase that the rate of school building in recent years had not been adequate to the needs of new school places, movements in the population, and improvements. Therefore, I discussed with my colleagues, particularly my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, the level of school building in the next two or three years, and despite the very rapidly rising total of public investment, despite the many pressures for increased educational investment over the whole field, it was agreed as Government policy that school building starts in the year 1965–66 and the year 1966–67 should be raised to an annual figure of £80 million.

Within that total of £80 million I can tell my hon. Friend that Essex has for each of those years the second largest combined programme of any authority in the country. I have checked the figures, and, with the solitary exception of Lancashire, which has as many Parliamentary constituencies as the whole of Scotland, the Essex figure for building starts over the two years will be the largest programme of starts in the country. It will represent a very great increase on the figures for recent years.

Over the five years 1960–65 Essex had total starts of £13–3 millon. That is just under £2¾ million a year. The figure for 1964–65 was £1.6 million, distinctly below that average, as I recognised, and I received a deputation from Essex last year and was glad that it was possible the second time round to include one major replacement secondary project which Essex badly needs in the Halstead area

Coming to 1965–66 and 1966–67, for those two years Essex, which has been having over the past five years an average figure of just under £2¾ million, will have for 1965–66 starts of £3.9 million and for 1966–7 starts of £41 million. That is a quite unprecedented rate of increase in any part of the country. There is literally no authority where there is so great an increase as that from £16 million to £41 million a year.

Furthermore about the total figures for Essex, I would ask my hon. Friend to consider the point, because it may be a useful one when one is discussing school building in any part of the country, that over the two years there will be altogether 77 new school building projects—37 for the first year and 40 for the second. There have been posters about the country recently saying that under the present Government we have been building altogether an average of 10 schools a week. It is fair to say that in Essex alone over the period 1965–67 we shall be starting two schools every three weeks, which seems to me quite a considerable rate of striking.

I would like to turn next to the question of replacements. When one looks at replacements for the country as a whole, the figure for 1965–66 will be about £30 million worth of pure replacements and improvements. That figure compares with the combined total of £30 million for replacements and improvements in 1963–64 and 1964–65, and about £23 million to £24 million will be on starts on secondary improvements, the remainder for primary.

I cannot state at the moment the full figure for 1966–67, because with one or two big authorities like the West Riding we have not settled—through no one's fault—the full details of their programmes, but it will again be about £30 million approximately in roughly the same proportions. I say this about Essex: it is true that the heavy pressure of new population and the very large amount of movement of population means that by far the greater part of the county's building programme will be for new schools for new populations. That is why Ilford projects have not got in for 1965–67. But it would not be right to say that Essex has "lost out" on improvements altogether.

I mentioned the fairly large project we were able to include on the second round, 1964–65. There will be three important direct improvement projects in Essex over the next two years. One of these, I think, is near the Ilford area, in the new London borough of Red-bridge—St. Barnabas County School at Woodford, with the completion of a new building. In addition there are quite a large number of projects, some 13 more, totalling about £1.3 million, which will either replace parts of existing schools whose premises are incapable of expansion to cope with expected rises in numbers, will be projects to replace existing buildings that will be affected by road widening, or will be projects where the addition of extra accommodation will involve some major remodelling of existing premises.

If one considers these headings, Essex has 13 extra improvement projects in addition to the three direct improvement projects I mentioned. It would be impracticable for me to itemise the very large list of new primary and secondary schools even if one were to take, for example, the single year 1965–66. In that year alone there will be about 28 new primary schools. All these, in the long run, will help raise primary standards in the areas just as the very large list of secondaries will have the same effect. Incidentally, we are looking forward to the general rise in secondary standards that will accompany the rise in the school-leaving age. I cannot make a definite promise about a school for 1967–68. I have looked carefully at the details of all those schools in the Ilford area which have been submitted and which were not approved.

So much is made of the fraction of proposals that are approved in the Ministry, and so much was made last year of the difference between total proposals submitted and those approved, that I am justified in pointing out that on this occasion about two-thirds of the total list of Essex projects were approved. At the moment, when we have been considering programmes for 1965–66 and 1966–67, we have been looking of course at the programme for Essex as a whole.

We deal with county councils direct and not with boroughs which are not county boroughs. But, coming to 1967–68, by the time we "firm up" programmes for these areas the London Government Act will be in operation. We shall have the new borough groupings with which to deal directly and it will be the intention of the Department, both at Ministerial level and, I am sure, at official level, to consider singly and with the greatest care the projects that are put in by the counties and the borough groupings ringing London.

I am sure that when we come to do so we shall try to hold the scales fairly between all the authorities in the area and it is fair to say that, while I cannot make a promise about a particular project, nevertheless when dividing up money for improvements we shall bear in mind carefully the position in each borough grouping and try to measure as fairly as possible the relative claims of each.

I should like my hon. Friend to realise therefore that when we come to take official decisions on the 1967–68 programmes we shall bear in mind the representations which he has made, and also take into account, one by one, the special problems of the groups of boroughs surrounding London and which will come into being as separate educational authorities under the full operation of the London Government Act. The Government take very seriously the problem of the school building programmes, and as a Government we have an exceptional record.

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that far from being an ill-favoured county, Essex has had a dramatic rise in the rate of its school building, a rise which has not been equalled and certainly not surpassed by any other county area since the war.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Twelve o'clock.