HC Deb 07 April 1970 vol 799 cc511-6

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

4.57 a.m.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for keeping you up so late for another 30 minutes, at five o'clock in the morning, but this debate concerns the pressing problem of Mossley Primary School at Congleton, in my constituency. I am sorry that the hon. Lady, the Minister, has had to stay up, and particularly that her right hon. Friend is indisposed. I hope that she will make a rapid recovery.

Over the years I have had long correspondence with the Minister of State and the Cheshire education officer. The school in question was built in 1845, and it has been the subject of complaints for the last 60 or 70 years. In 1910 it was under criticism in respect of size and facilities. Even then, when money had real value, £1,000 was raised from voluntary and charitable sources. In 1920 there was again criticism of overcrowding. In 1939 the numbers had to be reduced. In 1944 it was understood that the school was scheduled for replacement. In 1958, to alleviate overcrowding, the village hall was leased until the spring of this year, and, accordingly, the social and community activities of the village hall had to be restricted. It means children cross- ing the road from the old school to the village hall in all weathers.

In 1959 the situation was so bad that a deputation from the council planning and building committee met the county education officer. I then took the matter up with the Minister of Education. In 1964 it appeared that Mossley school was included in the school building programme. The new site was chosen some years ago and was purchased in 1963. Coming to this year, the number of pupils has grown by 42 per cent. since 1959. It will be 246 within three months. The school has only 46 per cent. of the teaching space required by the regulations. One class has no class room at all. It was suggested that a temporary class room should be erected in the village hall car park. This would further reduce the effectiveness of the village hall.

There is a long list of items which the school contravenes in the Standards for School Premises Regulations, 1959—playing field accommodation, storage of teaching apparatus, storage of pupils' out-door clothing, washing accommodation, staff rooms, facilities for medical inspections and treatment. The school has no playing field accommodation, although a 5.8 acre site has been owned by the education authority for seven years.

The three class rooms have each been split into two by partitions, giving six class rooms. The girls' lavatory consists of five water closets and the boys' two urinals in the girls' playground. One water closet is locked for the use of the female staff. The remaining w.c. facilities have to be used by 120 girls and 20 boys.

One of the staff rooms is 9 feet 6 inches by 11 feet and serves the headmaster, the clerk and the staff of seven teachers as well as for medical inspection and treatment. Physical education is so restricted that some of the nine-year-olds sometimes do their physical education sitting at their desks.

The Minister of State wrote to me on 12th January. It was a long letter but there was little in it for me. She said: No doubt in the light of the Circular Cheshire Education Authority will be looking again at the difficulties the Mossley School is experiencing, and it is to be hoped that this may succeed in providing relief. But if new accommodation still seems essential and the project is submitted for the improvements programme, I will certainly see that it is carefully considered. It referred to doing temporary improvements to the lavatories, but that does not go far enough in relation to the problems I have outlined. I put a Question to the right hon. Lady on 13th November. She replied: The 1969–71 programmes are already fully committed but my right hon. Friend has today invited local educational authorities to submit proposals for a continuous and systematic programme of improvements and replacements of old schools, beginning in 1971–72, when I expect that some £15 million will be available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1969; Vol. 791, c. 123.] That does not say much for Mossley school.

Mr. Armitage, the county education officer, wrote to me on 26th June last year. He is always very helpful in these matters. He does his best. His letter, however, did not go very far towards helping me. He is hamstrung by the policy of the Government and the lack of funds available for this type of school. He wrote to me again on 19th March, when he said: …the Authority has submitted this school to the Department of Education and Science for inclusion in a Major Building Programme since 1964. It has indeed been submitted for each programme since that year. I find too that it was submitted in the first instance in 1960. Therefore, both Governments are to blame.

His letter went on: Quite clearly the resources will, therefore, be allocated in the main to old run down town areas. The County Education Committee, therefore, had to have regard to these criteria in submitting its programme.… Nevertheless, Mossley will be included in the list of longer term replacements required by the Department of Education and Science for submission by the end of April 1970. There has not been an official inspection of Mossley by Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools since 1957. That rather surprises me.

I could go on at great length about this school, but I will not do so because of the time. It is a disgrace in this year. We have talked about our record of advance, but there is here a serious lack of facilities. The children have done remarkably well considering all the handicaps which have been inflicted on them by lack of suitable accommodation.

I hope that the hon. Lady, who has considerable experience of these educational matters, will not tell me that this school will come up for consideration. I should like a definite assurance that the school will be replaced at an early date because it is manifestly lacking in facilities. It is of such poor quality that the only solution is to build a new school without delay.

5.6 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Joan Lestor)

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) for putting his case briefly, and I shall deal with it in the same way. I should also like to thank him for his good wishes to my right hon. Friend, and I will convey them to her.

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, since 1964 the Cheshire local education authority has been submitting a proposal to replace the school. I am well aware, from what I have been reading since getting the details of this matter, of the condition of the school. The advice of the inspector for the area has also been sought, and it confirms that the school is in need of early replacement. I have recently received a copy of the parents' own report, and this gives a detailed account of the various deficiencies. It is commendable that the parents are taking such an interest in their children's school.

I would not dispute any of the points made in the reports about conditions at the school, but it is important to explain exactly what the position is, because resources for school building programmes are limited and the Department has had to assess the relative priorities of various proposals submitted. It has not been possible to include the proposal to replace the school in an approved starts programme.

The Government set the overall level of public expenditure for the school building programme, but it is important to point out that the resources available in 1971–72 are more than double those available in 1964–65 and they have been increasing steadily. The overall level is set so as to ensure that there is an adequate number of school places to take account of the rising population which exists in this area and the movement of population from one area to another, with an additional amount set aside to allow for the replacement of old and unsatisfactory buildings.

In assessing the submissions from local authorities of projects to be included in approved building programmes—and it is the authorities' duty to plan and forecast the need for school building in their own individual areas—first priority has to be given to schools catering for new population. In other words, we have to provide first "roofs over heads" for children in population growth area. West Heath County Primary School and Havannah Lane County Primary School have been included in earlier building programmes and are now built to serve new housing in the Congleton area.

In recent years the Government have attached special importance to the improvement of social conditions and a considerable amount of additional resources has been made available for the replacement of old schools, particularly those in the socially deprived areas. In 1968 £16 million was set aside for the educational priority area programme relating to school building in the two years 1968–69 and 1969–70. This enabled not only 144 old primary schools to be replaced but also a number of minor improvements at primary schools to be carried out. Replacement projects costing nearly £10 million were included in the 1970–71 starts programme, enabling nearly 100 primary schools to be replaced.

Then last September there was announced a continuous and systematic programme of improvements and replacements, starting with £16 million, later increased to nearly £17 million because of the increase in cost limits for school building, to be included in projects expected to start in 1971–72. My right hon. Friend hopes to announce details of the first phase very shortly, but this is expected to include the replacement of over 150 primary schools. So a real attempt is being made to tackle the problem of replacing old and unsatis- factory schools, of which there are and have been a large number. But we cannot under-estimate the problem.

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any guarantees tonight about this school. The Cheshire local authority did not submit this school for inclusion in the first phase of the improvement programme, but local authorities were asked to restrict their submissions to the most urgent projects, with priority to be given to primary schools in urban areas of acute social need. This follows the recommendations of the Plowden Report, which led to the original educational priority areas being drawn up. First priority should be for projects to help children in those areas.

In the first phase, therefore, first priority in Cheshire had to be given to proposals for replacement schools in such areas as Crewe, Dukinfield and Stalybridge. Cheshire has approved projects which are going ahead. This is a continual systematic programme of improvements, and, eventually, the Mossley School should find a place when considered in relation to other submissions.

In this connection, Cheshire has just submitted to the Department proposals for the 1970–71 preliminary list which relates to school building in 1972–73 and will include the second phase of the improvement and replacement programme. The authority has included the Mossley School replacement in this proposal and is pressing it not only because of the need to replace the old unsatisfactory buildings but also because of the increasing population in the area. My right hon. Friend expects to announce details of the approved list in the summer. This proposal will be considered fairly and sympathetically. I assure the hon. Member that I will draw his representations to my right hon. Friend's attention and urge him to consider them as sympathetically as he can.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes past Five o'clock a.m.