HC Deb 16 December 1971 vol 828 cc836-7
18. Mr. John E. B. Hill

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will request local education authorities to ensure that all new primary school buildings should have space for a nursery class.

Mrs. Thatcher

In appropriate cases local authorities will, I hope, bear in mind the possibility of the later addition of nursery classes when planning new primary schools. But for the present resources should be concentrated on the replacement and improvement of old primary schools and on the expansion of nursery education under the urban programme.

Mr. Hill

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the provision of space in the planning of any new scheme is vital so that a nursery class can be added later? Will she encourage local education authorities to make the space available as far as they can for voluntary activities on behalf of children under five by leasing it to play groups or any other organisation that can provide something for those children?

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree with my hon. Friend that space should be provided at new primary schools for the later addition of nursery schools or classes when resources become available.

Mr. Barry Jones

Are not hundreds of thousands of youngsters in rural areas suffering a social blight almost as serious as that suffered by children in urban areas? Will the Minister take special measures to inject urgency into nursery school building in rural areas? Are not peripatetic teachers in the nursery service a means of getting round this difficult problem?

Mrs. Thatcher

The problems of education in some of the rural areas are quite as great as in some of the old city centres. For that reason I gave an extensive primary school programme for rural areas and when resources are available for nursery schools the needs of rural areas will also be considered.

Dr. Stuttaford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the raising of the school-leaving age may be an advantage to only a few pupils but that the spending of additional funds at the nursery school level would be to the advantage of nearly every child? We shall never obtain equality of educational opportunity until we have adequate nursery schools.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should like to do a good deal more for nursery education, as would almost every hon. Member. But it would not be possible suddenly to switch resources which have been devoted to raising the school-leaving age and adding extensions to secondary schools to make extra provision for nursery schools. I will bear in mind that my hon. Friend is also very anxious to have more nursery provision.

Mr. Freeson

Does the Minister accept that her hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) was suggesting that the provision of space for a nursery class should be a condition of planning consent for a scheme even where the building could not go ahead at this stage? Will she bear in mind that should this be done some local authorities might be prepared to spend money from vote heads other than education to achieve the provision of preschool facilities ahead of the provision of nurseries when the Department can allow it?

Mrs. Thatcher

My hon. Friend was asking me to request local authorities to provide space and where possible to make it available.