HC Deb 03 August 1976 vol 916 cc1424-5
17. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children aged between five and nine years are currently attending schools which were built before 1870.

Miss Margaret Jackson

It is estimated that about 1 million children aged from five to nine years are in schools with some or all of their teaching accommodation dating from before 1903. It is not known how many of these are in buildings dating from before 1870.

Mr. Montgomery

That is a terrible indictment. Would it not be better by far, if the Government were serious about giving equal opportunity in education, for them to spend more money on trying to improve these schools rather than squander money on forcing through comprehensive education against the wishes of the local authorities?

Miss Jackson

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that, fortunately or not, we have not squandered and are not squandering money on introducing comprehensive education. Furthermore, if the failure to replace primary schools dating from 1870 or 1903 is an indictment, it is an indictment of successive Governments and not merely of this Government.

Mr. Lipton

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of us attended educational institutions built long before 1870 and that we have finished up here none the less?

Miss Jackson

I am not quite sure what conclusions my hon. Friend would wish me to draw from his statement. Certainly I agree that the age of buildings does not necessarily relate to the quality of education provided therein. I have always understood that many Conservatives, when discussing public schools and grammar schools, place great emphasis on the length of time that the establishment has been in existence and upon the age of the building.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will the Under-Secretary try to persuade the Derbyshire County Council that it is better to spend £2 million to bring up to date many of the schools dating from before this century than to try to impose comprehensive education against the wishes of the parents in Derbyshire?

Miss Jackson

I understand that the authority in Derbyshire is doing and has done what it can to improve the primary schools there. I am well aware that it has a particular problem, as has been drawn to my attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I am not aware that the authority is spending so much on comprehensive education that it would be possible for it, by redirecting resources, to improve overnight all the primary schools which present these problems.