HC Deb 05 February 1980 vol 978 cc220-1
6. Mr. Armstrong

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the Government's policy on the use of school facilities by the whole community.

Mr. Macfarlane

Generally speaking, the use of county school premises outside school hours is a matter for local education authorities and the use of voluntary aided premises a matter for the managers or governors. The Government and my right hon. and learned Friend are anxious to see the widest possible use of school premises for other community purposes. It adds to the importance of the school's role in the community.

Mr. Armstrong

Is the Minister aware that I find his reply very disappointing? Is he further aware that many schemes for extra provision are being cut because of the Government's policies? Is he aware also that it is a scandalous waste of resources to lock high quality indoor and outdoor facilities away from the community? He should take some responsibility for this matter and ensure that backward authorities at least know what the enlightened authorities are doing. He should take some initiative to ensure that these facilities are fully used.

Mr. Macfarlane

The principle behind the right hon. Gentleman's remark is well understood. However, I cannot understand why he finds my initial reply disappointing. There is nothing in the existing legislation that forbids local authorities, school governors or managers from opening those facilities and thereby making a great contribution to the local community. At the same time most members of the community understand that they will have to pay for the use of those facilities. Local authorities are entitled to make an economic charge in respect of services, such as the cost of heating and lighting, as well as any additional payment to caretakers and grounds men over and above their wages.

Mr. Hannam

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the major obstacles to the use of school premises for recreational or other purposes out of school hours is the reluctance of school caretakers to work extra hours? Will he encourage local education authorities to allow voluntary organisations to staff those premises outside school hours?

Mr. Macfarlane

Although local authorities are responsible for such decisions, in principle we support any action that a local authority might want to take on that issue.

Mr. Freeson

Is the Minister aware that it is about 15 years since a policy circular was issued by the former Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Education? That circular advocated that all local education authorities should make dual use of buildings. To date only a minority of authorities have embarked on that policy. Does the Minister not realise that such action requires direction from central Government, or at least a lead from them? School rolls are falling in many areas. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, therefore, that schools should not be closed and that every effort should be made to use them for other purposes, such as the expansion of vocational and further education?

Mr. Macfarlane

At the outset the right hon. Gentleman said that the last circular had been issued 15 years ago. The last circular on this theme was sent out in February 1970. As I do not wish to incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker, I shall not attempt to identify any of the long list of activities that might take place in school premises out of hours. Local authorities are entitled to expand their facilities for use within the community. Hon. Members from all parties will know which schools and colleges in their constituencies are utilised effectively. I do not believe that the picture is bad, but there is room for much improvement.