HC Deb 09 November 1982 vol 31 cc416-7
7. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has received and studied a copy of the National Union of Teachers' pamphlet on the condition of many of the United Kingdom's primary school buildings.

Dr. Boyson

My right hon. Friend is examining the report, which he received last week, in order to judge whether it adds to the information already available to him in the national expenditure statistics collected by his Department and the annual survey of the effect of local authority expenditure policies undertaken by Her Majesty's Inspectorate.

Mr. Flannery

If the Under-Secretary's right hon. Friend is now reading the report, why did the Under-Secretary jump in immediately the report was published and attack it when it was clear that he had not read it? Does he not realise that when such a report is published about conditions in many primary schools and when, according to the HM1 report, the cuts are having a deleterious effect on schools generally, it must be regarded as a serious report that shows that the fabric of those schools is in a parlous condition? Is he aware that he is beginning to earn the name Mr. Squeers, because he is reducing some of these schools to the level of Dotheboys Hall?

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Gentleman, who is an expert in instant indignation, accuses me of being such an expert by attacking the report. I read that report in the newspapers, because the NUT did not have the courtesy to send a copy to the Department of Education and Science, and I felt that the record had to be put straight.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that between 1965 and now expenditure per pupil on teaching staff in primary schools increased by 43 per cent. in real terms, whereas over the same period expenditure on non-teaching staff, including classroom assistants, rose by 153 per cent. in real terms. That represents an enormous improvement in service. If particular schools out of 27,000 have not been painted for 25 years, that is not the responsibility of the Government.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to keep a sense of proportion? Does he further agree that while none of us want children to be educated in nasty buildings, the quality of education that goes on inside them is the important thing? Finally, does he agree that such education is often not affected by whether a building is new or old, whether lavatories are inside or outside, or by the factors that have been mentioned in the NUT report?

Dr. Boyson

I always try to maintain an objective view of those factors. I agree that education is better inside than outside a school. I also agree that the calibre of staff, their commitment to what they are teaching, and the curriculum are decisive—not one or two improvements on the outside.

Mr. Dobson

Does the Minister agree that the NUT report confirms Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report on school provision, to which he had access before the rest of us? Will he confirm that that report stated that no fewer than 63 of the 96 education authorities mentioned had inadequate buildings? Does he further agree that if, as I believe, the standard of education is greatly dependent on the standard and commitment of teachers, rundown buildings and his vicious, unpleasant and hypocritical remarks about teachers are damaging teacher morale and therefore damaging the standard of education?

Dr. Boyson

It is interesting to note that the Government published Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report. When the Labour Party was in Government, it kept the report secret. We are prepared to have our actions judged by the public. We are spending more per child than ever before. To talk in terms of cuts is to indulge in hyperbole beyond imagination.