HC Deb 24 July 1996 vol 282 cc333-5
3. Mr. Spring

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what action she is taking to enhance the security of schools. [37267]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

This question is about school security. Given that the matter of children's safety is involved in the answer to it, however, I should like to express my sympathy and that of Conservative Members to the parents, family and friends of Caroline Dickinson, the Cornish schoolgirl who was so tragically murdered last week in France. I should like also to express our sympathy and support for the head, governors and staff of her school, Launceston college.

The Government have accepted in full the 22 recommendations of the working group on school security.

Mr. Spring

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reassuring comments. What she said about the recent tragedies is endorsed by all hon. Members.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the successful bids made by two schools in my constituency—St. Felix middle school in Newmarket and Mildenhall upper school—for closed circuit television, which will be greatly welcomed not only by parents, governors and teachers but by the community at large?

Mrs. Shephard

I thank my hon. Friend for that welcome. More than 100 schools have been able to benefit from the Home Office's CCTV scheme, which will be a useful addition to the security of children at the schools involved.

Mr. Turner

I know that the Secretary of State has already expressed sympathy to the parents, children and, indeed, the whole community in Wolverhampton, who were devastated by the tragic attack on the children and adults at St. Luke's school two weeks ago. I should like to say a very sincere thank you to all hon. Members who have, through the early-day motion that I tabled, expressed their good wishes and sympathy to everyone involved.

In view of that tragic accident, and many others that we have witnessed, would the Secretary of State consider bringing forward the moneys that I know that she has earmarked for next year into this year's budget? There was a call at the Conference of Local Education Authorities' conference last week, urging the Secretary of State to make more resources available. Wolverhampton is spending £60,000 this year, but that is wholly inadequate to meet security needs in our schools. Will she please consider giving the money in this financial year rather than the next?

Mrs. Shephard

This is of course a matter of great concern. As the hon. Gentleman said, I have been in touch with St. Luke's school in Wolverhampton. As he knows, schools and local education authorities are already spending on school security. The way in which the money will be spent is important. Schools have varying needs, and it is necessary that LEAs and schools conduct a thoroughly professional risk assessment of the type of arrangements that need to be made to improve school security. That is why they have already acted on some of the working group's recommendations on security, why we have already allocated more money through the CCTV scheme, why I announced yesterday that 60 schools would benefit from the schools renewal challenge fund to help them with their security arrangements, why LEAs already have guidance to help them decide how best to allocate the extra money when it comes and why schools will receive guidance in September. A great deal of work needs to be done. We will make new moneys available, but we have to be certain that they are allocated according to a school's need and spent in the best way.

Mr. Tredinnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that part of the money that will be raised from this year's Burbage charity bike aid in my constituency will go towards CCTV in local schools? Will she congratulate the organisers on that decision and wish them well at that popular event, which is enjoyed by thousands of my constituents each year?

Mrs. Shephard

I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents on their effort to help with arrangements for school security. There will no doubt be other such money-raising efforts but, of course, any money spent has to fit into a sensible framework to ensure that it is spent in the best way. As I said, the Government will be making extra money available.

Mr. Don Foster

I join the Secretary of State in her expressions of sympathy to those affected by the recent tragedies and repeat my congratulations on her seeking and gaining widespread support for the measures now being proposed to improve school safety. Although it may be impossible to implement immediately, does she agree that it would be sensible to agree in principle that, over time, all schools should have a single boundary?

Mrs. Shephard

Although I realise that the question was sensibly meant, that would be extremely difficult to put into practice because of the different geographical locations of school premises. It is important that schools assess their needs in the light of their own physical circumstances. In some cases, they may need a single boundary or entry point. The purpose of the conference that we intend to hold in the autumn will be to discuss best practice. Although there is a great deal of good practice, we found that those in the working group did not necessarily know about it. I take the hon. Gentleman's suggestion on board and the conference might be able to disseminate it, but there will also be many others.

Mr. Congdon

I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about making additional funding available for school security. However, is it not important that we should not allow local authorities to get away with hiding behind the Government in respect of such an important issue? If a local education authority believes that priorities need to be addressed in terms of school security, should it not use the funds that are currently being wasted elsewhere rather than blame the Government for its own failure to act?

Mrs. Shephard

Many local education authorities are extremely concerned about those matters. They already have—as we have just dispatched it—guidance on the arrangements that will be made for the new GEST—grants for education support and training scheme—money that will be earmarked for school security. The money will be available next year. If there were any local education authorities that needed reminding, they have their reminder.