§ The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Byers)
The Government are making available an extra £22 million in 1998–99 to improve security in schools in England.
§ Mr. Edwards
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that a secure environment is essential for learning and for teaching, and that vandalism is far too common in our schools? May I assure him that all the schools in my constituency in Monmouthshire will greatly welcome the Government's commitment to allocate additional resources and specifically to improve school security?
§ Mr. Byers
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's questions. This year, Monmouth has received some additional resources to help with school security. We have to put the interests of children and school staff first, which is why it is vital for the Government to ensure that they have a secure environment during school hours.
§ Mr. Evans
I am sure that the Minister will agree that it would be even better if seven times £8 million pounds were spent to help secure our schools. Do the Government have any plans to encourage local education authorities to visit some of the schools in their area to test security? It is all very well for schools to make an assessment of their own security needs, but parents would be reassured if an independent assessment of schools' security needs were made urgently.
§ Mr. Byers
This is an important matter, about which I am sure all hon. Members are concerned. The working group on school security is still considering the matter, and I will draw to its attention the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. He is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that parents feel confident about the school environment in which their children spend many hours a day.
§ Mr. Drew
Does my hon. Friend recognise the particular problems faced by schools in rural and semi-rural areas? Although they may not have the same order of problems, they still—because of isolation—need to be secure. Will he ensure that moneys reach the more rural schools? Anything he can do to ensure that that happens will be welcomed.
§ Mr. Byers
I assure my hon. Friend that, when we make our decisions on allocating money for school security under phase 2 of our new deal for schools—which will have a school security element—we will be conscious not only of what are perhaps to many people the more obvious needs of schools in more urban and built-up areas but of the specific needs of isolated rural schools. All schools need a secure environment. Although it is important that schools do not become fortresses, we have to get the balance right and ensure that our children receive education in a secure and safe environment.