HL Deb 24 February 1965 vol 263 cc819-21

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will set out the steps they are taking, and the educational authorities are taking, to implement the Newsom Report; and to say what further steps they have in mind.]


My Lords, the Newsom Report, apart from recommending an early raising of the school-leaving age, made a large number of recommendations about the curriculum of the children to whom the Report related—those aged 13 to 16 of average and less than average ability—together with recommendations relating to buildings, equipment, the training of teachers, and the subjects on which further experiment and research were needed.

The major recommendation for Government action was the raising of the school-leaving age, which is now planned to come into effect in the academic year 1970-71. In general I feel sure that the remaining recommendations have been taken very seriously by local education authorities and schools, and my right honourable friend's Department is taking a full account of them in its forward thinking about curriculum, teacher training, and design of buildings and equipment. The Schools Council for the Curriculum and Examinations, which has recently been set up, is making a general study of the new approaches to curricular questions which will be required if all pupils are to receive full advantage from extended secondary education when the school-leaving age is raised. Moreover, a number of research projects related to the Newsom recommendations are in train, partly under the ægis of the Schools Council and partly under that of my right honourable friend's Department. Other projects are likely to be started as the Schools Council pursues its work.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, with the sentiments of which we should all agree, may I ask him how he squares those sentiments with a cut of close on £1 million in the schools minor works building programme announced by his right honourable friend in another place last week?


My Lords, I do not wish to get involved in the details of the difference between a minor work, a mini-minor work and a minor-mini-minor work, or we should spend a great deal of the afternoon upon it. I can summarise by saying that the total amount to be spent on schools is very significantly greater. I speak from memory and I am open to correction, but I think it has gone up by something like 20 or 25 per cent. this year. The only change has been a difference in the method by which certain very small items of expenditure are to be controlled by the Treasury and by the central Government, instead of being left entirely to the local authority. The total sum has gone up but one particular part of it only has gone down.


My Lords, would not the Minister agree there with the statement, certainly not denied by his right honourable friend in another place, that the effect of this, for instance, in Hertfordshire—Sir John Newsom's own county where he was chief education officer—is a cut from £560,000 to £380,000 in the coming year? Is this, or is this not, having a significant effect on the implementing of the Newsom Report?


My Lords, I cannot of course comment in detail on Hertfordshire. But I repeat that the total sum to be spent on school building is about 25 per cent. up. This is an accounting problem rather than a total problem, and there is to be a change in the way in which certain sums are to be listed. What we are doing is, I think, to remove from the total sum about £2 million or £3 million, which, together with about another £20 million, is being added to the programme as a whole. I think the noble Lord need have very little hesitation in accepting this statement. If the noble Lord desires it, we will let him have a written answer about the matter. It is a matter of very great technical detail.


My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that the cut to which my noble friend Lord Sandford has just referred will inevitably mean that local education authorities will be able to do less improvements to the oldest buildings, many of which will have to be used for many years to come? I am thinking particularly of very necessary improvements like those to sanitation accommodation, which can be made out of these "mini-minor" sums of money.


My Lords, I do not think this is true, and in any event I think it ill becomes the Party opposite to complain of the state of the buildings which we now have in our schools, which your Lordships will recall need something like £1,300 million spent on them to bring them up to a minimum useful standard. We are increasing the total amount of money being spent by something like £20 million next year, and the total change which this minor legal alteration will make is to transfer from one part of the fund to another an item of the order of about £2 million. I can assure the noble Lord that the total sum is much larger than it was, and I do not think the fears which he has expressed are really justified.