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It does not state that local education authorities must make provision ; it merely states that authorities should take such needs into consideration.

That was an imprecise duty and was impossible to enforce. That was the view taken not long after the 1944 Act came into force. Over the years, the view that provision for nursery education was a discretionary power for local authorities became quite widely held, and they took that view themselves. More importantly, everyone acted as though that were the case.

Mr. Spearing : I do not think that I disagree with anything said by the Minister, but even if the authorities did not have the power, they had the duty to have regard and they had a legal duty to undertake some sort of assessment. That is what my Bill, if passed, would do, and that may sit well with current legislation.

Mr. Squire : If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I shall seek to respond to that precise point and the impact of his Bill. Section 8(2)(b) no longer exists. As the hon. Gentleman made clear, it was repealed by the Education Act 1980. The reason for that move was quite clear--

Mr. Spearing : Not to the House.

Mr. Squire : Well--when introducing the amendment that effected the move, the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, Mark Carlisle, said :

"I do not believe that it is wise to leave the law unclear on this matter. It is necessary to make it clear, and in the amendments I am attempting to bring the law into line with what it was always thought to be."--[ Official Report, 12 February 1980 ; Vol. 978, c. 1279.] Section 8(2)(b) was repealed by section 38(6) and schedule 7 of the Education Act 1980. Section 24(1) and (2) made new statutory provisions for under-fives. It stated :

"(1) A local education authority shall have the power to establish nursery schools, to maintain such schools established by them or a former authority and to assist any such school which is not so established.

(2) A local education authority shall not by virtue of section 8(1)(a) of the Education Act 1944 be under any duty in respect of junior pupils who have not attained the age of five years but this subsection shall not affect the power of an authority under section 9(1) of that Act to establish, maintain or assist a school at which education is provided both for such pupils and older pupils, including a school at which there is a nursery class for such junior pupils as aforesaid."

It is important to quote those lines as the 1980 Act is the trigger for the hon. Gentleman's Bill.

The form of words covering local education authorities' responsibilities for under-fives is no longer ambiguous. The practical effect of the original section of the 1944 Act and section 24 of the 1980 Act is exactly the same. Therefore, if enacted, the hon. Member's Bill would achieve precisely nothing. Worse than that, we would be returning to an imprecise form of words that would flatter to deceive. The Bill is, therefore, unnecessary and adds nothing to the current duties of local authorities.

I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak, not least the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), so I shall curtail some of the comments that I would otherwise have made. However, I must clarify where the Government stand. We have made it clear that we should like to see a widening of nursery and other pre-school provision as resources become available. Our longer-term ambition is availability for all those who want it. Much has already


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been achieved and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) made passing reference to that a moment ago. Over half of all three and four-year-olds now attend maintained nursery and primary schools, and more than 90 per cent. receive some form of pre-school provision.

We intend to explore ways of adding still further, as resources allow, to the choice that parents have among the range of provision--public, private and voluntary. As well as encouraging that choice and diversity in response to children's needs and parents' preferences and circumstances, the Government will continue to promote quality and cost-effectiveness.

Mr. Spearing : It would be helpful to take up the Minister's point. He claims that the Bill will do nothing. Of course, section 24 of the Education Act 1980, which provides specific power in this area, is fuzzy. Does he agree that if the Bill is enacted--I do not see any reason why it should not be--it will provide a duty and an obligation on the local education authority to make the assessment of need even if other people fulfil it ? Therefore, it will make a difference because section 24 provides only a power to spend--it does not provide a duty to survey and assess the need of nursery education in respect of all the other points to which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) referred.

Mr. Squire : I can only reiterate my earlier words that in practical terms--I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman is most concerned about that--and in the form of the words that would be reintroduced, I have been advised that there would be no gain from this proposal and we would have the loss of going back to a less precise form of wording than was introduced by the 1980 Act, to which both the hon. Gentleman and I have made copious references. I shall continue my comments on Government policy and review. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that there are no preconceptions about the results of our current study. In other words, nothing is ruled out and, indeed, nothing is ruled in at the moment. Nor is there a set timetable and, therefore, in fairness I do not expect to produce solutions overnight. However, when we are ready to make an announcement, we shall do so in the normal way and allow the House an appropriate opportunity to debate the issues. I shall say a few words about other types of provision, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam made passing reference earlier. We do not see playgroups as a poor substitute for nursery schools or classes. A playgroup is a distinct form of provision with its own ethos and strengths, geared towards meeting an identifiable parental need. Most playgroups take their educational role seriously and now provide a rich source of experience, preparing children for primary schooling and the national curriculum. We recognise that some playgroups may not come up to scratch but many, if not most, are excellent.

As a means of delivering pre-school education, playgroups have shown that they can achieve results. In recognition of that, the Department has substantially increased its grant for the training activities of the Pre- School Playgroups Association to £887,000 in the current year. The Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence also make grants to the association.


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So that the House may have some idea of the scope of the activities, at the latest date for which I have information, some 770,000 under-fives are in playgroups. I am sure that hon. Members would agree that is a significant proportion of under-fives. As I said, overwhelmingly they are enjoying a good provision that prepares them for schooling.

I shall say a few words about the role of local education authorities. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, South would agree that, whatever our differences on the wording of his Bill, it is right that local education authorities should have a power and not a duty to provide for the needs of under-fives. We believe that a policy of local determination of under-fives services is necessary if we are to ensure that local authorities and other providers are able to respond to the specific needs of their areas. It is better for that to remain a local decision, rather than it becoming a duty imposed by the Government. That is the thinking behind the LEA funding arrangements.

The present arrangement assumes--I know the hon. Member for Newham, South knows this from our discussions when I was wearing another ministerial hat- -that the under-five population is one of several client groups and the arrangement distributes formula funding according to the total size of that population in each LEA. Funding LEAs by reference to the policies of each individual authority on the discretionary provision that they make for under-fives--some hon. Members have urged that in the Chamber and in correspondence with me--would be at odds with the present system, which is based on the concept of the objective calculation of the need to spend to provide a standard level of service. The settlement for 1994-95 allows for local authorities in England to spend £17,087 million on education--an increase of 2.4 per cent. on this year's figure, once changes in function are taken into account. Of course, spending priorities are for each authority to determine.

It is important to put on the record that it is sometimes suggested that the provision of nursery education in this country in some ways lacks in comparison with that of other countries. Those who make that comment rather overlook the fact that no other European country has a longer period of statutory education than the United Kingdom. The 11 years which all our pupils are expected to enjoy, or for which they are expected to be at school, is longer than almost any other country. I am advised that it is equalled only by the Netherlands. It is important to bear in mind when making any international comparisons that most other countries commence mandatory statutory schooling at the age of six, or seven in a number of cases, whereas our children start their formal education at the age of five.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) : Does the Under-Secretary agree that statistics show that, in respect of nursery education for three and four- year-olds, this country comes bottom of the league of European countries with the exception of Portugal?

Mr. Squire : I am suggesting that simple comparisons based only on nursery education and taking no account of the age at which statutory education starts are, frankly and with due respect to the hon. Gentleman, a little facile.

We must look at the range of provision. In one or two of the EC countries which the hon. Gentleman and I would identify as natural competitors, a significant proportion of


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nursery funding comes via voluntary or private means, and not from the state sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam made it clear that more than 90 per cent. of three and four-year-olds attend either education or group day care. That is an impressive figure against the background of compulsory full-time education from the age of five.

Lady Olga Maitland : My hon. Friend refers to comparisons with nursery education in Europe. Does he agree that European countries do not have statutory obligations for the provision of nursery education? Is not it the case that, in Germany, 71 per cent. of children attend nursery education that is privately funded?

Mr. Squire : My hon. Friend makes more accurately than I did the point that I was making. We all use international comparisons but it is difficult--particularly in this sector--to be sure that we use the same basis.

For the record--the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) raised the issue-- apart from the 90 per cent. of three and four-year-olds that I have mentioned, the figures break down as follows : 26 per cent. of three and four-year-olds are admitted to maintained nursery schools and classes. I pay tribute to the percentage in Newham, which has arguably one of the highest attendance rates in the country with 64 per cent. Of that 26 per cent., 4 per cent. are in nursery schools and 22 per cent. are in nursery classes ; 24 per cent. are admitted to infant classes in maintained primary schools--mainly four-year-olds in reception classes--and 4 per cent. are admitted to special or independent schools. So, including pupils in independent and special schools, the overall school participation rate is 55 per cent. In addition--I am quoting the 1992 figures--41 per cent. of three and four-year-olds attend playgroups. Some of those may go on to under-five schooling during the year and may also be counted in the above figures. About 5 per cent. receive other group day care. Most playgroups are affiliated to the Pre-School Playgroups Association and cater for some 770,000 children or 21 per cent. of all under-fives. More importantly perhaps in this discussion, such playgroups involve some 250,000 parents in running them. So the playgroups pass on parenting skills. As for four-year- olds, 84 per cent., excluding rising-fives, are admitted to maintained nursery and primary schools. Such schools also admitted some 201,000 rising -fives.

I am conscious that the time is making me hurry more than I should. The figures show that a significant range of options is open to under-fives. That emphasises the improvement that has taken place during the time that the Government have been in office.

Mr. Don Foster : Does the Minister accept that his announcement of all those statistics somewhat belies his opening remarks, in which he said that he fully supported the need for the expansion of nursery education in Britain and that the Government were exploring ways of expanding it, as resources allowed? He said that nothing was ruled out and nothing was ruled in, that there was no fixed timetable and that he made no promises. Do not his subsequent remarks show that all those opening words were nothing but hollow promises?


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Mr. Squire : I shall avoid phrases such as "hollow promises" in connection with the hon. Gentleman's party and try to keep the debate on a level keel. If, having heard what I said, and repeated, the hon. Gentleman comes to that conclusion, I cannot help him. I have made it clear today that we are committed to an expansion of provision, certainly including nursery education. The form and timing of that expansion is still to be determined and will be brought before the House in the usual and proper way. I may say gently to the hon. Gentleman that it is perfectly possible to support nursery education and still see the advantage of other forms of pre-five provision, which would be lost if we moved to a position in which the only provision available was nursery education funded and provided by the state. I am conscious that the clock is our worst enemy today. I hope that I have explained why I believe that the Bill is unnecessary and would add nothing to the present requirements under the law. I also hope that I have given good intent as to what the Government will in due course announce over the range of provision for pre-fives. 2.22 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : I was surprised that the Minister rejected the modest proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). My hon. Friend made an eloquent case for reintroducing part of the Education Act 1944 to make education authorities at least consider the need for nursery education in their areas. They would have to assess the needs and draw up a plan which might be implemented over a five or 10-year period. In drawing up the plan, local authorities might find that some parents wanted a nursery place for their child but others were happy with playgroup provision. The proposal does not exclude playgroups. One of the purposes of a sensible policy on pre-school education is to introduce quality criteria, which will enable all sectors to be involved in provision. I imagine that the Minister already knows that the Pre-School Playgroups Association would be happy to have facilities similar to those available in nursery schools and units. The lack of such facilities is one of its major problems when trying to deliver quality education to the children who attend its groups.

The association is also concerned about training. The Minister should not claim responsibility and praise for the additional money for training people involved in the pre-school playgroup movement, when no similar concerted effort has been made to ensure that the same happens in nursery schools and nursery education.

The plain fact is that only two out of the 40 best providers of nursery education are Conservative-controlled authorities--one is Liberal Democrat- controlled and in a few authorities there is no overall control, but 34 are Labour-controlled. None of the 25 worst providers is Labour-controlled. Why? Because Labour authorities accept the commitment for providing for three and four-year-olds implicit in the standard spending assessments, but unfortunately far too many Conservative-controlled authorities do not.

In the debate about nursery schools, units and playgroups we should concentrate on the delivery of a quality service. The best research on the subject was the Ypsilanti project at the Perry school in Michigan. For 27 years, it studied the lives of 130 people, comparing those


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who had received a good-quality nursery education with those who had not. That study shows that every dollar invested in good-quality nursery education has saved the taxpayer seven dollars during that 27-year period, because the people who experienced such education were far less likely to become involved in crime, more likely to get good qualifications, had fewer special education problems in school and got better-paid jobs and paid more taxes in later life. That is why the Government should be committed to such a programme.

Mr. Robin Squire : If the demands of time had not been what they are I would have mentioned research. I do not expect the hon. Member to accept this from the Dispatch Box, but I assure him that conclusive research on the subject is very elusive. We shall return to it in future debates, but I would not want him to think that my silence represented 100 per cent. assent with his words.

Mr. Griffiths : I realise that some of the evidence is contradictory, but the Ypsilanti project was the most thorough study of nursery education anywhere in the world. Many other elements play a part, such as the low pupil : teacher ratios, a curriculum appropriate to the child's development and parental involvement. That is why we should consider that research carefully.

Lady Olga Maitland : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way at such a crucial time. He mentioned the analysis, based on research in America, which suggests that some children are less likely to turn to crime. Does he not agree that children should learn to distinguish right from wrong and that is something that they need to learn throughout their lives? It is totally spurious to say that everything results from their nursery education.

Mr. Griffiths : It is not totally spurious. Good-quality nursery education is important because it helps young people to develop social skills and awareness and so they are less likely to become involved in crime at a later date.

Obviously, other factors are involved but that one is important. I hope that the Government will support the Bill and allow it to go to Committee so that it can be amended to take account of the specific purpose of those who have presented it.

2.29 pm

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : I welcome the chance briefly to contribute to this debate. In this International Year of the Child it is appropriate that we should focus on children, their development and nursery education.

I welcome the Government's wide-ranging initiatives in putting an enormous amount of money, commitment and emotional concern into ensuring that our children have the best possible start in their careers. I am somewhat puzzled, however, by the decision of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) to introduce this Bill because there is clearly some confusion within his party about its commitment to universal education.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed on Friday 25 February.


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Remaining Private Members' Bills

RACE RELATIONS (REMEDIES) BILL

Read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.-- [Mr. Vaz.] Bill immediately considered in Committee ; reported, without amendment ; read the Third time, and passed.

PROTECTION OF DOGS BILL

Order read for resuming debate on Second Reading [4 February].

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Debate to be resumed what day?

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : With the authority of the Member concerned, Sir, Friday next.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 25 February.

HEDGEROWS BILL

Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members : Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Second Reading what day?

Mr. Cox : With the authority of the Member concerned, Sir, 18 March.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 18 March.

HORSES (PROTECTIVE HEADGEAR FOR YOUNG RIDERS) (AMENDMENT) BILL Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 4 March.


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Icknield High School

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

2.32 pm

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : I am grateful for an opportunity to bring to the attention of the House a matter of great importance to my constituents and also to my hon. Friend the Minister, whom I am pleased to see on the Front Bench this afternoon. It concerns a capital grant applied for by the Icknield high school in my constituency and rejected by my hon. Friend and his colleagues. As my hon. Friend will know, my constituency has two

grant-maintained schools--Icknield high school and Lea Manor school. I hope that Cardinal Newman school will soon join them because it has applied for grant-maintained status but is still awaiting a reply from my hon. Friend. Although the result of the ballot has been favourable, my hon. Friend is now looking into the matter. Perhaps the Minister would comment on what progress, if any, has been made on that matter.

Icknield high school is the largest of its type in Bedfordshire, with which you are well acquainted, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has some 1,300 pupils at the moment, and the number is rising. There is a waiting list--which is not unusual for the school--for September, and the school is already oversubscribed by 120 pupils. That is because the school has excellent academic and sporting results. I hesitate to say that it is the best school in my constituency but it is certainly in the top category of the many excellent schools in my area. The school has an extremely high standard of discipline, of which it is justly proud. The uniform is widely worn by the pupils and accepted by parents. I have no hesitation in representing with pride to the House and the Minister the interests of the school because of its excellent achievements since its formation in 1949. I pay a special tribute to the staff, and especially to the head teacher, Mr. Keith Ford, and his deputy, Mr. Colin Cabon, who have worked hard since the school obtained grant-maintained status in April 1993. I also pay tribute to the governors under their chairman, Councillor Pauline Dunington, who have made certain that the school stays at the top of the league.

It is with some sadness that I bring to the Minister's attention the fact that the capital grant application that the school was invited to submit for the 1994-95 financial year, has been turned down. As long ago as 1991 the local education authority--at that time the governing authority for the school--said in a report that there was a backlog of repairs which might cost about £5 million. One of the reports stated that the authority judged that the buildings had reached the end of their useful working life and were in need of major repairs. At that time the authority even discussed complete replacement of the school.

Since the school became grant maintained, it has been visited by representatives of various bodies and, in particular, by Mr. Adrian Pritchard, who was the director of the Grant-Maintained Schools Trust and is obviously well known to my hon. Friend the Minister. He described the school as having

"the second worst grant-maintained school buildings in the country."


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That was confirmed to a certain extent by Sir Robert Belchin, the chairman of that august body, who insisted on putting Icknield school "high on his agenda". I understand that those were his words. For those reasons there was great disappointment when the Department refused the capital bid and raised doubt about whether it would be possible to submit design bids for 1995-96, although I think that matter has now been cleared up and that a capital bid would be welcome. Private consultants who looked at the buildings said, perhaps contrary to some people's opinions, that they could be saved, provided there was sufficient and urgent investment in the structure and services surrounding them.

The number of pupils at the school has increased dramatically in recent years. The roll predicted for 1996 is up to nearly 1,400, and the prediction for the year 2000 is 1,560. That shows the school's popularity and the difficulties that it will face if it increases its roll or even if it tries to stand still, given the conditions of the buildings in which the staff and pupils have to work.

Although the governors are trying where they can to reduce the current number of pupils in line with the age of the buildings, they are finding it extremely difficult because, as the Minister will understand, this popular school is being asked by parents well outside its catchment area whether places are available.

As I have said, the school was opened in 1949 and at that time consisted of separate boys' and girls' schools. It was suggested that it should double as an emergency military hospital. I hope that the Minister will visit the school. If he does, he will notice the familiar signs of a hospital because he will see bare brick walls, an asbestos roof--about which I shall say more shortly--concrete floors, fibreboard ceilings and virtually no insulation. Needless to say, the life of the staff and pupils is still a happy one, but they are working under severe difficulties.

Additions were made to the school in the 1950s and 1960s, but the buildings were never upgraded to the standard that one would expect, certainly of the 1990s. No major investment has been made at the school since 1968-70 apart from repair to part of the building which, unfortunately, was damaged by fire some years ago. Obviously, because of its age, the building has deteriorated over the years. Large amounts of money have been spent on repairs, but never sufficient to stop the general deterioration in the condition of the buildings. It is distressing that almost every day the health and safety legislation is being broken because pupils attend the school. Throughout this time the school has remained cheerful. Since becoming grant maintained, it has had a vigorous self help scheme, which has involved voluntary help in redecoration. It is delighted with its GM status, but some of its problems are beyond the wit, and indeed the ability, of amateurs who are trying on a do-it-yourself basis to patch up the building and make it presentable, rather than tackling the fabric of the building.

The school was a candidate for a bid, and it was advised by the Department to apply. It was advised at that time--possibly this was its mistake--to apply for a single bid, which would have covered all its various problems : health and safety ; science teaching ; overcrowding ; and, of course, the ever-growing number of pupils. It realised that the bid had to be put in, because if it was to meet the health


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and safety standards, as demanded by local authorities and legislation, some improvement would have to be made, and fairly quickly.

The complete bid was on a basis of phasing over some two years. The cost, as my hon. Friend will know, was some £1.6 million. Unfortunately, the bid was unsuccessful. The failure of the bid is probably the most worrying thing for my constituents and the school. I cannot emphasise enough to my hon. Friend that the school now faces a health and safety crisis. If something is not done extremely quickly, in the summer term of this academic year, it may have to send pupils home, because it is not up to the standard demanded by current legislation or the local authority.

The school faces a further serious problem, relevant to the fact that it is now grant maintained, in that it is extremely difficult to find an insurance company that will provide cover. My hon. Friend will know--I perhaps guess at this--that the school could not carry on as a legal entity unless it was fully covered by insurance. Unless some of those improvements are made, it will find it extremely difficult--nay impossible--to find an insurance company that will give it the cover that it and the legislation demands.

My hon. Friend will forgive me for talking of matters of construction rather than of education, because I am perfectly happy--as are the parents- -with the education that pupils get at that school. My point is about the fabric. The first priority to avoid the closure of the canteen--for action during, if not before, the Easter holidays of this year--is on three bases. First, the kitchens must be brought up to requirements. If they are not, they will close and some 600 school meals will not be served. That will obviously be a problem and will cause severe embarrassment to myself, the governors and staff.

Secondly, the cold water system and incoming mains are incredibly old. There is some hint, but no more than that, of the possibility of zinc poisoning. It is not for me to put any fears in the minds of parents about the health of their children, but that has been pointed out in some plans. The cold water system and incoming mains must be improved.

Thirdly, an immediate concern is the domestic hot-water system itself, which, I believe, has never reached the required hot-water standard-- whatever that is. The boilers have been bastardised--I hope that you will forgive the expression, Mr. Deputy Speaker--by the use of "two into three" : that is a construction term, meaning taking from one and giving to the other two. The boilers are now incredibly lame, and--dare I say--would not be fitting for this place, let alone for one of my constituency's flagship schools.

The total cost of those three items is £187,000. I know that an emergency fund exists, and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider urgently the possibility of using at least that amount for the school.

The second priority is action that will be required by September 1994, because of the impending cold weather. There are safety hazards in the boiler room. The caretaker is a very honourable fellow, who spends a good deal of his time manually raising the temperature of the water to the required levels--which may not be the highest levels--at some risk to his own safety. A good deal of mechanical and electrical work is needed in that boiler room. I do not wish to give the House the impression that I have any great mechanical knowledge--perhaps my hon. Friend the


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Minister has : he is nodding--but the school assures me that this is very important. I do not want levity to lessen the impact of what I am saying.

The other part of this second priority is the need to improve the laboratory services and fittings, which are old and inadequate for the modern needs of school children. The Government are rightly anxious to encourage science teaching in our schools, for it is from them that young scientists will emerge ; at present, however, the facilities are not up to the standards that my hon. Friend the Minister would expect.

The third priority--which must be dealt with in the longer term, but which is nevertheless necessary--is a phased replacement of the asbestos roof and the installation of fire breaks. I do not need to go into the details ; my hon. Friend will understand that the roof must be replaced as soon as possible--as soon as money is available for the purpose.

My hon. Friend may be somewhat surprised that I should ask for an increase in some form of public expenditure. He and I came to the House together in 1979. Although we sat on the same Benches, we had different opinions on various matters ; but the fact that he is now on the Front Bench and I am still on the Back Benches may give some idea of his abilities. I now ask him to overcome any prejudice that he may feel about my public-expenditure policy : after all, every hon. Member is allowed a little discretion on occasion.

Disturbingly, the school's reaction to the rejection of the bid was somewhat contrary to information that my hon. Friend may have been given. Was the bid looked at properly? The school received letters--not least a letter from 10 Downing street, and also a letter from the head of the grant -maintained schools services division. One letter stated :

"Ministers' assessments of your proposals for 1994-95 took account of scrutiny by members of the capital team, by Ofsted"

that is the Office for Standards in Education--

"and by our professional advisers in Architects and Buildings Branch."

The letter from 10 Downing street said the same : the bid had been carefully looked at, and that

"included assessments by architects at the Department for Education and by the Office for Standards in Education".

According to what I have been told, no official came from the Department-- or, indeed, from Ofsted--to look at the buildings. The report seems to be based purely on the capital bid put forward by the school, admirable though it was. It is beyond me how it can be said that scrutiny took place when no one physically went to examine the position.

My hon. Friend should look into that matter. Ofsted has now arrived on a preliminary basis and will look at the school over the next few weeks. However, it had not arrived when the report landed on my hon. Friend's desk. The fact that there had been no official visit by Ofsted goes some way towards explaining the school's dismay at the Department's reaction.

There is an immediate and extremely urgent need for the grant. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give the school some comfort in his response this afternoon. I cannot stress too much to him the urgency of the situation and the fact that a crisis will occur if priority one works are not carried out. It is not right that the school should have no other source of funding--the school does not complain


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generally because it enjoys grant- maintained status--to help put things right and to make the children legally able to go to the school.

My hon. Friend, above anybody else, is extremely welcome to visit the school at any time that is convenient to him. I have been asked by the head teacher to pass on that invitation to him. I hope that when my hon. Friend comes to the school--I am confident that he will come--he will be able to see the works that, I am sure, he will promise will be carried out.

2.50 pm


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