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School Buildings

Volume 98: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1986

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what study he is making of the essential maintenance needs of school buildings in Scotland.

There are two studies under way at present: a national accommodation survey by my Department in conjunction with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and a research commission which will sample the maintenance characteristics of schools in one education authority area.

What is the time scale for these studies? Has the old adage that a stitch in time saves nine ever been more applicable than to the crumbling state of many of our schools?

The results of the surveys will be made known as soon as they are available. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that one of the difficulties especially relevant in the Lothian region about the maintenance of certain buildings is that the local authorities have insisted on retaining far more surplus school capacity than is justified by the number of pupils. If local authorities insist on maintaining half empty school buildings, not only does that mean that resources have to be diverted to the heating and maintenance of these half empty buildings, but it denies proper educational opportunities to pupils in some of these schools. Such opportunities cannot be made available in a school that is only half full. Local authorities throughout Scotland have to bear in mind that resources are much better utilised on school books and on facilities of that kind than on the maintenance of more buildings than they need.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the major problems is that in recent times authorities have not conducted policies that work for the benefit of the children by maintaining buildings in a fit state in which the children can be properly and adequately educated, but have been more inclined towards politically oriented activities for the sake of publicity? We require a fundamental review—part of which my right hon. and learned Friend will agree is under way at the moment regarding teachers' pay and conditions—of how we practise education in all its different ways in Scotland in order to get rid of the genuine anxiety that is felt by many people. In areas like mine, where schools are being closed——

Schools are being closed in my area, but my constituents accept this because it is sensible for the better utilisation of resources.

It is certainly correct to approach the various issues that are relevant to education in that way. The inquiry which the Government have announced will have wide terms of reference and will enable us to approach the matter in that way.

In view of the answer that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), perhaps he would care to list the schools that he would like Lothian region to close. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's constituents would like to know the answer to that question. Does he accept that the real cause of the decline in the fabric of school buildings is the massive cuts that the Government have imposed on local government? Does he further accept that in the recent elections the people of Scotland clearly stated what they think about the Government's education policies?

That was a rather predictable question. The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on the figures produced by Strathclyde regional council, which estimated in the early 1980s that by 1991 a fall in school rolls would result in a surplus of no fewer than 230,000 school places. The hon. Gentleman is intelligent enough to be aware that if there is a surplus of 230,000 places—[Interruption.] This is arithmetic, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. If there is a surplus of 230,000 places and the number of school buildings is not reduced by a proportionate amount, a lot of resources will be wasted when they could be better used to provide good education for children. That is the lesson of the day that the hon. Gentleman might like to try to absorb.