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Schools (Accommodation Standards)

Volume 115: debated on Tuesday 28 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will undertake a review of unpublished reports of visits made by Her Majesty's inspectors to determine what recent trends are shown in the numbers and proportions of lessons seen where poor or unsuitable accommodation was considered to be restricting the quality of work; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Bob Dunn)

In their national survey reports Her Majesty's inspectors draw on evidence from all types of inspection, including those which do not result in published reports or have not yet done so. All such survey reports have commented on the state of accommodation of schools or colleges. Undoubtedly, future reports will do the same.

Why is the Minister so coy about publishing these reports, which are bound to show that teachers are coping remarkably well in appallingly deteriorating conditions? Is he aware that in Leeds there are a number of schools where teachers must double up because they cannot occupy accommodation? I know of one school in west Leeds, Christchurch primary school, where a temporary classroom which has been there since the war cannot be occupied during the winter because it cannot he heated. The report should be published.

I am somewhat mystified by the approach of the Liberal party in the House on this matter. There are many different types of inspections. Only some of those are intended to lead to the publication of reports. Those that are intended for publication are always published. The House must congratulate the Government on taking the decision in the early part of 1983 to publish the reports of Her Majesty's inspectors of schools.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his point about the Government making Her Majesty's inspectors' reports available. Has he seen the recent report which suggests that in inner London, while the majority of lessons were well provided for with small classes and excellent resources, the majority of science teaching lessons were regarded as unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory? It is the quality of the teachers that counts.

My hon. Friend is quite right in what she says. Undoubtedly the usefulness of the inspectors' reports is that they can be a lever for the improvement of quality of teachers and that which is taught, and I recognise and welcome that.

Has the Minister had a chance to study the recently published report by Her Majesty's inspectors on education in Sheffield following a two-year investigation? It highlights much outstanding work. Some of that, notably in my own constituency, is carried out in the type of accommodation which other less impressive local educational authorities have long since left behind. What conclusion does he draw from that?

The conclusion that I draw from the publication of that report, the recent report on the London borough of Brent, and many other reports which have gone through our Department in recent years is that it is essential to inform people of the state, quality and levels of school activity in the communities in which they live.

Does my hon. Friend not have some difficulty in understanding the concern of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) about overcrowding, bearing in mind that the alliance plans to restrict the charitable status of independent schools will drive a great many people who presently educate their children in the independent sector back into the state sector? Would that not increase the sort of overcrowding about which the hon. Gentleman is crying crocodile tears?

It is worth placing on the record the fact that all the Opposition parties are committed to doing tremendous damage to, or the destruction of, the independent sector.

Does the Minister not accept that there is overwhelming evidence from the reports of Her Majesty's inspectors of the steady deterioration of school buildings and of the major problems with which teachers are faced in having to work in inadequate conditions? However good the teacher and pupils, if we have buildings where the roof leaks and the windows are unsatisfactory it is extremely difficult to give one's best. What will the Government do about the problems in places such as Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford, with regard to the lack of funds for school buildings?

I share the concern expressed by the inspectorate and others, who have made clear their point of view about the poor physical state of many school buildings. However, that is not a new event. It springs from the gradual effects of neglect over the past 20 years. I remind the House that the problem in the London borough of Brent had nothing to do with the quality of school buildings; it was the quality of management and the quality of teaching.