Orders of the Day — School Building Programme (Whitton and Teddington)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd July 1969.

Alert me about debates like this

6.42 a.m.

Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham

I am glad to have the opportunity of raising the subject of two secondary schools in my constituency in this debate, because traditionally it is a debate which provides an opportunity for the redress of grievances and my constituents feel that they have a grievance which requires redress.

There are two excellent secondary schools in Twickenham, one at Whitton and one at Teddington, and both are post-war. Both have modern buildings and a first-class reputation. Analysis of the numbers now going through the primary schools makes it clear that both need considerable enlargement. By 1971 each will need about an additional 300 places, that is, each would have a two-form entry extension in addition to the present four-form entry. To be more precise, each now has about 660 children, a number which should rise to 900 or more by 1971.

As the Minister well knows, it is the duty of the local authority to provide school enlargements, and a design list to achieve this end has been submitted to the Department. I am told that in the normal way approval for extensions following the design list of 1969–70 so that the school enlargements may be reached by 1971 should reach the local authority by the mid-summer of 1969; that is, by now. However, that approval has not yet been received.

Last Thursday I put a Question to the Secretary of State to ask whether he would now approve the secondary school building programme for the borough and he said: No. I am still waiting for the authority to supply the information which I need for a decision on their proposals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 144.] I was rather surprised at this, because I understood that all the information about figures and projections for the future had been supplied.

Therefore, on Tuesday, I asked the Secretary of State …what further information he is waiting for … The Minister of State replied: We are waiting for the authority to inform us how the secondary projects which it has submitted would be compatible with an intention of introducing a non-selective system of education."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 350.] So the right hon. Lady was asking not for any information but for a statement of intent.

In asking for this information, the Secretary of State is, I think, basing himself on the phrase in Paragraph 5 of Circular 10/66: The Secretary of State will not approve new secondary projects which would be incompatible with the introduction of a nonselective system of secondary education. But I claim that these two schools are compatible with a non-selective system. They are comprehensive in a very real sense and in any event would be needed in any comprehensive system.

Paragraph 7 of Circular 10/67 says: It is now clear that a six or seven form entry school can cater properly for the whole ability range and produce a viable sixth form. This is just what these schools will be—six form entry schools, already possessing sixth forms.

Therefore, in his refusal of loan sanction for these schools, the Secretary of State does not have a leg to stand on. His argument is fallacious. I do not think that he has the force of law behind him. By what statutory power does the Minister withhold loan consent from these two schools? Surely this is a simple human problem which my constituents want to see solved, namely, the enlargement of two excellent schools.

I hope that this little problem will not be bogged down in some political pedantry in the Minister of State's mind. This is not a large matter. The total cost of the two buildings is £300,000, and all that the Secretary of State is asked for is loan sanction for the local authority to spend that money, as well as approval for the design of the buildings. My constituents think that the buildings are excellent. Each, in its way, is well on the way to becoming a comprehensive school. Each has 600 pupils, a number which they intend to raise to 900, each gets about 200 O levels a year, with A levels as well. Teddington got 18 A levels last year, ranging from art to economics, metal working to engineering drawing, geography to mathematics and physics. Whitton too has won A levels in biology, art and other subjects.

So these schools already have sixth forms, many children already stay on to 17 or 18, and some go to grammar schools at an earlier age. In Twickenham there is a deficiency of secondary school places. It is still an expanding area. The deficiency will increase with houses, flats and in-fillings going on in the next four years and there will be an increase in population Lastly, the schools in Surrey on the other side of the river are not available to children in places like Teddington because transport across the river is difficult.

In the broader field, in Twickenham we have three well-known and popular grammar schools which cater for about 35 per cent. of secondary intake. The children of my constituents, who are of a professional nature because my constituency has places like the National Physical Laboratory in it, have a high I.Q., which makes grammar schools very popular. We have four excellent secondary schools which are in reality comprehensive. We have no finance now for a new large comprehensive school, but the proposals for expanding these two secondary schools close no options. They provide more places urgently needed, which must be a priority for both the Minister and the local authority.

If the Minister does not give loan consent for these two schools, he is being unfair, restrictive and irresponsible and is not letting the local authority fulfil urgent and pressing local needs. By 1971 the deficiency in Twickenham might be about 1,000 secondary places. The blame for not filling these places lies unequivocally on the Minister unless he gives consent now. I am convinced that the electorate will judge that at the next General Election.

6.51 a.m.

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Richmond local authority, in whose area his constituency lies, submitted these two secondary school proposals for inclusion in the 1969ߝ70 design list—that is, with a view to building work starting in 1970ߝ71. They are the Whitton Secondary Modern School and the Teddington Secondary Modern School. We wrote on 6th March informing the authority what schoolbuilding we could allow in the design list and went on to say: In the absence of proposals for secondary reorganisation the Secretary of State has deferred his decision on the secondary projects submitted by the authority as he is unable to assess their compatibility with a non-selective system of education. So far we have received no answer from the local authority on this point.

The hon. Gentleman has tried to prove that these schools are comprehensive schools. I cannot judge whether they are or are not, because I am still waiting for the reply of the local authority to our letter of 6th March.

All local authorities were asked in Circular 13/66 issued three years ago to describe how projects submitted for a major building programme would or could fit into a comprehensive pattern of secondary reorganisation. This is a commonsense requirement. As it is the Government's policy to extend comprehensive education to the whole country, it would be irresponsible to let authorities build schools which could not fit into the comprehensive pattern. Richmond is one of only about three or four of the London Boroughs that have not yet had a comprehensive scheme adopted. This means that Richmond and the other two or three authorities will be out of step as the years go by with education in the whole of the rest of the London area. Because of this, we have to know how the buildings will be wisely used.

Local authorities which have not made up their minds to introduce reorganisation may find it difficult, or even impossible, to supply a convincing answer to the question of how their schools would fit into a comprehensive pattern. When the Richmond authority supplies the necessary information, I will consider its proposals for secondary school building for 1970ߝ71 with the greatest possible speed. I do not doubt that, as the hon. Gentleman has said, the number of pupils in the area is increasing.

The Richmond plan for secondary reorganisation had to be rejected in December, 1966, because it provided for the retention of selective schools and the allocation of pupils to schools of different types at the age of 11. The local authority's officers were received by the Department the following February to discuss possibilities of progress but two months later they informed us that they did not wish to amend their rejected proposals. It is important that the local authority should have an acceptable framework for future development of its secondary education on comprehensive lines in planning new secondary building.

I know that there is considerable unrest in the borough among parents about the operation of the 11-plus selection system in Richmond and that a strong parents association has been formed to express their dissatisfaction. Indeed, my right hon. Friend and I have received a number of deputations from that association and other bodies in the area pressing for the adoption of a comprehensive system. I know, too, that many teachers in the borough would like to progress towards a comprehensive system of education.

I hope that the local authority will bear this in mind and will be prepared to reconsider its attitude and submit an acceptable plan at an early date when the working party which it set up in January to review secondary school facilities in the borough, particularly in the Richmond/Barnes district, has reported. In any case, my right hon. Friend has said that the next Education Bill will provide that secondary education is to be non-selective throughout the whole country.

I would gladly arrange a meeting between officers of my Department and the authority with a view to drawing up an acceptable plan. Indeed, the local authority has always known this. On one occasion a meeting was to take place between representatives of the local authority and my right hon. Friend and it was called off.

I have recently been informed that the local authority proposes to spend its allocation for raising the school-leaving age —£107,000—entirely on two schools in the Twickenham area, the Orleans and Teddington schools. I shall have to consider whether those plans are compatible with a comprehensive form of organisation. I told the authority that I would do this when I notified it of its special building allocations for raising the school-leaving age and asked it to supply information in the terms set out in Circular 13/66.

I want to be able to allow the Richmond authority to build the schools they want, but the ball is in their court. They have been asked for information, which has not yet come to me. I hope, however, that common sense will prevail, as well as the wishes of many parents and teachers. I hope that the local authority will respond to the letter of 6th March and to my offer of a meeting, which is still open.