Politics: Will the by-election be the salvation of Twyford Primary?

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The Independent Online
Candidates in next week's Winchester by-election are jumping on the schools bandwagon as the battle for votes heats up. Fran Abrams, Political Correspondent, says the argument runs across the educational spectrum - from the world-famous Winchester College to a crumbling primary down the road.

In the classroom of year six at Twyford Primary, Mr Honour is having trouble making eye contact with his pupils. This has less to do with his skill as a teacher than with the six large posts that are stopping the roof falling down.

Since last December, only four of the 29 pupils in this temporary classroom - bought secondhand 27 years ago - have been able to see the blackboard properly. There is no running water and across the playground another temporary block - 40 years old - is quietly subsiding into the garden next door. Between the two, the toilets are a morass of rooting wood and rising damp.

This is the sixth year running that Hampshire has bid for government funds to replace the classrooms. But this year there is a difference. This year there is a by-election.

Political points have been batted back and forth between the candidates. The Liberal Democrats ran Hampshire for four years until May, say the Tories; they should have given the school a higher priority. The Tories were running the country, say the Liberal Democrats.

Both Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat who was declared Winchester MP in May only to have the decision overturned by the High Court, and Gerry Malone, the Tory who held the seat from 1992 have been to the school. Mr Oaten has excelled though, by personally phoning and writing to parents; he prides himself on being a local issues man.

But the two main runners in this race have not confined themselves to the hitherto unknown Twyford school - both have also been to talk to sixth formers at Winchester College, one of the country's top public schools. There are not many votes in this of course - most pupils are boarders who live elsewhere even if they are 18 - but there are issues of concern.

For example, the schools owns a piece of land on which it would like to build houses, and the whereabouts of these houses has become an election issue here.

Leaking roofs and toilet blocks are not a problem, though. The school brochure boasts "outstanding" sports facilities, a theatre and a separate arts school.

James Sabben-Clare, the headmaster, says local schools have the chance to share some of these - which means that government plans to increase links between state and private sectors are likely to make little difference here.

Twyford pupils have used the swimming pool in the past, and now use another in an independent school nearer to hand. But none of this, of course, will rebuild its classrooms or toilets. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, must look elsewhere for that sort of help.

At Twyford, the clerk to the governors, Neil King, is not too concerned about where the money comes from so long as it comes soon. The inspectors who come every two months say Mr Honour's classroom will not be viable after next July.

Both Mr Oaten and Mr Malone have promised to make it a priority.

"Whoever gets in, thats going to be my next phone call," Mr King says.

"What are you going to do about it now?"

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