Shadow Minister with a fresh approach
No monopoly in education
A sharper approach to the controversy over secondary school reorganization will be the main new emphasis in Conservative Party policy arising from the appointment of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher as shadow Secretary of State for Education and Science.
Although her position will not, in fact, be far removed from that of Sir Edward Boyle, the preservation of a top tier of grammar schools within a national system of mostly comprehensive education is emerging as her standpoint.
What she will try to inject into the national debate that will follow the introduction of the Government's new Bill on comprehensive education is the argument that schools should provide for the abilities and aptitudes of all children, instead of concentrating on the advantages or disadvantages of any particular system of schools.
Apart from showing that she is no supporter of the Angus Maude wing of the Tory party, a long interview with her yesterday, the first since she really took the measure of her new job, suggested that her other principal preoccupations would be how to obtain sufficient resources for education; manpower and the recruitment of science teachers and graduates; and defining how best central government should carry out its duty to promote education.
Her thoughts are still in embryonic form, but it is clear that she is not in favour of a universal system of comprehensive schools. She thinks that if the country goes fully comprehensive, schools may not achieve so good a social mix as under the secondary modern-grammar school system.
Under a universal system, she argues, parents have to be given a choice between comprehensive schools. So a system arises where interested parents opt for one school, even if it is several miles away, which becomes known as the “good” school, and the worst features of the secondary modern-grammar system is repeated once again.
What her thoughts seem to be turning to is a big system of comprehensive schools, with a small top layer of grammar schools. Secondary modern schools could be enlarged and their entry and facilities broadened, Mrs. Thatcher thinks.
Small, inefficient grammar schools would be absorbed, and alongside a “very substantial” system of comprehensive schools would be small but very excellent grammar schools, all of which would have a good social mix.
As a lawyer, she has noted that the 1944 Education Act lays a duty on the Government to promote educational interests and to see that provision is made for the aptitudes of all pupils.
Secondary reorganization is the immediately lively political issue, but Mrs. Thatcher has already detected the obvious priority. This is the increasing demand that the education service will be making on the Exchequer in the next 10 years. She sees obtaining sufficient resources as her biggest worry.