Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1970 May 25 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to National Association of Head Teachers Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Speech
Venue: Scarborough
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 420/70
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 2000 release time. See Letter to Daily Express (misreporting of NAHT speech), 3 June 1970.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1285
Themes: Education, Secondary education, Employment, Public spending & borrowing

I wonder if, in talking to you tonight, I may be reflective and possibly provocative?

Are we entering this election with an educated electorate—or just an electorate which has had compulsory schooling behind it for 100 years?

In some ways, those who embarked upon the great new education venture we celebrate this year had an easier task than we have now. Conditions were so bad that the remedies were obvious. They were the two which have been familiar to missionaries and social workers for years, the relief of poverty and the relief of ignorance. Once these two things had been done, so ran our thoughts, the world's problems would be largely solved.

This formula was a panacea for so many of our ills, here and in other countries. On the relief of poverty I shall say little more. Let us turn to the other factor—relief of ignorance—and look at some of the pronouncements on education in neighbouring countries. [end p1] Abraham Lincoln

“Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as people can be engaged in … I desire to see the time when education—and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry—shall become much more general than at present.” Earlier, Thomas Jefferson

“Enlighten the people generally and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish, like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

I have taken two early American examples, partly because we've heard most of the English ones in the plethora of centenary speeches but also for another reason. For several years, even with an expensive Asian war on her hands, America has spent a good deal more on her education than on defence; she has had virtually a total comprehensive education system, and a very large proportion of her young people go on to take 1st and 2nd degrees. But she still has colossal problems. Neither the expenditure, the comprehensive system nor the numbers have solved those problems; nor are they responsible for them. Here, we spend more on education than on defence, the proportion of comprehensive education is increasing, greater numbers are enjoying higher education. These things of themselves will no more solve problems here than on the other side of the Atlantic. The causes are deeper than money and types of educational institution. [end p2]

One of the characteristics of life today is that we try to analyse the reason for everything which happens; this then offers scope for unlimited comment and conjecture. Indeed the proportion of comment per unit of action must be greater now than at any time in our history! I propose to indulge in a little myself.

Let us first examine what we are trying to do in education. I believe the main aims of education are:

1. To enrich the life of the individual be developing his latent talents and abilities.

2. To ensure a sufficient supply of skilled people for the needs of the community of which we are all a part.

3. To train people to lead responsible lives in society.

Perhaps we haven't stressed this aim sufficiently. Education is more than ‘O’s and ‘A’s and a couple of degrees. It is more than having ideals. It is a process which equips us to advance our ideals through our own efforts by the use of argument and reason and with respect for the rights of others, including their freedom of speech. It should be a process which results in self-discipline.

4. To develop a capacity for informed judgement.

Judgement is a different faculty from reason and deduction, and more difficult both to teach and to learn. It has two parts—finding all the available facts and then trying to assess feelings, emotions and reactions. [end p3]

The first can be done by training, the second comes to some from experience. But the purposes of training should be to make us aware that the facts are only a part of the problem. Those who have the capacity for such judgement are invaluable in politics, business, administration and, I have no doubt, in dealing with difficult parents as well as difficult pupils and students.

5. To advance the frontiers of knowledge.

This aim has a different quality from the others. We should all realise, however, that much of what is done today in industry comes from new knowledge accumulated in recent years. As Peter Drucker has put it, we are becoming a knowledge-based society.

How far have we been successful in achieving these aims? The first aim, enriching the life of the individual by developing talents. A great deal has been achieved through the schools, by the way in which you have taught appreciation of great works of art, literature and music. Much, however, has still to be done. There are those who wish only to read the comic strip and the headline, whose problems, stemming sometimes from home background, cannot be overcome however dedicated the teacher. One of our most difficult tasks as politicians is to determine how we can help these children. Better nursery provision in areas of social handicap will help, as will better school buildings, but we would delude ourselves if we expected quick solutions. Our ultimate hope is that these children will be good parents, who will provide for their own children their birthright of understanding and affection which they themselves perhaps lacked. Social workers and politicians stress the need for improved housing in difficult areas. Important though this is, it is not the complete solution. [end p4]

What about those children who, for example, go to a wonderful new school in the middle of a new housing development with all mod. cons., who haven't a clue what they want to do and have no idea of how to occupy their free time? Or the child who is highly intelligent, has won a university place, but is aimless, unsure of himself and of his future role in life? In these cases the poverty has been relieved and knowledge has supplanted ignorance but problems remain for the next generation.

I believe we are achieving educationally the second aim—the supply of skilled labour. The expansion in further education and in the scope for vocational training in the technical colleges has been one of the unsung wonders of the decade.

And now the third aim of personal responsibility. This really brings in a whole code of conduct and we have to face the cruel facts that there are many adults who do not set the best example for our young people to follow. I remember when as a young barrister I was watching a colleague do a very bad piece of cross-examination. A senior Q.C. turned to me and said, “In a way it's very good for you to see this—you know how it shouldn't be done.” Point made?

You will now ask, what can Governments do about these problems?

1. Undoubtedly the most important factor is the quality of the teaching profession. To raise status means raising standards—standards of entry into the profession, standards of training for the profession. You will be aware that my Sir Edward Boylepredecessor committed my Party to an urgent, major inquiry into teacher training. I should also like to examine the possibility that colleges of education should have a wider purpose than the training of teachers. I want people to come into teaching because they have made a positive choice to do so. The right choice may not always be made immediately on leaving school.

2. Career sturcture is being negotiated. I believe we must have a salary structure which enables and encourages the good teachers to continue teaching.

3. The Government's other main task is to secure a sufficient proportion of resources for education. It would seem that the forecasts of expenditure for the years up to 1974 are not adequate to carry out the necessary policies. It was with this in mind that Iain Macleod, in the public expenditure debate in January, said that he had always regarded the educational programme as one which could and must rise more than public expenditure as a whole.