Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1970 Jul 8 We
Margaret Thatcher

HC I [Debate on the Address - Education]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Intervention
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [803/771-76]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 2039-55. MT intervened - expressing dissent - at c775.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1949
Themes: -
[column 771]

Mrs. Renée Short(Wolverhampton, North-East)

I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House will agree with the emphasis in the Conservative Party manifesto on the need for more resources for primary education. Certainly I go along with it, and I appreciate that when my right hon. and hon. Friends came to office in 1964 we inherited a very serious legacy of under-spending on primary education which had been brought about during 13 years of Conservative Government. In five years we were not able to obliterate that legacy, and some of it will remain to be dealt with by the right hon. Lady.

It is all very well for the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) to remind us of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said when in opposition. But again in the Conservative Party manifesto there is a paragraph about the control of Government spending, and we are promised that there will be cost-reduction plans for every single Ministry in Whitehall. That includes the right hon. Lady's own Department. She had therefore better beware, because she will have a tough battle ahead of her to get the increased money for education as a whole, and for primary education as a whole, and for primary education in particular, out of a Chancellor of the Exchequer who, at the same time, will have to carry out his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's pledge to reduce taxation. So we really are hoist on a petard of our own creation, are we not? It will be interesting to see what the right hon. Lady gets out of it in the end.

Before turning to the right hon. Lady's circular, I should like to ask her about her intentions in regard to nursery education, something that has not been mentioned in this debate at all. It is the part [column 772]of education in which I am particularly interested, as President of the Nursery School Association. I know that this subject is also mentioned in the manifesto, but I wonder how serious are the right hon. Lady's intentions, how much she really understands that if she talks about primary education she needs to start it before the age of five in order to lay foundations of the best possible kind of education on which to build for the future, and how much she hopes to be able to devote to the expansion of nursery education, which my right hon. Friends the former Secretary of State for Education and the Home Secretary were able to introduce, particularly under the urban aid programme. Does the Secretary of State intend to find resources for the expansion of nursery education apart from the development of the urban aid programme? I am sure that the House will be interested to hear her intentions.

During this debate we have had rehearsed quite a lot of the old arguments against comprehensive education, which I find rather disturbing. We have had the argument about experimentation and the too rapid change to a comprehensive education. One cannot talk about a rapid change when one realises that before the 1944 Act the old L.C.C. was preparing plans for comprehensive education. One cannot talk about rapid change when one remembers that one authority—that in Anglesey—has had 100 per cent. comprehensive education for 16 years or more. One cannot talk of experimentation or of too quick change in the light of things like that.

Those who argue that the change has been too quickly done have not understood what changes have been made and what advantages have been brought about through the reorganisation of education on comprehensive lines. They display their ignorance of the system as it is, and the possibilities and potentialities of real comprehensive education existing solely in an area and not having to consider also a system of selective grammar schools.

The hon. Member for Cambridge caused my right hon. Friend of inciting teachers to boycott the 11-plus. It would be a very good thing if the teachers were to do just that. I will add my own incitement. If the right hon. Lady had consulted the teaching profession and [column 773]the teaching organisations, they would have told her in very plain terms that they are opposed to the kind of circular which she has issued, and that they are opposed to selection. It was, presumably, for that reason that she did not consult them.

I believe that the Secretary of State has started off on the wrong foot. I am sorry about that, because it means that her job will be made more difficult, and, as one who passionately cares about the development of education, I understand that it is not to the advantage of education as a whole if the Minister concerned is at loggerheads with the profession, and with the parents, too, who care about education. One therefore has the curious situation of the Minister acting without consultation with those really most concerned with the subject, and inciting local education authorities to withdraw the plans which they have already submitted, change their ideas, and introduce again an element of selection where the whole system was one of a change-over to comprehensive education.

Many authorities, including Conservative-controlled ones, will, I believe, go ahead with their comprehensive schemes. This will show the right hon. Lady that despite what has been said about election results, the Government do not carry the whole of their party with them in this matter.

We are concerned about the future of comprehensive schools in areas where grammar schools now exist and in areas where they will be reintroduced. This is of particular concern in my constituency. My authority, unfortunately a Conservative-controlled one, made it necessary for my right hon. Friend to introduce a Bill at the end of the last Parliament to require local education authorities to produce plans. I regret that he did not put more teeth in the Measure because it contained no sanctions, with the result that we were not much further advanced than when the circular requiring L.E.A.s to reorganise on comprehensive lines was issued.

In this area comprehensive schools are being built up by the authority. We still have two single-sex grammar schools, and that is why my right hon. Friend was not able to approve the plans which were submitted to him. In part of the [column 774]authority's area, which was in the area of another authority prior to the reorganisation of local government in 1966, there was a fine purpose-built new comprehensive school of which, presumably, the right hon. Lady has knowledge. I refer to the Tettenhall Regis School which, since the local authority took it over in 1966, has been suffering because of the ability of parents in the area to opt for one or other of the existing grammar schools.

There is no doubt that among members of the teaching profession, some of whom have been in touch with me, there is great concern—this goes for both teachers and parents—at the lowering of standards and the gradual effect that the creaming off process, even on its present small scale, is having on the future of this school and on the development of its advanced work.

By the same token, those schools which the authority is attempting to build up allegedly as comprehensives in the area are at a disadvantage because parents can opt for grammar schools. As long as struggling comprehensives are trying to build up their fifth and sixth forms in competition with existing grammar schools, they will not be able to get their share of the academic stream and they will find it difficult to get and hold staff, with the result that the so-called comprehensives that exist in areas where grammar schools exist side by side will become the sort of schools that we were hoping to remove altogether&semi: namely, secondary modern schools. This is a great disappointment to teachers who care about the development of comprehensive education and to parents who support it.

This makes me concerned about what the right hon. Lady's attitude will be towards the whole situation of secondary education in Wolverhampton. I know that she is concerned about consultation with parents, even though she is not concerned about consultation with teachers. By her action she has shown this to be the case.

However, teachers are worried about not having been consulted by the authority over the sort of scheme that it submitted to the right hon. Lady's predecessor. Parents have not been consulted, either. This has represented a grave lack of courtesy and consideration [column 775]of the principles of democratic local government, with which all hon. Members should be concerned.

The right hon. Lady quoted part of the Conservative Party's election manifesto. I want to quote this part of it to her:

“… the proper rôle of the central government is to satisfy itself that every local education authority provides education which will enable a child's talents and ability to be developed to the full, at whatever age these may appear.”

I believe that that sentence crystallises the argument in favour of comprehensive education.

Mrs. Thatcher

indicated dissent.

Mr. Short

I know that the right hon. Lady does not agree, otherwise she would not have been encouraging local education authorities to reintroduce grammar school education. Surely a local education authority can provide the kind of education that a child's skill and talent need only if it is able to offer within the one school to which the child goes the whole range of subjects and opportunities of which the child can take advantage to develop his skill, ability and talent to the full. The statement

“All children must have the opportunity of getting to O-level and beyond if they are capable of doing so”

is a complete negation of what the Secretary of State is trying to do now. She must know that it is not possible for all children to do this in secondary modern schools. It is nonsense to pretend that secondary modern schools can compete with the kind of talent to which the Tory Party itself refers in its election manifesto. This has never been possible. It never will be possible as long as we have the separatist tripartite system of education. The thing does not hang together.

The right hon. Lady has not told us how she proposes to select children for grammar schools that are to continue. The Tory Party says that it is opposed to 11-plus selection, whether by examination or any other means. How, then, is selection to be made? Will the Under-Secretary tell us? Let him not tell us about parental choice, because under the tripartite system which we tried to get rid of it was not possible to extend the advantages of the best kind of education to all children in the age group. It can[column 776]not be done by any kind of selection. If it is done by examination, we shall be flying in the face of all educational research which has been done since the war. If it is left to headmasters' recommendations, this, too, is open to serious doubts and objections.

Perhaps the Under-Secretary would tell us how he expects comprehensive schools to survive alongside the grammar schools and find the staff that they will need if the grammar schools are to attract the better qualified teachers, particularly vis-à-vis comprehensive schools that go up only to school-leaving age. If the hon. Gentleman can tell us how he expects comprehensive schools to develop in the face of the right hon. Lady's circular so as to give real opportunities to all children whatever kind of school they go to, the House will be interested to hear this.

What the right hon. Lady has done makes nonsense of the Prime Minister's claim about one nation. This is a Minister and a Government who are determined to return to the evils of the separatist system of education. How does this unite the nation? How does this give equal opportunity to all children to develop their skill, ability and talent? It cannot. It will not. It is sheer hypocrisy for the right hon. Lady and the Prime Minister to claim otherwise.

This is a divisive system of education that the right hon. Lady wants to cement and make firm again. This is something that all of us on this side intend to oppose. We shall do everything that we can, in the House and in the country, to let people understand clearly what the consequences of the right hon. Lady's policies are. We shall do this with members of the teaching profession and parents. I believe that we shall win their co-operation and support.