Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1970 Oct 28 We
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Association of Education Committees

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Speech
Venue: Scarborough
Source: Thatcher Archive: DES press release
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Sections of the speech have been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 28 October 1970.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 3494
Themes: Education, Primary education, Secondary education, Higher & further education, Public spending & borrowing, Social security & welfare

The important fact which emerges from yesterday's review of public expenditure is that the education budget will continue to grow at a considerable rate, and that educational opportunity therefore will continue to expand. It is true that if you take the higher charges for schools meals and the withdrawal of some free milk, and the higher fees for further education courses, and offset the savings against the increasing spending on school building, the result in future years is that the education bill is 1%; less than it would have been. It was, after all, the object of the whole public expenditure review to make savings on the proposals we found awaiting us and which we judged in total to be too expensive for the country at this time. But I hope you will agree that on the whole education has come out of the review well.

Use of Resources

The changes also reflect our intention to bring about a shift in resources towards the primary schools. You will have seen from yesterday's statement how we propose to do it. Shifting resources within a total must mean spending less on some things and more on others. We have chosen to spend less on school milk, by not giving it to all pupils of junior school age, and to spend less on school dinners by raising the charge in two stages, until it is approximately equal to the present cost of the meal.

The administrative details of these two charges we shall be discussing with the local authority associations. Today I want to set them in the context of a more general policy, so that the philosophy behind this re-assessment of educational priorities may be appreciated. [end p1]

Social and economic circumstances are now very different from those which existed when these welfare arrangements began. We think this indiscriminate type of subsidy no longer represents the best use of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money. But, and I stress this positive aspect of the decision, the Government have been at pains to see that children who are vulnerable will not suffer. School milk will continue to be supplied in special schools, and to those pupils in junior schools for whom it is medically necessary. So far as school dinners are concerned there will be a revision of the income scales for free meals which will not merely compensate for the increases in charges, but will extend the eligibility for free dinners somewhat further. This will actually put families who are above the level for supplementary benefit, but may be hard pressed, in a better position than they were before. This is only one aspect of the Government's action in reviewing the impact of all the changes in charges for social services announced yesterday, and in taking special measures to give help where it is really needed.

In addition to these two measures I shall be asking local authorities to review the fees they charge to students in further education establishments. The level of these fees is of course a matter for the discretion of each individual authority. I am not suggesting that they should introduce tuition charges for students under 18 who are attending full-time courses, nor that they should increase the fees for those courses where students qualify for a mandatory award. But over the remainder of the range of courses in further education I think there is scope to introduce rather higher fees as from next September, so that rather less of their costs has to be met from public funds.

So the main contribution of the education service towards the reduction of public expenditure will be limited adjustment in the areas which I have mentioned between those costs which are paid for indirectly by the taxpayer and ratepayer at large and those which are met directly by the individual using the service. And in return for these changes one of the most vital sectors of the education system, the primary schools, will stand to benefit from the substantial increase in the school building programme for 1972–73 announced in the White Paper. It is to this topic that I now wish to devote the main part of my speech.

Primary Schools

May I first briefly recall why we have decided to give priority to primary schools? As you will know, secondary schools have done better than primary schools from successive building programmes. You will remember that in the middle 1950s Lord Eccles (as he now is) launched a drive for the reorganisation of all-age schools in rural counties. Then, in the White Paper “Secondary Education for All” of 1958, attention was turned to the improvement and replacement of old secondary schools, with particular emphasis on accommodation for science. The building programmes [end p2] up to 1967 included large sums for these purposes and there was very little for improving the primary schools. Under the last Government the building programmes were heavily weighted towards the secondary schools because of the expected growth in numbers, and there was some incidental improvement as well. Finally there were the special programmes of over £100m. for raising the school leaving age.

From 1964 to 1970 the only special programme for primary improvement was the allocation of £16m. for educational priority areas. The results of this emphasis on secondary school building are to be seen in the figures. About 15 per cent of primary school children in England and Wales (and all the figures that I shall give here relate to England and Wales) are in schools built before 1903 for which there is a continuing need and which must be replaced or substantially improved. The corresponding figure for secondary schools is only 5 per cent. At the other end of the scale, the number of primary school places brought into use since the war, by major and minor projects, represents only just over 50 per cent of the present primary school roll. For secondary schools the figure is 75 per cent.

So there is a good case on the figures alone for doing more for the primary schools. The arguments however are very far from being wholly statistical. [Beginning of first section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 28 October 1970:] Our emphasis on primary schooling derives basically from the fact that it is the foundation on which all later education and training are built. There is a wealth of evidence, Mr. President, to show that the impact of the first few years of schooling can make a decisive difference to a child's subsequent progress. End of first section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 28 October 1970.

School Building Programme

So much for the background. Let me now turn to the paragraph in yesterday's White Paper which deals with school building. The effect of what is said there is that the total schools starts programme (primary and secondary) for England and Wales in 1972–73, including the major programme, the programme for raising the school leaving age and minor works, will be £186m., the same as the level reached in 1971–72. But the important difference between the two years lies in the breakdown of the total. In 1971–72 the allocation for basic needs is £130.5m. For the following year, because the school population will be growing more slowly, the figure for basic needs is only £100m.

This gives us the opportunity, which we have seized eagerly and which I am sure the local authorities and the churches will welcome, to make a dramatic increase in the programme for the improvement and replacement of old schools. That programme will rise from about £12m. in 1970–71 and £17m. in 1971–72 to £38.5m. in 1972–73. This will be a record. The programme of £38.5m. will be larger, in real terms, than the improvement programmes for 1965–66 and 1966–67 announced by Sir Edward Boyle (as he then was) in 1964; and virtually all the [end p3] money will go to primary schools this time. [Beginning of second section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 28 October 1970:] In 1971–72, you'll remember that was the £17m. improvement programme, the building programme included getting on for 200 projects for the improvement and replacement of old schools. For 1972–73 the figure will approach 500 primary schools to be replaced or brought up to date. This will be a great step forward. [End of second section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 28 October 1970:]

May I now say a word about the distribution of the 1972–73 improvement programme between different parts of the country? Both the programme for educational priority areas and the £17m. available for 1971–72 were allocated overwhelmingly to urban areas of acute social need. This was the Plowden philosophy, and I am sure that it was right. Not many of the schools started in this programme are yet in use. But evidence is now beginning to come in of the effects of the building of a new primary school in a deprived area, and it is most encouraging. [Beginning of third section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 28 October 1970:] Again in 1972–73 we shall devote substantial resources to the deprived urban areas. But with £38.5m. we can begin to look more widely.

The programme will include a sizeable number of projects designed to replace the old schools in rural areas. And in some suburban areas and small towns too we want to begin to tackle the bad old primary school buildings. End of third section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 28 October 1970.

Letters to local authorities giving details of the major programme for 1972–73, basic needs as well as improvements, will go out, I hope, next month. We cannot do everything at once, but I hope that you will appreciate our attempts to divide the resources fairly. The preliminary list from which the 1972–73 starts programme will be drawn should of course have been announced early this year. To make up for lost time the programme to be announced in November will take the form of the 1971–72 design list. And we shall follow this up by inviting local authorities before long to submit their proposals for the period following 1972–73, and by agreeing early next year the preliminary list from which the 1973–74 programmes will be drawn.

Just a word about the 1973–74 programme. In 1972–73 we shall be devoting nearly £50m. to the last instalment of the programme for raising the school leaving age. It would not be reasonable to expect that in the following year corresponding resources could be diverted to the replacement of old schools and it follows that the total programme for 1973–74 will be smaller than in 1972–73. But on our latest estimates the programmes needed for basic needs will decline from about £100m. in 1972–73 and 1973–74 to little more than half that figure towards the end of the decade. [Beginning of fourth section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 28 October 1970:] To replace and improve all the primary schools built before 1903, our estimate is that about £200m. will be needed and we shall continue to undertake a large and systematic programme to replace these schools. I'm making no promises now, but my hope, Mr. President, is that over a period of five years we shall be in sight of the elimination of the primary schools built in the nineteenth century. (Hear, hear. Applause). [End of fourth section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 28 October 1970.] [end p4]

Primary Schools—Class Sizes

In giving priority to the primary schools the condition of buildings is of course only one of the problems (though perhaps the main one). I want also to see continued progress with reduction of class sizes in primary schools and the improvement of their staffing ratios. Local authorities responded vigorously to the drive launched by Edward Shortmy predecessor last year for the elimination of overlarge primary school classes. During the year the number of primary classes over 40 fell by nearly one third.

And there is every reason to believe that this will continue. The great expansion of the colleges of education is now yielding a big increase in the net addition to the teaching force each year, and the numbers of graduates taking post-graduate courses of education are increasing rapidly. Moreover the birth rate seems now to be on our side. The number of births has decreased each year since 1964 and in 1969 was the lowest since 1960. From 1973 (by which time classes over 40 should be virtually a thing of the past) primary numbers are likely to be falling. Taking primary and secondary school pupils as a whole, there were 24 pupils per qualified teacher in 1966; there are now fewer than 23.

The building programme itself will play a part in the reduction of class sizes. New schools opened to meet basic needs often make some contribution; and the replacement or improvement of an old school can do the same. More specifically, some contribution should be made by minor works allocations: often a single extra classroom is what a school needs to get its class sizes down. I shall be announcing the minor works allocations for 1972–73 during November. In total they will be much the same as in the previous year because I think it right to concentrate in the major programme the additional resources available to us for the improvement of old schools. But within the total I intend to make some redistribution in favour of the counties with very rapidly expanding populations at the expense of some urban areas whose populations are static or even declining. I hope that these urban areas will accept that this is a fair policy. Many of them have been able to devote to minor improvements a much larger proportion of their allocations that many of the counties; and they have made, and will continue to make, good progress with the replacement of their old schools through the major programme.

May I summarise then in three sentences what I have been saying about school building? First, basic needs will continue to be met. Second, the special programme for raising the school leaving age will be carried out as planned. Third, in 1972–73 there will be the first of what I hope will be a series of large programmes for the replacement and improvement of old primary schools. Since the war—thanks to the efforts of successive governments, and of the local authorities and the voluntary bodies—school building has been a success story. [end p5] Let us now build on this success by tackling the legacy of the 19th century in the primary schools.

Teacher Training

I have explained how the Government propose to honour one of the undertakings given in their Manifesto. My next theme is hardly less important, and that is our promise to hold a thorough inquiry into teacher training. I am very happy to be able to tell you that Lord James of Rusholme, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, has accepted my invitation to become the chairman of the inquiry and to give the greater part of his time to it. I am sure you will agree that there could be nobody better qualified by wisdom and experience to undertake it.

Early in August, I wrote to all the interested associations to let them know the kind of inquiry I had in mind. With the help of two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, I have now just completed an intensive series of consultations. Between us we have met representatives of fifteen associations. They put before us, sometimes with considerable force, a wide range of conflicting views. I cannot expect to please everybody, but you can be assured that I am taking into account all that has been said to me. At the end of the day, however, I must decide how best to proceed.

Let me comment shortly on some of the issues that were raised.

First, there was some doubt about what I meant in my letter by “an intensive inquiry of relatively short duration” . Some people supposed that I had in mind a snap inquiry of three or four months, and their fears, I think, subsided when I explained that I thought the job could be done in about a year by a small but strong team mainly working full-time. Others, however, wished to insist on a study of considerably longer duration and elaboration, undertaken by a much larger body. This, however, would frustrate one of the main purposes of the inquiry which is to help the Government, in making its plans for the future if higher education, to decide what should be the future role of the colleges of education, and how they would best fit into the wider education picture.

Various compromises were put to me. Two took the form that the inquiry should be in two stages. Of these one proposed that the content of training courses could be disposed of quickly by a small body, mainly of professionals, leaving it to a larger, more representative body, to tackle the wider question at greater leisure. Another took almost exactly the opposite form, that these two processes should be reversed, and that the role of the colleges could be settled quickly and the content of courses examined later in the light of the ATOs' investigations. [end p6]

Second, there was much difference of opinion, about what should be included in, and what excluded from, my remit. Some people, for example, wanted me to encourage the Committee to make a full-scale study, on the Robbins model, of the whole of higher education; others, wanted me to indicate certain fixed premises which the Committee should not question. It will be my aim to distil acceptable terms of reference from these conflicting views.

My goal in setting up the Inquiry can be stated quite shortly. It is to secure the most competent advice I can obtain on four closely related questions. First, how to improve the educational and professional training of teachers. Second, what types of course should be available for this purpose? Third, should teachers be prepared for their jobs together with students who have not yet chosen their careers or have chosen other careers? Fourth, what changes follow as desirable for the colleges of education and other institutions concerned with training teachers?

I do not want to make the Committee's field of inquiries so wide that everything falls to be considered; but no-one can say that these questions are too narrow a remit.

I believe this remit can best be discharged by a small band of experienced and wise people led by Lord James, who, by giving all or the greater part of their time to it for about a year, can apply sustained thought to the difficult problems involved. I am very glad that they will be able to take advantage at once of the massive evidence on the training of teachers assembled by the Select Committee on Education and Science during the last session of Parliament. And that they will also have before long the results of the intensive investigations which are now being conducted by the Area Training Organisations into the courses provided under their auspices. [end p7]

Higher Education

Before I leave the topic of higher education I should like to say a word about the document published a few days ago— “Student Numbers in Higher Education in England and Wales” . I cannot emphasise too strongly that it is not a policy document. Readers may well be tempted to seek in this paper evidence of the policy that the Government is preparing to follow over the expansion of higher education. If they do they will mislead themselves. This document is not a kite; it is not a prediction; it is not a blueprint. It constitutes a projection of aggregate future student demand on certain given assumptions, and a broad estimate of the future cost of meeting it, given a specified distribution of the assumed numbers between different types of institutions. The assumptions were chosen for ease of illustration; different assumptions would of course have produced different results. And in view of the task that I outlined a moment ago for the inquiry into teacher training it should be clear that the assumptions in the paper about the future size and role of the colleges are not those on which the inquiry will proceed. They were simply convenient assumptions to make when the document was being prepared. As such they have no prophetic overtones.

Quality in Teaching

Mr President, I have already taken up much of your time. But I should like before I conclude, to say one more thing. We must avoid becoming pre-occupied with systems and structures to the detriment of the actual content of education. Schools are for children, and it is what goes on inside them that matters; the role of a good system is to see that schools are built, equipped and staffed so that their pupils have access to specialised knowledge, to liberal minded teaching, and to general education of high quality. Throughout the 1970s different systems of secondary education must in any case co-exist side by side; it is for us to see that they do not engage in jealous and sterile controversy but rather concentrate on achieving those educational objectives which are necessary both to national survival and to personal fulfilment for the individual.

Genuine equality of opportunity there must be—but this does not mean that everything must be the same. Indeed, the reverse can be argued. Children's needs and their potential differ; so must our response. Since the war we have made great strides in understanding the characteristics and needs of slow, backward and handicapped children; it is by no means certain that we are as successful with the intellectually or artistically gifted. And we still have a long way to go to see that the average child develops to the limit of his own potential, whether in [end p8] a comprehensive or a school of some other kind. Our programmes of curriculum development, teacher training and research should all be directed to this end.

In all of these developments you, the local education authorities, have a key role. You shape the local system. You provide opportunities for curriculum development, for in-service training and for innovation. By your own conviction and example you can influence the whole climate of the local education service for which you are responsible.