Mrs. Thatcher thrilled by Scilly Isles
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher's three-day visit to the Isles of Scilly last weekend was an official one. She went as Secretary of State for Education and Science to see for herself the special problems facing a small, isolated community with some 350 school-children on five separate islands. It was a hard-working weekend for the Minister with no time given specifically to sightseeing or to the usual pleasures of Spring days in the Scillies.
But the scenery, the informality, the small scale of Scillonian life, inevitably and happily made the ministerial visit quite out of the ordinary. Before leaving Tresco by Royal Navy helicopter on Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Thatcher said she had been thrilled by the weekend. It had been exciting, interesting and unusual, she said.
The most relaxed time was perhaps at St. Agnes on Saturday when the party, pausing to admire clusters of roadside violets, walked from the quay to the tiny one-roomed school. There was a 100 percent attendance—ten-year-old Jimmy Peacock, nine-year-old Diana Nicholas and six-year-old James Wright, with their teacher, Mrs. Marigold Bush.
Mrs. Thatcher, who said she had never seen such a small school, spent a long time chatting to the children, and later, outside, shared their pleasure in the antics of Dylan, the school's pet rabbit. Tea was provided and Jimmy, on behalf of them all, gave Mrs. Thatcher a bracelet of terracotta beads. The three children had looked for the beads especially for Mrs. Thatcher on an island beach. The beads, thought to be Bohemian or Viennese, come from a 16th-century wreck.
The children walked with the Ministerial and Council party back to the quay to wave the visitors goodbye.
Mrs. Thatcher was met at St. Mary's airport by Mr. Roland Phillips, who doubles up as Town Clerk and Secretary for Education. Also at the airport to meet the Minister was Mr. Barry Mumford, on his last official duty after five years as chairman of the islands' Education Committee.
A guard of honour by the local Army Cadet unit under Lt. W. Rees awaited the Minister outside St. Mary's Town Hall. She then crossed the road to talk to some of the many people who had gathered to see her arrival.
Before entering the Town Hall the Minister was officially welcomed by the Chairman of the Council, Ald. Lt. Comdr. Tom Dorrien Smith, and Mrs. Dorrien Smith, who is also a council member. Ald. Tregarthen Mumford and other council members were introduced.
In the council Chamber, Cdr. Dorrien Smith said they were extremely honoured that Mrs. Thatcher had taken the trouble to come and see their situation and evaluate their problems for herself. He and Mr. Phillips had met the Minister in London in November, when they had outlined the educational problem at Scilly.
In education, Scilly had always been well in the forefront, since Augustus Smith introduced compulsory education in the islands, a great many years before it was introduced on the mainland, said Cdr. Dorrien Smith.
“We like to think that today we still hold a high place in the educational field, providing, as we do, primary and secondary education for our children on a scale which gives them the benefit of a very high ratio between teachers and pupils. This has achieved results both academically and socially of which we can be justly proud.”
Problems were besetting them the solutions of which were going to be expensive, the chairman said. The very high proportion—over 70 per cent—of the islands' rate which was spent on education, left little money for other services.
Mr. Mumford spoke of the islands' need for a new primary school and extra accommodation for the secondary pupils and Mr. Phillips explained the financial situation. The Council had insisted that no progress be made on the new school without new assurances on finance, he said.
Mrs. Thatcher said she had the impression she ought to have brought the Secretary of State for the Environment and, even better, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. “I hope you are not overestimating my influence over these gentlemen,” she said.
After tea with Council and Education Committee members and Council staff, and signing the visitors' book, Mrs. Thatcher sailed to Tresco aboard Cdr. Dorrien Smith 's yacht, the Soleil d'Or. The boat, in the charge of Mr. Lawrence Terry, was used throughout the weekend for the Ministerial party.
Mrs. Thatcher spent Friday and Saturday nights at Tresco Abbey, the home of Cdr. and Mrs. Dorrien Smith. Mr. and Mrs. Barry Mumford and Mr. and Mrs. Phillips spent Friday night at the Abbey—Ald. Tregarthen Mumford, owing to Mrs. Mumford 's health, was unable to join the party. Dinner on Friday was largely a working affair.
On Saturday morning, Mrs. Thatcher visited Carn Thomas primary school and the Isles of Scilly (Secondary) School. She was met at the primary school by the headmaster (Mr. Lewis Stephens). Mrs. Thatcher obviously thoroughly enjoyed talking to the children and in some classrooms managed to have a word with every child. The two youngest pupils, Nadia Williams and Matthew Osborne (both aged five) presented a bunch of spring flowers. She talked to the only off-island primary schoolchild on St. Mary 's, ten-year-old Allison Miller, whose school on Bryher was closed last December because of lack of members.
The Minister was well behind schedule when she crossed the road to visit the 120-pupil Isles of Scilly School, by far the smallest comprehensive school in the country. With the headmaster (Mr. John Osborne), she toured the classrooms.
Lunch was taken in the school with teachers from all the island schools. On her way to the quay to visit St. Agnes, Mrs. Thatcher called at the hostel in Church-street, which the Council provides for off-island children attending St. Mary 's schools.
On Sunday morning Mrs. Thatcher attended Mothering Sunday service at St. Nicholas Church, Tresco, which was conducted by the Asst. Chaplain of the Isles, the Rev. Eric Inglesby.
After the service, children who had attended, dashed ahead, and the Ministerial party walked to the school where Mrs. Thatcher met the teaching staff, Mr. David Brown and Mrs. Jennifer Pender; Mrs. Alan Andrews who runs a little playgroup on the island, and the 25 pupils.
Following lunch at the Abbey, Mrs. Thatcher left Tresco in a Royal Naval helicopter from Culdrose, which landed on the Abbey Green. She told “The Cornishman” that she had found the young people of the Islands “absolutely delightful” , and that they must be given as good an education as could possibly be given them.