Mrs. Thatcher gets a noisy reception in city
Students reject her offer to meet them
Education Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, received a noisy reception from fdemonstrating Gloucester and Cheltenham students on her visit to the City yesterday.
Between 75 and 100 students from colleges in both towns, booed and jeered Mrs. Thatcher when she attended a tea party at the home of Mrs. Jacqueline Ingram, vice-chairman of the Gloucester Conservative Association's Women's Luncheon Club.
In the evening when Mrs. Thatcher addressed a meeting at Denmark-rd. Girls School a 200-strong band of young demonstrators greeted her arrival with shouted slogans and waving banners. During her speech they circled the perimeter of the school chanting.
The banner-waving demonstrators chanted anti-Tory slogans, decrying her education policies, as Mrs. Thatcher arrived at 132, Estcourt-rd., accompanied by the City Member Sally Oppenheim, Mr. Oppenheim, and Conservative Party agent for Gloucester, Mr. Peter Latimer.
Fifteen policemen and three police women supervised the demonstration, described as a “picket,” and kept the students on one side of the service road, away from the house.
Some of the banners called for an end to means tests, “Fair grants for all,” and “Cut arms bill not education.”
Students' leader Mr. David Homer, who is chairman of the North Gloucestershire Committee of the National Union of Students, said it was not a demonstration as such. The intention was to picket Mrs. Thatcher in a way that showed a true reflection of the feelings of students in all local colleges, he said.
But Mrs. Thatcher was not impressed by the demonstration, particularly after Mr. Homer and his committee had rejected an invitation by the Minister to meet her and Mrs. Oppenheim to discuss the students' grievances.
She told The Citizen, “I am very disappointed with them. They had the opportunity to come and talk with me but have turned it down. I could have met them for about 45 minutes.”
Mr. Homer commented. “Whilst Mrs. Thatcher would have listened to us, in all probability she would not have taken any notice of what we had to say. We do not think it would have very much impact.
“We decided that in view of communications between the NUS and the Department of Education, it is certain Mrs. Thatcher and everyone else knows precisely what our policies are and what we are calling for.”
But the Education Minister told the members of the Women's Club “When you hear these outside, please do not get worried. If that is all they can muster from the students that are here in Gloucester it is a pretty poor show.”
Mrs. Thatcher went on to praise the country's system of education, which, she said, was one admired almost universally.
“I have ministers coming from all over the world to look at our system and people agree it is one of the best. We also have the best system for students,” she said.
“The socialist countries have student loans. We have grants. The cost of educating one student per year is £1,200 plus his grant. They have one of the best systems the world over, at all levels.”
Next to health and social security, education was the “largest block” of expenditure by the Government, she said.
Mrs. Thatcher chatted for a [end p1] while before leaving for Winston Hall, the Gloucester Conservative Association headquarters.
On leaving the house the Minister found that more students had bolstered the demonstration and there was continual chanting of “Tories out, Tories out.” [end p2]
Chanting students circle school as Mrs. Thatcher speaks
‘Education can't make up for home influence’—Minister
Denmark-RD. had never seen anything like it. Suddenly the tree-lined Gloucester street was full of banner-waving, chanting students.
With the 200 strong band of youngsters was an almost equal number of policemen drafted in to contain the demonstration. They lined the gutter as the students unrolled their banners, hoisted their placards and began the first roar of “Tories out” , “More grants” and “Education not starvation.”
Lights snapped on in many of the tidy houses, heads appeared at the windows, children found an excuse not to go to bed and people exercising their dogs stopped to watch.
It was time to greet the Secretary of State for Education and Science, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, who was to address a meeting in the Girls' High School.
Weaving their way between the police and the students came Mrs. Thatcher's audience, invited by the Gloucester Conservative Association and drawn from the teaching profession, parents-teachers Associations, local authority members and party members.
Finally the crowd surged forward across the road as Mrs. Thatcher hove into view being driven by Mr. Henry Oppenheim. Police linked arms to hold the line against a good deal of good-natured pushing and shoving as the car went through the school gates to the main entrance.
Inside the building, as Mrs. Thatcher spoke, the chanting could still be heard, coming from different directions as the students marched round the perimeter of the school.
The Education Secretary cut-lined the general education policy of the government, what proportion of the gross national product and what proportion of public expenditure was devoted to it.
The Government was trying to do two things, she said, increase opportunities for education and improve standards.
Some people, said Mrs. Thatcher, expected too much from education. It could never make up for the influence of the home and good parents. Other influences had to be set to work through the social workers and better housing to improve standards generally.
On the other hand, people could be forgiven for thinking from reading of the newspapers and periodicals that no child in British schools could read, write, spell or do arithmetic.
“What goes on in education is a good deal better than we read in the Press. They concentrate on the worst aspects of the situation.”
Mrs. Thatcher said that she was, however, sufficiently concerned about literacy to set up the Bullock Committee in command of language which was at present sifting advice and, she hoped was eventually going to show how to tackle a difficult problem.
At question time Dr. John Ruffell, headmaster of Whaddon Junior School, told Mrs. Thatcher that of 24 children at his school whose parents wanted them to go to Beaufort School only nine got their choice. How could she reconcile this with her refusal to turn two other secondary schools into comprehensives?
Mrs. Thatcher's answer was that Longlevens and Hucclecote Secondary Schools were situated near the border with the new local authority which was taking over education in April. The scheme to make them comprehensive had been turned down because it was thought it should be considered by the new authority in 1974.
Mrs. Williams, of St. James PTA, wanted to know what parents should do when they did not get their choice. Mrs. Thatcher advised a complaint to a local councillor to get him to take the matter up with the chairman of the Education Committee or the Chief Education Officer, and failing that a complaint to the MP to intercede with the Minister.
But the Minister could only intervene if the local education authority had been “totally unreasonable.”
Size of classes
Asked what priority she placed on reducing the size of classes in primary schools, the Secretary of State said that to take direct action she would have to take powers to direct local education authorities and headteachers to do certain things and this she was loathe to do.
Mrs. Thatcher rejected a suggestion from Mr. Tony Fletcher that student grants be replaced by loans. It would need a new inquiry create great dislocation among parents and she was not prepared to alter the present system.
Mr. B. Wells, headmaster of Hempsted School, wanted to know why teachers should work “for less than the manual workers wage.”
The Secretary of State replied that a manual wage took into account overtime and productivity rewards not available in the nature of teaching. But the latest Burnham award had increased points for responsibility so that 70 per cent of teachers in secondary schools and 50 per cent in primary schools were above the incremental scale.
Mrs. Thatcher was introduced and thanked by the City MP, Sally Oppenheim, and afterwards chatted to her audience over a cup of coffee.
Outside the chanting went on unabated.