Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1971 Apr 15 Th
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to National Association of Schoolmasters

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Speech
Venue: Torquay
Source: Thatcher Archive: DES press release
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 2100 15 April 1971. MT’s arrival at the dinner was delayed by fog.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1825
Themes: -


The labour force in teaching is now large, the supply of teachers is now much improved and the wastage outlook is quite healthy. In these circumstances the teacher shortage is clearly no longer so acute and it is possible to look forward to a time when the emphasis can shift from quantity to quality. These points were made by the Education Secretary, Mrs Margaret Thatcher when she addressed the National Association of Schoolmasters (NAS) at their annual conference dinner in Torquay this evening (15 April).

Mrs Thatcher said:

“In the early 1960s it was widely recognised that the shortage of teachers was not a temporary difficulty but a persistent and deep-rooted problem and that even greater efforts would be needed to solve it. Everybody was campaigning for more teachers, and every step had to be taken to produce them. Plans were made by the last Conservative Government and were continued by the Labour Government. The results, as you know, have been quite remarkable.

“In 1962 there were just over 17,000 non-graduate entrants to initial courses in the colleges of education. In 1968 there were nearly 39,000. The number of graduates being trained was also increasing. In 1969 and 1970 it is true there was a slight falling back of the non-graduate entry, but the latest information I have had is that applications during this academic year have been roughly equal to last year's so that the fall may have ceased. The flow of applications from graduates meanwhile is showing a remarkable increase. Taking both types of training together, entries to the colleges have been maintained.

“The effects have been becoming evident in the schools. In 1963 there were about 283,000 teachers, in 1967, 308,000. Today, four years later, there are over 360,000, [end p1] a marked acceleration in the rate of increase. The pupil-teacher ratio, which was almost stationary in the middle '60s, is now improving rapidly. This year there are 18,000 more teachers in the schools than last year and comparable rates of increase are expected for the next few years. One effect of this is that the raising of the school leaving age, which we used to expect would be at the cost of a considerable falling-off in staffing standards, will now be achieved with little or no deterioration. And once 1973 is behind us the pupil-teacher ratio will again improve.

“Great credit for this achievement is due to the colleges, University Departments of Education, local authorities and all concerned with the expansion of the training system. But the number of teachers would not be growing as rapidly as it is, but for the fact that so many teachers young and old stick to their task through thick and thin, just as they or their predecessors stuck to it during the years when pupil-teacher ratios were high, conditions more difficult, and hopes of substantial progress much more remote than they are now.

“When I read questions put down by MPs or articles written by educational journalists or, dare I say it, reports even of what some teachers have said, I find that a recurring theme is how high the wastage of teachers is. One might almost get the impression from some of the statements that are made that teachers are leaving the profession in columns four abreast and that those who are not leaving are sighing their hearts out because they have not been able or lack the courage to do so. This picture is a complete travesty.

“The facts are available for anyone to see in the extensive volumes that the Statistics Division of the Department produces each year. I will quote a few of them. I shall confine myself to what happens to men teachers. Not because I would admit for a moment (even to please the Association or to repay your hospitality) that women teachers are less important than men, but because the statistics for men are easier to analyse for this purpose. This is because the men are less likely to leave the service in order to housekeep for their spouses or look after their babies. One should also concentrate I think on trained teachers, because untrained graduates (although they include many distinguished teachers) also include a number of people who teach to fill in time before achieving some other ambition or try teaching in a very experimental way. Their wastage is naturally high. There will be fewer such people, and the schools will be less disturbed by their comings and goings, after 1973.

“If we look at the trained teachers we find an interesting picture. There are figures showing how many in total left the schools. But there are also figures showing how many of these left the schools only on transfer to other grant-aided establishments. It is remarkable how often the total figure of movement is quoted as a proof that the teaching profession is going down the drain. Those who use this [end p2] argument would, I am sure, be very indignant if they were accused of believing that colleges of education should be exclusively staffed by people without experience of teaching in maintained primary and secondary schools or that education officers should be managers imported from outside, for example from building firms. Clearly it is important if one is to get an accurate picture to remember that the educational system is a single entity and that a great deal of flow from one part of it to another is desirable and even necessary. It is true that more teachers leave the schools for other parts of the system than vice versa, but the point is that they are not lost to the profession.

“Another aspect of the picture which is sometimes overlooked is the extent to which those who leave the maintained schools return to them later. We cannot obviously prophesy which teachers who leave will come back, but we can set those who return in a particular year against those who leave and so obtain a picture of net movement. In 1968/69 the net outflow of trained men graduates under 60 from the schools to destinations outside the grant-aided system was 392 out of 26,000 or 1.5 per cent, and even this apparent wastage includes some teachers who were still contributing to the educational system of the country. Many teachers in independent schools, for example, and all recruits to HM Inspectorate are included within this figure of what is obviously inaccurately described as wastage. The same calculation for non-graduates shows a net wastage of 1,801 out of 84,182 or 2.1 per cent.

“These figures seem to me evidence that the teaching profession is remarkably stable. It might be objected that by taking the rates of wastage for all teachers up to 60 I am giving a biased picture. It is perfectly true that for younger teachers there is more movement. For the under 25s both trained graduate and trained non-graduate the net wastage is about 6 per cent. This includes all the teachers who find that they are not up to teaching. No doubt we should all be pleased if there were not even this wastage. But we have to remember that young people do not always find the career that suits them the first time they try. Their characters and tastes are still developing, and some turnover is inevitable. Whether one should regard a particular turnover as high or low depends I suggest on how it compares with other sectors of the economy, and on this too I should like to give you some figures.

“There has been a dearth of easily available information on turnover. But a recently published report, recording the results of a research project undertaken by Professor Kelsall with support from the Department, produced some very striking evidence indeed. A large sample of graduates was studied over a period of five years and one of the interesting results that emerged was the following. Of those whose first occupation was in the education sphere, 86 per cent were still in this sphere six years after graduation. The corresponding figure for industry was 70 per cent, for public administration 62 per cent and for commerce 58 per cent. Among women the [end p3] difference was even more striking. Ignoring the women who dropped out of paid employment, Professor Kelsall found that 90 per cent of those who entered education were still in education six years later. For public administration the figure was 58 per cent, for industry and commerce 35 and 34 per cent respectively. Moreover the occupation to which both men and women turned most often when disappointed in their first choice was education. These results have been released to the press but have not been taken to heart. I believe they were mentioned in the “Times Educational Supplement” for 25 December 1970, a day on which people generally were otherwise occupied.

“Professor Kelsall 's figures, by the way, relate to other forms of educational work as well as teaching in schools, but school teaching naturally bulks large in such a total. They are not completely up-to-date—but there is little reason to think that the picture would be markedly different now. I am not suggesting that there may not be many schools, or areas, where the departure of many young and competent teachers has been a source of difficulty and a reason for regret. But I am suggesting that the losses from the schools are not as serious as is sometimes alleged and may be less than other employers suffer.

“In short, the labour force in teaching is now large, the supply is much improved, the wastage outlook is quite healthy and the school population will be growing less in most years than it has been doing. In these circumstances the teacher shortage which has dominated our thinking ever since the war is clearly no longer so acute. We can—and this will, I am sure, be very welcome to your association—look forward to a time when the emphasis shifts; from numbers to professionalism, from quantity to quality.

“What this may mean in practice it is still too early to judge. We must await the outcome of Lord James' inquiry into teacher training. And we must await the outcome of current negotiations for a new salary structure for the profession. But it may not be too soon to try and reach agreement on the broad objectives we ought to go for. Whatever is to be the future institutional form of teacher education, and its relationship to the rest of higher education, we shall wish to attract into training a fair proportion of young people with good academic potential and with the key disciplines sufficiently represented. Equally we shall wish to improve still further the essentially professional element, to develop teaching skills both along traditional lines and in response to new conditions and new needs.

“To these two aims I would add two more. One is that we should create conditions which have the effect of reducing excessive movement within the profession. It is understandable that teachers should be tempted to move from school to school in pursuit of promotion and some movement is desirable in the interests both of the teacher and the schools. But there is evidence that the present salary structure with its numerous different grades of post may lead to more movement than is desirable and that it therefore makes some schools less stable institutions than [end p4] they should be. If staff are constantly on the move it creates worrying problems for heads and can disrupt the continuity of classwork in a very harmful way. The other objective, which I mention with confidence in this gathering, is that we should seek to reward appropriately those who stay in the profession—and as I demonstrated earlier they are very much more numerous than is commonly supposed.”