Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1971 Jun 10 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Education and Science]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [818/1207-27]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1430-1515.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 7474
Themes: Arts & entertainment, Education, Private education, Primary education, Secondary education, Higher & further education, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Family, Social security & welfare, Women
[column 1207]

EDUCATION AND SCIENCE

Teachers (Probationary Year)

1. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action her Department takes concerning the probationary year for newly-qualified teachers.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

The arrangements for the probation of qualified teachers are set out in Administrative Memorandum No. 10/68.

Mr. Dormand

Is the Secretary of State aware of the wide variation in the procedure adopted by local education authorities for looking after newly-qualified teachers? Is it not time that the Department of Education and Science adopted a more active rôle in this crucial period of a teacher's career? As a first step, would the right hon. Lady seek to convene a national conference, at which teachers' unions, L.E.A.s, the D.E.S., newly-qualified teachers and colleges and departments of education would be repre[column 1208]sented, in order to discuss this very important problem?

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that on the whole this is a matter for the local education authorities, but at present it is also under consideration by Lord James ' Committee, and any conference of the kind that the hon. Gentleman suggests would be premature.

Mr. Barry Jones

Would the right hon. Lady consider meeting a group of probationary teachers to hear at first hand from them the problems that they face in schools in the first year?

Mrs. Thatcher

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to bring a delegation to see me, I will see them if I possibly can.

Mr. Edward Short

Is not this a matter which the teachers themselves could take over if they had a joint teaching council? Would the right hon. Lady say what is happening to that proposal? This is one of the things that she could reasonably implement.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman should ask that. As he knows, one of the unions does not appear fully to be in agreement with such a council. We shall have to consider the future of such a council very carefully.

Speech Therapists

2. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will issue a circular to local authorities, advising them to appoint speech therapists specifically to treat schoolchildren who suffer from stammering.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir.

Mr. Janner

Children who stammer often have their lives made miserable by their schoolmates and suffer psychologically, and their condition deteriorates. All their lives they suffer from a disease which some people consider funny but which to the sufferers is very serious indeed. Would the right hon. Lady make some firm effort at school level to have this ailment properly treated by speech therapists, whose job it is to help children who suffer from this unfortunate disease?

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree with a good deal of what the hon. Gentleman says. [column 1209]It is a most unfortunate handicap. There are some 446 speech therapists in the school health service—that was the number in December, 1969—and I am sure that they have this matter well in hand.

Government Policy

3. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions she proposes to have with local education authorities in England and Wales on future policies, following the recent local elections.

Mrs. Thatcher

None, Sir.

Mr. Eadie

Whereas one can appreciate the difficulty of the right hon. Lady in this respect, would she give an assurance that, since a fresh mandate has just been gained in many areas, if she should have any discussions she will bear this in mind?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am in no difficulty about this. The legal provisions have not altered one bit and local education authorities, whatever their political complexion, are perfectly free to put forward general plans for change.

Direct Grant Joint Committee

4. Mr. Marks

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals she has received from the Direct Grant Joint Committee; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am not yet ready to make a statement.

Mr. Marks

Is the right hon. Lady aware that it is six months since she made a similar statement in the House? Is not that rather a long time to be considering this matter? How does she reconcile her view that the direct grant system should be encouraged with the view that the local authorities know what is best for their areas? Is it only when local authorities agree with the right hon. Lady that they know best?

Mrs. Thatcher

Indeed no. I have just explained, in answer to another question, that the powers do not vary according to the political complexion of local education authorities. The direct grant schools have powers to take in pupils other than through the local education authorities, and they can use those powers.

[column 1210]

Mr. Jennings

Does not my right hon. Friend realise how disappointing her reply is to many of us? Is she aware that I have pursued this matter in a completely orthodox way and have received most disappointing replies—that I must await the outcome of this Committee or Commission? Does not she realise that the reopening of the direct grant school list is sound, good, fundamental Toryism, that that is what a Tory Government should carry out, and that the sooner she opens this list the better? Will the two endowed schools in Burton-on-Trent become direct grant schools?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will take into account what my hon. Friend says. There are two main points here. One is helping some of the existing direct grant schools. The other is considering the problem that my hon. Friend raised. I am anxious to cope with the first point first.

Mr. Spearing

Is not part of the controversy over the direct grant list caused by the fact that, although the direct grant schools claim to be a bridge between the private and public sectors, they are at the same time almost always selective? Is there any prospect of a non-selective direct grant school being able to come on to a list, if re-opened?

Mrs. Thatcher

A school or system can be a bridge between the independent and State sectors and still be selective. There are one or two direct grant schools which are considering becoming non-selective, but this is not a major movement.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

When my right hon. Friend is considering what can be done to strengthen the bridge which direct grant schools form between the independent sector and the maintained sector, will she have regard to the financial difficulties which parents experience in that the remission scales have fallen behind the times? Can they be extended to boarding pupils; and in due course can she restore some of the cut of £20 per head per year made by the last Government?

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree that the income remission scales are very out of date. I will consider the last point after we know what the award to teachers will be.

Schoolchildren (Insurance Cover)

5. Mr. David Clark

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science [column 1211]if she recommends to local education authorities that insurance cover should be provided in respect of children participating in normal school activities.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir.

Mr. Clark

Is it not rather regrettable that many schoolchildren, if they become injured in the course of their normal school activities, either in a gymnasium or on a playing field, receive no financial help from certain local authorities? Does not this pose some difficulties? Is there not a case for all schoolchildren being covered by some form of insurance?

Mrs. Thatcher

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a very sad personal case in his constituency and that he has been very active in pursuing everything that can be done to help in that case. Where children undergo specially dangerous activities we advise special insurance cover but none for normal activities, which would seem to be more a matter for the parents. Where a disablement occurs through normal activities, in future the attendance allowance will help.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does not the right hon. Lady agree that compensation in such cases should not depend upon proving negligence against the school and that the child should be entitled to compensation through proper insurance even where no one has been negligent? Can she tell us how much it would cost to provide such personal accident insurance for schoolchildren?

Mrs. Thatcher

No, of course I cannot do so without notice. I do not think that we could advise at the moment that every child should be covered in normal activities by accident insurance. Children are covered, not through insurance, but through the ordinary rules of negligence where there is negligence.

Mr. Freeson

Does the right hon. Lady recognise that this matter goes beyond just schoolchildren at school and covers problems relating to membership of and activities in youth clubs using school buildings and similar public authority buildings within the education service? Will she consider this aspect? It has raised problems over a number of years in different local authority areas in both fields. Will she undertake at least not to close her mind to looking at the matter again?

[column 1212]

Mrs. Thatcher

I will look at the matter, but I can give very little hope of an optimistic reply. It is part of my policy to try never to raise false hopes. I think that this policy is right.

School-leaving Age

7. Mr. Armstrong

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations have been received to date requesting postponement of the raising of the school-leaving age; and what replies have been sent.

11. Mr. Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received from teachers about her proposals to raise the school-leaving age; and what replies she has sent.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have received representations on behalf of two local branches of teachers' associations and a few other organisations, as well as a number of letters from hon. Members, individual teachers and other members of the public. My replies reaffirm the Government's intention to raise the school-leaving age to take effect in the school year 1972–73.

Mr. Armstrong

Is the Secretary of State aware that her stand on this will be supported on both sides of the House and by people outside, particularly by those in the Northern Region? Will she now take the next logical step and withdraw Circular 10/70, because most of the children directly affected by the lengthening of the school career are children who have been labelled, segregated and separated at the early age of 11 and an extension of the comprehensive re-organisation would be the beginning of the granting of educational equality of opportunity to such children?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not believe that Circular 10/70 has anything to do with this question.

Mr. Hunt

Did my right hon. Friend see the letter which I sent on to her from a common room in my constituency arguing strongly for the continued encouragement of voluntary staying on rather than what the writers called “self-defeating compulsion” ? Even at this late stage, does not my right hon. Friend think that we should pay some heed to authoritative views of that type expressed by teachers [column 1213]who are in direct and daily contact with the problems of secondary education?

Mrs. Thatcher

We all accept that there will be certain individually difficult problems. These will happen whenever the school-leaving age is raised, as it has happened whenever it has been raised in the past. I do not think that we can allow those exceptional cases to determine our course of action on the whole subject.

Mr. Marks

Will the right hon. Lady accept my congratulations on her stand on this issue? Will she, however, also consider the question of a single leaving date, because many of the problems of early leaving will continue if children leave at Easter in their fifth year?

Mrs. Thatcher

Not yet. At present we have sufficient problems in raising the leaving age on time. I would rather like to get that over first.

Mr. Montgomery

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are many of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt), who still feel unhappy about this? We are in favour of children staying on voluntarily beyond the age of 15, but we think that there are more important things that we should be doing in education than keeping children on at school against their will.

Mrs. Thatcher

I know that there are some worries about this, but some of the arguments which have been advanced would have been applied to any raising of the leaving age at any time since it was first 11. The sooner it is done now, the sooner the problems will be over and we shall begin to settle them and to give these children a very much better opportunity than they have had up to now.

Severely Handicapped Children

8. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what special provision she is making for the 8,000 severely handicapped children in sub-normality hospitals whose education and welfare have recently become her responsibility.

Mrs. Thatcher

The welfare of these children remains the responsibility of the health and welfare services. Circular 15/70 issued last September sets out the arrangements which are being made to [column 1214]carry out the new educational responsibilities.

Mr. Ashley

Can the right hon. Lady give an assurance that the transfer of educational responsibility will not simply involve a change of label but that her Department will be able to provide the resources for those children who stay day and night in a hospital ward and cannot benefit from any kind of conventional education?

Mrs. Thatcher

Those who cannot benefit from the conventional education in the hospital school are mainly those who have to be educated in the hospital ward. The main problem there is to try to get enough teachers equipped to do this. There will be 300 places available this autumn in courses of initial training for teachers of the mentally handicapped, and I hope that this will help to improve the necessary supply of teachers.

Mr. Fry

I am sure that my right hon. Friend appreciates that much still needs to be done for the education of handicapped children. May I have an assurance that she will make it a very high priority to improve existing facilities, which are woefully inadequate, particularly in the country of Northamptonshire, where the Kingsley School needs renovation and remodelling?

Mrs. Thatcher

We are all aware of the inadequacy of the supply of places compared with the need. Previous Governments have been aware of this, and we are also very much aware of it. We have had responsibility for only two months. We have made considerable progress with assessing the position, and we hope to make improvements.

Teachers' Pay

13. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will publish the evidence in her possession supporting the proposals for a revised structure for teachers' pay.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am sending the hon. Member a copy of an official statement by the management panel of the Burnham Primary and Secondary Committee giving details of the panel's proposals for a revised pay structure.

Mr. Spearing

While I am grateful for that answer, I think that the right hon. [column 1215]Lady will agree that it does not answer quite what was asked. I asked whether she would publish any evidence adduced to support the proposals the panel was making. Will she provide me with that evidence?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no authority to speak for the management panel.

Education Authorities

(Minimum Size)

14. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is now the minimum size of population used as a criterion for an effective education authority in England.

Mrs. Thatcher

No absolute minimum has ever been set for this purpose.

Mr. Hardy

While I thank the right hon. Lady for that comment, and for the correspondence I have recently received, does she agree that an authority with a population of 250,000 may be unable to provide certain education services at an effective level, notably, perhaps, advisory services and further education? If so, will she take steps to encourage and induce metropolitan district authorities to co-operate to establish those services on a metropolitan county basis?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not agree that there is any minimum size. The Maud Committee said that there was no straightforward correlation of efficiency with size. There are some small education authorities below the size of 250,000 which are very good, although I know some of the arguments which have been advanced in the hon. Gentleman's area.

Mr. Edward Short

Will the right hon. Lady tell us her view about the tier which should have responsibility for education in the metropolitan counties?

Mrs. Thatcher

My views have been expressed in the White Paper.

Examination Papers

18. Mr. John Hall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she intends to introduce legislation which would enable her to give directions as to the type of examination papers which should be set by the Schools Council in 1974.

[column 1216]

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. Under the present arrangements, independent examining boards are responsible for setting the G.C.E. and C.S.E. examinations. The Schools Council co-ordinates these arrangements and ensures the maintenance of standards.

Mr. Hall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is the intention of the Schools Council in 1974 to set papers in the metric system only, without any alternative? Will she take steps to discourage it from so doing, as Parliament has not yet decided whether this country should adopt the metric system?

Mrs. Thatcher

We have advised local education authorities that children should still know about the old system as well as about the metric system. There are two separate points here. One is examining children only in the new system and the other is teaching them about both systems so long as they need to know both.

Dr. Miller

Is the right hon. Lady watching the system whereby it might be possible as early as 1974 to do away entirely with examination papers as we know them? Will she keep a very careful watching brief on the new kinds of examination studies and systems which some education experts are advocating?

Mrs. Thatcher

With all due respect, I do not think that that quite arises from the present Question. I do not entirely share the hon. Gentleman's views about examinations.

Mr. Longden

Can my right hon. Friend say when it will be decided, and by whom, whether this country is going metric?

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. I can only assure my hon. Friend that it will not be by me so long as I hold my present position.

Mr. Hall

I thank you for your courtesy in allowing me a second question, Mr. Speaker. Is the system now being taught in the schools the present form of metric system or the new S.U.I., which I understand is the one that will be adopted by all countries now on the metric system?

Mrs. Thatcher

I cannot without notice give my hon. Friend details in [column 1217]answer to that question. Perhaps he will give me more notice. On the whole, curriculum matters are not for me, and therefore I am very reluctant to interfere specifically on this point.

Primary Schools (Kent)

19. Mrs. Fenner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will make more finance available for primary schools in Rochester and Chatham for minor works improvements in next year's programme.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have increased Kent's minor works allocation from £808,000 this year. This is mainly because of the need for extra school places, but the local education authority can decide how much of their allocation should go to the improvement of old county and controlled primary schools in Rochester and Chatham.

Mrs. Fenner

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply and her determination on priority for improvements in primary schools. I remain concerned about the increasing financial burden for building provision in aided primary schools. I know that my right hon. Friend will not wish to limit this important denominational aspect of parental choice. Will she review the system of support for aided schools?

Mrs. Thatcher

I note what my hon. Friend said. At present I have no such review in mind, but I am receiving a number of representations about it.

School Lavatories

22. Mr. Raison

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will take steps to encourage local education authorities to provide locks on the doors of all school lavatories.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. Such detailed matters of building design are the responsibility of the school authority.

Mr. Raison

Will my right hon. Friend at least acknowledge that the absence of such locks has caused unhappiness to quite a number of sensitive children and may even turn them against school? Will she use the various means at her disposal to raise the issue with the local authorities?

[column 1218]

Mrs. Thatcher

Many of the local authorities will be just as much aware of the problem as we are. There is another, contrary argument, that very small children might be worried if they locked themselves in—and so would the teachers—so all the arguments are not on one side.

Nursery School Provision

23. Miss Lestor

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will list her powers to prevent a local authority extending nursery school provision.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no such statutory powers. Successive Secretaries of State have discouraged by administrative means the general expansion of nursery education, except under the Urban Programme, because of other claims on resources.

Miss Lestor

Will the right hon. Lady therefore confirm that those local authorities that have indicated that they would like to extend their nursery school provision, particularly by using empty class-rooms in infants' schools, can do so if they wish and cannot be prevented by her Department?

Mrs. Thatcher

As the law stands, there are no statutory powers to prevent them.

Mathematics Teachers

25. Mr. Boyden

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is her estimate of the current shortage of teachers of mathematics in secondary schools.

Mrs. Thatcher

From a survey in 1969, we believe the shortage to be about 2,000. Another survey will be undertaken this year.

Mr. Boyden

I am sure that the right hon. Lady will agree that it is a very serious situation. Will she consider taking special steps, such as setting up a special college of education, or extending an existing college of education, so that special staff and facilities can be concentrated there, to train not only reasonably good mathematicians but those who are only of moderate quality, so that the supply can be increased?

[column 1219]

Mrs. Thatcher

At present I would not encourage such concentration in the colleges of education, because the future of those colleges is one of the matters being considered by Lord James ' inquiry. The Department encourages the provision of places in university departments of education and colleges for graduate and non-graduate mathematicians, but not their concentration.

Mr. Dalyell

Has there been any systematic follow-up in Curzon Street on the report on this subject, made under the chairmanship of Sir Nevill Mott, and the recommendations it made?

Mrs. Thatcher

We shall be conducting another survey on the shortage of mathematicians this year.

Primary Schools (London)

26. Mr. O'Halloran

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what further discussions she has had with the Inner London Education Authority with regard to primary schools in the North Islington area, with a view to bringing them up to standards required by pupils, teachers and parents.

16. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent proposals she has received from the Inner London Education Authority concerned with the need to ensure that, in areas where new housing developments are taking place, in which many young children will be living, additional places will be available at schools; and what decision she has come to.

Mrs. Thatcher

None, Sir. I am awaiting the authority's proposals for the 1973–74 school building programme.

Mr. O'Halloran

I thank the right hon. Lady for her reply, but is she aware that the proposed extension to St. John's Church of England school at The Archway at a cost of £38,000 has been axed by her Department, having been previously sanctioned by her predecessor? Can she give an explanation?

Mrs. Thatcher

If the hon. Gentleman will put down a specific Question on that, I will answer it, but in fact the authority made no proposals for primary schools in Islington for the 1972–73 programme.

[column 1220]

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Could that have been because the authority was at that time Tory controlled, as the Department is at the moment?

Mrs. Thatcher

No. This would come under the Inner London Education Authority.

Mr. Lewis

That was Tory-controlled.

Mrs. Thatcher

The 1972–73 programme was settled by the present Government.

31. Mr. O'Halloran

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children aged seven to 11 years are attending primary schools in the Inner London Education Authority area.

Mrs. Thatcher

In January, 1970, the latest date for which figures are as yet available in the Department, there were 152,000 pupils aged seven to 11 in primary schools maintained by the Inner London Education Authority.

Museums (Admission Charges)

27. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will make a further statement on museum charges.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Government's proposals for admission charges for the national museums and galleries are set out in Command 4676 and Trustees are, now being consulted about the detailed arrangements for individual institutions. Viscount EcclesMy noble Friend has undertaken to consider whether some concession can be granted to retirement pensioners.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

While welcoming the exemptions for students and other classes of people and also the very reasonable provision for a season ticket for entry to galleries, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware of the very deep concern about retirement pensioners whom she mentioned? While I am encouraged by her reference to the problem, may I ask whether she is aware that, on both sides of the House, there would be welcome for a complete exemption from all charges for all retirement and old-age pensioners?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am very much aware of this. A number of my hon. Friends [column 1221]and other hon. Members have raised the question with me and I will speak to my noble Friend about the feelings in this House on the subject.

Mr. Faulds

While endorsing what the hon. Member for the opposition on the Government side said, may I ask the right hon. Lady whether she is aware, in view of Lord Eccles ' statement in another place——

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I represent Chelmsford.

Mr. Faulds

Unfortunately, they are probably aware of it. In view of Lord Eccles ' statement in another place on 26th May, that the Government do not intend to impose charges on any museum, will the right hon. Lady now confirm that the trustees of any art gallery or museum who do not wish to impose charges are now free not to do so?

Mrs. Thatcher

My recollection was that in that debate my noble Friend said he was confident that he could reach agreement with the trustees.

Mr. Faulds

That is not what he said.

School Meals

28. Mrs. Doris Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what has been the increased cost per unit of school dinners that has arisen because of fall in number of children participating.

Mrs. Thatcher

We estimate it will be just over 1p.

Mrs. Fisher

Does not the large fall-off in urban areas in the number of children taking school meals because of the increased cost make the provision of school meals much more uneconomic following the heavy capital investment which went into the equipment needed to provide school meals on a proper scale?

Mrs. Thatcher

That is always a problem in putting up charges for school meals. It has been faced before and we shall face it now.

Mr. Fry

When answering criticisms about the number of children not taking school meals, will my right hon. Friend refer hon. Members opposite to Liver[column 1222]pool where, in many schools, more children are taking school meals because they are being offered more variety? Does not this give the lie to many of the accusations made by hon. Members opposite?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have not had reports from Liverpool but I have read other reports similar to that to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Will the right hon. Lady take an assurance from someone who was teaching until three weeks ago that there has been a substantial decrease in the number of children taking school meals since the price increase was imposed? Does not she think this disgraceful?

Mrs. Thatcher

May I say, “Welcome back” ? The hon. Gentleman asks whether I do not think it disgraceful that there should be a fall-off. I do not think that one should assume that because fewer children are taking school meals they are not getting as good a meal at home or elsewhere.

Mr. Rost

Does not my right hon. Friend feel that it would be appropriate to remind the Opposition and the country that it is not the State's responsibility to feed children, that her resources in the education service should be concentrated on improving educational facilities, and that it if parents are not prepared to ensure that their children are properly fed, they are not fit to be parents and should not have children?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

That is real Tory philosophy.

Mrs. Thatcher

I believe that most mothers in this country are fully capable of looking after the nutritional requirements of their children.

Mr. Edward Short

Will the right hon. Lady now answer a question which I have asked her on many occasions? Is she carrying out the policy of the White Paper of last October by making the charge equal the cost of providing a school meal? What happened to her proposal for providing part meals?

Mrs. Thatcher

The policy is set out in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me the question before and I have given him the same [column 1223]answer. We are having a general look at the school meals service. It is not necessarily my policy to provide part meals. Some local education authorities do provide a variety of foods along with the school dinner.

35. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many schoolchildren in Derbyshire are taking school meals at the latest possible date; and by how much this figure has fallen since a year previously.

Mrs. Thatcher

The latest information available to my Department relates to the autumn of last year, when the number of school meals served in Derbyshire was 73,441. The corresponding figure for 1969 was 73,289.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Lady will be aware, of course, that those figures are completely irrelevant to the situation today. Is she aware that, according to the figures which have been compiled by the Derbyshire County Council and the National Union of Public Employees, who are concerned about the women who deliver the school meals, the numbers are alarming? Would she ask the Prime Minister whether this was another of the Government's promises that we should not have taken too seriously at the time of the General Election?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's supplementary bears much relationship to his question. Local education authorities were asked to put in returns about school meals by tomorrow. Of 163 authorities, we have so far heard only from 59.

Miss Lestor

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in areas like mine, for example—Slough, an area of fairly high wages—there has been a drop in school meals for which people pay of as much as 20 per cent., and that this is being deeply regretted by members of her own party on the local council? Is she also aware—referring back to an earlier answer of hers about the responsibility of parents—that it is about time that she found out how some working-class people live and the fact that many women have to go out to work, which means that their children will be deprived of a decent school meal?

Mrs. Thatcher

Because women have to go out to work does not mean that [column 1224]they are incapable of looking after the nutrition of their children. I deeply resent any suggestion that the women of this country are incapable of looking after the proper nutrition of their own children.

Courses and Syllabi (Secondary Education)

29. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will issue a circular giving guidance on the courses and syllabi which could be available to the less academically inclined in secondary schools when the school-leaving age is raised, designed to give them those skills and aptitudes which will attract them to continued full-time education, whilst at the same time adjusting them to the type of employment they will eventually take up.

Mrs. Thatcher

I shall shortly be consulting the local education authorities and the teachers on the guidance to be given on raising the school-leaving age. Guidance on the curriculum is given by the Schools Council.

Mr. Osborn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, particularly in areas such as Sheffield and the West Riding, there is considerable apprehension on the part of teachers about the possibility of the raising of the school-leaving age? [Hon. Members: “Reading.” ] Hon. Members may look at this bit of paper if they like. Will my right hon. Friend be quite certain that adequate arrangements are made to make the extension of compulsory attendance at school to a higher age a success?

Mrs. Thatcher

I think that far more preparations have been made for the raising of the school-leaving age this time than could possibly have been made on the previous occasion, and I believe that the whole operation will go through fairly smoothly, although I know that there will be difficulties in individual cases.

Mr. Spearing

Is the right hon. Lady aware that, despite the nominal control of the Schools Council by teachers, there are misgivings by many practising teachers about the recruitment carried out by the Council for people providing materials and courses of the sort to which she referred?

[column 1225]

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no direct control over the Schools Council. It is financed jointly by my Department and the local education authorities, but we do not control its activities.

Slow Learners

30. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress she has made with her circular on help for slow learners in secondary schools; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope to be ready by the end of June to consult the local authority and teacher associations on a draft of the circular.

Mr. Ashley

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her recent proposals for helping the 350,000 slow learners will be warmly welcomed? Can she spell out what steps are being taken to provide the extra teachers who will be required even to dent the problem?

Mrs. Thatcher

Extra teachers are coming into the schools, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, through the expansion in the colleges of education carried out under previous Governments, and the fact that these extra teachers are now available is one reason why we are able to consider making extra or different arrangements for the slow learners.

Sir R. Thompson

Has my right hon. Friend read the recent disturbing reports of the continuing virtual illiteracy of a measurable percentage of school leavers from secondary schools in London? If these are correct, would not she agree that a simple extension of a year's education would not necessarily cure it? Has she in mind any particular measure to cope with this obvious deficiency in our teaching methods?

Mrs. Thatcher

This is part of the general problem of slow learners. We would expect attention to be given to that part of the problem, because it is obviously greatly to the disadvantage of the pupil.

Mr. Rankin

How many of the extra teachers are coming into the schools with university degrees?

Mrs. Thatcher

I could not say off-hand, but there is an increase in the num[column 1226]bers of graduates who are taking diplomas of education.

Capitation Allowance

32. Mrs. Doris Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is satisfied that the capitation allowance per pupil, paid by local authorities, is keeping pace with the increased cost of books and equipment; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

Expenditure on books and equipment is a matter for local education authorities. The last rate support grant settlement included improvement factors for non-teaching costs.

Mrs. Fisher

Would the right hon. Lady not agree that the Government should accept some minimum amount which should be spent on essential items of equipment for schools, and that one of the things which obstructs local authorities is the amount of purchase tax paid on school materials? Would she not accept the principle that a value-added tax should not be paid on materials being supplied entirely for school use?

Mrs. Thatcher

There is no purchase tax on the books side and in any event purchase tax matters are for my right hon. Friend A. Barberthe Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would not accept the earlier part of the hon. Lady's question.

Mr. Finsberg

But although purchase tax matters are not necessarily within my right hon. Friend's province, would she appreciate that, on certain teaching aids, the imposition of purchase tax is a grave deterrent to their purchase by many local education authorities?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will, of course, take into account what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Alan Williams

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind that one of the great difficulties about making any meaningful comparisons between the performance of local authorities in this respect is the lack of uniformity in the way in which they deal with the expenses within their accounting systems? What steps are being taken by her Department to secure a more uniform accounting technique?

Mrs. Thatcher

So far as I know, none on that matter. This is a matter for the local education authorities themselves.

Schoolchildren (Absenteeism)

34. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what has been the average number and percentage of absentees from all primary and secondary schools, respectively, in the United Kingdom in the first and second quarter of 1971; how this compares with the figure for each of the previous five years; and what were the number absent due to the principal causes, including sickness and truancy.

Mrs. Thatcher

My Department has never collected statistics about absence of pupils from school and the information which my hon. Friend would like could be obtained only by special inquiry of each local education authority.

Mr. Osborn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the head teachers' conference has categorically stated that truancy is on the increase? Would she also bear in mind that this may be a problem with those who have to stay on at school, that is, the minority, when the school-leaving age is raised? They are a minority who are of concern to teachers.

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, I know that this will be a problem, but if children are difficult at the age when they would have left school, this is a very good reason for having another go at trying to help them, before they go out into the world and become part of the adult community.

Mr. Pavitt

On the question of absence through sickness, does the right hon. Lady think that it would be an advantage in this problem if the school medical service were absorbed into the general National Health Service? Has she considered this possibility when the Health Service is restructured?

Mrs. Thatcher

The future of the school health service is being considered by my right hon. Friend Sir K. Josephthe Secretary of State for Social Services and myself.