PLAN C RECEIVES ANOTHER SET-BACK AT THE 11th HOUR
More school changes are vetoed by Mrs. Thatcher
Another major set-back to the Borough of Barnet's hopes of ending 11-plus selection for secondary schools was delivered this week by Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, Secretary of State for Education and Science and Finchley's M.P. She vetoed the council's Plan C proposals to link Woodhouse Grammar School, North Finchley, with Friern Barnet County School to form an all-through unit, and has refused to allow Whitefield School, Cricklewood, to become comprehensive.
In an exclusive interview with our reporter on Tuesday, Mrs. Thatcher denied she is opposed to comprehensive education or that her decisions will ruin Plan C. However, Barnet Teachers' Association (National Union of Teachers) regard her retention of grammar schools as “political, not educational,” and damaging to effective comprehensive education.
Mrs. Thatcher's bombshell, delivered only four weeks before the end of the school year, arrived at the borough's education office at the very moment when their notices allocating this year's 11-year-olds to secondary schools were reaching parents.
The education offices at Friern Barnet Town Hall were besieged early this week by parents wanting to discuss these allocations, the first to be made under Barnet's Plan C which comes into operation in September.
Barnet Council stated on Wednesday that Mrs. Thatcher's letter, dated last Friday, “will be considered by the appropriate sub-committee of the education committee shortly.”
This means that decisions about allocations, which will have to be altered as a result of the veto, will be taken in private. The council are not prepared at the moment to make any statement about what will happen to pupils directly affected.
Mrs. Thatcher's reason for her latest veto on the linked schools are that the buildings are half-a-mile apart. She says this would create difficulties in organising effective comprehensive education and, in particular, would mean staff travelling between the buildings.
She says Whitefield School would be seriously lacking in overall accommodation for the proposed enlargement and expenditure of about £100,000 would be required to bring it to an acceptable standard. She is not prepared to sanction this sum of money being spent or to agree to the expansion of the school without a major reorganisation.
Cr. Victor Usher, chairman of the council's education committee, said he was tremendously disappointed by the decisions. He says they appear to have been based on very bad advice, not on logic.
“I just cannot fathom what is in Mrs. Thatcher's mind,” said the chairman. “We have all given a tremendous amount of time working out the best future for our secondary schools. We have wasted five years on argument and discussion. We might just as well have waited for her to tell us what to do.”
The committee of the Barnet Teachers' Association to which half the borough's teaching force of 2,000 belong, held a meeting on Tuesday to consider the latest blow to their hopes of seeing the end of selection.
Mr. Peter Southwell told our reporter afterwards they envisaged that the only allocations to be reconsidered in this area will be those affecting children who would have been going to Woodhouse School.
However, the hopes of Friern Barnet County School children expecting to go to Woodhouse School as their senior high school have been dashed, and parents who chose Friern Barnet County for their 11-years-olds last year have a big grievance.
Mr. Southwell said the N.U.T. fully supports Barnet Borough Council and are satisfied if they wish to deal with the present difficulties through sub-committees. It is with Mrs. Thatcher that the teachers are at issue. They are “absolutely disgusted” at her decision, which they regard as political and not educational.
“It is not lost on the teachers that Mrs. Thatcher has maintained two grammar schools in her constituency,” said Mr. Southwell. He added that if the most able children are creamed off into grammar schools, this reduces the effectiveness of comprehensive schools or links.
The teachers do not regard Mrs. Thatcher's objection about distance as valid. Mr. Southwell, who teaches at Hillside School, North Finchley, states that his school and Finchley County are even further apart than Friern Barnet County and Woodhouse, yet Mrs. Thatcher is happy for them to be linked. The teachers had already ironed out the minor problems involved in commuting in the case of both linked pairs.
They have also put enormous effort into organising effective secondary education under Plan C and are staggered that Mrs. Thatcher could have announced this veto—the third she has issued—so late in the day.
They feel the borough was let down by Mrs. Thatcher's department, who advised the education committee on the staggering of the statutory notices, which leaves them no choice but to toe her line and retain selection.
Mr. Southwell said teachers are amazed that Mrs. Thatcher could so disregard the hopes and feelings of children.
They will press ahead to try to make sure selection ends next year, and believe Mrs. Thatcher will not be able to resist the wind of change indefinitely.
Our reporter asked Mrs. Thatcher how she justified her rejection of three linked all-through schools with her statement on taking office, that she would allow local authorities freedom to decide their own form of secondary education.
She replied: “I said I would give them freedom to decide for themselves within the realms of the law. I am bound to review any plans they put forward and always consider the children first.”
Mrs. Thatcher said the accusation made by some people that her vetoes are a deliberate move to wreck comprehensive education in the borough are very unfair. She had approved the vast majority of the plan and did not consider the latest refusal would make Plan C unworkable.
Mrs. Thatcher has still to give her decision on the closing of Elizabeth Allen School, Barnet, and the change to comprehensive of Ravenscroft School, Barnet.(2) Finchley Press, 9 July 1971:
MRS. MARGARET THATCHER: THE EPITOME OF AN ENGLISH LADY
Presenting a picture of poised professionalism, Finchley's M.P., Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, rules over the labyrinths of the Department of Education and Science with a cool efficiency which belies the popular image of the demure, feminine Cabinet minister cum mother. The effusive, welcoming handshake accompanied by a brilliant flashing smile is, I suspect, designed to put you off your guard; to break down any anti-Thatcher notions you may have; and designed to create the image of feminine helplessness and raise the male protective instincts to her defence.
On the face of it one could surmise that a woman in so influential a position, with such a powerful personality, could be a supporter of “women's lib” —but in fact she has no truck with the organisation or its aims.
“I think they are destroying everything that is feminine, and cheapening the image of working women in the world to-day. They are far too exaggerated in their claims and do a disservice to women in general. No, I am not in favour of them at all,” she said.
It is this forceful personality and erudite manner of speaking, developed. I suspect, from many a courtroom battle during her days as a barrister, which so ably fits her for the post of Secretary of State for Education and Science and her position as the only woman Cabinet minister
Unlike her counterpart in the Labour Government, Mrs. Barbara Castle, she is neither a conciliator nor an avid tea drinker, rather the lady bountiful, mistress of the manor.
She is the epitome of the proper English lady.
“If you realised that it costs upwards of £200 a year to keep a child under five at nursery school and only £186 to keep a pupil at secondary school then it is obvious why expansion has been so limited.
“Nursery education is entirely different from all other forms of education, and present primary schools are not really adaptable or inter-changeable to this process.
“I have asked all local authorities that when new primary schools are being designed provision should be made for the addition of a nursery classroom at a later date.”
Like her well-known views on hanging and corporal punishment, she has very determined attitudes on the future of education in this country.
“The most important improvements we can make in the fields of education are in raising the standards of primary schools. Many of our present schools are in a shocking state, and I don't mean bad, I mean shocking.
“The improvement of these appalling conditions will take the first priority in any education programme I introduce. This does not mean that all other fields of education will suffer, but I place these improvements on the top of my list.”
After only a year in office Mrs. Thatcher can reflect on a number of achievements worthy of her skill and management.
“I think that the highlights of the past year are that the school-leaving age has remained raised and that we have spent £100 million on new buildings.
“Also a great achievement is the setting-up of the James Committee to look into all aspects of teacher training for present times. This is the only full-time committee which has investigated these needs. I have been promised their report by December.”
On the controversial subject of nursery education and her promise after her Cabinet appointment that she would improve and expand existing facilities, she has this to say.
“I promised an expansion of nursery education in the forthcoming years but people must remember that financial resources are extremely tight at present. And, as I said, primary education comes first and foremost with me.
She sees her main task as improving the quality of education rather than the quantity. She said the whole structure of adult education would come under review before the end of the year.
She is not against comprehensive schools. Equally, she is not in favour of the total abolition of selective education. Her handling of Barnet Borough Council's plan for comprehensive education is an example of this mixed approach.
“There is no substitute for examinations. It would be unfair to award university places on past scholastic records alone, for this brings personalities into the picture rather than academic merit alone.”
As the mother of two teenage children and having the overall responsibility for education and welfare of Britain's schoolchildren, Mrs. Thatcher is concerned about the ever-rising tendencies of drug abuse among younger children.
“I am extremely concerned about the increase in drug taking among teenagers. I take a serious view of this extremely dangerous practice. Like so many members of the medical profession I have come to the decision that cannabis is by itself as dangerous as all other drugs.
“The whole problem of drug abuse and legislation needs very careful handling and I am not sure it is right to make too great play of it in schools, as this could have radically adverse effects.
“I have issued a directive to all schools that teachers should be on the look-out for any signs of children using drugs. This action, coupled with the stiffer penalties recently imposed by Parliament, should act as a deterrent.”
It is perhaps surprising, considering Mrs. Thatcher's early childhood, that she became a Conservative at all. The daughter of a small-town grocer in Grantham, Lincolnshire, she was brought up in the heady atmosphere of Methodist religion and Liberal politics by a father who possessed an almost fanatical craving for education having himself being deprived of it as a youth.
It is backgrounds such as this which have produced scores of politicians—the majority of them Labour.
After attending grammar school, Mrs. Thatcher moved to the politically alive cloisters of Somerville College, Oxford, where she read chemistry. It was at Oxford that she first became involved with the Conservatives, eventually becoming the first woman president of the Oxford Conservative Association.
In her position as Secretary of State for Education and Science she becomes only the second woman Cabinet minister in a Tory government.
Schoolgirls and sex have received a great deal of prominence in recent weeks. When I asked Mrs. Thatcher her views on sex education in schools she was a little reluctant in her reply.
“I am agreeable to sex education in schools if it is nicely handled. It has to be done with not too definite an approach. Sensitivity must play an important part in any discussions on sex in schools.
“It is not necessary to show films, but if they are shown they should contain a moral message and not be purely a scientific document. In short, any sex education should place an emphasis on personal responsibilities and moral codes. Such education would receive my qualified support.”
Mrs. Thatcher has always worked in fields which have been regarded as male domains. First as a chemist: then as a barrister and now as a Cabinet minister. Surprisingly enough, she never thinks about her unique position, but if one can judge by past remarks it is obvious she is chary about Britain's male politicians.
“In politics, if you want anything, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.”