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1971 Sep 1 We
Margaret Thatcher

Letter to Edward Britton (General Secretary of National Union of Teachers)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Letter
Venue: DES, Curzon Street, London W1
Source: Thatcher Archive: DES press release
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Item listed by date of publication. MT was replying to the NUT’s report on "slum schools".
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 638
Themes: Education, Primary education, Trade unions

When I met the deputation from your Union on 19 July to discuss resolutions passed at your annual conference, I undertook to consider your representations about working conditions in schools, highlighted by your recent survey, and to write to you.

2. I have carefully studied your memorandum and the supplementary case histories. But while I do not underestimate the difficult conditions under which both staff and pupils work in many of our schools, I must first emphasise—as your Union recognise in their memorandum—that a limited survey of the kind undertaken does not provide a “statistically valid picture” of the situation. The 500 schools covered by the survey were presumably among the worst in the country and it is not therefore surprising that the premises were deficient in so many respects.

3. I wholly share your concern to get rid of the backlog of bad old buildings: but, as I indicated at our meeting, I would be reluctant to divert resources to mount a full-scale enquiry into the state of existing schools. We know that a lot needs to be done and I have decided that the greatest impact can be made by concentrating available resources on improving and replacing the primary schools which are housed in the oldest and worst premises. You will realise that everything cannot be done at once and I think you agree that it is right to give priority to the primary schools which have done less well than secondary schools in successive building programmes. [end p1]

4. The programme of primary improvements which I have announced for 1972–73 and 1973–74 will allow over 900 19th century primary schools in England to be improved or replaced at a cost of over £84 million, three times as much as the sum available in the two previous years. And further provision totalling £88 million will be made in 1974–75 and 1975–76. This £172 million over fours years will enable much more rapid progress to be made in improving the stock of existing buildings than ever before and will consequently better the working conditions for staff and pupils.

5. Of the 13 primary schools named in the supplement to your memorandum two (Essex, Ingatestone Stock Church of England and Wiltshire, Wootton Bassett St Bartholomew's Church of England) will be replaced in the 1973–74 primary improvements programme and St. Michael's Junior and Infants School at Melksham in Wiltshire is being replaced by a series of minor works. The first stage of rebuilding the school at Clerken-well by a minor project has been on the stocks for some years but work has been delayed because of difficulty over site acquisition. Some of the other schools not identified by name may also have been programmed for replacement or improvement.

6. Apart from the record programme for major improvements, the extra £2 million for minor works both this year and next which I announced in the spring and the further £2½ million in each year recently allocated as part of the Government's measures to reduce unemployment in the assisted areas will allow the authorities concerned to undertake some improvements to existing primary schools to benefit both staff and pupils.

7. I have noted the complaint towards the end of your memorandum that schools are inadequately equipped with staff and resources to enable them to deal with administrative tasks: this is essentially a matter for the local education authorities.

8. To sum up, while I am in no sense complacent about the state of some of our existing school premises, the systematic programme of primary improvements beginning in 1972–73 and the other measures which I have taken will in time mean a genuine raising of standards. This will reduce the present handicaps to staff and pupils to which your Union have so rightly drawn my attention and I hope that later we shall be able to tackle the problem of old secondary schools which are seriously deficient.

9. Since your survey rightly received a good deal of publicity, I am making this letter available to the press.