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1972 Jan 7 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

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

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Unknown
Source: The Times, 7 January 1972
Editorial comments: Item listed by date of publication.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 696

Oversize primary classes drop by two thirds as 36,000 new teachers join in two years

A further 36,000 teachers have entered the profession during the past two years and the number of oversize primary classes has dropped by two thirds, Lord Belstead, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Education and Science, said here today.

“It is to the credit of the colleges, university departments of education and local education authorities that 1970 saw an increase of 18,000 to the teaching profession” , he said at the North of England Education Conference.

In October, 1971, there was a further increase of almost exactly the same amount. “Total numbers now stand at about 380,000: the pupil-teacher ratio now stands at 22–1: and the proportion of primary classes over 40 has dropped in two years from 9.5 per cent to 3.3 per cent in January, 1971, and I hope that this month's returns will show that this long standing reproach on our education system will continue to be eliminated.”

According to the DES the pupil-teacher ratio improved by the equivalent of one pupil every two years. The raising of the school-leaving age will temporarily check this improvement but effectively the teacher shortage should be over during the next few years except in some unfavoured areas.

The question then arises of the level at which teacher numbers, and by extension the pupil-teacher ratio, should be stabilized. The findings of the James committee, whose report is expected later this month, will affect both the structure of higher education and the way in which teachers are trained, as well as effecting the process of answering the question.

Referring to “slow learners” , Lord Belstead said the Government was willing to make available teachers additional to those on quota. About 500 extra teachers for slow learners had been recruited under this scheme and the Government hoped authorities would do more to improve provision for such pupils.

Lord Belstead had some optimistic news about immigrant pupils. In 1966 the proportion of immigrant children with language difficulties that prevented them from following a normal curriculum was 25 per cent. By January, 1970, it had fallen to below 16 per cent.

Referring to plans by local authorities to supply “refreshments” other than milk and meals in schools, Lord Belstead said the authorities had to make a charge for such refreshments but the amount and the way in which it was collected was within their discretion.

The response from teachers to Lord Belstead 's announcement was guarded. “There has been an improvement, but there are still far too many classes with 40 or even more pupils” , Mr Edward Britton, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said. The union considered that a reasonable maximum class size was 30 children.

Mr Britton added: “Our campaign for smaller classes has had some effect on today's figures, but there is still a terrific way to go.”

A Staff Reporter writes

Mrs Thatcher, Secretary of State for Education and Science, points out in a letter to Mr Britton that she “hopes and expects to see a progressive reduction in the size of all the largest classes, starting with, but not confined to, those over 40” .

Mrs Thatcher states that she particularly disapproves of groups of more than 40 children being taught for most of the week by only one teacher. She does not explain exactly how class sizes are to be reduced further.

The NUT is to press all those local education authorities with classes of more than 40 pupils to invest in extra temporary mobile classrooms to try to reduce over-crowding. It hopes to encourage authorities to have a maximum of 35 children in classes soon, and is anxious that eventually no teacher should have more than 30 pupils in a class.

In the past the NUT has found that some local authorities have been reluctant to use temporary classrooms because that might prevent their obtaining building permission for entirely new buildings from the Department of Education and Science. Mrs Thatcher states that “the use of one or two relocatable classrooms to reduce class sizes to below 40 would not tip the balance against a major project” .