EDUCATION SECRETARY ADDRESSES NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOLMASTERS
It was important to establish some facts on school violence and take soundings with those most directly concerned—teachers and local education authorities—before deciding on whether further action should be taken, said Education Secretary, Mrs Margaret Thatcher when speaking at the National Association of Schoolmasters' dinner in Southport tonight (Thursday 6 April).
She said that she hoped shortly to approach teachers' organisations and local authorities in order to initiate discussions. “This is the first step. We must first talk together before deciding whether any further action is possible and desirable, and if so what form it ought to take.”
“In deciding what problems are likely to respond to treatment we must be careful first to observe the symptoms accurately. If there is agreement, among those really able to observe what is happening, that there is a problem of violence in schools let us be honest and say so. I am not in favour of sweeping it under the mat. But let us not run the risk of turning relatively isolated incidents into a more general pattern of behaviour if there is a better way of handling them.”
Mrs Thatcher felt that it would be quite wrong to expect an inquiry to deal with the problems of society at large. Yet discussions on this subject tended to move out of the classroom and the playground and into the streets and the homes. They also tended to be linked with discussions of other subjects, such as discipline, truancy and corporal punishment. We needed to consider how far these subjects were linked and indeed what definition might be attached to terms such as ‘discipline’.
SCHOOL MEALS REVIEW
Announcing plans for an inquiry into school meals Mrs Thatcher said that the reason was not that the service was falling down on the job. It was because the main lines on which the service operated were still those laid down during the war and immediate post-war period when circumstances were different.
During this period other major changes—educational, social, economic, technical—had come about, changes with such an important bearing on the service that they inevitably raised the question whether the same objectives and methods [end p1] laid down more than 25 years ago when conditions were so vastly different should still be followed today.
At recent exploratory discussions with teachers' associations and local authority interests everyone had agreed that the time had come for a complete re-examination of the whole meals and refreshment service in schools to find arrangements which would better meet the needs and interests of pupils in present day circumstances and at the same time be acceptable to the Government, the local authorities and the teachers.
“This exploratory meeting provided an opportunity of reassuring teachers that it is not the intention to reopen discussion on past agreements about supervision. The review machinery is now being set up and will I hope provide yet another example of the willingness of the major partners in the education service to work together in examining measures designed to improve the quality of the service in our schools.”
INQUIRY INTO READING
Speaking about the inquiry that is to be set up into the teaching of the English language and reading Mrs Thatcher said that it would be confined to the schools, would not look at the special problems of teaching English to immigrants or the teaching of English as a second language.
“What we are primarily concerned about,” she said, “is the mastery of English as a basic skill necessary for effective education in virtually all other subjects. In view of the very different methods of teaching reading now in use teachers are entitled to some guidance, and this will add to the advice that is given through initial and in-service training. This is an important field of work.”
THE JAMES REPORT
The Secretary of State said that the publication of the James Report had initiated a period of vigorous discussion and analysis which had been helpful in clarifying the main issues. The time had now come to attempt the next, more difficult stage—that of synthesis.
“I promised in my preface to the report that I would reach no decisions until, after allowing a period for debate, I had conducted the necessary consultations. I have now written to your Association and to the other principal bodies concerned to set these consultations in train. I want them to be constructive. This means that I shall be asking those who are disposed to criticise some of the Committee's recommendations to let me know what their alternative solutions would have been to the problems with which the proposals were designed to deal. While I certainly do not want to rush this process I do not want to see the present stage of uncertainty prolonged. I shall be disappointed if the main lines of advance have not become clear before the end of the year,” said Mrs Thatcher.