The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
It may be convenient for the House if I intervene at this stage to give some of the information and figures which have been requested.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) on choosing this subject, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who, I believe, got in first with his choice of subject. Our worry at one time was that this debate would come second today and that there would therefore be only a short time for it. In the event, however, the hon. Member for Nottingham, North also agreed to raise this subject.
The interest displayed by the House in this whole matter exceeds the interest shown by the comparatively small attendance. I am sure that a large number of hon. Members who would otherwise have taken part in the debate have been affected by the difficulties of getting here today.
Both the hon. Member for Nottingham, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury have chosen a subject on which there is a wide measure of agreement. I detect in today's debate a greater degree of agreement between the two sides than is customary in our debates in Parliament.
Ten days ago the National Campaign for Nursery Education delivered the second of its petitions in support of an expansion of provision for the under-5s. This impressive campaign has coincided with the publicity recently given to the forthcoming report by Dr. A. H. Halsey, which is to give prominence to the early education and experience of young children living in educational priority areas. Nursery education is being widely discussed not only by teachers and parents with a direct interest in it but throughout the education service and beyond.
Many local education authorities have expressed their support for the campaign—though it is fair to comment that not all of them are even employing their full quota of teachers in primary and secondary schools. I mention this to show that, however great their desire, they are also up against the problem of resource [column 1757]allocation, a problem which any Government must take into account.
This campaign has the support of members of all parties. In their attitude to nursery education, successive Governments have shared a common aim. They have also faced similar problems, and, in the end, have followed broadly the same policies, even retaining the same circular. When hon. Gentlemen opposite were the Government they realised that, however desirable an aim may be, it is necessary to make careful and deliberate choices and that this is a process which cannot yield instant results on all fronts.
We have heard a number of arguments in favour of nursery education, and I do not intend to repeat them at length. However, I want to make it clear before I re-state the Government's position that it is a case which I accept.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) that nursery education fulfils three main objectives: to introduce young children to learning; to develop basic skills; and to provide more systematic stimulus than they are likely to receive at home. These are educational objectives with which I am particularly concerned, although there are also social considerations.
Early gains in all these areas can be improved further in the later stages of education, but I would single out the development of language as the most important, because poverty of language is the most potent source of educational handicap.
I also accept that although all children benefit from nursery education—with perhaps the rare exceptions to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury referred—it is most valuable for those whose homes are culturally and economically deprived and for those from all income groups or backgrounds who receive less attention than they should from their parents and families.
It is one of the distressing features that these children are found often coming from homes in what are sometimes called “very good areas” ; they have all the material benefits but do not necessarily receive the attention, affection or time from their parents which is so necessary at this early stage of their development. While resources are limited, I believe it [column 1758]right to follow the policy of the last Government and concentrate maintained nursery provision on the poorer areas by way of the urban programme.
These are what might be called the objective benefits. These benefits have, in turn, introduced another factor, and that is demand. I recognise that many thousands of teachers and parents are convinced of the need for nursery education and want it made more widely available. Last week's petition, with its 350,000 signatures—the petition forms were wheeled up to me in wheelbarrows by some charming small children—was an illustration of this demand.
Today's debate, like previous occasions, shows that the House has a good deal of sympathy with the movement, and outside bodies as different as the Association of Education Committees and the National Federation of Women's Institutes have supported the same cause. I welcome this support because I share the aims of those involved. Like them, I would like to see an expansion of nursery education.
I accept that the demand for places far outstrips the supply, and my aim is to let local authorities provide more places as soon as possible. But what I cannot do is to will the end without considering the means of achieving it; and before they jointly provide the means, neither the Government nor the local authorities can ignore the other claims on resources, both within and outside the education service.
Nursery education has, I am afraid, always been limited by competition with other desirable objects of expenditure. After the passing of the Education Act, the rapid rise in the post-war birth rate inevitably directed resources to the compulsory sector of education. There just were not enough primary and secondary school places and they had to be provided and provided quickly. They were provided, and provided comparatively quickly.
Then in the early 'sixties there came a specific shortage of trained teachers. This continued to limit the expansion of nursery education. When the supply of teachers began to increase and it is increasing fast now, the Government of the day—both Governments—chose to [column 1759]reduce the size of classes in primary and secondary schools in preference to other possible options. Hon. Members will know that reduction in size of classes in primary and secondary schools has been a top priority. So the increased supply of teachers has gone to that object in preference to others. Raising the school age made further demands, particularly on capital expenditure, and, following their comparative neglect during the 'sixties, I made it my business to secure substantial allocations to improve and replace worn-out primary school buildings.
None of these decisions involves extravagant expenditure, or even, to use the words of the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), lavish expenditure. But all involve the rejection of other ways of expanding or improving the education service, including provision for the under-5s.
In terms of national expenditure, education has improved its position. In 1961–62 total expenditure on the service was under £1,000 million, or 4.3 per cent. of the gross national product. By 1971–72 the figure had risen from £1,000 million to £2,900 million per annum, making it the second-largest service—pensions being the first; another desirable objective—accounting now for over 6 per cent. of the gross national product. For local authorities it is by far the most expensive service. These figures suggest not a service starved of funds but rather one whose appetite grows with what it feeds on. In this situation no Government can lightly commit themselves to substantial new items of expenditure.
I have already referred to some of the Government's priorities in educational expenditure. Our commitment to the raising of the school leaving age and the continued rise in the school population has required a substantial capital investment. To this we have added a primary school improvements programme, which has meant that the school building programmes authorised since 1970 have been the largest in our history. I am very well aware that no choice between priorities commands universal approval, but it would be perverse, I think, to claim that the improvement of Victorian primary schools was not long overdue. [column 1760]
Our present policy in nursery education is to build on what is already available by means of selective expansion in the deprived areas. January, 1971, is the latest date for which figures are available. I am sorry about this, but the January, 1972, figures should be available comparatively shortly. Hon. Members will know that return forms go out to the schools and are filled in in January of each year, but it takes some time to get them back and process the figures. For that reason, the latest figures I have are, as I say, for January, 1971.
By that date local authorities in England had provided nursery education for about 90,000 pupils. There were about 450 separate nursery schools and about 1,550 nursery classes attached to primary schools. Current expenditure on these pupils, at 1971 prices, was about £11 million a year. In addition, there were nearly 60,000 under-5s, excluding the rising-5s—incidentally, the definition of the rising-5s is children admitted at the beginning of the term in which they become 5—in other classes in primary schools, a number which is growing steadily as an increasing proportion of local authorities find themselves with spare classrooms and spare teachers in their primary schools. The number of places for under-5s has shown a steady, if unspectacular, increase; between 1966 and 1971 the number of full-time equivalent places in England rose from 80,000 to 125,000.
This means, after allowing for part-time attendance, that nearly 20 per cent. of 4-year-olds, excluding the rising-5s, and 2 per cent. of 3-year-olds are receiving pre-school education. Few of these places are attributable to the urban programme, which is just beginning to make a substantial impact in the deprived areas. Those increases have yet to come, and when I get the January, 1972, figures I expect them to show a considerable increase over those which I have given. The House will understand that I have given figures for England only, because I am not responsible for nursery education in Wales or in Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury quoted some figures for playgroups and I have figures for later than January, 1971. The latest figure I have—and I regard playgroups as extremely important—shows that there were about 260,000 [column 1761]children in playgroups in 1972. In addition, there are 40,000 children with childminders and 21,000 in local authority day nurseries. But the really significant and important figure is the 260,000 children now in playgroups.
I am sure that it is right to use the urban programme to expand nursery provision. Judging from what the hon. Member for Nottingham, North said, I think that would be his wish, because the essence of his speech was that we must meet the need in those areas where the social provision is such that children do not get the best chance in life. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that view.
Nearly 18,000 additional full-time places have been approved in England—7,500 since we came to office—and my right hon. Friend R. Maudlingthe Home Secretary has this last week announced a further phase which is being handled rather differently. For the first time, local authorities are being asked to arrange their proposals for all services in an order of preference. How many places we shall get by way of nursery provision under the latest phase of the urban programme will depend partly on the priority which local authorities themselves attach to proposals for nursery schools and classes. We have been rather cute here: in paragraph 4 of the circular we have managed to arrange the services, and it so happens that provision for nursery schools and classes comes first in the list of services drawn to the attention of local authorities. Under this phase there is an order of preference which local authorities can give to the different services which are available for aid under the programme.
Mrs. Renée Short
Can the right hon. Lady tell the House now how much money is involved in the new allocation for the urban aid programme?
The new capital allocation will be between £2 million and 2£½ million, covering all services, but I shall be very interested to see how many local authorities give nursery schools and classes top priority in the bids they put in.
Some of the places approved in earlier phases of the urban programme are now in use and will be included in the next lot of figures. In terms of 1971 prices, [column 1762]the total expenditure on nursery education—quite apart from playgroups, which is quite different—is now about 12.5 million, and on present policies the figure will rise to about £15 million by the mid-1970s.
In a number of areas the urban programme will mean a dramatic improvement in the scale of provision, in some cases doubling the previous number of places available for the under-5s. In Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds numbers will rise by one third, and in many other cities by more than a quarter.
Even areas which are already relatively well off for places, such as London and Manchester, will now be able to admit many more children. In inner London more than 2,000 places have been approved, and in Manchester, where nursery education is now provided for nearly 30 per cent. of the combined 3- and 4-year-olds, more than 500 places and in Nottingham 400 places. The pattern of expansion is uneven, but it is deliberately so because of the way in which the urban programme is operated. By the mid-'70s about 20 authorities, mainly in the North and North-West, will have places available in nursery and primary schools for one in five of their 3- and 4-year-old children, most of whom will live in the inner city areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to some provision in his city, which I spent a day visiting recently, where I found the education provision most impressive and where I had a happy day. In addition to the 270 nursery places approved in Bradford under the urban programme, about 1,200 children under 5, excluding the rising-5s, attend maintained schools in Bradford. By the mid-'70s this will mean that about 15 per cent. of the combined 3 and 4-year-old age groups will be in school.
I recognise, of course, that many areas outside the scope of the urban programme have social and environmental problems, and the children in remote rural areas often contend with surroundings that are bleak and isolated and could benefit from nursery education. We were able to go a little way towards meeting this problem by including a few projects in the small towns and large villages of Devon and Somerset in the [column 1763]fifth phase of the programme, which concentrated on places of high unemployment. Nevertheless, it is still true that children living in downtown urban areas are probably the most acutely deprived, and for the time being this is where most of the nursery places will have to be provided.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West also referred to the needs of the immigrant population. I know that many teachers and local authorities see a strong case for providing these children with an early opportunity to learn a new language and social customs so that they are not at an immediate disadvantage when they attend school at 5. Here the urban programme is of special assistance, because it covers those districts of large cities which commonly have a large immigrant population. More than 5,000, or well over a quarter, of the nursery places so far approved under the programme will be provided in the 11 local authority areas where the proportion of immigrant pupils exceeds 10 per cent. of the school population.
A number of hon. Members have made extensive references to playgroups. Although, under one of the last Acts of the last Government, playgroups are not my responsibility, I ought to mention them, because they are an important part of the existing provision for the under-5s. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury said, there are some people who are doubtful about the playgroup movement perhaps because they see it as a threat to the expansion of nursery education on more orthodox lines.
It is true, of course, that few playgroups can hope to match the standards of maintained nursery schools and classes. But I agree with my hon. Friend that standards of building are not everything and that a great deal can be done in buildings which themselves are not quite as well equipped as some of the nursery schools and classes. I know that many of the playgroups lack qualified staffs and have to operate in premises which are less than adequate, but, nevertheless, I go along with the hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestro) in saying that playgroups can and do make a valuable contribution to the educational development of young children where nursery education is not avail[column 1764]able, and in some cases alongside nursery education.
In particular, a point on which both the Pre-School Playgroups Association and Doctor Halsey lay stress is that they encourage the active involvement of mothers in the running of the playgroup, and this may influence the future pattern of nursery education. The annual grants which the Pre-School Playgroups Association and the Save the Children Fund receive from my Department are in recognition of this great contribution.
I also welcome the help given to play-groups by local authorities in the form of grants, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden pointed out, by appointing educational advisers and organising courses and helping with equipment and premises. In more than one area groups of playgroups are given advice and support by the local education authority adviser for nursery and infant education, and this, too, is extremely important if best use is to be made of the playgroup movement and if children are to derive the best facilities and the best education from it.
Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
Would not the right hon. Lady agree that not only do children of such tender ages derive great benefit from playgroups but the young people who take them in hand to train them are able to find out whether they are suitable material for the teaching profession?
Perhaps the hon. Member is saying that the young people who go to help with playgroups are often stimulated to go into teaching by finding that they like working with children and are good at it. That may be so.
I regard as one of the most important results, particularly with playgroups starting in the deprived areas, the achievement of getting parents involved with the progress of the children, because in some areas parents may not have taken as much interest in the future progress of their children as one would wish. Where playgroups are started in these areas, parents begin to take more interest, and enormous consequences may flow from that for the future welfare of the children and the families as a whole. I should like to make it clear that I wish to encourage initiatives in deprived areas to set up [column 1765]more playgroups. They have been very successful, and I should welcome more of them.
I now come to the future pattern of provision. A number of hon. Members have looked ahead to a general expansion of nursery education and have offered or invited comments on the form that this expansion might take, particularly part-time provision. It is too early to provide a blueprint, but some trends are already clearly discernible. The growth in the number of part-time pupils is significant. Between 1960 and 1971 the number of part-timers rose from 4,000 to 58,000. One obvious advantage of this half-day provision is that it doubles the number of children who can receive nursery education for a given cost.
Although there are some children who will always need to attend full time for social reasons, unless day nursery provision is available for the rest of the day, there is evidence that many benefit from a more gradual introduction to school. Part-time provision is more beneficial for them than sudden full-time provision in school would be. I therefore expect the trend towards part-time provision to continue.
We have also had to give careful consideration to the choice between nursery classes in primary schools and separate nursery schools. Again, one form of provision is less expensive than the other, partly because of the higher staffing ratios in nursery schools and partly because nursery classes share overhead costs with the primary school. I was interested to see that this was one of the choices discussed in a recent article by Sir William Alexander. Like the previous example of part-time provision, it illustrates a way in which we may be able to get more for our money when resources become available.
Perhaps it would be convenient to mention charges at this point because a number of my hon. Friends have raised the subject. They suggested that part of the cost of making nursery education more widely available might be found by introducing charges. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury pointed out that this was one of the recommendations of the minority on the Plowden Committee, and that he was one of that minority. We greatly value his views. I can see [column 1766]why this idea continues to appeal to some of those who want to see the wide expansion of nursery education but are concerned, rightly with the resource implications of such an expansion.
In my view there are serious practical difficulties about such a proposal. Perhaps I can give a few examples. Such a scheme of charges would have to recognise the already widespread practice of admitting children to primary schools before their fifth birthday. The scope for charging would need to be correspondingly limited. Quite elaborate remission arrangements would be necessary for children from poorer families, but, even so, there could be no guarantee that some children most in need of nursery education would not be prevented from obtaining it.
Difficulties would also arise over the collection of fees because we are dealing with very small children and there would be difficulties of a kind not experienced where fees are now charged at the upper end of the education system. Again, would it be right to impose a duty upon local education authorities to charge or should they be given a discretionary power to do so which could be expected to lead to unwelcome diversity of practice as between one area and another?
Leaving aside the issue of principle about the introduction of charges at maintained schools—these comments refer to maintained schools—we must attach considerable weight to the substantial practical difficulties. My hon. Friend referred also to schools which are not maintained. There are such things as direct grant nursery schools where the capital provision is made by the parents, who raise money by the time-honoured methods of raising money which are familiar to all political parties and all charities. The Government give a grant to those schools for running costs. They are not maintained schools; they are part of the independent system with grant aid from the Government. That is a different concept but one which may find favour in some areas.
There has been some criticism of the present division of responsibility between the DES and local education authorities on the one hand and the Department of Health and Social Security and the local social services departments on the other. [column 1767]I recognise that the traditional distinction between education and social provision can become wholly artificial for many young children, particularly in deprived areas. Education and care are really different aspects of concern with the children's mental and physical well-being. All children who for one reason or another need care for the whole day because of home circumstances will also benefit from nursery education. It is in recognition of the complementary rôle of education and other social services that the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Social Security are working together to consider the needs of the under-5s in different kinds of provision.
As an example of active co-operation, a number of experimental projects have been approved under the urban programme which combine the facilities of a day nursery and a nursery school. There is a clear distinction in principle between the aims of nursery education and those of day nurseries or other arrangements for child-minding. Although the case for nursery education holds good for most children, only a small minority also require full-time day care. Day care provision and nursery education complement each other for this minority but it is important to recognise that they fulfil different functions.
It is not sensible to detach the education of the under-5s from the mainstream of educational provision. By the same argument we cannot easily separate the social needs of this age group from the main social services. The answer really lies not so much in who has departmental responsibility but in securing maximum co-operation between the two services, both centrally and locally so that, whoever has the responsibility, the children will get what they need socially and educationally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden asked me to give some figures about what nursery provision for all would cost. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury quoted some figures about present costs, and I want to take up this theme because I began by emphasising the need to make choices in the allocation of resources and I would like to end by returning to the same [column 1768]theme. I have quoted the current annual expenditure on nursery education. In 1971–72 the cost of maintaining existing nursery schools and classes in England which provide about 65,000 full-time equivalent places was over £12 million—an average cost per place of nearly £200. The comparable figure for primary schools was just over £100 per place and for secondary schools just under £200. The main reason for the high recurrent cost of nursery education is that young children need not only ample and well-equipped space for their energetic activities but a generous ratio of trained adults. The total staffing ratios, including nursery assistants, are about 1:10 in nursery schools and 1:13 in nursery classes. This means that staffing costs alone in nursery schools and classes reach about £180 and £100 per place respectively.
These figures would be very much higher if nursery education was staffed wholly by qualified teachers at a ratio of between 1:10 and 1:15 instead of the present mixture of teachers and nursery assistants. It seems likely that when we can embark on a major expansion of nursery education we must expect something similar to the present pattern and scale of staffing to be retained.
On this basis, we estimate that to provide nursery education throughout the country, mainly on a part-time basis on the scale recommended in Plowden, would add about £50 million a year to current expenditure and involve £100 million worth of capital expenditure. These are relatively large sums, and there are a number of ways in which we could use them. The Labour Party's Science and Education Sub-Committee in its Report on Educational Strategy made the same point about priorities a fortnight ago when it said:
“however much the education budget grows, choices will have to be made.”
It is for the Government of the day to take major decisions about resource allocations, difficult or even painful though they may be. We have to consider the various choices open to us. Hon. Members have referred to some and have asked, for instance, how far we should continue expenditure on higher education, which has been a priority up to now. There are various other choices open and various demands——[column 1769]
Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I am interested to hear the right hon. Lady talking about the obvious problem of priorities. Last week she refused, in an answer to me, to produce a Green Paper on the way in which she arrives at her priorities. Is she prepared to come along to the Public Expenditure Committee and argue in detail the case for the priorities that she reaches within her Department between one kind of education and another?
I have never refused any invitation which I received in my ministerial capacity to appear before any Committee of the House. I very much enjoy the experience. I have not yet been cross-examined by the hon. Gentleman. I have no doubt that such a cross-examination would be interesting. Even some of the replies to it might be interesting. But, whichever party is in power, these choices must be made, and it is the Government's job to make them.
I am happy to accept both Motions as an expression of the kind of priority which the House attaches to this subject and in the spirit that the Government must take the wishes of the House into account in making their decisions on educational priorities. I have made a fairly long speech, but I hope that when hon. Members read it they will appreciate that I have given as much information as possible in order to assist future debate on this subject and to compare it with future subjects on other aspects of educational need. I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury on their choice of subject and thank them for giving me the opportunity of contributing to the debate.
Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I think that this is the first time, certainly since I became a Member of the House, that we have had the opportunity of spending a whole day on debating nursery education. We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) who have made this possible.
I am very grateful and delighted that the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State came to the House and I am glad that she was able to make the speech [column 1770]which she made, although when we look at it I do not think we shall find that it offers very much hard cash. It dealt with prospects. It is a gain that the Minister is taking a long-term view. It is a considerable gain that she has said twice, yesterday and today, that she understands the educational argument for nursery education, so that no more shall we have to argue, at least with the present Minister, the educational case for nursery education provision. That is a very important milestone, and I hope that we make good progress from it.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury rather twitted my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) about her adjective concerning Circular 8/60. My hon. Friend called it “in-famous” . When my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) was Secretary of State and Baroness Bacon, who was formerly the right hon. Member for Leeds, South-East, was Minister of State at the Department, on two occasions I took two deputations—one from the Nursery School Association, of which I am president, and another from the Campaign for Nursery Education, of which I am also president—to see both Ministers, not at the same time but separately, to argue the same case that we argued when we met the present Secretary of State in December, 1971, when a joint deputation from both bodies argued for the expansion of nursery education, for more money to be found and for the withdrawal of Circular 8/60. We have therefore campaigned against Ministers of Labour and Conservative Governments because we were not satisfied with what they were doing.
I wish to say a few words about the playgroup movement, which must obviously be discussed in a debate on nursery education. The playgroup movement began simply because there was not the provision for nursery education which all of us wanted to see—and when I say “all of us” I mean parents, teachers, educationists and others interested in the pre-school child. It was a laudable attempt at “do-it-yourself” nursery education.
Many of the playgroups are doing a marvellous job. Some of them are run by trained nursery teachers. I should like the Secretary of State to take over [column 1771]responsibility for playgroups which are well run by trained nursery teachers and see whether they can be incorporated in those nursery schools and classes for which she is now responsible. They are well up to standard and with a little help from her in improving the premises on which they are run we could increase the number of nursery school places.
The question of parental involvement is important. However, we must be honest and face the fact that most of the playgroups flourish in areas where mothers are able to band together and organise playgroups and take responsibility for the children. They may be former teachers or former nursery teachers, or they may have worked as nurses or nursery nurses and therefore know something about the education of young children. But in the areas of greatest deprivation—and I am thinking of educational priority areas like my constituency—there are not many mothers who are equipped to do this sort of work. The playgroup movement has inevitably tended to be thickest on the ground in the middle-class areas where people are able to take the initiative and provide pre-school facilities for their children.
The other side of the coin is that in the education priority areas where, thanks to the urban aid programme which the Labour Government introduced, we have set up nursery classes and schools, one of the encouraging things is that parents are becoming involved in the education of their children attending the nursery schools. We have seen this development recently in many parts of the country. Many nursery teachers have reported it to me. We should be very glad about this development, and I assume that it will continue. Nursery schools do not preclude parental involvement.
The standards of playgroups are variable. No one has the responsibility to ensure that education standards are improved. It is not the responsibility of the Secretary of State because they do not come under her jurisdiction. It is not the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Social Services to be concerned with education standards. He is involved with the number of lavatories and washbasins and the number of children accommodated in the premises. [column 1772]
This is not good enough. It adds to the argument that there should be administrative consolidation so that the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State can be responsible for standards in all pre-school provision and for training the people who will be working with the children and for ensuring that where education standards do not exist they are introduced and maintained.
The suggestion of the hon. Lady the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) that where infant schools are built there should be provision for nursery classes was a welcome endorsement of proposals we have made to the right hon. Lady. One of the interesting things about this debate has been to see so many hon. Members on the Government side now interested in nursery education and taking part in the debate today, and who have made such a careful study of the newsletters produced by the Campaign for Nursery Education which has given a good deal of ammunition and information about the progress of nursery education and the aims and objects of the campaign and the kinds of things we are hoping to achieve. That interest has been to me very gratifying.
The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) spoke about the needs of his constituency. I wonder whether the right hon. Lady has thought about this problem. We are now turning out some 1,300 trained nursery teachers a year from the increased provision which was started by the right hon. Lady's predecessor, and there are now 43 colleges of education where courses for nursery teachers are held. The 1,300 nursery teachers trained every year look for jobs, and that is an argument for increasing the number of nursery classes. I mention this in connection with Bradford because I was in Bradford not so long ago and spoke at a public meeting held in support of nursery education. The right hon. Lady was there herself recently. I think she was there after I was. The case was put to me by the senior lecturer in charge of the training department that there is an urgent need for nursery teacher training and that in Bradford there was difficulty in finding adequate facilities in which student teachers could do their practical work in nursery education. Although Bradford has some provision there is presumably a shortage of suitable [column 1773]nursery classes for the students to do their practical work. One thing I want to do if I can is to put some ideas to the right hon. Lady about the money she thinks she may need. The more modest amount we have suggested, spread over a longer period of time, would be a considerable and welcome addition to the small amount spent on nursery education in the urban aid programme.
We are backed in this by the great support outside to which the right hon. Lady has referred and which culminated in the petition presented to her and in the resolution at the N.U.T. conference at Easter, the resolution which demanded the same thing as that for which the petitioners were asking—expansion of nursery education of children from 3 to 5.
Let me make it absolutely clear that we are not rigid on the question of full-time or part-time; as to that we are completely flexible; but we are asking for part-time and for an allowance and a modicum of full-time education based on the need of the child and the family. We are supported by the overwhelming majority of public opinion in the profession and in the country outside.
We have to bear in mind that in nursery education we compare badly with other countries in Europe, East and West. I have seen in some of them the nursery provisions which they have made and I have felt very regretful that our own nursery provision comes so far below theirs. Smaller countries than ours are able to provide better than we do. I cite the example of Sweden, which has nursery education and day nursery education provision far in advance of ours and has had for a much longer time; and that country has a small population of less than 10 million. Yet no new estate is built anywhere in Sweden without providing a kindergarten and a day nursery for the very tiny children; no housing estate is ever built without a playground for the young children and sited so that there can be some supervision over them from the flats and houses on the estate where the children live. So they have well protected play spaces.
That is something which we cannot persuade the housing authorities in this country to do. It is simple, it is inexpensive; it can be done at practically [column 1774]no cost where new housing estates are planned, whether local authority or private enterprise estates.
I wonder whether the right hon. Lady would use her influence with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to bring together the two Departments to see whether more provision could be made for children by using resources of both Departments and putting some proposals to the local authorities which are education and housing authorities. It has always seemed to me that having those two Departments, which could make progress in this field, in two separate compartments in this way has been an obstacle to better provision for young children.
In the same way I suggest to the right hon. Lady, as, again, I suggested to her predecessor—and it is not only to the right hon. Lady I am making this suggestion—that on the ground floors of blocks of flats, housing committees might make provision for nursery classes, one or two, for children from 3 to 5. One could find ground-floor accommodation to provide play space among the houses and flats where the children live, play spaces where there would be no difficulty about, for example, having to cross major roads. This has always seemed to me to be the most inexpensive way of providing the capital needs for nursery classes on a new estate. I hope that the right hon. Lady will take up these two matters with her right hon. Friend.
I think the right hon. Lady needs to have a look in her own Department at the way in which this very large amount of money, almost £3,000 million a year for education, is being spent. I know the argument on priorities is always a very difficult one and I know that when in opposition it is very easy to say “Yes, we must do this and we will do it when we get the opportunity” . When we get the opportunity we are diverted from doing what we said we would; Ministers are under pressure from all kinds of bodies and organisations which themselves want to have a share of the money at Ministers' disposal. However, there is now an urgent need for a very careful, close look within the Department at the way in which this money is spent.
I would put first of all the need to investigate more carefully the amount of money spent on what we are pleased [column 1775]to call remedial teaching. This is money spent throughout the country. It is money for teachers, too. It is expensive to have either additional teachers on staffs or peripatetic teachers who go round several schools and take out groups of children from their class. This happens in educational priority areas and other areas as well. It happens at infant and junior schools, and I am sorry to say it happens at secondary school level. The fact that this happens at secondary school level means, I submit, that the system has failed in its object. If it had been successful it would not have been necessary to take it to secondary school level. There are teachers who will say that there are children who have gone through the whole of their school lives in remedial classes and still leave school at the age of 15 practically illiterate, able to read perhaps only the headlines of the sports pages of the newspapers. This is a terrible indictment of the present method which we have of dealing with children who are educationally backward. It is an indictment of a system which has gone on for some time without change and without sufficient critical examination.
Here is a very fruitful way in which the right hon. Lady might find how the money is spent, by finding out how much is spent on remedial teaching. I remember putting a Question to her some time ago, and she did not know the answer. It is possible to find out, by asking local education authorities, how many teachers are involved, and the amount of money and of materials and the rest and the total required might surprise very many of us who are interested in education. It might indicate to the right hon. Lady that she should look at this matter again, when she might feel that some of the money might be better spent on nursery education. We all agree that nursery education provides the foundation for the rest of the education system.
I disagree profoundly with the right hon. Lady when she reiterates her pledge to concentrate on primary school building. This presupposes that nursery education is not part of primary school education. Now that she is convinced of the educational arguments the right hon. Lady must go one step further and say that nursery education is part of the primary sector and should have its fair [column 1776]share of the money she is spending on primary education.
Figures have been given today of the cost per place of nursery education. The cost of providing a university residential place is many times the cost of providing a full-time nursery place. The latest figure for a university place was given yesterday by the Under-Secretary of State at £1,300. In comparison the provision of a nursery place is not expensive.
My feeling is that much of the university hostel accommodation is too elaborate. The students themselves would prefer it to be simpler. They do not need the lavish meeting places inside hostels which duplicate those provided by the union. Some years ago I went back to my old University of Manchester and saw the new union building which was enormous, with large meeting places, large coffee bars and a large entrance hall—over-lavish provision in many ways. I have been to several other universities and found the same. Students say that they want some provision for social activities but do not want such elaborate accommodation as they have been given. Economies could be made in new university development and expansion, hostel accommodation, university libraries and so on.
The Expenditure Sub-Committee responsible for the Department of Education and Science should investigate the way in which priorities are decided within the Department. I hope it will be possible for that Sub-Committee to find ways of saving money on some aspects of education and using it for the expansion of nursery education. What was the justification for giving away £2 million to reduce the fees paid in the direct grant schools when that money could have been much better spent on nursery education than on reducing fees to the direct grant schools?
Unless we give those schools some help they will not be able to carry on. The cost of taking over the schools completely would far exceed the £2 million they were given, so it made good resource allocation sense to give them a little help.
That is not the only method available for helping them to continue. They might charge higher fees. [column 1777]That is what happens with transport and rents—the consumer pays more.
If my recollection is correct, 50 per cent. of the places are free places.
I will not continue the argument. I am merely saying that the members of the Expenditure Sub-Committee would want to know why that decision was taken. It is necessary for us to know what options are before a Minister and why one decision is made rather than another.
There should be much more flexibility in the sources of revenue for nursery education. For example, we might ask hospitals to provide nursery accommodation for the women who work there. Hospitals employ large numbers of women, from the few women consultants to perhaps the most important core in the hospital, the kitchens. Only 17 hospitals have nursery accommodation. Hospitals are always short of staff and the provision of more nursery groups might attract younger women with useful skills to the hospital service. The regional hospital boards could provide the accommodation and the right hon. Lady could make sure that trained teachers were available. The same should apply to local government and the Civil Service.
Suggestions have been made for the setting up of nursery classes at the BBC. Much more could be done along these lines by industry. In the Soviet Union all large factories employing women have attached to them a kindergarten and day nursery. Such women represent a large educational investment and their talents are brought back into circulation. If industry in this country were to meet the capital cost of this provision, it would relieve the right hon. Lady of one burden and she could then be responsible for seeing that standards of accommodation are maintained and that teachers are made available.
I should like to draw attention to a development in nursery education which has been carried out at the Hillfields Nursery Centre, Coventry. This provides an exciting way of combining day nursery provision with nursery school facilities on a full-time or part-time basis. The advantage of a nursery centre is that the arrangement is extremely flexible. [column 1778]Day nurseries tend to cater for mothers in jobs. Although it is generally believed that mothers who want nursery education for their children do not have jobs, many mothers are in employment. Day nurseries start early in the morning and go on until late at night, often beginning as early as 7 o'clock in the morning and continuing until 6 p.m., whereas nursery schools normally operate from 9 a.m. until 3.30 in the afternoon.
The advantage of the nursery centre is that there is somebody there early in the morning to receive the child and somebody very much later in the day to hand over the child to the mother. This is a marvellous idea. It has been well organised in Coventry where it has been possible to bring together provision for education and also social service provision, thus involving the two departments in one building. This was done by agreement with both groups and it is working well.
I should like to mention the problems of those who work in the nursery schools. The Hillfields experiment brings out the difficulties quite clearly. Nursery nurses are on duty early in the morning to receive the children and they wait until the early evening for the mothers to collect their charges. There are a large number of nursery nurses and the girls are trained for this work, but I am sorry to say that many of these girls carry out all the responsibilities of nursery teachers and are in charge of classes.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the expansion of nursery provision in Manchester, which is a case in point. She will see from the figures that, although there are a large number of children in nursery places in Manchester, many children are being taught by nursery nurses who are not trained nursery teachers, simply because Manchester for some reason cannot provide enough nursery teachers. I do not know why this is the situation, but nursery nurses are doing precisely the same work as nursery teachers though they are certainly not getting the same salaries as nursery teachers.
I received a letter from one of the right hon. Lady's inspectors who is responsible for the inspection of nursery education facilities. She is concerned about the salaries paid to nursery nurses [column 1779]in schools and classes and emphasise the high turnover in the number of these girls who are trained as nursery nurses. Most of them are between 18 and 23 and there is a turnover of almost 50 per cent.
The general reason given for this state of affairs is that salaries are too low. The girls' take-home pay at the end of the month, after deduction, is about £10 per week—just over £40 a month. This is a miserable salary for trained staff. It must be emphasised that they undergo a two-year training period and the education standards required for these nurses are high. They are expected to be almost as good on entry to these courses as students who take a three-year training course to be teachers. The starting rate is poor, £654 a year at age 20 or above, and it can rise to only £924. Therefore, by the time they are 26 years old they may have reached the maximum of just over £900. It is surely a poor career prospect for these girls that when fully trained they can earn less than £1,000. This is not good enough. Many of these girls have to travel considerable distances to work in nursery classes and have to bear their own travelling expenses, which makes it extremely difficult for them to carry on.
Not only are the salaries much lower as compared with those of nursery teachers, but their conditions of work leave much to be desired. They can often be asked to work long hours, but compared with teachers they get shorter holidays. They have four weeks' holiday a year, whereas a teacher normally has 12 weeks or more. It is clear that something needs to be done to improve the conditions of nursery assistants and nursery nurses who are carrying out such a marvellous job and without whom most of our nursery teachers would find it difficult to continue.
I hope that it will be possible for the right hon. Lady to take steps to do more to consolidate an administration which is now divided. If the nation is mean and parsimonious at this early vital stage in a child's life, this will mean that those children will be affected right up to secondary school age.
Because there are such vast areas of deprivation in many parts of our community—intellectual, environmental and [column 1780]emotional deprivation—this means that in compensating for this lack we shall need to bring about the greatest development in this form of early education. It is essential that a child's life must be given the right foundation.