MRS THATCHER ADDRESSES NORTH OF ENGLAND EDUCATION CONFERENCE
Speaking about the White Paper “Education: A Framework for Expansion” the Education Secretary, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, told delegates at the North of England Education Conference in Manchester tonight (Tuesday 2 January) that the majority opinion had clearly accepted the decision to go for a planned programme of nursery education, to give teachers improved opportunities for training and re-training, to provide more places in higher education and to introduce new options for young people.
She said that the White Paper, published last month, had received extensive publicity and the proposals had been well received. “I have been interested to see a growing recognition, in later comments, that the White Paper represented the outcome of a more systematic and coherent review of a very large area of the education service than had been attempted since 1944” , said Mrs Thatcher. “The White Paper does in fact reflect the increasing importance which the present Government have attached to the development of a systematic capacity within Departments for forward planning.”
Mrs Thatcher said that the White Paper was not a blueprint for the education service for it would be foolish to try to plan rigidly for ten years hence. “But we believe that the local authorities will be glad to have this broad statement of strategy and priorities and will profit from it in making their own plans. I would like to think that the White Paper will be particularly useful in this way to the new authorities to be created by reorganisation who will shortly be undertaking their great planning tasks” .
Mrs Thatcher said that over the ten years from 1971/72 to 1981/82 expenditure in the areas covered could rise—at constant prices from about £2,100m to about £3,100m. The fastest-growing sector would continue to be higher education which would increase its use of resources by 5 per cent per annum, compared with an annual increase of 3 per cent for the schools. “This means a rather faster rate of growth for the schools, a rather slower rate of growth for higher education than in the 1960s—for the appetite of higher education than for additional resources was increasing two-and-a-half times as fast as the schools. Press and public opinion, [end p1] which have welcomed the increase in resources devoted to education, have also in general favoured the shift in emphasis. It is no more than this, since all sectors continue to expand.
“I should like to give one more calculation which is not in the White Paper but has been published since. The long-term indication which I gave of the costs of my proposals related to 1981–82 and covered about three-quarters of the education expenditure for which I am responsible. The Anthony BarberChancellor has now published his regular annual forecasts of public expenditure for all services for the shorter period up to 1976–77. These forecasts show that the share of total public spending devoted to education in Great Britain which reached 10 per cent in the early 1960s (and at present stands at 13 per cent), is expected to go on rising over this five year period and to exceed 14 per cent by 1976–77. So the education service is still continuing to improve its position relative to other public expenditure programmes.”
Mrs Thatcher said that the White Paper did not repeat policy decisions which were made and announced earlier. “We have already announced building programmes of a record size and have found the resources—including buildings—for the raising of the school-leaving age.
“Some people have pointed out that the £20m we have announced for secondary school improvements to start in 1975–76 and 1976–77 will not get rid of all the old buildings. Of course not. But at least there is now a secondary improvements programme again; and the White Paper points out that these are in fact only the first stages of a rising programme for this purpose. What it does not say is that secondary school programmes of nearly £400m have already been announced for the three years 1971–74 and are being carried out, and that what we are now announcing is an additional programme.
“There were also one or two other things which the White Paper was not about. It was not about child-minding as a public service for working mothers, an important subject but not under the heading of education. Nor was it about taking young children away from their mothers. Three hours a day in nursery class leaves the child in the mother's care most of the time: further the scheme for nursery education will have no element of compulsion. These are both subjects which have produced passionate comment.
“Basically the White Paper does three things. First it provides an earlier start in education for all children whose parents want them to receive it. Secondly, it provides for a larger and better trained teaching profession and for further improvement in the teacher/pupil ratio. Thirdly, it provides increased opportunities in higher education, both in numbers of places and in range of options.
“At a conference in London last August teachers from seventy countries decided to press for world-wide pre-school education, and there is already extensive pro [end p2] vision in a number of European countries, including some of our new partners in the European Community.
“I hope that we may now take a lead particularly in the quality of the provision we make. I am consulting now with the local authority and teacher associations about the terms of a circular which I hope to issue very soon.
“We shall need to deal quickly with building proposals in order to increase the provision as planned. In particular we must help the children from homes which are culturally and economically deprived. Research has shown how much they can be helped, both directly through the stimulus of an enlarged environment, and indirectly through the involvement of their mothers in their education. The authorities will, I believe, need little pressing to give priority to the needs of these children. But I can assure the conference that the Department will be very ready to stimulate and to suggest wherever this should be necessary. We do not intend that those who stand to gain most from this provision should be the last to receive it.
“At the same time I believe that it is possible to make a good case for having widespread but limited provision in the early stages outside the areas of disadvantage. If the eventual aim is a substantial nationwide programme we shall need to build up experience and nucleus of trained staff in each area.
“On teacher supply the Government plan envisages over 500,000 qualified teachers in the maintained schools by 1981 compared with 364,000 in 1971 and 276,000 in 1961.
“I know that some people think we ought to be planning to employ even more teachers: others that it will be straining our resources to employ even as many. A balanced judgement is needed. The White Paper offers the Government's judgment and it has already received a good deal of support.
“I attach importance also to the early establishment of an advisory committee on the supply and training of teachers. We are starting consultations straightaway, and I hope very much it may prove possible for me to make an announcement during the summer.
“The White Paper contains major proposals to change the role of the colleges of education, and this means inevitably a period of uncertainty. For some there will be development into general purpose institutions of higher education, or mergers into polytechnics or colleges of technology. For others there will be links with the Open University and use in the expanded programmes of in-service training. It is envisaged also that some colleges will close. But there must be—and will be—detailed consultation with all concerned: the local authorities, the voluntary bodies and, of course, the colleges themselves. It is important that we lose no time in drawing up plans for future development.
“Consultations have already begun on questions of compensation for teaching staff of the colleges of education who might be adversely affected by these changes. There is a lot of experience in the public service, and in particular in local [end p3] government, of the sort of problems which arise, and fair and acceptable solutions have usually been negotiated.
“Looking generally at the higher education scene we envisage that our proposals will increase the range of options available to young people. As well as aiming for an all-graduate teaching profession the Government wishes to provide through the BEd and the DipHE a more flexible system to meet the needs of both committed and uncommitted students.
“On student numbers the White Paper makes it clear that it is the Government's intention to continue to make higher education available to all who are qualified for it and who wish to have it. With so many uncertain factors in this it would be foolish to try to predict numbers at all accurately. But by about 1981 we expect to be providing for about 200,000 entrants per year under 21 from within Great Britain. This will represent an increase to 22 per cent of the age group (the highest ever), from 15 per cent in 1971 and 7 per cent in 1961.
“Half the places in Great Britain in 1981 will be provided in universities whose student population will grow from 236,000 to 375,000, and during the next quinquennium provision has been made for increases to 306,000. The fastest expansion will however be in polytechnics and other non-university colleges, which, with their Scottish counterparts, will increase their full-time and sandwich students from 227,000 to 375,000 thus bringing this sector to about the same size as the universities.
“I fully realise the very heavy responsibilities for expansion which my programme imposes on the polytechnics and the authorities which maintain them. I have already announced the Government's commitment to making resources available for the building programme, but achievement depends very largely on local initiative and expertise. I am confident that the necessary efforts will be forthcoming.
“Although further education other than higher education has not been comprehensively reviewed on this occasion, this does not mean that it is being neglected. I have, for example, recently announced building programmes for the colleges for the next two years amounting to £36m. I am collaborating with the Secretary of State for Employment on the part the further education colleges will play in the reorganisation of industrial training; and the Technical and Business Education Councils as recommended by the Herbert HaslegraveHaslegrave Report will be at work this year” .