The Education Secretary, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, has today (Wednesday 17 January) sent the following reply to Mr Roy Hattersley M.P.:
“From time to time I receive from Members of Parliament allegations of political bias in education either in teaching or in the materials and methods used for teaching. In every case I have to reply in the same way pointing out that Parliament has not given a Secretary of State any relevant powers of direction over the secular instruction given in maintained schools. This situation has obtained since before the 1944 Education Act and there are obvious, and in my view good, reasons for it.
“In the 1944 Act the relevant provisions on secular instruction are contained in Sections 17 and 23. Section 17(3) requires a maintained school to be conducted in accordance with the rules of management or articles of government, and Section 23(1) and (2) require the secular instruction given in every maintained school (except an aided secondary school) to be subject to the control of the local education authority unless the rules of management or articles of government otherwise provide. In an aided secondary school such instruction is under the control of the governors unless the articles of government otherwise provide.
“The general form of the rules and articles was settled by negotiation between the Government, the local authority associations and representatives of the churches. Broadly speaking their effect is that the curriculum is subject to the control of the local education authority in a primary school and of the governors in a secondary school.
“From the debates on Section 23 when the Bill was passing through the House it seems to have been the intention that the governors would have the general direction of the curriculum as actually given from day to day within the school; and the head teacher would have the responsibility to carry out the curriculum in the sense desired by the governing body.
“There are no statutory provisions regarding political bias. By custom it is well understood that teachers whatever their personal political sympathies or activities have a duty in their professional capacity to be impartial. In discharging this duty it is expected that taking the syllabus as a whole they will maintain a proper balance in their choice and use of materials and resources. The judgment on this matter is entrusted to the teachers themselves in the first instance. [end p1]
“In the light of the matters set out above, I have considered the Stevenage conference which you referred to me. This should be tested and judged in the same way as other available teaching resources. It is for the teachers who attended the conference with their pupils to consider whether it was biased and if so to take appropriate steps to restore the balance.
“I believe that particular problems arose in the case of this conference concerning a change of subject from that contained in the programme. In this respect the teachers heard what was actually said and will use their own judgment about it.
“With regard to public expenditure, this would be a matter for the district auditor but I am informed that neither the postage of the invitations, nor the hire of the hall, nor the difference between the 10p asked for the lunches and the cost, fell upon public funds.
“As I have explained, the legal provisions and customs are well understood and give me no powers over secular instruction. This does not appear to me to be a case where Section 68 of the 1944 Act applies and on a matter of this kind I have no powers under the Education Acts to hold a statutory inquiry. Any complaints should go to the governors or the local education authority. In my office the only complaints received have been those from yourself, Mrs Shirley Williams, and copies of two letters which Councillor Metcalfe wrote to the divisional education officer.
“I am sending Mrs Williams a copy of this letter, and I shall be releasing it to the press.”