Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC S [Education (White Paper)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [851/41-71]
Editorial comments: 1558-1719. MT spoke at cc41-57, 59, and 60.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 10982
Themes: Education, Primary education, Secondary education, Higher & further education, Employment, Public spending & borrowing, Labour Party & socialism, Society, Social security & welfare
[column 41]


3.58 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the White Paper on Education: A Framework for Expansion (Command Paper No. 5174).

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the names of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues to leave out from ‘House’ to end and add instead thereof,

“regrets that the Government's public expenditure programme provides insufficient funds for the national education budget and that the White Paper allocates inadequate resources for the replacement of schools built before the first World War; announces a pre-school education programme too small to satisfy demand for nursery school places; will reduce planned places in higher education to a figure inconsistent with the Robbins principle, and the size of the teaching-training programme to an inadequate level; and fails to discriminate in favour of those sections of the community who are in special need of educational priority” .

Mrs. Thatcher

On the same day as I presented the White Paper to the House my right hon. Friend G. Campbellthe Secretary of State for Scotland also presented a statement of policy for educational development. These papers together point the way forward to the development of much of our education system over the next ten years.

First, may I recall the events which led up to the White Paper. In April last year the Order in Council came into effect to raise the school leaving age to 16, thus carrying into effect at long last the intention of the Education Act 1944. In a sense this was the end of an epoch, and the country was ready for a major new step in education policy.

In May the House debated a motion calling for a steady expansion of pre-school provision. The arguments presented in favour of nursery education were accepted by the Government, but I emphasised that I could not will the end without considering the means of achieving it. Later that year I was asked to allow local authorities to include the replacement and improvement of old secondary school buildings among their proposals alongside the primary school improvements which the Government had already authorised. I promised to do [column 42]what I could as soon as more resources became available.

In October, in answer to Questions on the James Report on the education and training of teachers, I said that we hoped to announce Government decisions before the end of the year. In November I was asked to publish a White Paper setting new priorities in the education service. I promised to give full details if possible at the same time as giving the Government's response to the James Report. By December the Government's proposals for the development of the universities during 1972—77 quinquennium were due, and it was expected that these would be set in the context of our plans for higher education as a whole.

The White Papers presented to Parliament on 6th December carried out in full the promises and undertakings given to the House on all these important questions. They also did something more. They provided a forward-looking strategy for three-quarters of the education service over a period of 10 years.

I should like to deal with the White Paper under five main headings; first, nursery education; second, school building; third, teacher training and supply; fourth, higher education as a whole; and finally, expenditure. I shall also refer to some of the criticisms in the amendment which you, Mr. Speaker, have selected for debate.

Dealing with nursery education, the first major proposal in the White Paper was that within 10 years nursery education should become available without charge to children of three or four whose parents wished them to have it. This is an historic step forward which has been widely welcomed. I emphasise that there is no element of compulsion here. We are not proposing to force an earlier school starting age on people who do not want it. We are giving new opportunities to parents if they wish to take advantage of them. It follows that we cannot know at this moment exactly what the demand will turn out to be. However, we shall be authorising earmarked building programmes of £30 million in the two years to 1976 and we shall be planning for an extra 15,000 teachers for this purpose by 1981. Obviously we must watch closely to see how the demand develops.

Some commentators—a very few—have suggested that this programme will [column 43]not go far enough. I can understand their enthusiasm. But I do not believe that the provision now proposed will fall seriously short of what is required. It assumes a very substantial capital investment and a threefold increase in current expenditure on the under fives by 1982.

We expect demand to develop in all areas of the country. Indeed, to achieve the eventual aim of a substantial nation-wide programme, we must start now to build up experience and the nucleus of trained staff in each area. But we accept the findings of research that nursery schooling is of particular value in areas of social deprivation, and we intend that they should have some priority in the allocation of capital resources. Similarly, although the provision will generally be on a half-time basis, we recognise that sometimes there will be a need for attendance full time either for educational reasons or because of home conditions. Full-time provision will be made for 15 per cent. of the three and four-year-old age groups. The figure of 15 per cent. is an average over the country, and a higher proportion may be appropriate in areas of social deprivation.

There is no need to make a narrow distinction between educational and social needs. Both will contribute to the demand for full-time nursery places. But the main purpose of providing them is to enable children to learn and not to provide a day-care service. Where this is needed it can be provided through the social services departments, and the children will attend nursery school for part of their time at the day nursery.

It is the case that the children who stand to gain most from nursery education come from homes which are culturally or economically deprived. We shall expect authorities to give priority to the needs of these children. The initial building allocation will favour authorities with areas of greatest social need. We believe that local authorities and head teachers are in the best position both to identify disadvantaged children and to ensure that the new facilities are well publicised.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman(Lancaster)

While I welcome my right hon. Friend's proposals for nursery education, I am a little concerned that if priority is given to children who are in social need they will mix only with other [column 44]deprived children, which will be disadvantageous to them. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that these deprived children are not segregated?

Mrs. Thatcher

I believe that these children should have greater priority for places than others. However I take my hon. Friend's point. It is a valuable one. I hope that it will be drawn to the attention of those in the areas concerned.

Mr. Thomas Cox(Wandsworth, Central)

I am listening with interest to what the right hon. Lady is saying. However is she aware of the inconsistency between what she is proposing and what is taking place at the moment? In the current issue of Contact, the magazine published by the ILEA, reference is made to the fact that only four of the 16 proposals which that authority submitted to the Government for nursery provision under the urban aid programme have been approved. Many of these projects were in my borough and in others in the ILEA area where there is great need for some kind of social provision to be made along these lines.

Mrs. Thatcher

There is no inconsistency. That occurred before there was an education nursery programme. This White Paper proposes to introduce a nursery programme on the education budget for the very first time.

We do not want to attempt central detailed control over the way resources are used because the statistical methods at our disposal for measuring social deprivation are crude. But the definition of social need will be similar to that used in the urban programme, with the addition that it will reflect the problems which exist in some new housing areas and in some rural areas as well as in city centres and declining industrial communities.

We recognise the importance of involving parents and of working closely with other agencies concerned with this age group. In this vitally important area we must explore how to get the maximum contribution from all concerned, and we are designing some special research to this end.

Circular 8/60 has been withdrawn and a new circular of guidance, number 2/73, has been issued. I have asked local authorities to submit by 18th May their proposals for building work in the two-year period 1947–76. I look forward to [column 45]an early start being made on a reform for which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been pressing. In considering the strictures of the Opposition, perhaps I might point out that they come from a former Government who themselves were not able to carry out any of these improvements.

Mr. Michael Meacher(Oldham, West)

Does the right hon. Lady accept the Plowden recommendation that the number of children covered in areas of social deprivation should rise progressively from two to 10 per cent.? Can the right hon. Lady indicate what proportion of the education budget will go to areas of social deprivation in five years' time? Will it be more than one per cent.?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am sorry. I cannot indicate that. It would be a very unwise Minister who attempted to indicate what will be the proportions in five years' time. It is said in the White Paper that in general we have accepted the Plowden targets for the provision of nursery education, and the figures of expenditure are given towards the back of the document.

I turn secondly to school building programmes. Here it is necessary to give some perspective to the figures in the White Paper. The major school building programmes comprise, first, basic needs—that is, where places have to be provided to meet school numbers—and, secondly, improvements and replacements of the existing stock. Taking together the three years up to 1974–75 we have authorised £287 million for basic needs and £152 million for improvements and replacements. There is also in the present year a final instalment of the special programme of £61 million for raising the school leaving age. So altogether there are programmes totalling £500 million over the three years for school building of which secondary schools total over £270 million. The plain fact is that more resources are now going into the building of secondary schools as a result of this Government's policies than at any previous time.

During these years, however, there are no sums specifically for secondary school replacement. The White Paper states that on completion of these programmes—that is, in 1975–76 and 1976–77—we must start to improve or replace the worst of [column 46]the old secondary school buildings. For this purpose, there will be an extra—I stress the word “extra” —£20 million in the programmes for those two years. That is four times as much as the Labour Government allocated for this purpose in the period 1970–72—their last two programmes. We see this as the first stage of a rising secondary school improvement programme, a point made in the White Paper but rather overlooked in subsequent discussion.

The progress already made towards improving the stock of primary schools reflects the Government's determination steadily to get rid of poor and inadequate old buildings. Primary programmes already authorised for the three-year period 1972–75 will enable 1,500 old primary schools in England and Wales to be improved or replaced at a cost of over £160 million. This is well over twice as much as the total authorised under the last Administration for the five years 1967–72 for primary improvements. Minor works allocations have recently been increased for 46 local education authorities to allow them in particular to do more for the primary schools.

The systematic programme now launched for the replacement or remodelling of old secondary schools will effect further improvement in education facilities over the entire age range. At the same time we shall increase the building programme for special schools so as to get rid of old and unsatisfactory premises still in use and to provide for the mentally handicapped children for whose education I am responsible following the Education (Handicapped Children) Act 1970.

Mr. Kenneth Marks(Manchester, Gorton)

Will the schools building programme in 1975–76 be more than it is now?

Mrs. Thatcher

The figures are set out in the Public Expenditure White Paper which took into account the policies in the Education White Paper. I think that the hon. Gentleman is on the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) last week when he made some play of the fact that the Expenditure White Paper showed a reduction of 22 per cent. between 1972–73 and 1976–77 in capital expenditure on [column 47]schools and he saw some conflict with the Education White Paper. However, there is no inconsistency between the two.

Paragraph 35 of the Education White Paper explains the consequences of the declining rate of growth of the school population. Between 1970 and 1974 the total number of pupils aged five and over in maintained primary and secondary schools will rise from 7.7 million to 8.4 million—an increase of some 750,000. In the following four years to 1978 it will rise not by 750,000, but by fewer than 200,000, which is about one-quarter of the previous rate. In round figures, the cost of the additional places required will fall by about 50 per cent. between one four-year period and the next after allowing for the concentration of the growth in the later period in secondary schools.

The fact that decline in expediture on this head between 1972–73 and 1976–77 is only 22 per cent. is the direct result of our decision to devote massive resources to the improvement and replacement of old schools and the expansion of nursery education.

On 13th February I told the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) that the existing school building programmes up to 1974–75 in England and Wales which had been planned by the last Government had been increased by about £160 million. In addition, we have authorised new programmes of £30 million for nursery education in 1974–76 and £20 million for secondary school improvements in 1975–77.

Mr. Roy Hattersley(Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Will the right hon. Lady confirm the point which, as she rightly said, I made last week—putting aside that carefully prepared statement—that over the next four years capital available for new school building will go down by £94 million?

Mrs. Thatcher

We are providing £160 million more over the period I mentioned than the Labour Government provided. I think that I made that perfectly clear. I think that hon. Members will be pleased with the expenditure levels when I come to them. The figures in the Expenditure White Paper are accurate. We have carried out record school building programmes which the Labour Government [column 48]were totally unable to complete and, in fact, cut.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the right hon. Lady now tell me whether over the next four years capital available for new school building goes down by £94 million?

Mrs. Thatcher

The figures are as I have given them. They would go down by 50 per cent. if we left them where the Labour Government left them. As it is, they are going down by only 22 per cent. and the rest of the programmes are steadily increasing.

I turn now to teacher training and supply. On supply, I can understand the keenness of those who would like to add up all the possible uses on which extra teachers might be employed and to say that that should be our target for teacher supply. I can understand that, but unfortunately I cannot endorse it. In the long run, I do not believe that the teachers themselves would be grateful if the supply of new recruits to their profession were to grow beyond the point at which local authorities could afford to employ them.

Salaries and pensions for teachers account for about 70 per cent. of the total cost of running the schools. My aims in this sphere are specific and realistic. First, it is our intention to bring about a further reduction in the size of classes. Teachers and parents are united that they would like to see some improvement here. We have therefore firmly declared our intention to secure by 1981 a teaching force 10 per cent. larger than the number needed to maintain the staffing standards reached in 1971. To achieve this for the projected number of pupils will need an increase of 110,000 teachers.

Secondly, we shall provide the extra teachers needed for the introduction of nationwide nursery schooling. This will require a further extra 15,000 teachers.

Thirdly, we shall provide enough teachers to allow for a systematic programme to release teachers for further training during service. This needs a further 20,000 teachers by 1981.

The net result of all these developments will be a teaching force of 510,000 in 1981 compared with 364,000 in 1971 and 276,000 in 1961. Few professions, if any, have had as great a growth rate as this. [column 49]

In the decade 1961 to 1971 the pupil-teacher ratio went from 25.3 to 22.6—an improvement of 2.7 points over that decade. In the decade 1971 to 1981, on our present demographic assumptions, it is expected to change from 22.6 to 18.5 pupils per teacher—an improvement of 4.1 points against 2.7 points in the previous decade.

This is an ambitious and costly programme, not an inadequate one, as the Opposition would claim. I shall be seeking appropriate advice on the implementation and development of this policy of teacher supply. To this end I have taken the first steps towards establishing an advisory committee on the supply and training of teachers.

Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)

Will the right hon. Lady explain why the forecasts are now so different from those published in the Education Planning Paper published in 1970, where forecasts for teacher supply in 1981 were vastly different from figures which she is now giving?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am not aware to which figures the hon. Gentleman is referring because the objection has always been that I have not given forecasts. There have been parliamentary Questions to find out the forecasts, and I have consistently given the information up to the period 1977. Indeed the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) has been very active in this sphere.

Mr. Roderick

May I help the right hon. Lady by saying that in the Education Planning Paper No. 2 1970 there is a forecast of 835,000. Why does she now forecast a figure of 750,000 as being the right number?

Mrs. Thatcher

We are not on that point at all. That concerns the total number in higher education, universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. As the moment I am talking about the limited factor of teacher supply.

I turn now to teacher training. The future development of teacher training is——

Mr. Nigel Spearing(Acton)

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady because she paid an implied compliment to my persistence. In the White Paper she has stated that there will be approximately [column 50]seven years growth at the present rate of teachers to attain the total she has mentioned, yet in paragraph 153 she indicates that some teacher colleges of education will need to close. Is it not possible that the wastage rate might go up and the proportion of students taking the Diploma of Higher Education who go into teacher training will go down? If she decides to close the colleges now, might she not find herself short of the target which she has set?

Mrs. Thatcher

Colleges of education are not the only source of teachers. There are universities as well, and there are those who have been trained for teaching who are not teaching at the moment. The projections for colleges of education depend on the figures I have given which are for 10 per cent. improvement in staffing standards, plus the numbers required for nursery education, plus the extra numbers required to put into effect the James proposals and the in-service training. That amounts to the number I have given—namely, 510,000 in 1981. Because the colleges of education have been set up to train teachers only, we cannot foresee employment for them, bearing in mind that there are residual falls elsewhere. We hope to streamline the colleges of education to the numbers for whom we can foresee employment.

I turn to teacher training. For the future development of teacher training there are three main areas of change—first, the courses for initial training; secondly, the needs of young teachers when they go in to their first jobs; and, thirdly, continuing arrangements within the profession as a whole for training during service.

In regard to initial training, the Government's proposal is to work towards the achievement of a graduate teaching profession. To this end we welcome the development of the new three-year courses leading to Bachelor of Education degree and to qualified teacher status. We welcome also the possibility of a fourth year leading to an honours degree. We also share the view of the James Committee that a teacher on first employment needs, and should have, a systematic programme of professional help and further study. This proposal has been very widely welcomed, and the Government proposal is [column 51]that these young teachers should be released during their first year of teaching for not less than one-fifth of their time for in-service training, and that altogether they might be expected to undertake three-quarters of a full teaching load. It is proposed to run pilot schemes in four selected areas, to study the problem involved in these new arrangements for probationer teachers. I am already in touch with the local authority associations about this. Thirdly, we propose to give effect to the James Committee's recommendation that teachers should be released for in-service training for periods equivalent to one term in every seven years. We intend that a substantial expansion of such training should begin in the school year 1974–75 and that by 1981 3 per cent. of teachers should be released on secondment at any one time.

It has been suggested that the White Paper fails to appreciate the full implications for in-service and induction training. This is not so. Allowance has been made for the full replacement of teachers released for these purposes and for the cost of their tuition. Allowance is also made for the designation of professional tutors in the schools and for the strengthening of LEA advisory services as well as for the payment of travelling expenses and subsistence.

The output of newly trained teachers will remain at about its present high level for another four years. This means that a big stride towards the achievement of the 1981 target will be made well before the end of the decade.

I would like now to say something about the diploma of higher education. It arose first in connection with teacher training, but I hope that this qualification will today be seen in a very much wider context. The first point is that courses leading to the diploma should be offered in each of the main sectors of higher education—universities, polytechnics and colleges. The second point is that the normal minimum entry qualification will be the same as for degrees. The third is that the diploma should itself be a qualification for entry to some forms of employment as well as being a staging post towards other qualifications, degrees included.

The Government for their part will ensure that the diploma students qualify [column 52]for mandatory awards. They will also consider how as an employer they could give currency to the new diploma and how other employers can be encouraged to do likewise. I believe that we have here a qualification which will introduce a flexibility into the system and which will be of great interest to young people themselves.

I turn now to higher education as a whole. The White Paper proposes a further important expansion and this has received general public support. There has however been some comment on the fact that the planning figure of 750,000 full-time and sandwich course places in 1981 is lower than other forecasts and suggestions made in recent years. I will therefore try to explain this a little more fully.

I must stress 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. To translate the Robbins principle into numbers up to 10 years ahead is difficult because of the uncertainties involved. We know that the raising of the school leaving age, for example, or the changing pattern of employment prospects for those completing higher education courses, will make some mark on trends of numbers, but we cannot say with confidence what the effects will be. Even in the short term there are likely to be changes which may or may not indicate a trend. There has already been some slowing down in the growth of the proportion staying at school to take A-levels and this has not been wholly matched by the growth of this work in the further education sector.

There are also indications that the demand for higher education from amongst those qualified may not be as firmly based as it was in the 1960s. Only recently it was reported that the number of candidates for university courses was lower than at the same time last year. Applications for places in colleges of education are running at a somewhat lower rate.

Thus, with fresh information becoming available all the time, any projection is likely to differ from previous ones and is almost certain to do so after two or three years. The White Paper does not pretend to forecast the 1981 demand with [column 53]precision. But I claim that, on a balanced judgment of all the factors, 750,000 is a reasonable figure at which to assess the effect by then of continuing to follow the Robbins principle, and on which to base the planning of higher education over the next 10 years.

This figure holds out the prospect of sending some 22 per cent. of the 18-yearold age group into higher education in 1981 compared with 15 per cent. in 1971 and 7 per cent. in 1961. The prospective increase in this proportion during the 1970s thus matches its increase during the 1960s; and the number of additional places needed to achieve this during the 1970s will at least equal the number added during the 1960s. This leaves no uncertainty as to the Government's aim to maintain the recent momentum of higher education expansion.

It is our intention that universities should provide half of the 750,000 places projected for 1981. For the five-year period 1972–77 the main points of the quinquennial settlement are as follows. First, the amount of the recurrent grants will continue to rise year by year providing for an increase in the numbers of full-time students from 243,000 in 1972–73 to 306,000 in 1976–77. Secondly, there will be a bigger proportion of undergraduates and a smaller proportion of postgraduates. Thirdly, there will be some economy over the university system as a whole in expenditure per student.

For the non-university institutions we have set a 1981 target of 335,000 full-time and sandwich students in England and Wales. This compares with 204,000 students in 1971–72 of whom the polytechnics contributed 66,000, other further education colleges 24,000 and colleges of education 114,000. If, as I have asked them to do, the polytechnics can bring their total up to 180,000 it will leave the remaining colleges with what looks at first sight like the comparatively easy task of adding, over ten years, only 17,000 places to their present provision for 138,000 students.

In practice, however, the task will be much more formidable. Some colleges may be closed, others merged with neighbouring polytechnics or universities, some will be engaged in the training of nursery assistants and other nonhigher educational purposes. In almost [column 54]all the colleges some resources will be diverted to the in-service training of teachers. It is not easy at this stage to estimate the net effect of all these changes on the number of places available for higher education. But it may well be that we shall need a further 40,000 to 50,000 additional places outside the polytechnics.

The size of the further expansion programme which will be required will pose problems about building programmes but will at the same time provide a welcome opportunity to commence adjustments in the present geographical distribution of higher education facilities. This will enable us to prevent the growth of a large concentration of students on a scale which would cause acute social problems, it will facilitate home-based study and extend the social and cultural benefits of higher education to areas which are at present unprovided for.

There has been a general welcome for the White Paper's policy of merging the two non-university sectors of higher education into a coherent whole, but I do not wish to minimise in any way the immense process of reorganisation and planning which will fall on local authorities and others who are directly responsible for individual institutions. The complexity of the task will be all the greater because of the radical change in the educational rôles of many colleges of education.

I am taking longer than I had expected and I therefore now turn to the expenditure parts of the White Paper. The White Paper concludes with some figures on the expenditure consequences of the policies it announces. They relate only to some three-quarters of the total educational expenditure within my field of responsibility, and that of my right hon. Friend P. Thomasthe Secretary of State for Wales, and the figures for 1981–82 do no more than indicate the order of magnitude of expenditure. Taking together the schools and higher education sectors, the White Paper shows that over the 10 years from 1971–72 to 1981–82 expenditure could rise from about £2,100 million a year to about £3,100 million, an increase of nearly £1,000 million or close on half. I stress that all these figures are at constant prices and are thus a true measure of real future growth of educational provision.

The White Paper translates these projections into average annual growth rates [column 55]for the schools and higher education sectors and compares them with the actual rates of growth achieved by these two sectors during the 1960s. The growth rate for higher education is shown as slowing down during the 1970s to 5 per cent. compared with 6½ per cent. in the 1960s, while that for the schools sector accelerates from 2½ per cent. to 3 per cent. While higher education will remain the faster growing of the two sectors, our proposals embody a shift of emphasis in favour of the schools sector.

Roy HattersleyThe hon. Member for Sparkbrook and his party have had something to say about the expenditure totals. I understand that they are now saying that there are insufficient funds for the national education budget. I have a few points to make on that. First, scarcely a breath of criticism came from the Labour benches about the education figures when we debated the White Paper on public expenditure. Education was hardly mentioned except by my hon. Friend Patrick Jenkinthe Chief Secretary to the Treasury who gave the facts. They are to be found in Table 1.1 on page 8 of the Public Expenditure White Paper, Cmnd. 5178. That table shows how expenditure on all the main services is planned to develop between 1972 and 1977. In cost terms and at constant prices public expenditure as a whole is shown as rising at an annual rate of 2.5 per cent. But for education the average annual growth rate is 5 per cent.—from £3,569 million in 1972–73 to £4,331 million in 1976–77.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

The Opposition are torpedoed again.

Mrs. Thatcher

Spending on education will increase as a proportion of public expenditure from the present 13 per cent. to more than 14 per cent. by 1976–77.

Mr. St. John-Stevas


Mrs. Thatcher

In addition, the Opposition criticism of insufficiency is made against a background of cuts made while the Labour Party was in office. I refer in particular to the Report on Education in 1968 signed by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short). It opened with the following words: [column 56]

“The planned rate of growth of the education service was slowed down in 1968 by measures, announced in January, designed to divert resources from home consumption to overseas trade and industrial investment.”

The report went on to describe the postponing for two years of the raising of the school leaving age and the consequent cuts in the education building programme, cuts which were left to us to restore and to carry out the programme, which we have done.

It went on on page 12 to announce a reduction of the further education building programme. Also on page 12 it gave restrictions in the capital spending on the universities building programme and it said:

“As part of the continuing review of public expenditure programmes the Government decided later in 1968 that the rate of expansion of public expenditure in the university sector should be further reduced.”

All the criticism they now make is against the background of the cuts they made from their own planned programmes when in office. That criticism is also made against the background of promises which they were not able to fulfil. In the publication New Britain in 1964 they said:

“As the first step to part-time education for the first two years after leaving school, Labour will extend compulsory day and block release” .

It was not done. Again, it said:

“Labour will work out a phased and costed plan for the whole of education” .

That was left for us to do. It said:

“Labour will restore the percentage grant and transfer the larger part of the cost of teachers' salaries from the rates to the Exchequer.”

That was not done either.

The last point under this heading shows how hollow are the Opposition criticisms. I shall refer here to some of the comparisons made by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook with some of the figures in the White Paper. He has not always been comparing like figures with like. I believe he has been comparing past actual expenditure figures with future “volume” figures rather than future “cost” figures. Perhaps I could give him the true comparison for this purpose. Will he read the last White Paper on public expenditure produced by his Government in 1969 for the following five-year period? Comparing like figure with like his White Paper forecast an [column 57]annual growth rate of 3.1 per cent. from 1969 to 1974, compared with 3.4 per cent.—both in volume terms—which the hon. Member has been criticising. His figure was 3.1 per cent. and yet he criticises my figure of 3.4 per cent. If the plans for education expenditure shown in his Government's White Paper had been pursued we should now be restricted in 1972–73 and 1973–74 to an annual growth rate of 2 per cent. So much for the hon. Member's criticisms.

The strictures of the Opposition are nothing but a puffing pretence. However much they carp and criticise they cannot conceal the fact that the Government have already carried through reforms which they failed to implement.

Mr. Thomas Cox

Tell that to London teachers.

Mrs. Thatcher

The new policies comprise a further advance. They give a better start, better schools, better teaching, and better choice. [An Hon. Member: “What about milk?” ] It is in the 1968 Report, from which I quoted. [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] Hon. Members have raised the point of milk and meals. At page 19 of the 1968 Report, we see that at the beginning of the summer term the charge for school meals was increased from 1s. to 1s. 6d., and from September free milk ceased to be provided for pupils at maintained secondary schools.

As I have said the new policies comprise a further advance. They give a better start, better schools, better teaching and better choice. It is both a record and a policy which we are proud to present.

4.41 p.m.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I beg to move, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

“regrets that the Government's public expenditure programme provides insufficient funds for the national education budget and that the White Paper allocates inadequate resources for the replacement of schools built before the First World War; announces a pre-school education programme too small to satisfy demand for nursery school places; will reduce planned places in higher education to a figure inconsistent with the Robbins principle, and the size of the teaching-training programme to an inadequate level; and fails to discriminate in favour of those sections of the community [column 58]who are in special need of educational priority” .

Paragraph 7 of the White Paper states:

“The total resources available will always be limited. Everything cannot be done in full at once. Each programme is in a very real sense in competition for its share of resources with other programmes, both within and outside the education service.”

There are two ways of looking at those sentences. First, it is the most banal sort of Whitehall platitude, of which all Governments have been guilty in their time. The second way of looking at them, which is the more appropriate way, is to realise that it is the beginning of the message, the birth of the White Paper's message, which the Secretary of State has repeated so assiduously over the last two months, that the Government are committed to every penny of education expenditure that it is reasonable to expect. Of course, a corollary to that argument is that any critics of the Government who call for expansion in one area must balance their proposals by proposals for cuts in another.

The idea so assiduously fostered over the last two years that the White Paper reflects the maximum reasonable education spending over the next 10 years is wrong. The Government's overall intentions for education spending have, as the right hon. Lady rightly says, to be dug out from the Public Expenditure White Paper and not from “Framework” . It is interesting to reflect on why “A Framework for Expansion” , which we were assured a week ago was written in conjunction with the Public Expenditure White Paper, does not include the overall figures. An examination of the overall figures which appear in the White Paper on Public Expenditure shows very clearly how deeply unambitious is the Government's overall spending programme.

The Government prophesy and, I am sure, will achieve an increase. That is a matter of neither congratulation nor surprise. It is inconceivable that any industrial nation, no matter how reactionary its Government, could have an education budget that stagnates or declines. What is important is the rate of growth that the Government propose.

Since 1959, in good areas as in bad, the education budget has expanded in real terms at an average of about 5.4 per cent. [column 59]a year. That figure was maintained—rather more than maintained—during the calendar year 1972. Over the next four years the average rate of increase in education expenditure will slump to 3.3 per cent. We are told that the economy is expanding at a rate of——

Mrs. Thatcher

Are those figures in volume terms or in cost terms? This makes a difference. I think in volume terms for the latter figure and cost terms for the former.

Mr. Hattersley

They are cost terms corrected for anticipated increases in prices. Those are the most accurate indices it is possible to calculate. Not only is the figure for the next three years down to 3.3 per cent., but that has to be measured against the claims that the economy as a whole is expanding at the rate of about 4 per cent. Indeed, in their more euphoric moments the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer talk about the economy expanding at a rate of 5 per cent. If that is right, if the economy is expanding at 4 per cent. or 5 per cent., the decision to hold back educational spending to a figure of little more than 3 per cent. has a simple arithmetic result.

Mrs. Thatcher


Mr. Hattersley

That result is that over the next four years the proportion of our national income devoted to educational expenditure will substantially and relentlessly decline.

Mrs. Thatcher

I believe that the hon. Gentleman has confused cost figures with volume figures. The figures for total expenditure and for education spending are at page 8 of the White Paper on Public Expenditure. Under social services, item 15, education and libraries, the average annual growth rate per cent. is 5 per cent.

Mr. Hattersley

If the right hon. Lady had listened carefully she would have heard me say that during the financial year which is about to end the educational expenditure will be 5.8 per cent. That is about or a little more than has been the average figure for the last 14 years. The figures I then went on to give, including the 3.3 per cent., are the figures for the immediate years after the [column 60]major proposals in “Framework” began. The right hon. Lady will recall that virtually all the things which she has spoken about this afternoon are not programmed to begin until the financial year that begins in February 1974. For the three years after that the average figure for expansion is 3.3 per cent. I am astonished that the right hon. Lady should argue about the figures. She knows very well that there was a much reported conference organised in London immediately after Christmas, the conclusions of which were published although the names of the participants were not. The conclusions included the opinions and offerings of very senior members of her Department, none of whom argued with the figure then advanced, that for the three years which formed the principal and preliminary three years of the White Paper the expansion figure is 3.3 per cent.

Mrs. Thatcher

May we go from the actual percentage terms to what the figures are? Hon. Members can then work them out for themselves. For public expenditure by programme in cost terms, as set out on page 17, for 1968–69 to 1976–77, on education and libraries, the estimate for 1972–73 is £3,569 million, and for 1973–74 it is £3,756 million. These are all in constant price terms. For 1974–75 the figure is £3,909 million, and for 1975–76 £4,122 million. Those are the figures, and perhaps hon. Members can work out the percentages for themselves.

Mr. Hattersley

I suggest that in order that hon. Members and, perhaps, the right hon. Lady can work it out better, she sends her Under-Secretary to get a compound rate table. If that can be applied to those figures, she will discover that my 3.3 per cent. figure is correct.

Having said that, I accept at once that it is perfectly possible to argue that the figures I have quoted are totally consistent with Conservative philosophy, that private consumption is preferable to public investment. But what it is not possible to argue in the face of a 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. growth rate in the economy as a whole and a 3 per cent. rate, or little better, of expansion in education is that education is scheduled to expand as fast as any reasonable man or woman would choose. Indeed, many highly respected education economists regard [column 61]expansion at the rate of 7½ per cent. or 8 per cent. in the education budget as attainable. Some believe, and are oft quoted, that an expansion rate twice as great as the increase in the gross national product is easily within our means.

Increases of that order are certainly justified by the needs of education. I know very well that calls for increases below those figures were regarded by some of my hon. Friends and by some people outside the House as an unambitious claim for education expansion. But the extent of the White Paper's shortcoming is to be measured by the fact not that it provides less than the most that has been reasonably asked but that it does not even postulate an expansion in the education budget which is the equivalent of the expansion in the economy as a whole.

Is the White Paper a blueprint for the development of education over the next 10 years or is it not? If, as paragraph 2 says,

“the Government have been reviewing the direction in which the service is growing: its objectives and its priorities” ,

why has the review had nothing to say about the objectives of secondary education? Perhaps more important, if it is looking at priorities, why do we hear nothing about the priority to be given for extending opportunities to the 16-and 18-year-old school leavers?

If he catches the eye of the Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) hopes to deal with that last issue in some detail. But so that the Under-Secretary may be prepared, I should like to ask him three specific questions to which we hope to return. First, has the Russell Report been received by the Department? Secondly, if it has, on what date was it received? Thirdly, when can we expect to hear the Government's conclusions on this whole sector of education, which has virtually been totally omitted from the White Paper, the education of the 16-and 18-year-old school leavers?

I turn to some of the White Paper's specific proposals. Like the right hon. Lady, I begin at the lower end of the age range, with pre-school education. I concede at once that any proposals for increases in pre-school provision are much to be welcomed, but our welcome, ex[column 62]pressed at the first opportunity by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), is qualified by two fears. The first is that the plans for pre-school education will not satisfy the overall demand for nursery places. The second is that as a result the areas that will suffer most from the shortfall in overall provision are those with the greatest need for nursery places.

Paragraphs 16 and 17 of the White Paper suggest to the unwary that the Plowden figures for nursery provision have been adopted. Indeed, the Secretary of State either said that or almost said it this afternoon. But in one crucial particular the Plowden figures have not been adopted.

I shall return to that matter later. First, let us consider those parts of the Plowden figures which have been incorporated in the White Paper—nursery places for 50 per cent. of the three-year-olds and 90 per cent. of the four-year-olds, with full-time provision for 15 per cent. of both age groups.

Why do the Government believe that provision at that level is adequate? Paragraphs 327–330 of Plowden properly reiterate the imprecision of its estimates. In the six years since Plowden was written a great deal has happened. The nursery school movement has gained enormous impetus, creating extra demand for nursery places by popularising the idea and demonstrating the advantages of preschool education. That extra demand has been measured by many recent studies. All that I have seen have calculated that the Plowden figures are inadequate. The immediate response to the White Paper provided for the right hon. Lady by the Association of Municipal Corporations on 29th December repeated the view that the Plowden figures were an unambitious total.

More recent estimates suggest that three-quarters of all three-year-olds would, given the chance, attend nursery classes, and that 20 per cent. of three-year-olds and four-years-olds would attend full-time if places were available. It is to those figures that the next Labour Government are very firmly committed.

Plowden is certainly the most official of all the estimates, but it is also the oldest and, therefore, the smallest. Why were the Plowden figures specifically [column 63]selected and more recent studies overlooked? Or, rather, why were the overall Plowden figures accepted and a crucial Plowden proposal, in Chapters 5 and 9, rejected or ignored? I refer to the recommendation that in educational priority areas half the nursery places should be full-time. No provision is more important to the EPAs—education priority areas—than nursery schools and nursery classes. But it is difficult to believe that nursery numbers will expand in those areas at the speed that is needed or to the figure required.

Chapter 5 of the White Paper introduces a general pre-school policy. I repeat the Opposition's welcome for it. But, by definition, it destroys the element of positive discrimination that was central to the previous programme. With no positive discrimination that was central to the previous programme. With no positive incentive to expand in the slums and the multi-occupied areas, a less than adequate total provision is certain to neglect the EPAs.

It looks as though the Secretary of State is still trying to calculate that the figure for expansion is not 3.3 per cent. Perhaps I can end her agony by saying that I shall gladly supply her with the figures later.

When local education authorities opened nursery classes in deprived areas, or not at all, they built in the EPAs. Not all of them will continue that policy now that a wider prospect beckons. They will be put under pressure from the vocal, prosperous suburbs that the decaying central areas cannot match. In some cities the so-called empty primary classrooms to be filled by nursery classes are most numerous in the older, poorer districts. But that is not invariably the case, and it will not sufficiently swing the balance in favour of the poorer areas.

The Economist, not always the champion of the under-privileged, put the point exactly on 19th December when, writing of the demand for places, it prophesised:

“Mrs. Thatcher will do more to satisfy it by spreading successive thin layers of nursery education all over the country than by concentrating on slum areas … there is the obvious danger that all along the line, those in greatest need will find themselves last in the queue.”

That is a genuine fear. The simple expression of hope, mentioned in passing, [column 64]in the White Paper, that the local education authorities will take account of education priority consideration, is not enough. The advice given in Circular 2/73, which does insufficient to concentrate the building programme on the needs of the EPAs, is also inadequate.

According to my calculations, the circular offers about 40,000 new nursery places during the financial year 1974–75 and about the same number the year after. That programme will begin late and move slowly. During the early years, special assistance should be concentrated on the areas of greatest need. I am grateful and pleased to hear that some building priority is to be devoted to EPA projects. I hope that we may hear more from the Under-Secretary about how that is to be organised, but I do not believe that it is sufficient.

I offer three positive proposals. First, the Plowden recommendation that 50,000 nursery places in EPAs be full-time should be accepted. Secondly, new capital works for nursery places should be approved only in priority areas until their needs are satisfied. Thirdly, the ratio of staff to children in nursery schools in EPAs should be improved. The best the Secretary of State hopes to do is to preserve the 13:1 ratio. The EPAs need, and should be given, a ratio of 10:1.

If the Secretary of State has chosen to base her nursery places on figures about which we have serious doubt, her response to the statistical evidence in the higher education sector is either deeply cynical or superficial to the point of flippancy. Her Department's Planning Paper No. 2 published in 1970 as a result of serious study predicted that 835,000 higher education places would be needed to meet the demands of 1981. That figure has been disputed by people who regard it as too low—too low, that is, to keep Britain rigidly committed to the Robbins principle that a higher education place would be available for every qualified person who wished to take one up. It has been disputed not least because the Robbins principle and the Robbins estimates, carefully calculated and stastically based, turned out to be 20 per cent. too small. Nobody had argued that the planning paper's figures were too high—nobody, that is until the Government published their White Paper in December. [column 65]

In paragraph 114 of the White Paper a passing nod is given to the Robbins principle without the Government actually embracing it. Today the right hon. Lady was much more forthcoming and specifically re-committed her Government to that idea. But the chapter “Numbers and Costs in Higher Education” , whilst it supposedly must be related to the re-endorsement of Robbins that we have heard this afternoon, amounts statistically to the abandonment of the Robbins idea.

I do not believe that the 1981 demand can possibly be met by 750,000 higher education places. Will the Under-Secretary of State tell us precisely how that 750,000 has been calculated? Is it based on expected demand, or is it related to what the Government are prepared to supply?

By 1982 the raising of the school leaving age and the encouraging effects of comprehensive reorganisation will have increased the number of potential students in our sixth forms. I also believe that the number of adults looking for university places is certain to increase. Yet, in the face of those certain increases in demand, the Secretary of State offers one alteration in the supply—a planned reduction for 1981 in the number of higher education places available to the 18- and 19-year age group, from what was to be 23.5 per cent., to what she conceded this afternoon will be 22 per cent. May we hear more about the evidence that has been wheeled out to justify this reduction?

Paragraph 117 of the White Paper includes the admirable statement that higher education is valuable for its contribution to the personal development of those who pursue it. It goes on to talk about a realistic assessment of its usefulness to career intentions. Is that supposed to be a reference to graduate unemployment? I hope that such shortterm considerations are not being used to justify a cut-back.

These are difficult days. There is unemployment in every sector of the community and a marked reluctance to invest in physical as well as human capital, but these days will not last for ever, and a White Paper containing a 10-year plan for education needs a wider perspective. One factor is working in a [column 66]way which could well justify the Government's assessment of the reduced demand for higher education places. If the purchasing power of student grants falls during the next two years as quickly as it has fallen during the last, the number of working-class students will certainly decline. But that is not a matter of satisfying demand; that is a matter of suppressing demand.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Before the hon Gentleman gets embedded in the question of student grants, will he tell the House his estimate of the number of places required in higher education and the universities by 1981?

Mr. Hattersley

I accept the most recent estimate produced by Higher Education Review of about 875,000. If it is worth anything to the hon. Gentleman, that is a smaller estimate than has been quoted in the past. I said earlier that my estimates will be regarded by some as unambitious—the people who regard 1 million as the appropriate figure. I take the most scientifically based estimate rather than the guess of the White Paper.

Mr. St. John-Stevas


Mr. Hattersley

I shall not let the hon. Gentleman reply. He has interrupted me almost as much as he interrupted the Secretary of State, and I propose to allow him half an hour between 9.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. to answer all my questions.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Then I hope the hon. Gentleman will not interrupt me.

Mr. Hattersley

The principal cut in the higher education programme is to be borne by the universities, where 85,000 places have been cut from the 1981 targets. Judgment about the division between university reduction and polytechnic expansion is not easy before we know the Government's views on the future of the binary system. Some commentators welcome the new mix as an indication of greater emphasis being placed on the public sector, a view reinforced by the White Paper's attempt to place some restrictions on the universities' rising unit costs.

I should be much more critical of the White Paper if the alternative interpretation of the balance between public [column 67]and private further education were to prove correct. That alternative interpretation is an expansion in the polytechnics, because the current cost of a place is £1,120, and the contraction of the universities, because the equivalent cost is £1,625.

The polytechnics in their present form are very much the product of the previous Labour Government. They are an enormous success. Their interests have to be preserved, and we on this side of the House do not propose to vote for higher education on the cheap. If the public system is to be expanded, as I believe it should be, it must receive a vast injection of public funds. But our principal criticism concerns the overall higher education figure. It reduces the prospects of a whole generation of potential undergraduates. As a result of the short-fall in places, which some commentators regard as almost 20 per cent., the influence of the universities and their minimum entrance requirements on the secondary school curriculum is certain to increase. It will tighten the competitive element in secondary education in our sixth forms. No doubt that conforms with the Secretary of State's philosophy but it does not conform with ours.

I now turn to the sector of education which has suffered the cruellest cuts—the colleges of education. The reduction in the number of places in the colleges of education will further reduce the prospects of women moving towards some degree of higher educational parity. How far it will prejudice the whole prospects for further education expansion depends on the answers to a number of questions which ought to have been made clear in the White Paper and were not. Again, I offer them to the Under-Secretary of State in the hope that he may seriously turn his mind to answering the debate this evening, and I give him notice of three points which I hope he will elucidate.

First, do we know whether the universities will accept the two-year diploma study as equivalent to two undergraduate years? Secondly, if the two diploma years are regarded as a full equivalent, will everyone who successfully completes them be able, if they so wish, to go forward to a degree course? Thirdly, if some colleges of education are completely integrated with neighbouring universities, [column 68]will their students be included in the 375,000 figure on which the overall university grant is to be based during the next decade?

Until those questions are answered, it is virtually impossible to make a judgment on the entire package for colleges of education, although I say at once that the Opposition very much welcome the implementation of the idea that there should be some in-service training for teachers, slow though that implementation will be.

The cuts in the colleges of education will affect not only the prospects in further education and higher education; they will affect our schools. I put aside the little subterfuge of treating the 20,000 teachers on in-service courses as if they were in front of their classes so as to publish the best possible pupil/teacher ratio, for neither 19.3:1 nor 18.5:1 is an acceptable pupil/teacher ratio for the end of this decade.

How does the Secretary of State justify such a limited aspiration? In the independent schools, of which the right hon. Lady is so fond, the ratio is 13.1:1. If it is good for them, why is it not good for the maintained schools? I warn her that in asking that question we shall be deeply unimpressed by any answer which suggests that clever pupils need more teachers and more resources than their less gifted contemporaries.

Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

Surely the higher numbers of pupils in sixth forms, whether clever or not, need more teachers?

Mr. Hattersley

That is exactly a point against which I am arguing. We suggest, shall insist upon, and will in future implement the policy that the people who need the most teachers are the children in conditions of deprivation. We are unimpressed by the hon. Gentleman's argument. We are far more impressed by the calculation of the National Union of Teachers of what the White Paper's figures amount to. The union calculates that the White Paper's figures will provide for 40 pupils in classes in primary schools and 30 in secondary school classes by the end of the decade. Those figures are not only unambitious; they are, to us at least, unacceptable. There are 4,500 classes in State schools with more [column 69]than 40 children in them. To bring them down to 40 children should be simply the beginning. The union has calculated that to bring all classes down to 30 pupils would need a teaching force 60,000 greater than the White Paper suggests.

There is a second great and urgent need for extra teachers—in the educational priority areas. We have never done enough to encourage more teachers to teach in those areas. The full Plowden increments, recommended six years ago, have never been paid. A future Labour Government will contemplate much higher levels of teaching effort in those areas.

To all this the right hon. Lady has responded with a reduction in places in colleges of education, from 114,000 this year to 75,000 or 80,000 in 1981, and only 60,000 to 70,000 of these will be new teachers in training. The most charitable interpretation is that she has been kept so humiliatingly short of money that this is the maximum teaching force she is allowed to provide.

Finally, I turn to one other example of the strict financial control which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has imposed on the education budget. This is contained in the figures which the right hon. Lady referred to and to which I must return again and again. During the financial year about to end we shall spend more than £375 million on school building. That figure is in part the result of the decision to raise the school leaving age, with £40 million more than last year's figure devoted to the purpose. It is no doubt the figure for schools capital investment that the Government feel is both educationally necessary and economically possible.

From this year onwards the figure for captial expenditure on schools declines every year. By the financial year 1976–77 it will have fallen to £281 million. That is an extraordinary reduction, and there is more involved in it than the end of the raising of the school leaving age building programme, for that has never been more than £61 million in one year. The reduction, to which the right hon. Lady referred and to which I shall return time and time again, is £94 million.

Has it come about for reasons economic or educational? Has the right hon. Lady been told that this year's [column 70]level of capital expenditure on schools cannot be maintained? Or is she simply giving school building for the years from now a lower priority than she has given it in 1972–73? Last week, the right hon. Lady told me that there are about 300 secondary schools in England and Wales which were built before the turn of the century. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us over what period the Government expect to see these schools replaced. I hope he will also tell us how many schools survive from the period between 1900 and the First World War and what plans the Government have for replacing them, because many are, to my certain knowledge, in as urgent need of replacement as those built before the turn of the century.

In “Framework for Expansion” we are promised more than £50 million a year for replacement of old primary schools On the right hon. Lady's own figures, we know that the replacement of schools built before 1903 will take us into the early 1980s. Looking at the answer she gave to a Written Question on 20th December, that seems me to be the most optimistic estimate. I hope we can have a very precise explanation from the hon. Gentleman about how he reconciles the claim that all speed is being made towards the removal of our most decrepit schools with the fact that £94 million is being lopped off the funds available for school building over the next four years. It is possible to argue that the Government are being careful with the taxpayers' money or that something else has a higher priority. What it is not possible to argue is that school rebuilding is being pushed ahead with the utmost speed and the utmost determination.

Finally, I ask the Government whether they really believe that the degree of priority they are planning for areas of special educational need is adequate. I have already said that a Labour Government would concentrate the early provision of nursery school places in the educational priority areas. We intend to concentrate an increasing share of all our educational resources on the educationally under-privileged.

Of course, we know that the simple physical improvement of schools in deprived areas, an improvement in the staff pupil ratio, or the provision of extra money for more equipment will not in [column 71]itself solve the problems of the educationally deprived. But it is a step in the right direction, and it is one which we would take, not least because it is wholly consistent with our philosophy of education.

Of course, our views on education reflect our views on society. We do not want to see any part of the community arbitrarily or artificially divided. We certainly do not want to see those conditions accentuated in our schools. That is why we intend to re-define the concept of equality of opportunity. We do not see education as a sort of obstacle race made fair by lining every child up on the same starting line and then allowing some to break records and others to fall at the first hurdle.

Special help has to be provided for those whose background and abilities do not equip them to win the race but who would find life enormously enriched if they could be encouraged to run a few yards further. We want to build a society which is united, not divided. We want education to draw people together, not drive them apart.

To promote that sort of society, education spending has to expand at least as fast as the economy as a whole. There also has to be a policy genuinely and determinedly committed to discrimination in favour of those children for whom our present system provides far too little. We do not see these objectives being achieved by “Framework for Expansion” . It is for that reason that we have put down our amendment, and it is with those convictions that we shall vote for it tonight.