Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1973 Feb 19 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

HC I [Education (White Paper)] (Smith and Rhodes speeches)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Intervention
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [851/89-104]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1813-59. MT intervened at cc95 and 100.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 5137
Themes: Employment, Public spending & borrowing
[column 89]

6.13 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

The hon. Member for Chertsey (Mr. Grylls) will forgive me if I do not follow his line of argument too closely. My own interest [column 90]in education and in the White Paper is concerned more with the nursery, primary and secondary levels of education than with higher education. There is much in the White Paper to commend it, especially that part relating to nursery education. It is gratifying that the Government's commitment to it is now a wholehearted one and while, as the amendment points out, the provision is likely to be inadequate to meet the real need, none the less it is a considerable step forward.

I have heard a number of references to deprivation. However, I make the point in passing that in education terms deprivation does not necessarily always spring from economic deprivation. If the Opposition ever again become the Government, I hope that they will bear that point in mind.

Since the White Paper makes special reference to nursery classes I draw attention to paragraph 21 which calls attention to the need for close contact with other local authority departments. I believe that that is the sensible way and that it is clearly not sensible for two different departments to be running services of this kind for the same age ranges. It is obviously much better for the same centre to provide for normal nursery hours on either a full-time or a part-time basis and for that same centre to provide for the complete working day. I believe that this is done at the Millfields School in Coventry. I hope that the right hon. Lady will look seriously at that possibility with her ministerial colleagues in other Departments.

It is arguable that education should take over children at the age of three with the social services operating up to that age. I am sure that the education service would not wish to concern itself with children below the age of two. However the trouble is that often it is necessary to centralise the 0 to 3-year-old services in an area. This happens now and the net result is that for some single-parent families the struggle to get children to nursery schools when the mothers go out to work is so great that ultimately it defeats them.

The difficulty is that the planned development of nursery classes attached to primary schools, as the White Paper proposes, makes the all-in provision much more difficult. Therefore I ask whether [column 91]it is not possible to provide in each local authority area—as now exists and not as will exist in the new local government set-up—a nursery school to include all-in provision to cover the full working day and to provide not just for the children of working mothers but for children who for social reasons ought to be there full-time—in other words the 15 per cent. mentioned by Plowden and the White Paper. The part-timers could all go to nursery classes attached to primary schools. But I argue that in addition to the nursery classes there should be centres covering full-time nursery education and, in addition, day nurseries allowing for the full working day to be covered as well. I hope that nothing in the White Paper indicates that schemes such as the one in Coventry will be precluded in the future.

The problem is that whatever is done in this connection has some disadvantages. However I think that the suggestion which I have made is probably the one with the fewest problems attaching to it. I hope that progress will be made along these lines. I accept that there are arguments about whether the 15 per cent. provision for full-time education is sufficient. I doubt it. But at any rate the White Paper envisages a start being made which in itself is to be commended.

While I am dealing with nursery education, one omission from the White Papers concerns the time of a child starting school. The present arrangement whereby a child must by law attend school by the beginning of the term after which he reaches the age of five creates a problem in many areas in that some children must begin at Christmas and others at Easter, with the result that in effect places have to be found for them in the preceding September. This is wasteful expenditure. The Plowden Committee recommended that all children should begin full-time attendance at school in the September following their fifth birthdays, having the right to part-time education in the three-plus and four-plus years. I think that that is a very good idea nationally, though in passing I might say that it would create difficulties in my constituency where we have a great deal of pre-school education already. In fact 80 per cent. of the children in my constituency attend [column 92]school from the age of four. As chairman of the education committee which implemented that, I am very proud to say as much.

Looking at the position nationally, however, I think it would be a tremendous advance to bring in one starting day for all children attaining the age of five in the next education year. The pattern then would be for part-time nursery classes attached to primary schools for the three- and four-plus, with full-time education starting at five-plus, and full-time nursery schools covering the full working day span during the three- and four-plus years. I hope that the Minister will look into that possibility.

Still on nursery schools, the White Paper envisages increases in staff. Undoubtedly there will need to be a development of the NNEB courses. I am sure the Minister will find that colleges are more than willing to arrange such courses.

I ask the Minister to consider the implementation or introduction of special career grades for nursery school teachers. Rochdale has four nursery schools. The present method of allocating points according to the ages of the children means that there are few career prospects for nursery school teachers as they are either teachers on the staff of a nursery school or head teachers and there is very little scope in between. As long as we maintain the present points system in nursery education—I am not arguing about this concept as a scheme—a career structure for nursery school teachers will be very difficult.

I particularly welcome the paragraph in the White Paper headed “The Rôle of Parents.” One hon. Gentleman on the Government side referred to this area earlier. I hope that the Minister will give a wider interpretation to the rôle of parents than is envisaged in the White Paper. For example, I hope that she will urge and, if possible, even instruct local authorities that parents shall by right be represented on all boards of governors and managers of nursery, primary and secondary schools. This has already been done in my constituency. We have had all the articles of government of both primary and secondary schools altered, again I say with modesty, while I was chairman of the [column 93]education committee. On every board of governors in my constituency we have serving as governors or managers with full rights representatives of parents elected directly by the parents within the schools. That applies to every school in my constituency. I hope that a similar provision might be possible throughout the country.

Before leaving nursery education, I hope that the Minister will be more specific about the rôle of playgroups. I agree, and the White Paper states, that they perform an excellent service. I hope that the Government will find it possible not to urge, as is envisaged in the White Paper, but to instruct local authorities, first, that playgroups should be properly organised and, secondly, that they shall make available the finance to enable them to be properly organised.

As regards capital investment in primary and secondary schools, the backlog has to be made up. This is part of the Opposition's amendment. It appears to me that the programme envisaged is not sufficient to do the job. If prices of land and building continue to rise at their present rate—local authorities often have to buy land to build schools—the growth rate envisaged would represent an overall reduction in progress. We cannot accept that as a wise investment policy. When we build schools we invest in the future.

I welcome the assurance in the White Paper about the provision for the replacement and renewal of special schools. That is to be commended. Any society which neglects the handicapped is unworthy to be called civilised. I hope that need will be as great a criteria in providing special schools as availability and provision of finance.

I regret that the White Paper makes no reference to denominational aided schools. I hope that the ultimate Bill will do so. These schools play a major rôle in our educational pattern. I have a great regard for the work they do. However, whatever one's view of aided schools, whether for or against, it would be impossible for our education service to continue without the facilities they provide. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will seriously consider at the appropriate time the possibility of increasing the percentage allowed to diocesan bodies above the 80 per cent. now applicable for [column 94]repairs, maintenance and capital costs. The 20 per cent. that these bodies have to find is an increasing amount in real figures as opposed to percentages. A 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. increase to 85 per cent. or 90 per cent. would be a fair, realistic and generous gesture.

I have no personal axe to grind. I am an active member of the Unitarian Church, but I take the view that a child is a child whether he be agnostic, Unitarian, Quaker, Church of England, Roman Catholic or anything else and that his education is of paramount importance. So long as we have aided schools, we should ensure that lack of finance by the aiding body is not a material factor in impeding a child's educational progress.

I turn now to in-service training. The tragedy is that the teachers who are most likely to be in need of in-service training are those who are usually least anxious to go for training. I accept that in the early years there is little we can do about that, since it would be virtually impossible to compel the unwilling to go at the same time as the willing were clamouring to go but could not get in. However, when the scheme has been in operation for some years it might be possible to introduce an element of compulsion. One possible way would be for local education authorities to make it plain that they would not consider for promotion any teacher who had not taken refresher courses regularly every seven years. Even then, however, the problem would not be solved because by the time a teacher had reached the age of 50, he or she would be unlikely to obtain promotion. Yet it is at that very point that such teachers most need a refresher course. Possibly at that point compulsion would be acceptable.

The section in the White Paper on higher education strikes me as being extremely sensible. One section to which reference has not been made concerns people receiving higher education in universities and establishments nearer to their homes than is the case at present. I accept that there are people who criticise the doctrine that young people should go to universities and colleges nearer to their homes, but I believe it is a wise move within the White Paper. Those who always thought that it was good for young people to go away from home did so on the assumption that the accommodation [column 95]they were likely to occupy was satisfactory, whereas we know that large numbers of young people are in “digs” which are far from satisfactory and, indeed, in some cases virtually squalid. Therefore, I welcome that particular section.

There appears to be one other minor omission from the White Paper. I can find nothing in it—although in my inexperience in these matters I may have missed it—about the alteration in the law to allow pupils still within the compulsory school age to participate in work in industry. Some time ago the Government promised local authorities that they would deal with this matter when the raising of the school leaving age took effect, but I have seen nothing about it yet, nor has the chief education officer in my authority.

Mrs. Thatcher

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman on that specific point. We are hoping to bring forward legislation on that one point this Session.

Mr. Smith

I am grateful for the right hon. Lady's intervention and I am delighted to hear it. Many of us believe that during the last year of school it should be possible to give people industrial experience, but the present barriers of having to provide insurance against accident and things of that kind make it difficult to do so as the law stands. I hope that the points which have been omitted can be considered and included in future legislation.

With regard to tonight's vote, despite everything I have said I feel that I must support the amendment because of the omissions outlined in the amendment and because of the points I have explained. I still believe, however, there is a great deal to commend the White Paper. Therefore, I hope that the Government will feel that some of us who go through the Opposition Lobby tonight will not do so for any purely critical reasons about what might be done which has not been done or with the feeling that we must score a point against the Government. I find myself in the difficult position that I agree with the words of the amendment rather than with the spirit in which it is moved. We must always press for increased educational expenditure and therefore we must in honour support the amendment. At the same time I hope that the right [column 96]hon. Lady and the Government will accept that I and my colleagues believe that the White Paper is basically to be commended.

6.32 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I hope that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cyril Smith) will forgive me if I do not take up his remarks, because I want to deal with a particular category of deprived children in my constituency.

About 18 months ago I received a deputation of parents of mentally handicapped children who complained to me about the conditions and circumstances in which their children were being schooled in a village hall in my constituency. I was horrified at the stories that were unfolded and I asked the parents to go away and to put down on paper the factual situation setting out all the circumstances and conditions at that school. I was no less appalled when I received their written report which emphasised the facts they had outlined. I immediately thought that something must be done about the situation.

I will not bore the House by relating all the details of what was disclosed. Suffice it to say that neither the building nor the facilities provided would be remotely acceptable for the housing and education of normal children. I submit that we must be no less critical in the standards we require and demand for mentally subnormal children as for those who are in good bodily and mental health. We must not accept that their tragic infirmities in some way justify their being housed and taught under conditions which, judged by all civilised standards, would be regarded as quite intolerable and which, apart from being unacceptable to the children, impose strains on the parents and make almost impossible the task of the dedicated people charged with the duty of caring for and teaching these children.

I am sure my right hon. Friend appreciates that most of the parents of these children pay very great tribute to the dedication of the people who have charge of these children. I am sure that this alone should lead to our giving them better circumstances in which to do the job.

I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend to whom I wrote about [column 97]this matter and attached the parents' report. She initiated immediate inquiries into the circumstances that were disclosed. It was obvious how great was her concern because there were quick and substantial improvements, but she evidently concluded—and I agree with her entirely—that the standards at that village school could never be really acceptable. She took the initiative of ensuring that a new custom-built school should be built to replace the school about which I have complained. She also provided the blueprint for the Kent County Council indicating the standards of building and facilities in the new school.

My experience has caused me considerable alarm and concern about the future treatment of these children. I feel that this case also enlightened my right hon. Friend, and I was greatly encouraged to hear her remarks about her intention to ensure that there is an improvement in this service. However, I cannot help wondering how many other mentally handicapped children there are who are housed and schooled in circumstances similar to those which I so greatly deplored in my constituency. I have every confidence that my right hon. Friend will give urgent attention to the provision of better facilities for the schooling of these children.

We know that they were first brought within the scope of the educational system in 1971. The size of the problem is illustrated by the fact that there are still many mentally handicapped children who even today are not receiving any education whatever. I hope that my right hon. Friend will do everything she possibly can to insist not only that local education authorities bring these children who are not now receiving schooling quickly into the educational system but on their being schooled in decent and acceptable conditions.

6.38 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

To take up a point made by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), I agree entirely that the vast majority of young people in my constituency receive no education whatever beyond the compulsory school leaving age. If the hon. Member takes care to read the White Paper carefully, [column 98]he will find that they will not get a penny piece of the money which is now to be spent.

It must be said that the White Paper has received a good Press. The main reason is its emphasis on nursery education. I can confirm that this is a popular subject because I have in my constituency a body entitled the East Newcastle Action Group which undertook a special survey of the demand among working-class mothers for nursery education, a copy of which I sent to the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) did tonight what needed doing: a dull, dry job of analysing the statistics, the facts and the expenditure. My hon. Friend was on the ball. It was he who was looking at the figures for the next 10 years and working out what they meant. If the Secretary of State did not like what he said, she will like even less what I am going to say.

First I deal with teacher supply. It seems astonishing, particularly with the development of nursery education, that so little has been said, particularly in the Press, about the failure of the White Paper to give any basis for its estimates on the future demand for teachers. The fact of not knowing what the future demand for teachers will be, coupled with the Government's failure to provide for an appreciably higher rate of expenditure on education, to which my hon. Friend referred, will have the effect of inhibiting and restricting all the nice-sounding phrases and promises that get the headlines in the newspapers but which will in future have to be paid for.

The White Paper persists in arguing teacher supply on the basis of the overall pupil-teacher ratio. Overall ratios can conceal grossly over-sized classes especially when the number of pupils staying on at school at 16 is not yet known. The Secretary of State has refused to accept what most educational opinion regards as entirely reasonable and far from generous: a starting objective of classes of a maximum size of 30—and there must be constituencies which would be a lot happier if they could reduce the size of their classes to [column 99]40, let alone 30, in primary as well as secondary schools.

The fact that the White Paper does not calculate these requirements means that there is a big gap in it. It has led the right hon. Lady to underestimate by 60,000, according to the National Union of Teachers, the number of teachers needed simply to achieve a satisfactory basic staffing standard. The Government have considerably underestimated other things as well. What will be the increased teaching requirement arising from nursery education? What will be the subsequent effect of the development of nursery education on the demand for places beyond the school leaving age? That is a longer-term objective.

The Government have failed to appreciate fully the impact of their proposals for in-service training and the induction of teachers, quite apart from the demand for teachers which will be generated automatically by the expansion in neglected areas such as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where slowly we are trying to break through and keep children at school and provide education for those who leave school early on the basis of compulsory day release. The White Paper has practically nothing to say about these things. It is about such things—the interests of working-class children—that Labour Members of Parliament care, whatever other hon. Members may or may not care about. The failure to make proper provision for teacher supply is another weakness in the White Paper, a failure illustrated by the inadequate expenditure target.

Not long ago a member of the Conservative Party well known in educational circles, Dr. Kathleen Ollerenshaw, with whom I disagree but for whom I have a great deal of respect, estimated that by 1980 existing education policies would bring expenditure up to approximately £4,000 million.

The White Paper had the advantage of doing the calculation later than Dr. Ollerenshaw and therefore it could update the figure, taking into account current inflationary tendencies. Yet the White Paper produced a figure of only £3,120 million by 1981–82. The Secretary of State can bandy figures as much as she likes with my hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook, but if when she goes [column 100]home tonight she burns the midnight oil she will find that those who know the facts of current educational developments believe that Dr. Ollerenshaw is nearer to the truth than is the right hon. Lady.

Mrs. Thatcher

The two figures are simply not comparable. The education White Paper does not set out to cover all education expenditure. It specifies what it covers—a part of the total. Moreover the White Paper deals only with England and Wales. The hon. Member must limit the nonsense he is talking.

Mr. Rhodes

The right hon. Lady may call what I say nonsense, but I have had consultations with the National Union of Teachers and it calculates the figure to be £4,000 million and it is calculated exactly on the basis of the estimates in the White Paper. The Secretary of State is now saying that the NUT is led by people whose heads are full of nonsense. You may attack them how you like, but there are people on the NUT executive who know more about education than you will ever know.

Mr. Speaker

Order.

Mr. Rhodes

It was the right hon. Lady who started using the word “nonsense” . I did not use the word. I have always had the deepest respect for the right hon. Lady, but if she wants to bandy words with me on that kind of basis I will bandy words with her any time she likes.

I deplore the Government's intention to reduce the rate of growth in higher education and to cut the anticipated increase in the number of university places. I share the disquiet of the profession, in particular the disquiet of the NUT, over the way the White Paper deals with the size of the teaching force required in the future. The figures given in sections 5 and 17 need to be challenged, but it is difficult to make specific criticisms.

If the Secretary of State is interested in nonsense, I will ask a few nonsensical questions. There is an absence of detailed information about the basis on which the Department is basing its assumptions. We need to know particularly the proposed input figures for the profession from 1974 to 1981. We need to know too the assumptions on which the Department has based its calculations. We [column 101]need to know the proportion of graduates following consecutive courses to students following concurrent courses. These questions have been put to the Department. I have written to it about many of these matters and have received only stonewalling answers.

They are not figures which have been calculated on a scientific basis. If they have been I shall be delighted to have them presented and I shall withdraw and apologise for what I have said. If the Government come clean on this kind of calculation we can start to make calculations of cost that might begin to make sense. At the moment, however, they roam around the confines of the Department of Education and Science as if they were some kind of State secret that perhaps our potential enemies should not have.

Then there is the division of student places among the various types of institution. Paragraph 120 gives a figure of 335,000 for the non-university higher education sector in England and Wales. Many of us doubt whether this global figure is large enough, especially as university numbers are to be held at 375,000. It clearly represents a reduction in the total number of students expected to be qualified by having two A-levels by 1981 when compared with a forecast from practically every leading educational statistician in the country and by many others who have worked out the figures very carefully. If the Secretary of State says that is nonsense, so also are the figures calculated by her own statisticians in the Department.

Paragraph 142 of the White Paper allocates 180,000 of the 335,000 places to the polytechnics, which will give them an average size of about 6,000. The wording of paragraph 142 seems to suggest that the polytechnics are to be allowed to expand to the total extent of their own development plans. I draw the attention of the House here to the shabby treatment handed out to the colleges of education. It seems thoroughly unjust that the polytechnics were invited to submit development plans a year or so ago, when the colleges of education were “on ice” , waiting for James and then waiting for the White Paper. The colleges of education have not been afforded the same opportunity until now, when most of the cake has already been shared out. [column 102]

Paragraph 144, for example, puts the non-polytechnic advanced further education places in the public sector at 155,000 by 1981. Of these, 138,000 already exist in advanced further education colleges. It follows that the net expansion can be only 17,000, to be divided between all advanced further education colleges and colleges of education.

That is pretty shabby treatment of the colleges of education. In the 1960s these colleges responded magnificently to the Government's call to meet the demands of the nation. But now, in relation to the whole higher education exercise, that paltry figure of 17,000 will be inadequate to enable many colleges of education to become, or to remain, viable higher education institutions.

It will be suggested perhaps that they should amalgamate and join the nearest polytechnic. In my constituency the nearest polytechnic is only a mile away. But the nearest hall of residence of the university is only five yards away. If people are so keen on amalgamation, on economies of scale, on education precincts, and the rest, let them continue the logic of that argument in terms of saving money, in terms of sharing staff, sharing refectories, sharing libraries and sharing the fruits of education among the universities, the colleges of education, the technical colleges, the marine colleges and the rest.

Someone in the Socialist Educational Association wrote the other day that the Labour Party's Green Paper on Higher Education—I had the honour of chairing and being the principal spokesman for the group which produced it—was merely a continuation of the Secretary of State's White Paper. She deserves congratulation that, since we spent five years working on our Green Paper before she started working on her White Paper.

In fact, our Green Paper is the opposite of the right hon. Lady's White Paper, because the basic assumption in the White Paper is an élitist philosophy. It is not concerned with the mass of the children who have no education whatever beyond school. Our Green Paper, on the other hand, calls for compulsory higher education for those who have left school—compulsory, that is, on the employer. In all the circumstances, the position of the colleges of education is extremely confusing. [column 103]

I have not raised the question of the cut-back in the development of the universities, the cut-back in the provision which universities have in both staffing and facilities. My only comment there is that recent figures have shown that the average of the age group nationally going to university is 4.9 per cent., and for the London area it is 7.8 per cent. For the Northern Region it is 3.8 per cent. and in my constituency, according to the calculations I have been able to make, it is even less.

If there is to be a pull-back in the growth of the universities and the growth of colleges of education, and if there is to be relatively small development in the polytechnics in terms of the overall provision of higher education—in other words, not meeting the number of people qualified with two A-levels—what is in it for the North East? For the North East it means increasing competition in an area where we already have the difficulty of persuading children to stay on at school in the first place.

When one looks behind all the verbiage and the nice-sounding phrases, one sees that the right hon. Lady's programme is not as good as it ought to be. It has been calculated that there should be 835,000 people in higher education by the end of the decade. Some put the target as high as 1 million. Because of the raising of the school leaving age, the growth of comprehensive schools, the rising demand for adult education and the growing desire for education for women—who are under-represented in higher education at present—some people say that the target should be 1 million. But the Government have not only reduced their own departmental estimates to 835,000; they have come down to 750,000 by 1981, a shortfall of 85,000.

I say, therefore, that if one looks carefully behind the figures, projecting forward 10 years ahead in terms of the cost of education, this is a reactionary document, and those newspapers which welcomed it because of the nice phrases—I welcome them too; I welcome what is said about nursery education only too much—have missed the main point, which was made from our Front Bench.

It is estimated that 39.5 per cent. of all full-time students in further and higher education last year were women. For [column 104]1981 the latest departmental calculations throw up a figure of 37.7 per cent. Thus the number of women enjoying full-time education a decade from now will have fallen, in spite of all the social pressures. What kind of a representative of “women's lib” is the right hon. Lady when her own figures show a fall in the number of women enjoying higher education facilities in 1981?

Mr. Winterton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rhodes

Other hon. Members want to speak, and my Whips have told me to keep it short.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

What about me? I want to know——

Mr. Rhodes

The last time I gave way to the hon. Lady she made some very rude remarks, and I do not intend to give way now.

I have known the right hon. Lady for many years, from the days when I was a PPS at housing and she was a leading figure in housing matters on the Tory Opposition benches. I appreciate her charm, I appreciate her grace and I appreciate her intellect—there is no doubt about that—but behind her document is the cold, hard hand of the Treasury, and she knows it.