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)] (Roderick speech)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [851/137-41]
Editorial comments: 2035-46. MT intervened at c139.
Importance ranking: Trivial
Word count: 1410
[column 137]

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)

I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will understand if I speak as quickly as possible to enable other hon. Members to speak in the debate.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cyril Smith) drew attention to paragraphs 127 and 128 of the White Paper which refer to students attending universities near their homes. I take great exception to the idea that students should go to universities near their homes. If they choose to go into residence they should have every opportunity to do so. Are we to differentiate between Oxford and Cambridge and the provincial colleges and universities? We shall be setting up two standards if we proceed along these lines. I should like to know more about the penalties which will be introduced if we are to prevent young people going into residence.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the spirit and words of the amendment. I should like his clarification on the spirit of the amendment, because I do not know much about it. The hon. Gentleman may know more about it. I think that he is reading more into it than is apparent to many hon. Members.

I apologise to the Secretary of State for confusing the number of student places with teachers when I intervened in her speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) said that it was easy to teach a person to be a physicist at 18. My hon. Friend betrays a complete lack of knowledge of present-day physics when he makes that claim. As a mathematician [column 138]I take exception to his remarks. He should study the matter a little more closely.

However, I agree with my hon. Friend and others who said that quality is all-important. This is why I want education to come out of the rat race in which it has so long been and still is. The competitive element in education is strong and the White Paper does nothing to move away from it.

I obviously cannot touch on every provision in the White Paper. However, I particularly wish to refer to the nursery provision. It has been said that that provision is based on the Plowden recommendations, which are already six years old. We are talking about a period 10 years hence, so that there is, in effect, a 16 year gap in the provisions.

The demand has increased. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) referred to this matter. Some parents will not choose to send their children to nursery schools. I contend that these are the children most in need of nursery provision. I know that there will be a tremendous demand and that people will be conditioned to thinking in terms of the usefulness of nursery education, but there are idle parents—parents of the most deprived children—who will not send their children to nursery schools. Therefore, I suggest that we should make nursery education compulsory from the age of three onwards for the sake of these children. The Secretary of State said that she was against compulsion. I suggest that there ought to be an opting out rather than an opting in. I accept that an argument could be put forward for children to be kept away from nursery school rather than that they should volunteer to go, because too many of our children will not go.

A limited expansion of teacher training and supply is envisaged. I think that negligible progress will be made in reducing class sizes in the primary sector to 30. The maximum class size should be 30. This is recommended by all educationalists. What is the use of providing nursery education if from that stage children go into primary schools with large classes where the teachers cannot afford the time to listen to individual children reading daily as they should? [column 139]

We hear sufficient complaints about the quality and standards of reading ability in our schools. One of the causes is that teachers have not the time to hear the children read. Furthermore we need far more individual attention by teachers in primary school classes than there used to be. In the past it was virtually impossible to lecture to a class of 50. Today we have very small groups of classes for individual teaching. The teacher needs smaller classes to make such provision.

I was astonished to see that the White Paper retains the idea that 40 is a reasonable class size—or at least it applauds the fact that we are coming to this view and that few classes are over this size. It does not mention the fact that in the next decade we should move towards a class size of 30 as a maximum.

Mrs. Thatcher

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Labour Government abolished the concept of class size for the purpose of judging the teacher/pupil numbers.

Mr. Roderick

I am sure the right hon. Lady will acknowledge that the White Paper refers to class sizes in this country as being over 40. I believe that this concept is wrong and that there should be no classes of this size.

I am afraid that the forecasts of need are likely to be wide of the mark. The Secretary of State said that she did not want to produce more teachers than local authorities could afford. Is she suggesting that this is the reason for not producing more teachers? Is she of the view that the provision of teachers is not a governmental responsibility?

I would have welcomed much more flexibility in the Secretary of State's approach to this problem. Most of the figures and estimates of numbers are guesswork. How does she propose to allow for future changes? In other words, could the Secretary of State quickly change direction if she thought it necessary to do so?

I shall not go into the subject of higher education but I should like to ask about a phrase used by the right hon. Lady when she said that there would be places available for all those who were qualified and who wanted to take them up. Does that relate to the present qualifications, [column 140]or are they to be changed? The qualifications for higher education are normally two A-levels. Will there be places for those people in higher education? I question this approach. Will those involved get the type of higher education they want?

I turn to comprehensive education. The White Paper does not envisage an approach towards comprehensive secondary schools. The overwhelming evidence is that we should proceed with this move with the utmost speed. I hope that the Under-Secretary will explain what in a recent debate he called “comprehension” . I fail to understand the word in this context. The hon. Gentleman may like to take the opportunity to explain it and the phrase “mixed ability” when applied to secondary modern schools. I felt that this was a contradiction in terms.

I accept that the White Paper published in the early 1970s talked about comprehensive higher education. Even if the concept of comprehensive higher education is too revolutionary for the Government, at least they might have been bold enough to introduce a comprehensive system of grants whereby grants should be paid to students in further higher education on the same scale regardless of the type of institution.

The White Paper says nothing about the examinations system. Students are demonstrating their increasing concern about the system. Has not the right hon. Lady asked the Schools Council for advice? Teachers are becoming more and more convinced of the need to use the other forms of assessment of attainment. Attainment should be assessed on a continuing basis. Certainly we might have expected some comment on the situation. We could well see the merging of the certificate of secondary education and the general certification of education in this decade, but there has been no mention of this in the White Paper.

Another matter which is not mentioned in the White Paper is school counselling. The right hon. Lady will recall that I have asked Questions on this subject and that at one time it was confused with careers guidance. I hope that the careers advisory service within the schools will continue and develop. Even more serious, however, is the position of the youth employment service. I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State has fought [column 141]hard to retain the service within the education sector. We know that some of her right hon. Friends would attach it to the Department of Employment.

I have referred briefly to school counselling. Not only am I concerned that there is no mention of the subject, but for some time I have found that the Department has no knowledge of the progress that was being made. There are nine universities training school counsellors on full- or part-time courses, yet the Department cannot tell us how many are employed in the country. Remarkably few are employed full-time. They handle most important matters, yet the White Paper has not mentioned the subject. With those remarks, I now conclude to allow others of my hon. Friends the opportunity to speak.