EXPANSION IN EDUCATION
Speaking at a meeting of the Schools Council today (8 March) the Education Secretary, Mrs Margaret Thatcher said:
“Members of the Council may have heard something the last week or so of a rather vigorous exchange about the rate of educational growth. It started in Parliament and has been continued in the press. Those who followed it may be experiencing the slightly topsy-turvy sensation that you get in a hall of distorting mirrors. So perhaps it is worth a moment or two establishing what the true facts are.
“When the education White Paper talked about expansion, it meant expansion and not contraction. For many education will start earlier, and for more than in the past it will go on longer. That is an expansion of the service—at both ends. There will be more teachers, and we hope they will be better trained. That is expansion. Taking altogether the policies outlined in the White Paper, covering three-quarters of the service, annual expenditure could rise by nearly a half—£960m over the decade.
“You may wonder how this can possibly be represented as a cut-back of £60m a year. The short answer, of course, is that it can't. That calculation, for what it is worth, does not start from the education White Paper at all but from the expenditure White Paper. This covers not ten years but five—and the policies of the education White Paper will only mature in the second half of this decade.
“That is the first point. The second point is that the projected rate of increase over the next five years has been compared with the actual rate of increase over the previous fourteen. I cannot think why anybody should suppose that they ought to be the same. Consider some of the things that were happening in the 1960s. There was the sheer pressure of numbers in the schools, which is now easing off. There was the very rapid expansion of teacher supply, which we now have to moderate. There were the preparations for raising the school- [end p1] leaving age. There was the leap ahead in higher education after the Robbins Report. There can be no meaningful comparison between the years in which these things were happening and the years immediately ahead. But, although this is so let me assure you that the idea recently given currency in Parliament and the press of a sudden and substantial cut-back in the growth rates of educational expenditure is a travesty of the facts.
“For the next decade we have looked not to percentage tables but to the real needs of the education service. The policies we have formulated are designed to extend and expand the service where extension and expansion are needed. And we have planned them within a rate of growth compatible with acceptable future levels of public expenditure as a whole. The proper calculation here is that from 10 per cent of public expenditure in the early 1960s the share devoted to education will rise to over 14 per cent by 1976/77.
“There is one other comparison that has been teased out of the figures by those who have been unable to fault the White Paper policies as such. This is to compare the growth of education spending in the next five years with guesses about the growth of the gross domestic product. This is a fragile basis of comparison. It is fragile first because there is no necessary relationship between the two. It is fragile secondly because we do not and cannot know how the GDP is going to behave between now and 1977. But it is fragile most of all because, whereas the expenditure White Paper is framed on alternative rates of growth for GDP of 3½ per cent and 5 per cent, the truly comparable figure for education is quite clearly 5 per cent. So on one alternative education will expand as fast as the economy as a whole, on the other it will expand faster.
“The Patrick JenkinChief Secretary and I have both spelt out the detailed calculations and qualification in letters which have now been published. But I thought, since you had asked me to speak to the White Paper today, that I ought just to put this matter into perspective in educational terms.”