Mrs Thatcher Reports Progress in Nursery Education Plans
The Education Secretary Mrs Margaret Thatcher today (19 May) listed the general principles on which she would be allocating special building programmes for nursery education, when addressing the Golden Jubilee Conference of the Nursery School Association, in London.
The next few years, she said, are of immense importance for nursery education in this country—they could well be called the “formative” years. This is indeed what they will be as we shall be shaping the future pattern and development of nursery schools and classes as well as the future development of the children who will benefit.
“From the early days of this century until last December when the Government published its plans for the expansion of nursery education, our youngest children have been subjected to the ebbs and flows of public opinion, finance and the various other demands of the education service.
“Now we look forward to expansion with the knowledge that the provision for the under-fives can take its proper place in the wider pattern of education. At this early stage in the expansion programme we need to be sure of the direction in which we wish to travel—firm educational and administrative foundations are essential for this exciting new development. We regard nursery education as a right for the children of those parents who want it and it is becoming apparent that parents in the urban aid areas and areas of special need are as much concerned to have nursery education for their children as any other group.
“We have stated our expectation in the White Paper—‘Education: A Framework for Expansion’—that by 1982 the programme will require upwards of 25,000 teachers compared with the 10,000 now teaching the under-fives, and about the same number of nursery assistants.
“The National Nursery Examination Board, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Social Security and my Department are at present reviewing the training arrangements for nursery nurses and assistants in the light of present day needs in [end p1] the fields of nursery education and child care. The concern is mainly with the regular schemes for training adults and school leavers but they are also considering special arrangements for those who cannot through financial or domestic reasons follow a full-time course.”
Reminding the Conference of the statements in the White Paper, Mrs Thatcher said that within ten years nursery education should become available without charge to children of 3 and 4 whose parents wished them to have it—within the limits of demand estimated by the Plowden Committee; that provision would be generally on a half-time basis but that full-time provision would be made for 15 per cent of the 3 and 4-year old age groups; that there would be no element of compulsion and the Government believed that provision for the under-fives should build on—not supplant—parents' own efforts.
“Demand is expected to develop in all parts of the country but we have accepted the findings of research that nursery schooling is of particular value in areas of social deprivation and that these areas should be given some measure of priority in the allocation of resources. Nursery Building Allocations
“Today, 19 May, is only one day after local education authority plans for expansion should have been submitted. It is still too early to say how and in what direction local expansion proposals are going—but certain patterns are beginning to form. For example, as we foresaw, the authorities have based their programmes for extra nursery classes in the 1974–76 period, on the expectation that there will be a wide demand for nursery education on a part-time basis. The submissions are now being analysed but I'm sure you would like me to give you some idea of the general principles on which we propose to calculate the individual allocations; I hope to announce these before the end of the summer.
“In general the largest allocations will go to those authorities with the most to do to reach the Plowden targets. However, the White Paper promised that a measure of priority would be given when we allocated resources for the first two years, to areas containing large numbers of deprived children—these areas may be rural or urban. With this in mind, we shall see that a substantial part of the amount available in the two year period goes to authorities containing sizeable areas of deprivation; and the resources will be distributed not only by reference to the existing provision for under-fives but also by reference to income, housing and social class. The precise allocation to individual authorities will, of course, take into account the size of their bids, and of course we want to see every authority make a start in 1974–76 in order to provide a basis for future expansion. [end p2] But, so far as it lies in the power of the Government to influence the use made of resources by the new local authorities within their own areas, the educational priority areas of which the Plowden Committee spoke will benefit substantially from the nursery programme.” Special Nursery Education
Speaking about the physically and mentally handicapped children Mrs Thatcher said that many of the less severely handicapped could best be educated alongside other children in ordinary nursery classes. But she had asked local education authorities to identify any special units for severely handicapped children under 5 which they proposed to provide in primary or special schools in the first two years of the building programme. A small part of the available resources would be reserved for this purpose.
It was vitally important that positive steps should be taken at as early an age as possible to minimise the adverse effect that a handicap could have on a child's emotional, social and intellectual development. Nursery education could play a crucial part here—both directly by helping the child and indirectly by helping his parents to develop a constructive attitude to his handicap. The extension of nursery education provided an ideal opportunity for observation and assessment of a handicapped child so that a precise estimate could be made of his future educational needs. The Rural Areas
Speaking about the special problems of children living in an urban environment, Mrs Thatcher said that it was often thought that if all our young children lived in the country all the problems of modern life would be solved. But children living in the country would be just as deprived as those living in a city slum. “The major problem for parents of young children in these rural areas is one of social deprivation—the sheer loneliness of an isolated child in the country is really very little different from the loneliness of a young child in a high rise block. Cultural deprivation can occur as easily and as often in a village as in a new town development. These are some of the reasons why we are concerned that local education authorities should consider the needs of rural areas. In the recent Circular we asked them to consider the possibility of full-time provision for some children whose homes are scattered over a wide rural area. Circumstances and problems vary widely and local authorities have been asked to look at all the various ways of providing nursery education for children living in the country or in isolated villages. One solution could well be that some of these children should attend full-time on two or three days a week. It might for example be possible for the teachers and assistants to move from one school in the early part of the week to another neighbouring school [end p3] in the second part. Recent Developments
“Despite the restrictive 1960 Circular nursery education had been expanding under the Urban Programme which has provided 24,000 extra places in areas of special social need. Even before the new programme was announced in the White Paper, the total cost of providing nursery education for the under fives attending maintained nursery classes and schools was running at some £42m a year.
“In part-time nursery education the numbers had risen from only 4,000 children aged 2–4 attending in 1960 to 72,000 last year. Similarly in full-time nursery education the number of 2–4 year olds attending had leapt from 196,000 in 1960 to 279,000 last year.
“In the White Paper we announced that £15m was to be authorised for special building programmes for the under-fives. This is now being increased to £18.3 million—a 22 per cent increase—under the new cost limits I have just announced. The effect of these building programmes will be to increase the current expenditure on the under fives from £42 million in 1971–2 to about £65 million in five years.” Research
Speaking about research Mrs Thatcher said that in the short term information was needed about two aspects: the impact of existing provision and training needs. Studies would be mounted in selected areas to look at the ways in which local authorities were already catering for very young children in nursery schools and classes, through playgroups or in day nurseries or other forms of day care provision.
In the longer term it was intended to sponsor a wide range of projects to develop new programmes and teaching methods for the under-fives, including work on the relative merits of structured and unstructured teaching programmes and the use of new materials.
“Further aspects we want to study are the long term social and educational effects of nursery education. This will have a practical purpose because by monitoring the relative effect of different types of provision and their success in meeting various goals we shall be in a position to move fairly quickly and make use of as many studies as possible including those which local authorities might also undertake in their areas. Parents' Role
“One important aspect we must not overlook is the parents' role in the education of their children. I mentioned earlier the two extreme reactions of parents of handicapped children—from over-protection at the one end to rejection at the other. But these two extremes of reaction can occur in other families and we need to work [end p4] together to achieve that fine balance which will allow the child to enjoy at the same time security and freedom both essential to healthy social, physical and intellectual development.
“Nursery education does not imply a complete abdication of responsibility by the parents—but it does demand parental involvement and participation. And we must all work together to ensure that both this youngest generation and those following have that better start in life which is their due,” she said.