Mrs Thatcher Reports Progress
The Education Secretary Mrs Margaret Thatcher, addressing the Association of Education Committees today (22 June), reviewed six months of progress to implement her White Paper proposals for the expansion of education. Mrs Thatcher announced: —a full and prompt response by local education authorities to the request for nursery schooling plans, —accelerated building programmes for special schools, particularly for seriously sub-normal children, —guidance on the 1974 intake of students for initial teacher training, —the chairmanship of, and tasks for, the new Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers, —progress in the reorganisation of local authority higher education, —early talks to agree on common standards for discretionary awards to students.
Among the expectations mentioned by the Education Secretary were that nursery building allocations would be announced by the end of July, followed by a detailed statement of research proposals by the autumn, and that there would be courses for the new diploma of higher education by 1975 and perhaps some in the autumn of next year.
“In the first six months following publication of the White Paper most encouraging progress has been made throughout the education service to start implementing its policies” , said Mrs Thatcher.
The Government's decision to accept responsibility for 90 per cent of the cost of mandatory and teacher training awards would take a considerable burden off the shoulders of local government. “I think the time has also come for a fresh look at discretionary grants for students wishing to follow courses below degree level. The variety of practice has led to a good deal of criticism, and although it is best to leave many aspects to local discretion we ought to aim at a reasonable uniformity of practice. The Department is already in touch with you and there is to be a meeting next month. I hope we shall be able to agree on a greater consistency of treatment and in particular on a common standard for the awards.” [end p1]
Mrs Thatcher said that there had been a very positive response from the local authorities and as many were already prudently making plans, a period of fifteen weeks was sufficient to formulate proposals for the first two years. Replies showed an overwhelming preference for nursery classes attached to primary schools rather than for separate nursery schools; with some exceptions they accepted that most of the provision should be part-time, and there was clear evidence of a wish to concentrate resources in socially deprived areas in the first two years.
The announcement about allocations for 1974/5 and 1975/6 would reflect the 22 per cent increase in cost limits which gave a total of £18.3m for each year. About one-third of the resources available in England would be allocated by reference to the gap in each area between the present provision for under-fives and the number of places required to achieve the Plowden targets.
The remaining two-thirds would be allocated by reference to income, housing and occupation. The resulting allocations would be for use by local authorities at their own discretion and Mrs Thatcher said that it was not her intention to scrutinise individual projects, except of course those at voluntary-aided schools where Exchequer grant was involved.
She said she had asked local authorities, in planning their expansion of nursery education, to look at it in the context of all facilities for the under-fives, bearing in mind the continuing role of play-groups and, particularly in disadvantaged areas, working closely with the social services departments. “I have urged the authorities also to do everything possible to associate parents closely and constructively with the education of their children at the nursery stage. I look forward to receiving some real and imaginative proposals to achieve these two objectives.”
Teachers: Supply, Training and Deployment
Speaking about the planned teaching force of 510,000 by 1981 Mrs Thatcher said: “Make no mistake, this figure means massive further expansion. The only criticism that can be made to it is that theoretically—had there been no other considerations to take into account—we could have aimed for an even higher one. I believe that the decision for 510,000 is realistic, though I recognise that it is also controversial and that its consequence—of reducing the rate of recruitment of new teachers—is a major change of direction, undoubtedly unwelcome to those immediately affected. But the logic of the situation, as described in the White Paper, led me to believe that the balance we had struck was the best—and that view I understand is shared by the AEC. [end p2]
“The reduction in the rate of initial training will be brought about by stages and, to avoid unduly steep reductions in later years, a start must be made in 1974. I am about to issue guidance to the Area Training Organisations on admissions in that year. The intake of non-graduate students to courses of initial training, which we expect to be about 36,000 in the coming year, is to be reduced to 32,000. Targets will be indicated for individual colleges but with scope for adjustment within the total for each area to meet local circumstances. Because the reduction implied by the White Paper target will be a process extending over several years there will be ample opportunity later to examine and if necessary revise the figure for subsequent years and no one should feel that their eventual position is prejudiced by this prudent first step.”
Mrs Thatcher also announced that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, Professor A L Armitage, had agreed to serve as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers (ACSTT). Details of the composition of the Committee were now almost settled, and an announcement about the full membership would be made shortly. The way would then be clear for the first meeting to be held at the earliest practicable date.
“The new Advisory Committee should have the opportunity to pay much more attention to quality and to the effective use of available teaching resources. There will be more teachers available in the schools. How are they to be used? Certainly, to reduce the size of teaching groups where these are still too large; but perhaps also in a variety of other constructive ways, for work other than class teaching. The composition and distribution of the teaching force, and the deployment of teachers, are all questions in which choices can be made—and will need to be made.
“Plans for induction and in-service training create the opportunity to make real progress towards improving the quality and the status of the teaching profession. The release of teachers on a substantial scale can hardly start before the school year 1974/75, that is after the reorganisation of local government and after the schools have taken the impact of RSLA, but there will be a great deal of preliminary planning to do in readiness for the expansion to come.”
Speaking about the accelerated building programmes for special schools rising from £11m. in 1972/73 to £19m. in 1976/77. Mrs Thatcher said that in addition to speeding up the replacement of old and unsatisfactory premises, these programmes should go a considerable way towards meeting the need for special school places, although it was difficult to be certain what the real need was at any given time.
“The waiting lists reported to the Department by LEAs, for example, went down by only 2,400 between 1955 and 1970 despite an increase of 31,800 children attending special schools. There can be no doubt that the need is great, however, and I am glad to tell you what has been provided in the starts programmes for the first three [end p3] years covered by the White Paper. In the period 1972/73 to 1974/75 some 17,000 places have been authorised, providing new accommodation, and some 5,000 for replacement. Expenditure has been increased by nearly 45 per cent over the previous three years.
“One of the reasons for increasing the resources available for special school building was the need to provide for the severely mentally handicapped. In the 1973/74 design list, announced on 31 May, £3.7m.—or one-third of the total resources—were allocated to accommodation for severely ESN children. The next priorities were other ESN children (21 per cent), maladjusted (18 per cent) and physically handicapped or delicate (17 per cent). We have been giving close attention to the severely ESN children who are in hospital.
Colleges of Education
“Colleges of education, which instead of concerning themselves solely with the training of teachers would in future be called on to play a wider role, sometimes alone, but more often in association with a polytechnic or other institution” , said Mrs Thatcher. Responsibility for the preparation of plans for the non-university sector of higher education was that of the local education authorities.
“I would have preferred to wait until after the new authorities had taken over next year, but it is essential to move steadily forward if the targets of student numbers are to be realised. Moreover, it is unreasonable to expect colleges to go on waiting without any idea what may happen to them. There will no doubt have to be further discussions before the road to the 1981 objectives can be mapped out in full detail.
“All accounts which I have received suggest that authorities are making reasonable progress in preparing their interim reports. For example, local agreement has already been reached on the amalgamation of two large colleges of education, Crewe and Alsager, in Cheshire. I am glad also to be able to announce today that I have approved in principle the amalgamation of Loughborough University and its neighbouring college of education.
Diploma of Higher Education
“We regard the Dip.HE as an essential part of our plans, and there have been encouraging signs that the value of this innovation is being increasingly recognised. Students, teaching institutions and employers will all find advantages here. The eagerness of students to choose subjects over a wide range is shown by ‘A’ level statistics. It accords with the view of employers that there are far more specialised graduates than jobs in which their specialised knowledge can be used, and that what they are mostly looking for is the ability to write well, to speak fluently, to handle figures effectively, and to exercise a critical faculty. The [end p4] institutions showing the greatest enthusiasm for the Dip.HE appear to be thinking in terms of a significant range of choice and a chance for the student to vary his selections as his interests develop.
“I expect that a number of courses will be running in 1975 and, I hope, that some courses will start as early as the autumn of next year. Some people may still have their doubts; but I believe these will disappear in time as the Dip.HE establishes itself as a high-level qualification offering an entirely new range of opportunities.
Local Government Reform
Speaking about the important role education committees would continue to play in the enlarged authorities, Mrs Thatcher said: “One of our principal aims in reforming local government has been to strengthen it, and we see the local authorities benefiting from this extra strength just as much in their provision of education as in any other of their services” .
Education was one of the chief local government functions, and its special position under statute had recently been reaffirmed in a circular. “When one takes note that the Local Government Act abolishes specific arrangements for many local authority services but preserves the Education Act requirements for the appointment of an education committee and a chief education officer, it is apparent that this special position is well recognised.
“The Act also continued the main provisions of the Education Act about the handling of educational business” , said Mrs Thatcher. A local education authority must establish an education committee and must consider a report from that committee before exercising any of its normal functions in respect to education. Also a local education authority may not arrange for the discharge of any of its education functions by any committee or sub-committee other than the education committee and its sub-committees.
“But this requirement does not prevent local authorities from involving other committees in business which the full council intends itself to handle—as has always been the case where expenditure is involved. Surely no-one in education, any more than in any other sector of local government, can want to work in isolation. Close working particularly between education and social services departments is bound to help both, but more generally I feel sure that everyone will benefit from closer collaboration within the authority in the service of what is essentially the same community. Moreover increasing co-operation would give the education service a chance to influence the work and outlook of other committees and decisions to the common benefit. When all the dust is settled I am sure that education committees will continue to play the same key role as they play at present” , said Mrs Thatcher.