Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1973 Sep 19 We
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to National Association of Divisional Executives for Education Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Guildhall, Portsmouth
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text/DES press release
Editorial comments: Press release embargoed until 2130 Wednesday 19 September 1973. Material from the speaking text relates specifically to the NADEE and reads as an introduction to the main body of the speech, which is covered by the press release. Editorial notes in the text indicate where one ends and the other begins.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2040
Themes: Education, Local government
Thatcher Archive: speaking text

This is doubly an occasion for sadness. The system of divisional administration will come to an end next March, and this is therefore the last in your series of annual conferences. Then, to add to your sense of loss, your devoted honorary secretary from your very beginning, Dr White, died a little more than a week ago. Almost everything that I am going to say about the association ought to be linked personally with his name.

For all the sadness that one feels on such an occasion I am nevertheless glad to be with you. I am glad for three reasons, and I welcome this chance of saying so.

The first is that it allows me to acknowledge publicly something which would be widely endorsed in the education service, namely [end p1] the contribution to a quarter century of progress in our system which the members of this association, individually and collectively, have made. That is really the most important thing I wanted to say. The association itself has provided a forum for some excellent conferences, and the high motives and unflagging zeal of your members, serving either on the divisional executives or working as officers, have been recognised by all who have worked with them.

The second thing I wanted to say follows from the first: the education system of the future would certainly be the poorer if this asset were to be lost in the changes which are now taking place. As regards the officers there should be little or no difficulty. They will I am sure be absorbed into the new structure of local government and so will continue to make their contribution in that way, with the difference [end p2] that in future they will be directly responsible to the local education authority for their area rather than to an interposed statutory committee. There should also be ample opportunity for lay members of former divisional executives to find responsible places in educational administration at local level, some as members of the new local education authorities themselves or their committees, others as members of the area advisory committees which many of the new authorities will be establishing.

My third point is that the abolition of statutory schemes of divisional administration does not herald the end of local participation and it is my profound hope that members of the association will in the future as in the past make the kind of contribution to education that only knowledgeable local people are in a position to make. [end p3]

It is difficult to present a complete appraisal of the work of the divisional executives over the past 25 years. The scene today is of course very different from that in 1944 and it is obviously the case that throughout this period the divisional executives and the excepted districts have been intimately concerned with change and development. I do not propose today to recapitulate the reasons for the government's decision to bring to an end the system of statutory divisional administration. I am however convinced that the reorganisation of local government on the new pattern will involve a genuine devolution of power from central to local government.

One of the most important of the functions of the divisional executives has been to act as a sounding board for local opinion. The members are local men and women in contact [end p4] with the general public, and their administrative staff have been involved in a wide range of educational activities, including indeed many for which the executives have not had direct responsibility.

The reorganisation of local government is certainly not based on the theory that larger is necessarily better. The new larger authorities will certainly have greater resources, but they will also need to be very responsive to the needs and wishes of the local population. This will take a great deal of effort and more communication will be needed upwards as well as downwards.

Although it will not be possible for the new education authorities to delegate any of their functions to area committees there will be nothing to prevent them from decentralising [end p5] their administration by setting up branch offices and arranging for the discharge of functions by officers. And as I have already mentioned it will also be open to them to appoint area advisory committees who will be able, where appropriate, to advise on matters of local interest affecting, for example, schools and further education. Broad guidance on this subject was given in the Department's circular 1/73, and as the Conference will be aware one of the suggestions made was that places where former education authorities, including divisional executives and excepted districts, had their offices may be thought suitable locations for area offices. It is too early to see the precise pattern which is emerging, but where authorities decide to set up area advisory committees these will certainly depend for their success on the goodwill and active co-operation of local people. [end p6]

We are generally agreed in this country, after a century of experience, that the education service best suited to our way of doing things will be one based on the doctrine of the distribution of power. The precise pattern of distribution is however not always easy to determine. One can see for example that a pattern which might be ideally suited to the schools might be less appropriate to the needs of the further education sector. Each generation is bound to look anew at these problems and put its hand to new developments.

But whatever the structure, and whatever the pattern of responsibility, the system must continue to be locally based and to draw its strength from those who are responsive to local circumstances and opinions. The [end p7] National Association of Divisional Executives for Education has been an embodiment of that truth for 28 years. I should like today to quote from a passage sent to the first annual Conference of NADEE by George Tomlinsonthe Minister of Education in September 1947. “No matter what administrative system is established, it remains a fact that education is a personal and an intimate business and no system of educational administration can really be effective if those whom it should serve feel that their particular needs and desires are being disregarded in the interests of uniformity.” Today I am happy to say that the spirit of that message has been kept very alive in this association and to express my own conviction that opportunities for local service to education are not over. End of speaking text; start of DES press release: [end p8]

This is the time of year when the newspapers print stories either about teachers looking for jobs or about schools looking for teachers. This year it is the latter, and a handful of schools are reported introducing temporary arrangements to tide them over shortages at the beginning of the school year.

Now I want to say at once that any failure, anywhere in the country, to provide schooling full-time, is a matter I am immediately concerned about. I am certainly concerned about some newspaper reports from two or three areas in the last few days, and my officials and HM Inspectors are now following them up.

In fact, we made inquiries before the holidays and the position then was reasonably reassuring. But, as you all know, the actual staffing position in 30,000 schools is not known until the school year starts, and not even then in some cases. The full returns are not made by the local education authorities until October. In the meantime we are watching a situation which changes from day to day.

The present difficulties, as we expected in the first year of a higher leaving age, are in the secondary schools. If there are 50 schools with severe staffing problems—and I have heard nothing to suggest there are any more than that—it would be only one per cent of all the secondary schools. You may think it quite an achievement that with a quarter of a million more pupils 99 per cent of the schools are coping without resorting to part-time schooling.

There are however reports of part-time arrangements here and there. This means different things in different schools. Usually it means either the loss of a little schooling by all the pupils or a rather heavier loss by a small proportion of the pupils on a rota basis.

Now how does this situation come about?

Let us begin with the responsibilities of the Secretary of State. In 1969 Edward Shortmy predecessor announced the intake of students to courses of initial training at colleges of education. That determined the output of the colleges this year. I [end p9] do not want to be unfair to my predecessor. The output of the training system is expected to be about 40,000, and the net increase in the teaching force will be some 20,000. That is a lot of extra teachers, though in this year no more than just enough to hold staffing standards overall.

Still it is a lot. In two years the teaching force has grown by 40,000 to over 400,000—an increase of 10 per cent to a record level. Moreover it can be expected to go on increasing rapidly, at least up to the beginning of the academic year 1976/77, as a result of the numbers now in and entering training. So much for total numbers.

Advice is given to the colleges also about subjects for which we particularly need more teachers. A few years ago the Department was running national advertising campaigns to attract maths and science graduates into teaching. They had some success, and the situation in these subjects is better than it was, though still not as good as we would like. From time to time other subject shortages emerge. Currently we are short of handicraft teachers, because we cannot get enough well qualified students to fill the available places for that subject in the colleges. The demand changes all the time and it is virtually impossible in the short term to match the total supply precisely to the pattern of need.

The employment of teachers is of course a matter for the local education authorities, and the deployment of teachers within a school largely a matter for the school itself. We do not have direction of teachers. The Department publishes an annual quota for each authority, and in fact the distribution is a lot better than it used to be. But some areas will always be more attractive than others, just as some schools will be more attractive than others.

There are all sorts of reasons for this. The outlook of the head, the attitude of the staff, can be important. So, too, can the location of the school. It may be in a deprived area with special problems. Alternatively it may be in an area where houses are too expensive for teachers to buy. Even so, one sometimes finds pairs of schools within a mile or so of each other with apparently similar circumstances. One can fill its complement and employ extra part-timers as well, the other is in difficulties.

In recent years there has been a big improvement in staffing standards. In terms of the overall pupil teacher ratio, standards should be about as good this year as last, and last year was the best on record. All areas have shared in this improvement. It has meant that local education authorities have been able to allow a margin of teachers for use in a variety of ways—including advisory services small group teaching, counselling, secondment to in-service training and many others. Understandably, there is a reluctance to forego these activities, even temporarily, and some people may look on part-time schooling for some pupils as a preferable expedient. [end p10]

But to deprive pupils of their schooling is a serious matter and one for which the local education authority bears the ultimate responsibility. The schools where the problems are greatest are schools in which a shortage of teachers, particularly of certain specialist teachers, makes it impossible to avoid constraint on the timetable (and on working conditions) which anybody would prefer to avoid if possible. But these constraints can be no worse than was common experience only a few years ago.

The general picture is of secondary schools coping magnificently with the special problems of this rather special year. They are problems which were foreseen as the inevitable accompaniment of raising the school leaving age. I am confident that in the few schools where part-time schooling has been introduced the combined efforts and goodwill of authorities and teachers will be able to overcome the difficulties, whether by recruitment of additional teachers or by redeployment of the teachers already available.

At a time of much improved teacher supply in which all areas have been beneficiaries, parents will want to be convinced that those who are responsible locally are doing all they can, this year of all years, to keep the schools functioning normally. Political parties and a clear majority of educational opinion have been united in favour of raising the school leaving age. There is a responsibility on all of us to make it a success.