Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1974 Feb 22 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Written Statement on education policy

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: Times Educational Supplement, 22 February 1974
Editorial comments: "Mrs Thatcher approved this statement of Conservative education policy which Central Office prepared for her" (TES, 22 February 1974).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1077
Themes: Education, Primary education, Secondary education, General Elections, Monetary policy, Labour Party & socialism

The choice

What do you think are the most important issues which will face the next Secretary of State for Education?

What will your party do about them?

The inner city areas are where education seems to be at its least effective. What proposals has your party for dealing with the urban crisis?

What do you think the prospects are for increased public expenditure on education if your party wins the election?

We put these questions to the two major parties, one of which will form the next government.

Mrs Margaret Thatcher approved this statement of Conservative education policy which Central Office prepared for her.


The first requirement of an education policy at the present time is so blindingly obvious that it is easy for those who specialize in this field to overlook it. It is, in fact, control of inflation. There is no field of government endeavour in which the frustrations which inflation brings are more immediately and sharply felt.

Inflation is, by definition, the expansion of demand out of proportion to the resources available to meet it. But the demand for education is unlimited and the resources, at the best of times, never more than adequate. Hard decisions on priorities will always have to be made.

Education policy cannot be discussed in an ivory tower, bolted against general economic exigencies. On the contrary, it is out in the open, exposed to the cold winds of current economic circumstances. Therefore the proposals put forward by the Labour Party and the present Government's programme must be judged in relation to their plans for defeating inflation. One is not realistic without the other.

Having said this, I can go on to pledge that, side by side with provision for the pensioners and the needy, education will stay at the top of the list when the resources which the Government can make available are distributed. This does not mean that education will get all it needs, for it can never get all it needs. But it will get the most we can possibly afford.

I referred to the constant decisions to be made on priorities. The most apparent of these is the choice between quantity and quality. By raising the school leaving age and, at the same time, providing for a dramatic development of nursery education the Conservative Government made a notable extension of quantity. This would have been much easier to achieve if we had been complacent about the quality. But this we have not been.

It might be possible to say that nursery education has been provided at the expense of secondary and higher education. That is true only in the sense that, if the leap forward had not been taken in nursery education, there would have been greater resources to devote in the other fields. But the case for nursery teaching was a sound educational case, and the decision on priority was taken on educational grounds.

There will be no going back on this appraisal. The stress laid on the early formative years will continue, with the object of making nursery schooling available within 10 years to all the three year olds and four year olds whose parents wish to take advantage of it.

But the quest for higher quality has been vigorously pursued in parallel with the expansion in quantity. Here the standards of judgment prompted the setting up of Sir Alan Bullock 's inquiry into all aspects of the teaching of English, and a research study on mathematics teaching is also in hand.

But in the simplest sense the quest for quality resolves itself into a matter of buildings and teachers—better buildings and more trained teachers.

In building, the priority was given to the replacement or improvement of out-of-date primary schools. About 650 sub-standard schools have been or are being dealt with in a programme greater than any Labour attempted. It is a great disappointment to us that further progress with the programme has had to be deferred until June, 1975. We are, however, continuing to go ahead with the nursery and special schools programme in full.

Regarding teachers, we have 80,000 more than four years ago and expect another 20,000 next year. The target is over 500,000 teachers by 1981, compared with 364,000 in 1971. Judged by ideal standards, no doubt that is not enough. There may never be enough teachers, and there are at present manifest shortages in certain subjects and in certain areas. London's shortages are particularly acute. But it is by any reckoning a tremendous achievement.

Of course, in the provision of school buildings and trained teachers, the problems posed by continuing inflation are most clearly evident. The scale of demands on the building industry is one of the established measures of inflationary pressure. And, though the vocational impulse will always be a powerful factor ensuring that recruits enter the teaching profession, it is still necessary to make their calling attractive.

The teaching profession is one which must have a prime interest in the study of relativities which the Pay Board has now started. The Pay Board also hopes to report in June on the question of London allowance.

I have laid such stress on the problems of priorities in educational policy because here is found one of the main differences between the programme of the Government and that of the Labour Party. The Labour Party shares, or has adopted many of our objectives. But it is presenting them with the implication that they could all be pursued with equal energy and realized at the same time. This is to beg all the really important questions.

There is one respect in which we quarrel sharply with Labour. Labour politicians have a common characteristic, which is that they treat education not as an end in itself but as an instrument for realizing their egalitarian political and social aims. Moreover, no secret is made of this. They are fully prepared to sacrifice resources, which could be dedicated to the expansion and improvement of the state system, simply to deny to parents the freedom to choose for their children an education outside the state system or even of a different character inside it.

We believe this to be wholly wrong, not only for practical considerations, but as a matter of fundamental principle. We have no intention of imposing on the country a universal system of comprehensive schools. These schools have their place, and the Government have clearly recognized it. But other types of school also have their place.

It is our purpose to extend the area of choice and to shift the argument from the sterile issue of what kind of school to the more fruitful one of what kind of education. The test we shall apply is whether the education offered promotes the fullest development of the whole personality of the child.