HC Deb 04 February 1971 vol 810 cc1899-900
24. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will now encourage local education authorities to include proposals for a nursery class or classes when preparing plans for new infant schools, if they wish to do so.

Mrs. Thatcher

In appropriate cases local authorities will, I hope, bear in mind the possibility of the later addition of nursery classes when planning new primary schools. But for the present, resources should be concentrated on the replacement and improvement of old primary schools and on the expansion of nursery education under the Urban Programme.

Mrs. Short

Is the right hon. Lady aware that many local education authorities are very keen to provide nursery classes, are able to do so from their existing capital means but are being prevented from doing so by the circular which she issued some time ago which militates against it? Will she therefore let local education authorities know that where they can find the money, she will not prevent them from doing so when new plans for infant schools are being submitted to the Department for approval?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that I can go quite as far as that. Many of us are very keen on the extension of nursery education but the limiting factor, as the hon. Lady will have gathered from the reply to Question No. 23, is resources. I hope that where new primary schools are built they will be built in such a way as to leave room for expansion for nursery classes later.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, in the context of financial resources, that every parent who sends his or her child to a private fee-paying independent school is lifting the whole of that financial burden off the taxpayers and ratepayers?

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree. I should not, in addition to everything else, like to take on the burden of costs which these parents bear.

Miss Lestor

In view of what the right hon. Lady said about the commitment to nursery education, and what was said in the Conservative Party manifesto, will she now allow and encourage those local authorities which have schools with empty classrooms in them to use those rooms for nursery classes for pre-school children?

Mrs. Thatcher

I cannot go as far as withdrawing the circular which prevented that from happening. Nursery school places are being expanded this year, however. An additional 5,000 places are being provided under Phase 3 of the urban programme.