HC Deb 21 December 1972 vol 848 cc1546-51
3. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consultations she has had with local authorities concerning her White Paper on nursery education.

Mrs. Thatcher

In framing the proposals in the White Paper which I presented to Parliament on 6th December I took careful account of the views that local authorities and others had expressed to me on the topics it covers, including nursery education.

Mr. Meacher

Will the right hon. Lady explain to local authorities how she can afford a large increase in nursery education while spending almost nothing on comprehensive schools? Has the right hon. Lady consulted local authorities about her proposal to cut the number of teachers in training by almost half? Will not this have the worst effects on oversized classes in deprived areas, thus nullifying most of the advantages of her nursery school proposals?

Mrs. Thatcher

The short answer to the last point is "No". There will be more than 110,000 extra teachers over the period covered in the White Paper, a substantial proportion being teachers for nursery education. I am glad the hon. Gentleman is pleased that there is to be more expenditure on nursery schools. No Government have found money especially to enable schools to change from their existing character into comprehensive schools, but a lot of changes have been brought about by raising of the school leaving age building programme, itself a large one, and in some cases through the secondary school basic needs programme which, where it is large, enables some reorganisation changes to come about.

Sir R. Cary

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, as a sequel to her splendid work in regard to primary schools, nursery education is being made a supplementary addition to that work?

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, indeed. A very important part of pre-school education is provided by an earlier start than five. This enables young children to profit fully from their primary education when they start.

Mr. Hattersley

The right hon. Lady will recall that in paragraph 28 of the White Paper she expresses the hope that education authorities will concentrate their primary or initial nursery effort on areas within their authorities which have special needs. What does she propose to do about local authorities who do not respond to that wish?

Mrs. Thatcher

May I first welcome the hon. Gentleman in his new capacity? I think that this is his first Question Time in his new appointment. I hope that he will enjoy working with my Department as much as I do.

On the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I believe that almost all local authorities will respond to that wish. They have not been slow to appreciate the problems of the socially deprived areas, and I shall be very suprised if we receive anything less than maximum cooperation from the local education authorities. We shall be able to see from the bids they put in, because in the draft circular we have specifically asked them to take account of the needs of these areas.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Will the right hon Lady guarantee that people north of the Trent will get a fair share of the money that is to be spent, and that she will not allow the greater proportion of it to go to the South-East?

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope that every region which has problem areas will have a fair share, as will other parts of the country. The North profited very much from the raising of the school leaving age programme which this Government put through.

8. Mr. Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children under five are attending nursery schools for primary and infant schools at the latest convenient date; and how this figure compares with those for the previous four years on the same date.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

In January 1972 there were 351,000 pupils under five in maintained schools in England and Wales. This compares with figures of 257,000 in 1968, 275,000 in 1969, 291,000 in 1970 and 318,000 in 1971.

Mr. Winterton

I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply, although I am not totally satisfied with it. May I ask him and my right hon. Friend to listen to the pleas of local people who are delighted by what the Government have set out in the recently issued White Paper? Is my hon. Friend able to say what increase over the next 12 months in the provision for nursery education places?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am glad to have partially satisfied my hon. Friend. With regard to the future, a circular has been sent to education authorities and we are waiting for replies in order to assess their needs.

Miss Lestor

I assure the hon. Gentleman that he has not satisfied me on this question. Bearing in mind the quite useful hint that is given in the White Paper about bringing nursery regulations into primary schools where there are under-fives and rising-fives, can the hon. Gentleman say to what extent money has been allocated specifically for this purpose? I ask that because the circumstances under which children are received in primary schools from pre-schools are not necessarily governed by the regulations that apply to nursery schools. If there are to be more under-fives and rising-fives in primary schools, a lot of money must be spent in order to apply to those classrooms the same conditions and regulations that apply in nursery schools, otherwise we shall be getting nursery education on the cheap.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As a first step the Government propose to authorise a special building programme of £15 million each in the years 1974–75 and 1975–76. The question of primary schools will also be fully considered.

Mr. Fell

I wonder whether my hon. Friend will help me. An enormous emphasis is now being put on nursery and primary schools. Can my hon. Friend say how fitted the teachers in these schools are to teach Christian ethics to the children under their control?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that the matter of teaching Christian ethics comes within the scope of the Department's authority.

13. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the estimated cost of her proposals for education for the under fives as contained in Section 3 of Education, A Framework of Expansion, Cmnd. Paper No. 5174, taking into account changes in building costs, teachers salaries etc., between now and 1976–77.

Mrs. Thatcher

The effect of the programme announced in the White Paper will be to increase the total current expenditure on the under 5s in England and Wales from about £42 million last year to about £65 million in 1976–77 at constant prices. In addition the Government propose to authorise special building programmes of £15 million each in 1974–75 and 1975–76 as the first step towards the provision of additional accommodation.

Mr. Hamilton

However welcome the programme is, does the right hon. Lady not agree that the £15 million provision for 1974–75 could be spent quite easily in the deprived areas alone, but that it is precisely those areas which are likely to contain inarticulate parents who will not bring the pressure on to the local authorities—which was the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was getting at in his question from the Front Bench? But in any event, the programme will not be enough to meet the new increased demand, which has increased since the Plowden Committee made its recommendations and estimates several years ago. Therefore, will not the right hon. Lady have another look at the matter? We are very grateful for the progress that has been made, but it is still not nearly enough.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the hon. Gentleman will be the first to appreciate, the deprived areas have been the ones to benefit from the urban programmes under both Governments; these programmes have resulted in a large number of nursery school places in these areas. I have great faith that the local authorities will take the needs of those areas into special account when making their bids. The special building programmes announced in the White Paper are the first two of a 10-year programme, at the end of which we shall hope to have met the Plowden demand. The programme should be considered as a 10-year programme, which no other Government have even been able to contemplate starting.

Miss Lestor

The right hon. Lady is, of course, aware that I, and I think everyone on this side of the House, welcome the expansion of nursery education. In the White Paper, she stresses the question of disadvantaged children, which has already been raised, and, quite rightly, she has just mentioned the urban aid programme. But is she not aware that large numbers of children in areas that are called deprived are children in day nurseries and many children with unregistered child minders, and that their need, although it is for nursery education, is for a policy that caters for the child whose mother has to go out to work? Does the right hon. Lady not agree that we are not meeting their educational needs unless we consider pre-school education as a whole? Some special provision must be made for those children whose need cannot be met by part-time nursery education.

Mrs. Thatcher

The White Paper also refers to pre-school playgroups, because we appreciated that we had to consider pre-school education and social requirements as a whole as well. There are some schemes in which nursery schools have co-operated with day nurseries, so that there is educational provision—not enough, yet, I agree—and day nursery care as well. The latter, of course, comes under the Department of Health and Social Security, but we try as much as we can to co-ordinate our activities with regard to this group.

18. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she proposes to withdraw Circular 8/60.

Mrs. Thatcher

Early in the New Year.

Mr. Jones

I thank the right hon. Lady for that welcome reply. What special measures can she take to ensure that the average working-class child from the average council estate will get a fair share of the expanding nursery school provision? Does she, for example, favour the widespread provision of day nurseries and nursery schools or classes in those areas where the expansion may be missed by the working-class child?

Mrs. Thatcher

That will be dealt with in the new circular which is going out, which will ask for bids particularly from problem areas. I believe that local authorities will take into account in making those bids the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

23. Mr. Grylls

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many part-time nursery school places have been provided between June 1970 and December 1972; and what is her estimate of the number which will be provided by 1980.

Mrs. Thatcher

The number of children under five years of age attending part-time in maintained schools in England and Wales rose from 46,000 in January 1970 to 72,000 in January 1972. I estimate that the number will increase to over 900,000 by 1981–82.

Mr. Grylls

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on her satisfactory report on progress in nursery education, and while I recognise that there is a need in the large cities, may I ask her to bear in mind that there is also a need in county areas like Surrey?

Mrs. Thatcher

I think there is certainly a need in some of the rural areas, but county areas like Surrey will, I am afraid, not be among the first to benefit from the nursery schools programme, for reasons which I am sure will be understood.