HC Deb 13 July 1972 vol 840 cc1829-33
17. Mr. John E. B. Hill

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consideration she is giving to the educational findings in the National Children's Bureau's report "From Birth to Seven", a copy of which is in her possession.

40. Miss Lestor

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recommendation she will be making to local authorities and what changes she envisages in the educational field arising out of the findings of the report, "From Birth to Seven", a copy of which is in her possession.

Mrs. Thatcher

This valuable study is particularly relevant to my consideration of an extension of nursery education, but it is too early to say what guidance I shall be giving to local authorities.

Mr. Hill

Will my right hon. Friend say what consideration she is giving to the disquieting finding in the report that the children and families who most need to use special education provisions, such as pre-school education, tend to make least use of it? Will she say what she has in mind to try to encourage a greater take-up in cases of need?

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree that one of the problems is getting at those who are least willing to come forward but whose need is greatest. This is probably one of the reasons why we should try to introduce more nursery education in due course, particularly in areas and for children from homes of the kind my hon. Friend has in mind.

Miss Lestor

I am delighted at the sympathetic noises the Secretary of State is making about nursery education, but we shall all be much more delighted when and if something more practical comes forward. The report underlines the need for a tremendous expansion in pre-school education. Will the Secretary of State say what she intends to do about the case made in the report for positive discrimination in terms of both nursery education and children who are already at school?

Mrs. Thatcher

As the hon. Lady knows, we have carried forward some of the policies of the previous Government in the urban aid programme and also positive discrimination in favour of primary schools in priority areas. That will continue, and I believe it has been of great benefit to these schools.

23. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on her latest proposals to extend provision of nursery education.

49. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will now introduce a phased 10-year building programme to provide nursery school places adequate for the needs of the population in deprived areas which qualify for urban aid.

Mrs. Thatcher

At present I cannot add to my speech in the debate on 12th May, when I said that I accepted the case for a substantial expansion of nursery education.

Mr. Hamilton

I took part in that debate and heard what the right hon. Lady said. The whole House will welcome what she said at the AEC conference at Bournemouth, but will she make it clear when she pleads with the Treasury for more money for nursery education that she will not be satisfied, and nor will the House, if it is to be at the expense of further education and that it must be supplementary to it? The more she can get in addition for nursery education the better, and the more she allocates to the under-privileged areas the more support she will receive from both sides of the House.

Mrs. Thatcher

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear me out when I say that I am at the Treasury just as much as Derbyshire and other counties are at me, asking for more money. Dealing with the capital expenditure figures for education I feel that the hon. Gentleman may be assured that there will continue to be an expansion in all sectors of education.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the right hon. Lady consult with her hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State for the Home Department, who made a welcome visit to my area in this connection on Monday, with a view to providing for some of the ideas put to him on that occasion about the urban aid programme? In addition, will she take a long-term look at this so that we can deal not only with the pressures emerging as a result of the East Africans now coming to my constituency but with events that will take place over a longer time?

Mrs. Thatcher

When any announcement is made about nursery education it would be better if it were an announcement to set up a plan which could come into operation over a period so that the local education authorities which have to deal with problems such as those in the hon. Gentleman's area will know exactly where they are.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

In considering future provision for the under-fives may I ask my right hon. Friend to consult her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, to discuss what part the pre-school playgroup may be able to play in an auxiliary capacity in supporting the expansion of nursery education generally?

Mrs. Thatcher

We have been consulting quite recently on this and, as my hon. Friend knows, the Secretary of State for Social Services in a recent announcement increased the grant to the Pre-School Play Groups Association, because we think it has an extremely important part to play in pre-school—I was going to say education, and I think in a way it is education. It also has the great advantage that it gets parents involved closely with the work of looking after these children before they go to school.

Mr. Pardoe

In considering the financing of the provision of further nursery education, may I ask the right hon. Lady to consider the possibility of introducing legislation to compel all firms employing more than a certain number of women to provide nursery education, at the expense of those firms, at the place of work?

Mrs. Thatcher

No, I do not think that would necessarily be a good way to go about improving nursery education. What the hon. Gentleman may be after is an improvement in day nursery provision, but that is slightly different.

Miss Lestor

Is the right hon. Lady aware that we were delighted when her right hon. Friend increased the grant to the Pre-School Play Group Association and also that I was delighted when she used the word "education" in relation to the provision of playgroups? Can she give an assurance that when she makes the expected announcement about nursery education she will also give some indication about how she intends to bring the playgroup movement at least in part under the education umbrella?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think we can bring it under the education umbrella because under legislation passed in the last Parliament it was placed under the Department of Health and Social Security. I think it is extremely important that we should get a close working relationship between the social service authorities and the local education authorities and I hope that the latter will provide educational advisers to keep an eye on the pre-school play group.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that some of us on this side of the House believe that it is more important, from a priority point of view, that the numbers in classes in primary education should be reduced rather than that we should extend an expensive programme of nursery education?

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope that the numbers in classes in primary schools will go on reducing. In some ways the task of the teachers in primary schools would be made easier if some of the children had had nursery education before they got to the primary school, particularly children from deprived homes.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Will the right hon. Lady consider lowering the school starting age? Would not this overcome the difficulty she mentioned a few moments ago of getting the most needy children into nursery education and would it not also help to meet what most of us think is a priority for this country, namely, giving children a good and early start in life?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that the way to do this would be to lower the compulsory starting age. In any event, if that were contemplated we could not do it before very adequate provision was made both for buildings and teachers. A number of authorities are admitting children at the beginning of the school year in which they reach the age of five when they have both the staff and the buildings. I prefer to tackle nursery education slightly differently.