HC Deb 13 March 1973 vol 852 cc1096-8
5. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions she has had with the Inner London Education Authority regarding her proposals for the development of nursery schools as outlined in her White Paper.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have asked all local education authorities to submit by 18th May their proposals for building for nursery education in 1974–76. I have had no separate talks with ILEA or any other education authority.

Mr. Cox

Is the right hon. Lady aware that a report will be submitted tomorrow to the education authority at County Hall which is highly critical of her proposals? In view of that, and in view of the importance of nursery provision to London, is it not time that she sought a meeting, as a matter of urgency, and allowed ILEA to know how much money will be made available? Will she give the House and ILEA an assurance that the bias that she has shown in other aspects of London education in recent months—be it on the minor works programmes or on the London teachers' allowance—is not now to be extended to nursery provision?

Mrs. Thatcher

If there has been any bias, it has been slightly in favour of the Inner London Education Authority on the primary school improvement programme and on the formula for calculating minor works. The authority has never had as much money for replacing its old primary schools as under this Government. The hon. Gentleman is asking rather much when he asks me to let it know how much it may have before I have received all the bids from other local authorities. That could hardly be a fair basis for proceeding.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is my right hon. Friend giving guidance to local education authorities about the rôle that pre-school playgroups may play in the expansion of nursery education—guidance going beyond what is given in her White Paper?

Mrs. Thatcher

We have given some guidance, I believe, in the circular. It will take some time before we can have a full nursery programme over the country as a whole, and the pre-school playgroups have a very important part to play, not only between now and then but also in the longer term because they deal with younger groups of children and are frequently open during the vacation, when the nursery schools are not. So we have given some guidance, and we are very keen that the work of these excellent groups should continue.

Mr. Spearing

In her White Paper the right hon. Lady said that there was a possibility of nursery education being given some of the surplus space in primary schools. Can she assure us that this surplus will be defined by the teachers and the local education authority and not by her regulations about floor space, about which there is some difference of opinion?

Mrs. Thatcher

What I can assure the hon. Gentleman is that, where there is space, it will be properly equipped for nursery classes to take place.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that some of us on this side are not anxious to overextend expenditure on nursery education but feel that it should be for special situations and not generally? The reason why we think this is that we believe that the general expenditure on education will not allow of too much expansion and that, for example, student grants can hardly be increased if we spend too much money on things like nursery education.

Mrs. Thatcher

In nursery education, I believe, we get a lot of value from a comparatively small outlay of money. The reasons why I have embarked on it are strictly educational. I think that many parents would welcome the opportunity for their children to attend nursery schools part time, either morning or afternoon, before they have to go to primary school full time. I think that it is a very good idea at last to embark on a systematic programme.