I forecast that next year Clwyd's rates will rise by 25 per cent. Nearly 20 per cent. will be due to the recent Tory Budget boost to inflation, and the rest will be a supplementary rate to try to rescue vital services such as education. This Government have cheated parents. They promised them tax cuts, but they can be obtained only by slashing central Government funding of county services such as education. Some observers believe that education standards will be butchered because of the Government's blind commitment to "Thatcherite" cuts in public spending.
Pernicious Government financial policy, imposed to redeem the tax cuts election pledge, have brought forth unprecedented demonstrations. Spontaneously, thousands of mothers gathered at Shire Hall this week. They carried the day, and persuaded the local education authority not to massacre the nursery units, not to imperil Welsh language teachers and teaching and not to penalise vulnerable pupils in need of remedial education. In fact, their muscle power far exceeded the legendary power of the trade unions.
But still the Clwyd LEA finds itself in an impossible position. As the county programme for 1980–81 says,
With regard to growth, it is evident that the Government is not prepared to maintain the levels set out in its predecessor's White Paper mentioned in paragraph 3. A cutback of 3 per cent. in current expenditure in the present year has already been called for, roughly equating to £2·5 million of the country's revenue budget. Clawback of rate support grant for 1979–80 is still to be announced. It is also evident that the Government will be proposing further cuts in the coming year, and there seems little prospect of any improvement in the situation for some time to come".
I cannot adequately describe the indignation and dismay depicted by the hundreds of young parents whom I have interviewed in the last few weeks. One thing is for certain—they believe in nursery education, oppose education cuts and dislike totally the Government's current policy.
The National Union of Teachers has left me in no doubt whatever regarding its views. It envisages over 300 teachers less, the primary pupil-teacher ratio going from 23·25 to 24·25, and a decline in the secondary pupil-teacher ratio from 17 to 18·5 It says that there will be a review of small sixth forms. That is what the NUT has told me, and I congratulate its members in Clwyd on forming an action committee to alert the local people against what will be an inevitable fall in standards. It is certainly their intention to warn against that possibility.
Mrs. Ann Snowden, of the Mold and Buckley NUT, has written to me deploring the advance towards cuts in education. She says that the first point to emphasise
is the combined effect of various proposals for cuts on the slow learners and deprived children … The second point is the worsening of the pupil-teacher ratio … which must result in whole subjects disappearing from the curriculum … We are hoping that the council will agree to a supplementary rate.
That is on behalf of the NUT.
Many members of school staffs throughout Clwyd have told me of their great concern. For our pupils some subjects will disappear from the curriculum. They will have restricted choice in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh years, which will affect their career opportunities. It will no longer be feasible to provide for minority subjects and those courses that are designed to broaden the perspective of pupils. Additional stress will be placed on teachers through the increased size of classes. Some subjects will be taught by non-specialists. New entrants to the profession will not have the benefit of immediate support from senior colleagues. Supply teachers with the appropriate specialisation will not be available, thus disrupting courses. At lunch-time supervision is stretched to the limit and can be stretched no further.
Parents value and have come to expect the school to provide counselling and guidance for their children. The present level of caring cannot be sustained. All pupils in the comprehensive school will be affected by these cuts over the next months and years. Parents are rightly concerned that the opportunities for their children will be significantly restricted. We shall not be able to maintain the existing standards of work or the quality and range of opportunities offered. That is the thrust of intelligence and advice that I have received. I am told that the morale of the profession is seriously affected by the prospect of continuing cuts of such severity. Short- and long-term effects of these cuts on pupils' opportunities in an increasingly complex world is surely most worrying.
From Flint, Mr. Megson has written to me in blunt terms, saying that
The Government made it clear that their intention was to cut public spending but they had no mandate from the public to destroy an educational system which has in recent years provided wider and better opportunity for our young people.
Simply a shortening of the duration of 'a school education' for many young people … As the Member of Parliament for Flint, East I hope you can help by passing on my fears and dejection through the channels at your disposal so that we may try to change the direction the present Government have elected to take.
I have also been told by the Clwyd Secondary Headmasters' Federation that it is deeply disturbed about the implications in Clwyd of educational cuts. It says that
These cuts are not just 'good housekeeping' adjustments and savings but the amputation of important parts of the education service … which were regarded as essential. The teachers who remain in the service are becoming increasingly demoralised.
The Clwyd Federation of PTAs has been in touch with me. It vigorously opposes any of the suggested cuts in education that affect the quality of tuition given to our children. I dare say that the Minister will say that cuts can be
found that will not affect the quality of tuition. My constituents and many others will be interested to hear his observations.
The honorary secretary of the St. Richard Gwyn Association of the high school in Flint has written to me saying that
As a Member of Parliament who has represented many of us living in the constituency with distinction we would ask for your active help in promoting educational safeguards at a very difficult time for the nation. The Association asks that those cuts which directly affect the quality of education in the classroom should not be imposed. Recently articulated Conservative theory on education has emphasised the need to safeguard educational standards. The Party has also taken a strong stand on the rights of parents. Current Government policies threaten both.
A Mrs. Shackleton, who writes to me from Cefn-y-Bedd, in the part of my constituency near Wrexham, says:
I have two children at Abermorddn Primary School. The junior children at this school are in mobile classrooms. Due to not having a teacher replaced this September, these rooms are going to be overcrowded. The toilet facilities also are far from ideal too. The junior department of this school is in the building programme for 1980. It is essential that this is not delayed at all.
We know that it will be because the Budget has announced that the education budget must be cut by £55 million. The private sector will be stimulated by an additional £50 million. Mrs. Shackleton's school will not get what it needs because the order of priorities under this Government will be changed.
The headmaster of Queensferry primary school tells me that the principle of compensatory education is basic to the work of the school and that the proposed cuts attack that principle savagely. A constituent from Hope Village, a Mrs. G. A. Bellis, writes that
The facilities of the Swimming Baths were supposed to benefit the Community and as we—the parents—pay for them out of very heavy rates why should our children be denied free entry to these very facilities? I would add that I personally am not in the Teaching Profession, neither do I have a child under school age so have nothing personally to gain from these complaints other than the hopefully continued standard of Education our children enjoy at present.
A constituent from Broughton, a Mrs. Linda Roberts, says:
The opinion overall at our meeting was that no cuts in education should occur. Education should never suffer through inflation,
and the County Council should go to the ratepayers to raise these monies.
She speaks for many in Broughton.
The parent manager, a Mr Brian Williams, of the Broughton school, says in a letter to me:
This Country has been involved in two World Wars, with a considerable number of deaths, sufferings and hardships, in order that we may keep Britain alive and maintain standards our parents required for us. It is now apparent that because of the reduction in Grants from Central Government, that these standards are not going to be retained for our children.
I know that Mr. Williams has done a great deal for the school at Broughton, and that he and his managers are deeply distressed by what faces them.
From Saltney, a Mrs. Susan Stuart, whose friends I met in her home recently, when they were most distressed at hearing of the need for cuts in the education service, has written to me since that meeting. She says:
I am writing this letter on behalf of the majority of parents in the Saltney area, to request you to bring to the notice of the government the following drastic effects, in this area, of the recent 2 per cent cuts in spending in Education and to try to convey the bitterness of feeling these effects have caused.
I can vouch for the strong feelings of the mothers that I met in Saltney.
The parent-teachers association of the Ysgol-y-Fron and Perthy Terfyn schools in Halkyn Street, Holywell, sent me a letter stating that
We the P.T.A. Committee of the above Schools feel we must register our serious protest to you with regard to the cuts proposed in education spending by Clwyd County Council.
The association particularly points with dismay at the degree to which the actual schooling may be affected for the worse. It says that, as an alternative, there should be fewer subject supervisors and that an extension of the winter holiday should take place with a reduction in the summer holiday so as to lessen the cost of fuel in local schools.
A headmaster has written to me on behalf of his school in Bagillt, and as chairman of the PTA association, regarding the proposed cuts and the dire effect that they will have on the community of Bagillt. He says:
On educational and socio-economic grounds, I feel that there is a backward step, and I ask you, as a good friend of this area,
and as an ex-teacher, to do your utmost to oppose such action. Furthermore, I feel that you should be made aware of the fact that reports of 'no teacher redundancy' are inaccurate …
Surely education should mean more than ruthless culling of £X to meet demands of our political administration, who seem to have mixed up national priorities …
I could understand vicious cutbacks having to be made in social spending in times of national crisis, but as far as the public is concerned there is no crisis, but this is a deliberate action by a Government which will have far-reaching effects on social standards and morale for years to come.
Besides the headmaster's signature on that letter, there also appear the signatures of the PTA secretary, Mrs. Sutton, and the PTA assistant secretary, M. Sewell.
From Holywell, Mrs. Gwen Roberts says:
The present threatening cuts in our children's education will undoubtedly be very detrimental to many, especially to the children themselves and to certain areas in education that have been fostering so well over the years.
Mrs. Dougherty, of Buckley, at whose home I met a number of constituents who were concerned about these cuts, says:
It has been brought to my attention … that the present Conservative Government plan to make cuts in education. There is much speculation as to just where these cuts will come … I am certain about one thing, and that is to ensure my children's education standards improve, not deteriorate. I will give my full support to any campaign to see that this Government do not bring about this action. If these actions are allowed to materialise this year, it will be a springboard for future plans.
Finally, to sum up, it is a fact that throughout Wales we suffer a £1·3 million cut in the building programme. The hopes of modernising more of our ancient schools have been dashed, directly because of the Conservatives' Budget cuts in the State education service. There is a threat to reading and writing practice in the infant schools, a threat to books and equipment in our junior schools, and a threat to examination and preparation and prospects in secondary schools. There is also the prospect of disturbing redundancies amongst teachers.
If the cuts to be imposed by central Government go ahead, by the rate support grant cut, which inevitably points the axe at education, there will be a rapid deterioration affecting the most precious asset of the nation—our children. It is no use the Minister's saying that the Government are not to blame. The savage cuts in the RSG give Clwyd LEA no option but to look very harshly at the education budget.