‘Cinderella of the Education System’: Margaret Thatcher’s Plan for Nursery Expansion in 1970s Britain

‘Cinderella of the Education System’: Margaret Thatcher’s Plan for Nursery Expansion in... Abstract The Department of Education and Science, led by then Secretary of State Margaret Thatcher, published a White Paper in December 1972 calling for a dramatic expansion of public nursery education, so that it might be available within a decade to all families with 3- and 4-year-old children who chose to utilize it. While this failed policy is seldom remembered today, and Thatcher’s efforts to promote the care and education of young children are not considered part of her considerable legacy, the White Paper’s policy propositions challenge understandings about the formation and consistency of both Britain’s child care policy and ‘Thatcherism’. During this period, Thatcher believed that extending the frontiers of the state was appropriate to promote child welfare during the crucial first years of life. She conceived of nursery education as serving a developmental and educational purpose for all children, quite separate from welfare provisions for poor families or work supports for women. It is this crucial, albeit arbitrary, distinction which explains how nursery education was envisaged as an exception to her advocacy of cutting welfare spending. In the summer of 1972, Margaret Thatcher, then Secretary of State for Education and Science, sought to persuade the rest of the Cabinet to accept a major shift in priorities. Evoking sympathy and nostalgia for members’ own childhood experiences, she declared, ‘nursery education has been the Cinderella of the education system since 1944’, when the Butler Act redressed many inequalities by making secondary education free of cost.1 The number of publicly funded nurseries had drastically increased during the Second World War as part of the emergency measures that drew women into the workforce, but the vast majority was closed after the war ended. Although ‘successive governments have had to hold it back rigidly in the interests of meeting stronger priorities’, Thatcher continued, the time had come to readjust the Department’s allocation of resources. She argued that the practical difficulties of teacher supply hitherto facing the government could be surmounted and perhaps, more importantly, the program would be politically popular.2 Following Thatcher’s metaphor, it was finally time for Cinderella to attend the ball. Nursery education was included as the signature issue of a White Paper calling for the realignment of the Department’s priorities. However, the prince did not return her glass slipper for over two decades: while nursery education garnered more public attention and was slated for considerable expansion with Thatcher’s proposal, it quietly receded from the limelight shortly thereafter with recessionary expenditure cuts. Although she did not repudiate the policy while Prime Minister, nursery education would not rise to the top of the political agenda again until the Labour Party reintroduced the idea in the mid-1990s. This essay revisits this important initiative, arguing that Thatcher was willing to contemplate a high degree of state intervention in favour of a policy she always considered as educational rather than feminist or redistributive. Although her failed attempt is seldom remembered today, and her efforts to promote the care and education of young children are not considered part of her formidable legacy, Thatcher had dramatically proclaimed to the press, ‘I want to be remembered as the Minister who introduced nursery education for all in Britain’.3 The early 1970s represent a crucial transition point in British policies towards women and children, with efforts to move one particular type—nursery education—towards more, not less, state intervention. Policymakers attempted to address the tensions among the needs of women, young children, and the state and came very close to enacting universal nursery education. The Department of Education and Science, led by then Secretary of State Margaret Thatcher, published a White Paper in December 1972 that called for the dramatic expansion of public part-time nursery education with provision for all families with 3- and 4-year-old children who chose to utilize it within a decade. This White Paper, titled Education: A Framework for Expansion, assumed a take-up rate for public nursery education of 90 per cent of 4-year-olds and 50 per cent of 3-year-olds by 1981, and set out to increase provision to meet this demand. This compares to actual participation rates in 1971 of only 4.7 per cent of 3-year-olds and 33.8 per cent of 4-year-olds in the Department’s maintained schools.4 This proposal never came to fruition and was gradually cut back in the midst of the economic crisis of the mid-1970s. However, its proposition challenges our understanding about the formation and consistency of both Britain’s child care policy and of Thatcher’s guiding ideology, known to scholars as Thatcherism, with its characteristic emphasis on a free-market economy that privileges private enterprise over social service provision. During this period, for reasons explored below, Thatcher proposed to extend the frontiers of the state to promote child well-being during the crucial first years of life. She advocated for state-provided nursery schools and classes—framed as education rather than as welfare or as a labour support for women—and even resisted calls from her party to charge parental fees. While political scientists Jane Lewis and Vicky Randall have both provided useful surveys of child care policy during the post-war period, neither gives much weight to the White Paper itself nor discusses its development or provisions in detail. Randall, for example, only grants one sentence in her book-length examination of child care policy to Thatcher’s proposal, stating merely that it reflected the recommendations of the Plowden Report (discussed below). Lewis discusses the White Paper in just one paragraph.5 Angela Davis provides a detailed account of the theory, practice, and experience of child care during the post-war period utilizing oral history. However, she also does not discuss the White Paper at length.6 These omissions may have several causes. The authors approach child care policy with feminist goals in mind (i.e. the care and education of young children are necessary for women to work) that were not the White Paper’s intent, as Thatcher’s proposal was considered an educational rather than labour market policy. Additionally, these authors seem to assume that serious reforms of child care would only come from the left, and thus do not take the Conservative Party’s policy seriously. For example, while noting that it was a ‘surprising’ development, Lewis dismisses it as a political ploy.7 This is a mistake: although several female labour members of Parliament were among the most prominent child care advocates at the time,8 and the eventual expansion of child care in the 1990s was shepherded by the Labour Party, historians have demonstrated that the Conservative Party was more successful in cultivating an electorate among women in the post-war era.9 To dismiss the White Paper outright omits a central turning point in the narrative of British child care policy. The publication of a child-centred, educational justification for preschool intervention denotes a major shift in values about the state’s role in the traditionally private realm of the family, and deserves closer investigation. Much has been written about Thatcher and Thatcherism. Her once-seemingly dogmatic ideology has proven illusory, as historians have begun unravelling its genealogy and the consistency of its tenets. Biographer John Campbell provides a detailed analysis of Thatcher’s tenure as Education Secretary, describing the White Paper as ‘the last throw not only of expansion, but of consensus in education’.10 However, Campbell’s account draws primarily from Thatcher’s memoirs and oral interviews with officials who worked with her, rather than from engagement with the archival record. As such, he misses how much of the impetus came from Thatcher herself, as well as the disagreement between Thatcher and the Conservative Party on the issue of charging parental fees (discussed below). Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite has persuasively argued that Thatcherism was both coherent and flexible in its tenets, and was ‘driven by a vision of moral rejuvenation’ that privileged the place of families.11 As she explains, in Thatcherite logic ‘individuals working in the interests of their family would produce a prosperous but also a moral society’.12 In support of this interpretation, during Thatcher’s tenure as leader of the Shadow Administration in the late 1970s, the Conservative Research Department bundled nursery education into a newly conceptualized focal area, Family Policy. This would go on to become a centrepiece of Thatcher’s policies as prime minister, particularly the Parents’ Charter which emphasized parental choice of schools.13 Although little expansion would occur during the Thatcher government, nursery education remained conceptually part and parcel of a larger policy agenda of supporting families that was at the heart of Thatcherism, albeit one that emphasized parents’ rights over public provision. Although nursery education ceased to be a priority for Thatcher, she never disavowed it as Prime Minister. Nursery education was not the only government policy affecting the care of children under compulsory school age during this time.14 The Department of Health and Social Services, led by Sir Keith Joseph during the Heath administration, was responsible for both administering a separate day nursery program and supporting private playgroups to a limited extent. Thatcher was often quick to deflect any departmental responsibility for these two programs, as they fell outside of her purview.15 Day nurseries provided full-time care only to a limited population of children with special needs, and most local health authorities administering the provision prioritized admission for the children of unmarried working mothers.16 These child care facilities explicitly supported women workers, but only those in the most desperate of circumstances. Playgroups, by contrast, were primarily organized by parents (largely middle-class, nonworking mothers) and required their participation, and were focused primarily on children’s socialization. These two types of programs thus served very different populations and purposes, although nursery education could appeal to families utilizing either type. Indeed, one civil servant in the Department of Education and Science commented on a perceived difference between the ‘need’ for nursery education in more disadvantaged communities that day nurseries would target, and the ‘demand’ for it ‘particularly from better-educated and more affluent parents’, who were also the parents involved in forming play groups.17 This essay first examines the pressure for nursery reform from advocacy organizations and official government committees. It then turns to the inner workings of the Wilson and Heath governments of the late 1960s and 1970s, examining nursery education policy itself. The third section highlights the rationale for nursery education as posited in Thatcher’s White Paper, emphasizing its perceived role in promoting optimal child development and examining its relationship to contemporary feminist projects. Finally, the essay concludes by considering how an examination of the White Paper contributes to a growing literature that questions the coherence of Thatcherism, revealing fluidity in Thatcher’s ideology during the early 1970s. Because Thatcher understood nursery education primarily as an educational intervention rather than as a welfare or redistributive benefit or as a work support for women, it was a crucial exception to her laissez-faire rhetoric during this period. Growing Pressure for Nursery Reform While the 1918 Maternity and Child Welfare Act empowered local authorities to provide day nursery places for children under 5 years of age, few publicly maintained child care facilities were in place following its passage. In 1938, for example, only 104 nurseries were in place, serving fewer than 4,300 children.18 Demand, especially in the evacuation areas, grew acute during the Second World War and in 1944 over 1,500 wartime nurseries served over 71,000 children. This number dropped rapidly after the war: in 1946, 915 nurseries served fewer than 44,000 children, and one decade later in 1956, only 547 nurseries with about 26,000 places remained. This reduction in child care supply is correlated with a decrease in the number of working mothers in the immediate post-war period. However, ‘this drop was not as large as expected’ and began to increase again after 1950, leading to a mismatch in supply and demand.19 The Ministry of Health’s Circular 221/45 which announced the closure of wartime nurseries in 1945 had also separated the care and educational components of child care provisions. While the day nurseries of local health authorities provided care for children of working mothers, local education authorities could provide an educational intervention under the 1944 Education Act. However, these local education authorities had limited resources. Concerns that increasing the provision of nursery schools would exacerbate the shortage of teachers in primary schools led the Department of Education and Science to issue Circular 8/60 in 1960 under the Conservative administration of Harold Macmillan.20 An internal memo from 1967 describes why the Circular was seen as necessary: ‘ever since the war, the policy of my predecessors has been severely to restrict nursery development, mainly because of the danger of denuding the infant schools of badly needed teachers’.21 Describing recent developments, however, he continued, ‘this policy has been slightly relaxed in recent years, but only in respect of new nursery classes which could be shown to be productive in terms of teachers—that is, in enabling married women teachers who are mothers of young children to return to teaching’.22 Beyond this small provision for the children of teachers, nursery education was seen as ‘impossible’.23 Civil servants in the mid-1960s began to re-scrutinize the care and education of children under the age of 5 years, as the publication of several influential reports came to their attention and as a National Campaign for Nursery Education crystallized to push for policy reform. While each report made slightly different recommendations about child care, their significance arises from their confluence. Policymakers were being pushed to consider the needs of young children to a greater extent than they had been since the war. Various groups, ranging from organizations focused solely on the under-5 age group such as the National Society for Children’s Nurseries and the Nursery School Association (NSA), to more general groups like the National Union of Teachers, increased the pressure placed on the governments of the late 1960s and early 1970s.24 Simon Yudkin, a paediatrician, served on the Council of the National Society for Children’s Nurseries and chaired a working party of advocacy organizations and local authorities that produced the 1967 Yudkin Report, titled, The Care of Children Outside Their Homes. The purpose of the working party, created in 1964, was ‘to discuss the whole care of the pre-school child, gather evidence, and to press for an official enquiry’.25 It focused mostly on the perceived dangers of unregulated childminding rather than on care in formal settings. However, it argued that unregulated minders were commonly used because of a lack of supply of the more formal and higher-quality arrangements. While the government largely brushed aside its recommendations, as it was occupied with the official reviews of policy affecting the under-5 population taking place under the Seebohm and Plowden committees, the Yudkin Report generated a good deal of publicity.26 The media sensationalized its findings, with dramatic titles such as ‘The Shocking Truth About the Baby Minders’ and ‘The Children Nobody Cares About’.27 This attention should be understood in racialized terms: childminding was largely perceived to be utilized in West Indian communities in which women with young children were more likely to work at low wages. Brian and Sonia Jackson, for example, explained this animus in their pioneering sociological study of childminding in the 1970s as searching for the answer to the question, ‘Where were the children of all those unmarried West Indian girls around?’28 The 1968 Report of the Committee on Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services, or Seebohm Report, also brought questions regarding the care and education of the under-5 population to the attention of the public, politicians, and civil service. It recommended that all social services for families, including but not limited to day nurseries and nursery education, should be housed within the same government department to reduce the ill effects of fragmentation. It also addressed the way that social services were aligned within some local health authorities. Perhaps of most influence was a 3-year long review of the primary education service by the Central Advisory Council for Education (the Plowden Report) published under Harold Wilson’s Labour Government in 1967 as Children and Their Primary Schools. One major component of its recommendations was its call to expand part-time nursery education. During one of the early meetings, the Working Party responsible for writing the section on the under-5 population was clear that they saw nursery education as distinct from women’s employment, as ‘members urged that the Working Party Report should stress that an expansion of nursery provision was not recommended as a means of attracting more mothers to go out to work; national economic policy should not determine or influence educational considerations’.29 The members expressed concern that the report would be attacked if the recommendations were understood as being designed to increase the labour force participation of mothers. Women who needed to work to support their families, in turn, were not seen as the ones pressing for nursery care. Rather, the Working Party believed that there was a ‘discrepancy between need and demand: Lady Bridget Plowden said that the council must ensure that nursery provision was expanded in the worst areas first; demand would be heaviest in middle class areas’.30 A significant ‘note of reservation’, signed by eight members of the Council including its chair, Lady Plowden, provided an alternative proposal for financing its nursery expansion recommendations: charging parents who could afford to pay for services. They explained, ‘if resources were more plentiful we would not favour charges’, but that ‘without a parental contribution we fear that nursery education will not be extended at all and such children be no better off than they are today’.31 Knowing that this argument would be countered by claims that a means test would deter the families who most needed care, the authors posited that ‘new traditions can be created. Few parents are now too proud to accept State support for the education of their children in universities. If in universities, why not in nursery schools?’32 While the Conservative Party would take up this alternative proposal, its Education Secretary under the Heath administration would vehemently disagree, as will be discussed below. The National Campaign for Nursery Education, founded in 1965, organized petitions in 1967 and 1972 to generate support and publicity for the implementation of the Plowden recommendations.33 The Campaign’s leadership included members of the House of Commons and representatives from organizations such as the NSA, National Society of Children’s Nurseries, and the National Union of Teachers. The Labour MP Renee Short was its president during the later campaign. Less publicly visible, perhaps, but of great importance to Conservatives like Margaret Thatcher, was the 1966 publication of Elspeth Howe’s pamphlet, Under 5: A Report on Nursery Education.34 The report was ‘based on discussion and research by a group of younger Conservative women’ convened by Howe, the wife of notable Thatcher government official Geoffrey Howe, under the auspices of the Greater London Conservative Women’s Advisory Committee.35 In the group’s first meeting, Howe explained the need to write such a report because she sensed that while the Conservative Research Department was interested in the topic, which was in her words ‘an extremely important subject’ that ‘had strong political appeal’ because it would increase families’ ‘freedom of choice’, its Educational Policy Group was neglecting it.36 The resulting report presented a ‘case for pre-school provision’ both for child-centred reasons and as a support for working mothers, and decried the ‘failures in the present system’, namely, shortages of provision and obstacles for the private sector market to compensate for the lack of public places. It recommended increasing the provision of publicly provided part-time nursery facilities.37 Outside of government, advocates were optimistic about prospects for nursery expansion during the later years of the Wilson government, especially after the Plowden Report’s publication. The NSA, for example, wrote in its 1967–8 Annual Report that ‘despite serious national economic crises [of devaluation, for example], [this year] augurs well for the development and expansion of nursery education’. Even more buoyantly, the NSA labelled 1969 the ‘year of hope’.38 Government Plans for Nursery Expansion However, inside Whitehall prospects were dim as funding nursery education would require reprioritizing the services already provided by the Department of Education and Science or increasing the budget to account for new spending. As one civil servant put it, the required financial resources necessary to implement the Plowden recommendations were seen as ‘most unsatisfactory’ for ‘there seems to be no escaping the logic of the point that this would in nearly every case amount to additional expenditure and therefore in order to get it through the financial hoops, the Sec of State ought to be able to offer some compensating economy’.39 To expand services for children under 5 years of age, the department would have to reallocate spending which had already been promised to other age groups. Following another civil servant’s visit to the USA and awareness of its Head Start program, the Department decided upon a strategy of concentrating resources in fewer areas rather than spreading them out.40 A small expansion in what were termed ‘educational priority areas’, or EPAs, serving low-income urban populations, under the broader Urban Programme, was instituted. Beyond the Urban Programme, however, in areas where ‘the social need is less but the demand very strong’,41 nursery education fared poorly: it was considered of lesser importance than either secondary school reorganization or instituting a single school-leaving age.42 In early 1970, Labour Secretary of State for Education and Science Edward Short attempted to bring it back to the top of the agenda, but quietly agreed after a private meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to drop his bid for an expansion that year.43 While both parties’ Election Manifestos in 1970 called for an expansion of nursery education, both envisioned targeting it to children in need. The Labour Party manifesto touted its Urban Programme in the EPAs, especially ‘inner areas of our large cities’ where ‘shortages exist in social resources of all kinds’, and where many immigrants had settled.44 Similarly, the Conservative Party manifesto called for nursery places ‘in areas of social handicap, such as the poorer parts of our large cities, where it is so vital to give children a better start’.45 The White Paper that would be published just 2 years later, however, envisioned a universal nursery program that would reach beyond these campaign promises. Although spending would be targeted at first as it was slowly rolled out to the EPAs, the White Paper promised to expand services to all children under 5 years of age within a decade. After the general election of June 1970 gave the Tories a majority, Thatcher became the Secretary of State for Education and Science. During her first few years at the helm of the Department, two hotly contested issues set the terms of the debate. First, in 1970, Thatcher opposed the prior government’s policy of promoting ‘comprehensive’ secondary education, favouring schemes that allowed parents and students to choose which schools to attend. Opponents accused her of protecting elite privilege that had cemented class division. The theme of ‘choice’ certainly resonates with later iterations of Thatcherism. Secondly, in 1971, Thatcher ended schools’ provision of free milk for children who were older than age of 7 years, and was subsequently derided as a ‘milk snatcher’ in Parliament and the press.46 The parliamentary contention over the issue did not focus on why the age of 7 years was chosen as a cut-off for the free provision of milk. The debates instead focused on whether children between the ages of 7 and 11 years still had a medical or dietary need for milk, and whether parents or the state should shoulder this cost. This silence perhaps signals a widely accepted assumption that younger children have greater needs than their older schoolmates. Thatcher’s position shows that while she was committed to holding down government spending, concessions could be made when the youngest children were at stake. Even before turning to nursery education, it appears that Thatcher considered children’s early years an exception to her drive to roll back state programs. Nursery education thus was not central to parliamentary debates during this period, although Thatcher did speak in its favour as an ideal on a fairly regular basis both in and outside the halls of Westminster. During these years, the Department upheld Circular 8/60, and continued the previous government’s limited expansion of nursery education for low-income children under the Urban Programme. Behind closed doors, however, Thatcher was more forceful, pushing for a reprioritization of her department’s work to make room for a nursery intervention. In a note written to Prime Minister Edward Heath in advance of a meeting in January 1972, she argued that this issue ‘is my biggest outstanding problem in resource allocation. We shall have failed if, within the life of this government, we have not taken a substantial initiative in the provision of nursery education. This means something more, and more widespread’ than the limited provisions provided in the EPAs by the government to date.47 This suggests the impetus for expansion came not from Heath but from Thatcher herself. Signalling her wish for a broader expansion publicly, Thatcher gave a speech in the House of Commons on 12 May 1972. She cited a report by the sociologist A. H. Halsey and a petition from the National Campaign for Nursery Education as pushing the issue to the centre of discourse (literally pushing—the petition’s 350,000 signatures ‘were wheeled up to me in wheelbarrows by some charming small children’).48 Thatcher’s speech recognized the popular demand, argued that child development research provided the scientific rationale for the cause, and signalled that her department would seriously examine the issue. She stated, ‘I accept that the demand for [nursery] places far outstrips the supply, and my aim is to let local authorities provide more places as soon as possible. But what I cannot do is to will the end without considering the means of achieving it’, and at this juncture other priorities laid claim to expenditure.49 Thus while Thatcher indicated her sympathy with those advocating for expansion, and supported their cause, she did not frame it as immediately practical. Her classified note to Heath, however, suggests that she did in fact personally want to do more, and publicly, just after this important speech, as noted above, Thatcher dramatically proclaimed to the press, ‘I want to be remembered as the Minister who introduced nursery education for all in Britain’.50 Not long thereafter, Thatcher presented her ideas for a new strategy on education in a memorandum written for Cabinet consideration. ‘A new statement of government policy in education is needed—and expected by the educational world and informed opinion’, she declared. ‘If we do not make one—and make it soon—we shall have lost the initiative’.51 This was especially true for children under 5 years of age, as ‘nursery education has been the Cinderella of the education system since 1944. Successive governments have had to hold it back rigidly in the interests of meeting stronger priorities’. However, the time had come to readjust the Department’s allocation of resources. The practical difficulties hitherto facing the government could be surmounted, and the program would be politically popular.52 The funding that Thatcher proposed to make available for this expansion came from slowing down the rate of expansion the prior Labour government had set for higher education.53 In a memo to the Prime Minister dated about a week before the White Paper’s publication, Thatcher admitted that her plan to abandon the government’s earlier commitment to expanding higher education ‘is potentially the most controversial part of the proposals … The supporters of unlimited expansion of higher education may argue that the Government are expanding nursery education at the expense of higher education’.54 However, she argued, it ‘was much more important from the social point of view than further expenditure on higher education’.55 Her counterpart in the Department of Social Services, and later her key ally in promoting Thatcherism, Sir Keith Joseph, agreed. In discussions of the Department of Education’s higher education policy and Thatcher’s proposal to reallocate its funding the summer before, both had argued that nursery education was more likely than university education to diminish class inequalities, and that the early years were a more appropriate stage of life for public intervention than early adulthood.56 Labour would later disagree on this point, as it rolled back nursery expansion and returned to prioritizing higher education after 1974. Although both parties by and large agreed on the educational need for nursery schools and classes, as explored further below, and Labour politicians who criticized the White Paper argued that it was not expanding nursery care at a fast enough rate, the real disagreement between parties was about the place and prioritization of higher education. To Thatcher and Joseph, very young children who were neither autonomous nor able to care for themselves were seen as more worthy recipients of public education services than adult students, who were subject to a more punitive logic under a framework of responsibility. With somewhat hesitant approval from the Cabinet after it discussed the new strategy in late November, as some members worried about the political popularity of reducing the rate of expansion in higher education, Thatcher published her White Paper on 6 December 1972, with nursery education as one of its signature components.57 The distribution of nursery places was meant to match local demand; as it explained, ‘the Government are not laying down a uniform detailed pattern of expansion as they hope that local plans will reflect local needs and resources’.58 The White Paper also lifted the barrier to expansion by rescinding Circular 8/60, fuelling the development of the provision.59 Cost constraints, however, were the biggest barrier to the implementation of Thatcher’s new strategy, as nursery expansion required significant new resources, especially for teachers’ wages and training. It had a higher cost per pupil than primary or secondary schooling, primarily because of lower pupil to staff ratios.60 Building the actual nursery school facilities posed a similar challenge. One approach Thatcher advocated was building additional classrooms in primary schools to house nursery classes, so that children could be introduced to school. In her words, ‘we think it better that they should be attached to primary schools, so that they can go with their elder brothers and sisters to the primary school, and get used to the idea’.61 Further, combining nursery and primary schools within the same facility would be efficient; as the two could ‘share overhead costs … we may be able to get more for our money’.62 Many new primary schools were being built during this period, and Thatcher promoted efforts to design schools that could be adapted to include nursery provision.63 Thatcher estimated that overall costs of implementing the Plowden report’s recommendations for a mainly part-time program ‘would add about £50 million a year to current expenditure and involve £100 million worth of capital expenditure’.64 The White Paper called for slightly lower expenditures than this initial figure (with a total expenditure of £42 million in 1971–2 but rising to £65 million in 1976–7).65 Still the costs were significant, and were the subject of heated exchanges between Thatcher and Treasury officials.66 They represented a large investment in this state provision, as Thatcher refused to accede to Treasury pressure, for example on the number of years that capital investments would be spread out or on parental fees.67 These fees represent a major point of dissension between Thatcher and the rest of her party, and signal her personal investment in the issue. Both the Conservative members of the Plowden Committee and the Conservative Policy Group on Education had suggested offsetting the public costs by charging fees to parents who wanted their children to receive nursery education, as did Elspeth Howe in her report.68 Internal Conservative Party documents also pressed for fees: the Party’s 1968 Education Policy Group noted that ‘while we recognise that it will be impossible to allocate substantial resources to nursery provision, we consider that nursery education should receive more serious attention than it has in the past…[P]olicy for nursery provision for the foreseeable future must therefore be based upon…the introduction of parental charges’.69 Breaking from this party line, Thatcher stated in a House of Commons debate that this scheme posed ‘serious practical difficulties’, such as how to develop a sliding scale that would not deter poor families from enrolling their children or how to manage the administrative mechanisms to collect fees from some families but not others.70 Moreover, and remarkably, she argued that this would be objectionable politically, as the Education Act of 1944 had promised free education. Because she considered nursery education to be an extension of this pledge of free education rather than a welfare provision, in a series of internal memoranda, Thatcher trenchantly resisted the Treasury’s call for parental fees.71 Even in the late 1970s, Thatcher remained opposed to charging parents: in a series of memoranda by the Conservative Research Department on the formation of educational expenditure policies shortly before the 1979 general election, one staff member lamented that ‘Mrs. Thatcher has said on a number of occasions that she would not accept’ fees.72 Thatcher’s program was threatened in 1973 when the government made cuts across the board in public expenditure. In July, Thatcher asserted in a House of Commons debate that her department would shield the new provision, stating, ‘the full nursery school programme will be retained … We have tried to manage this substantial and necessary cut in public expenditure in a way which has preserved the essential priorities in the education service … I recognise that the cuts are serious, but they are not disastrous’.73 In December, she stated again that while the department ‘like other public services, has been affected by the cuts announced by the Chancellor on 17 December. As a result, education expenditure for next year has suffered. Nevertheless…nursery schools…will go ahead’.74 A general election was held on 28 February 1974, in the wake of these cuts and a general recession sparked by the Yom Kippur War, a miners’ strike, and the introduction of a 3-day work week to reduce electricity usage. No party won an overall majority, but Edward Heath resigned as prime minister and Harold Wilson of the Labour Party took office. Thatcher’s tenure as Secretary of State for Education and Science came to an end on 4 March 1974. Conceptions of Children’s Needs in the White Paper One central question is why Thatcher chose to focus on nursery education in the first place. Campbell has written that the White Paper ‘represented the culmination of a whole raft of policies the DES had been working on for twenty years. [Thatcher’s] officials are unanimous in admitting that she had remarkably little to do with its conception: she was merely the midwife’.75 He thus credits the Department of Education and Science’s civil servants for forming its ideas and policies. However, he finds that Thatcher’s presence within the Department was crucial for creating the focus on nurseries; he writes that expanding nursery education ‘was the long-standing ambition of the department which her officials added to the draft White Paper only when they found her unexpectedly sympathetic’.76 Her leadership thus was instrumental in translating the program from an ideal to its actualization. Campbell suggests that Thatcher’s motivations may have been politically opportunistic (‘she seized gratefully on the idea of promoting free local authority [nursery] schools as a popular move which would divert attention from the storms she had aroused over school milk and comprehensivisation’77), and this is certainly a possibility. Biographical accounts of another female politician during the period, Labour’s Barbara Castle, emphasize how crucial having a popular ‘win’ within a Cabinet department was to her rise to power in the male-dominated political field.78 It is certainly possible that Thatcher fixated on nursery education for the strategic and pragmatic purpose of turning around her negative image in the press and gaining standing and influence within the party. However, a closer examination reveals another, deeper justification as well. Much of the rationale for providing and expanding nursery education stemmed from contemporary professional beliefs about child development, and the potential role the state could play in promoting optimal outcomes, rather than from a desire to support women’s employment. Thatcher drew on the contemporary field’s insights from research, such as the above-mentioned report by Halsey, and outcomes from the US Head Start program for children from low-income families. Her arguments for nursery education reveal a belief that it was good for children to receive an educational intervention prior to school entry. On one hand, she publicly discussed it as an investment in the nation’s future population, for example stating, ‘Our ultimate hope is that these children will be good parents, who will provide for their own children their birthright of understanding and affection which they themselves perhaps lacked’.79 On the other, the intervention was intended to benefit the children themselves, as she asserted to the public, ‘the crucial importance of the early years in the development of children's abilities is now universally recognised’.80 Early exposure was seen as crucial: ‘Research suggests that half of the improvement in an individual’s measurable intelligence—over his whole life—takes place between birth and the age of 4 ½; and that it is these early years that intelligence is most susceptible to the effects of external stimulation and environment’.81 Specifically, nursery education was thought to improve children’s academic skills. As she explained to the Cabinet, ‘the primary aims of nursery education are to introduce young children to learning to develop their basic skills in communication, number and reasoning at an early age and to provide more stimulus, through contact with other children and adults, than they are likely to find at home’.82 Nursery exposure was considered especially important for building early literacy skills, as Thatcher stated to the House of Commons ‘I would single out the development of language as the most important, because poverty of language is the most potent source of educational handicap’.83 In addition to being more ‘systematic stimulus’84 than what mothers could provide on their own, nursery education was believed to compensate for less-than-optimal parenting, for some children ‘will not have learned the art of communication and would not have learned it unless they have come to school. Mothers don't always spend time talking to the children except to a minimum extent possible for ordinary life. They don't spend time reading to them’.85 The memorandum proposing nursery education to the Cabinet continued by identifying ‘compensation for disadvantage’ and ‘early diagnosis of handicap’ as ‘subsidiary aims’.86 The first of these aims is akin to a Labour Party argument: Thatcher asserted that nursery education can balance the playing field between classes, and, though she does not explicitly state so, among races, or, in her words, ‘it can be a decisive factor in reducing disparity and divisiveness’.87 Children, as dependents who cannot be held responsible for their life circumstances, were not subject to the more punitive and laissez-faire logics of Thatcherism. For example, she asserted, ‘Although all children benefit from nursery education … it is most valuable for those whose homes are culturally and economically deprived and for those from all income groups or backgrounds who receive less attention than they should from their parents and families’.88 More explicitly, Thatcher cited an influential report of the National Child Development Study, using data that were collected before the limited expansion of nursery care in the 1960s or 1970s, stating that by age of 7 years ‘on average the working class child is less well off both educationally and, for example, in his general health and fitness’.89 As the study’s director put it in retrospect, ‘the extent of the social, health and educational differences which were already so starkly apparent in the nation’s children’ by age of 7 years shocked many, and ‘prompt[ed] politicians of both major parties to look at the possibilities of offering nursery education’.90 Public intervention in the early years was thus seen as a solution to contemporary social and demographic dilemmas, especially for low-income or working-class families as well as non-White communities. This was interpreted as evidence that nursery education could help offset inequities—and Thatcher claimed that such intervention would be desirable for government to promote. On the second of these ‘subsidiary aims’, Thatcher also promoted nursery education in her public statements as a useful intervention for children with special needs, such as medical or developmental disabilities. In her words, nursery education ‘make[s] it easier for us to identify children with special problems at an early stage and to take remedial action before it is too late’.91 Similarly, she argues, ‘If a child has any handicap—a reading difficulty, a difficulty in talking or a difficulty in being with other children—the earlier you can spot it, identify it and deal with it, the most chances you have of overcoming it’.92 The early years were seen as crucial to child development, and addressing issues early could reduce their severity. In contrast, the archival evidence on nursery education during this period says little about the role of women’s employment, either as a factor in creating demand for early child care or as a result of its expansion. In fact, the design of the program reveals a belief that women were primarily responsible for their young children’s care, especially for children under the age of 3 years, and does not leave much room for maternal employment, as the program was to operate primarily for half of each day. The increasing labour force participation of women during these years points to what would seemingly be an increasing demand for child care on the ground. For example, the sociologist A. H. Halsey found that the labour force participation rate for all women increased from about 33 per cent in 1951 to almost 43 per cent in 1971.93 However, these figures were considerably smaller for mothers of young children. A 1968 survey conducted by the Department of Employment found that only 5.7 per cent of women with children between the ages of 3 and 4 years worked full-time and 13.6 per cent worked part-time.94 Helen McCarthy has demonstrated that while social scientists in the 1950s and 1960s contributed to the normalization of married women’s employment, this acceptance ‘had limits’, namely, that they ‘did not stretch to mothers of under-fives’ and even inhibited policy changes in nursery education during the early 1960s.95 Although it appears that most women with young children, influenced by the discourse described by McCarthy, remained at home, public debates about working mothers also increased during the 1970s: both the 1970 Equal Pay Act and 1975 Sex Discrimination Act affected the public debate as ‘working mothers, including lone as well as married mothers, moved more firmly into focus’.96 Child care was on the minds of feminists during this period, but it was not a top priority. The feminist movements that emerged in the 1960s included a new rhetoric of child care and parental responsibility for children’s well-being. The slogan ‘the personal is political’ suggests the centrality of women’s practical and personal everyday experiences to political life and challenged the separation between the private and public spheres. However, as Randall writes, ‘although second-wave feminism was emerging by the late 1960s and one of the four demands of the “founding” Women’s Liberation Conference of 1970 was for “twenty-four hour nurseries,” the issue was a divisive one, raising many ideological and practical problems … No national campaign came together until the 1980s’.97 The archival evidence for feminist involvement in child care advocacy during the late 1960s and early 1970s supports this assertion. For example, one organization of single parents, Mothers in Action, attempted to garner support for a campaign for day nurseries in 1968 from women’s organizations in 1968, but ‘none obliged’.98 British feminists were not at the forefront of advocacy on this very issue, which, by all definitions, seems to belong squarely within a feminist agenda. Thatcher’s views on the feminist movement were hostile. For example, when asked about ‘women’s lib’ in the press, Thatcher once replied, ‘I think they are destroying everything that is feminine, and cheapening the image of working women in the world today. They are far too exaggerated in their claims and do a disservice to women in general. No, I am not in favour of them at all’.99 Even when she supported equal pay for women workers during a 1969 debate, Thatcher emphasized that women’s primary role was still in the home: Many women will still make their main job in life the creation of a home … Yet others—some married women and some single women—will carry out the same jobs with equal competence and under the same conditions as men. We must make provision for all of these circumstances, but let us recognise that perhaps the most important job of all is the creation of family and family life.100 Further, she claimed that she did not work in politics when her children were young—in her words, ‘I gave up politics while the children were small because I think they need a mother more than ever then … As soon as they became a little older and able to go away to school I decided to try again’.101 Thatcher’s views here reflect her ideological position, though they did not reflect her behaviour: Thatcher did work as a lawyer during her children’s early years and, though defeated, had stood for election when her twins were just 2 years old. While playing lip service to the belief that mothers of young children should remain at home, her policy preferences and own practices belied those ideals. That said, the nursery education of Thatcher’s White Paper was always conceived of as an educational policy and not as the kind of child care provision women’s liberationists would have preferred. A part-day rather than a full-time program, it was not intended to directly support women’s work. The focus was not on women’s emancipation, but on the developmental and educational needs of children. Only 15 per cent of nursery classes proposed in the White Paper were intended to provide full-time care.102 Their part-time nature served a practical purpose of reaching more children at a lower cost per child—as she put it in a parliamentary debate, ‘one obvious advantage of this half-day provision is that it doubles the number of children who can receive nursery education for a given cost’.103 Thatcher also argued that it is beneficial for the children themselves: ‘there is evidence that many benefit from a more gradual introduction to school. Part-time provision is more beneficial for them than sudden full-time provision in school would be’.104 The part-time provision also deflected criticisms based on contemporary beliefs and cultural norms of child-rearing and understandings of the family. The twentieth century was marked by changes in the field of developmental psychology, for example the development of John Bowlby’s theory of attachment and maternal deprivation. In Bowlby’s words, spoken on a BBC broadcast in 1968, his work ‘raise[s] practical questions about mothers going out to work, [and] the age when a child should start nursery school … Any move that separates young children from their mothers needs scrutiny, for we are dealing here with a deep and ancient part of human nature’.105 Bowlby was uniquely popularized, widely disseminated, and highly visible within public discourse with publications in the popular press and in pamphlet form.106 Yet, scholars often use Bowlby’s theories as a straw man, without a deeper analysis of how his contemporaries understood his recommendations. These applications were more mediated and complex than scholars give credit, and child scientists supporting early interventions such as Jack and Barbara Tizard of the Thomas Coram Research Unit were frequently consulted by civil servants during and after the White Paper’s drafting. The working party responsible for crafting the nursery education recommendations of the Plowden Report, for example, understood that ‘Dr. Bowlby had modified his earlier views about the mother/child relationship, which were not held by paediatricians in general. Though it was realised that a stable mother/child relationship was essential, it was not true that to breach it for a few hours each day had harmful consequences for all children’.107 Following this version of revised Bowlbyism, Thatcher asserted on numerous occasions that the intention of the program was not to separate children from their families full stop. It was not ‘about taking young children away from their mothers. Three hours a day in nursery class leaves the child in the mother's care most of the time’.108 Nursery Schools and Classes: Education or Welfare? In broad terms, the welfare state was losing ground in the 1970s. Although welfare provision in some ways reached its peak during this decade, its underlying consensus was eroding. As one analyst explains, ‘poor economic performance undermined both the budgetary foundations of welfare states and Keynesian faith in the virtuous links between public spending and economic growth’.109 E. H. H. Green has argued that the ‘triumph of Thatcherite political economy in the late 1970s and 1980s was unsurprising’ because there had been voices within the Conservative Party that had been calling for an end to the post-war consensus about the welfare state and ‘were predisposed to accept a liberal market diagnosis of and prescription for their own and the nation’s economic troubles’.110 This narrative challenges that account, as Thatcher herself was committed to an expansion of this specific welfare state provision rather than for retrenchment writ large. Green defines Thatcherism as ‘aim[ing] to “roll back the frontiers of the State” … by replacing the mixed economy with a private-sector dominated market economy. This in turn was to be complemented by a reform and reduction of the Welfare State’.111 This view raises the question: Was Thatcher herself not a ‘Thatcherite’, defined as subscribing to ‘Thatcherism’ as described by Green, until she became Conservative Party leader in 1975? Not according to him: Green asserts that the 1970–4 period was ‘formative’ for Thatcher and her close allies, as critics of Heath’s leadership and the consensus coalesced into what was called the ‘Selsdon Group’.112 He paints her ideology as becoming more sharply articulated, as she fostered relationships with similarly minded allies, but stresses its overall continuity by stating, ‘Thatcher had shown herself to be in tune with its essential precepts long before she became Conservative leader and the term Thatcherism became part of the British political vocabulary’.113 However, Green ignores Thatcher’s plan for expanding nursery education, which we have seen came from her and not Heath. The early 1970s can best be interpreted as a period of both flux and stability: Thatcherism did not yet exist in the form that it would later take, although its precepts were becoming apparent in some specific policy realms but not in others. The more pressing question is whether state-provided nursery education could have been reconcilable with an agenda for rolling back state welfare: Was nursery education an exception? Biographer Campbell writes that the focus in the White Paper on creating an equal playing field during the early years is reconcilable with the free-market ideology later associated with Thatcher, explaining ‘after the age of five [Thatcher] believed that life was a competition which the best should win; but a level starting line was within her philosophy’.114 The archival evidence supports this view. Regardless of how much her ideology shifted later on, during her tenure as Secretary of State for Education and Science, Thatcher believed that extending state provision was appropriate to enhance child well-being during the crucial first years of life. This was the case, however, because Thatcher always thought of nursery provision as an educational service distinct from welfare. In the record of a meeting with Heath in late December of 1970, well before the White Paper’s publication, Thatcher expressed concern about ‘the extent of the commitment of her Department in the welfare field, on services and functions which were ancillary to the provision of education’ including ‘the provision of school meals, educational maintenance allowances…and free school transport’. However, in the same meeting she also maintains that she ‘would like to do more for nursery schools’, and is searching for cost-effective means to do so.115 This exchange shows a cognitive dissonance in how Thatcher saw early education: whereas she advocated spending cuts in the welfare provisions of her department, she did not envisage nursery education as falling into this category. She saw a universal, child-centred developmental intervention as an exception to welfare retrenchment—indeed as reconcilable with welfare cuts in other areas. The early years, thus, were an exception to her argument for laissez-faire policy during this period. The British Department of Education and Science, with Margaret Thatcher at its helm, conceived of nursery education as serving a developmental and educational purpose for all children, quite separate from welfare provisions for poor families, even though it proposed targeting initial expansion to areas of social need. It is this crucial, albeit arbitrary, distinction which explains how nursery education was envisaged as an exception. What would later be known as Thatcherism, with its attack on public programs writ large, was still inchoate and a work in progress during this period. Although nursery education never rose to the top of the agenda again during her government, Thatcher also did not repudiate it.116 Examining this proposal before her rise to power reveals a potent Conservative argument for public early care and education provision. Thank you very much to Susan Pedersen, Alice Kessler-Harris, Christopher L. Brown, and members of the Columbia University Seminar on Modern British History and the NYCTC working group for their exceedingly helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article, as well as the editors and reviewers of this journal. Footnotes 1 The National Archives, Kew [Hereafter TNA], CAB 134/3522. 2 TNA, CAB 134/3522. 3Daily Express, 24 June 1972. 4 TNA, CAB 134/3522. The figure for 4-year-olds includes ‘rising fives’, or children beginning primary school shortly before their fifth birthday, not just those enrolled in nursery education programs. The actual figure should be considered lower. 5 Vicki Randall, The Politics of Child Daycare in Britain (Oxford, 2000), 65; Jane Lewis, ‘Continuity and Change in English Childcare Policy, 1960-2000’, Social Politics, 20 (2013), 363. 6 Angela Davis, Pre-School Childcare in England, 1939-2010: Theory, Practice, and Experience (Manchester, 2015). 7 Jane Lewis, ‘The Failure to Expand Childcare Provision and to Develop a Comprehensive Childcare Policy in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s’, Twentieth Century British History, 24 (2013), 264. Lewis characterizes Thatcher as being under pressure from the Prime Minister to pursue nursery education as an ‘unfulfilled’ election promise. However, Thatcher is in fact the one to use this language first in her attempts to persuade Heath to allow her to reallocate spending for nursery education (PREM 15/864). 8 Joan Lestor, Renee Short, and Shirley Williams were all part of the National Campaign for Nursery Education. Lestor was also involved with the National Society of Children’s Nurseries, and short with the Nursery School Association. As Secretary of State for Education and Science from 1976 to 1979, Williams was in a position to bring nursery education back onto political agenda but did not do so. 9 See, for example, Laura Beers, ‘Thatcher and the Women’s Vote’, in Ben Jackson and Robert Saunders, eds, Making Thatcher’s Britain (Cambridge, 2012); Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Austerity in Britain: Rationing, Controls, and Consumption, 1939-1955 (Oxford, 2000); Beatrix Campbell, Iron Ladies: Why Do Women Vote Tory? (London, 1987). 10 John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher, Volume One: The Grocer’s Daughter (London, 2000), 238. 11 Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, ‘Neo-Liberalism and Morality in the Making of Thatcherite Social Policy’, Historical Journal, 55 (2012), 520. 12 Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, Historical Journal, 511. 13 Conservative Party Archives, Oxford University [Hereafter CPA], CRD 4/23/1-6. 14 See Davis for a detailed analysis of the differences in theory, practice, and experience among nursery education, day nurseries, playgroups, and childminders. 15 House of Commons Debate [Hereafter HC Deb] 13 July 1972 [840/1817-38]; she said something almost identical in HC Deb, 7 December 1970 [808/1534-56], HC Deb, 12 May1972 [836/1756-80], and HC Deb, 21 December 1972 [848/1543-64]. 16 See, for example, TNA, MH 156/52, MH 156/53, MH 156/54, and MH 156/55 for discussion of how DHSS and local health authorities determined prioritization for day nursery admittance. 17 TNA, ED 192/211. 18 MH 156/51, Day Care Review 1962. The following statistics cited in the rest of this paragraph are drawn from this document as well. 19 Young Fabian Study Group, Womanpower: Pamphlet 11 (London, 1966), 23. 20 TNA, ED 207/7. 21 ‘Infant Schools’ served children of ages 5 through 7 years. TNA, ED 207/727, Nurseries and EPAs: Submission for Ministers on Plowden Recommendations on Nurseries, Leadbetter to Cockerill, June 1968. 22 TNA, ED 207/727, Nurseries and EPAs, Leadbetter to Cockerill, June 1968. 23 TNA, ED 207/1. 24 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98: 23 August 1972. 25 Papers of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, London School of Economics, London [Hereafter BAECE], BAECE 2/12, National Society of Children’s Nurseries, Report of the Executive Committee, 28 May 1964. 26 TNA, MH 156/236. 27News of the World, 9 April 1967; Daily Mail, 6 April 1967. 28 Brian Jackson and Sonia Jackon, Childminder: A Study in Action Research (London, 1979), 32. 29 TNA, ED 146/84, Central Advisory Council for Education (England), Plowden Report, Agenda and Minutes of Meetings of Working Party No. 3, Meetings 1-13, 1964-1965, 23 October. 30 TNA, ED 146/84, Central Advisory Council for Education (England), Plowden Report, 17 July 1964 Meeting. 31 Central Advisory Council for Education, Children and Their Primary Schools, vol. 1 (London, 1967), 487–9. 32 Central Advisory Council for Education, 489. 33 E. M. Osborn, ‘National Campaign for Nursery Education’, International Journal of Early Childhood, 5(2) (1973), 163. 34 A copy of Howe’s report can be found in Thatcher’s personal papers, Churchill Archive Center, Cambridge University [Hereafter CAC], THCR 1/6/4, as well as the CPA, CCO 170/5/44. 35 Elspeth Howe, Under 5: A Report on Nursery Education (London, 1966), 5. 36 CPA, CCO 170/5/44, Minutes of a Meeting of a Discussion Group Set Up to Consider Nursery Schools and Pre-Five Education, 29 June 1965. 37 Howe, 8–34. 38 BAECE 24/4, Nursery School Association Newsletters, March 1969. 39 TNA, ED 207/7, 27 June 1968. 40 TNA, ED 207/7, Nurseries and EPAs: Submission for Ministers on Plowden Recommendations on Nurseries, Burrows to Cockerill, 1 July 1968. 41 TNA, ED 261/23, Jameson to Hudson, 24 October 1968. 42 TNA, ED 261/23, Richard Crossman to Edward Short, 1 January 1969; TNA, Cab 152/34. 43 TNA, ED 207/122, Draft Note of a Meeting on 8 April 1970. 44 <http://www.labour-party.org.uk/manifestos/1970/1970-labour-manifesto.shtml> accessed 16 February 2015. 45 <http://www.conservative-party.net/manifestos/1970/1970-conservative-manifesto.shtml> accessed 16 February 2015. 46 Proposals for cutting school milk had been considered under the preceding Wilson government as well. See TNA, CAB 152/32, CAB 152/100, CAB 152/96, and ED 207/67. 47 TNA, PREM 15/864. 48 HC Deb, 12 May1972 [836/1756-80]. 49 HC Deb, 12 May1972 [836/1756-80]. 50Daily Express, 24 June 1972. 51 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98. 52 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98. 53 Specifically, ‘I am willing to accept the lower target of 750,000 higher education places by 1981 though this will be compared very unfavourably with the Opposition’s claim that they would provide the widely canvassed figure of 1,000,000 places…This again is part of the price I am willing to pay in support of my total strategy’. TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98, 23 August 1972. 54 TNA, PREM 15/931. 55 TNA, CAB 134/3519, Home and Social Affairs Committee, Minutes of Meetings in 1972, 13th Meeting, 6 June 1972. 56 TNA, CAB 134/3519, Home and Social Affairs Committee, Minutes of Meetings in 1972, 14th Meeting, 16 June 1972. The memorandum under discussion was CAB 134/3520, Home and Social Affairs Committee, HS(72) 47: Programme Analysis and Review 1971: Higher Education, 19 April 1972. 57 TNA, CAB 128/50. 58 Written Statement launching Education White Paper (A Framework for Expansion), 6 December 1972. 59 HC Deb, 24 July 1973 [860/1380-1399]. 60 Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 14 October 1971; these figures were repeated in many other statements as well. 61 TV Interview for ITN First Report (launch of Education White Paper), 6 December 1972. 62 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 63 See, for example, Finchley Press, 9 July 1971. 64 HC Deb 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 65 Written Statement launching Education White Paper (A Framework for Expansion), 6 December 1972. 66 TNA, T 227/3788. 67 CAC, THCR 1/6/1; TNA, ED 192/211 PGB (72) M6, Minutes from 24 March 1972. 68 See, for example, TNA, ED 146/93, and CAC, THCR 1/6/1; Howe. 69 CPA, ACP 3/16, ACP (68) 52 Conservative Education Policy for the Seventies: a report by the Education Policy Group, 11 July 1968. 70 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 71 TNA, ED 181/331. 72 CPA, CRD 4/5/20, Passmore to Ridley, 2 March 1979. 73 HC Deb, 28 January 1974 [868/39-49]. 74Hampstead and Highgate Express, 17 February 1974. 75 Campbell, 237. 76 Campbell, 238. 77 Campbell, 238. 78 See for example Anne Perkins, Red Queen: The Authorized Biography of Barbara Castle (London, 2003). 79 Speech to National Association of Head Teachers Conference, 25 May 1970. 80 Speech to National Society of Mentally Handicapped Children, 16 April 1970. 81 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98, 23 August 1972. 82 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98, 23 August 1972. 83 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 84CPC Monthly Report, February 1973. 85Sunday Times, 8 April 1973. 86 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98, 23 August 1972. 87 HC Deb, 18 November 1971 [826/654-73]. Thatcher discussed the differences between the Labour and Conservative parties’ views on education in Times Educational Supplement, 22 February 1974, stating, ‘There is one respect in which we quarrel sharply with Labour. Labour politicians have a common characteristic, which is that they treat education not as an end in itself but as an instrument for realizing their egalitarian political and social aims. Moreover, no secret is made of this’. This statement reflects her long-standing position against comprehensive secondary schools; Thatcher believed parents and their children should be able to choose what type of secondary schooling to pursue. However, Thatcher seems to feel differently about the role of nursery and primary education in mitigating class differences—the parties are more closely aligned when it comes to younger children. 88 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]; she also says something similar at the Speech to National Union of Teachers Conference, 13 April 1971. 89 Speech to Association of Education Committees, 23 June 1971. 90 Ron Davie, ‘The Impact of the National Child Development Study’, Children and Society, 7 (1993), 24–5. 91CPC Monthly Report, February 1973. 92Sunday Times, 8 April 1973; see also Speech to National Society of Mentally Handicapped Children, 16 April 1971. 93 A. H. Halsey, British Social Trends since 1900: A Guide to the Changing Social Structure of Britain (London, 1972), 166–8. 94 Cited in TNA, MH 156/396, PSC (16), Working Party on Future Provision For Pre-School Children, January 1972. 95 Helen McCarthy, ‘Social Science and Married Women’s Employment in Post-War Britain’, Past and Present, 233 (2016), 286. 96 Kathleen Kiernan, Hilary Land, and Jane Lewis, Lone Motherhood in Twentieth-Century Britain: From Footnote to Front Page (Oxford, 1998), 255. 97 Vicki Randall, ‘The Politics of Childcare Policy’, Parliamentary Affairs, 49 (1996), 178. 98 Papers of Mothers in Action, London School of Economics, 5MIA/10/10, ‘Plan for Day Care’, Target Pamphlet No 2, 1974. 99Finchley Press, 9 July 1971. 100Conference Report 1969, Speech to the Conservative Party, 10 October 1969, 117–19. 101Finchley Times, 1 August 1969. 102 Written Statement launching A Framework for Expansion, 6 December 1972. 103 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 104 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 105 Quoted in Denise Riley, War in the Nursery: Theories of the Child and Mother (London, 1983), 108. 106 See, for example, Denise Riley, War in the Nursery: Theories of the Child and Mother (London, 1983), 107–8, Randall; and Gillian Pascall, ‘Women and the Family in the British Welfare State: The Thatcher/Major Legacy’, Social Policy and Administration, 31 (1997), 290–305. 107 TNA, ED 146/84, Central Advisory Council for Education (England), Plowden Report, 6th Meeting, 10 November. 108 Speech opening North of England Education Conference, 2 January 1973; she made similar statements in TV interview for ITN First Report (launch of Education White Paper), 6 December 1972. 109 Paul Pierson, Dismantling the Welfare State? Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchment (New York, 1994), 3. 110 E. H. H. Green, Ideologies of Conservatism (Oxford, 2002), 235–6. 111 Green (2002), 216. 112 E. H. H. Green, Thatcher (London, 2006), 36. 113 Green (2006), 39. 114 Campbell, 239. 115 TNA, PREM 15/864, Note for the record of Heath Meeting with Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph on 31 December 1970, 4 January 1971. 116 Conceptually nursery education would be linked to family policy more broadly conceived; CPA, CRD 4/23/1-6. © The Author [2017]. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Twentieth Century British History Oxford University Press

‘Cinderella of the Education System’: Margaret Thatcher’s Plan for Nursery Expansion in 1970s Britain

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Abstract

Abstract The Department of Education and Science, led by then Secretary of State Margaret Thatcher, published a White Paper in December 1972 calling for a dramatic expansion of public nursery education, so that it might be available within a decade to all families with 3- and 4-year-old children who chose to utilize it. While this failed policy is seldom remembered today, and Thatcher’s efforts to promote the care and education of young children are not considered part of her considerable legacy, the White Paper’s policy propositions challenge understandings about the formation and consistency of both Britain’s child care policy and ‘Thatcherism’. During this period, Thatcher believed that extending the frontiers of the state was appropriate to promote child welfare during the crucial first years of life. She conceived of nursery education as serving a developmental and educational purpose for all children, quite separate from welfare provisions for poor families or work supports for women. It is this crucial, albeit arbitrary, distinction which explains how nursery education was envisaged as an exception to her advocacy of cutting welfare spending. In the summer of 1972, Margaret Thatcher, then Secretary of State for Education and Science, sought to persuade the rest of the Cabinet to accept a major shift in priorities. Evoking sympathy and nostalgia for members’ own childhood experiences, she declared, ‘nursery education has been the Cinderella of the education system since 1944’, when the Butler Act redressed many inequalities by making secondary education free of cost.1 The number of publicly funded nurseries had drastically increased during the Second World War as part of the emergency measures that drew women into the workforce, but the vast majority was closed after the war ended. Although ‘successive governments have had to hold it back rigidly in the interests of meeting stronger priorities’, Thatcher continued, the time had come to readjust the Department’s allocation of resources. She argued that the practical difficulties of teacher supply hitherto facing the government could be surmounted and perhaps, more importantly, the program would be politically popular.2 Following Thatcher’s metaphor, it was finally time for Cinderella to attend the ball. Nursery education was included as the signature issue of a White Paper calling for the realignment of the Department’s priorities. However, the prince did not return her glass slipper for over two decades: while nursery education garnered more public attention and was slated for considerable expansion with Thatcher’s proposal, it quietly receded from the limelight shortly thereafter with recessionary expenditure cuts. Although she did not repudiate the policy while Prime Minister, nursery education would not rise to the top of the political agenda again until the Labour Party reintroduced the idea in the mid-1990s. This essay revisits this important initiative, arguing that Thatcher was willing to contemplate a high degree of state intervention in favour of a policy she always considered as educational rather than feminist or redistributive. Although her failed attempt is seldom remembered today, and her efforts to promote the care and education of young children are not considered part of her formidable legacy, Thatcher had dramatically proclaimed to the press, ‘I want to be remembered as the Minister who introduced nursery education for all in Britain’.3 The early 1970s represent a crucial transition point in British policies towards women and children, with efforts to move one particular type—nursery education—towards more, not less, state intervention. Policymakers attempted to address the tensions among the needs of women, young children, and the state and came very close to enacting universal nursery education. The Department of Education and Science, led by then Secretary of State Margaret Thatcher, published a White Paper in December 1972 that called for the dramatic expansion of public part-time nursery education with provision for all families with 3- and 4-year-old children who chose to utilize it within a decade. This White Paper, titled Education: A Framework for Expansion, assumed a take-up rate for public nursery education of 90 per cent of 4-year-olds and 50 per cent of 3-year-olds by 1981, and set out to increase provision to meet this demand. This compares to actual participation rates in 1971 of only 4.7 per cent of 3-year-olds and 33.8 per cent of 4-year-olds in the Department’s maintained schools.4 This proposal never came to fruition and was gradually cut back in the midst of the economic crisis of the mid-1970s. However, its proposition challenges our understanding about the formation and consistency of both Britain’s child care policy and of Thatcher’s guiding ideology, known to scholars as Thatcherism, with its characteristic emphasis on a free-market economy that privileges private enterprise over social service provision. During this period, for reasons explored below, Thatcher proposed to extend the frontiers of the state to promote child well-being during the crucial first years of life. She advocated for state-provided nursery schools and classes—framed as education rather than as welfare or as a labour support for women—and even resisted calls from her party to charge parental fees. While political scientists Jane Lewis and Vicky Randall have both provided useful surveys of child care policy during the post-war period, neither gives much weight to the White Paper itself nor discusses its development or provisions in detail. Randall, for example, only grants one sentence in her book-length examination of child care policy to Thatcher’s proposal, stating merely that it reflected the recommendations of the Plowden Report (discussed below). Lewis discusses the White Paper in just one paragraph.5 Angela Davis provides a detailed account of the theory, practice, and experience of child care during the post-war period utilizing oral history. However, she also does not discuss the White Paper at length.6 These omissions may have several causes. The authors approach child care policy with feminist goals in mind (i.e. the care and education of young children are necessary for women to work) that were not the White Paper’s intent, as Thatcher’s proposal was considered an educational rather than labour market policy. Additionally, these authors seem to assume that serious reforms of child care would only come from the left, and thus do not take the Conservative Party’s policy seriously. For example, while noting that it was a ‘surprising’ development, Lewis dismisses it as a political ploy.7 This is a mistake: although several female labour members of Parliament were among the most prominent child care advocates at the time,8 and the eventual expansion of child care in the 1990s was shepherded by the Labour Party, historians have demonstrated that the Conservative Party was more successful in cultivating an electorate among women in the post-war era.9 To dismiss the White Paper outright omits a central turning point in the narrative of British child care policy. The publication of a child-centred, educational justification for preschool intervention denotes a major shift in values about the state’s role in the traditionally private realm of the family, and deserves closer investigation. Much has been written about Thatcher and Thatcherism. Her once-seemingly dogmatic ideology has proven illusory, as historians have begun unravelling its genealogy and the consistency of its tenets. Biographer John Campbell provides a detailed analysis of Thatcher’s tenure as Education Secretary, describing the White Paper as ‘the last throw not only of expansion, but of consensus in education’.10 However, Campbell’s account draws primarily from Thatcher’s memoirs and oral interviews with officials who worked with her, rather than from engagement with the archival record. As such, he misses how much of the impetus came from Thatcher herself, as well as the disagreement between Thatcher and the Conservative Party on the issue of charging parental fees (discussed below). Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite has persuasively argued that Thatcherism was both coherent and flexible in its tenets, and was ‘driven by a vision of moral rejuvenation’ that privileged the place of families.11 As she explains, in Thatcherite logic ‘individuals working in the interests of their family would produce a prosperous but also a moral society’.12 In support of this interpretation, during Thatcher’s tenure as leader of the Shadow Administration in the late 1970s, the Conservative Research Department bundled nursery education into a newly conceptualized focal area, Family Policy. This would go on to become a centrepiece of Thatcher’s policies as prime minister, particularly the Parents’ Charter which emphasized parental choice of schools.13 Although little expansion would occur during the Thatcher government, nursery education remained conceptually part and parcel of a larger policy agenda of supporting families that was at the heart of Thatcherism, albeit one that emphasized parents’ rights over public provision. Although nursery education ceased to be a priority for Thatcher, she never disavowed it as Prime Minister. Nursery education was not the only government policy affecting the care of children under compulsory school age during this time.14 The Department of Health and Social Services, led by Sir Keith Joseph during the Heath administration, was responsible for both administering a separate day nursery program and supporting private playgroups to a limited extent. Thatcher was often quick to deflect any departmental responsibility for these two programs, as they fell outside of her purview.15 Day nurseries provided full-time care only to a limited population of children with special needs, and most local health authorities administering the provision prioritized admission for the children of unmarried working mothers.16 These child care facilities explicitly supported women workers, but only those in the most desperate of circumstances. Playgroups, by contrast, were primarily organized by parents (largely middle-class, nonworking mothers) and required their participation, and were focused primarily on children’s socialization. These two types of programs thus served very different populations and purposes, although nursery education could appeal to families utilizing either type. Indeed, one civil servant in the Department of Education and Science commented on a perceived difference between the ‘need’ for nursery education in more disadvantaged communities that day nurseries would target, and the ‘demand’ for it ‘particularly from better-educated and more affluent parents’, who were also the parents involved in forming play groups.17 This essay first examines the pressure for nursery reform from advocacy organizations and official government committees. It then turns to the inner workings of the Wilson and Heath governments of the late 1960s and 1970s, examining nursery education policy itself. The third section highlights the rationale for nursery education as posited in Thatcher’s White Paper, emphasizing its perceived role in promoting optimal child development and examining its relationship to contemporary feminist projects. Finally, the essay concludes by considering how an examination of the White Paper contributes to a growing literature that questions the coherence of Thatcherism, revealing fluidity in Thatcher’s ideology during the early 1970s. Because Thatcher understood nursery education primarily as an educational intervention rather than as a welfare or redistributive benefit or as a work support for women, it was a crucial exception to her laissez-faire rhetoric during this period. Growing Pressure for Nursery Reform While the 1918 Maternity and Child Welfare Act empowered local authorities to provide day nursery places for children under 5 years of age, few publicly maintained child care facilities were in place following its passage. In 1938, for example, only 104 nurseries were in place, serving fewer than 4,300 children.18 Demand, especially in the evacuation areas, grew acute during the Second World War and in 1944 over 1,500 wartime nurseries served over 71,000 children. This number dropped rapidly after the war: in 1946, 915 nurseries served fewer than 44,000 children, and one decade later in 1956, only 547 nurseries with about 26,000 places remained. This reduction in child care supply is correlated with a decrease in the number of working mothers in the immediate post-war period. However, ‘this drop was not as large as expected’ and began to increase again after 1950, leading to a mismatch in supply and demand.19 The Ministry of Health’s Circular 221/45 which announced the closure of wartime nurseries in 1945 had also separated the care and educational components of child care provisions. While the day nurseries of local health authorities provided care for children of working mothers, local education authorities could provide an educational intervention under the 1944 Education Act. However, these local education authorities had limited resources. Concerns that increasing the provision of nursery schools would exacerbate the shortage of teachers in primary schools led the Department of Education and Science to issue Circular 8/60 in 1960 under the Conservative administration of Harold Macmillan.20 An internal memo from 1967 describes why the Circular was seen as necessary: ‘ever since the war, the policy of my predecessors has been severely to restrict nursery development, mainly because of the danger of denuding the infant schools of badly needed teachers’.21 Describing recent developments, however, he continued, ‘this policy has been slightly relaxed in recent years, but only in respect of new nursery classes which could be shown to be productive in terms of teachers—that is, in enabling married women teachers who are mothers of young children to return to teaching’.22 Beyond this small provision for the children of teachers, nursery education was seen as ‘impossible’.23 Civil servants in the mid-1960s began to re-scrutinize the care and education of children under the age of 5 years, as the publication of several influential reports came to their attention and as a National Campaign for Nursery Education crystallized to push for policy reform. While each report made slightly different recommendations about child care, their significance arises from their confluence. Policymakers were being pushed to consider the needs of young children to a greater extent than they had been since the war. Various groups, ranging from organizations focused solely on the under-5 age group such as the National Society for Children’s Nurseries and the Nursery School Association (NSA), to more general groups like the National Union of Teachers, increased the pressure placed on the governments of the late 1960s and early 1970s.24 Simon Yudkin, a paediatrician, served on the Council of the National Society for Children’s Nurseries and chaired a working party of advocacy organizations and local authorities that produced the 1967 Yudkin Report, titled, The Care of Children Outside Their Homes. The purpose of the working party, created in 1964, was ‘to discuss the whole care of the pre-school child, gather evidence, and to press for an official enquiry’.25 It focused mostly on the perceived dangers of unregulated childminding rather than on care in formal settings. However, it argued that unregulated minders were commonly used because of a lack of supply of the more formal and higher-quality arrangements. While the government largely brushed aside its recommendations, as it was occupied with the official reviews of policy affecting the under-5 population taking place under the Seebohm and Plowden committees, the Yudkin Report generated a good deal of publicity.26 The media sensationalized its findings, with dramatic titles such as ‘The Shocking Truth About the Baby Minders’ and ‘The Children Nobody Cares About’.27 This attention should be understood in racialized terms: childminding was largely perceived to be utilized in West Indian communities in which women with young children were more likely to work at low wages. Brian and Sonia Jackson, for example, explained this animus in their pioneering sociological study of childminding in the 1970s as searching for the answer to the question, ‘Where were the children of all those unmarried West Indian girls around?’28 The 1968 Report of the Committee on Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services, or Seebohm Report, also brought questions regarding the care and education of the under-5 population to the attention of the public, politicians, and civil service. It recommended that all social services for families, including but not limited to day nurseries and nursery education, should be housed within the same government department to reduce the ill effects of fragmentation. It also addressed the way that social services were aligned within some local health authorities. Perhaps of most influence was a 3-year long review of the primary education service by the Central Advisory Council for Education (the Plowden Report) published under Harold Wilson’s Labour Government in 1967 as Children and Their Primary Schools. One major component of its recommendations was its call to expand part-time nursery education. During one of the early meetings, the Working Party responsible for writing the section on the under-5 population was clear that they saw nursery education as distinct from women’s employment, as ‘members urged that the Working Party Report should stress that an expansion of nursery provision was not recommended as a means of attracting more mothers to go out to work; national economic policy should not determine or influence educational considerations’.29 The members expressed concern that the report would be attacked if the recommendations were understood as being designed to increase the labour force participation of mothers. Women who needed to work to support their families, in turn, were not seen as the ones pressing for nursery care. Rather, the Working Party believed that there was a ‘discrepancy between need and demand: Lady Bridget Plowden said that the council must ensure that nursery provision was expanded in the worst areas first; demand would be heaviest in middle class areas’.30 A significant ‘note of reservation’, signed by eight members of the Council including its chair, Lady Plowden, provided an alternative proposal for financing its nursery expansion recommendations: charging parents who could afford to pay for services. They explained, ‘if resources were more plentiful we would not favour charges’, but that ‘without a parental contribution we fear that nursery education will not be extended at all and such children be no better off than they are today’.31 Knowing that this argument would be countered by claims that a means test would deter the families who most needed care, the authors posited that ‘new traditions can be created. Few parents are now too proud to accept State support for the education of their children in universities. If in universities, why not in nursery schools?’32 While the Conservative Party would take up this alternative proposal, its Education Secretary under the Heath administration would vehemently disagree, as will be discussed below. The National Campaign for Nursery Education, founded in 1965, organized petitions in 1967 and 1972 to generate support and publicity for the implementation of the Plowden recommendations.33 The Campaign’s leadership included members of the House of Commons and representatives from organizations such as the NSA, National Society of Children’s Nurseries, and the National Union of Teachers. The Labour MP Renee Short was its president during the later campaign. Less publicly visible, perhaps, but of great importance to Conservatives like Margaret Thatcher, was the 1966 publication of Elspeth Howe’s pamphlet, Under 5: A Report on Nursery Education.34 The report was ‘based on discussion and research by a group of younger Conservative women’ convened by Howe, the wife of notable Thatcher government official Geoffrey Howe, under the auspices of the Greater London Conservative Women’s Advisory Committee.35 In the group’s first meeting, Howe explained the need to write such a report because she sensed that while the Conservative Research Department was interested in the topic, which was in her words ‘an extremely important subject’ that ‘had strong political appeal’ because it would increase families’ ‘freedom of choice’, its Educational Policy Group was neglecting it.36 The resulting report presented a ‘case for pre-school provision’ both for child-centred reasons and as a support for working mothers, and decried the ‘failures in the present system’, namely, shortages of provision and obstacles for the private sector market to compensate for the lack of public places. It recommended increasing the provision of publicly provided part-time nursery facilities.37 Outside of government, advocates were optimistic about prospects for nursery expansion during the later years of the Wilson government, especially after the Plowden Report’s publication. The NSA, for example, wrote in its 1967–8 Annual Report that ‘despite serious national economic crises [of devaluation, for example], [this year] augurs well for the development and expansion of nursery education’. Even more buoyantly, the NSA labelled 1969 the ‘year of hope’.38 Government Plans for Nursery Expansion However, inside Whitehall prospects were dim as funding nursery education would require reprioritizing the services already provided by the Department of Education and Science or increasing the budget to account for new spending. As one civil servant put it, the required financial resources necessary to implement the Plowden recommendations were seen as ‘most unsatisfactory’ for ‘there seems to be no escaping the logic of the point that this would in nearly every case amount to additional expenditure and therefore in order to get it through the financial hoops, the Sec of State ought to be able to offer some compensating economy’.39 To expand services for children under 5 years of age, the department would have to reallocate spending which had already been promised to other age groups. Following another civil servant’s visit to the USA and awareness of its Head Start program, the Department decided upon a strategy of concentrating resources in fewer areas rather than spreading them out.40 A small expansion in what were termed ‘educational priority areas’, or EPAs, serving low-income urban populations, under the broader Urban Programme, was instituted. Beyond the Urban Programme, however, in areas where ‘the social need is less but the demand very strong’,41 nursery education fared poorly: it was considered of lesser importance than either secondary school reorganization or instituting a single school-leaving age.42 In early 1970, Labour Secretary of State for Education and Science Edward Short attempted to bring it back to the top of the agenda, but quietly agreed after a private meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to drop his bid for an expansion that year.43 While both parties’ Election Manifestos in 1970 called for an expansion of nursery education, both envisioned targeting it to children in need. The Labour Party manifesto touted its Urban Programme in the EPAs, especially ‘inner areas of our large cities’ where ‘shortages exist in social resources of all kinds’, and where many immigrants had settled.44 Similarly, the Conservative Party manifesto called for nursery places ‘in areas of social handicap, such as the poorer parts of our large cities, where it is so vital to give children a better start’.45 The White Paper that would be published just 2 years later, however, envisioned a universal nursery program that would reach beyond these campaign promises. Although spending would be targeted at first as it was slowly rolled out to the EPAs, the White Paper promised to expand services to all children under 5 years of age within a decade. After the general election of June 1970 gave the Tories a majority, Thatcher became the Secretary of State for Education and Science. During her first few years at the helm of the Department, two hotly contested issues set the terms of the debate. First, in 1970, Thatcher opposed the prior government’s policy of promoting ‘comprehensive’ secondary education, favouring schemes that allowed parents and students to choose which schools to attend. Opponents accused her of protecting elite privilege that had cemented class division. The theme of ‘choice’ certainly resonates with later iterations of Thatcherism. Secondly, in 1971, Thatcher ended schools’ provision of free milk for children who were older than age of 7 years, and was subsequently derided as a ‘milk snatcher’ in Parliament and the press.46 The parliamentary contention over the issue did not focus on why the age of 7 years was chosen as a cut-off for the free provision of milk. The debates instead focused on whether children between the ages of 7 and 11 years still had a medical or dietary need for milk, and whether parents or the state should shoulder this cost. This silence perhaps signals a widely accepted assumption that younger children have greater needs than their older schoolmates. Thatcher’s position shows that while she was committed to holding down government spending, concessions could be made when the youngest children were at stake. Even before turning to nursery education, it appears that Thatcher considered children’s early years an exception to her drive to roll back state programs. Nursery education thus was not central to parliamentary debates during this period, although Thatcher did speak in its favour as an ideal on a fairly regular basis both in and outside the halls of Westminster. During these years, the Department upheld Circular 8/60, and continued the previous government’s limited expansion of nursery education for low-income children under the Urban Programme. Behind closed doors, however, Thatcher was more forceful, pushing for a reprioritization of her department’s work to make room for a nursery intervention. In a note written to Prime Minister Edward Heath in advance of a meeting in January 1972, she argued that this issue ‘is my biggest outstanding problem in resource allocation. We shall have failed if, within the life of this government, we have not taken a substantial initiative in the provision of nursery education. This means something more, and more widespread’ than the limited provisions provided in the EPAs by the government to date.47 This suggests the impetus for expansion came not from Heath but from Thatcher herself. Signalling her wish for a broader expansion publicly, Thatcher gave a speech in the House of Commons on 12 May 1972. She cited a report by the sociologist A. H. Halsey and a petition from the National Campaign for Nursery Education as pushing the issue to the centre of discourse (literally pushing—the petition’s 350,000 signatures ‘were wheeled up to me in wheelbarrows by some charming small children’).48 Thatcher’s speech recognized the popular demand, argued that child development research provided the scientific rationale for the cause, and signalled that her department would seriously examine the issue. She stated, ‘I accept that the demand for [nursery] places far outstrips the supply, and my aim is to let local authorities provide more places as soon as possible. But what I cannot do is to will the end without considering the means of achieving it’, and at this juncture other priorities laid claim to expenditure.49 Thus while Thatcher indicated her sympathy with those advocating for expansion, and supported their cause, she did not frame it as immediately practical. Her classified note to Heath, however, suggests that she did in fact personally want to do more, and publicly, just after this important speech, as noted above, Thatcher dramatically proclaimed to the press, ‘I want to be remembered as the Minister who introduced nursery education for all in Britain’.50 Not long thereafter, Thatcher presented her ideas for a new strategy on education in a memorandum written for Cabinet consideration. ‘A new statement of government policy in education is needed—and expected by the educational world and informed opinion’, she declared. ‘If we do not make one—and make it soon—we shall have lost the initiative’.51 This was especially true for children under 5 years of age, as ‘nursery education has been the Cinderella of the education system since 1944. Successive governments have had to hold it back rigidly in the interests of meeting stronger priorities’. However, the time had come to readjust the Department’s allocation of resources. The practical difficulties hitherto facing the government could be surmounted, and the program would be politically popular.52 The funding that Thatcher proposed to make available for this expansion came from slowing down the rate of expansion the prior Labour government had set for higher education.53 In a memo to the Prime Minister dated about a week before the White Paper’s publication, Thatcher admitted that her plan to abandon the government’s earlier commitment to expanding higher education ‘is potentially the most controversial part of the proposals … The supporters of unlimited expansion of higher education may argue that the Government are expanding nursery education at the expense of higher education’.54 However, she argued, it ‘was much more important from the social point of view than further expenditure on higher education’.55 Her counterpart in the Department of Social Services, and later her key ally in promoting Thatcherism, Sir Keith Joseph, agreed. In discussions of the Department of Education’s higher education policy and Thatcher’s proposal to reallocate its funding the summer before, both had argued that nursery education was more likely than university education to diminish class inequalities, and that the early years were a more appropriate stage of life for public intervention than early adulthood.56 Labour would later disagree on this point, as it rolled back nursery expansion and returned to prioritizing higher education after 1974. Although both parties by and large agreed on the educational need for nursery schools and classes, as explored further below, and Labour politicians who criticized the White Paper argued that it was not expanding nursery care at a fast enough rate, the real disagreement between parties was about the place and prioritization of higher education. To Thatcher and Joseph, very young children who were neither autonomous nor able to care for themselves were seen as more worthy recipients of public education services than adult students, who were subject to a more punitive logic under a framework of responsibility. With somewhat hesitant approval from the Cabinet after it discussed the new strategy in late November, as some members worried about the political popularity of reducing the rate of expansion in higher education, Thatcher published her White Paper on 6 December 1972, with nursery education as one of its signature components.57 The distribution of nursery places was meant to match local demand; as it explained, ‘the Government are not laying down a uniform detailed pattern of expansion as they hope that local plans will reflect local needs and resources’.58 The White Paper also lifted the barrier to expansion by rescinding Circular 8/60, fuelling the development of the provision.59 Cost constraints, however, were the biggest barrier to the implementation of Thatcher’s new strategy, as nursery expansion required significant new resources, especially for teachers’ wages and training. It had a higher cost per pupil than primary or secondary schooling, primarily because of lower pupil to staff ratios.60 Building the actual nursery school facilities posed a similar challenge. One approach Thatcher advocated was building additional classrooms in primary schools to house nursery classes, so that children could be introduced to school. In her words, ‘we think it better that they should be attached to primary schools, so that they can go with their elder brothers and sisters to the primary school, and get used to the idea’.61 Further, combining nursery and primary schools within the same facility would be efficient; as the two could ‘share overhead costs … we may be able to get more for our money’.62 Many new primary schools were being built during this period, and Thatcher promoted efforts to design schools that could be adapted to include nursery provision.63 Thatcher estimated that overall costs of implementing the Plowden report’s recommendations for a mainly part-time program ‘would add about £50 million a year to current expenditure and involve £100 million worth of capital expenditure’.64 The White Paper called for slightly lower expenditures than this initial figure (with a total expenditure of £42 million in 1971–2 but rising to £65 million in 1976–7).65 Still the costs were significant, and were the subject of heated exchanges between Thatcher and Treasury officials.66 They represented a large investment in this state provision, as Thatcher refused to accede to Treasury pressure, for example on the number of years that capital investments would be spread out or on parental fees.67 These fees represent a major point of dissension between Thatcher and the rest of her party, and signal her personal investment in the issue. Both the Conservative members of the Plowden Committee and the Conservative Policy Group on Education had suggested offsetting the public costs by charging fees to parents who wanted their children to receive nursery education, as did Elspeth Howe in her report.68 Internal Conservative Party documents also pressed for fees: the Party’s 1968 Education Policy Group noted that ‘while we recognise that it will be impossible to allocate substantial resources to nursery provision, we consider that nursery education should receive more serious attention than it has in the past…[P]olicy for nursery provision for the foreseeable future must therefore be based upon…the introduction of parental charges’.69 Breaking from this party line, Thatcher stated in a House of Commons debate that this scheme posed ‘serious practical difficulties’, such as how to develop a sliding scale that would not deter poor families from enrolling their children or how to manage the administrative mechanisms to collect fees from some families but not others.70 Moreover, and remarkably, she argued that this would be objectionable politically, as the Education Act of 1944 had promised free education. Because she considered nursery education to be an extension of this pledge of free education rather than a welfare provision, in a series of internal memoranda, Thatcher trenchantly resisted the Treasury’s call for parental fees.71 Even in the late 1970s, Thatcher remained opposed to charging parents: in a series of memoranda by the Conservative Research Department on the formation of educational expenditure policies shortly before the 1979 general election, one staff member lamented that ‘Mrs. Thatcher has said on a number of occasions that she would not accept’ fees.72 Thatcher’s program was threatened in 1973 when the government made cuts across the board in public expenditure. In July, Thatcher asserted in a House of Commons debate that her department would shield the new provision, stating, ‘the full nursery school programme will be retained … We have tried to manage this substantial and necessary cut in public expenditure in a way which has preserved the essential priorities in the education service … I recognise that the cuts are serious, but they are not disastrous’.73 In December, she stated again that while the department ‘like other public services, has been affected by the cuts announced by the Chancellor on 17 December. As a result, education expenditure for next year has suffered. Nevertheless…nursery schools…will go ahead’.74 A general election was held on 28 February 1974, in the wake of these cuts and a general recession sparked by the Yom Kippur War, a miners’ strike, and the introduction of a 3-day work week to reduce electricity usage. No party won an overall majority, but Edward Heath resigned as prime minister and Harold Wilson of the Labour Party took office. Thatcher’s tenure as Secretary of State for Education and Science came to an end on 4 March 1974. Conceptions of Children’s Needs in the White Paper One central question is why Thatcher chose to focus on nursery education in the first place. Campbell has written that the White Paper ‘represented the culmination of a whole raft of policies the DES had been working on for twenty years. [Thatcher’s] officials are unanimous in admitting that she had remarkably little to do with its conception: she was merely the midwife’.75 He thus credits the Department of Education and Science’s civil servants for forming its ideas and policies. However, he finds that Thatcher’s presence within the Department was crucial for creating the focus on nurseries; he writes that expanding nursery education ‘was the long-standing ambition of the department which her officials added to the draft White Paper only when they found her unexpectedly sympathetic’.76 Her leadership thus was instrumental in translating the program from an ideal to its actualization. Campbell suggests that Thatcher’s motivations may have been politically opportunistic (‘she seized gratefully on the idea of promoting free local authority [nursery] schools as a popular move which would divert attention from the storms she had aroused over school milk and comprehensivisation’77), and this is certainly a possibility. Biographical accounts of another female politician during the period, Labour’s Barbara Castle, emphasize how crucial having a popular ‘win’ within a Cabinet department was to her rise to power in the male-dominated political field.78 It is certainly possible that Thatcher fixated on nursery education for the strategic and pragmatic purpose of turning around her negative image in the press and gaining standing and influence within the party. However, a closer examination reveals another, deeper justification as well. Much of the rationale for providing and expanding nursery education stemmed from contemporary professional beliefs about child development, and the potential role the state could play in promoting optimal outcomes, rather than from a desire to support women’s employment. Thatcher drew on the contemporary field’s insights from research, such as the above-mentioned report by Halsey, and outcomes from the US Head Start program for children from low-income families. Her arguments for nursery education reveal a belief that it was good for children to receive an educational intervention prior to school entry. On one hand, she publicly discussed it as an investment in the nation’s future population, for example stating, ‘Our ultimate hope is that these children will be good parents, who will provide for their own children their birthright of understanding and affection which they themselves perhaps lacked’.79 On the other, the intervention was intended to benefit the children themselves, as she asserted to the public, ‘the crucial importance of the early years in the development of children's abilities is now universally recognised’.80 Early exposure was seen as crucial: ‘Research suggests that half of the improvement in an individual’s measurable intelligence—over his whole life—takes place between birth and the age of 4 ½; and that it is these early years that intelligence is most susceptible to the effects of external stimulation and environment’.81 Specifically, nursery education was thought to improve children’s academic skills. As she explained to the Cabinet, ‘the primary aims of nursery education are to introduce young children to learning to develop their basic skills in communication, number and reasoning at an early age and to provide more stimulus, through contact with other children and adults, than they are likely to find at home’.82 Nursery exposure was considered especially important for building early literacy skills, as Thatcher stated to the House of Commons ‘I would single out the development of language as the most important, because poverty of language is the most potent source of educational handicap’.83 In addition to being more ‘systematic stimulus’84 than what mothers could provide on their own, nursery education was believed to compensate for less-than-optimal parenting, for some children ‘will not have learned the art of communication and would not have learned it unless they have come to school. Mothers don't always spend time talking to the children except to a minimum extent possible for ordinary life. They don't spend time reading to them’.85 The memorandum proposing nursery education to the Cabinet continued by identifying ‘compensation for disadvantage’ and ‘early diagnosis of handicap’ as ‘subsidiary aims’.86 The first of these aims is akin to a Labour Party argument: Thatcher asserted that nursery education can balance the playing field between classes, and, though she does not explicitly state so, among races, or, in her words, ‘it can be a decisive factor in reducing disparity and divisiveness’.87 Children, as dependents who cannot be held responsible for their life circumstances, were not subject to the more punitive and laissez-faire logics of Thatcherism. For example, she asserted, ‘Although all children benefit from nursery education … it is most valuable for those whose homes are culturally and economically deprived and for those from all income groups or backgrounds who receive less attention than they should from their parents and families’.88 More explicitly, Thatcher cited an influential report of the National Child Development Study, using data that were collected before the limited expansion of nursery care in the 1960s or 1970s, stating that by age of 7 years ‘on average the working class child is less well off both educationally and, for example, in his general health and fitness’.89 As the study’s director put it in retrospect, ‘the extent of the social, health and educational differences which were already so starkly apparent in the nation’s children’ by age of 7 years shocked many, and ‘prompt[ed] politicians of both major parties to look at the possibilities of offering nursery education’.90 Public intervention in the early years was thus seen as a solution to contemporary social and demographic dilemmas, especially for low-income or working-class families as well as non-White communities. This was interpreted as evidence that nursery education could help offset inequities—and Thatcher claimed that such intervention would be desirable for government to promote. On the second of these ‘subsidiary aims’, Thatcher also promoted nursery education in her public statements as a useful intervention for children with special needs, such as medical or developmental disabilities. In her words, nursery education ‘make[s] it easier for us to identify children with special problems at an early stage and to take remedial action before it is too late’.91 Similarly, she argues, ‘If a child has any handicap—a reading difficulty, a difficulty in talking or a difficulty in being with other children—the earlier you can spot it, identify it and deal with it, the most chances you have of overcoming it’.92 The early years were seen as crucial to child development, and addressing issues early could reduce their severity. In contrast, the archival evidence on nursery education during this period says little about the role of women’s employment, either as a factor in creating demand for early child care or as a result of its expansion. In fact, the design of the program reveals a belief that women were primarily responsible for their young children’s care, especially for children under the age of 3 years, and does not leave much room for maternal employment, as the program was to operate primarily for half of each day. The increasing labour force participation of women during these years points to what would seemingly be an increasing demand for child care on the ground. For example, the sociologist A. H. Halsey found that the labour force participation rate for all women increased from about 33 per cent in 1951 to almost 43 per cent in 1971.93 However, these figures were considerably smaller for mothers of young children. A 1968 survey conducted by the Department of Employment found that only 5.7 per cent of women with children between the ages of 3 and 4 years worked full-time and 13.6 per cent worked part-time.94 Helen McCarthy has demonstrated that while social scientists in the 1950s and 1960s contributed to the normalization of married women’s employment, this acceptance ‘had limits’, namely, that they ‘did not stretch to mothers of under-fives’ and even inhibited policy changes in nursery education during the early 1960s.95 Although it appears that most women with young children, influenced by the discourse described by McCarthy, remained at home, public debates about working mothers also increased during the 1970s: both the 1970 Equal Pay Act and 1975 Sex Discrimination Act affected the public debate as ‘working mothers, including lone as well as married mothers, moved more firmly into focus’.96 Child care was on the minds of feminists during this period, but it was not a top priority. The feminist movements that emerged in the 1960s included a new rhetoric of child care and parental responsibility for children’s well-being. The slogan ‘the personal is political’ suggests the centrality of women’s practical and personal everyday experiences to political life and challenged the separation between the private and public spheres. However, as Randall writes, ‘although second-wave feminism was emerging by the late 1960s and one of the four demands of the “founding” Women’s Liberation Conference of 1970 was for “twenty-four hour nurseries,” the issue was a divisive one, raising many ideological and practical problems … No national campaign came together until the 1980s’.97 The archival evidence for feminist involvement in child care advocacy during the late 1960s and early 1970s supports this assertion. For example, one organization of single parents, Mothers in Action, attempted to garner support for a campaign for day nurseries in 1968 from women’s organizations in 1968, but ‘none obliged’.98 British feminists were not at the forefront of advocacy on this very issue, which, by all definitions, seems to belong squarely within a feminist agenda. Thatcher’s views on the feminist movement were hostile. For example, when asked about ‘women’s lib’ in the press, Thatcher once replied, ‘I think they are destroying everything that is feminine, and cheapening the image of working women in the world today. They are far too exaggerated in their claims and do a disservice to women in general. No, I am not in favour of them at all’.99 Even when she supported equal pay for women workers during a 1969 debate, Thatcher emphasized that women’s primary role was still in the home: Many women will still make their main job in life the creation of a home … Yet others—some married women and some single women—will carry out the same jobs with equal competence and under the same conditions as men. We must make provision for all of these circumstances, but let us recognise that perhaps the most important job of all is the creation of family and family life.100 Further, she claimed that she did not work in politics when her children were young—in her words, ‘I gave up politics while the children were small because I think they need a mother more than ever then … As soon as they became a little older and able to go away to school I decided to try again’.101 Thatcher’s views here reflect her ideological position, though they did not reflect her behaviour: Thatcher did work as a lawyer during her children’s early years and, though defeated, had stood for election when her twins were just 2 years old. While playing lip service to the belief that mothers of young children should remain at home, her policy preferences and own practices belied those ideals. That said, the nursery education of Thatcher’s White Paper was always conceived of as an educational policy and not as the kind of child care provision women’s liberationists would have preferred. A part-day rather than a full-time program, it was not intended to directly support women’s work. The focus was not on women’s emancipation, but on the developmental and educational needs of children. Only 15 per cent of nursery classes proposed in the White Paper were intended to provide full-time care.102 Their part-time nature served a practical purpose of reaching more children at a lower cost per child—as she put it in a parliamentary debate, ‘one obvious advantage of this half-day provision is that it doubles the number of children who can receive nursery education for a given cost’.103 Thatcher also argued that it is beneficial for the children themselves: ‘there is evidence that many benefit from a more gradual introduction to school. Part-time provision is more beneficial for them than sudden full-time provision in school would be’.104 The part-time provision also deflected criticisms based on contemporary beliefs and cultural norms of child-rearing and understandings of the family. The twentieth century was marked by changes in the field of developmental psychology, for example the development of John Bowlby’s theory of attachment and maternal deprivation. In Bowlby’s words, spoken on a BBC broadcast in 1968, his work ‘raise[s] practical questions about mothers going out to work, [and] the age when a child should start nursery school … Any move that separates young children from their mothers needs scrutiny, for we are dealing here with a deep and ancient part of human nature’.105 Bowlby was uniquely popularized, widely disseminated, and highly visible within public discourse with publications in the popular press and in pamphlet form.106 Yet, scholars often use Bowlby’s theories as a straw man, without a deeper analysis of how his contemporaries understood his recommendations. These applications were more mediated and complex than scholars give credit, and child scientists supporting early interventions such as Jack and Barbara Tizard of the Thomas Coram Research Unit were frequently consulted by civil servants during and after the White Paper’s drafting. The working party responsible for crafting the nursery education recommendations of the Plowden Report, for example, understood that ‘Dr. Bowlby had modified his earlier views about the mother/child relationship, which were not held by paediatricians in general. Though it was realised that a stable mother/child relationship was essential, it was not true that to breach it for a few hours each day had harmful consequences for all children’.107 Following this version of revised Bowlbyism, Thatcher asserted on numerous occasions that the intention of the program was not to separate children from their families full stop. It was not ‘about taking young children away from their mothers. Three hours a day in nursery class leaves the child in the mother's care most of the time’.108 Nursery Schools and Classes: Education or Welfare? In broad terms, the welfare state was losing ground in the 1970s. Although welfare provision in some ways reached its peak during this decade, its underlying consensus was eroding. As one analyst explains, ‘poor economic performance undermined both the budgetary foundations of welfare states and Keynesian faith in the virtuous links between public spending and economic growth’.109 E. H. H. Green has argued that the ‘triumph of Thatcherite political economy in the late 1970s and 1980s was unsurprising’ because there had been voices within the Conservative Party that had been calling for an end to the post-war consensus about the welfare state and ‘were predisposed to accept a liberal market diagnosis of and prescription for their own and the nation’s economic troubles’.110 This narrative challenges that account, as Thatcher herself was committed to an expansion of this specific welfare state provision rather than for retrenchment writ large. Green defines Thatcherism as ‘aim[ing] to “roll back the frontiers of the State” … by replacing the mixed economy with a private-sector dominated market economy. This in turn was to be complemented by a reform and reduction of the Welfare State’.111 This view raises the question: Was Thatcher herself not a ‘Thatcherite’, defined as subscribing to ‘Thatcherism’ as described by Green, until she became Conservative Party leader in 1975? Not according to him: Green asserts that the 1970–4 period was ‘formative’ for Thatcher and her close allies, as critics of Heath’s leadership and the consensus coalesced into what was called the ‘Selsdon Group’.112 He paints her ideology as becoming more sharply articulated, as she fostered relationships with similarly minded allies, but stresses its overall continuity by stating, ‘Thatcher had shown herself to be in tune with its essential precepts long before she became Conservative leader and the term Thatcherism became part of the British political vocabulary’.113 However, Green ignores Thatcher’s plan for expanding nursery education, which we have seen came from her and not Heath. The early 1970s can best be interpreted as a period of both flux and stability: Thatcherism did not yet exist in the form that it would later take, although its precepts were becoming apparent in some specific policy realms but not in others. The more pressing question is whether state-provided nursery education could have been reconcilable with an agenda for rolling back state welfare: Was nursery education an exception? Biographer Campbell writes that the focus in the White Paper on creating an equal playing field during the early years is reconcilable with the free-market ideology later associated with Thatcher, explaining ‘after the age of five [Thatcher] believed that life was a competition which the best should win; but a level starting line was within her philosophy’.114 The archival evidence supports this view. Regardless of how much her ideology shifted later on, during her tenure as Secretary of State for Education and Science, Thatcher believed that extending state provision was appropriate to enhance child well-being during the crucial first years of life. This was the case, however, because Thatcher always thought of nursery provision as an educational service distinct from welfare. In the record of a meeting with Heath in late December of 1970, well before the White Paper’s publication, Thatcher expressed concern about ‘the extent of the commitment of her Department in the welfare field, on services and functions which were ancillary to the provision of education’ including ‘the provision of school meals, educational maintenance allowances…and free school transport’. However, in the same meeting she also maintains that she ‘would like to do more for nursery schools’, and is searching for cost-effective means to do so.115 This exchange shows a cognitive dissonance in how Thatcher saw early education: whereas she advocated spending cuts in the welfare provisions of her department, she did not envisage nursery education as falling into this category. She saw a universal, child-centred developmental intervention as an exception to welfare retrenchment—indeed as reconcilable with welfare cuts in other areas. The early years, thus, were an exception to her argument for laissez-faire policy during this period. The British Department of Education and Science, with Margaret Thatcher at its helm, conceived of nursery education as serving a developmental and educational purpose for all children, quite separate from welfare provisions for poor families, even though it proposed targeting initial expansion to areas of social need. It is this crucial, albeit arbitrary, distinction which explains how nursery education was envisaged as an exception. What would later be known as Thatcherism, with its attack on public programs writ large, was still inchoate and a work in progress during this period. Although nursery education never rose to the top of the agenda again during her government, Thatcher also did not repudiate it.116 Examining this proposal before her rise to power reveals a potent Conservative argument for public early care and education provision. Thank you very much to Susan Pedersen, Alice Kessler-Harris, Christopher L. Brown, and members of the Columbia University Seminar on Modern British History and the NYCTC working group for their exceedingly helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article, as well as the editors and reviewers of this journal. Footnotes 1 The National Archives, Kew [Hereafter TNA], CAB 134/3522. 2 TNA, CAB 134/3522. 3Daily Express, 24 June 1972. 4 TNA, CAB 134/3522. The figure for 4-year-olds includes ‘rising fives’, or children beginning primary school shortly before their fifth birthday, not just those enrolled in nursery education programs. The actual figure should be considered lower. 5 Vicki Randall, The Politics of Child Daycare in Britain (Oxford, 2000), 65; Jane Lewis, ‘Continuity and Change in English Childcare Policy, 1960-2000’, Social Politics, 20 (2013), 363. 6 Angela Davis, Pre-School Childcare in England, 1939-2010: Theory, Practice, and Experience (Manchester, 2015). 7 Jane Lewis, ‘The Failure to Expand Childcare Provision and to Develop a Comprehensive Childcare Policy in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s’, Twentieth Century British History, 24 (2013), 264. Lewis characterizes Thatcher as being under pressure from the Prime Minister to pursue nursery education as an ‘unfulfilled’ election promise. However, Thatcher is in fact the one to use this language first in her attempts to persuade Heath to allow her to reallocate spending for nursery education (PREM 15/864). 8 Joan Lestor, Renee Short, and Shirley Williams were all part of the National Campaign for Nursery Education. Lestor was also involved with the National Society of Children’s Nurseries, and short with the Nursery School Association. As Secretary of State for Education and Science from 1976 to 1979, Williams was in a position to bring nursery education back onto political agenda but did not do so. 9 See, for example, Laura Beers, ‘Thatcher and the Women’s Vote’, in Ben Jackson and Robert Saunders, eds, Making Thatcher’s Britain (Cambridge, 2012); Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Austerity in Britain: Rationing, Controls, and Consumption, 1939-1955 (Oxford, 2000); Beatrix Campbell, Iron Ladies: Why Do Women Vote Tory? (London, 1987). 10 John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher, Volume One: The Grocer’s Daughter (London, 2000), 238. 11 Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, ‘Neo-Liberalism and Morality in the Making of Thatcherite Social Policy’, Historical Journal, 55 (2012), 520. 12 Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, Historical Journal, 511. 13 Conservative Party Archives, Oxford University [Hereafter CPA], CRD 4/23/1-6. 14 See Davis for a detailed analysis of the differences in theory, practice, and experience among nursery education, day nurseries, playgroups, and childminders. 15 House of Commons Debate [Hereafter HC Deb] 13 July 1972 [840/1817-38]; she said something almost identical in HC Deb, 7 December 1970 [808/1534-56], HC Deb, 12 May1972 [836/1756-80], and HC Deb, 21 December 1972 [848/1543-64]. 16 See, for example, TNA, MH 156/52, MH 156/53, MH 156/54, and MH 156/55 for discussion of how DHSS and local health authorities determined prioritization for day nursery admittance. 17 TNA, ED 192/211. 18 MH 156/51, Day Care Review 1962. The following statistics cited in the rest of this paragraph are drawn from this document as well. 19 Young Fabian Study Group, Womanpower: Pamphlet 11 (London, 1966), 23. 20 TNA, ED 207/7. 21 ‘Infant Schools’ served children of ages 5 through 7 years. TNA, ED 207/727, Nurseries and EPAs: Submission for Ministers on Plowden Recommendations on Nurseries, Leadbetter to Cockerill, June 1968. 22 TNA, ED 207/727, Nurseries and EPAs, Leadbetter to Cockerill, June 1968. 23 TNA, ED 207/1. 24 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98: 23 August 1972. 25 Papers of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, London School of Economics, London [Hereafter BAECE], BAECE 2/12, National Society of Children’s Nurseries, Report of the Executive Committee, 28 May 1964. 26 TNA, MH 156/236. 27News of the World, 9 April 1967; Daily Mail, 6 April 1967. 28 Brian Jackson and Sonia Jackon, Childminder: A Study in Action Research (London, 1979), 32. 29 TNA, ED 146/84, Central Advisory Council for Education (England), Plowden Report, Agenda and Minutes of Meetings of Working Party No. 3, Meetings 1-13, 1964-1965, 23 October. 30 TNA, ED 146/84, Central Advisory Council for Education (England), Plowden Report, 17 July 1964 Meeting. 31 Central Advisory Council for Education, Children and Their Primary Schools, vol. 1 (London, 1967), 487–9. 32 Central Advisory Council for Education, 489. 33 E. M. Osborn, ‘National Campaign for Nursery Education’, International Journal of Early Childhood, 5(2) (1973), 163. 34 A copy of Howe’s report can be found in Thatcher’s personal papers, Churchill Archive Center, Cambridge University [Hereafter CAC], THCR 1/6/4, as well as the CPA, CCO 170/5/44. 35 Elspeth Howe, Under 5: A Report on Nursery Education (London, 1966), 5. 36 CPA, CCO 170/5/44, Minutes of a Meeting of a Discussion Group Set Up to Consider Nursery Schools and Pre-Five Education, 29 June 1965. 37 Howe, 8–34. 38 BAECE 24/4, Nursery School Association Newsletters, March 1969. 39 TNA, ED 207/7, 27 June 1968. 40 TNA, ED 207/7, Nurseries and EPAs: Submission for Ministers on Plowden Recommendations on Nurseries, Burrows to Cockerill, 1 July 1968. 41 TNA, ED 261/23, Jameson to Hudson, 24 October 1968. 42 TNA, ED 261/23, Richard Crossman to Edward Short, 1 January 1969; TNA, Cab 152/34. 43 TNA, ED 207/122, Draft Note of a Meeting on 8 April 1970. 44 <http://www.labour-party.org.uk/manifestos/1970/1970-labour-manifesto.shtml> accessed 16 February 2015. 45 <http://www.conservative-party.net/manifestos/1970/1970-conservative-manifesto.shtml> accessed 16 February 2015. 46 Proposals for cutting school milk had been considered under the preceding Wilson government as well. See TNA, CAB 152/32, CAB 152/100, CAB 152/96, and ED 207/67. 47 TNA, PREM 15/864. 48 HC Deb, 12 May1972 [836/1756-80]. 49 HC Deb, 12 May1972 [836/1756-80]. 50Daily Express, 24 June 1972. 51 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98. 52 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98. 53 Specifically, ‘I am willing to accept the lower target of 750,000 higher education places by 1981 though this will be compared very unfavourably with the Opposition’s claim that they would provide the widely canvassed figure of 1,000,000 places…This again is part of the price I am willing to pay in support of my total strategy’. TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98, 23 August 1972. 54 TNA, PREM 15/931. 55 TNA, CAB 134/3519, Home and Social Affairs Committee, Minutes of Meetings in 1972, 13th Meeting, 6 June 1972. 56 TNA, CAB 134/3519, Home and Social Affairs Committee, Minutes of Meetings in 1972, 14th Meeting, 16 June 1972. The memorandum under discussion was CAB 134/3520, Home and Social Affairs Committee, HS(72) 47: Programme Analysis and Review 1971: Higher Education, 19 April 1972. 57 TNA, CAB 128/50. 58 Written Statement launching Education White Paper (A Framework for Expansion), 6 December 1972. 59 HC Deb, 24 July 1973 [860/1380-1399]. 60 Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 14 October 1971; these figures were repeated in many other statements as well. 61 TV Interview for ITN First Report (launch of Education White Paper), 6 December 1972. 62 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 63 See, for example, Finchley Press, 9 July 1971. 64 HC Deb 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 65 Written Statement launching Education White Paper (A Framework for Expansion), 6 December 1972. 66 TNA, T 227/3788. 67 CAC, THCR 1/6/1; TNA, ED 192/211 PGB (72) M6, Minutes from 24 March 1972. 68 See, for example, TNA, ED 146/93, and CAC, THCR 1/6/1; Howe. 69 CPA, ACP 3/16, ACP (68) 52 Conservative Education Policy for the Seventies: a report by the Education Policy Group, 11 July 1968. 70 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 71 TNA, ED 181/331. 72 CPA, CRD 4/5/20, Passmore to Ridley, 2 March 1979. 73 HC Deb, 28 January 1974 [868/39-49]. 74Hampstead and Highgate Express, 17 February 1974. 75 Campbell, 237. 76 Campbell, 238. 77 Campbell, 238. 78 See for example Anne Perkins, Red Queen: The Authorized Biography of Barbara Castle (London, 2003). 79 Speech to National Association of Head Teachers Conference, 25 May 1970. 80 Speech to National Society of Mentally Handicapped Children, 16 April 1970. 81 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98, 23 August 1972. 82 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98, 23 August 1972. 83 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 84CPC Monthly Report, February 1973. 85Sunday Times, 8 April 1973. 86 TNA, CAB 134/3522, HS (72)98, 23 August 1972. 87 HC Deb, 18 November 1971 [826/654-73]. Thatcher discussed the differences between the Labour and Conservative parties’ views on education in Times Educational Supplement, 22 February 1974, stating, ‘There is one respect in which we quarrel sharply with Labour. Labour politicians have a common characteristic, which is that they treat education not as an end in itself but as an instrument for realizing their egalitarian political and social aims. Moreover, no secret is made of this’. This statement reflects her long-standing position against comprehensive secondary schools; Thatcher believed parents and their children should be able to choose what type of secondary schooling to pursue. However, Thatcher seems to feel differently about the role of nursery and primary education in mitigating class differences—the parties are more closely aligned when it comes to younger children. 88 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]; she also says something similar at the Speech to National Union of Teachers Conference, 13 April 1971. 89 Speech to Association of Education Committees, 23 June 1971. 90 Ron Davie, ‘The Impact of the National Child Development Study’, Children and Society, 7 (1993), 24–5. 91CPC Monthly Report, February 1973. 92Sunday Times, 8 April 1973; see also Speech to National Society of Mentally Handicapped Children, 16 April 1971. 93 A. H. Halsey, British Social Trends since 1900: A Guide to the Changing Social Structure of Britain (London, 1972), 166–8. 94 Cited in TNA, MH 156/396, PSC (16), Working Party on Future Provision For Pre-School Children, January 1972. 95 Helen McCarthy, ‘Social Science and Married Women’s Employment in Post-War Britain’, Past and Present, 233 (2016), 286. 96 Kathleen Kiernan, Hilary Land, and Jane Lewis, Lone Motherhood in Twentieth-Century Britain: From Footnote to Front Page (Oxford, 1998), 255. 97 Vicki Randall, ‘The Politics of Childcare Policy’, Parliamentary Affairs, 49 (1996), 178. 98 Papers of Mothers in Action, London School of Economics, 5MIA/10/10, ‘Plan for Day Care’, Target Pamphlet No 2, 1974. 99Finchley Press, 9 July 1971. 100Conference Report 1969, Speech to the Conservative Party, 10 October 1969, 117–19. 101Finchley Times, 1 August 1969. 102 Written Statement launching A Framework for Expansion, 6 December 1972. 103 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 104 HC Deb, 12 May 1972 [836/1756-80]. 105 Quoted in Denise Riley, War in the Nursery: Theories of the Child and Mother (London, 1983), 108. 106 See, for example, Denise Riley, War in the Nursery: Theories of the Child and Mother (London, 1983), 107–8, Randall; and Gillian Pascall, ‘Women and the Family in the British Welfare State: The Thatcher/Major Legacy’, Social Policy and Administration, 31 (1997), 290–305. 107 TNA, ED 146/84, Central Advisory Council for Education (England), Plowden Report, 6th Meeting, 10 November. 108 Speech opening North of England Education Conference, 2 January 1973; she made similar statements in TV interview for ITN First Report (launch of Education White Paper), 6 December 1972. 109 Paul Pierson, Dismantling the Welfare State? Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchment (New York, 1994), 3. 110 E. H. H. Green, Ideologies of Conservatism (Oxford, 2002), 235–6. 111 Green (2002), 216. 112 E. H. H. Green, Thatcher (London, 2006), 36. 113 Green (2006), 39. 114 Campbell, 239. 115 TNA, PREM 15/864, Note for the record of Heath Meeting with Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph on 31 December 1970, 4 January 1971. 116 Conceptually nursery education would be linked to family policy more broadly conceived; CPA, CRD 4/23/1-6. © The Author [2017]. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Twentieth Century British HistoryOxford University Press

Published: Jul 28, 2017

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