These problems were, inevitably, exacerbated by the Tories propensity for cutting the education budget.
Churchill appointed sixty-year-old Florence Horsbrugh ( pictured ) Minister of Education in November 1951, but denied her a seat in the Cabinet - an ominous move, implying, as it did, a serious demotion of education (Simon 1991:162). Maurice Kogan has described her as a dreary and disliked minister who was brought only late into the Cabinet, who never fought for and never received an adequate educational budget (Kogan 1978:34). She was, however, under consistent, ruthless and unremitting pressure (Simon 1991:163) from RAB Butler, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, to cut education spending to a minimum. One of Butlers first acts as Chancellor was to declare a three-month moratorium on school building - because the steel was needed for armaments. In December 1951 Horsbrugh issued Circular 242, which called for a five per cent reduction in local authority estimates for 1952. The aim, she said, was to maintain the essential fabric but to cut out the frills (quoted in Simon 1991:164). Further cuts were made to the building programme in Circular 245 in February 1952. From then on, Horsbrugh faced a three-year battle to maintain spending on education. In a letter to her, dated 7 October 1953, Butler wrote: I need not conceal from you that I am most disturbed about the paucity of the economies we have been able to make in the last two years. We cant get healthy tax remissions, nor a healthy economy without these. There is no time to lose - we must think in terms of major changes in policy as well as constant pruning (quoted in Simon 1991:165). Drastic measures were considered, including the possibility of lowering the school leaving age to fourteen (it had only been raised to fifteen in 1947), raising the school starting age to six, introducing fees in maintained schools, and reducing the Exchequer grant to local authorities. Meanwhile, the government tried to claw back money from teachers and local authorities through the Teachers Superannuation Bill. Horsbrugh now resisted all attempts to impose further drastic cuts. The governments proposals were widely criticised. In a leader in the Manchester Guardian (12 December 1951), RH Tawney declared that lowering the leaving age would be a breach of faith - it was economising at the expense of the children (quoted in Simon 1991:167). There were protests from the Association of Education Committees; from WO Lester Smith, formerly Manchesters distinguished Director of Education and now Professor at the London University Institute of Education; from the former Labour Minister of Education George Tomlinson; and from the Trades Union Congress. Local trades councils held public meetings and conferences. The Economist (21 March 1953) commented that No part of the governments economy drive has incurred so much criticism as the cuts in educational expenditure (quoted in Simon 1991:166).
However, the beginnings of a Tory education policy can be seen, Knight suggests, in One Nation - A Tory Approach to Social Problems , published by the Conservative Political Centre in 1950. It was written by nine members of what became known as the One Nation group of Tory MPs, including Edward Heath, lain Macleod, Angus Maude and Enoch Powell, who were committed to preserving the church schools and the private sector, to defending the tripartite system, and to opposing what they saw as the enforced uniformity of comprehensive education. In his contribution to One Nation , Maude wrote: The modern insistence on humanising teaching methods . must not be made an excuse for abandoning the traditional disciplines of learning . We deplore the present tendency to drag down the brighter children to the level of the dull ones (quoted in Knight 1990:12-13). It was perhaps unsurprising that the Tories should have spent little effort in developing a coherent education policy in the early 1950s because, when they regained power in 1951, the overwhelming need was for more school places to cope with the rapidly rising birth rate. Oversize classes (forty or more pupils) and inadequate buildings were the dominant issues for politicians, civil servants and parents alike . A wider vision of schooling was not yet developed