Milk Snatcher? School milk row troubled Margaret Thatcher for decades after

National Archives releases documents revealing Margaret Thatcher's thoughts on iconic free school milk row

Tes Reporter

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Almost two decades after she was branded the "milk snatcher" for ending the provision of free school milk, Margaret Thatcher still recoiled at memory of the political storm she unleashed, newly released government files reveal.

As education secretary in Edward Heath's government her decision in 1970 to stop the provision of milk for junior school pupils prompted the playground taunt "Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher".

Files released by the National Archives show that 19 years later, Mrs Thatcher - by then prime minister - was horrified when health secretary Ken Clarke proposed finally ending free milk for nursery schoolchildren as well.

"No - this will cause a terrible row - all for £4 million. I know - I went through it 19 years ago," she scrawled in a handwritten note.

"Health has enough to do to get the white paper and community proposals through. Any scheme for saving £400 million or more I will look at. But not £4 million."

The documents released today also show that former Oxford student Margaret Thatcher vowed to "strenuously" resist legislation forcing women-only colleges to employ men as fellows.

The Prime Minister showed a personal interest in protecting the status of single-sex Oxbridge colleges after it was suggested changes encouraged by the European Commission would prevent them from only appointing women.

Mrs Thatcher, who studied at all-women college Somerville between 1943 and 1947, branded the plans "absurd" and said they would "infringe not enlarge liberties".

The row erupted amid pressure for the UK to repeal section 51 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

The change would have removed protection for Oxbridge colleges positively discriminating in the recruitment process.

The Prime Minister received assurances from Jacques Delors, then president of the European Commission, that "common sense would prevail" in cases involving Oxbridge colleges, according to an internal Number 10 memo.

In a further memo on August 28 1987, the Prime Minister said she would "vigorously" support attempts to use legal powers to preserve the status of all-women's colleges.

The changes would have affected the status of the four remaining all-women colleges - Somerville and St Hilda's at Oxford University and Newnham and Lucy Cavendish at Cambridge University.

The two Cambridge colleges are still single-sex colleges. Somerville accepted men for the first time in 1994 and St Hilda's, the last remaining single-sex college in Oxford, became mixed in 2008.

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