London — Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has taken a new step to build up a private office unit in 10 Downing Street comparable to a US president's group of White House policy advisers.
The latest recruit to her steadily expanding group of policy aides will take education and teacher training under his wing. Oliver Letwin will work at No. 10 alongside other high-level advisers who will constitute a closely coordinated policy unit.
Mr. Letwin, a former Education Department official, joins a team that already includes a leading right-wing economist, Prof. Alan A. Walters, and a former ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Anthony Parsons.
At the head of the growing policy unit is a former conservative journalist, Ferdinand Mount, who concentrates on home affairs. With the help of a former Defense Department civil servant, Mr. Mount is able to offer Mrs. Thatcher a wide range of policy advice drawn from sources other than the traditional civil service structure.
When she came to power in 1979, Mrs. Thatcher reacted adversely to the style of civil service advice reaching her. At one point she summoned heads of departments to No. 10 and berated them for being too timid and lacking in imagination.
Soon afterward she recruited Mount from the weekly Spectator, and he began recruiting staff for an expanded private office.
The addition of Professor Walters as the prime minister's personal economics adviser reflected her reported belief that the civil service could not provide her with the monetarist insights she decided she required.
The appointment of Sir Anthony was even more controversial. The foreign secretary at that time was Francis Pym, with whom Mrs. Thatcher had a poor relationship. Sir Anthony, who gave her detailed advice during last year's Falklands war, impressed her so much that when he retired from his UN post, she asked him to join her at No. 10.
Sir Anthony immediately became Mrs. Thatcher's conduit to the Foreign Office, often bypassing Mr. Pym. In the Cabinet shuffle following the May election, Pym was sacked.
The addition of a personal education adviser to the prime ministerial staff is regarded as a sign of Mrs. Thatcher's close interest in the educational process. She was education secretary in the former Conservative administration of Edward Heath.
Mrs. Thatcher believes there is a strong case for rationalizing the British education system by insisting on higher standards from comprehensive secondary schools and broadening the choice of parents so that they may send children to independent fee-paying schools.
The education secretary, Sir Keith Joseph, shares many of her views, but he heads a department that many educators regard as resistant to change. By appointing her own education adviser, Mrs. Thatcher will enhance her ability to determine education policy, in coordination with Sir Keith.
Officials at 10 Downing Street are trying to play down the significance of the appointment of Mr. Letwin. But in the past three years there has been a steady growth in the size of Mrs. Thatcher's private office team.
What she wants, it is suggested in Whitehall, is a highly knowledgeable and experienced team of advisers who can put policy options to her directly rather than via the laborious civil service machine.