Check against delivery
Mr Speaker, with your permission I should like to make a statement to accompany today’s publication of the Coaltion Government’s White Paper on Schools.
England is fortunate that we have so many great schools, so many superb teachers and so many outstanding headteachers. Their achievements deserve to be celebrated and I was delighted that last week the Prime Minister and I were able to meet hundreds of the very best school leaders in Downing Street, congratulate them on their work and welcome their commitment to the academy programme.
We are fortunate that our school system has important strengths. But our commitment to making opportunity more equal means we cannot shy away from confronting its weaknesses.
We are failing to keep pace with the world’s best-performing education nations.
In the last 10 years we have slipped behind other nations, going from 4th in the world for science to 14th, 7th in the world for literacy to 17th and 8th in the world for mathematics to 24th.
And at the same time the gulf between the opportunities available to the rich and the chances given to the poor has grown wider.
The gap between the A Level performance of children in independent schools and state schools has doubled.
And in the last year for which we have figures, out of a population of 80,000 children eligible for free school meals just 40 made it to Oxford and Cambridge - a drop from the previous year - when just 45 made it.
Social mobility has gone backwards - and it is the mission of this coalition Government to reverse that melancholy trend and make opportunity more equal - so we can become an aspiration nation once more...
If we are to make the most of the potential of every child then we need to learn from those countries which outperform us educationally and have more equal societies.
This White Paper does just that. It takes the best ideas from the highest-performing education nations and applies them to our own circumstances.
It is accompanied by an evidence paper which outlines the common features of the countries with the strongest school systems.
The single most important lesson - and it is reflected in the title of our White Paper - is The Importance of Teaching.
The best schools systems recruit the best people to teach, train them intensively in the craft of teaching, continue to develop them as professionals throughout their career, groom natural leaders for headship positions and give great heads the chance to make a dramatic difference.
Which is why we will reform and improve teacher training by establishing a new generation of teaching schools on the model of teaching hospitals - outstanding schools which are showcases of the best in teaching practice.
And because we know that the biggest barrier to recruiting and retaining good people in teaching is poor pupil behaviour we will take decisive action on discipline.
Unless order is maintained in the classroom teachers cannot teach and children cannot learn.
By improving behaviour we can then free teachers to raise standards.
We will reform our National Curriculum so it is a benchmark we can use to measure ourselves against the world’s best school systems instead of a straitjacket which stifles the creativity of our best teachers
We will slim down a curriculum which has become over-loaded, over-prescriptive and over-bureaucratic by stripping out unnecessary clutter and simply specifying the core knowledge in strategic subjects which every child should know at each key stage.
That will give great teachers more freedom to innovate and inspire.
And we will support their drive to raise standards for all by reforming our exams:
And because we know that it is great teaching and great teachers who improve schools we will reduce the bureaucracy which holds them back and put teachers at the heart of school improvement.
In our drive to improve all schools, local authorities will be our indispensable partners.
They will play a new role as parents champion, making admissions fairer - so parents choose schools rather than schools choosing parents, acting as a strong voice for the vulnerable - by ensuring excluded children and those with special needs are properly supported and helping us as all energetic champions of educational excellence.
As more and more schools become increasingly autonomous, local authorities will increasingly step back from management and instead provide focused leadership, challenging under-performance, blowing the whistle on weak schools and commissioning new provision, whether from other high-performing schools, academy sponsors or free school promoters.
The need for thoroughgoing reform is urgent - our competitors are all accelerating the pace of their education reforms - from America to Singapore, New Zealand to Hong Kong - schools are being granted greater freedom, great teachers are being given more responsibilities, exams are being made more rigorous - we cannot afford to be left behind.
In the last three years of the last Government, reform went into reverse:
Now - under this coalition Government - we are once more travelling in the same direction as the most ambitious - and the most progressive – nations.
The programme we outline today affirms the importance of teaching at the heart of our mission to make opportunity more equal.
There is no profession more noble, no calling more vital, no vocation more admirable than teaching and this White Paper gives us the opportunity to become the world’s leading education nation - and I commend it to the House...