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.

Strengths to build on

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.

Keeping up with the best

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 importance of teaching

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.

  • invest in doubling the number of top graduates who enter teaching through Teach First
  • create a new programme - Teach Next - to attract high performers from other professions into teaching
  • subsidise graduates in strategic subjects such as science and maths to enter teaching
  • and create a new Troops to Teachers programme to attract natural leaders from the Armed Forces into the classroom.

Discipline and behaviour

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.

So:

  • we will make it easier for teachers to impose detentions on disruptive pupils by abolishing the rule which requires 24 hours notice before a detention is given
  • we will give teachers stronger powers to search students if they bring items into school intent on disruption
  • we will give teachers clearer rules on the use of force
  • and we will protect teachers from false allegations made by disruptive and vindictive pupils if they do act to keep order
  • we will support schools to introduce traditional uniforms, prefects and house systems
  • we will prioritise action to tackle bullying especially racist and homophobic bullying
  • we will make it easier for schools to exclude disruptive children without the fear of seeing excluded children reinstated over their heads
  • and we will improve education for troubled young people by bringing in new organisations to run alternative provision for excluded pupils.

Raising standards for all

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:

  • we will reform assessment in primary schools to reduce teaching to the test
  • we will make GCSEs more rigorous by stripping out modules
  • we will make GCSE performance tables more aspirational by judging schools on how well all students do not just in English and Maths but also in science, modern languages and the humanities like history and geography.
  • and we will reverse the last Government’s decision to downgrade the teaching of proper English by restoring the recognition of spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSEs.

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.

  • we will double the number of National Leaders of Education - outstanding headteachers with a mission to turn round under-performing schools
  • we will raise the minimum standards expected of all schools - so primaries and secondaries which fail to get students to an acceptable level and fail to have students making decent progress will be eligible for intervention
  • we will make £110 million available to create a new endowment fund to turn these schools round
  • and we will introduce a new reward scheme to make additional incentive payments available for great heads who turn around under-performing schools.

A strong strategic role for local authorities

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 fierce urgency of the need for reform

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:

  • schools lost freedoms
  • the curriculum lost rigour.

Now - under this coalition Government - we are once more travelling in the same direction as the most ambitious - and the most progressive – nations.

  • schools spending is rising - with more money for the poorest through the pupil premium
  • education reform is accelerating - with one new academy created every working day
  • and standards are being driven up - with teachers now supported to excel as never before.

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...