Nicky Morgan is Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, and is MP for Loughborough.
Our mission is very clear – to provide world-class education and care that allows every child and young person to reach his or her potential, regardless of birth or background.
So how do we spread opportunity and hope for everyone? How do we ensure that the excellence in schools we’ve unlocked over the last five years can spread everywhere across the country?
The last Government inherited a situation of declining standards in education, poor school discipline and low aspiration which damaged all our children’s chances, particularly those from the poorest backgrounds. Aspiration was replaced by the soft bigotry of low expectations and a depressing acceptance that the most disadvantaged would never be able to compete with their more affluent peers.
Five years have passed since we began our work to reform England’s schools, but our vision has remained the same: schools in which every child is given the knowledge and skills they need to succeed; where every child is given the opportunity to fulfill every ounce of their potential. Schools with higher standards, restored discipline and raised expectations. And thanks to those reforms and the hard work of our dedicated teaching profession, the proportion of schools rated Good or Outstanding is at its highest level on record, and there are a million more children in Good or Outstanding schools.
Despite this progress, there isn’t time to rest. It should make all of us very angry that some young people are still not getting what they deserve or being pushed to achieve their best. Just last week, I heard the story of a young person arriving at a sixth form college unable to write his own name – a young person who could sadly be held back for the rest of his life, because he was unable to master the basics early on. Some children have to spend months, if not years, in failing schools or schools that don’t get the best out of them. There is no other way to put it than we are letting those young people down, closing doors to their future and depriving them the opportunities they deserve.
As we said in our manifesto, a good education is not a luxury; it should be a right for everyone.
The Education and Adoption Bill, which has its Second Reading today, will help achieve that ambition.
The Bill will allow us to intervene more swiftly in failing maintained schools and to take action to improve those that are coasting. The best education experts will be able to make decisions about intervention from the day we spot failure, support schools where they need it and bring in the changes they desperately need.
In the past, intervention could be delayed or even blocked altogether by those who have ideological objections to giving heads and teachers control: aggressive pressure groups who put their own interests above the best interests of children.
So now we will automatically issue an Academy Order for all schools judged inadequate by Ofsted, requiring them to become sponsored academies. We know this approach works. The hundreds of sponsored academies currently open are transforming the lives of the most disadvantaged pupils by turning around the worst performing schools in the country. But in too many cases, bureaucracy and legal hurdles get in the way – meaning it can take up to 13 months to provide the challenge and support that is urgently needed.
And we’ll introduce new powers to intervene not just in failing schools, but in coasting schools – because “just good enough” shouldn’t be enough for anyone’s child. I’m sure you all know the type of school that I’m talking about: those in affluent areas with high-attaining intakes that don’t make enough progress, those that just push pupils over the C/D borderline without stretching the brightest or supporting the less able.
These schools must make swifter progress too, and will be put on immediate notice – and required to work with our team of expert head teachers who will support these schools to improve, to learn from the best, and to make sure that every day a pupil spends in them is a day well spent. And those, and only those, that aren’t able to demonstrate a clear plan for improvement will be given new leadership.
To be clear – it’s not the fact of being an academy that leads to this excellence. Rather, it’s what being an academy stands for: giving schools freedom over what they teach, when they teach it, and deciding who is best to teach it – so that teachers, not bureaucrats are in the driving seat to deliver the best opportunities to every child.
Our intention is not to put more pressure on teachers. I am on their side. Unlike the Labour Party, I trust head teachers to employ the best, and I wouldn’t sack 17,000 of them just because they don’t have a piece of paper from the Government. I don’t mind if they’re scientists, businesspeople…or nuns. I want to give them greater freedom and flexibility, more control and creativity.
Thousands of teachers, governors and school leaders have already embraced our plan for education and put it into effect. Our reforms have seen the unleashing of some truly excellent practice that is the envy of much of the rest of the world. Anyone who attended the Sunday Times festival of education last week would have seen a bold and confident teaching profession, charting the course of educational progress and bringing about an increasingly school-led system.
I want to be on the side of those teachers, and that is what these reforms are all about. Working together, we can make sure that every child gets the building blocks they need to make something of their life. We can have young people take high-quality qualifications that are respected and give them the skills they need. We can inspire their pupils, unlock their talents and set them up to get on in the modern world.
This is what our One Nation approach has to mean. Creating an education system where everyone has the opportunity and support needed to succeed, no matter who you are or where you come from. By doing that, we can build a truly just society and help young people overcome disadvantage – creating the productive workforce of the future, unlocking real social justice.