Throughout this week we’ll be running our ‘A Government Worth Having’ series. Beginning with Michael Gove MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, leading members of David Cameron’s frontbench will set out some of the policies that will make a real difference to life in Britain. Next week we’ll be running five articles that will identify where more policy work still needs to be done.
When David Cameron launched our Opportunity Agenda at last year’s Conservative Party Conference his aim was to make Britain more socially mobile, to improve education for all and, especially, to give children from poorer families the sort of opportunities currently only available to the rich.
Schools should be engines of social mobility. They should provide the knowledge, and the tools, to enable talented young people to overcome accidents of birth and an inheritance of disadvantage in order to enjoy greater opportunities.
But that just isn’t happening in Britain.
We have a schools system which widens the gap between the fortunate and the forgotten, which makes society progressively less fair over time, which deepens our country’s divisions.
And Britain is already failing to prepare its citizens for a world economic climate which is growing more competitive, and less forgiving of failure, with every month which passes.
In the most recent PISA surveys – the international league tables of school performance – we fell from 4th to 14th in science, 7th to 17th in literacy, 8th to 24th in maths. We need radical reform.
That’s why we’ve published a green paper outlining, among other reforms, how we can learn from Sweden’s education revolution and lower the barriers to more new schools being created.
As a matter of principle we should want more diversity and choice for parents within the state system.
And as a matter of proven fact that choice can help raise standards by generating innovation and allowing competitive pressures to stimulate improvements all round.
The dynamic we would create is quite simple.
Parents should be able to choose schools instead of schools choosing parents.
Now, richer parents can either go private or move house in order to
get the school they want. Poorer parents can’t do either. This means
that failing schools with bad management in poorer areas just keep
failing – there is no way for parents to do anything about it because
their complaints can just be ignored.
We set out three steps which will change all that.
First, we will remove the huge amount of red tape which bureaucrats
use to stop people setting up new schools, from planning laws to
building regulations. We will change the law so that all sorts of
organisations, including those which currently run independent schools,
other charities, cooperatives and new education providers can set up
new state Academies, independent of political control. These schools
will receive the same government funding as other schools in their
community for every pupil they teach. All new Academies will be free
Second, we will give parents control of the taxpayers’ money that the
government spends on each child – now over £5,000 per pupil. Parents
will have the power to take their child out of a school they think is
failing, apply to a new Academy, and automatically transfer the
taxpayers’ money being spent on their child from the failing school to
the new Academy.
And, thirdly, we will give extra capital funding, on top of the
annual per pupil funding, to help fund new Academies in the most
deprived areas. This will mean at least 220,000 new good school places
under a Conservative government – I stress, this is a minimum number,
there is no upper ceiling on how far this dynamic can extend.
What will happen? We expect that the same will happen here as
happened in Sweden. Hundreds of new schools have been started.
Thousands of children have been saved from failing schools and given a
chance in life. In particular, thousands of children from the poorest
areas have been able to escape failing state schools. Standards have
risen for everyone – the new schools are good but they also force the
other schools to improve otherwise they lose their pupils and have to
Under our proposals schools would have to work harder to attract the
funding some take for granted – because parents would be in control.
Schools would be actively seeking out parents and pupils, leafleting
their communities with prospectuses showing why they deserved your
And because the need to improve standards is most pressing in areas
of economic disadvantage we would give parents from poorer backgrounds
another additional advantage.
The amount the state would give to fund the education of every child
from a disadvantaged background would be specifically increased.
That means schools would work particularly hard to attract children from poorer backgrounds.
And for those people who say that poorer families don’t want choice
all I can say is – why should the poorest be denied what the rich
Working class parents care just as much about their children’s
future as anyone. But at the moment the system doesn’t respect their
voice, or give them a choice. We would change that.