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Hague: Common sense for education

In a speech on education at Conservative Central Office, the Rt Hon William Hague, Leader of the Opposition:

"In a moment, Theresa May will outline our plans for better schools in this country based on the principles of discipline, standards and choice. But first I want to talk about why the reform of our schools is so desperately needed.

There are many good schools in this country with committed teaching staff, imaginative heads and hard-working pupils. At its best, the British education system can be very good indeed. But there is also another side to the story. A side which fewer people are willing to talk about. A side we reflected in our Election broadcast last night.

When teaching vacancies are at their highest for decade and the Times Educational Supplement can boast about being the world's largest tabloid because it is carrying recruitment advertisements across its five sections, then we have a problem.

When the Government's own survey of secondary school-aged children shows that more one in seven of them admit to having taken illegal drugs and one quarter to having committed a crime in previous year, this country has a problem.

When we have young teenagers in our towns and cities vandalising property, stealing from shops, spraying graffiti and threatening or assaulting people in public, we have a problem.

When close to two-thirds of secondary pupils are worried about the safety of themselves and their possessions, never mind the elderly or much younger children, we have a problem.

It would be the easiest thing in the world to gloss over all of this, say it is just the way things are these and to retire to the nearest affluent catchment area where these sorts of issues rarely arise.

But that option doesn't exist for most families living on our inner city estates. They have to deal with the reality of respect and discipline breaking down in our schools.

Cont'd

Many of them are worried that their own children will be drawn into petty crime or worse. They are concerned that they won't receive the attention or the teaching they need to get on in life because of disruption in the classroom.

The plain truth is that we are failing children in many parts of this country. We are at the start of a New Century, we have the 4th largest economy in the world, we are its 4th largest military power and yet too many of our children are having to settle for an education that is second best.

We cannot expect these children to believe in our laws, to contribute to our prosperity or to play their full part in this country's future unless we have more schools that teach discipline, self-respect and respect for others.

Without a firm foundation in these values it is very difficult to teach people anything else. Children try to challenge the rules or to bend them, they always have done and they always will, the key is for adults to defend the rules.

That is a difficult thing to do when Whitehall ties one hand behind your back and either fines you for excluding disruptive pupils or forces you to keep them in school.

It is a difficult thing to do when you are constantly being second-guessed by local and national politicians.

It is almost an impossible thing to do when you seem to be spending as much time with forms and circulars as you are with the children you are supposed to be teaching.

Labour's way has been to make David Blunkett the headmaster of every school in the country. Our way is to give every headmaster in the country the freedom and responsibility to lead their schools.

Labour's way has been to tell teachers how they should be spending every last minute of their working day. Our way is to give them less paperwork and more time to spend in the classroom teaching children.

Labour's way has been to force schools to put up with disruptive pupils in the name of social inclusion. Our way is to give these pupils the help they need away from these schools in the name of discipline and fairness to others.

I know what it means to go to a state school where discipline is upheld and respected.

Cont'd

I know what it means to go to a school where standards are set and maintained.

I know what it means to go to a school that hold parents to account and is at the same accountable to parents.

Wath-on-Dearne Comprehensive opened up new opportunities, broadened the horizons and raised the expectations of everyone who went there, me included.

I feel proud to have gone there, but I know that we can we can create a first class state education for everyone wherever they live, however much their parents earn.

To those who say it is unfair to expect children from disadvantaged backgrounds to strive for the same standards as everyone else, I say it is unfair to expect anything less.

That is why the next Conservative Government will offer discipline, standards and choice in all our schools.

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