Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Green: A fair deal for pupils and students

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2003

"In 1996 Tony Blair stood on this spot and famously said that his priority was education, education, education.

Did he mean it ? Or had the autocue stuck? Whether it was truth or spin, it lacked the fundamental ingredient of substance. And ever since, his Government has betrayed teachers, parents, pupils and students.

In those days, New Labour asked us to trust them. Trust them with the health service. Trust them to make our streets safer. Trust them to educate and train the next generation of doctors, teachers, builders and plumbers.

Trust them? I would rather trust John Prescott to mark GCSE English.

Labour failures

Let's look at the facts. One in three children leave primary school unable to read, write and count properly. One in three!

This year, more than 30,000 children left secondary school without a single GCSE. 30,000!

And up and down the country teachers have been made redundant and schools are plunging into deficit because this Government gives money with one hand, takes it away with the other, and then hopes that nobody notices.

Well let me tell Gordon Brown and Charles Clarke. Parents, governors and teachers have noticed the way you have betrayed our schools. We don't forgive you, and nor will they.

What have six years of New Labour brought to our schools?

· The confidence in our exam system destroyed

· Teenagers taking so many exams that they have to give up sport, music and drama

· Teachers spending hours filling in forms instead of teaching

· And above all, dozens of useless targets set by Ministers

Charles Clarke used the targets to say that incompetent heads should be, in his words, 'taken out'. But when he missed the key Literacy and Numeracy targets in primary schools, he just changed the date by when he needed to hit them.

So under Labour, when teachers miss their target the teacher gets sacked. But when ministers miss their target the target gets sacked.

It's typical. From Education, to Transport, Defence and Health, right up to No 10 itself, this is a Government full of Ministers who refuse to take responsibility, and who never ever own up.

Let's look at some of their initiatives. Labour doesn't want violent pupils excluded from school. In the real world that means that the small disruptive minority can cause havoc in our classrooms. It is time to give classroom control back to the teachers where it belongs.

Too many children have been turned off school altogether. Whose fault is this? Not the teachers.

Two years ago, when Iain gave me this job, I stood here and said I would not blame teachers for things going wrong. And two years on I am more convinced than ever that most teachers are hard-working conscientious professionals who want the best for their children—and this Party recognises that.

Underneath all their talk of celebrating good teachers, the Government has simply failed to trust them. That's why teachers, and heads, and governors, and parents no longer trust this Prime Minister and his Government.

I talk to teachers all the time. They tell me why they joined the profession. How they believed that they could inspire the children they taught. And I have seen lessons that really inspire me.

I sat in on a lesson about Thomas Aquinas where 14-year-olds in a London comprehensive discussed his theory of the proof of God's existence from the argument of First Causes.

I know everyone in this hall will be familiar with the theological niceties of all this.

But listening to a teacher guide a discussion on Thomas Aquinas in a class roughly one third Christian, one third Muslim, and one third with no religion at all was a real lesson in how to bring the best out of all our children.

So of course good things are happening in many of our schools. But teachers also tell me other things.

They tell me about their fear that they may be beaten up. Every seven minutes of every school day there is an attack on a teacher.

Their sadness that at least one member of their class is unlikely to turn up, out truanting with fifty thousand others every day.

And their disappointment that this Government, and its constant interference, is telling them how to teach their class and how to run their schools.

So Government meddling lies at the root of these serious problems.

We will change all that.

And we are the only party that will deal with the real problems of discipline and standards.

The Liberal Democrats held an education debate at their conference. Faced with the huge challenges in our schools and universities, what was the big Lib Dem idea?

Compulsory sex education for 7-year-olds.

And this from a party that wants to be taken seriously.

The Conservative Approach to Schools

Our approach will deal with the real problems. Let me tell you how we will tackle them.

I have a unique ambition for a politician. I am the first aspiring Education Secretary to want less power not more.

That's because our Conservative approach, which we will all be laying before you this week, is about taking power away from the Ministries and giving it back to the British people.

Trust the people. It was always the approach that served us best and this Conference will see us set out new policies that come from our fundamental beliefs - that local is better than central, and that power should be dispersed, not concentrated.

Our Party is at its best when it spreads wealth and opportunity. Twenty years ago we gave millions of people their first chance to buy their council house and gain control over their lives.

We, the Conservative Party, will now give millions of parents their first chance to choose a school they really want for their children, and gain control over how their children learn.

Council house sales defined the new freedoms that transformed this country in the 1980s. Today I am launching our Better Schools Passport.

These will define new opportunities that will transform our education system.

Quite simply, these passports will give the money that the state spends on their child's education to the parents, and let the parents decide in which school it should be spent.

It will be a passport to a better school for all children.

It will offer a radical extension of school choice. It will allow all children to aspire to an excellent education.

We will start in the inner cities, where the problems are worst.

Today I am announcing that the Passports will be piloted in big cities including Inner London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

And then we will introduce them to the rest of the country bringing real choice to all parents in all schools in all areas.

Our scheme will give parents access to new schools, funded by the state but run independently, to meet the needs of those parents who can't find the right school for their child.

The Better Schools Passport will revolutionise our school system.

We will allow parents and other groups to create new types of school within the maintained sector.

What sort of new schools? All sorts.

Some parents want small schools. Some parents want traditional schools.

Some parents want schools like the Tabernacle School in North London which Iain and I visited earlier this year. A school started five years ago by a black-majority church to help pupils, most of whom had been excluded from their previous school. These children now find that the small classes and firm but fair discipline enable them to achieve their full potential.

This school symbolises a vision of hope that our inner cities desperately need.

It is a vision of hope that all parents want.

And it is a vision of hope that only the Conservative Party, with our fundamental belief in freedom and choice, will provide.

We believe that parents know what is best for their children. Not Tony Blair or Charles Clarke or me.

Some parents will want a school that specialises in vocational education. And how much does this country need a vast expansion of technical schools, so that we can give a decent start in life to children with practical rather than academic abilities.

And I will tell you one other type of school I am very confident parents will want. The sort of school where academic children from any background, rich or poor, are given a chance to stretch themselves.

We already have 164 of these schools. They are called grammar schools and Labour and the Liberal Democrats still want to destroy them. We will support our existing grammar schools.

And we will go further. Under this scheme we will see new grammar schools opening for the first time in a generation. They will provide a ladder out of deprivation for thousands of children, just like they used to.

Labour politicians ask "Why do so few children from poor backgrounds go to university?" Well, I'll tell them. It's because they don't go to schools that let their talents and intelligence and energy flow. Give them the right schools, with discipline and order and a love of learning, and they will have a chance of real academic achievement.

Only a Conservative Government can give them that chance. We will give them a Fair Deal.

Higher Education

And we will transform the prospects of those who aspire to a university education. An aspiration that Labour's lies and deceit on tuition fees are taking away.

In 1997, Labour promised there would be no tuition fees. In 1998 Labour introduced tuition fees.

In 2001, Labour promised there would be no top-up fees. If Labour win the next election then by 2006 there will be top up fees.

Labour's tuition fees are a tax on learning which will leave students with huge debts and universities tied up in red tape.

Let me tell you now, the first thing a Conservative Government will do is introduce a Bill to scrap tuition fees. Under a Conservative Government entry to university will be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

So take this simple message with you out of this hall and onto every doorstep in the country - under a Conservative Government families with children at university will face thousands of pounds less debt.

Labour also wants to discriminate against pupils from good schools—saying that they are at an unfair advantage when they apply to university. What kind of bitter, twisted world do Labour politicians live in, when they try to penalise children for getting into a good school?

A university place should be awarded on academic merit and potential, not as a result of social engineering and political meddling.

Under a Conservative Government tuition will be free, and a degree will always be a meaningful and useful qualification.


Education used to be regarded by the pundits as a Labour issue. Well not any more.

We now have schools where teachers are sworn at and assaulted. We have classrooms where teachers are afraid to innovate because Big Brother has told them exactly how to do their job. And we have universities where quantity has replaced quality as the main driving force.

Six years of New Labour, and what have they done?

They have messed up the exam system, downgraded key subjects, second-guessed teachers, hunted for scapegoats, insulted LEAS, demoralised rofessionals, overloaded governors, undermined authority, damaged confidence, ignored heads, wasted money, destroyed standards, created jargon, imposed dogma, interfered, fiddled, meddled, drivelled, bleated, huffed, puffed, and,

as Alistair Campbell would put it, totally fluffed it up.

At the next election we will offer a real alternative on education.

Freedom for schools

Trust for teachers

Choice and diversity for parents

And a fair deal for pupils and students

That's the way to give all children the start they deserve. Only a Conservative Government can deliver it - so let's get out there and make sure we have one."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech