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Green: We need a bonfire of the targets

Speech to the NUT Conference

It is always a pleasure to be in Harrogate, and I at least regard it as a pleasure as well as a duty to address the NUT conference. Especially in such extraordinary times as these, when we observe a Government claiming it is giving unparalleled largesse to schools, at the same time as teachers and support staff are facing redundancies, and everyone from heads to parents is wondering how standards can be enhanced with a demoralised workforce.

Many of you here today will work at schools facing budget deficits. The funding crisis faced by schools up and down the country threatens the futures of possibly thousands of teachers.

We have already heard that 38 jobs are threatened in Essex. Local press reports suggest that up to 90 teachers and teaching assistants face the sack in Bournemouth and Poole. The first head teacher has already resigned on the issue.

By forcing schools into a corner, the Government has endangered the education of our children. There can be no learning without teachers.

Richard Arrowsmith, head teacher Grove School in Market Drayton summed up the situation perfectly when he said:

"We have lost confidence in the Government over the way in which school finance is administered … With cuts outstripping the funds available for extra support staff, it will also be difficult for us to reduce excessive workloads on teachers."

The funding crisis is not just threatening teachers' jobs; it is threatening to bring down the Government's workload agreement too. Your union refused to sign up to it, arguing that the plans would lead to fewer teachers in front of classes, not more.

Despite that the Government went ahead with what it described as a historic signing ceremony. I rather agree that it was historic. It will prove to be the last recorded occasion on which anyone was prepared to give this Government the benefit of the doubt on education.

And now the NAHT and ATL are realising just what impact the agreement will have on schools. They see what affect it will have on teacher numbers and class sizes. They are threatening to pull out too.

The root of these problems is a deep one. It is the approach to education which says everything must come from the centre, or from the top down. We must completely reverse this approach if we are going to improve standards in our schools. Contrary to the old saying, the gentleman in Whitehall does not know best.

Teachers are disillusioned with the Government's centralised approach. The, 'Whitehall knows best' principle that drives Ministers has turned teachers into form-fillers and worn down your professional autonomy.

This culture has transferred decisions that teachers should be making because they know their children best - on the curriculum, on standards, on discipline - to faceless bureaucrats.

The effect has been devastating. 250,000 physical assaults on teachers last year. 20 pages of paperwork for each school day. 20% of your time spent on administrative work.

It is no wonder so many teachers are saying 'I've had enough'.

But I believe, like you, that there is another way. A way that doesn't rely on targets to coerce you into providing a headline for a Minister instead of fulfilling the needs of the children you teach.

The existence of so many targets might be reasonable if they were operated properly. If the Government actually found out what parents felt their children needed, they might be acceptable.

But the reality is so very different. The targets don't work. They are the tool by which the Government makes sure that its agenda, not children's needs, dictates what happens in schools.

That is why most of the targets must go. What I am announcing today is a bonfire of targets. Unless each national target is clearly helping to improve standards it is getting in the way and it should go.

The vast majority of the targets set up by the Government don't work, nor will they ever work. At best they are pointless. The truancy target has now been revised downwards having been missed. What is the point?

Even more importantly, the targets in primary schools have actually damaged the opportunities for children to learn, because teachers have been forced to teach towards the tests, not towards the goal of a broad high quality education

Targets have failed 16 year olds as well. Those who aren't near the margin of 5 'good' (In the jargon) GCSEs can be neglected as schools concentrate on the few who are around the margin of getting those 5, instead of the many of who spread across the academic spectrum.

And targets leave teachers demoralised because, by making you follow a highly prescriptive curriculum, the Government stops you using your professional judgement.

Last year the Government published its own assessment of its performance. Nine targets, seven failures.

And which Ministers paid the price? None. The Government's response? To threaten teachers. In the unfortunate phraseology of Charles Clarke, bad teachers should be 'taken out.' Even apart from the language, the message is unacceptable. If a teacher misses a target, they change the teacher. If a Minister misses a target, they change the target. That's not fair, and it has to change.

You don't need to be told that you want to raise your children's standards, or to improve their behaviour and attendance at school. I assume that you want to do those things - it's what being a good teacher is all about.

And I assume that you want to provide the benefits of your ability to all your children, not just those in the range of the Government's targets.

So this is what I announce today. A new role for the Government in education. A change of mission; the Government as an enabler, not an enforcer.

I am the first aspiring Education Secretary to say he wants less power not more.

Because I seriously believe that the role of Government is to give you the tools to perform the job and then to let you get on with it, not the other way round

So we would scrap the targets that get in the way of providing the best possible education. Both of the Key Stage 2 targets would be abolished. The Key Stage 3 targets would go too. As would the target for English and Maths for 12 year olds. These targets hinder a high quality, broad education, not advance it. So they will go.

The pointless truancy target would be scrapped and the money that the Government has poured into their failed schemes given to schools to use as they see fit to combat truancy.

And we would get rid of the single arbitrary GCSE target that is meaningless for the very able, and has so notably failed those children who, even with the best education, find it difficult to reach the standard of 5 good grades.

The principle behind scrapping these targets - trusting teachers - is central to our policy-making process. We have already announced a number of measures that would place teachers once again at the heart of education.

We want to introduce a national funding formula that will mean that never again will schools be forced into a situation like the current funding crisis.

We would abolish the appeals panels that second-guess the right of teachers and heads to deal with their children's behaviour as they see fit. We would support schools that wanted to bring in home-school behaviour contracts.

And most of all, by slimming down the curriculum, cutting the exam burden and radically reducing the amount of paperwork the Government sends you - including 83 page documents on dealing with bureaucracy - we will trust your professional judgement and let you do what you do best - teach.

The principle that guides us is a simple one. Schools run schools best; teachers teach children best.

I believe that teachers, not Ministers or civil servants, know what their children need. I want to change the purpose of the Department for Education and Skills so that education comes first, not the department.

We would create a system where once again the expertise of professionals, put at the service of the needs and demands of parents, is the driving force behind improvement. I want the school to be the most important institution in the education world, not the Department for Education.

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