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Green: Conservatives will defend teachers, not criticise

In a speech by to the Conservative Party in Blackpool this morning, Shadow Education Secretary, Damian Green MP, will say:

"We are living through dangerous and dramatic days. Much of our attention is elsewhere. But at these difficult times it is right that we discuss the issues that lie permanently at the heart of politics. Educating our children well must always be central to the Conservative vision of a good society. So let the message go out today and tomorrow and every day. We are passionate about excellence in education. As passionate as we are about strong defence or a sound economy. Education is that important to the Conservative Party.

"I didn't need to be told how challenging the job of Shadow Education Secretary was, but in any case I had an early lesson. One of my daughters, when she was told about it, looked at me with unusual respect and interest, and said, 'Does this mean you can improve my school lunches?'

"For too long we did not convince the British people that we cared as much about education as they did. But, look around you this morning, you will find helpers in the local playgroup; parents who are always on hand for school events; governors of schools and colleges across the country. So our vision for our education is not rooted in theory or ideology. It is firmly rooted in everyday experience.

"To help me develop this vision I have a keen and eager crew. Graham Brady, who fought so hard for his local grammar schools will be dealing with schools policy, Alistair Burt, a very welcome return to the House of Commons, who will be working on Higher and Further Education, and Eleanor Laing, whose passionate interest in pre-school policy has only been reinforced by the arrival 18 weeks ago of Matthew. In the Lords I quiver for the Government Front Bench, facing Emily Blatch and Doreen Miller; formidable is the best, but still inadequate, description of our Lords team. And we welcome Stephen O'Brien as our Whip. None of us knows how the whips do what they do: but we all know when they've done it. I am delighted that Iain has given me such a strong team.

"Our first task is to listen and learn. To learn from the people who run successful schools in this country. And to look at the successes in other countries, in the rest of Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

"We need to turn our gaze outwards. If other countries do things better than us, we should not be too proud to learn from them.

"We are only at the beginning. But today I can set out three immediate priorities.

"The first is that we should celebrate our teachers, instead of knocking them. We all know that there are huge problems in some schools. But it is an easy, lazy, and dishonest approach to blame the teachers. Don't blame the teacher for failing to control a five-year-old who has never heard the word 'No' from an adult at home. Don't blame the teacher for failing to instil learning into teenagers who have to push past drug-dealers at the school gate every day. Don't blame the teacher for being distracted by the never-ending torrent of instructions, guidelines, circulars, warning, codes of conduct, Green papers, White Papers directives, consultations, and general helpful hints that come from the Government on a daily basis. One head of a junior school in Surrey has told us that in the first nine days of this term he received six new initiatives and three questionnaires - a document every day - does the Government seriously expect him to have anytime to teach?

"We won't blame the teacher. Let me make it crystal clear that while I am doing this job you will not hear me making any general attacks on teachers or the teaching profession. That will not be the Conservative way.

"My second priority is to ensure that we have many different types of school. Every school should have its own ethos. That is why I support the section in the Government's White Paper that says there should be more faith-based schools. Because I support it, I note with alarm that much of the Labour Party, and all the Lib Dems, oppose it. I think they are dangerous and wrong.

"Dangerous because the church school is so often the good school—and I take the pragmatic view that if you have a good school and a bad school, you change the bad school not the good one. Wrong, because in so many of our inner cities, by far the best chance for parents to obtain a top-class education for their children is the church schools. I think our Church schools do a great job, and I warn Labour and Liberal politicians who want to mess with them to keep their hands off.

"But let's look more closely at the objections to Islamic schools. I start from the principle that if you have various kinds of Christian Schools—I went to a Catholic school myself—and Jewish Schools, it would be wrong to deny the chance for Muslim schools. I visited a Muslim school in London last week. I saw well-behaved well-educated children learning the National Curriculum with the same textbooks as any other school, and producing rounded children who leave the school gates every day to live in the same world in which everyone else in London lives. As they told me, they have 23 different nationalities among the families of the children. Their aim is to produce Muslim children who are British. Those of us who went to schools which produced Catholic children who are British, or Jewish children who are British, should recognise this as an honourable aim. They are doing a good job in educating their children, and they deserve support and not suspicion.

"Of course every school should prepare its pupils fully for life in modern Britain. The third vital priority I want to set for our schools is that they should seek to pass on the values of our society, as well as the skills. In these difficult days it has never been more important for us to celebrate the values of a free, tolerant, diverse and democratic society. The most effective way to defend our values is to pass them on to our children.

"That is why we need to explain why we have the institutions that defend democracy: monarchy, parliament, law courts. And each generation needs to know how we arrived where we are now. If we want our children to understand today's Britain, we must make sure that they know some of Britain's history.

"But we can't instil any values or knowledge when schools are stopped from imposing proper discipline. Head teachers need to know that they are in control of their school. Today, too often their authority over disruptive pupils is undermined.

"And the result is clear:

· One third of teachers have seen pupils with offensive weapons in school

· A quarter of teachers have their personal property damaged by pupils every week

"More shocking than the figures are the word of the teachers themselves:

§ 'I am leaving the profession. I love teaching and I'm good at it….. but it's getting too dangerous.'

"And another

§ 'I have been regularly been sworn at, spat at, abused, insulted and threatened by children whose behaviour borders on the psychotic.'

"Both women teachers at secondary schools in this country. Without proper discipline we will never teach anything, let alone the right values.

"Supporting teachers; encouraging diversity; and, promoting values - these will be our priorities for schools. This alone would transform our education system.

"But education doesn't only happen in schools.

"On higher education, it will be our job to address the crisis that faces our universities as the government's policy on student loans and university funding collapses into chaos. This Government wants excellent universities on the cheap. Instead, they are producing demoralised lecturers and disillusioned students.

"The students know the best way to fight back. Two weeks ago I visited the Fresher's Fayre at University College London. Only three hours after it opened 150 people had already signed up for the Conservative Group. Conservative Future is well named.

"On Further Education, I know as a Governor of an FE college the huge range of qualifications and opportunities that these institutions can offer to people of all ages. We will make sure that the voice of the FE sector is heard more readily than is has been in the past.

"On pre-schools, we need to reverse the trend that has seen 2,000 nurseries closed since 1997. We will protect the early years providers who are under a continuous and growing threat. Parents deserve the right to choose the right nursery for their child.

"As a final thought, let's be honest with ourselves, and the rest of the country. Tony Blair meant it when he said education was important to him. I have no criticism of his motives or his desire to improve matters.

"But we have the right to point out that there are now 5,000 teacher vacancies across the country, that secondary class sizes are at their highest level since 1978, and that standards in Maths for 11 year olds are actually getting worse rather than better.

"We must revive our schools and universities. When we are again given the chance to help our country's children, we will rise to that challenge with relish.

"My mother was a teacher, my uncle a head teacher. I was brought up to believe that through education the individual can make a difference. Through education families find the key to making a better future for themselves. I want every family in Britain to be given that key. I know that Conservatives and Conservative principles can guide them to it.

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