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Michael Gove: A comprehensive programme for state education

“The language of priorities,” Nye Bevan once told the Labour party conference, is “the religion of socialism”.

As so often in his career, Bevan was more right than he knew. The passionate, ardent, zealous socialist knew in his bones that if he was to make a difference he should never allow the best to become the enemy of the good.

Because for any reforming politician the most important thing in preparing for Government is not passion, ardour or zeal but the ability to prioritise.

Nothing is so fatal to hopes of change than the unfocussed energy of a well-intentioned Government which dissipates its majority, its mandate and its good will by chasing every desirable end rather than pursuing a proper, structured, programme of reform.

That was the story of Tony Blair’s first term and it stands as a warning to all new Governments.

CONSERVATIVE PRIORITIES FOR GOVERNMENT

David Cameron has already made clear, that if we are fortunate enough to be entrusted with office after the next general election the most important areas of domestic policy where radical reform is required are welfare, the family and schools.

On welfare under Chris Grayling, and now Theresa May and David Freud, a clear and ambitious plan to get millions off benefits and into work has already been laid out. On the family, David Willetts and Maria Miller are building on the hard work, and passion, of Iain Duncan Smith and the Centre for Social Justice with a Family Green Paper due later this year.

And on schools a clear direction of travel has also been set. David Cameron chose to take on the role of Shadow Education Secretary in the aftermath of the 2005 general election because he believed that it was only through radical reform of our schools that we could once again advance social mobility.

Under David Willetts our policy developed, and deepened. Our focus on helping the very poorest was powerfully underlined, our determination to deal with corroded academic standards made real and the groundwork was laid for fundamental supply-side reform.

OUR MISSION - MAKING OPPORTUNITY MORE EQUAL

The need for action to reform welfare, support the family and radically change our schools flows from our determination to make opportunity more equal in our society. The central mission of the next Conservative Government is the alleviation of poverty and the extension of opportunity. And nowhere is action required more than in our schools.

Schools should be engines of social mobility. They should enable children to overcome disadvantage and deprivation so they can fulfil their innate talents and take control of their own destiny. Instead of grimly accepting the fate which the lottery of birth allocates to each individual, schools affirm our belief in the power of human agency to give meaning, structure and hope to every life.

But the sad truth about our schools today is that, far from making opportunity more equal they only deepen the divide between the rich and poor, the fortunate and the forgotten. It is a profoundly dispiriting story.

The poorest students in our schools are those pupils eligible for free school meals. From the beginning to the end of primary school, the achievement gap between FSM and non-FSM children widens – and from 11 to 14 the gap widens further still.

Examine the picture of achievement at GCSE and the landscape only looks bleaker.

Employers are disinclined to take any GCSE seriously unless the candidate secures at least a ‘C’ pass. Of the 75,000 children on free school meals each year almost half do not get a single ‘C’ grade in any GCSE.

Employers regard five decent GCSE passes as the basic benchmark any candidate needs to clear – the basic minimum school-leaving certificate. In those schools where more than half the children are eligible for free school meals only 13% of children get five decent GCSE passes.

Employers and universities are increasingly unhappy with students who have qualifications in subjects they regard as soft. They especially prize passes in rigorous scientific subjects. And specific passes in GCSE physics, chemistry or biology are required to have a good chance of succeeding at A level and beyond.

Yet less than 4% of children eligible for free school meals take GCSE biology and less than 3% even try GCSE Physics or Chemistry. More take media studies at GCSE than all three sciences put together.

And while the outlook at GCSE is depressing, the fate of the poorest pupils when it comes to A level performance is sadder still.

Recent figures show that more than 20,000 young people secured three As at A level – the basic passport necessary to secure a place at one of our top universities. Out of 75,000 children eligible for free school meals only 5,000 were even entered for A levels. Of these just 189 got 3As.

Of that 189, only 75 were boys. Yet in the same year Eton had 175 boys who got 3As at A level. One school with almost two and a half times as many boys getting 3As as the entire population of our poorest boys on benefit.

It is an affront to any idea of social justice, a scandalous waste of talent, a situation no politician can tolerate. And we are pledged to end it.

Because our country cannot possibly hope to compete, to prosper, to become at once more civilized and more economically successful unless we make the most of every individual talent.

And it’s morally indefensible to stand idle when our educational system denies so many individuals the opportunity to rise as far as their talents can take them.

Our society is still profoundly unequal – and power is concentrated in the hands of an unrepresentative elite - as a result of an educational system which fails to give poorer children a fair chance.

And as Alan Milburn pointed out, so convincingly, in his report on social mobility in this country, we are moving backwards as a nation.

Today's young professionals came from a family with an income 27% higher than the average family.

Today's doctors come from families with an average income higher than 5/6 families in Britain.

And the number of doctors and lawyers coming from above average income families is rising.

While only around seven per cent of school children are privately educated the number of senior civil servants who’re privately educated is forty-five per cent, the number of major company finance directors who are privately educated is seventy per cent and, particularly indefensibly, the number of judges who are privately educated is seventy-five per cent of the total.

If our society is to become more open, more meritocratic, more creative, successful and fulfilled then we need to ensure all children receive a better education – and all parents enjoy the sort of choice which the rich can currently buy for themselves.

INDEPENDENCE AS A ROUTE TO SUCCESS

Those who have the resources to send their children to fee-paying schools can ensure their children are educated in a disciplined and ordered environment, with the class sizes they want and professionals who enjoy a deep subject knowledge teaching a rigorous curriculum which leads to robust qualifications prized by employers and universities.

These choices exist, and standards in private schools are so high, because fee-paying schools are independent from bureaucratic control and accountable to parents not ministers.

But excellence in education is emphatically not restricted to the fee-paying independent sector. There are many state schools which are quite superb, easily better than many fee-paying establishments.

The Harris City Academy in Crystal Palace is an outstanding school in every way – indeed when inspected by Ofsted earlier this month it was ranked as outstanding – the highest possible grade – in every area. It’s the only school ever to secure that perfect score. 99% of its students last year got five good GCSEs, 82% got five good GCSEs including English and Maths.

Mossbourne City Academy in Hackney is another outstanding school. This year 85% of its children secured five good passes at GCSE including English and Maths.

Emmanuel College in Gateshead is another outstanding school. Again, 99% of children secured 5 good GCSEs with 83% securing five good passes including English and Maths.

Brooke Weston College in Corby is another outstanding school. 100% of children there got five good GCSEs, 86% got five good GCSEs including English and Maths.

Thomas Telford School in Telford is another outstanding school. 99.4% of children there secured at least ten good GCSEs including English and Maths.

I have visited all these schools, and I have to say those visits have been some of the most inspiring, encouraging, life-affirming days I’ve spent.

All these schools are comprehensive. All of them are located in working class areas and serve working class communities. In Mossbourne’s case the school it replaced was Hackney Downs – one of the worst in England – and Mossbourne’s intake has a higher proportion of children with special needs, children eligible for free school meals and children with English as an additional language than the Hackney average. In the case of the Harris City Academy the school it replaced – Sylvan High – had just 10% of its children securing five good GCSEs and was shunned by local parents. Now there are ten parents applying for every place at the Harris Academy and the working class and ethnic minority children who make up the overwhelming majority of pupils there are on course for professional success, university education and fulfilling careers.

Now one thing unites all these schools – beyond their comprehensive intake and socially inclusive character – they are all independent. Not fee-paying. Not private. But independent.

They are either academies or city technology colleges. They were established independent from local and central bureaucracy, free from central control over the curriculum, free to adopt the reading and maths policies which help the most disadvantaged, free to pay good staff more, free to have longer and more fulfilling school days, free to establish Saturday schools to help stretch and challenge pupils, free to shape and enforce more rigorous discipline policies, free to deploy resources more efficiently, free to develop excellent extra-curricular activities and free to spend the money on their own pupils which would otherwise be spent, beyond their control, by the local authority.

Just like fee-paying schools these schools have made the most of their independence. And they have known that their success, given the opposition which attended their creation, depended on making themselves popular with parents.

The education establishment, the local and central bureaucracies, the Labour place men and women, the forces of conservatism on the left, fought the creation of city technology colleges and academies. They wanted them to fail. The pioneers behind these schools, therefore, knew that if they were to survive they needed, quickly, to win over parents by demonstrating that they could provide children with the superb teaching, safe environment and high standards on which success depended.

Their success now is powerful, incontestable, proof that it is not intake which makes a school outstanding – but independence – it is not conformity with bureaucratic diktats which drives success but accountability to parents.

A POST-BUREAUCRATIC SCHOOLS POLICY

And it is that principle we want to see applied much more widely across the state system.

We want to see a radical shift in power – away from the educational establishment – from Whitehall and the bureaucratic organisations it sponsors – and down towards, schools and parents. We want, crucially, to see heads and teachers given greater freedom from bureaucracy and parents given more control over their children’s education.

When we talk, as a party, about the post-bureaucratic age, it’s in education that we can see what is meant most clearly.

Because there is no doubt that the current, over-centralised system has failed, and it has failed the poorest most, with access to far too many good schools still rationed by income or house price.

It is bureaucracy which prevents teachers exercising appropriate discipline and enjoying proper protection. It is bureaucracy which inhibits flexibility over pay and conditions which means we can’t reward good teachers properly recruit the most talented into the profession and build successful teams.

It has been the bureaucracy which controls what is taught, and decides programmes of study, which has presided over devaluation of the curriculum exam system. And it has been the bureaucracy which has allocated school places in such an antique command and control fashion and which now seeks to criminalise parents who simply want the best for their children.

OUR APPROACH

So our mission is to improve standards – with a determined focus on the poorest.

Our inspiration is those superb state comprehensives which have shown what independence for professionals and accountability to parents can achieve.

And our task is the creation of a world class education system, which embodies the best contemporary wisdom about how to drive improvement and foster innovation, which is decentralised, adaptive, flexible and responsive - in which new networks of empowered individuals shape their future rather than simply accepting what the bureaucracy dictates.

PRIORITY NUMBER ONE - RAISING THE PRESTIGE, ESTEEM AND PROFESSIONALISM OF TEACHING

And therefore the first priority we have for Government is ensuring that we attract the best possible people into education to help in our mission.

Nothing is more important than raising the prestige and esteem of teaching, helping to ensure that the quality of teaching our children enjoys improves even further, and guaranteeing that more and more talented people are drawn into teaching.

Because nothing is more important in any education system than the quality of teaching and nothing matters more during any school day than the quality of the experience a child enjoys at the hands of their teacher.

In the 1990s a series of in-depth studies conducted by American academics revealed a remarkably consistent pattern. The quality of an individual teacher is the single most important determinant in a child’s educational progress. Those students taught by the best teacher make three times as much progress as those taught be the least effective. And the effect of good teaching isn’t ephemeral but cumulative, with students exposed to consistently effective teaching making faster and faster progress than their contemporaries, while the effect of bad teaching isn’t just relative failure but regression in absolute terms. Research in the Boston school district of the US found that teachers placed with the weakest maths teachers actually fell back in absolute performance during the year - their test scores got worse.

Research from Australia and the UK affirms the American findings with academics finding that 55% of the variation in performance in mathematics at primary school and 53% of the variation at secondary level was due entirely to the quality of teaching.

Indeed, wherever we look across the globe, the one factor which defines those countries whose schools are most successful is the quality of those in the teaching profession.

I’m a great admirer of the success Scandinavian nations have had in providing great outcomes for their young people. And the most educationally impressive nation in Europe – Finland – achieves success by being extraordinarily selective about who teaches.

In Finland teachers are drawn from the top ten per cent of graduates. In the two other nations which rival Finland globally for consistent educational excellence – Singapore and South Korea – a similar philosophy applies. Only those graduates in the top quarter or third of any year can go into teaching. In South Korea the academic bar is actually set higher for primary school teachers than those in secondaries, because the South Koreans, quite rightly, consider those early years to be crucial.

Of course academic success at university doesn’t automatically make you a good teacher. But even those of us who didn’t get firsts can see why there’s an inescapable correlation between recruiting teachers from among the brightest graduates and having the world’s best schools.

Countries with cultures as different as Finland and Singapore have this single factor in common - teaching is simply one of the most prestigious courses any graduate can follow. And that’s because entry into teaching is strictly policed. Because only the best can teach, competition to teach - and be counted among the best - is fierce.

It’s because the quality of teaching is so important that we’re determined to follow the path Finland and Singapore have gone down and raise the bar on entry into the profession.

So we will insist on higher qualifications for those who wish to trains as primary school teachers. It will no longer be acceptable to enter teacher training with just a ‘C’ grade in English or Maths GCSE. Candidates will need to have at least a ‘B’ in English and Maths. This means that primary teachers will come from the top third of students rather than the top two-thirds as now.

All teachers now have to sit compulsory literacy and numeracy tests – but they can be taken an infinite number of times – one in seven teachers had to resit the exam three or more times, some teachers have had to attempt the test many more times before passing.

The Government claims this test is pitched somewhere between GCSE and A-Level.

So let me read you one question. “A pupil scored 18 out of 25 marks in a test. What was his score expressed as a percentage?” In other words – what is four times eighteen?

That’s a question the bureaucrats running teacher training think is almost A level toughness?

And that’s a question it’s ok to get wrong, repeatedly, and still be put in charge of teaching primary school maths?

I don’t think so…

We can’t have teachers – especially in primary schools – who aren’t themselves basically literate and numerate.

So we will allow just one resit of this exam

And to ensure that every teacher entering primary school is equipped to teach literacy properly we will introduce new specialist training courses in phonics and maths so that every child can get the specialist teaching that is available to richer children in private schools.

We will also raise the bar by refusing to fund any student who wants to enter postgraduate teacher training who has only a ‘third’ class degree. Deep subject knowledge is a prerequisite for success in secondary school teaching. So we’ll insist, to start with, that teachers have at least a 2:2 before the taxpayer will pay for them to do a PGCE.

It’s also crucial that we attract, and retain, the best by having greater flexibility over pay and conditions. We will give all heads the power to pay bonuses. All schools, especially those which are struggling, must have the freedom to be able to attract specialists – particularly in reading, maths, and science.

And it’s also vital that schools have flexibility over pay so that they can reward teachers for longer hours. Evidence shows that the schools which have the greatest impact in poorer areas often do so by extending school hours into the evening and weekends so they can offer extra classes for struggling children. The Knowledge is Power Programme charter schools in America, which President Obama supports, insist on a longer school day to ensure children achieve more. Schools must be able to organise their timetables to be able to offer more children from disadvantaged backgrounds these opportunities and therefore they need the flexibility to reward teachers appropriately.

The KIPP schools in the States have taken children from the poorest backgrounds and set them on course for success in college. Those schools were founded by alumnae of the Teach for America scheme, which offers America’s brightest graduates the chance to teach in some of the country’s toughest schools.

Teach for America is the inspiration behind our own Teach First scheme. Many of the schools which have been most successful here in turning around the lives of disadvantaged pupils have benefited from the enthusiasm, commitment and intellectual accomplishment of Teach First Teachers.

Teach First is a prestige programme which recruits exclusively from the highest-performing undergraduates in our strongest universities. Applicants have to go through a rigorous screening process and many highly-gifted graduates are rejected. Making it on to Teach First is a sign not just that you’re one of the brightest of your generation but one of those best equipped to lead and inspire. Which is why competition to get on the scheme is so fierce, why their alumnae are such great teachers, and why we are determined to expand the scheme.

Because Teach First, a civil society programme, a charitable endeavour driven by the idealism of a network of motivated young people, has done more to make teaching an elite profession over the last decade than any action by any Government minister or salaried bureaucrat. And because we need to strengthen and deepen the drive to make teaching more of an elite vocation we would fund the expansion of Teach First into areas where it’s currently prevented from going, like the North-East of England.

We would ensure more Teach First teachers went into primary schools

And we will end the current ridiculous bureaucratic ban on Teach First teachers working in our very worst schools - those in Special Measures.

We also need to ensure that teaching is open to talented professionals from every background. Which is why we would work on the success of Teach First by supporting a new Teach Now programme to make it easier for those who have been professional successes in other areas to transfer rapidly into teaching, training on the job, like with Teach First, instead of having to spend another year or more in college.

And because we want school teachers to be fully integrated into the academic and intellectual life of the nation, just like university teachers, we will make it easier for teachers to deepen their subject knowledge and pursue higher level qualifications, such as masters and doctorates, in their chosen subject.

Deepening subject knowledge isn’t the only form of professional development teachers will wish to pursue. Which is why we would also expand two programmes which have grown out of Teach First, Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders, which help train future Heads of Department and aspirant Head Teachers. Once again these organisations, volunteer-led, innovative and anti-bureaucratic in culture, have generated a culture of excellence and leadership which surpasses anything else new in the educational landscape.

The impact of raising the level of teacher performance can be dramatic - and rapid. By the end of the nineties Singapore had become one of the top-performing schools systems in the world. But Singapore’s leadership was determined to take things to the next level. So, like Teach First, they aggressively recruited graduates who were tempted to go into law or accountancy, like Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders, they adapted leadership programmes from the private sector for aspiring school principals, like all three programmes they introduced rigorous performance management, in Singapore’s case explicitly adapted from a successful multi-national. Singapore introduced regular evaluation of teacher effectiveness, performance-related bonuses and a new entitlement to 100 hours of additional training beyond the classroom. Singapore’s teachers were encouraged to go further than ever before in raising pupil achievement, with many giving students their mobile numbers so they could be called, at any time, to help with study.

As a result of these changes, in just four years Singapore accelerated its level of improvement in educational performance in every area, coming top in the world for science and maths and improving on English scores of ten year olds by 30 percentage points - the equivalent of a whole year of extra education. Now 10 year old students in Singapore, from Chinese, Malay and Tamil backgrounds, where English is not spoken at home, do better in English literacy tests than students in England, indeed better than students in any English-speaking country.

Nothing, nothing, is more important than raising teacher quality.

PRIORITY NUMBER TWO - A SAFE, SECURE AND ORDERED ENVIRONMENT

And nothing, nothing, is a bigger barrier to getting more talented people to become teachers, and stay teachers, than discipline and behaviour. Among undergraduates tempted to go into teaching the reason most commonly cited for pursuing another profession, well ahead of concerns about salary, is the fear of not being safe in our schools.

There are massive problems with violence and disruption in our schools. There are over 300,000 suspensions per year and about a quarter of a million persistent truants. Thousands of teachers every year are physically attacked and about one in three teachers have been subject to false accusations. We will never get more talented people into the classroom; we will never give disadvantaged children the inspiration they need to succeed, unless we solve this problem.

So, just as we will do everything it takes to improve teacher quality we will use every tool we can to resolve the behaviour and discipline problems in our schools.

We will give teachers the powers and protection they need.

We will make it easier for teachers to remove violent and disruptive pupils from class without fear of legal action. We will replace the current “Use of Force Guidance” which imposes many restrictions on teachers and discourages them from removing disruptive children from the classroom.

The presumption will be that teachers should not be suspended unless there is a clear prima facie case for disciplinary action or criminal charges. If no disciplinary action or criminal charges have been brought within a month, the case will be automatically dropped. Any disciplinary action will have to be completed within one month or abandoned. Teachers will have the right to anonymity during an investigation. Police and courts must recognise that the protection of children requires a strong teaching profession that is free from fear of perpetual investigations.

We will give headteachers a general legal power to ban, search for, and confiscate any items they think may cause violence or disruption (which the Government opposes on ‘human rights’ grounds). We will reverse the legal obligation on teachers to prove that their search and confiscation is legal. We will abolish the Guidance whereby the Government “strongly advises” teachers not to search children if they object to being searched.

We will abolish the legal requirement of 24 hours’ legal notice for detentions so that bad behaviour can be punished with detention the same day.

We will have “no notice” Ofsted inspections so that inspectors can investigate schools with serious behaviour problems.

Any school with persistent serious bad behaviour that the headteacher cannot sort out will have its leadership replaced.

We will end the right to appeal against exclusion to independent panels, which have sent children expelled for knife crime back to the school from which they were expelled. There will be a right of appeal to the Governors only and this must be completed within one month. We will abolish the Government’s new rules forcing good schools to take pupils expelled from bad ones (“one in, one out”). We will abolish the rules which impose a financial penalty on schools that expel children.

I’m not going to apologise for the brisk and no-nonsense approach we’ll take to discipline. Frankly, this is one area where the more consistent the message the better. We’re on the side of teachers, we’re determined to restore order and we’re not going to be deflected from laying down lines which the badly behaved must not cross.

But just as we need to be clear about the need for order we also need to be clear about the pressing, urgent, need to improve provision for those disruptive, difficult and damaged children who need special help.

We need to radically improve the environment in which disruptive and excluded pupils are educated and we will ensure that those organisations with a proven track record in turning young lives round are given the opportunity to do more, through reforms to Pupil Referral Units and the creation of new Boarding Academies. We want to see every young person given the chance to get their life back on track and the opportunity to secure meaningful qualifications.

PRIORITY NUMBER THREE - RADICAL REFORM OF THE CURRICULUM AND QUALIFICATIONS

And one of the tragedies of the education system at the moment is that far too many fail to secure robust, rigorous and respected qualifications. Which is why we will enact radical reform of our curriculum and qualifications structure. We will, as in every area, seek to dismantle the power of a centralised bureaucracy which has failed and create a system where dispersed power encourages innovation and drives excellence.

It is worth underlining the scale of our problem. Since 1998, over 3 million 11 year-old primary school children have not reached the Government’s basic level in reading, writing and maths – about 40% of primary pupils every year.

Since 1998, about four million children have failed to get five GCSEs, including English and Maths, of grade 'C' or better – over fifty percent of pupils in state schools every year. Over 20,000 children each year do not even get a single GCSE at grade ‘G’.

Independent schools, which educate just 7 percent of pupils, produce more pupils who get three A's at A Level than every comprehensive school put together.

Only 3 percent of comprehensive pupils get a GCSE at Grades A*-C in English Language, English Literature, Maths, History, and the three separate sciences. Only 1 percent of those in Pupil Referral Units get five ‘C’ or better GCSEs including English and Maths. In some Local Authorities, no children at all sit the three separate science GCSEs.

Those exams themselves have become devalued with headteachers warning about the terrifying absence of real science in the new GCSE curriculum and the Royal Society of Chemistry warning of a “catastrophic” drop in standards. In GCSE science we ask students whether a better argument for nuclear power is the fact it creates jobs, or the fact it creates waste.

In GCSE English the satisfying study of whole novels and plays has been replaced by extracts, worksheets and freeze-dried fragments of literature. And in exam scripts we award marks for candidates who write nothing but expletives.

In GCSE modern languages there is no proper translation, and in A level modern languages no requirement to study any literature.

In History students are left with a disconnected and fragmentary sense of our national story while in mathematics subjects such as calculus which were once studied by fifteen and sixteen year olds have been erased from their curriculum.

Independent analysis of exam results by academics at Durham and Coventry Universities have confirmed that papers which would have been failed years ago would now secure good passes. Questions covering material which would once have appeared in CSE papers appear in A Levels. It’s possible to secure a C pass in some GCSEs with 20% or less. And students who do secure good A level passes arrive at English universities significantly behind their foreign peers when it comes to subject knowledge so have to be placed in remedial classes for their first year.

We have got to change direction. We can no longer have an exam system designed to flatter ministers by generating the statistical illusion of improved performance when individual students are being let down. And we can no longer have a curriculum which privileges the prejudices of a centralised bureaucracy over the judgement of professionals and the requirements of parental accountability.

We will tackle the problem at root by ensuring children are reading properly after their first two years at primary school. If they can eliminate illiteracy in Sweden, Alberta, Hong Kong and the Netherlands we can do it here.

So we will provide training and support to every school in the use of systematic synthetic phonics - the tried and tested method of teaching reading which has eliminated illiteracy in Clackmannanshire and West Dunbartonshire.

We will not mandate that every school follows existing proven methods. Heads will be free to pioneer their own programmes if they wish. But there will be no hiding place for those schools whose children fail to learn to read. We will have a national reading test after two years of school to see if children are decoding fluently. Those schools which have failed to get their pupils reading will have to account to parents for this failure. And parents will want to know, as I will, why children have been failed, because if they have not learned to read they cannot read to learn.

To help parents, schools will be required to publish information on their reading scheme on their website and will be inspected by Ofsted on the methods they use – which, extraordinarily, it does not do now.

In the same spirit of openness, and accountability we will throw open the whole debate about how our exams have been devalued by establishing a free online database of exam papers and marking schemes, from the past, and from other nations, so that parents, teachers, and academics can see for themselves how our current exams compare.

We will, in parallel, allow those schools which wish to the chance to offer their students more challenging exams. The Government has not allowed state schools to do the best international exams that private schools are switching to, such as the international GCSE. Only this week the Government reaffirmed its refusal to let state schools offer the IGCSE in core subjects. We would allow all state school pupils the freedom to do the same high quality international exams that private schools offer.

The institutions with the strongest interest in maintaining the standards of exams are universities and employers, not politicians and bureaucrats so we will give universities and employers power over A Levels and vocational qualifications to reverse their devaluation.

We will match our reform of qualifications with an overhaul of the national curriculum. We will slim it down to remove prescriptive programmes of study which prescribe how to teach and the fatuous enunciation of high-sounding but empty goals to concentrate on outlining a basic guarantee of the core knowledge children should be able to enjoy at every age.

This process will be opened up to public scrutiny, with all the hearings, work and documents which contribute to the shaping of the curriculum accessible to the public, unlike now.

The expectations we will set of what children should know will be more ambitious and based upon global evidence concerning what knowledge can be introduced to children at different ages; it must be a floor, not a ceiling that limits schools’ aspiration to introduce children to very challenging ideas at a young age; and it must allow schools to benefit from the extraordinary recent change whereby many of the top educational institutions are allowing students to view their content free online. Just think – now, every child in the world with internet access can watch lectures from institutions such as Oxford, Caltech or MIT for free. This revolution is transforming education and our approach to the curriculum must reflect this.

Once reformed, we will stop the constant political interference in the curriculum that has devalued standards; a new Curriculum must not be re-written every year to reflect political fads.

And as we make the curriculum a tool to hold schools more accountable so we will reform league tables to ensure they become sharper measures of accountability.

The current league tables are becoming increasingly discredited. For example, the current system places Eton and other private schools bottom (because their candidates who sit the iGCSE aren’t counted).

The current GCSE league tables are also flawed because they encourage schools to focus on those children who are on the borderline between a ‘C’ or a ‘D’ pass because all they measure are those who clear this hurdle. This concentration on a narrow ability range leads to the neglect of the weakest and a failure to stretch the most talented.

The answer to our problems is not, however to scrap league tables. Public institutions need to be more accountable, not less. Which is why we need to reform league tables so we increase the range, and authority, of the data that is available to parents. We will publish all the exam data now kept secret by the DCSF so that web-based applications can create many new and different sorts of tables – not just one crude measure as now.

League tables measure academic achievement. And as a nation we desperately need to raise the academic performance of our schools. But excellence in education isn’t restricted to those who follow an academic path.

We also need to reform vocational education to ensure there are more credible and respected qualifications available to those who want a more practical education. The Government’s diplomas are failing to enthuse either students, heads or employers. The scientific and business community have made clear that the Diplomas programme has been badly managed. We will stop the “academic” Diplomas immediately. We are discussing with the scientific community and businesses how the vocational Diplomas might be salvaged.

We believe that our highest priority in vocational educations should be expanding the scope for young people to acquire practical skills by working alongside craft and technical experts. That is why we would treble the number of Young Apprenticeships and lift the cap on schools offering this valued course. We will also build a new generation of Technical Schools to teach high quality vocational courses.

And a new generation of technical schools will be just one part of the radical reform programme we plan to enact to change how all schools are run.

PRIORITY NUMBER FOUR - A NEW GENERATION OF SUPERB STATE SCHOOLS

We want to ensure that the twin virtues of greater independence and greater accountability drive rapid improvement. Now, richer parents can either go private or move house in order to get the school they want. Poorer parents cannot 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. About 100,000 parents per year do not get their first choice of school. Many others in some parts of the country do not have a ‘preference’ among local schools because they consider them all to be bad.

We will break the bureaucratic monopoly on school provision, which denies parents choice, and introduce competition specifically to help drive up standards.

We will allow existing schools which are able to take advantage of academy freedoms to become independent, to take the money currently spent on their behalf by local authorities, and go down the road pioneered by schools such as the Harris City Academy, Emmanuel and Mossbourne. They will be able not just to innovate in the interests of their own children but will act as a goad and a spur to improvement in neighbouring schools, which will lose pupils unless they improve.

We will let any school apply to be an Academy and the most successful schools will be automatically approved to become Academies.

At the moment there are more than four hundred secondary schools which are good or outstanding which could become academies within weeks of a change of Government.

And not just secondaries, we will extend the Academy programme to primary schools, allowing them to innovate and flourish.

We will also take over those local authority schools which have failed, where the bureaucrats have betrayed a generation, and hand them over to new organisations with a proven track record of educational success. Parents in local authorities which have failed will at last be shown an alternative and given a choice.

Where Ofsted judges that schools are failing to teach the basics properly, where discipline is poor and where the leadership has failed, we will take the school out of the hands of those who have let children down and install leadership teams with a track record of success. We will immediately begin the process of replacing the leadership of any school that has been in Special Measures for over a year by the end of the next school year. These schools would all be reopened as Academies by September 2011. Thereafter, a Conservative Government would continue to replace all schools that stay in Special Measures for a year with Academies.

In order to better identify those schools which are in need of change we will overhaul Ofsted. The current framework for assessing schools has become increasingly cluttered with 18 tick-box categories – up from 8 in 1997. We will work with Ofsted to draw up a new framework that focuses on the core activities of schools: teaching and learning. Instead of the current 18 categories, schools will be assessed in only four areas: (1) the quality of teaching, (2) the effectiveness of leadership, (3) pupils’ behaviour and safety and (4) pupils’ achievement. Simplifying the process will allow schools to focus on getting the important things right and will give Ofsted inspectors the time to assess accurately these four core categories.

And as well as liberating existing schools, we will facilitate the creation of a new generation of independent, free, and non-selective primary and secondary Academies. They will be funded by taxpayers but run by teachers and responsible to parents, not micromanaged by politicians. That is the way to give parents what they want – smaller schools with smaller classes, good behaviour, great teachers and restored confidence in the curriculum. Our long-term goal is that Academy status becomes the norm.

We will make it much easier for educational charities, groups of parents and teachers, cooperatives and others to start new Academies. We will remove the huge amount of red tape which bureaucrats use to stop new schools, from planning laws to building regulations. These schools will receive the same government funding as other schools in their community for every pupil they teach.

We will give all parents control of the taxpayers’ money that the government spends on each child – now an average of at least £5,000 per pupil. Parents will have the power to take their child out of a state school, apply to a new Academy, and automatically transfer the ‘per pupil’ funding from the old school to the new Academy. Good schools will grow, bad schools will change, and the poorest will benefit most – just as has happened in Sweden where this reform has been pioneered.

We will give extra capital funding, on top of the annual per pupil funding, to fund new Academies in the most deprived areas.

Because the need to improve standards is most pressing in poorer areas we would give parents from poorer backgrounds another advantage. The amount the state would pay for a poorer child would be increased – a Pupil Premium – so that schools will work particularly hard to attract them.

We will help secure the leadership these new schools need by providing funding for Teach First, Teaching Leaders, and Future Leaders to begin work on an “incubator”. That incubator can work with established Academy chains to form new Academy management teams to take over schools identified as ‘failing’ by a revamped Ofsted, and also work with their own alumnae and parent groups on the foundation of new schools.

The need for this structural reform is pressing - because unless we create a virtuous dynamic which rewards success and puts pressure on the failing to improve then we will never secure value for the money we put into education.

PRIORITY NUMBER FIVE - REFORM TO FUNDING

Over the past decade, the DCSF has spent huge amounts of taxpayer money on declining numbers of children, and every year Whitehall sends more than the equivalent of an entire King James Bible in ‘Guidance’ to schools, yet parents are less satisfied than ever. Billions have been wasted. Leaks from one Government report which remains, scandalously, unpublished revealed that schools are spending 35 times more than they need to on basic equipment like photocopiers because complacent bureaucracies have no incentive to be more efficient.

The per pupil funding formula for schools is impenetrable – it operates according to formulae kept secret by the DCSF – so it is impossible to know precisely how schools are funded. The complexity makes the waste worse and undermines accountability – nobody knows who is responsible for how much money.

This waste and complexity must change.

We will spend less on vast centralised IT databases which always go expensively wrong, such as the misguided effort to log every child in the country through the Contactpoint system.

I say every child but of course the children of celebrities and MPs will be able to be excluded in case of security breaches. Well if the system isn’t secure enough for me it isn’t secure enough for you so it must go

We will reduce the number, and number of staff employed by quangos.

We will reduce the number of staff at the DCSF, and the number of things they regulate, monitor and issue decrees on.

The most successful commercial organisations in the world now are delegating more and more control to the front line and slimming their central offices. Some multi-nationals now have as few as 100 employees in their headquarters.

One, Dana, has matched its slimming down of the management structure with a thinning out of bureaucratic control. It has replaced twenty-two and a half inches of policy manuals with a one page statement of the company’s aims and values.

We need to apply that same spirit not just to the DCSF but also to those who spend its money like the giant quango Partnership for Schools which lavishes billions on school building programmes but has actually built few schools. Millions of pounds are wasted on consultants, procurement processes and bureaucratic hoop-jumping when that money should be in the classroom. The cost of a single square foot of a new school built under this Government’s current bureaucratic regime dwarves the costs incurred by almost any building in the private sector.

We will give schools more control of their own budgets, following the example of countries like Singapore and jurisdictions like Alberta which give schools huge autonomy over their budgets, pay scales and investment strategies and secure some of the best results in the world in the process.

As part of our plans to respect local autonomy we would end the ‘clawback’ process whereby the DCSF suddenly seizes schools’ surpluses, thus encouraging schools to spend money rather than save it, which leads heads to spend on things they know they do not need in order to help their budget negotiations the next year.

In order to help schools plan and make them more accountable for what they spend we will immediately begin to simplify the extraordinarily complex school funding system and we will shift towards a system in which there is a simplified amount paid by the taxpayer per pupil (with the Pupil Premium on top).

And through greater transparency on funding we will help hold bureaucracies better to account. We intend to let every parent know how much their local authority receives to spend on their child’s education and then how much less is passed on to local schools. We will accompany this information with details on the academic performance of local schools. And details of the academic performance of other schools with comparable intakes or levels of funding which are doing much better. We will give all parents the accurate, robust, factual information which will enable them to challenge under-performance. And we will help any parent unhappy with the quality of local provision and interested in seeing a new school set up to get in touch with other parents and with organisations like the New Schools Network which now exist to help new schools become established.

These are our priorities. They amount to a comprehensive programme to transform state education in this country, irreversibly, for the better. I cannot imagine a more urgent mission for this country’s politicians. The time for arguing is over. Our children need us to act.

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