There are some unbreakable golden rules in politics. Wearing a hat for the cameras is never a good idea.
Make sure you know how to spell potato before giving a speech on education. And always switch your own mobile off before mounting the rostrum.
To which I might add a fourth. Never get into an argument with Matthew Parris. Of all the people to take issue with in public life, the Times columnist who has skewered more helpless victims than Vlad the Impaler is not an opponent to mess with. But, throwing caution to the wind, I shall.
Just last week Matthew wrote that there was a "piece of fashionable political nonsense" we should all be "vaccinated against" before the virus hits us. "The coming nonsense" wrote Matthew "is that when this recession is over, countries such as Britain should seek and find our salvation in (in what will become a buzz phrase of 2009-10) a "new economic model". Matthew argues, persuasively, that what we are faced with at the moment is a classic economic crash, of the kind perpetrated so often in the past by incompetent Governments, and the sovereign remedy against such folly is classic, Conservative, common sense.
I agree with much of what Matthew argues. But I think, in one crucial respect, he's wrong. I think it's not enough looking at the wreckage of our economy simply to say there was a failure at the top to steer things properly. It was also the case that the economic model which, let us not forget, Gordon Brown himself had built, was flawed and incapable of keeping us safe when we collided with harsh economic realities. The growth we enjoyed for many years was built on unsustainable foundations - debt-fuelled and unstable. The housing boom which drove feelings of prosperity was also unsustainable, exacerbated by a bureaucratic planning system which restricted the supply of land and drove up prices far faster than inflation. And the growth in jobs we experienced was built on far weaker foundations than the Government was ever prepared to acknowledge - employment growth was far faster in the public sector than the private sector and a significant number of the new jobs created went to workers from abroad.
<h2>A NEW ECONOMIC MODEL</h2>
If we are to emerge from this crash in a condition to withstand further shocks - indeed if we are to emerge in a position where we can turn changes in the global economy to our advantage - then we do have to learn from where we went wrong. We do indeed need a new economic model. That model has to be built on sounder macro-economic foundations and George Osborne has already outlined the sort of steps we need to take - from our Office for Budget Responsibility to discipline in departmental spending - which will equip us for future challenges.
A better economic model also needs a saner housing market and I know my colleague Grant Shapps will be coming forward shortly with more detail on how we can build stability and affordability back into housing. And I believe, crucially, that Britain also needs to radically reform how we educate and train young people if we are to have a sustainable economic model equal to the challenges of the twenty-first century. Because the jobs of the future will increasingly demand a level of intellectual accomplishment which we are just not providing for the majority of young people.
<h2>THE NEED FOR A MODEL KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY </h2>
We know that the number of jobs open to those people with low skills or no skills is diminishing. In the wake of Lord Leitch's report into skills and training ministers predicted that by 2020 there would be work for just 600,000 people in Britain doing low skill jobs - what we might have once called manual labour.
Now I am wary of making precise predictions about the specific demand for a particular type of labour in an open economy thirteen years hence - in fact it's a mug's game in politics speculating about who'll be in which job thirteen days hence. But I know of no body of respectable opinion which denies the thrust of Lord Leitch's case. The sorts of jobs which once gave dignity and purpose, economic security and social status, to a majority of the male population will now only be an option for a small minority of adults. And an increasingly limited option at that. Because we know that the trend over the last thirty years has been for incomes to diverge across the labour market - with the gap growing wider and wider between the rewards offered to those with the most qualifications and the wages left to those with few or no qualifications.
If we are to provide the next generation with anything like a fair chance in the future we need to ensure that they enter the labour market with the knowledge, skills and qualifications to compete with the best in the world. We have to ensure that the stock of intellectual capital on which they can trade is enough to give them a competitive advantage.
And we're just not doing that at the moment. Over the last 10 years four million pupils have left school without the basic set of qualifications we expect - five GCSE passes including English and Maths. Three and a half million children have left school without even a C pass in Mathematics. And when you can now secure a C pass in Maths with just 16 per cent of the answers correct you can see just how poor the Government's performance has been.
What makes this failure both more tragic and less forgiveable is the way in which the poorest have suffered most from educational failure. Around one pupil in eight is eligible for free school meals - it's not a perfect measure of deprivation but every child who is entitled to free school meals is undeniably disadvantaged. Every year over thirteen thousand students get three As at A level - the basic entry ticket to the very best universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge. But last year only 189 pupils eligible for free school meals secured three As at A level.
So while free school meal pupils make up thirteen per cent of the school population they make up just over one per cent of those getting the best grades. Of the 189 who did get 3 As just 75 were boys. We discovered in 2007 that 95 boys from Eton got into Oxbridge. So we live in a country where one public school sends more boys to our top two universities than the entire population eligible for free school meals. It's a standing disgrace and a remarkable indictment of the lack of social mobility under Labour.
We cannot go on wasting talent in this way - it's not only offensive to the most basic principles of social justice - it's also hugely economically inefficient. It's not just the case that the demand for unskilled labour in our economy is diminishing, it's also the case that the demand for highly-educated and highly qualified workers is intensifying. The growth industries of the future - from pharmaceuticals to nuclear energy, from renewables to biotechnology, from IT to broadcast entertainment - will all depend on highly educated workforces to generate the breakthroughs which will keep them competitive.
Other nations recognise the pressing need to enhance the education they offer their children to ensure they are best placed to take advantage of the new opportunities economic change will bring. The proportion of young people being educated to university level is rising across the world.
We know that many more young people in this country could enjoy the same opportunities if we get school reform right. We know that the very best comprehensives here, some with social intakes which are hugely challenging, nevertheless get two-thirds or more of their students to a point where they are capable of going on to university if they wish.
That's why it's so tragic that so many schools fail to get even a third of their students to the level where they secure even five good GCSEs and why it's indefensible that we still have more than half of our children failing to reach that basic level.
<h2>LEARNING FROM THE BEST</h2>
In a world which is growing ever more competitive we need to learn from the world's best. And one factor unites those countries which consistently do best in every measurement of educational performance - the quality of their teachers.
The countries which give their children the best education in the world are those which value their teachers most highly. From Finland to Singapore and South Korea the highest performing education systems are those where teachers enjoy the highest level of prestige. These nations have determinedly shaped policy to ensure that teaching is a high prestige profession, attracting the brightest graduates and offering a level of financial reward and social esteem which ensures teachers are seen as members of the nation's elite.
In Singapore teachers are drawn from the top thirty per cent of graduates, in Finland teachers come from the top ten per cent. The sort of young people who compete for high status jobs here - such as fast track entry to the civil service, bar pupillages, news traineeships with the BBC, places on the accountancy or management consultancy milk round - compete to become teachers in these countries.
Policy Exchange has done some fascinating work in the past year arguing that teaching has never really been a high status profession in Britain. As a Scot I am not sure that insight applies equally to every part of the UK. But what is clear -and internationally demonstrable - is that teaching can be a very high status profession. And the status of teaching can be driven up by determined action. Singapore and South Korea both had very poor post-colonial education systems in the aftermath of the Second World War, with teaching a low prestige profession. When Singapore gained its independence in 1965 half the population was illiterate. But political leadership and the right policies have transformed the landscape over a generation.
There is no reason why we cannot enhance the status, esteem and prestige of teaching in this country. Indeed there is every reason why we should do everything we can to accelerate that process now. Because we know that the quality of teachers has a greater influence on children's achievement than any other aspect of their education.
The ground-breaking Sanders and Rivers study, in Tennessee, into the effect of teacher quality on learning showed that if two average eight-year-old students are given different teachers - one a high performer and the other a low performer - their performance will diverge by more than 50 percentile points within three years.
Another study on Teacher Effects on Student Achievement in Dallas also demonstrated that the performance gap between pupils of the same ability who had three great teachers in a row and those who had three poor teachers in a row was 49 percentile points.
In England, research published in 2002 showed that 55% of the variation in pupil performance in maths at primary level and 53% of the variation in performance in secondary school was down to the quality of the individual teacher. And work by the Institute of Public Policy Research in 2008 has demonstrated that good teacher improves pupil performance by more than a grade. Their study found the difference between a very good teacher and a very bad teacher was an increase of more than a grade per pupil per subject. Their report also suggested that teacher quality has a larger impact upon lower ability students than higher ability ones.
In America the very best teachers have recorded stunning transformations in performance with the KIPP charter school chain taking students from the 16th percentile in terms of maths performance to the 77th in one year.
The flipside of this phenomenon is the capacity of poor teaching to blight lives - research from the Boston School district showed that children placed with the poorest teachers actually regressed - knowing less and performing worse after a year in a poor classroom environment.
Education reform involves getting lots of things right - it's about whole system change - ensuring exam standards are robust, ensuring curricula are right, ensuring accountability mechanisms are robust and structures are properly responsive to citizens - but the single most important thing is getting the right people into the classroom. Having a good teacher matters more than anything else, and teacher quality matters more than anything, even the quality of the school, in driving up performance. That's why we're committed to a comprehensive programme of reform to improve the prestige of teaching and ensure better rewards for the professionals who make a difference.
<h2>A WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT FOR TALENT</h2>
One of the most important things we would do - the foundation stone of reform - is ensure that the environment in which teachers operate is safe, secure, ordered and welcoming. That means action to guarantee better standards of behaviour and discipline.
Policy Exchange's research on attitudes to teaching among undergraduates shows that the principal deterrent to a career in education is the fear of "feeling unsafe in the classroom". We know that one of the top reasons why people leave teaching early is poor standards of classroom behaviour.
So that's why we have developed a comprehensive package of changes to put power back into the hands of professionals and restore order in schools. We would change the rules on detention to make it easier to enforce. We would change the rules on confiscating the sorts of devices - from mobile phones to ipods - which disrupt learning to remove the fear of challenge from teachers. We would give teachers better protection from vexatious complaints - including anonymity when allegations of abuse are made and a time limit to ensure these allegations are either brought to court or dropped - so that careers aren't unnecessarily blighted by students playing the system. We would allow schools to insist on enforceable home school contracts - and thus make sure parents played their part in ensuring good behaviour.
And we would ensure disruptive pupils could be excluded without bureaucratic second-guessing and then ensure those disruptive pupils were placed in an environment where their behaviour could be properly challenged and their lives placed back on track...
<h2>FLEXIBILITY TO REWARD GREAT TEACHING</h2>
All of these changes are crucial to making sure there is no barrier to gifted individuals pursuing a teaching vocation - but they're just the beginning of the changes we would hope to introduce.
One of the other crucial changes we need to make is greater flexibility within the current system to provide the discretion necessary to reward great teaching. We will free schools to pay good teachers more. The Government has said in the past that academies need that freedom to overcome disadvantage. Jim Knight has argued that, "academies need to respond innovatively to the huge challenges they face. The ability to negotiate their own pay and conditions to meet the particular needs of the academy...is part of the increased flexibility they need to meet these challenges".
We believe all schools will need more freedoms in the future if the whole nation is to overcome the educational challenges we all face. We specifically believe in extending academy freedoms to more and more schools so academy status becomes the norm in secondary education. And we also want to explore how all schools can have greater flexibility within current arrangements to offer the pay and conditions package they want to attract the talent we need in the classroom.
We need to be able to attract talented students in shortage subjects such as maths and physics. And we need to be able to attract high performing graduates from the best universities into areas of disadvantage where the need to improve education is most urgent. Our plans for a pupil premium would mean that schools which attract more pupils from disadvantaged homes would secure more funding. And our plans for greater school freedom mean those schools will be able to pay a premium to attract the best teachers. And our pupil premium is explicitly designed to encourage new providers coming into state education to locate in areas of real deprivation.
Our plans for school reform are explicitly designed to emulate the success of Sweden in securing new organisations to come into state education to provide superb new community schools. Sweden's embrace of greater choice and diversity within state education has driven up standards across the board - in comparison to previous performance. Crucial to the success of reform in Sweden has been the freedom of new schools to set their own pay structures. That's why new entrants to state schooling here will be liberated to pay whatever they wish to secure the talent that will make their schools magnets for the aspirational parent.
We think it's important that schools are freed to pay good teachers more. But we also believe that enhancing the attractiveness of the teaching profession depends on more than just pay.
<h2>ALLOWING TALENT TO DEVELOP</h2>
A commitment to education is a commitment to public service - but it's also something more - it's a commitment to learning, to knowledge, to the life of the mind. We believe that has to be better recognised. Teachers should be seen as central to the academic and intellectual life of the nation - just as much as university lecturers and other public intellectuals. That is why we will overhaul the professional development teachers are offered, so that the profession becomes even more attractive to the academically high-achieving.
The best teachers enter the profession to communicate their love of the subject which inspired them to the next generation. But we don't give teachers the chance to maintain and deepen the knowledge of the subjects they love and on which they are paid to be authorities. You shouldn't stop being an academic physicist or part of the community of university historians when you enter teaching - instead your commitment to learning should be supported.
Teachers should be given the chance to progress further academically just as they are helping their students to deepen their knowledge of and love for their subject. So we will make it easier for teachers to pursue higher level qualifications, such as masters and doctorates, in their chosen subject, through support for sabbaticals and bursaries as well as exploring how we can create and endow university fellowships for committed professional teachers.
<h2>OPENING THE DOORS WIDER TO TALENT </h2>
And just as we recognise that it's important to help teachers to develop as professionals so it's crucial that we help other professionals who may be attracted into teaching to place their talents at the service of the next generation.
Now, at a time of economic trial, we need to see what we can do to ensure not only that talent doesn't go to waste but also that people with high abilities have an opportunity to enter teaching. So we would make it easier and more attractive for high-achieving business people and professionals in other areas to transfer to teaching in mid-career.
At the moment there is no clear, attractive and appropriately paid route for successful people in other professions to enter teaching. The existing Graduate Teacher Programme is too complex to negotiate, bureaucratic in structure and insufficiently attractive to secure the numbers of high quality people we want to see enter teaching. We've seen how Teach First, working outside the conventional bureaucratic routes have been able to attract some of this country's most impressive graduates into teaching - and we've already committed to extending their work into areas - like the North east of England - which the Government won't.
But we want to go further and ensure we can have a proper, well-paid, point of entry for successful professionals to come into teaching and get into the classroom as quickly as possible. Which is why we would adopt Policy Exchange's proposal to commission a new Teach Now initiative which would supersede the current Graduate Teacher Programme and significantly expand the number of high qualified people leaving other areas of employment and coming into teaching.
<h2>NO REVERSE GEAR</h2>
All of these changes reflect our commitment to pushing forward with reform at this time of economic difficulties, precisely because it is only through a transformed education system that we can ensure economic opportunities in the future.
The need to embrace greater radicalism, to press down more firmly on the reform accelerator at this time, is understood across the globe. In particular, President Obama has committed to doubling funding for new charter schools, operating outside local bureaucratic control, as a way of spreading innovation and challenging complacent establishments. Crucial to the success of charter schools is their freedom to vary teacher pay and President Obama has emphasised the vital importance of merit pay to attract highly-qualified and high-performing teachers into areas of disadvantage.
But while the pace of change is accelerating in other countries the Government here is reversing on reform.
The freedoms which existing academies have used to drive up standards are now being curtailed. Freedoms over the curriculum, over staffing, freedoms over building and IT, freedom from local authority bureaucracy and central Government control, have all been restricted.
The champion of academy freedoms, Lord Adonis, has been evicted from the Schools Department, the godfather of the Academies programme, Sir Cyril Taylor, has been sacked, and the official charged with promoting diversity in school provision, Bruce Liddington has also been removed - and months later he still hasn't been replaced.
Sadly, education reform has become a casualty of internal Labour politics - specifically the ongoing leadership struggle being fought within the Cabinet. In the war of position between Ed Balls and James Purnell, James has positioned himself the reformer, the heir to Blair, and Ed has positioned himself as the opposite.
Ed's judgement may be right when it comes to garnering support within the Labour Party's electoral college - I defer to his judgment on that subject - but I fear it's wrong for the country. Just when we need to make our education system more flexible, more open to innovation, more dynamic and more influenced by the best international experience the Government are going backwards.
It is my fervent hope that we can get reform back on track to ensure that we can make the most of the talent which is currently going so tragically to waste."