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SHEPHARD'S SPEECH TO SECONDARY HEADS ASSOC (FULL TEXT)

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A copy of a speech by Gillian Shephard, secretary of state for education and employment, to the annual conference o...
A copy of a speech by Gillian Shephard, secretary of state for education and employment, to the annual conference of the Secondary Heads Association, in Torquay tonight.

'I am delighted to be here and to begin my session with such a pleasant duty.

One of the central strands of our policy to improve the nation's performance in training and development is Investors in People. My Department is in the lead, and is indeed going through the process itself.

Investors in People has four key principles:

-- a top level commitment to develop all employees

-- the regular review of training and development of all employees

-- action to train and develop people throughout their time at work

-- evaluation of the outcomes so as to be able to do even better

The Investors in People Standard is demanding. It gives employers the chance to show how much they value their own staff. It has been picked up enthusiastically by over 2,000 schools, including many of those represented here today. All of the staff of a school benefit, not least the non-teaching staff.

I am delighted that the association has succeeded in achieving IIP recognition. It shows how much you value your own people. It is an example to us all.

I am very glad to be able to present you with your award now.

And now to turn to SHA and all of you here. I want to begin by saying that I have found working with you over the last three years particularly rewarding. I have very much valued the close working relationship which we have developed over that time.

That relationship is important because while we naturally do not see eye to eye about everything, I recognise the vital contribution of heads and deputies in carrying through the necessary agenda of change in education.

Indeed you have been the architects of some of that change. I can remember several occasions when SHA were the first people to highlight a problem or the first to help in its solution.

There has been a lot of change over these last few years - indeed ever since we came into government in 1979. Some of it has been painful, some of it controversial but all of it necessary.

The primary object of our reforms has been to raise standards in education, to equip our young people to meet the challenges of the future.

The nature of that challenge is exemplified in the merger of the departments of education and employment which we put in place in 1995.

That merger demonstrated the indissoluble connection between education, training and the world of work and emphasised the fact that education and training are lifelong processes, designed to help people of all ages to face the challenges of a changing world.

These are the underpinning themes of this election. Britain goes into this election with a booming economy - an economy approaching its sixth year of sustained expansion. We have the lowest unemployment rate and more of our people in work than any other major European country. As the latest report on the UK from the International Monetary Fund said (July 1996) 'Recent economic performance has been enviable'.

This is all excellent. But you and I know that if this good progress is to continue then the programme to raise standards in education must also continue.

Those of us involved in education have always known how important it is:

-- for the enrichment of individual lives

-- as the means of transmitting our cultural heritage to future generations

-- as a civilising influence in all nations

All these are immensely important. But education has never been so important as it is now. As we face the 21st century we cannot ignore the vital importance of education for our economic survival as a nation in a highly competitive global environment.

The labour market of the 21st century will face young people with challenges such as none of us here have ever known. As a nation we are used to competing with countries like ourselves who have highly paid, highly skilled workforces.

We are used to competing with countries with low paid, low skilled workforces. What is new is today's challenge to all highly-developed economies, from countries with low-paid but highly-skilled workforces.

This is why education has to be at the top of all political and economic agendas. But this is also why these concerns transcend elections and their agendas. I believe that all sensible people, whatever their politics, must recognise the changing nature of the labour market and its changing demands. But there are real differences between the parties, not only about the means by which they achieve the desired ends, but about these ends themselves.

So far as the government is concerned, our objective is to continue the drive to raise standards.

All our reforms have focused on raising standards and they have done that by bringing

-- transparency

-- accountability

-- choice and diversity

-- and independence of institutions, into the education system

Experience has shown that these things in themselves drive up standards and that is why our manifesto builds on extending these themes. Let me outline these for you.

Targets

I know that many people here will be leading schools that already set their own targets. Our new Education Act now requires every school to set its own targets. What is more we will set national targets for school performance and require every school to produce a plan showing how it can improve its performance in line with the national targets. We will develop bench marks for different types of schools.

We aim to increase transparency by publishing all school test results, including the results of 7 and 14 year-olds. We will also introduce a new test that covers the whole National Curriculum at Key Stage 3 - assessing progress before young people choose their 14+ options. We shall want to consult everyone concerned - including SHA of course, about the details.

We aim to continue our drive on rigour in tests and exams. Young people and their teachers must have confidence in the qualifications they strive so hard to achieve. I have endorsed the recommendations of the joint SCAA/Ofsted report that we should place greater emphasis on spelling, punctuation and grammar. A new English Language GCSE, endorsing these points, will be available from 1998. We shall be restricting the use of calculators and formulae sheets in Maths and Science exams and of texts in English exams.

One of the central themes of our reforms has been to enable schools to improve their own management so as to raise standards. Discussions with SHA and others have been essential to implementing this programme. Local Management of Schools has been a great advance. I remember so well - as I am sure you do - the gloomy forebodings that accompanied its introduction.

'Headteachers would never be able to manage' we were told - women heads would find it particularly difficult - how could they possibly manage budgets?

But you have all done so. Locally-Managed budgets have been a considerable success. We believe that the people who are best placed to run schools are the head teachers and governors. That is why we intend to give all schools the freedom to become Locally-Maintained Schools.

Locally-Maintained schools will have:

-- Control of 100(percent) of their own budgets

-- Complete control over their own admissions - with no LEA involvement

-- Complete freedom to employ their own staff

-- And where schools want it, ownership of their own assets

In other words many of the freedoms already enjoyed by grant-maintained and voluntary aided schools.

Experience has shown that giving schools this greater degree of independence releases new energies, enables schools to build on their own particular strengths and drives up standards. It also frees LEAs to concentrate on their essential role of helping to raise standards across the whole of the local authority.

Structures are not an end in themselves - they are only the means to achieve the objective we desire. That objective, which I know we all share, is to raise standards. The results show that these are rising. I believe that the diversity which we have encouraged in the education system, the rich variety of schools which we now have, are really producing benefits throughout that system. I know that every kind of secondary school is represented among your members and I am sure they would agree that each one has its own particular quality to contribute to the rich pattern that is evolving in British education.

As you know we lost from the recent Education Act those clauses which would have allowed schools to select more of their pupils without central approval. In our manifesto we promise to restore these and to make it s impler for schools to become fully selective, if that is the wish of parents, head, staff and governors. Many schools find an element of selection useful - and it seems likely that as specialist schools develop, they too may find some selection by aptitude useful - in sport, for example.

We have not spent the last 18 years encouraging more variety and diversity in the schools system to wish now to see a return to a two tier system or a system with only one kind of school, but the important thing is that structural change will be at the wish of local communities and their schools.

The important thing in any school's structural change - whether you are looking at going grant-maintained, becoming a specialist school, considering some element of selection - or - in future - going locally-maintained, is that the headteacher is a key decision-maker in the process.

Changes provide challenge and opportunity. They also give headteachers, in particular, even greater responsibility.

Over the last ten years the responsibilities of headteachers have greatly increased. You have, from time to time, during our meetings, reminded me of this. It is important that these increasing responsibilities are properly recognised.

The proposals for locally maintained schools go along with a clear and explicit expectation that the review body will recognise the additional load which heads will bear, as well as the role that all heads play in raising standards and increasing efficiency. I hope that you will welcome this signal.

We have made a great deal of progress together on many issues. I mentioned earlier the valuable contribution that SHA has made to some vital areas of reform.

Teacher training is an obvious example. I know that you played a seminal role in the foundation of the Teacher Training Agency. Your work is now beginning to bear fruit. The agency is establishing, for the first time, a national framework for teacher training and development, setting clear standards for teachers at key points in their careers. Its consultations on the various stages of the framework are already starting to have an impact on how teachers see their needs. And new training and qualifications are being developed which will for the first time offer in-service training to a nationally recognised standard. The profession deserves no less.

It is no accident that the very first qualification of this sort is one for headteachers. - a qualification which SHA helped to design - work for which I am most grateful. The quality of school leadership and management is crucial to school improvement and pupil achievement. We need to be sure heads have the skills and qualities they need to lead and manage complex organisations in a changing environment.

We are investing some£4.5m in the National Professional Qualification for Headship this year, across the country. 250 trial candidates have already embarked on training. The 10 regional training centres, and 10 assessment centres, will be in full operation from this autumn.

I expect that the NPQH will fast become the expected standard for all governing bodies seeking to appoint a new head. But all new heads are already eligible for support in their first appointment. TTA now have 2,500 new heads registered for the HEADLAMP programme, which gives each school appointing a brand new head£2,500 to spend on training, designed to help them meet the demands of their first post.

The association's contribution to evolving thinking on training has been invaluable. We have also benefited greatly from your thinking on looking at the needs of 14-19 year-olds as a whole. The merger of the education and employment departments provided us with the chance to establish a clearer view about the range of choices - and of qualifications - available to our young people. The first fruits are clearly visible. Our recent White Paper 'Learning to Compete' set out the future patterns we envisage for 14-19 year-old education and training - I do want to thank you for your invaluable contribution to that innovative thinking.

We have also valued your contribution to the discussions which foreshadowed what is now the 1997 Education Act. The measures we have taken on discipline, including clarifying the law on detention, owe a great deal to the advice we have had from you and from the other teacher associations.

I distinctly remember that the discipline issues were first really brought home to me at a SHA dinner.

I have always made clear my support for a single professional body which could speak with authority for the teaching profession as a whole. That is why we have announced in our manifesto that we will consult with teachers and other interested parties about the possible structure and role of such a body - a General Teaching Council which will enhance the status of a most important profession. I know that SHA's contribution to this consultation will be most valuable.

The strength of any organisation depends on the quality of its leadership. This is as true of schools as of anywhere else - and it is of course immensely important that schools should be well-managed and well-led. Show me a good school and I will show you a good head. I have always believed that and nothing I have seen during my time as secretary of state for education and employment has caused me to change my views.

Rather the opposite: my experience in this job has reinforced my deep conviction that successful schools are those run by good headteachers and good deputies.

That is why I have promoted the policies which I have outlined - to ensure that heads have all the help that the system can provide in terms of training and support. There is nothing more important than leadership. And there is nothing more vital to the future of this country than the leadership you provide. The economic battles of the 21st century will be won in the classrooms of every school in this land - of every school - because every school has the potential for excellence in its own particular field. It is my duty - as secretary of state, to promote policies which will enable all of you to attain that excellence.

That is the aim and objective of all our policies - to continue to raise standards and achieve that excellence.

The next great task that we face, and I hope that we shall face it together, is to make these lofty aspirations a reality in national life. I want you to feel that you are the movers and shakers of this great march forward. And I want us to make the world at large aware of the importance of education, and of the reality of our achievements. In 1979 1 in 8 of our young people went into higher education - now it is 1 in 3.

These figures represent a great raising of standards throughout our educational system - much work by the government and amazingly hard work by you.We have increased educational opportunities for all - our task now is to convince people of the even greater opportunities that lie ahead - and to ensure that nothing happens to reduce these opportunities. I know that SHA has the vision and the leadership to be in the vanguard of this great and essential task.I thank you for all your help and support to me over the years. I wish you success in all your endeavours - and look forward to meeting you again soon.'

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