'When I accepted David's invitation to speak at this conference five years ago, also in Cardiff, it was the first time a Prime Minister had ever addressed a teacher or headteacher association. Some said it might be the last. I am delighted to return today.
It is a commitment is based on partnership and real progress. Of course there are difficulties. Falling rolls are a difficulty for many primary schools. The funding changes last year caused some serious problems. Implementing the workforce agreement is a challenge. But I know that you welcome the extra investment in education. By next year average funding will be£1,000 more per pupil than in 1997. Education spending will be a higher proportion of a growing economy, and I can tell you today that following the Budget it is our intention to maintain this growth throughout the next Parliament.
And for all the improvement we still need at Key Stage Two, let no one run down your magnificent achievements in literacy and numeracy. The proportion of 11 year-olds up to standard has risen by almost a fifth since 1997: which means 80,000 more children a year succeeding in each subject than before, each one of them a tribute to the skill and dedication of our primary teachers school by school.
As headteachers you do a superb job leading our schools. Last time I was here I called you the change-makers of modern society, and I believe it even more passionately now than then. In fact, with each passing year I become more not less passionate about education in all its aspects. Year by year I see education and skills becoming more and more the cru x of our future prosperity and social cohesion - more vital to each young person making the most of themselves; more vital to our economy; more vital to building a society in which everyone has a stake and makes a contribution.
Worldwide the power of teachers and schools to transform society, if they are given the right support by governments, is clear. It is why universal primary education by 2015 is the first of the United Nations' Millennium goals for the developing world.
I also become more not less convinced that we in Britain - teachers, parents and government together - are engaged a great national mission for our generation. A mission to realise the full potential of each young person through a system of education increasingly personalised around the needs of each child, with a new concept of lifelong learning; raising aspirations in every community in the country; making possible what was previously thought impossible; and putting education at the heart of government, on a par with the management of the economy and foreign affairs, as a permanent not a passing feature of our national life in the 21st century.
Let me recall just a few inspirational moments of the past year I have witnessed.
- Presenting the Teacher of the Year award to Nina Panayis at Godwin Junior School in Forest Gate, East London. 32 languages spoken at the school and Nina a teacher for 32 years. Like thousands of other teachers, outstanding in her own school, running booster classes, a pre-school breakfast club, outdoor education initiatives, and yet on top of that numeracy co-ordinator for Newham borough working with all schools in the area.
- Opening the Bexley Business Academy last September, a£31m state-of-the-art secondary school, inspirational headteacher and staff engaged in wholly new ways with the local and the business communities; the academy replacing a seriously failing school, the ethos and aspirations of the pupils being transformed.
- Opening the Weston Sure Start ce ntre in Southampton - purpose-built facilities for the early years, promoting parenting skills, health care, education and play facilities in a deprived community; young mothers telling me this not only gave their child a good start in life but was transforming their own lives.
Change on this scale is happening across Britain and we should celebrate it.
Transforming education, aspiration and opportunity; this is our shared mission. Today I make a commitment to you: under this government the funding will grow; the partnership will continue. I also ask for a commitment from you: to see through the work we have begun together: focus relentlessly on teaching quality; lead the system to improve and innovate; hold fast, together, to the course of investment and reform.
Let me describe the journey of change we have undertaken; take stock of where we are; and set out our broad ambitions for the future.
It is 60 years this year since R.A. Butler's Education Act of 1944, the biggest 20th century advance in schooling, enacted as Churchill's wartime coalition government looked to a post-war future without the acute poverty and social divisions of the 1930s. The Butler Act raised the school leaving age and provided universal secondary education where previously only one in five children had received any formal education beyond the age of 14.
This was an advance for its time. Yet as the post-war decades stretched into the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, universal provision did not lead remotely to universal achievement, academic or vocational. Social divisions and poverty of aspiration remained entrenched, despite a further raising of the school leaving age to 16 and successive changes to school organisation.
Strides were made in improving the curriculum and in the training and professionalism of teachers. But as a country we became set in a mould of success for a minority at the top - schools and standards at the top as good as anywhere in the world - yet under-investment as the norm, average standards too low and a long tail of under-achievement and failure, concentrated in our poorest communities, weakening our society and economy and undermining the life chances of millions of young people.
At the same time - partly cause, partly effect - the teaching profession became seriously under-valued by government and society at large, and a dangerous fatalism took hold. We were constantly told, and from some quarters we are still being told, that more means worse. That standards only rise when there is dumbing down. That expanding higher education undermines the universities and is of no benefit to the students themselves. That there is something deep and cultural - and unchangeable - about our historic educational underperformance. And that extra investment would be money wasted down a black hole.
I utterly reject all these backward-looking reactionary attitudes. So does virtually every headteacher and teacher I meet, and so increasingly does the public at large. It always amazes me that some people assume that as we increase spending per pupil to an average of£4,500 a year in the state sector, a large part will be wasted; but when private day school fees are£7,300 per pupil, it is a sound investment in a child's future.
Of course money is not all schools need. But try building a successful school without it. That is why in the Budget we pledged to raise that£4,500 to£5,500 - including capital investment in new buildings - by 2007/08.
As for the rest, for people to complain that standards were too low in the past, and then to complain that standards have risen, reveals that their real concern isn't social progress but social elitism. This summer in homes up and down the country proud children will tell their delighted parents that they are the first in their family to go on to 6th form or get a place at university, thanks to their qualifications. Surely that should be a cause for celebration, not a signal to complain about du mbing down.
Our vision - those of us who believe in the power of education - is one of unrelenting optimism as to what is possible and achievable for our young people with the right investment and schooling, properly supported by parents. We don't just want a bit of improvement, or just one part of the system improved. But system-wide step-change making it the norm in every family and every neighbourhood that:
- 5 year-olds should start school ready and able to learn;
- that 11 year-olds should be up to standard in the basics and engaging in a broad curriculum beyond;
- that 14 year-olds have the knowledge and skills to make effective choices about their future learning and careers;
- that 16 year-olds should be qualified to go on to 6th form or modern apprenticeships, and then to higher education or skilled employment;
- and that lifelong learning - adults keeping skills updated and acquiring new qualifications as needed - should be the norm not the exception.
These are not partial or limited objectives, but a bold vision of transformation for our generation - education the engine of a fundamentally better, fairer, more successful and more prosperous society.
Since 1997 we have been clear about what is necessary to achieve this vision.
First, the profession and its leadership. Together we have significantly raised the status and performance of the teaching profession. Salaries at all levels of teaching have increased markedly since 1997. Graduate teacher recruitment is sharply up - 70% up on six years ago. Teacher numbers at large are 4,000 up on last year - and 29,000 up on 1997, with a reduction in both primary and secondary average class sizes. There are now 105,000 assistants in our schools, double the number in 1997, all valued member of the profession. The workforce agreement is enabling teachers and support staff to do their jobs better.
And with more and better teachers, better teaching, Ofsted reporting that the quality of teaching improved in al most half of all schools inspected last year. There has never been a better time to be a teacher.
Teachers are by far our most important investment in education, and it is the significant increase in education funding which has made all this possible. But just as important is reform. Workforce reform. Pay reform. Reform in recruitment and training, such as the Graduate Teacher Programme which has enabled us to recruit so many excellent career switchers into teaching.
But the keystone of the arch is leadership - headteachers and their mangement teams, leading change and improvement school by school. The new National College for School Leadership is a decisive advance, working in partnership with your association and others on national and regional programmes to improve leadership and management skills school by school.
But to do your job as school leaders and managers you need not only the right training and legal framework. It is also important to bear down constantly on red tape. I am sure you welcome the reduction in the inspection burden announced by David Bell earlier in the year, which we support.
You also need the financial stability and autonomy to plan budgets effectively, and all the reform that money can drive. We accept that budgetary security and autonomy has not been sufficient in the past, and we intend to improve it. That is why we promoted and welcome the multi-year pay settlement recommended by the pay review body last year.
But it isn't enough. One of the greatest difficulties for schools, as the last two years has shown, is to plan ahead not knowing year on year what the school budget will be. Subject of course to the proper financial systems and accountability, and as a result of this year's spending review settlement for education, I can tell you today that it is our intention, in the education department's future programme in July, to set out a move to three yearly, not yearly, budgets for schools, with assured funding to underpin them. And we w ould like these budgets to be aligned to the school year, not the financial year, reflecting the way you do business as school managers.
Secondly, lifelong learning. Step by step we are enlarging the concept of education to include an expectation of participation beyond 16 and lifelong learning beyond. A month ago I spoke about the imperative to abolish the concept of an education leaving age of 16; and for it to become the norm for almost all 16 year-olds to continue in full-time education or work-based training, with an increasing proportion going on to university.
Higher education reform is vital to the country's future and has been hard fought over. But no less important - if less controversial - is early years provision. Education starting at the age of five no longer meets the future needs of Britain. Until this government came to office there was very little state-funded under-five provision. There was provision for rising-fives in many primary schools; but nowhere near general nursery provision even for four year-olds, and only a tiny number of local authorities providing much beyond.
Yet the importance of quality early years provision is now incontrovertible: research shows that even at 22 months there is a significant divergence in development between children of different social backgrounds, and it steadily increases thereafter. Pre-school education has a powerful impact on children's development; as primary school heads you know that your children achieve more if they get the best of early starts.
Universal provision of free part-time nursery education places for four and three year-olds has now been achieved. The foundation stage of the curriculum is now in place, embedding appropriate early education, much of it provided - and provided to an excellent standard - in primary schools. Over and above this the highly-rated Sure Start programme now covers 400,000 under-fours in deprived areas. New Sure Start centres provide full-time places together with health, play, social and parenting support. Together with a large expansion of childcare places - an extra 920,000 since 1997 - this represents a substantial new investment of£3.6bn a year.
In the Budget we announced a significant further expansion of Sure Start children's centres and childcare places; and a pilot of free part-time early years education for two year olds in deprived areas.
In our future programme we will set out how to knit these various elements together into full co-ordinated under-fives provision so that in time we accomplish, for the first time in Britain, a nationwide universal early years service for under fives based around the personal needs of each child and their parents. This will be a new frontier for the welfare state and the education system, bringing together education and care. Primary schools will have a crucial part to play, alongside other partners.
Thirdly, standards. Our ten year olds now rate third best in the world for reading. Key stage test results are all sharply up on 1997. GCSEs results are up. A-levels up. Record numbers are going on to modern apprenticeships, and to further and higher education. This is all good progress.
But it is an urgent imperative that standards continue to rise year by year, for the evidence could not be clearer. More than two-thirds of 11 year-olds who reach Level 4 go on to get five or more good GCSEs. Among 11 year-olds below that level, only 14% do so. Every child who falls behind in primary school is set to fall behind even more seriously - and perhaps end up dropping out entirely - at secondary school.
However, I recognise that improved standards are not simply a function of better test and exam results. They also require a broad relevant curriculum, developing the talent of every child of every age and aptitude.
At primary level, through the 'Excellence and Enjoyment' strategy which Charles Clarke published last year, we intend rising standards in the basics to go hand-in-hand with a broader curriculum: not only subjects such as history and geography, but introducing young children to the worlds of sport, music, nature, drama - visiting museums, playing in a team, singing in a choir, learning an instrument, acting in school plays, learning a new language. Much of this happens in primary schools already; we want to extend its role in teaching and learning in all schools. At secondary level there is a similarly broad agenda of change which Mike Tomlinson's committee is addressing, to which we will respond.
But, at both primary and secondary level, education is about what happens after school, at week-ends and in the holidays, not just between the hours of 9 and 4 in term time. As we are able to make available the funding to support it, we want over time to develop the concept of the extended school. By this we mean the school able to provide a broad programme of after-school activities, including sport, study support and clubs, with extra support for special needs and the gifted and talented alike. And where the school has new facilities, with those facilities available to the wider community as appropriate. Many schools are already extended schools in this sense: we want to extend best practice rapidly.
Underpinning this will be the hugely increased investment in buildings and facilities in schools. In 1997 the school capital programme was£680m; this year it is£3,840m; and the Budget settlement will enable it to increase further. We want every school to have good modern teaching facilities and to embed information technology into its teaching and learning. And as the capital programme extends its reach year by year, this is a realisable objective which we want to see impact on every one of Britain's schools.
Let me talk finally about the crucial role of parents and discipline in our schools. Parents have a central role to play in supporting their children through school, and schools rightly see them as partners. Strengthening this relationship is one of our most important tasks. Here I want to suggest a way forward in partnership with you. For parents, the key, especially when they are working and facing all the stresses of modern work/life balance, is information and communication. We would like to explore with you how parents can better contact you, access the information they need, using e-mail and modern communication to do it.
But in return parents have to recognise their responsibility. When I was younger, if a pupil as in trouble with their teacher, they were in trouble with their parents too.
We are 100% behind teachers and headteachers in promoting parental responsibility - particularly where behaviour and truancy is involved. We are also 100% behind you in taking the action necessary within your schools to tackle these issues.
It is why we are making absolutely clear the responsibility of parents for tackling truancy: by, for example, electronic registration and systems for immediately contacting parents of truants, and by the introduction of parenting orders and fixed penalty notices for parents who fail to co-operate. It is also why we changed the guidance on exclusions and exclusion appeals to give much greater weight to the judgement of headteachers and governors.
And when it comes to the most seriously disruptive excluded pupils, we cannot carry on passing them around school to school - with some of the schools in the most difficult circumstances being a dumping ground for the most difficult cases. You, us, the LEAs, must continue to address how we ensure excluded pupils get proper education without damaging the education of others, where necessary outside schools.
Let me end where I began. We haven't come this far together to put it all at risk. In partnership together we have begun a real transformation: more teachers and support staff; better teaching; higher standards and aspirations; new buildings and facilities. All of it to give our children the start in life they need and deserve. For our part, as a government, I undertake that we will stay the course; the investment, the reform, the tough choices, the priority for education
None of it is easy. Each step is often painstaking. But just as the challenge is real so is the progress.
25 years ago, Britain changed course: some of it necessary, much of it, especially in terms of under investment in public services and social division, wrong. It has taken us time to put a different policy and philosophy in place. But now is the time to go forward, not back.
For years education was a social cause. Today it is an economic
imperative. A nation is only as good as its education. And the real strength of its education is only measured by its depth. Not top quality education for a few but for the many.
When I opened a new school recently, good head, dedicated teachers, a real sense of mission, the girl showing me round said:
'I never thought schools like this were for children like me'. It's time they were: for her and for thousands like her. That is what together we can and will achieve.'