The speech she could have given
In schools today we can see origins of our divided society. The top half of pupils are able, hardworking, and often have the support of stable families. Most of these children go to good schools, whether Academies, maintained schools, grammar schools or private. They get good GCSEs and A-levels and go on to one of our excellent British universities. 40 per cent of school leavers now go to university. They are a success story and the improvements the Conservatives have made to our schools over the past six years has greatly increased the number of such pupils.
But for the bottom half of our children the picture is much less good. Compared to other countries we have a long tail of underachievement and wasted opportunity. Far too many children in England learn little at school after the age of eleven compared to countries like Japan and Sweden. Last year only 54 per cent of pupils gained five GCSEs grade A* to C including English and Maths. For pupils on free school meals the figure was 33 per cent. These are not results of which we can be proud.
What is more, this summer 36 per cent of those who passed a GCSE only achieved a grade C – a bare pass. I know that for some a grade C is an achievement. But equally for many children this bare pass is well below their true capabilities.
These children are not concentrated in a limited number of bad schools. They are in fact found in the majority of schools, wherever you look in the country. So it makes sense for us to focus on this group – the tail of underachievers. Half the student population. If we are going to move from being a low-pay, low-productivity country to a high-pay, high-productivity country we cannot have half our workforce ill-educated. We cannot tolerate a situation where half of our children derive little benefit from their secondary schooling. They must be the priority.
I have therefore decided that we are going to take three steps immediately.
1 For many disadvantaged children, and especially boys, the gap in achievement is already apparent at nursery age. They start behind and never catch up. So we will prioritise policies to increase the scope and quality of care and education for children aged 2-4. More Early Years teachers must be trained because we know that if children can be got to a good level by the age of 5 their life chances are hugely improved.
2 We also know that for many children academic subjects like maths, French and English, important as they are, do not provide the motivation they need if they are to make the most of school and college. This is why I have decided to accept in full the recommendations of the Sainsbury Review and introduce new, streamlined, high-quality vocational courses for students aged 16-19.
We have been talking about vocational education since 1945. But sadly it was largely just that – talk. There is a strong social mobility argument for focusing spending on the Further Education colleges that will be delivering the new vocational courses: this is where the group who most need and will benefit most from extra investment can be found. And remember this is not a small group. It is fully half of our young people.
3 Finally let me say that the most important influence on a child’s performance at school is their individual teachers. It does not matter whether a school is a comprehensive, grammar, state or private. What matters is the teacher standing in front of your child. So policy needs to be focussed on the recruitment and retention of excellent teachers. There should be incentives to get good teachers into the most challenging schools. These teachers should have access to a generous house-purchase scheme.
This is the priority for my Government. To ensure that all children, regardless of how wealthy they are or where they live, receive a good education. To enable all children to make the most of their talents and interests. We will turn the spotlight on the neglected 50 per cent.