William Hague – 1989 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by William Hague in the House of Commons on 20th March 1989.

I wish to speak briefly on the Budget, as my first and modest contribution to the proceedings of the House. Before I do so, I pay tribute to my predecessor as Member for Richmond, Sir Leon Brittan, and will say a few words about the constituency that he represented so well. I am fortunate to be able to do both with uninhibited pleasure.

Most new Members elected at by-elections speak of a predecessor who was distinguished but is sadly deceased, but I am delighted that my predecessor, who made such a major contribution to the House and who was so highly regarded by his constituents, is very much alive and well and is by all accounts doing an extremely good job as a European Commissioner. There is no doubt that he will be sorely missed in Richmond—a constituency that he served with extreme thoroughness and attention to detail. Even when he was Home Secretary, he never missed a weekend surgery and never failed to involve himself in as many aspects as possible of life in north Yorkshire. He set the highest standards of service to his constituency, and I will be doing well if I can live up to them.

All I can say is that, over the coming months, I shall try to be inspired by Sir Leon’s example, rather than being intimidated by it. It would be all too easy for the new Member of Parliament for Richmond to be intimidated by the past. I number among my constituents not only Sir Leon Brittan but his predecessor Sir Timothy Kitson and my noble Friend Lord Tranmire, the former Sir Robin Turton, who sat in this House for 45 years for Thirsk and Malton, part of which is now included in my constituency.

Those former Members will be very valuable sources of advice. Some might observe that they will also he rather varied sources of advice. However, the fact that they remain deeply rooted in the area says something about the strong attachment of Members of Parliament to Richmond and its surrounding area, because of both the natural appeal of its countryside and the independent character of its people.

It is almost unnecessary for me to tell the House about my constituency, because many right hon. and hon. Members are already surprisingly familiar with it. I am one of the few Members of Parliament, along with those representing constituencies in the east end of London, who has a regular television series about his constituency. Also, many right hon. and hon. Members have spent more time in my constituency in the past few months than I have spent in the House. Right hon. and hon. Members could be forgiven for believing that the right hon. Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) had taken up permanent residence in my constituency. They certainly provided a valuable off-season boost to the local tourist trade. They will always be welcomed back, though perhaps they are the only two tourists in the whole nation who I hope will spend less money on their next visits than they did on their last.

I hope that all those who visited Richmond during the by-election had an opportunity to enjoy the diverse nature of the region. Although always associated with the magnificent hillside town of Richmond itself and with the splendid dales to the west of it, my constituency embraces a rich breadth of physical geography and human activity —from the hill farmers in the dales and on the edges of the moors, to the lowland arable farmers around Northallerton and Thirsk; from the 20 industrial estates that have brought a growing sense of enterprise and availability of employment to the area, to the commuters in the north-east who work on Teesside and to the large number of people who come to the area to retire. Richmond’s variety defies simple description.

In addition, my constituency has a huge military presence. The area is proud to host one of the country’s largest Army garrisons at Catterick, and now we also have a major air defence base at RAF Leeming. That variety, and the popularity of north Yorkshire as a place to live, means that behind the idyllic image are mounting stresses and strains, both economic and social. Much has been said about the plight of the inner cities in the 1980s, but I fear that much will have to be said in the 1990s about the strains of rural life.

Although my constituency, like the rest of the country, has grown more prosperous in the past 10 years, and although unemployment has fallen by 40 per cent. over the past three years, one must not overlook the depressed incomes of the farming community, the shortage of housing for local people—ironically coinciding with housing development on a scale that threatens traditional village life—the tendency for younger people to move elsewhere, and the appalling and increasing pollution of some of the nation’s most beautiful rivers. Those are not the subjects of today’s debate. Nevertheless, I hope to help ensure that they will not go unnoticed or unaddressed in the House.

My constituents are interested in all those matters, but they are interested also in the Budget—despite all the efforts of the media to convince us that it was boring. Like me, my constituents approve of the Budget because of its most obvious characteristic—that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer used what room for manoeuvre he had to help those people whose efforts were most unfairly penalised by the existing tax structure. I strongly welcome the changes my right hon. Friend made to national insurance contributions and his abolition of the hated pensioners’ earnings rule. I believe that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House believe that the Chancellor did the right thing in the circumstances, and they should have the good grace to say so.

Much of the debate about the economic situation has been taken up with discussing the direction of and the explanations for inflation, interest rates and the public sector surplus. However, that debate has been concerned mainly with the short term—with this year and next year. When I look at the economic background to the Budget, what I find interesting are some of the other economic indicators whose improvement has been strong and marked over a sufficiently long period to become an established trend.

Today, companies’ real rate of return is at its highest since the 1960s. Investment has risen twice as fast as consumption for the past seven years. Labour productivity has risen faster in the 1980s even than in the 1960s. That should bring home to us the fact that, whatever the arguments about last year’s or this year’s forecast, the fundamental indicators of the economy’s future performance and output are better than they have been within the political lifetime of most right hon. and hon. Members, and within the entire lifetime of some of them.

Maintaining that progress requires lower levels of inflation and of short-term interest rates—otherwise, the increased confidence that is at the centre of all those improvements will disappear. However, no one has argued convincingly that there is a better policy for bringing inflation down than that which the Chancellor is pursuing. Most criticism has been of the “We wouldn’t have started from here” variety, but it is incumbent on those who would do the Chancellor’s job for him to say what they would do if they had to start from here.

Nevertheless, it must be recognised that we face over the next year inflation at a higher level than we would have wished. Some people are less able than others to cope with that inflation, and some are particularly worried about it. Foremost among them are elderly people who are wholly or largely dependent on their basic state pension. The Government have done a great deal to help many pensioners in several ways. The abolition of the earnings rule will help many who are still able to earn, and lower inflation over the lifetime of the Government has helped those with savings.

Last autumn’s announcement of an additional increase this year for the oldest pensioners will help those in that category. Huge numbers, however, still depend heavily on the basic state pension. In the coming year, they face a pension increase indexed to, but lagging behind, RPI inflation—which may in any case understate the inflation that they experience, as their own expenditure is disproportionately weighted towards some large items such as household rates and basic utilities, the cost of which for most people is rising faster than the retail price index.

I hope that in the coming year the Government will have the pensioner in the forefront of their collective mind and, as far as the economy permits, will feel able by some means to help still more pensioners by doing somewhat more than simply indexing their basic pensions to the RPI. If they can do that, they will avoid much dissatisfaction and some genuine hardship.

That is the point that I wanted to make—within the context of strong and whole-hearted support for the economic and budgetary policies of Her Maesty’s Government. I thank the House for its indulgence, and hope that there will be many more occasions, Madam Deputy Speaker, on which I may try to catch your eye.

Mark Lyall Grant – 2014 Speech on Ukraine

Below is the text of the speech made by Mark Lyall Grant, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, at the UN Security Council on 3rd March 2014.

Madame President,

The pretence is now over. The world can see that Russian military forces have taken control of the Crimean Peninsula, part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine. This action is against the expressed wishes of the legitimate Ukrainian Government. It is a clear and unambiguous violation of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and is a flagrant breach of international law.

We can see absolutely no justification for these actions. We have heard from Russia that their forces are in Ukraine to protect minorities from armed radicals and anti-Semites; we hear claims of interference in the affairs of the Orthodox Church, we hear claims of hundreds of thousands of refugees. But Russia has provided no evidence for any of this. It is clear that these claims have simply been fabricated to justify Russian military action.

In assuming control of a sovereign part of Ukraine on a trumped up pretext, the Russian Federation has contravened its obligations as a member of the international community. It has violated Article 2 of the UN Charter, which prohibits ‘the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state’. It has failed to honour its international commitments as a founding member of the OSCE and as a signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. It has reneged on its obligations under the 1997 bilateral Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between Russia and Ukraine and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

The Russian representative claims that Mr Yanukovich has called for Russian military intervention. We are talking about a former leader who abandoned his office, his capital and his country. Whose corrupt governance brought his country to the brink of economic ruin. Who suppressed protests against his government leading to over eighty deaths and whose own party has abandoned him. The idea that his pronouncements now convey any legitimacy whatsoever is farfetched and of a keeping with the rest of Russia’s bogus justification for its actions. The government in Kiev is legitimate and has been overwhelmingly endorsed by the Ukrainian parliament.

In the 21st Century no country should be acting with such blatant disregard for international law. These actions will be met with a strong and united response from the international community. Russia should not be surprised that its political and economic reputation have already suffered. The Rouble has fallen and the Russian stock market is now down more than ten percent.

Madame President,

Just as we condemn the Russian Federation for its confrontational acts, we commend the Government of Ukraine for refusing to rise to provocation. This is a wise decision. We urge the Ukrainian government to continue to act calmly and to avoid actions or rhetoric that would inflame tensions or provide a further pretext for further military action.

Madame President,

We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease all military action in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine. Russian should withdraw its forces to their bases and return to force levels previously agreed with the Government of Ukraine as part of the Black Sea Fleet basing arrangements.

If Russia is genuinely concerned about protecting minority groups and upholding the human rights of Ukrainian citizens, then armed intervention is not the way to address these concerns.

Instead, Russia should open up a direct dialogue with the Ukrainian Government in Kiev; and not simply pick and choose individuals with whom they wish to engage. They should respond to requests by Ukraine and other signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum to hold consultations, as specified by paragraph 6 of that Memorandum.

They should engage constructively in the debate taking place in the OSCE and other institutions concerning the deployment of a fact-finding mission and an international observer mission to Ukraine. Such a mission could establish the real facts on the ground, monitor the situation and indeed provide any necessary reassurances and guarantees, through peaceful means.

We welcome the UN Secretary General’s decision to send the Deputy Secretary General to Kiev today. I hope that he would also go to the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. We call on the UN Secretary General to use his good offices to their fullest extent to help to de-escalate the current situation.

Madame President,

This is not 1968 or 1956. The era in which one country can suppress democratisation in a neighbouring state through military intervention on the basis of transparently trumped-up pretexts is over. We stand ready to work with Ukraine, Russia and all our international partners to support a stable, united, inclusive and economically prosperous Ukraine.

The United Kingdom urges Russia to uphold its obligations under international law, including under the UN Charter. To act in a way which promotes stability, rather than to destabilise the region through the promotion of new frozen conflicts. To support democratic processes and the rule of law, not to subvert or suppress them.

Response by Ambassador Lyall Grant of the UK Mission to the UN, to Ambassador Churkin of the Russian Federation, at the Security Council meeting on Ukraine

Thank you Madame President,

I don’t want to prolong this debate, but I must take issue with some of the things that the Russian Ambassador has said.

Let’s be clear about the facts about what has happened in Crimea. The Russian forces have forcibly taken over military and civilian airports, the infrastructure. They have set up road blocks. They have pressurised Ukrainian military leaders to defect. They have given other Ukrainian units ultimatums to surrender. They have blocked Ukrainian ports and they have vastly increased the Russian military forces all along the Russian / Ukrainian border.

There is no justification for this military action in Ukrainian international law or in the Agreement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on the Status and Conditions for the Presence of the Russian Federation Black Sea Fleet on the territory of Ukraine as article 6 of that says very clearly and I quote: “Military formations shall respect the sovereignty of Ukraine, shall abide by Ukrainian laws and shall not interfere in the internal affairs of Ukraine.”

And what part of that agreement justifies the military action that we have seen Russia taking in the Crimea?

My Russian colleague has said just now that the Russian Federation is not against the idea of an OSCE Monitoring Mission to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Can he now confirm that the Russian Federation accepts the deployment in the next few days of such a mission?

2013 Government Statement on Libya

Below is the text of the speech made on behalf of the UK to the Security Council on 14th November 2013.

Mr President,

Let me thank the Prosecutor for her report and briefing on the situation in Libya.

The United Kingdom has been concerned by the ongoing difficulty in Libya’s internal political situation since the Prosecutor delivered her last report. These challenges are, to some extent, to be expected after four decades of misrule. Security and justice sector reform is, however, more critical now than ever before if Libya is to rebuild its state institutions and return to stability in the aftermath of the revolution. We, along with our international partners, remain committed to working with Libya to provide it with the support it needs to meet the serious challenges it faces.

Mr President,

We welcome ongoing efforts to investigate, and bring to justice, all those who are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity since 15 February 2011. We particularly welcome the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the Office of the Prosecutor and the Government of Libya on burden-sharing in further investigations and prosecutions and hope swift progress can be made on its implementation.

The United Kingdom welcomed Libya’s positive response to the recommendations made in the UN report on torture and deaths in detention in Libya. We echo the Office of the Prosecutor’s call upon the Libyan Government to fully implement its April 2013 law criminalising torture, enforced disappearances and discrimination. We also share their concerns about Libya’s slow progress on processing detainees. We echo calls for Libya to work closely with the UN and ICRC to help independently confirm the screening and processing of detainees, releasing those against whom there is little or no evidence and submitting the remainder to trial. In doing so, we believe that this will help to establish confidence in the Libyan justice system.

We fully support the ongoing investigations in relation to gender crimes and in relation to the situation of internally displaced persons, including Tawerghans. These efforts continue to play an important part in challenging impunity and ensuring accountability for those who bear the greatest responsibility for the most serious crimes. We urge the Libyan Government to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.

Mr President,

The United Kingdom is grateful for the update from the Prosecutor on the cases of Saif al-Islam Qadhafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi. We note in particular the recent decision of the Pre-trial chamber of the ICC that the Al-Senussi case is to proceed in Libya.

The UK supports the right of Libya to hold national trials for crimes committed within its jurisdiction; any action must be taken in line with the decisions of the ICC. Detention must be in accordance with international law, including access to legal advisers, and trials must be consistent with Libya’s international human rights obligations. We encourage Libya’s full cooperation with the Court on the Saif al-Islam Qadhafi and the Abdullah Al-Senussi cases. Mr President, The United Kingdom continues to be a friend of Libya and a supporter of the ICC. We look forward to future cooperation between Libya and the Court as Libya works to return to stability in the aftermath of revolution.

Thank you, Mr President.

Michael Gove – 2014 Speech on Education Reform


Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Education, on 10 July 2014.

It’s an enormous pleasure to join the Education Foundation in welcoming everyone today to the first ever global Education Reform Summit held here in London.

Everyone here has a story to tell about the changes that idealistic teachers are making to improve the lives of the next generation.

Everyone here will also have experiences to share about the specific challenges they face in helping children to succeed.

And all of us will be able to learn from each other – about those successes and challenges – in order to ensure that we can all make a difference for good to the lives of young people.

A shared moral purpose

Because everyone here is united by more than just a professional commitment to improving education. We all share a moral purpose – liberating individuals from ignorance, democratising access to knowledge, making opportunity more equal, giving every child an equal chance to succeed.

And nowhere has the case for reform to drive that moral mission been clearer than in England.

As part of our long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain, we want to deliver the best schools and skills for our young people. We want young people and their parents to have the peace of mind that they’ll gain the skills they need to get a good job, no matter where they live or how well off they are.

When this government was formed in 2010 we inherited one of the most segregated and stratified education systems in the developed world.

More than a fifth of children left primary school without reaching a basic level of literacy and numeracy; two-fifths finished full-time education without even the bare minimum qualifications that most employers and universities demand.

And what made this scandal more shameful was the inequality it entrenched. The poorest students overwhelmingly attended the weakest schools. And as children made their way through the education system in England, the gap between rich and poor widened.

Closing that gap is a personal crusade for me.

But it’s also an economic imperative for every developed nation.

Because the twin forces of economic globalisation and technological advance are transforming the world we live in.

Our jobs, our lives, our economies and our societies are going through dramatic and irreversible change.

For the next generation to flourish, education systems must equip every child with the knowledge and skills, the qualifications and confidence they need to succeed.

Children who leave school with no skills or low skills will find their employment opportunities limited and their horizons narrowed.

If we are to defeat the evil of youth unemployment and give the next generation economic security then many more children need to be educated to a far higher level than we now accept.

We need not just to close the gap, but to raise the bar.

Based on rigorous evidence

And while globalisation and technology make reform imperative, they also allow it to be more collaborative.

We have to achieve both much greater equity and much higher standards than our predecessors – but we also have access to much richer data and much deeper knowledge about what works.

We now have the networks and mechanisms to assess policies more rigorously than ever before, compare innovations and learn from each other.

In the past, great teachers – and indeed education ministers – have operated in isolation from any systematic and rigorous analysis of which of their interventions worked. Views on pedagogy or funding had to be taken on trust.

But in the last decade there has been a much more rigorous and scientific approach to learning. Instead of a faddish adherence to quack theories about multiple intelligences or kinaesthetic learners, we have had the solidly grounded research into how children actually learn of leading academics such as E.D. Hirsch or Daniel T. Willingham.

And when it comes to analysing which interventions, approaches and techniques help children to learn more quickly, more deeply and more sustainably we have also had access to a better bank of data than ever before,

The OECD’s PISA study, alongside the data from PIRLS, TIMSS and other studies, have transformed our understanding of what works.

And that data and the data of what happens in individual classrooms with individual practitioners has been analysed by reformers from John Hattie to Sir Michael Barber, so the lessons of what works can be shared more effectively than ever before.

One of the most encouraging trends in English education – which helps the cause of reform worldwide – is the way in which those leading the debate and driving evidence-based change in our schools are teachers.

We commissioned Dr Ben Goldacre – the author of ‘Bad Science’, a brilliant debunking of pseudo-scientific myths and fallacies – to help improve the use of evidence in English education.

And the biggest enthusiasts for his work have been teachers.

Teachers such as Andrew Old, Daisy Christodoulou, Robert Peal, Joe Kirby, Kris Boulton and Tom Bennett have used social media and professional networks to drive this move towards a more rigorous and evidence-based approach to helping children learn.

We in the UK government want to do everything to support this move. We believe the evidence base we build here can help children worldwide. We set up a new charity, the Education Endowment Foundation, to trial and evaluate the most effective techniques to narrow the gap in attainment between children from rich and poor backgrounds.

We have also set up a network of teaching schools to act as generators of evidence and excellent practice in education in the same way as teaching hospitals generate medical innovation.

These are schools rated outstanding by independent inspectors – and they are pioneering breakthroughs in learning and building evidence from which all professionals can benefit.

As are similar organisations across the globe, from the What Works Clearinghouse, Uncommon Schools and the Knowledge is Power Programme.

Improvements so far

We have built our reform programme in this country on the evidence we have gathered so far of what works in those countries where the gap has been narrowed and the bar has been raised.

We have studied what works in the highest performing and most improved education systems – from Poland and the Netherlands to Singapore and Shanghai – and we have sought to implement the essence of those policies here.

That has meant:

  • setting the highest standards nationally
  • ensuring every child can follow a stretching academic curriculum to the age of 16
  • giving principals more autonomy to hire and fire, set curricular policy and shape the school day
  • sharpening accountability through more rigorous, externally set tests and more intelligent inspection
  • devoting extra money to helping the poorest students
  • celebrating success wherever it’s found

We’ve done all we can to ensure the authority, respect and prestige of teachers is enhanced in and beyond the classroom. We’ve scrapped absurd ‘no touch’ policies which prevented teachers from keeping control in the classroom as well as keeping children safe; and given teachers back powers to manage pupil behaviour.

By following the evidence – by adhering to the principle that what’s right is what works – there has been a renaissance in English state education.

The benefits of our long-term plan are already starting to show:

  • more great schools
  • more great teachers
  • more pupils studying the subjects they need to get a good job
  • record numbers of apprenticeships

Since 2010, the number of children in failing secondary schools has fallen by almost a quarter of a million.

Eight hundred thousand more pupils are now being taught in schools ranked good or outstanding by independent inspectors compared to 2010 – and around 50 of those schools didn’t even exist 4 years ago.

In the same period, around 600 of the worst-performing primary schools have been taken over by expert sponsors or headteachers – the majority of which are already leading other schools with a proven track record of success.

This has been an explicit continuation of a policy set in train by 2 of my predecessors, Andrew Adonis and Tony Blair: the academies programme.

Progress on this policy stalled under Gordon Brown but has been massively accelerated under this government.

It is giving the very best heads control over many more schools, and thousands of children a better start in life.

Underperforming schools taken into the academies programme and placed under the leadership of great heads are improving more rapidly than those schools which remain in the hands of local politicians.

A stunning example of what’s happened under this programme is the progress made by a school in London which used to be called Downhills Primary and which has been reborn as Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane.

When Downhills was under the control of local politicians, it failed its pupils year after year. For almost a decade it drifted in and out of the very lowest category of performance: ‘special measures’.

Pupils failed to meet minimum standards in maths and English for 5 years in succession – provoking repeated demands for significant improvement.

When it was proposed that Downhills should become an academy and benefit from the leadership of great headteachers who had brought success elsewhere, local politicians and trade unions fought reform every step of the way.

But 2 years later the evidence is clear. As Ofsted’s first inspection of the new Harris Academy Philip Lane reported:

Pupils’ progress has improved rapidly since the academy opened in 2012 […]. Leadership and management, including governance, are outstanding. Leaders have brought about considerable improvements in teaching, behaviour and achievement because of very high expectations [and] worked very closely with parents, who are supportive of the academy.

This transformation is a credit to the hard work and dedication of the school’s teachers and leaders – and of the Harris Federation’s expert, experienced team.

Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane is now giving hundreds of pupils and parents a better, brighter chance in life. Like all the Harris academies – and particularly through the 2 Harris teaching schools – spreading their best practice and outstanding teaching techniques to many more schools than ever before.

And it’s not alone. All over the country, failing schools are being taken over and transformed – and brand new schools are being set up, bringing new choice and high standards.

And this renaissance is being driven by teachers

Look at the Greenwood Dale trust, led by the recently and deservedly knighted Sir Barry Day.

As a teacher, Barry worked in some of the most deprived schools in the country, helping children from the poorest backgrounds. As head of Greenwood Dale School, a secondary in an extremely deprived area of Nottingham, he transformed a failing school into one of the most successful schools in the country – and one of the first to become an academy sponsor in its own right.

Today – overseeing 22 academies and 2 free schools – he’s using that proven track record to reach exponentially more children than ever before.

Right across the East Midlands, working in the most disadvantaged communities, Greenwood Dale Trust academies are achieving fantastic results. Last year, on average, the proportion of pupils achieving 5 or more good GCSEs including English and maths rose more than twice as fast in Greenwood Dale Trust academies as in local authority schools across the country.

And there are many, many more examples. Look at Reach Academy in Feltham, a new, innovative, all-through free school founded by dedicated teachers.

Look at the London Academy of Excellence, a fantastic new sixth-form free school, drawing its students from some of the most deprived areas of London and aiming to send them to the top universities in the world.

Look at Sir Michael Wilkins’ schools – including a teaching school – in the Outwood Grange Trust. More others than I can mention – teachers leading change in a self-improving system.

Further to go

But that doesn’t mean ‘job done’. There’s still much further to go.

In 10 years’ time, children who started school back in September 2010 will be finishing compulsory education at the age of 18 – the first cohort since our reforms began.

So today I’d like to set out what the self-improving system should achieve by that time.

What a world-class education, and education system, will look like – not just today and tomorrow, but next year, and in 2024 and beyond.

More and more schools run – and more and more decisions made – by teachers, not politicians.

Higher standards and higher expectations from every school and every pupil at every stage and every age.

More children from all backgrounds taking core academic subjects at GCSE – the best possible preparation for apprenticeships, places at top universities, and good jobs.

A drastic reduction in levels of illiteracy and innumeracy in our country and in our schools.

A marked and sustained rise in school quality, driven by every school being part of a supportive, collaborative chain or network – because when you give schools more autonomy, they collaborate more, not less.

Calm, orderly classrooms, and stretching, challenging curricula. Exams that command respect among universities and employers alike.

Basically, it means this.

Every child in the country, no matter where they live, what their background, or whatever type of school they attend, gets the sort of education which introduces them to the best that has been thought and said.

The sort of education which equips them to do whatever they want in life – and leaves no opportunity out of reach.


That is the mission which drives me and unites all of us.

This is the goal we are all striving to achieve.

Of course, any change to the status quo is difficult. Of course, people can be more frightened of what might be lost than inspired by what might be gained.

But for years, for decades, our status quo has simply not been good enough. We can’t and we mustn’t keep going backwards – and failing the poorest above all.

So to those striking today – to those walking out of classrooms to take to the streets – I urge them to reconsider.

The unions, in the past, have claimed to ‘stand up for education’. Today they’re standing up for their own pay and pensions.

I urge them to join all of us in this hall, all of us who are really standing up for education – putting education first and foremost – and the education of our most deprived children most of all.

So thank you again for coming here today.

For your commitment to the future of education – and the futures of every individual child in your care, today, tomorrow and in the years to come.

Thank you, above all, to the Education Foundation for all their hard work to create this event today.

May it be a celebratory, ambitious, inspiring day for all of us – and a turning point in the global movement of education reform.

Thank you.

Michael Gove – 2015 Speech on Making Prisons Work


Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, to the Prisoners Learners Alliance on 17 July 2015.

Last Friday a journalist was anxiously trying to confirm a story with the Ministry of Justice. The reporter, a dogged fellow, wanted absolute confirmation from my own lips.

I’m sorry, my departmental colleagues replied, the minister can’t speak, he’s in prison.

Well, the journalist pleaded, I hope he gets out before my deadline for filing.

Fortunately, I was out in time, but the multiple ironies of the situation were not lost on me.

Not least that it was a distinguished alumnus of the tabloid press who was pleading most passionately for early release from prison.

For anyone given ministerial responsibility for prisons, it doesn’t take long to appreciate there are many ironies, paradoxes and curiosities, in our approach towards incarceration.

Or so it seems to me. I have only been in this post for two months, and I am still learning. So any judgements I make are inevitably tentative and provisional.

I want to make sure that any firm policy proposals for reform I make are rooted in solid evidence, respectful of academic research and only developed after rigorous testing and study. But there are some observations I have made which I want to share today because they will form a guide to the kind of questions I am asking and the shape of policy I want to develop.

The good that we find in prisons

The first remarkable thing I’ve found about our approach towards incarceration in England and Wales is how many good people there are in prison.

We are fortunate that we have so many good prison Governors and Directors who work extraordinary hours under great pressure to keep offenders securely and safely in custody while also preparing them for a new life outside.

We are also lucky that we have so many dedicated prison officers who work in difficult and dangerous conditions, in an environment which by its nature is always potentially violent, and who nevertheless strive to help offenders lead better, safer and more fulfilling lives.

The death earlier this month of the dedicated custody officer Lorraine Barwell was a tragic and poignant reminder of how much we owe those who undertake the necessary but difficult work of managing offenders, work on which our entire justice system depends.

I want to underline today – as I tried to when I appeared before the House of Commons Justice Committee on Wednesday – my admiration and gratitude for those who serve in our courts and prisons.

Indeed, in the prisons I have visited so far I have been struck, again and again, by the seriousness with which Governors take their responsibility for the souls in their care, and the combination of strict professionalism and humanity which marks the work of most prison officers. Few of us get to observe this work, fewer still would volunteer to do it, but all of us benefit from the dedicated service of those who work in our prisons, public and private.

I should say at this stage that the quality of our Governors and the professionalism of so many staff is not an accident, but a consequence of the leadership shown by Michael Spurr, the quite outstanding public servant who runs the National Offender Management Service. There are few people in public service as dedicated, knowledgeable, hard-working, principled and decent as Michael, and few people who would blush so much to hear it said.

And alongside those who are Governors and officers there are psychologists and chaplains, teachers and careers advisers, trained chefs and FE lecturers, volunteers from the arts and workers from charitable organisations who devote long hours, often for very little material reward, to help rehabilitate offenders.

All of us owe them a debt, because their work is, by definition, hidden from public view, often hard and frustrating and challenging to the spirit.

That so many people, from so many different professions, contribute to the work of rehabilitation in our prisons for so little reward or recognition is both humbling and inspiring.

And while individuals of every background contribute in so many ways it is striking how many of those who do work in our prisons are people of faith, from a huge variety of backgrounds.

The exhortation in St Matthew’s Gospel to help the hungry, the sick and the imprisoned is taken seriously, and lived out, by thousands of our fellow citizens every week. We should celebrate their example, and the faith which sustains them.

But while there are so many good people in our prisons, we are still, as a society, failing to make prisons work as they should.

And the failures which we lament

Prisons do work in isolating dangerous offenders from the rest of society, contributing to safer homes and streets. Prisons also work by punishing those who defy the law and prey on the weak, by depriving them of their liberty. Civilization depends on clear sanctions being imposed by the state on those who challenge the rules which guarantee liberty for the law-abiding.

But our prisons are not working in other – crucial – ways. Prisons are not playing their part in rehabilitating offenders as they should.

While individuals are in custody the state is responsible for every aspect of their welfare. We can determine who prisoners see, how they eat, wash and sleep. We can decide how they spend their day, what influences they are exposed to, what expectations we will hold them to, what they can watch, read and hear, what behaviour is rewarded and what actions punished, who we expect them to admire and what we hope they will aspire to.

And yet, despite this, 45% of adult prisoners re-offend within one year of release. For those prisoners serving shorter sentences – those of less than twelve months – the figure rises to 58%. And, saddest of all, more than two-thirds of offenders under the age of 18 re-offend within twelve months of release.

The human cost of this propensity to re-offend is, of course, borne by those who are the most frequent victims of crime – the poorest in our society. It is those without high hedges and sophisticated alarms, those who live in communities blighted by drug dealing and gang culture, those who have little and aspire to only a little more, who are the principal victims of our collective failure to redeem and rehabilitate offenders.

No government serious about building one nation, no minister concerned with greater social justice, can be anything other than horrified by our persistent failure to reduce re-offending.

As I have already acknowledged, there are many good people working in our prisons today but they are working in conditions which make their commitment to rehabilitation more and more difficult to achieve.

Our current prison estate is out-of-date, overcrowded and in far too many cases, insanitary and inadequate.

The most conspicuous, most recent, example of the problem we face was outlined in the Chief Inspector of Prison’s report into Pentonville. A Victorian institution opened in 1842 which is supposed to hold 900 offenders now houses 1300. The Chief Inspector’s team found blood-stained walls, piles of rubbish and food waste, increasing levels of violence, an absence of purposeful activity and widespread drug-taking. Not only are measures to reduce drug-taking among prisoners admitted with an addiction unsuccessful overall, nearly one in ten previously clean prisoners reported that they acquired a drug habit while in Pentonville.

Of course, Pentonville is the most dramatic example of failure within the prison estate, but its problems, while more acute than anywhere else, are very far from unique. Overall, across the prison estate, the number of prisoners in overcrowded cells is increasing.

Violence towards prisoners and prison staff is increasing and incidences of self-harm and suicide are also increasing. In the last year serious assaults in prison have risen by a third. In 2014/15 there were 239 deaths in custody; around a third were self-inflicted.

There are a number of factors driving these trends.

As crime overall has fallen, convictions for serious crime have not, so a higher proportion of offenders in our jails are guilty of significant offences. And among younger offenders, many are involved in gangs, and especially difficult to manage because they are committed to a culture of violence and revenge whether on the streets or in custody.

In addition, there has been a worrying increase in the availability of psycho-active substances, chemically-manufactured cannabinoids and other synthetic intoxicants, which are sometimes, misleadingly known as “legal highs”. As my colleague the Prisons Minister Andrew Selous has pointed out, they should, more accurately, be known as “lethal highs” because they can induce paranoia and psychotic episodes which lead to violent acts of self-harm and dreadful assaults on others.

Dealing with these problems in our jails has to be the first priority of those of us charged with prison policy. Unless offenders are kept safe and secure, in decent surroundings, free from violence, disorder and drugs, then we cannot begin to prepare them for a better, more moral, life.

My predecessors in this role, Ken Clarke and Chris Grayling, and Andrew’s predecessors as Prisons Minister, Crispin Blunt and Jeremy Wright knew this. And they also knew the work of change would not be easy.

Thanks to their efforts steps are being taken to improve safety and security in our jails.

New operational and legislative responses are being introduced to strengthen the efforts to keep illegal drugs out of prison and to tackle the threat posed by new psychoactive substances.

We are trialling a new body scanner to prevent contraband from entering prison, strengthening our response to the threats posed by illicit mobile phones and taking measures to deal more effectively with those offenders who have links to organised crime networks outside prison.

And as well as enhanced security measures there is an increased emphasis on educating prisoners, their visitors and prison staff on the dangers posed by these substances.

But, as Ken and Chris knew, more needs to be done.

That’s why I think we have to consider closing down the ageing and ineffective Victorian prisons in our major cities, reducing the crowding and ending the inefficiencies which blight the lives of everyone in them and building new prisons which embody higher standards in every way they operate. The money which could be raised from selling off inner city sites for development would be significant.

It could be re-invested in a modern prison estate where prisoners do not have to share overcrowded accommodation but also where the dark corners that facilitate bullying, drug-taking and violence could increasingly be designed out.

By getting the law right, getting operational practice right and getting the right, new, buildings we can significantly improve the security and safety of our prisons.

But the most important transformation I think we need to make is not in the structure of the estate, it’s in the soul of its inmates.

Who do we imprison?

People go to prison because they have made bad choices. They have hurt others, wrecked their homes, deprived them of the things they cherish, violated innocence, broken lives and destroyed families. They have to be punished because no society can protect the weak and uphold virtue unless there is a clear bright line between civilised behaviour and criminality.

But there is something curious about those who find themselves making bad choices, crossing that line, and ending up in prison.

They are – overwhelmingly – drawn from the ranks of those who have grown up in circumstances of the greatest deprivation of all – moral deprivation – without the resources to reinforce virtue. And recognising that is critical to making prisons work.

The temptation to do the wrong but convenient thing and the willingness to follow the right, but hard course, the propensity to lie and the determination to be honest, the tendency to cut moral corners and the inclination to serve rather than seize must be mixed in all of us. And it must be equally spread across tribes and classes, faiths and families. None has a monopoly on virtue.

And yet the population in our prisons is drawn – overwhelmingly – from a particular set of backgrounds.

Prisoners come – disproportionately – from backgrounds where they were deprived of proper parenting, where the home they first grew up in was violent, where they spent time in care, where they experienced disrupted and difficult schooling, where they failed to get the qualifications necessary to succeed in life and where they got drawn into drug-taking.

Three quarters of young offenders had an absent father, one third had an absent mother, two-fifths have been on the child protection register because they were at risk of abuse and neglect.

  • 41% of prisoners observed domestic violence as a child
  • 24% of prisoners were taken into care as children. That compares with just 2% of the general population
  • 42% of those leaving prison had been expelled from school when children compared to 2% of general population
  • 47% have no school qualifications at all – not one single GCSE – this compares to 15% of the working age general population
  • Between 20 and 30% of prisoners have learning difficulties or disabilities and 64% have used Class A drugs

Now, it must be said, that there are many young people who grow up in difficult circumstances, who experience poor parenting and who spend time in care who nevertheless lead successful and morally exemplary lives.

But they deserve special praise because growing up in a home where love is absent or fleeting, violence is the norm and stability a dream is a poor preparation for adult life, for any life.

Children who grow up in homes where there is no structure and stability, where parents are under pressure, mentally ill, in the grip of substance abuse or neglectful and abusive in other ways are less likely to succeed at school.

Children who lack support when they’re learning, in particular boys who find difficulty in learning to read often mask their failure with shows of bravado and short-tempered aggression or just opt out of school life altogether. Boys start playing truant, become excluded and then find role models not in professional adults who achieve success through hard work but in gang leaders who operate without constraints in a world of violent, drug-fuelled, hedonism.

It should not surprise us that young people who grow up in circumstances where the moral reinforcement the rest of us enjoy is absent are more likely to make bad choices.

Why there must be punishment

Now that should not lead us to weaken our attachment to the codes, rules and laws which keep our nation civilized, nor should we shy away from the punishment necessary to uphold those rules and protect the weak. The people who would, in any case, be hurt most by relaxing our laws against drugs, violence, abuse and cruelty would be those who have grown up in homes plagued by those evils, all too many of whom have themselves in turn been brutalised and coarsened into criminality. We must not, therefore, in the American phrase “define deviancy down”. We must not imagine that softening the laws on drugs, or shying away from exemplary penalties for violent conduct, will make life easier and safer for children growing up in disordered, abusive and neglectful surroundings.

We can, of course, intervene earlier in the lives of these children. And the work led by my colleagues Nicky Morgan and Edward Timpson to improve child protection, support children in care better, speed up adoption and strengthen social work will all make a difference.

As will the changes to school behaviour policy pioneered by Charlie Taylor and Nick Gibb and now being built on by Nick and Tom Bennett. Tighter rules on truancy, more sanctions for bad behaviour and improved services for children at risk of exclusion will all help. As indeed will welfare changes which support more people into work and provide the right incentives for the right choices.

But even as these reforms are implemented at pace, and even as we strive for greater social justice we must also remember the imperatives of criminal justice.

When individuals transgress then punishment should be swift and certain. The courts should ensure victims do not have to wait long months before criminals face trial and the sentences passed down should be applied proportionally and reflect the moral sentiments of the public in a democracy.

Why there must be a new approach to prison

Then, however, after an offender is caught, convicted and sentenced, when they are placed in custody they are placed in our care.

Prison is a place where people are sent as a punishment, not for further punishments. And if we ensure that prisons are calm, orderly, purposeful places where offenders can learn the self-discipline, the skills and the habits which will prepare them for outside life then we can all benefit.

Human beings whose lives have been reckoned so far in costs – to society, to the criminal justice system, to victims and to themselves – can become assets – citizens who can contribute and demonstrate the human capacity for redemption.

And offenders whose irresponsibility has caused pain and grief can learn the importance of taking responsibility for their lives, becoming moral actors and better citizens.

As Winston Churchill argued, there should be “a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man.”

Which is why in the reform programme our prisons need we must put a far greater emphasis on inculcating the virtues which are, in Churchill’s words, “curative and regenerating”, and which rehabilitate prisoners, as he argued for, “in the world of industry”.

Liberating prisoners through learning

That means an end to the idleness and futility of so many prisoners’ days. A fifth of prisoners are scarcely out of their cells for more than a couple of hours each day. As the Chief Inspector of Prisons argued so powerfully this week:

Our judgement that purposeful activity outcomes were only good or reasonably good in 25% of the adult male prisons we inspected is of profound concern. It is hard to imagine anything less likely to rehabilitate prisoners than days spent lying on their bunks in squalid cells watching daytime TV.

Ofsted inspection of prison education confirms that one in five prisons are inadequate for their standard of education and another two-fifths require improvement. Fewer than half are good, scarcely any outstanding. In prisons there is a – literally – captive population whose inability to read properly or master basic mathematics makes them prime candidates for re-offending. Ensuring those offenders become literate and numerate makes them employable and thus contributors to society, not a problem for our communities. Getting poorly-educated adults to a basic level of literacy and numeracy is straightforward, if tried and tested teaching models are followed, as the armed forces have demonstrated. So the failure to teach our prisoners a proper lesson is indefensible.

I fear the reason for that is, as things stand, we do not have the right incentives for prisoners to learn or for prison staff to prioritise education. And that’s got to change.

I am attracted to the idea of earned release for those offenders who make a commitment to serious educational activity, who show by their changed attitude that they wish to contribute to society and who work hard to acquire proper qualifications which are externally validated and respected by employers.

I think more could be done to attach privileges in prison to attendance and achievement in education. But I believe the tools to drive that change need to be in the hands of Governors.

At the moment I fear that one of the biggest brakes on progress in our prisons is the lack of operational autonomy and genuine independence enjoyed by Governors. Whether in state or private prisons, there are very tight, centrally-set, criteria on how every aspect of prison life should be managed. Yet we know from other public services – from the success of foundation hospitals and academy schools – that operational freedom for good professionals drives innovation and improvement. So we should explore how to give Governors greater freedom – and one of the areas ripest for innovation must be prison education.

At the moment, Governors don’t determine who provides education in their prisons, they have little control over quality and few effective measures which allow them to hold education providers to account. If we gave Governors more control over educational provision they could be much more imaginative, and demanding, in what they expect of both teachers and prisoners.

A more rigorous monitoring of offenders’ level of educational achievements on entry, and on release, would mean Governors could be held more accountable for outcomes and the best could be rewarded for their success.

Giving Governors more autonomy overall would enable us to establish, and capture, good practice in a variety of areas and spread it more easily.

Allowing Governors greater space for research into, and discussion of, practical penal policy reform would reinforce a culture of innovation and excellence which would benefit us all.

As would welcoming more providers into the care and education of offenders. Just as visionary organisations like Harris and ARK have widened the range of organisations running great state schools in this country, and thanks to my predecessor Chris Grayling new organisations are helping to improve probation, so new providers have a role to play in helping us manage young offenders, improve educational outcomes in prison and indeed possibly manage some of the new prison provision we need to build.

These are technical – and complex – policy questions. As I ask them I do so in a spirit of genuine inquiry – I am open to good ideas – from wherever they come – which will help us improve our prisons.

But while I am open to all ideas, and keen to engage with the widest range of voices, there is a drive to change things, an urgent need to improve how we care for offenders, which will shape my response. We must be more demanding of our prisons, and more demanding of offenders, making those who run our prisons both more autonomous and more accountable while also giving prisoners new opportunities by expecting them to engage seriously and purposefully in education and work.

Our streets will not be safer, our children will not be properly protected and our future will not be more secure unless we change the way we treat offenders and offenders then change their lives for the better. There is a treasure, if only you can find it, in the heart of every man, said Churchill. It is in that spirit we will work.

Michael Gove – 2014 Speech on Vocational Education


Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey on 3rd March 2014.

Thank you very much for that kind introduction.

It’s a huge pleasure to be here at McLaren today – during what must be a brief and exceedingly busy period before the grands prix roar into action.

As this incredible setting shows – more like a Bond villain’s lair than anywhere I’ve ever spoken before – McLaren are world leaders in technological innovation; constantly and quite literally reinventing the wheel, to make it ever faster, ever more aerodynamic, ever more efficient.

This restless pursuit of excellence builds on an impressive sporting heritage.

Since their first race in 1966, McLaren have won more grands prix than any other Formula 1 marque – with champions like Ayrton Senna, James Hunt, Niki Lauda and, of course, Lewis Hamilton.

But just as important as a glorious past is a bright future.

Which is why McLaren are taking part in helping to train the next generation of engineers, scientists and inventors.

Through apprenticeships, trainees, internships, work experience and as STEM ambassadors, McLaren are every bit as much a world-beating educational institution as Oxford University or Imperial College – introducing young people to the dazzling potential of science and technology, and training them to play their part.

The future is coming faster than we think

It’s fitting that I’m here where educational and technical innovation meet, because I want to talk today about the future relationship between education and the world of work.

I want to do so because the world of work is changing at high speed – and we are about to see that change accelerate at dramatic pace.

If young people are to be prepared for that radically changing world of work, we need a plan to change our education system – and to secure their future.

In particular, we need to end the artificial and damaging division between the academic and the practical – the apartheid at the heart of our education system.

We need to ensure that more students enjoy access to the academic excellence which will make a practical difference to their job prospects in a fast-changing world.

And we need to ensure that practical, technical and vocational education is integrated with academic learning to make both more compelling for all students in our schools, and more valuable in the new labour market.

It’s important to stress, of course, that education is about more, much more, than preparation for employment.

It’s an initiation of every new generation into the best that’s been thought and written. It’s an exploration of all the riches of human creativity. And a preparation for the moral responsibilities of adult life.

But education is also – critically – the means by which we can give each individual the chance to shape their own future; their future employment as well as their cultural, social and moral lives.

The right education – the acquisition of the right skills – can enable any individual to take control of their economic destiny rather than being left at the mercy of economic forces beyond their control.

And getting every child’s education right is central to our long-term economic plan for the country.

We cannot afford to leave any intellect untapped, any pair of hands idle, because the security we want for all can only be achieved by a first-class education for all.

Because of the economic forces which are reshaping our world now, getting education right has never mattered more.

Globalisation – the opening up of markets which followed the collapse of communism – has meant that those with the right skills have a wider choice of jobs and career paths, and goods and services, than ever before.

But it has also meant that those with the wrong skills – or no skills – have found their opportunities narrowing, as employment opportunities migrate to nations with lower labour costs, or technology renders more and more traditional jobs redundant.

What economists call the economic return to skills – basically the extra amount you earn for being well educated – is remorselessly high. And for those with good maths skills the premium on their earnings is even higher.

But while globalisation has had a powerful effect on our economic destinies, other changes – only now beginning to be felt – will be even more dramatic.

Technology is poised to change the world of work in a manner as dramatic as the shift from a predominantly agricultural to a predominantly industrial society which advanced nations underwent in the 19th century.

The second machine age – the robolution

We are embarking on a second industrial revolution – a new machine age.

Developments in a variety of fields – especially artificial intelligence – are changing how workplaces operate. Machines which once accelerated production because processes could be automated are now increasingly capable of operating autonomously. Cars which were once assembled by robotic technology are now being driven by robotic technology. I know – I’ve been in one. And Google’s driverless car is a far safer presence on the road than any vehicle which has me behind the wheel.

These breakthroughs – in artificial intelligence, robotics, and related fields – are changing every workplace we know.

It’s no longer simply routine manual labour which is capable of being performed better by machines than by men.

From train driving to surgery, auditing to merchandising, technology is reshaping the whole world of work. It is striking that the major tech companies who have done so much to shape our modern lives – like Google – are moving so speedily and heavily into this area.

Google’s driverless car is not a careless thought experiment on the part of a company which has hitherto been predominately virtual and digital rather than physical and mechanical.

It is a leading indicator of where tech is taking us next. Google has been investing very heavily recently in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics – with its acquisition of the robot firm Boston Dynamics, the smart thermostat make Nest Labs and the British AI company DeepMind.

And in case anyone thinks Google’s moves are just California dreaming, consider what’s happening in east Asia.

Fujitsu, the world’s third largest maker of IT products, is re-shoring its PC and mobile phone manufacturing from Thailand and the Philippines back to Japan because multifunction robots can solder and assemble parts more cheaply and efficiently than workers in developing nations.

Canon, the world’s leading supplier of digital cameras, has said it is “fully robotising” its digital camera and lens factories.

Similar advances in technology have meant that Hewlett-Packard and the Chinese computer firm Lenovo are increasing their production in Japan to take advantage of the greater efficiency and lower costs of fully automated – robotised – production.

Of course we’ve had robots on production lines for decades now. But it’s often the case that the real power of a new technology is only felt when its potential is liberated by other innovations.

Computers had been around for decades before the world wide web generated the changes which mean each of us now conducts so much of our lives via smartphone, tablet and laptop.

Similarly, breakthroughs in IT are proving to be a decisive, disruptive innovation changing how we deploy robots. The manufacturing process is now altered not by retooling production lines but by reprogramming machines with improved software – and in particular, by giving them the power to perform a complex series of actions.

When we place these changes in the context of other rapidly accelerating innovations – in speech recognition, vision sensors and wireless networking – it’s clear we are reaching an inflection point, when actions hitherto thought impossible to perform by machines become actions which it’s increasingly obsolete to leave to humans.

In the first industrial revolution, machines multiplied a thousandfold the physical power mankind could deploy.

In this second revolution, machines are poised to multiply by a similar factor our mental creativity.

Making all these opportunities more equal

These changes promise to make goods and services more abundant – and to allow human ingenuity an unimaginably broader canvas to work on.

But there are also dangers.

For those of us committed to social justice, to respecting the innate dignity of every human being, to giving every individual the chance to flourish economically, socially and emotionally, these changes constitute a profound challenge.

How can we avoid growing unemployment as technology displaces labour from jobs which now disappear? How can we ensure that, for example, those who currently, or might in the future, drive our tube trains or generate purchase orders and invoices, find jobs? How can we ensure young people have the ability to adapt to technological changes – to take advantage of them – to lead richer lives with more opportunities?

How can we prepare young people for jobs that don’t yet exist in industries that haven’t yet been invented in a world changing faster than any of us can predict?

And how can we ensure that these changes – whose ramifications will affect the whole shape of our economy and our society – can be harnessed to make our economy overall stronger and our society fairer?

The answer is by ensuring we implement all the elements of our long-term economic plan – and, critically, by pressing ahead with our reforms to improve schools.

Other jurisdictions are following the path we’ve set.

They are giving heads greater control of their schools.

They are enhancing the prestige of teaching by raising the bar on quality.

And they are ensuring curricula and exams are more rigorous – with a proper emphasis on the centrality of academic knowledge in the education available to all.

Giving all children access to high-quality teaching in maths, English, physics, chemistry, biology, languages and the humanities to the age of 16 provides every child with the opportunity to flourish whichever path they subsequently choose.

And more than giving children choices, that academic core also trains our minds to be critical and creative.

The work of cognitive scientists, most helpfully analysed by the University of Virginia’s Daniel T Willingham and buttressed by the research of educationists like ED Hirsch, has shown that the best way to develop critical thinking skills is to ensure all children have a firm grounding in a traditional knowledge-based curriculum.

As Willingham has pointed out,

Surprising though it may seem, you can’t just Google everything. You actually need to have knowledge in your head to think well. So a knowledge-based curriculum is the best way to get young people ‘ready for the world of work’.

Elsewhere, he said:

Knowledge does much more than just help students hone their thinking skills: it actually makes learning easier. Knowledge is not only cumulative, it grows exponentially. Those with a rich base of factual knowledge find it easier to learn more – the rich get richer. In addition, factual knowledge enhances cognitive processes like problem solving and reasoning. The richer the knowledge base, the more smoothly and effectively these cognitive processes – the very ones that teachers target – operate. So, the more knowledge students accumulate, the smarter they become.

And it’s demonstrably the case that the higher order thinking skills we need – even and especially, in the sphere of technology – can be and are successfully cultivated through traditional intellectual disciplines.

Mark Zuckerberg arrived at Harvard – and laid the groundwork for his future success – after close study of classical Greek, Latin and Hebrew at school. Sergey Brin of Google and Sal Khan of the Khan academy were gifted university mathematicians. Martha Lane Fox – the government’s digital champion – read ancient and modern history at university and Dido Harding, the chief executive of TalkTalk, who has been responsible for huge steps forward in e-safety, studied politics, philosophy and economics at university.

It is striking that the jurisdictions which have seen huge improvements in their schools in recent years – such as Poland – have been those which ensure all children have access to a stretching academic curriculum until at least the age of 17. No matter what path students choose – whether academic or vocational – they all share a core academic foundation on which to build.

And that desire to overcome false divisions, unhelpful stereotypes and the premature setting of young people into tracks from which they cannot later deviate lies behind our approach to education.

And just as last month I set out how we can tear down the Berlin Wall between state and independent schools, so today I am setting out how we can end the apartheid between academic and practical learning.

It’s critically important that we recognise the value of traditional academic disciplines – and should not allow them to be abandoned, neglected, or thought of as suitable only for a minority of students.

But we must also ensure that we are alive to the ways in which technology and other innovations are now in a position to help us to overcome the unnecessary and harmful divide between the academic and the technical – between thinking and doing – which has held us back as a nation.

Bringing together thinking and making

For centuries since the Renaissance, dominant education models have had a strict separation between, first, what is regarded as learning and, second, training people to make things.

This separation has helped to generate – and perpetuate – class divisions. It has, in societies like our own, encouraged people to think in terms of intellectual castes – thinkers or makers, artists or designers – those happiest in the realm of the conceptual and those who prefer the hard and practical.

Now, thanks to technological developments and groundbreaking innovators, this is changing.

We can now reunite making things with the training of the intellect.

Take computer science, for instance. There’s no doubt that it’s a demanding intellectual discipline: computer sciences courses at Cambridge or Stanford are every bit as rigorous – if not more so – than degrees from our best universities in pure mathematics or classical languages.

But one of the great virtues of computer science is that it enables students to create things of both utility and beauty even as they push forward the boundaries of intellectual exploration. The apps on our smartphones are the application of conceptual scientific thinking in the most immediately practical way conceivable.

Sadly, however, we’ve been failing to provide our children with the opportunities to think and make anew in this way. For years now we’ve introduced students to computers at school through an undemanding – indeed, frankly dull – ICT curriculum.

It taught students how to fill in spreadsheets and prepare slideshows, how to use applications which were already becoming obsolete – rather than enabling them to see how they could create new applications, by offering them the chance to code, to let their imaginations roam, to build their own future.

From this September, however, we will be teaching every child in the country how to code and programme, how to master algorithms and design their own apps, through our new computing curriculum.

It’s been drawn up by industry experts alongside teachers and academics. And it’s unique among major economies. As Eric Schmidt of Google has said, this has made England a world leader – other countries are now considering how to follow our lead, including those ahead of us in the PISA tables.

It’s not just in computing, though, that students are being given new opportunities to think and make in the most innovative way possible.

In the existing design and technology curriculum students have had the opportunity to work with traditional products – wood and metal in resistant materials, wool and silk in textiles – to learn traditional methods of production. There is – and always will be – a demand for skilled artisanship of this kind. Indeed there has been a welcome resurgence of demand for the work of individual makers.

But now technology is radically redefining what it is to be a maker.

In the last few years there has been a huge improvement in the technology for – and a huge reduction in the price of – 3-dimensional fabricators, sometimes known as ‘3D printers’.

Machines that used to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds have shrunk in price dramatically. There are now 3D printers costing only a thousand pounds or less that are available to home hobbyists, small businesses, and – critically – schools.

The democratisation of access to this technology is already changing what we understand by design, by manufacturing and by artisanship. For example, Chris Anderson – the former editor of Wired – now uses 3D printers to build parts for his pioneering drone company.

These technologies are also dramatically changing education. Building on this opening up of access to manufacturing for all, MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms runs a course called ‘How to make (almost) anything’ – which has rapidly become hugely popular.

Two years ago in England, we began a pilot scheme to introduce 3D printers to English schools. It was only small but it gave pioneers a chance to learn. We are now working with teaching schools to develop training and best practice in how 3D printers can be used in teaching a range of subjects in schools.

And we have also overhauled our design and technology curriculum with the help of tech innovators like James Dyson to include the principles of 3D printing – and to place greater emphasis on the links with maths, science and computing.

I have already seen in some of our best schools how an attachment to traditional intellectual disciplines and modern technological innovation sit side by side. In Holland Park school – for example – the same students who study A level texts like King Lear at the age of 14 are also using 3D printers to design individual products which could take their place tomorrow on Ikea’s shelves.

But these technological advances hold out the promise of even greater scope for creativity and intellectual adventure in our schools and colleges in the future. If they can integrate the new science curriculum, the new maths curriculum with its emphasis on mathematical modelling, the new computer science curriculum, and 3D printers, we can give pupils the chance to do science themselves and to see the connections between physical principles, mathematical models, computer programs, and the art and design of engineering physical objects.

This will help in 2 directions – on one hand, it provides a new route for pupils to learn about old principles in physics, chemistry, and biology; and on the other, it provides a new route for pupils to learn about the connections between mathematical models and physical reality, with computers as an intermediary.

And it also provides a fantastically exciting way of reuniting learning and making things. As Neil Gershenfeld, the computer pioneer and head of the Center for Bits and Atoms, says, it ends the distinction that schools have lived with since the Renaissance.

Gershenfeld has seen how his own children have taken enthusiastically to the new opportunities technological innovation has brought. As he said, “I’ve even been taking my twins, now 6, in to use MIT’s workshops; they talk about going to MIT to make things they think of rather than going to a toy store to buy what someone else has designed.”

I think that the innovations Gershenfeld has talked about and helped advance will both enhance traditional aims in schools and colleges and also enthuse and inspire many children who have not been interested in traditional science lessons.

Because of the various changes we have made – which I think will be supported by the other political parties – we have a chance to lead in this fascinating new educational field.

Instead of thinking some students do GCSE triple science, others do hands-on courses; instead of thinking some students might aspire to intellectual exploration at university, others should prepare to be hewers of wood and drawers of water; instead of thinking some students are rational, mathematical and coolly cerebral; others are artistic, intuitive, design-oriented and creative – with this combination of changes, we can give every child the chance to make connections, develop both intellectually and practically, think and make.

I am convinced that Gershenfeld is right and the changes we are seeing will not only help the traditional aims of science education but will enormously expand what pupils know and do when they leave school. It will also help squash the idea that has been particularly damaging in England that messy practical subjects are a lower form of learning. It will end the apartheid in our education system that has held so many back.

Elevating the practical to the level of the intellectual

It was because I wanted to take head-on the idea that practical learning could never be as rigorous as academic that I and my colleague John Hayes commissioned Professor Alison Wolf – Britain’s leading expert on practical education – to review how those subjects were taught, funded and assessed.

We commissioned Alison right at the start of our time in government – long before we embarked on changes to the rest of the curriculum.

Alison’s report – published 3 years ago, to the day – made the case, compellingly, for proper equivalence between the practical and technical and the academic.

That is why we changed the funding of education for students between the ages of 16 and 18 to make it equal for all, whatever qualifications and courses they took – overturning a status quo which favoured the purely academic.

We also changed the demands we make of students after the age of 16, so all students – whether they are studying more practical or more academic courses – are increasingly expected to pursue maths beyond GCSE.

And any students who fail to get maths and English GCSE by the time they’re 16 must, whatever path they’re taking, pursue both subjects until they secure those qualifications. Without those basic intellectual accomplishments, the world of work is increasingly out of reach for students.

Alison also recommended changes to practical and technical qualifications – to make them as rigorous and demanding as academic qualifications.

Under previous governments, many so-called vocational qualifications were simply watered down or diluted academic courses with less rigorous content and lax forms of assessment.

As a result they conferred almost no benefit on students. They were badges that marked their bearers as undereducated. The reason these qualifications did not enjoy parity of esteem with academic qualifications was nothing to do with the subjects themselves and everything to do with the course design – there was no parity of difficulty, challenge, accomplishment or worth. Alison estimates that hundreds of thousands of students acquired these qualifications which actually had – in some cases – a negative impact on their employability.

Now every qualification which counts in our schools and colleges – academic or technical – must have a rigorous marking structure, external assessment, robust content and real stretch, or must be redeveloped to meet that standard. As a result there is – at last – the prospect of a genuine equality of worth and parity of esteem between all qualifications.

The CBI asked a few years ago when vocational qualifications would be as rigorous and respected as A levels. Thanks to Matthew Hancock’s development of Alison’s work, and the introduction of tech levels and a technical baccalaureate from September, that day is now coming.

We’re ending the apartheid between the academic and vocational – and giving every single young person in the country the best possible start to their future, whatever that future may be.

Alison’s and Matt’s work has helped us move our educational system towards the goal I’ve been aiming for – making opportunity more equal for all children. And all our curriculum and structural changes are designed to help every student succeed with the right mix and melding of courses and study for them.

But even as we bring students, courses and qualifications closer together as part of our long-term plan to secure our children’s future there is another element we need dramatically to improve on.

If our education system is to equip our children for the changing world of work, business must embrace change and work harder to get closer to education.

Bringing together the worlds of learning and working

Business – quite rightly – points out that it needs workers who possess not just impressive academic qualifications but attractive personal qualities. Employees need to be self disciplined, capable of subordinating their own instincts and interests to the needs of the team, responsive and respectful towards others, resourceful under pressure, tenacious and self motivating. Increasingly, they also need to be creative in the face of adversity, quick thinking when presented with unexpected challenges.

The first step to ensuring students have those character virtues is enforcing effective discipline and behaviour policies in all our schools.

We have given teachers new powers to ensure good behaviour – and we have enhanced the training new teachers receive to ensure they can manage behaviour better.

And we are also supporting schools in the cultivation of those virtues – character strengths – which employers value through co-curricular activities such as team sports, cadet forces, debating, dance, music and drama.

That’s why we’re investing over £150 million a year in sport in primary schools, to instil a sporting habit for life. It’s why we’re expanding the number of cadet forces in state schools and why we have national plans for music and culture education to support the work of individual schools.

But if these investments are to pay their full dividend – for young people, and for society more broadly – then business needs to play a bigger part in a joint venture.

We need business people with experience of company boardrooms on the governing boards of our schools. Headteachers and the professionals they lead thrive best in an atmosphere of thoughtful support and rigorous challenge. The skills required to provide that support and challenge exist in abundance in the business world. But too few business people volunteer to serve on school governing bodies.

We have made it easier to do so. Setting out changes to governance which mean meetings can be more focused, training for governors more tailored, unnecessary bureaucratic box-ticking has gone. The whole process has become more businesslike. Now business must meet the challenge.

We also need business to provide more opportunities for students to learn about the world of work directly from those who can speak with enthusiasm and passion about their companies and careers.

For young people reflecting on which career path to follow no information is as valuable, no inspiration so powerful as the testimony of those at the front line of business. That is why the new careers guidance produced by my colleague Matt Hancock is all about cutting out the middle man and getting inspirational speakers in front of students to spark their ambitions. Students can’t aspire to lives they’ve never known. So we need business people to visit schools, engage and inspire.

Initiatives like Robert Peston’s Speakers for Schools and Miriam González Durántez’s Inspiring the Future: Inspiring Women are superb models. But every business should be engaging with its local schools and colleges – offering speakers and competing to inspire the next generation.

And that inspiration should feed through directly to the offer of work experience.

I know that some companies have been reluctant to offer, or maintain, work experience because of the bureaucracy, risks and costs associated with it.

Offer a young person your time, interest and access to your workplace and you can then find yourself worrying about arcane, confusing and unnecessary regulatory burdens.

We’ve already started to sort out this nonsense. Last year the Health and Safety Executive stripped away unnecessary health and safety rules, the Home Office removed the need for criminal checks on employers offering under-18s work experience, the insurance industry – at the government’s request – confirmed that young people on work experience will be covered by employers’ liability insurance, and the Department for Education introduced new funding rules that encourage schools and colleges to arrange post-16 work experience. We’ve changed the law so that for most businesses, so long as you behave reasonably, you have discharged all your duties under health and safety legislation.

Soon, there will be no excuse for any company to decline to offer young people proper work experience.

Indeed, there is no excuse for not going further.

Thanks to the changes we’re making to the apprenticeship programme, there is no reason why every company in the country should not be offering apprenticeships.

Until now some of our most impressive companies have stood aloof from the apprenticeship programme. They’ve felt that it was too bureaucratic and costly to offer apprenticeships. And they argued that the apprenticeship frameworks – setting out the skills and competencies we expected apprentices to acquire in each industry – were too inflexible, and didn’t deliver the high-quality skills they needed.

So we set ourselves the challenge of simplifying the apprenticeship programme and making it more responsive to employers’ needs, so no employer could have any reason for standing aloof.

And we asked the hugely successful entrepreneur Doug Richard to help us strip the programme down to essentials.

He’s done a brilliant job.

Following his recommendations we’re introducing reforms to put employers in the driving seat – giving them control of more than £1.4 billion invested in apprenticeships by the government so that employers can demand higher quality from whatever training provider they choose, rather than giving it to providers who force employers to take whatever training they happen to want to offer. We’re getting rid of those study requirements which were inserted by self-serving lobby groups, bureaucrats and trade unions and which have nothing to do with preparing young people for the modern workplace.

Critically, we’re getting businesses to design the quality standards which mark out an apprentice in any field as properly qualified. They are leaders in their field and will ensure that the apprenticeship programme at last serves modern business needs rather than politicians’ vanity.

And building on Alison’s work we will also require apprentices to achieve GCSE passes in maths and English alongside their workplace learning. The apprenticeship standards themselves will only be met if students demonstrate both a theoretical and practical grasp of their area. This synoptic form of assessment will ensure that apprentices have both deep knowledge and an assured level of skill in their chosen career.

These reforms address every single one of the concerns raised by business about weaknesses in the apprenticeship programme we inherited. There is now therefore no excuse for business not to engage – and many who held back before, are now, thankfully, starting to get much more closely involved.

That is why I hope we will see every business as enthusiastic about playing its part in providing high-quality education and training as the employers in our trailblazers.

I’d like to see every business include details of its apprenticeship scheme – indeed details of its work experience programme, its speakers for schools programme and its level of commitment to providing school governors – in its annual report, on its website front page and every time its CEO speaks.

It’s also why, whenever business leaders report their results, I hope they’ll take the trouble to report apprenticeship growth – and be quizzed about their commitment to education and training by business journalists and shareholders.

A long-term plan for all our children

The proposals I’ve talked about today:

– changes to take advantage of technological breakthroughs

– changes inspired by what’s happening in the nations with the highest-performing educational institutions

– changes to make the curriculum more modern

– changes to make qualifications more rigorous

– changes to make funding fairer

– changes to ensure bureaucracy and regulation are reduced

– and changes to bring the world of work and education – making and learning – closer together

– are all elements in the comprehensive long-term plan we have to make our education system world class and our economy world-beating.

That plan has been designed to take account of the rapid change being forced on us by economic, social and, above all, technological changes, affecting every nation on earth.

That plan gives schools greater autonomy and flexibility to adapt to change and respond to innovation – through the academy and free schools programme.

It also gives schools more power, money and freedom to recruit the very best teachers in all the disciplines the modern workplace requires – with performance-related pay, improved teacher training and bursaries for the best graduates entering the profession.

But it holds schools to account more rigorously than ever for making sure every child succeeds – with tougher exams and performance tables that recognise the achievements of every child.

But if all our children are to benefit from these changes we need continuity in the direction of education policy, determination to meet the future unflinchingly, consistency in our pursuit of excellence.

That is what David Cameron and George Osborne’s leadership provides, and that is why it is vital the reform programme they have begun – the long-term plan they are implementing – is carried through to completion.

Michael Gove – 2013 Speech on the Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time


Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, to the Mayor of London’s Education conference on 22nd November 2013.

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination – and the death of a president who promised so much for the people of America.

It also – of course – marks the fiftieth anniversary of Lyndon B Johnson’s assumption of presidential office. LBJ’s initials do not inspire the affection in our memories that JFK’s do. But whatever else he did – and did not – do President Johnson achieved something both wonderful and powerful in office – he passed the civil rights legislation which at last allowed African-Americans the opportunity to take their place alongside white Americans as equal citizens of their republic.

When we look at America’s story the crimes of slavery, the horrors of Jim Crow, the ugliness of segregation are all – mercifully – in the past.

But even now – 50 years after Kennedy died, 50 years after Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, 150 years after Lincoln declared in the Gettysburg address that all men are created equal, there is still terrible inequality in America.

Black children face a tougher fight than others to get up and get on – they are less likely to succeed, more likely to fall on hard times.

As President Obama has pointed out – the struggle for civil rights goes on. And the arena in which that fight is fiercest is education. Because black children are less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to go to college and less likely to graduate from college than their peers, their futures are blighted and their horizons are narrower. That is why Barack Obama has said that school reform is the civil rights struggle of our time.

That is why he has championed reforms which create more charter schools, like our academies here, which demand minimum standards for every child, like our national curriculum tests here and which reward great teachers more generously, as our pay and conditions reforms do here.

He has been joined in that fight by African-American political leaders like Cory Booker – the newly-elected senator from New Jersey who was mayor of Newark – and Deval Patrick the highly successful 2-term governor of Massachusetts. Other Democrat leaders in cities with large African-American populations – like Rahm Emanuel – have prosecuted the struggle with rare political courage. And Republican leaders who take their heritage as Lincoln’s heirs seriously are in the fight too – which is why Jeb Bush secured so much support across all ethnic communities in Florida and why Governor Chris Christie won by a landslide in New Jersey.

I’m lucky enough to have met many of these politicians – and I admire their commitment to social justice.

The challenge for Britain

Just as I admire the commitment of politicians – across party lines – in our country who are dedicated to advancing opportunity through education. Whether it’s David Laws or Andrew Adonis, Tony Blair or Boris Johnson.

Because we need to fight more energetically for social justice in this country just as they’re doing in America.

We too have anniversaries that should spur us to new action.

Sixty-five years ago, the Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury, Queen Elizabeth I’s old stomping ground – carrying to these shores the first West Indian immigrants, hoping to start a new life.

Sixty-five years on – we have to ask – have we fulfilled our promise to those new Britons?

Twenty years ago, Stephen Lawrence was brutally murdered on a London street by a gang of racist thugs – one of the darkest episodes in the history of race relations in this country.

Twenty years on – we have to ask – have we created a truly colour-blind society in which every single child in this country, no matter what their background, no matter what their ethnicity, is given an equal opportunity to succeed?

I don’t believe we have – yet.

But I do believe we are getting there – making progress – and making progress because this government is committed heart and soul to the civil rights battle of our time – the fight to give every child a great school.

For too long, there have been shocking, stubborn gaps in attainment between children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and their peers.

These things are never simple, either to observe, or to fix.

But even as we can identify many different factors at work, one huge reality remains. The gaps in achievement between BME children and their peers have been far too large for far too long.

At key stage 1, black children show the lowest proportion of pupils achieving the expected level in reading, writing, maths and science.

At key stage 2, a smaller proportion of black pupils than of any other ethnicity achieve the level we expect to see in English and maths – a full 3 percentage points below the national average. In fact, there is a staggering gap of 14 percentage points between black pupils and the top-performing ethnic groups in terms of how many children achieve a level 4 or above in maths.

At age 16, almost 3 in 5 pupils in the country as a whole achieved 5 or more A* to C grade GCSEs or equivalent including English and mathematics last year. But only around half of all black pupils managed to do so.

At age 18, fewer black pupils than the national average achieve 2 or more A levels or equivalent qualifications.

And although 8% of all pupils studying at this level in 2009 to 2010 went on to a Russell Group university, the equivalent figure for black pupils was only 5%.

Of course, the challenges faced by BME children are all the greater when they come from materially deprived backgrounds.

We already know that children from disadvantaged backgrounds fall further behind as they move through school.

But the problem is particularly acute for black Caribbean boys. Boys from a black Caribbean background who are eligible for free school meals have been among those suffering from the worst academic performance.

Of course, there is no single change we can make that will instantly transform the education of disadvantaged or minority ethnic children.

That is why this government is determined to radically reform the whole school system.

We are determined do everything we can to make sure that every child, from every background, is given an equal opportunity to succeed.

Over the last 3 years, this has been our top priority.

By giving schools independence and autonomy so that heads and teachers are free to support and challenge all pupils, including ethnic minority pupils, to achieve their full potential.

By embedding higher standards, and higher aspirations, in a new national curriculum and new accountability measures.

By raising the quality of teaching and raising the bar for new entrants to the teaching profession.

And by finally rejecting the soft bigotry of low expectations which has governed education for too long – by refusing to accept that children from poorer homes can’t be expected to do just as well, to achieve just as highly, as their wealthier peers.

School reform extending opportunities

One of the first education reforms we put in place was the Academies Act – which gave many more schools the chance to enjoy greater freedoms.

When this government came to power, there were just 203 academies. They’re schools with all the freedoms of independent schools – but in the state sector – free to all. They’re free to innovate in every area, to recruit and reward the best staff, and to tailor their curriculum, school day and year to suit pupils and parents.

In the last 3 years on, the number of open academies has grown from 203 to 3,444 – with many, many more in the pipeline.

These new schools are already teaching more than 2 million pupils.

And a crucial – and often-overlooked – fact is that academies are specifically benefitting those BME pupils who most need new educational opportunities.

Many academies have far higher levels of BME pupils than the rest of the state sector, both at primary and secondary.

Almost 40% of pupils in primary sponsored academies come from minority ethnic backgrounds, compared to just 28.5% in all state-funded primaries; and 30.0% of pupils in secondary sponsored academies from minority ethnic backgrounds (compared to 24.2% in all state-funded secondary).

In some schools, the numbers are even higher.

Like Harris Girls’ Academy in East Dulwich – a school in a disadvantaged area where the proportion of students known to be eligible for free school meals is more than twice the national average; almost half of students speak English as an additional language; and around 85% are classified as coming from minority-ethnic groups, mostly black Caribbean or black African.

Yet at its last Ofsted inspection, the academy scored outstanding in all categories – and the value added scores show that students make more progress at Harris Girls’ Academy East Dulwich than at 99% of other state schools in England.

In fact, across all 27 Harris academies – set up by Lord Harris of Peckham, a Streatham boy who is determined to transform London education for the better – 44% of last year’s GCSE cohort came from black or minority ethnic backgrounds (double the figures in 2012 across the country as a whole – just 22%) and 31% just from black backgrounds (almost 10 percentage points higher than the equivalent figure for London in 2012 and fully 6 times as many as across the country as a whole in that year – where the proportion is just 5%).

ARK academies – another of this country’s leading chains – have similarly high BME levels.

In recent years the results of sponsored academies like these have gone up faster than other state-funded schools.

Their performance has continued to improve this year, in fact the longer they are open the better on average that they do.

And BME pupils in sponsored academies outperform pupils from similar backgrounds in comparable local authority maintained schools.

Last year, for example, the proportion of mixed race pupils achieving 5 or more good GCSEs or equivalent (including English and mathematics) rose by just 1.3 percentage points nationally; but by 5.7 percentage points in sponsored academies.

Earlier I mentioned Harris Girls’ Academy in East Dulwich, where around 85% of pupils are classified as coming from minority-ethnic groups. But this year, figures provided by the school show that 67% of all pupils got 5 good GCSEs including English and maths, 7 percentage points above the national average of 60%.

And across all ARK academies, the school’s own figures show that 58% of black children achieved at least 5 GCSEs at A* to C including English and maths – above the national average for all black children.

So the numbers are clear. Sponsored academies have higher proportions of black children than other state schools – and black pupils’ results are improving faster in those academies than in comparable LA maintained schools.

That’s why the academies programme is a major step forward for racial equality in this country.

It’s bringing high standards and high expectations – the sort of education traditionally available only to the privileged – to those children who have historically been left behind.

And in free schools…

Our free schools programme is another powerful route to greater opportunity for more disadvantaged children.

Free schools are entirely new schools, set up by dedicated and passionate teachers, parents, local communities and charitable organisations in communities often poorly served for generations.

In the last 3 years, 174 free schools have opened and over 100 more are in the pipeline.

What’s more, almost half (44%) of all those free schools open so far are located in the 30% most deprived communities in this country.

These new schools are bringing choice to parents who can’t afford to pay a premium for a house in a prized catchment area.

And they are offering higher standards – free schools are outperforming the rest of the maintained sector. Three-quarters of the first cohort (those open in September 2011) were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted under its tougher new inspection framework. Just 64% of maintained schools inspected under the same inspection regime achieved that.

And free schools achieved that level of success starting from scratch – indeed over the same period only 50% of new local authority schools were rated good or outstanding.

But most important of all, just like academies, free schools are catering disproportionately to BME pupils, with higher proportions of BME pupils than the national average – and, often, higher than the average for their local area.

Overall, 40% of pupils in all mainstream free schools for which we have figures come from minority ethnic backgrounds – compared to a national average in mainstream state schools of 26%.

And the proportion of BME pupils is often disproportionately high in free schools, even compared to other neighbouring schools.

In Krishna-Avanti Primary School in Leicester, the proportion of minority ethnic pupils is more than 33 percentage points higher than in the local authority as a whole; in Rainbow Primary School in Bradford, the proportion of minority ethnic pupils is more than forty-one percentage points higher than in the local authority as a whole.

And there are examples here in London too.

At the Greenwich Free School, where all children study politics, philosophy and economics and ICT has been replaced with computer programming, 53% of children are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

At Peter Hyman’s School 21 in Newham, where science classes start in Reception and extra curriculum time is devoted to ensuring all pupils leave with exceptional English language skills, 71% of children are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Nine in 10 pupils at the Aldborough E-ACT Free School in Redbridge and the Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy in Enfield are from a minority ethnic background – higher than in both respective local authorities.

Using a rigorous curriculum

What all these successful schools demonstrate is the importance of high expectations – specifically the vital importance of a rigorous and demanding academic curriculum for every child.

Children of every ethnicity and every socio-economic group – not just those in the most expensive schools, or in the most wealthy communities – have an absolute right to be introduced to the best that has been thought and written.

Every child should be able to enjoy the type of knowledge-rich, subject-specific curriculum which gives them the best possible preparation for university, apprenticeships, employment, and adult life.

That means physics, chemistry and biology not play-based learning, project-work and an anti-knowledge ideology.

Every child should have the chance to read great literature – from Charles Dickens to Derek Walcott – appreciate great music – from Ludwig van Beethoven to Jelly Roll Morton – and enjoy great art – from Poussin to Basquiat.

Because these great creative figures help us understand the human condition – they appeal to the emotions and the sensibilities we all share as one human race – and they are the legacy our civilisation has bequeathed to us all.

And every child should have the chance to acquire the proper rigorous qualifications that our best employers and academics value.

Far from such an insistence being oppressive and reactionary it is liberating and progressive.

But don’t just take it from me – listen to Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and one of this country’s most active and most respected BME campaigners, has said:

An emphasis on rigorous education and on obtaining core academic subjects is not, as is sometimes argued, contrary to the interests of working class children, and of black and minority ethnic children.

On the contrary, precisely if someone is the first in their family to stay on past school-leaving age, precisely if someone’s family doesn’t have social capital, and precisely if someone does not have parents who can put in a word for them in a difficult job market, they need the assurance of rigorous qualifications and, if at all possible, core academic qualifications.

I couldn’t have put it better myself – giving every child the chance to enjoy a traditional academic education is the most powerful lever for greater social mobility and racial equality we have.

And monitored by tighter accountability

We want to make sure that as many pupils as possible benefit from new opportunities.

Which is why in our reform of the way we hold schools accountable for results, we’re focusing particularly on the attainment of pupils who’ve been overlooked for too long.

Schools will be expected to close the gap in attainment between children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers.

We’ve introduced a new secondary accountability system which will no longer concentrate just on the proportion getting 5 GCSEs at A* to C – a flawed approach which perversely incentivised schools and teachers to narrow their focus to just a few subjects and just a few pupils on the C/D borderline.

From 2016, every school will be judged on the progress students make in a combination of 8 subjects (3 from the EBacc, maths and English and 3 other). This will mean that schools in poor areas, which achieve great results for their pupils, get particular credit. It will recognise achievement across all grades, not just between a C and a D – incentivising schools to focus on high-flyers and low-attainers alike. And it will encourage schools to offer (and pupils to study) a broad, balanced range of subjects, including the academic core which is the best possible preparation for employment and further study.

That academic core is the subjects contained in the English Baccalaureate, or EBacc – our new measure looking at how many young people study at least 5 of the essential academic subjects: English and maths, the sciences, foreign languages, history and geography.

Figures from 2012 show that black children were less likely to achieve or enter for the EBacc.

In the country as a whole, 23% of children were entered for the EBacc – but just 18% of black pupils. Sixteen per cent of young people in the country achieved it; just 11% of black children.

But across the whole system, the EBacc has seen the number of children studying those subjects starting to rise.

These increases will help drive up the number of black pupils studying these subjects, in turn – meaning that more BME children leave school with the subjects most prized by employers and universities.

And in London – under the leadership of the mayor – those schools which have the very best record in raising standards for disadvantaged and BME children have been recognised and charged with supporting others to improve. The Mayor’s Gold Club of outstanding schools is a rare – and welcome – example of principled leaders in local government not just accepting the higher standards we have been setting in Whitehall but raising the bar even higher. The beneficiaries of this ambition are the poorest and most disadvantaged children of London – especially those from BME backgrounds.

Driving forward racial equality

Since this government came to power we have seen the achievements of black and minority ethnic children improve.

At primary school, the proportion of black children achieving level 4 in maths has risen from 75% in 2010 to 80% in 2012 – narrowing the gap with all children.

And at secondary, the proportion of black children achieving 5 A* to C including English and maths has risen from 49% in 2010 to 55% in 2012 – narrowing the gap with all children from 6 percentage points down to 4.

We have seen more schools than ever before – with more freedoms than ever before – transform the lives of more BME children than ever before – by giving them the sort of opportunities which were once restricted to a privileged few.

But there is more – much more – still to do.

That is why it is so welcome that the Mayor of London is not just driving up standards for BME children through the Gold Club – but also helping us to establish new free schools in areas of deprivation and disadvantage.

That is why it is so welcome that more great educators from within the BME community – Lindsay Johns who works with Leaders of Tomorrow – Dr Tony Sewell of Generating Genius, Devon Hanson of Walworth Academy, and Katharine Birbalsingh who is setting up the new Michaela Community School in Brent – have been given the opportunity to help more young people thanks to our reforms.

And that is why we must not allow the pace of our reform programme to slacken.

Why we must not succumb to what Martin Luther King called the tranquilising drug of gradualism.

Because we have it in our power – in this generation – to fulfil the dream of equality which has inspired so many of the great heroes whose memories we cherish this week.

Michael Gove – 2013 Speech on Labour and the Trade Unions


Below is the text of the speech made by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, on 27th August 2013.

Earlier this month, in the very quietest days of summer, if you listened very carefully you could hear a very distinctive sound – the gentle but unmistakable thump of the cat being let out of the bag.

It happened on August the eleventh in an article written by the former trade union staffer and Labour party worker Dan Hodges. Dan had been asking around to see what was foremost on Labour minds. What were the party’s priorities.

Was it the economy, given the case for Labour’s policy of more borrowing and more debt has been utterly demolished as recovery takes hold? Nope.

Was it welfare reform, given how hard Labour need to think again having opposed every single one of our changes to fix the tax and benefit system so that it rewards hard work? No sirree.

Education, maybe, given how tortured the party’s position is on free schools, how incoherent it is on exams and the curriculum, how confused on vocational education and how hopeless on helping poorer students? No, ‘fraid not.

Was it health then, or immigration, or crime, or childcare, or Europe or defence or the future of the Union? No, not exactly.

Labour’s principal preoccupation, according to a source within Team Miliband was – in two words – “the unions”.

And I think I know why.

Because Ed Miliband – in his weakness and lack of leadership – has set in train a process which will give the unions more power over his party, more power over its people, more power over its policies, more power to shape its propaganda, more power to shift its campaigning – more power to hurt hard-working people.

And Ed Miliband also knows that the only way to even begin to mitigate that growth in union muscle is to tax hard-working people more to pay for his speechwriters, his spin doctors, his conferences, his party political broadcasts, his party political literature, his regional organisers, his constituency organisers, his national policy fora, his regional policy roadshows, his plane fares and his train tickets, his entourage and all its expenses.

I’m speaking out today because I believe there is an honoured place for trade unions, a vital place for a healthy opposition and a growing appetite for political reform.

But at the moment unions are in the wrong place, the Labour party is in the wrong place and we’re being offered the wrong sort of reform.

I speak as someone who was a union member, who took industrial action on principle and who was sacked for going on strike.

The principles behind our strike were honourable – the aim was to secure appropriate union recognition in the workplace.

But the decision to go on strike was a mistake and better men and women than me lost their livelihoods and sacrificed the careers they loved. The decision to push for strike action was a decision of our union’s national leadership – which saw us as footsoldiers in its bigger battle. And – as footsoldiers often do – we paid the price.

Well led, unions can provide employees with effective representation, advice on workplace issues, legal protection and other services.

Poorly-led, union leaders use their members to fight ideological battles – often driven by the unrepresentative passions and ideologies of those who clamber onto the union’s executive.

As I know all too well in the field of education, teachers unions vary from the well-led and professional – like the NAHT and ATL – to others which almost automatically oppose every reform which will raise standards and help children.

At the moment the two biggest teachers’ unions are engaged in industrial action – working to rule, regional strikes and a proposed national one-day strike which makes life more difficult for hard-working parents, force them to pay more for childcare, disrupt children’s earning and make the job of every head more difficult.

They impose these costs on others because they object to changes which will lead to good teachers being paid more and all teachers being given the help they need to improve, with the worst teachers being moved on. They are putting the interests of some of their members above the needs of all children.

And just as some of the unions in education have swung hard to the left, so the big union beasts – Unison, the GMB and Unite have also embraced hard left proposals. Policies like unlimited welfare handouts to people who can work but refuse to work and billions and billions of more debt-funded spending.

But of course the overwhelming majority of union members don’t endorse this agenda – indeed barely half of them even vote Labour.

When unions use their muscle to advance an agenda which is so out of touch with their members’ interests, and with mainstream Britain, they are in the wrong place.

And Labour are in the wrong place when they allow that union agenda to drive their activities.

Tony Blair once argued that the Labour Party should not be the political arm of the trade union movement but the political movement of the British nation as a whole. That’s what One Nation politics means.

But, sadly, Labour are now sinking back into their pre-Blair position of living in the unions’ shadow.

The reason why the trade unions have become an issue again in British politics is because Ed Miliband owes his position as Labour leader to them.

Every previous Labour leader could be confident that their legitimacy in post was underpinned by the confidence of a majority of their colleagues and – subsequently – the votes of a majority of members. Ed Miliband does not have that legitimacy, confidence, or support. That is key to his weakness. He was put in place by organisations with an agenda because they believed he would be the most pliant personality available.

And the reason why the trades unions have now become a toxic issue for Ed Miliband is his failure to appreciate that – with him in place – radical left-wing union leaders now believe the Labour party can be theirs again – and they are taking it back – seat by seat, policy by policy, before his impotent gaze.

The attempt by left-wing union bosses to take control of the Labour party has been open – blatant – indeed long before the focus fell on Falkirk.

In December 2011, Labour’s biggest donor under Ed Miliband, the trade union Unite – led by Len McCluskey – published their Political Strategy.

Their aim was clear – “Our union needs a comprehensive strategy to advance our political work, reclaiming the Labour Party as an instrument of social progress”.

And by social progress the union was explicit – they wanted a shift to the Left – in other words, policies that are in their vested interests, and not in the interests of this country’s hardworking people. Policies on their shopping list included an end to spending cuts, an end to welfare reform and more legal freedoms to disrupt people’s lives with strikes.

Unite is also open that it has adopted the classic tactics of entryist organisations throughout the ages. It would get its people to enter moribund local party organisations – take them over – and then select candidates who were either members of their organisation or fellow travellers. Through the accumulation of muscle on the ground, power would be won at the top.

As Unite’s document said their political strategy had three main prongs. First, to grow Unite membership in local Labour parties. Second, to develop union friendly candidates for office. Third, to ensure Unite was fully represented on Labour’s main policy making bodies.

Unite recognised that it would take money – from their political fund of course – to secure these additional Labour party memberships, fix those Labour party candidate selections and shift the balance at the top in their favour.

In the document “Winning Labour for working people –Strategy and membership.” Unite were clear – “This requires a detailed and concrete strategy, with strong leadership, properly resourced”.

At the heart of the strategy – as events in Falkirk so dramatically revealed – was the use of those union resources to ensure that every safe – or winnable – Labour seat which came up was won by Unite or its people.

Unite pledged itself to “Working with other affiliated unions to secure the adoption of trade union (or union-friendly) candidates in winnable constituencies in particular”.

And Unite wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. It would – like left wing entryist organisations – create its own cadre – or vanguard – of loyal activists. So they promised that “Unite will launch a Future Candidates Programme (FCP). We will promote a new generation of Unite activists towards public office… We intend to produce some potential MP candidates for selection by 2013 at the latest”.

Just under a year ago, Unite’s Executive Council were updated on plans to take over certain constituencies.

In the report of the executive council September 2012 meeting, it was minuted that “regions have been asked develop intensive pilot campaigns to pursue the political strategy with the aim of increasing membership of the Labour Party.”

In case members were in any doubt what increasing Unite membership of the Labour party was for, a further update in December last year reminded them of the success in “the exemplary Falkirk” selection battle. Falkirk was “a seat where a candidate selection, to replace the disgraced Eric Joyce, is reasonably imminent, and where Unite, following regional and local consultation, is very likely to back Unite member and activist, Karie Murphy… we have recruited well over 100 Unite members to the party in a constituency with less than 200 members.”

We know that Labour subsequently investigated what was happening in Falkirk and suspended the process – but the internal report into just what was happening still remains unpublished – and Falkirk, being an “exemplary” demonstration of Unite’s political strategy, is very far from the only constituency where the union have been deploying their entryist tactics.

The Lib-Dem Labour marginal, currently represented by the formidable Gordon Birtwistle, was one target. “In the North West,” Unite reported, “initial work was around schools for activists, from specific constituencies with a membership ask. In Burnley this resulted in a number of new members and doubling of the delegates.”

In Southampton Itchen, where John Denham is standing down, and the Conservatives Royston Smith is bidding to win, Unite have also been active. The union recorded that they had set up a “Southampton local activist political school building on the successful and considerable Unite involvement in local elections a whole new level of election involvement including a number of new members”.

In Ilford North, where the impressive Lee Scott is defending a marginal seat, Unite have also been showing how enterprising they can be, as the Guardian reported: “flyers sent out by Unite invite its membership to attend a meeting in Ilford east London with McCluskey that offers to pay the member’s first year of party membership”.

In June of this year, Unite’s then Political Director Steve Hart summed up their progress in an internal political report.

He confirmed that Unite’s muscle was helping win selections and their political fund would be being deployed to support their people, “We will very much continue with targeted membership growth plans using phone banking and activists alongside constituency initiatives with local candidates, especially where a strong Unite candidate has won through selection” he wrote.

The degree of energy, he wrote which was being devoted to candidate selection was intense, “As some will have noticed, the work of the Political Department and the Union regionally in candidate selections is a little bit like a swan – all that can be seen is indication of support here or there, while below the water activity is furious!”

So furious indeed that Unite had ‘been supporting’ 40 other selections in addition to Falkirk. In Hart’s report he lists “candidates we have been supporting in different ways. I am pleased to report that the first on the list, Vicky Foxcroft, was successfully selected, winning over 50% in the first round of balloting in the ‘safe seat’ of Lewisham Deptford”.

President Lyndon B Johnson argued that the most important skill in politics was not rhetoric or logic – but arithmetic. Being able to count. On votes.

The greatest manipulator of power in the history of the US recognised that arguments were worthless without the votes in the legislature to get your programme through.

And Len McCluskey is clearly a keen student of LBJ’s – because his organisation is trying to secure the numbers on the ground – of Labour party members – to secure the numbers in the legislature which will deliver his agenda.

And it is instructive in all the controversy and debate surrounding what has happened in Falkirk that nothing – precisely nothing – has been done by the Labour leadership to prevent the largest systematic attempt at political entryism in our history since the existence of the Militant Tendency.

Ed Miliband has failed to act – and has no plans to act – to change how Labour MPs are selected.

Ed Miliband has failed to act – and has no plans to act – to look at any of the other 40 cases from Burnley to Ilford, Southampton to Lewisham, where Unite openly boast of their entryist success.

Ed Miliband has failed to act – and has no plans to act – to prevent Unite and its allies buying up Labour memberships to stuff the ballots in selection procedures.

Ed Miliband has failed to act – and has no plans to act – to prevent Unite and its allies using the political levies which members automatically opt into to fund this process of entryism.

Indeed the contrast with Neil Kinnock – who originally faced down the Militant Tendency over entryism is striking – and not at all flattering to Ed Miliband. While Kinnock moved bravely and remorselessly to eradicate Militant’s influence and Militant-sponsored MPs from Labour Miliband has done nothing to stop the takeover of his own party.

Perhaps we should not be surprised at Len McCluskey’s approach – because as well as clearly being a student of LBJ’s tactics, he is also intimately acquainted with Militant’s style of politics.

He was a member of the Labour Party in Liverpool during the 1980s when Militant took over the local Labour Party and Labour council. While Labour moderates such as Frank Field had to fight off repeated deselection attempts from the hard-left group, McCluskey was their ally. The two principal Militant activists in the city were Derek Hatton and Tony Mulhearn. Both were expelled by the Labour party in 1986. But Mr McCluskey has acknowledged both men were “close friends”, and he has subsequently stated that “on the chief issues (Militant Tendency) were right”.

It is certainly the case that the chief issues which preoccupy Len McCluskey and Unite today are well to the left of what anyone might term mainstream. And run directly contrary to the interests of the hard-working people who are crucial to our economic recovery.

Indeed, Unite are explicit that they want to disrupt economic growth, proudly boasting that they have, “set aside twenty-five million pounds to jump-start a dispute fund” in other words money to create strikes, which they say is ” another clear sign that this union means business … And we have deployed our nationwide team of organisers to support our members in struggle through a new leverage strategy, hitting bad employers all the way up and down their supply chain and their customer chain… the CBI is already warning fellow employers’ organisations across Europe about Unite’s leverage strategy”.

But it’s not enough simply to hit what Unite terms poor employers – all employers – indeed all citizens – need to feel the effects of union muscle. In a paper put forward to the TUC, Unite urged other unions to join them in staging a 24 hour general strike. In the document, Unite argues that ‘such action is desirable’ and that it would be an ‘explicitly political’ attack against the Government.

In his desire to promote militancy, McCluskey even threatened to disrupt the Olympics which Tony Blair brought to London. He wanted to use this occasion – when the eyes of the world were on this country – to promote public disorder. ‘The unions, and the general community, have got every right to be out protesting’ he said. ‘If the Olympics provide us with an opportunity, then that’s exactly one that we should be looking at… When you say what can we do, and the likes of the Olympics, I’m calling upon the general public to engage in civil disobedience’.

And the aim of all this activity is a decisive move of the political spectrum – and the Labour party – to the left.

Len McCluskey has told Ed Miliband that he must not try to move to the centre ground on the economy – indeed he must promise more taxing, spending and borrowing, as he warned his candidate, “He knows within this next 12 months he has got to start out with policy that gives hope to people and something different from the austerity programme that the government is pursuing.”

Specifically, McCluskey has opposed the changes to the welfare system the Coalition Government has made and wants to reverse the progress we’ve made towards making work pay. He wants to restore the spare room subsidy and end any cap on welfare.  He has argued that all ‘the government’s so-called welfare reforms are designed to marginalise the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society’.

And Unite oppose all the Government’s education reforms. When we devoted additional cash to repairing the problems we had inherited they dismissed it as “small beer given the scale of the problems before us” and objected to the fact that “much of that money is earmarked to deliver the highly political free schools programme.”

In every area of public policy Unite – and their allies in Unison and the GMB – want to see a decisive move left, a move away from the interests of hardworking people. They have opposed making public sector pensions sustainable and more in line with those in the private sector. They have opposed measures to stop vexatious employment tribunal claims that affect small businesses. And they even want a return to the unsustainable tax rates of the 1970s.

And they believe they are getting what they want from Labour.

Across the field of policy – wherever Labour has a policy – you can see the imprint of union manufacture on the product.

In my own area of education Labour have opposed (even though Andrew Adonis has argued for) the move to create more academies with freedom over staff pay terms and conditions, the move to create more free schools with freedom over staff pay and conditions, the move to shift teacher training to the classroom, which is proven to be more effective but which makes union recruitment more difficult and the move to allow schools freedom to recruit expert professionals to teach who are not union members.

In every case the interests of unions trump the needs of our children.

Labour’s health spokesman – Andy Burnham – has also dismissed the education reforms parents support but unions oppose – declaring he “wasn’t cheerleading for academies” and his position on NHS reform has been driven by the need to appease the unions. Under Alan Milburn, John Reid and other genuine Blairite reformers pluralism was welcomed within the NHS. The more different providers could help reduce waiting lists, relieve pain and cure disease, the better. But now Labour want no change from the monolithic delivery of services in the way which suits unions such as Unison and Unite.

In every case the interests of unions trump the needs of those who are suffering.

And in the economic realm Labour have opposed changes to the Royal Mail which will improve the service to the public, have opposed flexibility in the employment market which helps keep people in work, and have opposed the reductions in public expenditure in the (union-dominated) public sector to allow growth in the (wealth-creating) private sector.

In every case the Labour spokesman concerned – from Andy Burnham to Chuka Umunna to Ed Balls – will have been thinking as they shaped their policies about the critical role unions will play in any future leadership election – a role Ed Miliband has failed to act  – and has no plans to act – to change.

More than that, Labour’s operation in Parliament is funded, and directed, by union interests, as Unite boasted in their June 2013 Political Report, where they declared, “The union provided significant contributions to MPs and the Shadow teams” specifically to put forward union amendments such as those which were – in their words – designed to “block the worst aspects of both the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill and the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.”

That involved ordering Labour MPs to vote against giving employees the chance to own a share in the company they work for.

All of these positions make life harder for hard-working people. They reduce educational opportunity, increase the burden of the public sector on taxpayers, make it more difficult to get, and keep a job and drive up the cost of the goods and services we all need.

The trade union influence over Labour’s operation in Parliament can only grow as Unite and their allies continue their long march through the constituencies, racking up the numbers in the Parliamentary Labour Party to deliver on their policies.

Of course, the focus which the newspapers brought to the Falkirk scandal has forced some action from Ed Miliband. Some commentators have hailed his action to change the way unions operate within Labour as brave. Others have condemned it as foolhardy. I will leave value judgements to others. And look at the mechanics of what’s proposed.

Most trade unions have what they call political funds – levies on their members to support campaigning activity. It’s that money which is paying for Unite’s efforts to take over Labour parties constituency by constituency.

Union members are automatically enrolled into paying the political fund. In order to opt-out, members have to jump through various hoops.

In a poll conducted by my good friend Lord Ashcroft:

One third of members said they didn’t know whether they contributed to Unite’s political fund. Most Unite members (57%) preferred an opt-in system for the political fund; only 31% supported the current opt-out system.

The only political party the fund’s cash is ever used to support is Labour. Even though there is evidence that only a bare majority of trade unionists – and indeed Unite members – actually vote Labour. Indeed Unite’s own Political Strategy admits that, “According to opinion poll data today, we would expect that our members would be now indicating 45-50% support for Labour.”

Ed Miliband could have chosen to reduce union muscle – and indeed democratise British politics – by reforming the operation of the political fund at source. He could have insisted that every union member be asked to opt in to paying the political levy. He chose not to.

Perhaps because, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling shows only 30% of Unite members said they would contribute to the political fund under an opt-in system; 53% said they would not.

Ed Miliband could have argued that political funds be distributed to more than one party – in accordance with trade union members’ actual views. Or he could have argued that political funds could go to the politicians union members most admire. He chose no to, and again Lord Ashcroft’s polling of Unite members is revealing.

According to Lord Ashcroft’s work, 49% of Unite members said they would vote Labour in an election tomorrow, 23% Conservative, 7% Liberal Democrat and 12% UKIP. At the 2010 election 40% voted Labour, 28% Conservative and 20% Lib Dem. Asked which politician was best fitted to lead the country, 40% said David Cameron would make the best Prime Minister, just behind Ed Miliband (46%).

And of course Ed Miliband could have imposed a limit on how much trade unions can spend on political campaigning of any kind. He chose not to. Perhaps because he knows that the total amount in Union’s political funds is £13.9 million.

Instead he proposed one – very precise – change.

In the past trade unions have used their political funds to automatically enlist their members onto Labour’s rolls – to the tune of around £3 per member. This is known as the affiliation fee.

Ed Miliband has said he only wants those affiliation fees in the future if union members individually agree.

That does – absolutely – run the risk of Ed Miliband having less money from trade unions which he controls.

But it does not – at all – reduce the amount trade unions have to spend on their political activities – or indeed in support of individual Labour candidates, campaigns and parliamentary teams.

Each individual trade union will still raise just as much – perhaps even more – for its political fund. But now each trade union’s General Secretary and executive will have greater flexibility over how that cash is allocated. They can be – and are – in a position now to choose to give more of that money to the Labour candidates, MPs, activists and campaigns which they believe are appropriately ideologically aligned. They can decide which pipers to pay and can call the tunes they wish.

Unite has pledged specific – additional – financial support for Unite-aligned candidates in the run-up to the General Election. That would involve having phone banks manned for those candidates and, in the words of then Political Director Steve Hart: “committing up to £10,000 to a large number of these marginals based on draw-down of money for concrete proposals. Our overall expenditure on all the above will be significant but it is a very proper use of our Political Fund”.

Following Ed Miliband’s proposals to reduce his control over the unions’ political funds, Len McCluskey expressed his delight. ‘I want to spend more money on political campaigning, and Labour candidate selections’ he stated.

While the unions may not like payment by results or performance-related pay in the public services, they clearly approve of it as a political campaigning tool. And the message to any – existing or aspiring – Labour candidate is clear. If you align yourself with Unite there is extra money – and muscle – available to help you get selected – and then help you get elected. Perform in the right way – as decreed by the Unite exec – and your path to Parliament will be smoothed and future financial support will be guaranteed.

So by changing how the political funds operate – and reducing his slice of them – Ed Miliband is increasing the hold Len McCluskey and his allies have over candidate selection, increasing their control over the composition of the Labour party and increasing the incentive for all Labour candidates and MPs to follow the money – and fall in with Unite.

It’s not just candidate selection where the unions are liberated to shift politics in their direction.

As we have seen, Labour’s frontbench team in Parliament have relied on union money, and union ideas, to develop their policies. With the automatic funding that Ed Miliband used to be able to distribute diminishing, those frontbench teams will have to look increasingly outside for resources. And Len McCluskey and his team are only too happy to oblige – if those policies fit his agenda.

You don’t have to take my word for it. As Len McCluskey himself has explicitly said: “We will look to resource our political strategy in different ways…(through) better, enhanced policy input”.

So Ed Miliband’s proposed changes will encourage the drift of Labour policy further away from what’s in the interests of hardworking people – as Labour politicians compete for Unite’s favour and resources. We have already seen it happen over this summer – as Andy Burnham moves leftwards on health and Chuka Umunna and Chris Bryant have moved left on employment flexibility.

After Len McCluskey made it clear he wanted rid of the spare room subsidy, Labour briefed the New Statesman earlier this month that they would oblige. After Len McCluskey said he was ‘furious’ with Labour’s ‘crazy’ decision to back a public sector pay freeze, the Labour leader meekly told his party conference that he was ‘was not talking about the next parliament’.

And just last week – in direct response to a trade union demand for rent controls the Labour housing spokesman announced he would back intervention in the housing market.

On top of that, Ed Miliband’s failure to reform the unions’ political levy at source means trade unions can still spend massive sums in the run up to – and during  – the election to support a Labour party that backs their vested interests and to campaign against Conservative policies which have brought back prosperity.

There is no limit on what the unions can spend on their campaigns – which can be deployed as we have seen to favour Labour candidates and undermine coalition candidates.

Indeed Unite have – again – been open about their ambitions. “Our provisional plan,” they outlined in their Political Strategy, “which will be developed for launch very early in 2014 is as follows. In each of 100 seats – the key seat 80 plus 20 defensive marginals  Unite will build a structure based on 1 Constituency Captain, and field organisers. The Constituency 10 will have responsibility for organising 10 contacts with each Unite member in the seat in the 20 months up to the General Election – contacts in a variety of ways including face to face conduct. They will be provided with training, and detailed plans and statistics for the CLP – including workplace information, any voting data we have, Mosaic and other information to ensure informed campaigning. Efforts will be made to develop an esprit de corps amongst the 10, including clothing etc and a degree of competition as seen with our US colleagues. We will use Nationbuilder technology to facilitate the work.”

It would be amusing if it weren’t so chilling that Unite plan to encourage enhanced performance for their left-wing candidates at the election through competition. I suppose that is what you might call traditional values in a modern setting.

And of course Unite – and their allies – can spend millions on phone banks, canvassing, leafleting and adverts to push their message. A message which is unlikely to be “Same old Labour would make you worse off”.

At the last General Election, the five Labour-affiliated trade unions registered as third party participants spent over £700,000 – to fund campaigns against things like “Tory cuts”, including one memorable Unison poster of an axe with a blue blade, entitled “Look what’s in the Tories’ first budget”. Nothing in what Ed Miliband proposes will change that – indeed it will give the unions greater freedom, not least to concentrate their resources in support of candidates and causes opposed to the interests of hardworking people.

But while Unite and other unions will have more money available to push their agenda, Ed Miliband will have less of their money to pursue his.

So what will he do?

That brings me to my third question – the question of political reform.

I am strongly in favour of reform of our political institutions. The cost of politics is too high. Parliament needs to take back power from unaccountable bodies who exercise it without a mandate – not least the European Union. Our democracy needs to be more direct, public figures who exercise statutory responsibilities, not just politicians, need to be more openly accountable and taxpayers need even better information on how their money is spent.

But the political reform Ed Miliband is offering – the only one so far as I can see – takes us in the opposite direction. It will centralise power, raise the cost of politics, make the exercise of political authority more opaque, parties less accountable and, worst of all, citizens poorer.

Ed Miliband’s principal proposed political reform is taxing the public more to pay for politics

In recent years it has been a Labour aim to increase what they call state funding of political parties – but which is more properly described as the compulsory confiscation of taxpayers money to pay for politicians.

Plans were drawn up by the last Labour Government to increase state funding and it is those plans which the Miliband team are seeking to implement now.

Some Liberal Democrats have even made the case with my old friend Matthew Oakeshott saying we need taxpayer funding to get the “dirty money” out of politics.

Well, I personally think there are few dirtier monetary transactions than politicians getting together to agree that they will pick the pockets of people poorer than themselves to fund activities which should be supported voluntarily – not compulsorily.

If political parties want more money then they can either recruit more members or convince their own supporters to dig deeper. But for the advocates of more state funding on the left, there’s an intrinsic problem in philanthropists giving their money to support their beliefs. It’s alright if philanthropists give to arts, development or other causes. That’s public spirited. But if those same philanthropists decide to support their political ideals – it’s called the taint of big money.

There is a debate – of course – about whether there should be a limit on donations to political parties – governed by a desire to make political parties work hard to secure as wide a base of funding as possible. That is a sensible position but I shan’t get into the detail today of how any caps might or might not work.

But what does seem to me be crystal clear is that while it’s a good thing to have more people contributing to the political process – whether financially or otherwise – that should be on voluntary basis. No matter how much any individual might choose to spend from his or her own resources on supporting their ideals surely it cannot be immoral to spend your own money on supporting democracy? But what does raise real questions of morality – and principle – is forcing people to contribute out of their earned income to support political activity they may neither endorse nor welcome.

And yet that is the position which Labour are now embracing – call it what you will a spin tax, a “Militax”, a going to the poll tax – it’s all the same thing – more taxes to pay for more politicians spending more of your money.

I think hard-working people in this country already pay enough tax – and the purpose of tax is to pay for doctors, soldiers and teachers – not politicians. But if Ed Miliband gets his way you will soon be forced to pay for him.

It’s not too late for Ed Miliband and his team to get out of the problem they have created – and which Len McCluskey is so eagerly set to exploit.

They can take five steps right now.

First, they can investigate all 41 of the candidate selections Unite set out to manipulate – not just the one in Falkirk. They can examine where the growth in membership has come from, the money unions have been using to rig selections and the sharp practice potentially employed. Candidate selection in those seats could be suspended until a clean bill of health is issued.

It’s critical of course that such an investigation is independent and seen to be independent. It need not be judge-led. But it cannot be led – as Ed Miliband’s review of party funding is being led – by a former Unite apparatchik like Ray Collins. I would suggest someone like Alex Carlile QC or a cross-bench peer like Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank.

Second, Ed Miliband can also work with the Coalition to use legislation going through parliament now to reform the unions’ political levy system. We will help him make the political levy an opt-in exercise – at a stroke delivering the new politics he has argued for.

We would – of course – also support other changes he might want to advance to democratise how any political fund is spent.

Third, Ed Miliband should move to modernise his whole candidate selection – and leadership election – process to make it genuinely one member one vote, like the coalition parties. He could then submit himself for re-election to the membership which did not vote fro him in 2010. If he did, it would be a real show of confidence in his membership which would give his leadership greater authority.

Fourth, Labour can also police the funding of candidates to ensure there is no pressure from unions to support certain policy positions in order to secure extra campaign funding. It can restrict union funding of frontbench teams, declare in whose interests amendments are being laid or explicitly disavow introducing legislative changes at the demand of trade unions.

Ultimately, of course, Ed Miliband needs to go further to convince the electorate that he is ready to stand up to the people who bought him his leadership. He needs to make clear not just that the tactics of McCluskey and his allies are wrong but their policy agenda is precisely the sort of hard-left Militant inspired nonsense up with which he will not put.

And if anyone thinks I am asking too much I ask simply this – what would Blair do? Indeed, what would even Kinnock have done?

The sad truth is that – charming, intelligent, eloquent, thoughtful, generous and chivalrous as Ed Miliband may be – in this critical test of leadership he has been uncertain, irresolute, weak. To the question – who governs Labour – his answer would appear to be – increasingly – the unions.

And if Ed Miliband is too weak to stand up to the union bosses who pick his candidates, buy his policies and anointed him leader, then he simply will be too weak to stand up for hardworking people.

Our country cannot afford – as we had in the Seventies – the same old Labour party with a weak leader buffeted by union pressure to adopt policies only they want and asking hardworking people to pay the bills.

That is why when it comes to Labour and the unions, reform has to be fundamental, rooted in core democratic principles and in the public interest. There is no alternative.

Michael Gove – 2012 Speech on Child Protection


Below is the text of a speech made by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, on 16th November 2012.

I am very grateful to the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) for giving me a platform today. The IPPR has been one of the most influential organisations in shaping social policy in Britain over the last two decades. The work you have done has ensured the case for greater social justice has been prosecuted with both passion and rigour. And under Nick Pearce’s directorship and James Purnell’s chairmanship your intellectual energy has never been greater.

I want to talk today about a theme I have touched on before – the way in which our society has put the interests of adults before the needs of children.

In other speeches I have given and articles I’ve written I’ve argued that the interests of adults in our education system have too often been given precedence over the needs of children.

I have argued that the interests of trades unions in protecting outdated working practices, the interests of academic ideologues in defending theoretical positions and the interests of politicians in preserving their power networks have all worked against the flexible, empirically-based, child-centred education policy we need.

A genuinely progressive education system, I have argued, should be judged on how effectively it helps children transcend the circumstances of their birth and how comprehensively it equips them to take control of their own lives.

That is why I believe in school league tables based on externally set – and marked – exams, because while they may be uncomfortable reading for some adults they help us identify the teaching practices which are best for our children.

That is why I believe in breaking open local monopolies of educational provision – because while that may challenge the arrangements that suit adults in power it creates a dynamic which ensures we all do better for children.

And it’s why I believe we need to make it easier to remove bad teachers, and pay good teachers more based on proven performance – because while that may disrupt assumptions adults have got used to, it guarantees that we reward those who put children first.

Today, however, I want to talk about another – if anything more important – area where the interests of adults have come before the needs of children.

The failure of our current child protection system

I want to talk about child protection.

Specifically, how we care for the most vulnerable children – those at risk of neglect or abuse – those who come into the care of others because their families cannot care for them.

And I want to begin with an admission.

The state is currently failing in its duty to keep our children safe.

It may seem hard to believe – after the killing of Victoria Climbie, after the torture of Peter Connelly, after the cruel death of Khyra Ishaq – surely  as a society, as a state, we must have got the message.

But, I fear, we haven’t.

We are not asking the tough questions, and taking the necessary actions, to prevent thousands of children growing up in squalor, enduring neglect in their infancy, witnessing violence throughout their lives and being exposed to emotional, physical and sexual abuse during the years which should be their happiest.

The facts are deeply depressing.

Too many local authorities are failing to meet acceptable standards for child safeguarding.

Too many children are left for far too long in homes where they are exposed to appalling neglect and criminal mistreatment.

We put the rights of biological parents ahead of vulnerable children – even when those parents are incapable of leading their own lives safely and with dignity never mind bringing up children.

When we do intervene it is often too late.

When children are removed from homes where they’re at risk they’re often returned prematurely and exposed to danger all over again.

Instead of concentrating properly on the appalling neglect and abuse visited on children by those they know or who are in the family’s immediate circle we have been pre-occupied by the much smaller risk of strangers causing harm and in so doing have established an intrusive and inefficient bureaucracy which creates a false feeling of security for parents while alienating volunteers and eroding personal responsibility.

When things go wrong and children suffer we are not transparent about the mistakes which were made.

We do not learn properly from what went wrong to improve matters in the future.

We do not support the social work profession properly, nor have we modernised its ways of working in line with other professions.

When children are taken into care we take far too long to find them a secure and loving home.

We don’t recruit enough foster parents for children with very challenging needs – especially from more economically secure homes.

We don’t recruit enough adoptive parents – and those heroic adults who do wish to adopt are treated consistently poorly by a system which does not put children’s interests first.

For those children who are placed in residential care homes, we don’t provide sufficient support or security.

For older children in their teenage years who are neglected or who are vulnerable to exploitation we don’t provide enough respect or protection.

And for all those who leave care we don’t provide a sufficiently clear and secure path to the future.

Today I want to lay out a path to a better future for children in need, at risk and in care.

In so doing I will be explicitly challenging, deliberately uncompromising, blunt.

I am sure there will be criticism, counter-arguments and equally blunt reaction.


Because unless we have this discussion in the open – free of cant, obfuscation, emulsifying jargon and euphemism – we will not be able to arrive at a clear and enduring consensus about how we can better protect our children.

The interests of adults – their desire to escape criticism, avoid controversy and carry on much as before – cannot be allowed to take precedence over the needs of our most vulnerable children.

A failure of leadership

Which is why it is necessary to highlight how poorly some parts of local government are discharging their responsibilities.

After 160 Ofsted inspections of local authorities to see how effectively they safeguarded children less than 40 per cent got to a level we could be happy with – only three per cent of local authorities were considered outstanding and just 36 per cent good. 45 per cent were ranked at Ofsted grade three – what we call adequate but everyone now recognises is a situation which is not good enough and requires improvement – while 16 per cent were inadequate – simply nowhere near good enough.

And lest you think those judgements were unduly harsh, it should be pointed out that Ofsted revised its inspection framework in June this year to sharpen the focus on practice – the nitty-gritty of child protection. With the three inspection reports being published today 12 local authorities have been inspected under this framework. Six are at level three – adequate and therefore requiring improvement. And five are inadequate. What is also clear is that local authorities can get it right, and I congratulate Redbridge, whose inspection report is published today, for their good child protection services and wish them well on their journey to outstanding.

Also published today is Ofsted’s latest inspection of child protection in Doncaster. The local authority, despite valiant efforts by many well-intentioned professionals, is found, after having improved slightly, to have slipped back to being inadequate.

I’ve taken a particular interest in child protection in Doncaster because I, like many, was horrified by the events a few years ago in Edlington, a village within the Doncaster local authority area, which resulted in two innocent children being horrifically abused by other children who were themselves the victims of parental abuse and neglect. I had the opportunity to meet the parents of those victims and was deeply moved by their courage and also determined that lessons be learned. I asked the distinguished lawyer Lord Carlile, the author of a very well-received investigation into child abuse in Ealing Abbey, to investigate and his report is published today. It should be read alongside the Ofsted report into Doncaster to give a full picture of the child protection problems Doncaster has faced.

Anyone reading both reports will appreciate that the problems Doncaster faces are not amenable to a quick fix. Nor is there any single individual – or group – whom we can say are alone responsible for the problems Doncaster faces. But the situation is unacceptable, and needs radical change and improvement.

I travelled to Doncaster to talk to the parents of the victims in the Edlington case, and earlier this month I visited Doncaster again to talk to the Chief Executive and the Director of Children’s Services. I hope to meet the town’s MPs next week, and will announce – after that meeting – the action I intend to take.

I asked Lord Carlile to look at the situation in Doncaster because there were problems specific to the town which required expert external analysis. But in asking him to take on this work I was keen not just that we should learn lessons specific to Doncaster – but also that he should make recommendations about wider changes we needed to make to improve child protection.

Reading his report, I have found his overall argument compelling. There are a series of specific recommendations, many of which I am instinctively drawn to and all of which deserve careful consideration. The Government will respond formally to all the recommendations in due course.

But I want there to be a time for debate before the time of decision. Because one of the reasons why I like Lord Carlile’s approach so much is that he issues tough challenges – as I hope to today – and if we speak plainly then in fairness we need to hear how others respond before acting.

A child’s need for protection trumps the adult’s interests in the child

And one of the first arguments where I want to hear how people respond is the case Lord Carlile makes that we should be much more assertive in taking children out of homes where they are at risk.

Lord Carlile’s thinking chimes with the Education Select Committee’s recommendation in its report last week on child protection. It’s another excellent analysis which richly repays reading and it makes the point that the “balance of evidence is heavily in favour of care” for vulnerable children being considered “at an earlier stage for many children”. The report asks that ministers should encourage public awareness of that fact.

Let me try to do so now.

I firmly believe more children should be taken into care more quickly, and that too many children are allowed to stay too long with parents whose behaviour is unacceptable.

I want social workers to be more assertive with dysfunctional parents, courts to be less indulgent of poor parents, and the care system to expand to deal with the consequences.

I know there are passionate voices on the other side of the debate.

They express sincere concerns about children being separated from loving parents in stable and secure families and heart-breaking battles to bring those children home.

I don’t deny that such cases exist. But there is no evidence that they are anything other than a truly tiny number.

Whereas there is mounting evidence that all too many children are left at risk and in squalor – physical and moral – for far too long.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee, Martin Narey, the former chief executive of Barnardo’s, underlined that he had never come across a case of a child being taken wrongly into care but he had come across all too many cases where he was “astonished that we have not intervened”.

Martin cited a report – commissioned by the last Government – which showed that “Thresholds of entry to care were often high. 92 per cent of children in the study had experienced two or more forms of maltreatment, including neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. In a number of cases, the abuse or neglect of children had persisted for many years without decisive action by children’s services or the courts.”

Recent academic research is consistent in underlining the damage done by delaying intervention and The Home or Care?, the Neglected Children Reunification and the Significant Harm of Infants Studies found extensive evidence of the consequences of abuse in children’s delayed development, poor speech and language, poor school performance, decayed teeth and untreated medical conditions, as well as in numerous emotional and behavioural problems, particularly violence and aggression.

And when Professor Elaine Farmer and colleagues carried out a five year follow up study of neglected children returned home, they found that even when we do intervene we still return children to abusive homes too early – and in too many cases. She studied 138 neglected children who had been returned to their families. After two years, 59 per cent of children returned home had been abused or neglected, and after five years, 65 per cent of returns home had ended.

In half of the families, children had experienced two or more failed returns home, with some children repeatedly returned home to circumstances that remained unchanged and about which social workers had concerns.

But dry numbers alone cannot convey the real – enduring – pain we cause children when we leave them in danger.

You need to read the serious case review into the case of Peter Connelly to confront the reality of a child left, uncared for and neglected, to soil himself and starve and then, when he cried out in his anguish, the people who should have cared for him allowed him to be violently assaulted.

You need to read the serious case reviews of children in Southampton and Bristol whose substance-abusing parents were so incapacitated their own children died from ingesting their parents’ methadone.

You need to read the words of Sylvie Carver in last week’s Times, when she wrote of her own experience.

The neglected child can sit in a soiled nappy for hours, piss-soaked vests are not changed but just turned inside out and the nappy rash never quite goes away. As a toddler this baby learns to take its own nappy off when it can’t bear the pain of the full nappy rubbing against the rash. He also learns to shove as much food as is offered into his mouth because living with a neglectful parent means, for many reasons, regular mealtimes don’t exist. Life is chaotic and food turns up as unexpectedly as your absent dad wanting the child benefit to drink up in the pub. Your parent might only sort out a meal when they feel hungry and anyone on drink and drugs doesn’t do three meals a day. When parents are wrecked you might get some money for sweets or a swig of the medicine that seems to make them happy, but when they are bored with you they ignore you. The house is so chaotic and out of control that even when you’re old enough to bath yourself you can never get clean. You run a bath in a scummy tub and when you get out you dry yourself with a mouldy towel and get into dirty clothes.

In all too many cases when we decide to leave children in need with their biological parents we are leaving them to endure a life of soiled nappies and scummy baths, chaos and hunger, hopelessness and despair. These children need to be rescued, just as much as the victims of any other natural disaster.

But because of what has been called optimism bias – the belief that with a little more help and support the family will, at last, at long, long, last mend its ways – we leave children in danger for too long.

Social workers are encouraged to develop relationships with adults who are careless of their own welfare and dignity. And for perfectly understandable reasons sometimes professionals are reluctant to directly and robustly challenge the behaviour of people whose trust they are trying to win. But all the time, while adults are trusted, children continue to suffer.

Social workers – partly because so much of their time is spent in uniquely difficult circumstances many of us will never encounter – can become desensitised to the squalor they encounter and less shockable overall.

Which is why it’s up to the rest of us to show leadership. That means supporting social workers who are prepared to take children into care when parents are in the grip of drug or alcohol abuse, backing social workers who rescue children from homes where they are left in their own urine and faeces for days, left to forage for scraps of food and drink and denied warm, clean bedding and clothing.

It also means being clear that the presence of a sequence of males in a relationship with vulnerable women when those men are not the biological fathers of children in the house is a danger sign. Especially if there is the slightest evidence that either adult is a substance abuser or the man has any record of domestic violence. Refraining from passing judgement on adult lifestyles in these circumstances is condemning children to an unacceptable level of risk.

It is putting our fear of offending adults ahead of the needs of children in need.

I know the counter-arguments.

There are already too many children in care, some say.

Well the current number of around 67,000 is lower than the number in 1981 when it was 92,000 – and there is in any case no such thing as a right number overall – only a right solution for every child in need.

Precisely, say others, and care is itself damaging – look at the numbers of care leavers who are unemployed, whose health is severely impaired or who are in prison. Care is a terrible misnomer. Looked after children are really passed over children.

Well I won’t deny there are many things we must do – urgently – to improve the treatment of and prospects for children and young people in care. Not least, to improve the education they receive, to make sure that they leave school and college with good, valuable qualifications, ready to progress into higher education (HE), work and adult life.

But those who point to the numbers in prison, or suffering mental health problems, or in poor schools, or without qualifications, or who are unemployed and who are, or have been in care, and conclude that it is always care that is responsible for these terrible outcomes are making a terrible error.

They are confusing correlation and causation. It’s as foolish as concluding that because so many die in hospital, hospitals are bad for your health.

These children do not face difficulties later in life because they have been in care.

These children are in care because of the terrible circumstances they have endured already in their lives.

They are, in all too many cases, damaged young people. And while care is far from perfect it is much, much better than neglect, let alone the risk, or reality, of abuse.

So – again – I hope I am clear. A rising number of young people in care is not a cause for concern in itself. What is a cause for concern is the horrific neglect and abuse that care can be a rescue from.

We have been looking for danger in the wrong places

And – as I hope I have also made clear – because the neglect and abuse children face is – tragically – generally visited on them by those they already know – parents, mum’s new boyfriend, members of an extended family as in the Matthew’s case or with Peter Connelly – we have been guilty of a tragic misallocation of effort and energy recently in concentrating so much on stranger danger.

Yes, there are predators targeting children for sexual abuse, as well as those who traffic vulnerable young people. And we have already taken steps to tackle these problems. My colleague Tim Loughton developed and published the first Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan – bringing together those most engaged in fighting this evil. The Deputy Children’s Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, will shortly publish her interim report on child sexual exploitation by gangs and groups and it will also help us make the changes we need to keep children safe. I will turn in a moment to how we protect those most at risk from organised exploitation.

But while the threat of criminally organised paedophilia is real, the balance of recent media coverage might lead some to believe that the greatest present danger to children is from powerful strangers who hide their abuse behind a cloak of celebrity or in the dark recesses of the corridors of power.

The majority of perpetrators sexually assault children known to them, with about 80 per cent of offences taking place in the home of either the offender or the victim, and, by definition, almost all neglect occurs at the hands of the parent or care giver.

And that is why the huge panoply of regulation which started with CRB checks and culminated under the last Government in an Act of Parliament requiring eleven million of us to register before we could even help at a Sunday school or drive a minibus from one sporting venue to another was an over-reaction. Thankfully, my colleague Theresa May has restored matters to a far more common sense position. From 2013, organisations can use just one check for any adult working with children, and the numbers requiring a check have been cut back to sensible proportions so writers visiting school classrooms don’t have to be vetted by the state for their suitability.

But it is still the case, I feel, that by putting so much stress on a CRB regime that sought to limit the danger from strangers and gave some the false comfort that we could regulate and license sin out of all our lives, we actually only ended up damaging the voluntary spirit and introducing suspicion into perfectly normal and healthy interactions between children and adults. Music teachers were told never to touch young violinists. Teachers were afraid to comfort young children in pain with a consolatory hug or restrain violent youngsters when they were a danger to themselves and others.

This misdirection of attention risked making normal adult child contact seem suspect while at the same time, as I have pointed out, the criminal neglect and abuse of children by irresponsible adults was accepted far beyond what any of us should have considered tolerable.

This regrettable state of affairs has been a consequence of failing to follow the data, and instead succumbing to lurid fears which lurk in our psyches and take hold of the public imagination after particularly turbulent news cycles.

Home office data shows of the 56 children murdered, 16 in 2011, 77 per cent, knew the person suspected and 64 per cent were killed by a parent or step-parent.

The debate about how we improve child protection needs – like all policy debate – to be informed by evidence and open examination of what the data tell us.

Transparency when adults get it wrong helps us get it right for children in the future

That is why I have been determined to ensure that when things do go wrong – as they always will – we must make sure we are rigorous in analysing our errors and clear about how everyone may learn the appropriate lessons.

After every child death – or indeed any serious case of abuse or neglect – the law states there should be a full Serious Case Review – a dispassionate assessment of what went wrong and why, so we can all improve practice in the future.

But, under the last Government, SCRs were kept secret and all that was published were bland and uninformative executive summaries drafted in vapid jargonese, risking the wrong lessons being drawn.

It seemed to me that – once again – we were getting our child protection system wrong by putting the interests of adults before those of children.

It suited adults who had made mistakes – the police, lawyers, doctors and others who had, for example, failed Peter Connelly – to have their errors kept hidden behind a veil of confidentiality. No real sense of what went wrong could be divined from a bland exec summary. So no action which would make the lives of those who had made errors more uncomfortable could be taken.

That is why, in Opposition, I campaigned for the publication of Serious Case Reviews and in Government we have insisted on their being made public.

After catastrophic incidents in other areas – for example air crashes – the entire aviation industry has an interest in learning what went wrong and incorporating lessons from the disaster into future good practice. The aircraft’s black box yields information about precisely what went wrong – that is shared across the industry entirely openly – and professionals can then improve their operations by learning from others errors.

But in child protection, professionals have fought greater transparency, often citing the adverse effects publication might have on surviving victims of abuse or neglect, or even on the perpetrators as they are rehabilitated.

I find these arguments are – more often than not – spurious. Families of victims – like those I talked to in Doncaster – want the fullest possible transparency – not only so they can achieve what psychologists call closure but also because they are determined that some good come from the suffering visited on them – and they believe good can only come if lessons are learned. As for publication of past crimes impeding rehabilitation, that is not an argument we have heard with respect to, say, the Hillsborough Panel’s Report and it is not an argument anyone who believes in open justice or free speech can ever be comfortable with. Especially when non-publication so clearly serves the interests of those professionals who have failed.

That is why I am glad that some local authorities have responded to our call for greater transparency by publishing SCRs – such as Leicester, North Somerset and Nottinghamshire.

But I am still – frankly – frustrated that only 28 SCRs have been published since June 2010 of the 147 initiated and of which 80 have completed. I know in some cases we wait on the termination of legal proceedings before SCRs can be published but this still leaves a large proportion, well over half, unpublished.

Lord Carlile – in his report – makes a series of suggestions about how we might reform the SCR process. And I am open to arguments about how to reform and refine the process. But at the moment there is too much foot-dragging, prevarication and obfuscation. There is a lot of media noise about inquiries these days, some of it frankly misdirected. But if there is any spare outrage going around it should be directed at those who are not publishing – in full – the current crop of SCRs – the robust inquiries required into the real tragedies of child death, abuse and neglect which deserve genuine investigation.

We need rapid progress towards greater transparency. If that doesn’t happen soon, we may need to legislate – for example to ensure that lessons learned investigations are carried out by investigators with a clear remit to publish the truth in full as rapidly as possible.

Because at the moment there are real structural impediments to greater open-ness. One of the biggest is the way in which those responsible for child protection are held accountable. The body which commissions an SCR in relevant cases is the Local Safeguarding Children Board. But the members of the LSCB are generally representatives of those very organisations – the local authority, the local police force, the NHS and others – who have made mistakes in child protection and whose errors need exposing. And the Chair of the LSCB – the principal watchdog – will be appointed by the Director of Children’s Services – the figure in the local authority with direct responsibility for child protection. There is a clear potential conflict of interest. Which is why – at the very least – we need to change the way we appoint chairs of LSCBs. I am open to suggestions and arguments about the future approach, provided we can ensure that it creates more pressure for accountability, transparency and more energetic action to protect children.

The structures adults hide behind need to be reformed in children’s interests.

But this change can only be a first step. The whole structure we inherited – a tangled web of trusts, partnerships, committees and boards pulling professionals away from their core responsibilities – has not made children safer. We need to ensure there is clarity about who is responsible for what in child protection. And clarity over the steps required to keep children safe.

The last Government’s guidance in these matters, including Working Together to Safeguard Children, was over 700 pages long. Impossible to digest, let alone remember, for any hard-working teacher or police borough commander pulled in every direction by the many competing demands on their time.

Even at that length – perhaps indeed because of that length – professionals were still left confused and uncertain about basic principles of child protection.

Professionals today – as serious case reviews I have read have revealed – still do not know what facts they can share with other professionals about children in need because there is no clarity in their minds over how data protection laws operate.

We are working in Government to simplify – and clarify – the rules in all of these areas. We are fortunate that directors of children’s services, the royal colleges and others are working with us.

But let me again be frank. The over-complicated bureaucratic machinery we inherited diffuses accountability rather than clarifying it, makes sharing information more difficult, not easier, privileges process over results and committee attendance over action. We are taking steps to improve things as quickly as possible – following on from Eileen Munro’s superb work on how we improve children’s experience of child protection. But there is still much to do.

I still believe that the best people to help lead improvements in children’s services are those from local government who have outstanding track records in child protection. That is why I have committed to funding the work done by the Local Government Association, the ADCS and SOLACE for another year. Their approach teams strong councils with weaker councils to improve child protection. But we need to see rapid progress if that support is to continue in the future.

And critical to improvement – as Eileen’s own work so clearly demonstrates – is improving the quality of social work practice.

Learning from education when it comes to reforming the profession

One of the reasons why there has been so much bureaucratic intervention intended to regulate the social work profession into better performance is because previous governments had a fundamental lack of confidence in social workers themselves.

As Andrew Adonis has pointed out – what was done for teachers now needs to be done for social workers. They too need support to improve their practice. That is why the College of Social Work has been set up and we are planning to establish the office of Chief Social Worker. More requires to be done – both in improving initial training and enhancing leadership – but the recognition is there – among ministers and social workers – that we need to work harder to improve how the profession operates. And one of the most promising developments in improving how the profession operates is the idea – first floated here at the IPPR by a Teach First alumnus Josh McAllister – that we support a charity doing for Social Work what TeachFirst did for teaching.

Frontline – the proposition Josh has advanced with such care, thought and passion – is a brilliant idea. It offers more talented graduates the chance to make a dramatic difference to the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. The same idealism which drew TeachFirst alumnae into the nation’s most challenging classrooms can now be harnessed to get committed, intelligent, compassionate leaders into the homes where children need most help. By providing a shorter and more focussed training programme – just as TeachFirst does with its recruits – one of the biggest barriers to entry for gifted graduates contemplating social work has been cleared.

That is why I intend – on receipt of a proper business plan in the next few months – to support Frontline’s establishment and get it up and running as soon as possible.

But if we are to improve the lives of vulnerable children it is not just more high quality social workers we need to recruit.

Finding the right adults to care for children

We also need to recruit more foster parents. And more adoptive parents.

We know that one of the surest foundations for any child’s progress through life is a secure attachment with an adult who loves them in their earliest years.

And we know that for damaged children who’ve grown up in households where love is absent, fitful or glimpsed only occasionally when the haze of intoxication clears, the search for love – indeed for almost any display of affection or even attention – can dominate their later years.

Every child needs to be somewhere they are genuinely cared for, protected, and where the adults looking after them love them and aspire for them to succeed in school and as they grow into adulthood.  When children are in an environment where they know they are loved they are also more ready to accept boundaries and limitations, because they know curtailments of their liberty or restraints on their wilfulness are being imposed by someone whose heart is committed to them rather than someone who is simply discharging a responsibility.

Adoption means taking a child not just into your home but into your heart – it is a relationship for good in every sense of the word. It means committing to another person for life in a way which as profound, indeed even more so, than marriage.

That is why it is such a daunting responsibility.

But also such a wonderful gift.

And because I have benefitted from that gift so much I am determined to ensure more and more vulnerable children also find loving homes for good.

If adoption is right for a child who is taken into care, we are doing everything we can to ensure that he or she is placed for adoption as soon as possible.

That is why we’ve published data on the performance of local authorities in helping children find adoptive parents – so we can learn from the best and challenge others to improve.

It’s also why we’ve changed rules to make it easier for children to move out of the care system more quickly and into the arms of loving parents.

We’re legislating to ensure BME children are not left in care for many months longer than average because adults believe they need to find a perfect or even a partial ethnic match.

We’re changing the rules so that approved adopters can foster the child they hope to adopt at an early stage – thus building attachment and security.

We are also exploring changes to allow siblings to be adopted separately – and to strictly limit or prevent contact between birth parents and adopted children.

In both cases the wishes of adults and children to keep siblings together – or to maintain historic relationships – can work against the interests of children – who may best be served by being adopted as quickly as possible and forming as secure an attachment as possible with their new parents. Waiting until two or more siblings can be adopted together can limit the speed with which either might find a loving home. Allowing inappropriate contact with a birth parent could impede a child’s ability to settle in a new family without any gains for either child or parents.

I am open to making whatever other changes are necessary to speed this process – but as reform bites so it becomes even more imperative that we accelerate and increase the numbers becoming approved adopters.

That is why I am open to changing how we recruit new parents, giving voluntary adoption agencies a bigger role, with costs and payments reflecting their ability, indeed determination, to recruit more parents.

Local authorities have little incentive at the moment to recruit beyond the numbers they may consider appropriate for their own area – while voluntary adoption agencies want to work across localities to recruit more parents. I don’t have any ideological preference as to who recruits more parents as long as more parents are recruited. As that thoughtful advocate of competition in the provision of public services, Deng Xiaoping, once said, it doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice. And I don’t mind it if it’s a council or an agency recruiting adoptive parents as long as they don’t ask unnecessary and intrusive questions about faith or sexual politics, as long as they don’t keep compassionate volunteers waiting for long weeks and months to be assessed, as long as they don’t impose irrelevant class, race or lifestyle tests on prospective parents and as long as they work hard to make sure that sooner or later every prospective parent is given the chance to adopt. But unless I can see a change in attitude, quickening of the pace and a raising of the level of ambition, again, we are prepared to act.

And just as I want a wider range of people encouraged to become adopters so I want to help an even wider range of people to become foster parents. We need in particular to encourage more foster parents from a wider range of homes. Edward Timpson – the Children’s Minister – grew up with a total of 89 foster siblings. He is used to people saying “you must be a very special person to do this” but he and his parents disagree. You don’t have to be special – there are lots of people who could foster children.  We need more aspirational and engaged parents who can introduce looked-after children to a wider range of experiences and opportunities would be hugely powerful in improving the prospects of our most vulnerable children. Other EU nations tend to recruit foster parents from an even broader pool than we do and we are looking at just how we can extend both the number, and the diversity, of those who foster.

And I should add, of course, that the growth in special guardianship provides another route for children who cannot be cared for by their birth parents to enjoy the security of a home in which they are loved and cherished.

All of these options together provide an opportunity for children who have known only upheaval and neglect to enjoy permanence and love – and thanks to the generosity of adopters, fosters parents and special guardians the number of children and young people in residential care homes has diminished during my lifetime.

Holding adults to account for children in their care

Of course there are some children and young people who simply cannot function in the family environment of foster care, and they need the framework and intensive professional help to be found in good children’s homes. I know that many children recognise and respond to the warm and sympathetic care they then receive. The best residential care homes are very good indeed – warm and caring environments where the highest professional standards help young people find stability after years of abuse or neglect.

It is, however, very sadly the case that there are residential care homes where these high standards are not maintained. Homes where facilities are poor, supervision ineffective, affection absent and support for the young person either scanty or misdirected. Worse, many of these homes are located in parts of the country where other facilities for young people are poor. Worse still, many local authorities deliberately send their looked after children many miles from their friends and families to care homes in distant areas. Worse still, some of these homes are located in high-risk areas with large numbers of sexual offenders or organised criminal activity which can ensnare vulnerable young people.

Now, no Director of Children’s Services or Council Chief Executive would willingly put vulnerable young people in harm’s way – but that is what happens.

In places such as East Kent and East Lancashire there are vulnerable children from all over the United Kingdom, at risk of exploitation and vulnerable to criminal activity. They have been sent there by professionals charged with protecting them.

How can this happen?

In order to establish why good-hearted and well-intentioned people are not just allowing this to happen – but directing this activity – my colleague Tim Loughton established detailed work to consider how we could improve provision. That work will be completed shortly.

We know that many of the young people who have found themselves in these homes – and whose lives will already have been characterised by neglect and abuse, the withholding of affection and the manipulation of their emotions – are being targeted by adults intent on sexual exploitation.

Thanks to the determined work of Times journalist Andrew Norfolk, we know that the targeting, grooming and horrific mistreatment of young girls is facilitated by the failures of our residential care system.

Indeed our care system overall.

Policing the boundary between children and adults

For a disproportionate number of young people who have been sexually exploited are or have been in care. And as Sylvie Carver’s Times article also made clear children who have been neglected early in their lives are uniquely vulnerable to sexual exploitation later.

We need to ensure all adults recognise this vulnerability. That means tackling head on the attitudes of these professionals reported to have dismissed many of these young girls as “difficult”, “drawn to danger”, “risk-fuelled” “asking for it” or “sexually available”.

It is chilling to read how nominally responsible adults treated the sexual activity of children in Rochdale. Because of an attitude that may have begun as exasperation with damaged young people but ended in acceptance of their abuse by adults, we let those children down.

We let them down because we did not – for them – and for others – uphold the principle that laws are there to protect the innocent. The law of consent is there precisely to protect young people – children in fact and in law – from exploitation by their elders. When anyone – anyone – interprets children’s sexual activity – or availability – as a matter of free choice, or evidence of their appetite for risk and danger, or behaviour just too difficult to handle, they are acquiescing in abuse.

Because the girls exploited in Rochdale are not an isolated and wholly unrepresentative group. According to data from the Health Protection Agency approximately 3000 children – children – attended a genitourinary medicine clinic on more than one occasion between April 2010 and March 2011. The Department of Health confirms that in 2011 there were 84 terminations of pregnancy for children under the age of 16 – who had already had at least one previous termination.

Now I am absolutely convinced that we must have good sexual health services for every citizen. I know that health professionals must always – always – act to alleviate harm and never seek to pass personal judgement – and I am not one of those who wishes to see any reduction in women’s reproductive rights or undermining of women’s health and well-being.

But while I do not wish to see the NHS be any less responsive to those in need, I have to ask – can we as a society be happy with the exposure to risk – to physical and mental health, to social and emotional maturity – revealed by this evidence of early sexual activity?

I think we all need to ensure the importance of 16 as the age of consent is appreciated by every one who has responsibility for young people. As Anne-Marie Carrie says, no child can consent to their own abuse. They deserve our protection.

And to help combat the erosion of that safeguard, and the exploitation of the vulnerable, I think we should erect more – not less – protection around childhood.

That is why I applaud the campaigning efforts of organisations like Mumsnet with their “Let Girls be Girls” campaign, and why the Government commissioned the Bailey Review into the premature sexualisation and commercialisation of children.

It is also why I think we need to recognise that all the pressures put on young people to grow up faster need to be resisted.

That is why I think we should do all we can to discourage young people in care from leaving care before they are 18.

We are – rightly raising the age of compulsory participation in education. We believe young people should carry on learning until they are at least 18, in preparation for adult responsibilities and opportunities.

And I think – in line with the steps we are taking to raise the participation age – we should ensure looked after children are expected to remain in care until they are 18. And, much more often, to stay with their former foster carers until into their early twenties.

We should not be allowing vulnerable young people at 16 or 17, before they are ready, to be placed in additional risk.

We know that the prospects for many care leavers across the country are poor. The circumstances some of them find themselves in are desperate. Even when they are in suitable accommodation in a foyer or supported lodgings they may be vulnerable to exploitation from drug dealers, pimps and other predators who may live in the area. So we need to ensure children are not leaving foster or residential care only to have their whole futures endangered.

And because local authorities have a specific duty of care here I want to ensure we hold them accountable for what happens to these young people. We are holding our schools more effectively to account by recording the number of their students who go onto university, college, proper apprenticeships or satisfying jobs. This destination data will complement other performance measures to ensure schools prepare students for all the challenges of adult life. I believe we should hold local authorities similarly to account for the destinations of looked after children. We should be able to plot where children in care progress to, local authority by local authority, so councils have an even more powerful incentive to ensure care leavers are prepared and supported for all the risks, and opportunities, of adult life.


The proposals I have put forward today are, I hope, the start of a debate, not the summing-up; the beginning of a conversation, not a conclusion.

I have spoken as honestly as possible today because I want there to be no excused for inaction in the days ahead. I want those of us entrusted with responsibility at this time – in central and local Government – in social work, schools, the police, the health service – to work together to improve our child protection system. I want us to ensure that – at last – ahead of the interests of adults – we put the needs of children.

Michael Gove – 2012 Speech to the Spectator Conference


Below is the text of a speech made by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, at the Spectator Conference held in London on the 26th June 2012.

It is a pleasure to be here at this Spectator Conference – and to have the chance to debate the future of our children’s education – not least because the Spectator is intimately involved in shaping that future.

One Spectator writer – the editor Fraser Nelson – has been the most powerful advocate in Britain today for educational reform and, in particular, for learning from other nations like Sweden which have pioneered disruptive innovation.

And talking of disruptive innovators – another Spectator writer, Toby Young, has shaken up education provision in London by doing what so few writers dare to do and testing his ideas in the real world – by setting up in Hammersmith the sort of school he has long argued for in the Spectator.

That school has been a runaway success, offering a rigorous academic education to a socially comprehensive intake, and has become – just months after being established – one of the most over-subscribed schools in the country. Even more popular than schools blessed by the good luck to have Fiona Millar as a governor.

And today’s conference affirms the importance of two principles the Spectator has consistently championed.

Demanding higher standards for all children.

And learning from those nations which have the best performing schools – and the societies in which opportunity is most equal.

Learning from others

So I’ve been eager to find out more about educational transformation in Sweden and Finland, in Singapore and Shanghai, in Australia and New Zealand, in Jeb Bush’s Florida and Michelle Rhee’s DC.

But perhaps the most powerful lesson from abroad that I’ve learned in this job comes from Kenya – from the Masai people of that nation.

Whenever one Masai greets another they ask a question – Kasserian Ingera? Not “how do you do” or “how’s it going”, but “how are the children”? It’s wonderfully revealing about the values of Masai society – their first concern is the next generation.

And the hoped-for reply is equally revealing: “all the children are well”. Not my children. Not some of the children. All the children are well. For the Masai, society cannot be well unless all the children are well.

The question the Masai ask each other is revealing not just of their society – but of ours.

Whatever tests we set ourselves – and whatever achievements we boast of – the question that goes to the heart of the health of our society should be the same – how are the children?

Our failure to our children

Well, all the children are not well.

We are not putting our children first, not respecting the first duty any generation must discharge – to leave the world a better place for those who follow us.

We should be seeking to leave our children an inheritance enriched by our efforts – designed to be shared among all.

But we have been doing precisely the opposite.

We have been depriving our children – depriving them of the share of our nation’s wealth that is properly theirs, depriving them of the protection from abuse and neglect they deserve, depriving them of the opportunities for fulfilment that should be theirs by right and depriving them of the education they need to make them masters of their own fate.

The economic deprivation adults have inflicted on children

The first deprivation we have inflicted on our children is economic.

It is a tragedy that so many children still grow up in poverty – in households without work or the prospect of work.

It is a reproach to all of us that so many children grow up in communities where they are destined to be dependent on the state rather than enjoying the dignity of independence.

And it is unforgivable that our children’s future income has already been taken from them – by a generation who robbed those they claimed to live for.

The extent of worklessness and welfare dependency in our society is a moral issue. Unemployment doesn’t just undermine self-worth and erode self-confidence; it acts against every noble human impulse. It makes it more difficult to save for the future, to marry and bring up children, to buy a house and put down roots, to devote time and resources to others. It is a waste of both talent, and potential.

Which is why the Prime Minister and Iain Duncan Smith are so right to reform our welfare system to encourage and incentivise work. And it is why we have to ask of any Government policy – will it make easier for people to find employment, or does it raise the cost of giving someone a job?

In a world of competing priorities we have to put our children first – and that means setting aside other, perhaps desirable goals, which make it harder for companies to give young people jobs and hope.

That is why the review of bureaucracy in the workplace that Vince Cable and his team are undertaking is so vital – to liberate the private sector to deliver the greatest public good, fighting unemployment.

There is of course one drag on job creation even greater than over-regulation and a dysfunctional welfare system.


As Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Rheinhart have persuasively demonstrated in their comprehensive analysis of economic crashes – This Time is Different – when a nation’s debt gets beyond a certain level it acts as a powerful and, historically, often catastrophic brake on growth. Unless nations can show they are bringing their deficits (and then their debts) under control then growth will continue to elude them.

That was the lesson the Clinton Democrats and the Canadian Liberals recognised in the 90s but some on the centre-left forget today – reducing Government debt is a core progressive mission. Unless you bring debt under control you will not have the climate in which new jobs are created; you will not have an economy that serves the people.

But there is an even more powerfully progressive reason why we need to tackle our debt problems. Because Governments which borrow money are basically financing their current consumption by saying others will pay more for it later. And those others are our children.

A Government – and indeed individuals – who borrow at the levels we’ve seen in the last decade are asking the next generation to pick up the bill – loading up either bigger future tax increases, which steal their income, or requiring greater future spending cuts. No-one I know could defend the act of stealing from children – but that is what the economic policy of the last decade of debt has meant.

Which is why if we want all our children to be well – to inherit an economy that provides opportunity not permanent austerity – we need to reduce our deficit now – and cut debt back.

The failure to protect the most vulnerable

As well as depriving all our children economically, we have also been depriving many of them of the security they need in their earliest years.

One of the saddest parts of my job is reading the serious case reviews which follow incidents when children have been dreadfully abused or neglected.

They are haunting records of blighted lives, in many cases the dreadful final chapter of lives cut short by unspeakable cruelty.

They cover tragedies as disparate as babies like Peter Connelly, killed by those who should have cared for him, or the young woman stabbed in Rotherham by one of the men who sexually abused her because years of neglect had left her vulnerable to exploitation.

But while the cases cover so many tragedies, one lesson comes through relentlessly.

We have failed to be anything like assertive enough in challenging bad parents and supporting good ones.

Critically, we have left children in the hands of adults who are incapable of caring effectively, who either abuse or acquiesce in the abuse of innocents, who inhabit homes where violence is an everyday visitor and love never enters.

And when generous adults have come forward to offer these children a home, instead of doing everything to rescue these children and place them in loving arms we have placed a series of bureaucratic barriers and politically correct protocols in their way.

The children we have left to grow up in squalor – physical and moral – become the adults without hope, the recruits for gangs, the victims of sexual exploitation, the saddest casualties of selfishness in our whole society.

That is why it is so important that we reform our care system, to get more children out of abusive homes and placed with adoptive parents, ensure social workers challenge poor parenting and neglect and get everyone who works with children working better together to help the vulnerable escape from abuse. And the work my colleagues Tim Loughton and Sarah Teather have done alongside Martin Narey has ensured that those children most in need will be protected in the future.

We cannot claim all our children are well when so many suffer so terribly – that is why the State must act to put right what selfish and abusive individuals have done wrong.

The State must also act – clearly, assertively, determinedly – to ensure not just security for every child in the earliest years – but also opportunity.

The historic failure to make opportunity truly equal

Sadly, the test which our nation has most clearly failed – generation after generation – is the extension of educational opportunity to all our children.

England boasts some of the very best educational institutions in the world – whether universities, fee-paying schools or state schools.

Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL are world class.

As are Eton, St Paul’s, Wellington and Winchester.

As are the academies of the Harris and Ark chains, faith schools like Cardinal Vaughan and Hasmonean and comprehensives like Perry Beeches and Arthur Terry in Birmingham.

But while we should celebrate excellence – wherever it occurs – and take encouragement from the improvements in our education system put in place over the years by Kenneth Baker, David Blunkett, Tony Blair, Michael Barber and Andrew Adonis – we have to recognise that the fundamental problem with our schools is that not enough of them are good enough – and hundreds of thousands of our children are suffering as a result.

We have one of the most segregated and stratified education systems in the developed world – only the USA and Luxembourg are more unequal.

We suffer from assumptions formed in the past that only a minority were ever able to attain academic excellence.

We used to have a system which educated the top 25%, the A stream, those favoured by wealth or exceptional talent, exceptionally well. But which failed to stretch, develop and challenge the majority.

I don’t believe an educational system which fails to give every child the chance to excel is morally defensible.

Whether you are on the left or right – a believer in social justice or natural law – a fighter for social solidarity or a believer in the worth of every individual soul – it cannot be right to deny any child access to excellence, to the best that has been thought and written.

That is every child’s inheritance, which none should be denied.

But even if you think that vision is too idealistic…

– and if you do, you will have to tell me which parents and which children you will bar from access to excellence –

…it is now, beyond doubt, an act of economic idiocy to perpetuate a system of educational inequality.

The nature of the globalised economy means that individuals and societies will only flourish if they become ever more highly educated.

Over the last twenty years the economic return to skills – the premium earned by the educated – has soared.

And at the same time the number of routine jobs in developed economies – manual, clerical and managerial – has declined. These jobs have either been exported offshore or have been rendered permanently redundant by technology.

Manufacturing businesses which once required assembly lines thickly populated by workers bashing metal now rely on one highly skilled technician using advanced robotics.

An education system which itself produces only a few highly skilled graduates and bashes out many more unskilled or low skilled school leavers will only cripple any country’s competitiveness. Not to reform education is to settle for stagnation.

The ironclad link between educational failure and youth unemployment

And it is in those parts of our country where education has been least reformed where economic stagnation is most prevalent.

The parts of our country most scarred by youth unemployment, where hope for the future is most elusive, are those with our worst schools.

Where there are poorly performing local authorities, and hundreds and thousands of children go to schools which consistently underperform, year after year.

And the reason those children have been failed is the persistence of a fatalistic culture of low expectations and shop-worn excuses.

We have failed to hold these children’s schools to the highest standards, failed to demand they educate children as well here as they are educated in other nations, failed to ensure that children come first in every thing we do.

In America the assumption that some children are bound to do less well academically because of their background has been styled “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

In this country we have had a similar attitude at work – the persistent prejudice against excellence which makes everything an excuse for failure and never demands or expects success.

Adults blame children’s home backgrounds, or economic circumstances, for the failure to teach them properly and rigorously.

Adults – when confronted with children’s poor performance – say, “well, what can you expect with these sort of children?”

Adults – when schools are indisciplined and disorderly – blame the children instead of asking who is responsible for establishing authority in the first place.

Adults – when asked why children aren’t achieving good academic results – shift the conversation away from individual children and on to their own ideology – we are a creative school here, or a community hub, or at the centre of a multi-agency approach to delivering public services

Well, these may all be things adults like to boast about – but what about the children? Are they being introduced to excellence, are their minds being stretched, are they learning self-discipline, deferred gratification and the importance of hard work?

Are they on course to get the qualifications which will allow them to choose whether they go into work, go onto further education or opt for university? Or will they be denied those qualifications, denied their own choice over their futures, denied the chance to succeed? Because adults have preferred to settle for a quiet life rather than give children a better life.

I think it’s time we put children first.

All our children.

And that must begin by setting higher than ever expectations for every child.

And if you doubt the corrosive, life-impairing impact of low expectations, consider the state of our school qualifications system.

The errors of the past – entrenching low expectations for a generation

For a decade now we have steered hundreds of thousands of young people towards courses and qualifications which are called vocational even though employers don’t rate them and which have been judged to be equivalent in league tables to one – or sometimes more – GCSEs, even though no-one really imagines they were in any way equivalent.

Whether they were called Level 2 Btecs or Diplomas, these qualifications and courses lacked rigour, they were not externally assessed, they did not provide a route onto other qualifications, they did not confer skills which employers valued and they were overwhelmingly taught to those students marked down at an early age as under-achievers.

The students were told these qualifications would equal up to 4 GCSEs – but employers regarded them as worth much less than a single GCSE.

Indeed, as Professor Alison Wolf pointed out in her universally-praised study of vocational education, possession of some of these qualifications actually lowered the earning power of students by marking them down as under-performing and under-achieving before they even entered the labour market.

But even though these qualifications held children back they were taught by adults because they counted in league tables. Adults who wanted to keep their positions, and keep their schools’ league table positions, used these qualifications to inflate their schools’ performance in these tables. Adults put their own interests before children.

When the last Government opted for a welcome reform of these league tables – and insisted that English and Maths be included in the five GCSE passes by which schools would be measured – there was a predictable outcry from the usual suspects: this was going back to the 1950s, this was squeezing creativity out of the curriculum, this was denigrating alternative ways of learning, this was creating a new hierarchy of subjects, this was recreating an old hierarchy of subjects, this was unfair on students whose backgrounds did not conform to bourgeois expectations and so on…

But while adults complained, at least more children were taught to acquire qualifications which mattered. It was a step forward – but it was still progress made on fundamentally unsound foundations.

Because GCSEs themselves – including those in English, Maths and Science – had been losing their value over time.

Authoritative voices had given warning. Sir Michael Barber feared GCSEs were becoming less rigorous. Durham University showed that GCSEs had become less demanding by a whole grade between 1996 and 2006. The Royal Society of Chemistry noted there had been a catastrophic slippage in science standards in GCSE in 2009. Sir Terry Leahy described GCSE standards as “woefully low” in 2009. The independent exams regulator Ofqual confirmed that questions in maths and science papers had become less demanding over the years.

As other nations asked more of their schools we asked less, as other countries gave their children more knowledge, we gave ours less.

But for the adults who were running our political system – and our exams – there was nothing wrong with this situation. Politicians took the credit for ever rising exam performance – and exam boards took the profits from a system which incentivised dumbing down.

Exam boards competed for custom on the basis that their exams were easier to pass than others. They got round the demand for rigour – for example the requirement to include questions on Shakespeare’s dramas – by letting schools know which act and which lines would be examined, whole terms in advance of the papers being sat. They organised seminars in which examiners tipped off teachers on the questions to be asked. They sold study aids which coached students in the exam strategies and mark schemes required to secure good passes. They made a virtue out of helping adults game the system – cheating children of their futures.

And a culture of low expectations was further reinforced by the creation of two different kinds of GCSE – one which explicitly placed a cap on aspiration.

Important GCSEs like English, Maths and the Sciences were split into two tiers, Foundation and Higher.

The Foundation paper was designed to limit students’ success. It is impossible for students entered for Foundation tier papers to achieve higher than a grade C.

Impossible, in other words, for thousands of students to achieve the most basic grade which is respected by employers, which counts in league tables; impossible for them to achieve the grade B or above which many colleges require to allow progress to A Level.

The very act of entering a child for a Foundation Tier paper is a way of saying – don’t get above yourself – A levels are not for you.

Even colleges which set grade C as an entry requirement often demand a grade C from a higher tier paper – because they treat higher and lower tier GCSEs as separate examinations.

And while the division of exams between Foundation and Higher tiers incarnated low expectations, that was far from the only problem with the structure of these qualifications.

The exam system encouraged rote learning of isolated gobbets of information and schooling in narrow exam techniques rather than deep understanding.

Ministers allowed modules and resits to proliferate, conniving at this reduction in demand. The exam boards made even more money. And our children were even less stretched, challenged or excited.

That is why we have to reform our whole discredited curriculum and examination system. It has worked against excellence and ambition, just when we need more excellence and greater ambition.

Steps towards greater rigour

We have already taken some steps to improve things – ending modules and resits, insisting there be proper marks given once more for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar, ending corrupt coaching sessions and insisting we look beyond our shores for meaningful comparisons of an examination’s rigour.

It is not good enough to measure ourselves against the past – especially when that measure has been debased and devalued – we have to measure ourselves against the best and be as ambitious for our children as other countries are.

We need to have a system where exam boards compete to show their tests are the most ambitious, not the easiest. We need to replace rote learning and lessons in exam technique with deep knowledge and questions which test understanding. We need to have English tests which require fluent composition, a proper knowledge of syntax and grammar and familiarity with literature beyond the twentieth century. We need to have maths tests which provide students and employers with a guarantee of basic numeracy and the knowledge to progress down both technical and academic routes. We need science tests which require students to understand the forces, laws and reactions which govern our world and to use the scientific reasoning which tests hypotheses and establishes the strength of theories.

I know some will say that it is too ambitious to aim this high.

But we have to be ambitious because we are living through a revolution in learning. Knowledge is being democratised as never before. And if our young people are to benefit they need to be stretched as never before.

The best universities in the world, from Stanford, Harvard and MIT in America to Oxford and Cambridge in England are allowing many more people to benefit from the teaching which was once restricted to the privileged few who lived on campus.

Professor Michael Sandel – the brilliant Harvard academic who argues that some of the most important things in life are those which money can’t buy – has put his moral philosophy where his mouth is by putting his lectures online for free. And his lectures are just one of many academic resources and interactive courses which universities are putting free online.

Such developments are shaking the foundations of traditional universities and schools. They give everybody on earth the chance to learn from the best teachers and the best materials.

This means that establishing strong foundations in English, Maths and Science are particularly important. With such foundations, pupils will have the tools to access this new world; without them, this new world will be shut off to them.

Many children who now do not think of themselves as academic will be excited by online courses in computer science and coding – they will want to access the programmes in personal fabrication run by MIT – but they will only be able to enjoy these opportunities if we have ensured they have good foundations in English and Maths in the first place.

Setting the bar higher

I want us to ensure that in the next ten years at least 80% of our young people are on course to securing good passes in properly testing exams in Maths, English and Science – more rigorous than those our children sit now.

This goal, while explicitly ambitious, is also entirely achievable. In Singapore the exams designed for 16-year-olds embody all those virtues and are taken successfully by 80% – and rising – of the population.

Those exams – O-levels, as it happens, drawn up by examiners in this country – set a level of aspiration for every child which helps ensure Singapore remains a world leader in education.

But there is nothing intrinsic to Singapore schools – or Singapore children – which means that we cannot do the same here. The schools there are not better funded. The class sizes are not smaller. The children are not innately more intelligent.

The culture, however, is orientated towards excellence, demanding of every child, and democratic in its determination that every child should be expected to succeed.

For those who say it can’t happen here – I would ask why our children are worth less of our care and less worthy of our ambitions than children in Singapore?

And for those who say it would take years for any such culture change to occur here – I say – we can’t wait. Our children only have one chance at education and we need to ensure they can succeed now.

And for those who say performance like that can only occur in states, societies or neighbourhoods favoured by the privileged and insulated by wealth – I say – come to Hackney.

As Arne Duncan did.

When the US Education Secretary came to London he was encouraged to visit Hackney at the instigation of Sir Michael Barber, and Mossbourne Community Academy at the invitation of Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Mossbourne – like Singapore – gets 80% of its children to attain a clutch of good exam passes at 16. Many of those children are on the special educational needs register, come from the poorest families or homes where English is scarcely spoken. And yet they outperform our national average by a massive margin.

When the US Education Secretary had finished visiting Mossbourne – and seen the children from the poorest backgrounds mastering foreign languages with ease, enjoying discussions of history and literature, rehearsing for classical music performances and conducting sophisticated scientific experiments – he gave me a simple piece of advice:

You should ask yourself why isn’t every school as good as this – and you should ask every principal you meet when their school is going to be as good as this.

That is the question our new Chief Inspector (the former headmaster of Mossbourne) has been asking over the last six months. There have been all sorts of excuses from all manner of adults as to why they haven’t been able to match his performance. But every excuse is another justification for letting children down.

Because we know that it is possible – in the most challenging circumstances – to match what Mossbourne has achieved. The Harris Academies, ARK academies such as Burlington Danes and Walworth Academy, schools in Birmingham such as Perry Beeches or Arthur Terry, the Ormiston Victory Academy outside Norwich, Paddington Academy, Outwood Grange near Leeds – they all show that academic excellence is possible if we are sufficiently ambitious.

Consider the case of Crystal Palace City Academy, part of the Harris Federation. In its final year as a LEA school, only 9% of pupils achieved 5 GCSEs at A*-C. Last year, 100% did (95% with English and Maths). Or another Harris school – South Norwood – where 29% of pupils reached that measure in its last year as an LEA school; 100% last year.

If you doubt transformative change is possible reflect on the example of the ARK Academies, which have seen an average increase of 23 percentage points over the last two years in the number of pupils achieving 5 good GCSEs including English and Maths.

And dramatically higher expectations can be set at primary as well as secondary.

There are existing primaries – Thomas Jones in West London, Woodpecker Hall in North London, Durand Academy in South London and Old Ford in East London – which draw children overwhelmingly from poorer homes and ensure that every child meets the necessary standards in literacy and numeracy, with many children soaring above national expectations.

Zero tolerance for school failure

Given these successes, I have to ask: why is it that there are hundreds of secondary schools where more than half of children fail to get even five current GCSE passes including English and maths?

Why did more than one in ten pupils not achieve a single GCSE last year at grade D or above?

And why are there more than one thousand primaries where more than forty per cent of children fail to reach acceptable standards in literacy and numeracy?

How can we accept so many children being failed?

Well, I can’t.

Which is why we are acting with all the urgency we can to save the children in those schools from more years of failure.

We are accelerating the academies programme as fast as we can – taking chronically under-performing schools out of the control of the bureaucracies which have failed them, either removing their leadership or providing their leaders with new support, and placing the schools in the hands of those with a track record of educational success.

We are asking existing academy groups like ARK and Harris to take over more under-performing schools. And we are getting more existing high-performing schools to become academies and take over under-performing neighbours. So our best school leaders are taking over the management of our weakest schools.

They’re achieving amazing things.

Like E-ACT Blackley Academy, in Manchester. Formerly a community primary school in a deprived area, in and out of special measures, poorly led and unpopular with parents, the new Academy is now oversubscribed and hugely popular, with better attendance, better ethos, better teachers (50% of whom are new) and better relations with the community.

Or Horizon Primary Academy in Swanley, backed by the strong sponsorship of the Kemnal Academies Trust – which has now got a grip of its mismanaged finances, transformed its underperforming workforce, and seen pupil attainment soaring, with some children making more than double the expected annual progress.

Overall, research shows that academies are improving at twice the rate of other schools, and have been doing so for a decade.

New research released today by the Department for Education shows the staggering impact of academy status on some of the poorest schools in the country.

It shows that, between 2005/06 and 2010/11, results for pupils in Sponsored Academies improved by 27.7 percentage points – a faster rate than in other state-funded schools (14.2%) and a faster rate than in a group of similar schools (21.3%).

The longer sponsored academies had been open – and therefore the longer their pupils had been taught in the academy, rather than in the old, failing school – the greater the improvement in pupils’ results.

These increases are particularly impressive for the most vulnerable pupils.

Pupils eligible for Free School Meals or with Special Educational Needs perform better in sponsored academies, and are improving faster, than similar pupils in other state-funded schools.

In attainment and in pupil progress, for pupils from the most deprived backgrounds and for those with the most challenging needs, sponsored academies score more highly across the board than other state-funded schools. The longer the academy had been open, the larger and more secure these improvements became.

So far in this parliament we have allowed 1513 schools to convert to academy status – all of them pledged to help under-performing schools.

135 under-performing secondary schools have been fully taken over and re-opened as new academies and the numbers are set to rise further in September.

We have also extended the academy programme to primary schools. At the beginning of this year I set a target to ensure 200 of the weakest primary schools were taken over and became new academies. Some of those schools – like Downhills in Haringey – attracted attention. Others did not.

But thanks to the amazing work of a dedicated team of officials, 220 of the most chronic underperforming primary schools – more than our target – now have agreements in place to become sponsored academies. Just last week saw the decision that Downhills will become an academy in the high-performing Harris chain.

34 of these new sponsored academies are already open, and a further 166 are on track to open by the end of 2012.

It seems to me that having reached that milestone, now is the time to accelerate – and in particular to increase our ambition for those areas of our country where concentrations of poor schools are failing communities of poor children.

So in the next year I want to extend our academies programme to tackle the entrenched culture of under-achievement in parts of the country where children are being failed.

We will seek sponsors for every primary school in the country which is in Special Measures or the Ofsted category “Notice to Improve”.

And we are inviting more new sponsors to come forward. Brilliant schools, and strong dioceses; existing academy sponsor organisations, and new federations.

I can today announce a new fund to help create the Harris and ARK sponsors of the future – by funding charities, schools, colleges and others to become Academy sponsors.

They are the engine of school improvement – and we want to take off the brakes, so they can go further, faster.

We will also identify the areas with the highest concentration of underperforming schools.

These are parts of the country where children are being let down, year after year after year – and where the alternative options available to parents are poor, or non-existent.

It would be morally reprehensible to allow this situation to continue any longer, and we will not allow it. We need to intervene at every point to help those children.

We need to ensure they have a high quality nursery education – and my colleague Sarah Teather is leading that work. We need to attract more talented graduates into teaching – especially in the poorest areas – and the new head of the Teaching Agency, former head Charlie Taylor, will look at designing incentives to do just that. We need to expand programmes that bring talented people into teaching – like Teach First – and Brett Wigdortz and his team are doing just that. We need to set more demanding targets in our primary curriculum – and my colleague Nick Gibb has outlined how we can do that. We need a funding system which helps the poorest most – and Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and David Laws have helped design a pupil premium which does just that. We need to give high quality teachers even better opportunities to improve the work they do – and the new network of Teaching schools set up by the National College’s Steve Munby is delivering that support. And we need to create more new schools to generate innovation, raise expectations, give parents choice and drive up standards through competition  – and thanks to my colleague Jonathan Hill and hundreds of idealistic groups planning to set up new free schools, we can offer many more children many more opportunities.

But it is critical that we become even more ambitious for these children – improving the qualifications they take at 16, entrenching a culture of higher expectations, insisting that those who don’t secure decent passes in subjects like maths at 16 carry on studying maths until the age of 18, developing new programmes of study and curricula driven by great schools and top academics which deploy new technology to make new demands.

That is why exams and curriculum reform is so important.

But these necessary changes – driven from the centre but created on the ground – will require schools to be built around children.

That is why the academies movement is so important. Because as Tony Blair pointed out an academy exists not to fit into a council’s plans, not to meet a bureaucracy’s needs and not to provide adults with a platform for their ideology but for children.

In academies staff are not held back by the terms and conditions, the restrictive practices, which work against children’s welfare. The school day can be longer – built around children’s needs. The petty rules which prevent teachers in other schools putting up wall displays or covering for absent staff can be set aside in academies – so the whole culture puts children first.

And that is what our whole society needs to do – what our politics must achieve – putting children first.

Making sure every child grows up in safety, has an education which makes demands of them and then liberates them to enjoy the degree, the job, the future which they choose.

That is the driving moral purpose of the whole coalition Government – to use the unique opportunity of two parties coming together to make decisions for the long term – for our children. All our children.

Freeing them from the crushing burden of debt which threatens their employment.

Liberating them from the forces which risk keeping them in idleness and dependence.

And raising the expectations of what they must achieve.

So when any people asks us – how are the children – we can answer with confidence and pride – all the children are well.