Michael Gove – 2012 Speech on Adoption

michaelgove

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Education, on 23 February 2012.

When I was a news editor at The Times I recognised that each branch of journalism had its own favourite phrases: cliches to some, comforting and reassuring prose landmarks to others.

Footballers would always have “intelligent” (or “cultured”) left feet. Restaurant reviewers would sooner or later find a pudding – but never any other course – “toothsome”. No political correspondent ever quotes a “junior” backbencher, ever refers to the 1922 Committee without reminding us that it is “influential”; or ever fails to remind readers, uncertain about which issue decides elections, that “It’s the economy, stupid”.

For TV reviewers the one genuinely indispensable favourite phrase is the praise offered to those rare television programmes which are “worth the licence fee alone”.

Considering that a boxed-set of Borgen sets you back just thirty pounds and the licence fee is four times that amount, it’s a rare programme which actually deserves that praise.

But this month we’ve been privileged to see one series which undeniably does.

The BBC’s three documentaries – Protecting Our Children – recently screened on BBC2 are in the very highest traditions of public service broadcasting.

They show, unsparingly, and without fuss, the reality of life for social workers and their clients in Bristol. Thought-provoking, unsentimental and humane, they are gripping yet uncomfortable viewing.

They also remind us that public service broadcasting is at its best when it reminds us of what those in public service are doing for all of us.

And no-one watching this series can be anything other than impressed with the calmness, patience, compassion, good judgement, professionalism and nobility of those in social work.

By giving an honest account of the fantastic job social workers do, the BBC is helping to bring a little balance to the media conversation about social work. A conversation which has been dominated for far too long by caricature, finger-pointing, recrimination and misjudgement.

The reality of Social Work

We ask social workers to operate in conditions most of us know nothing about; to engage with people in desperate need; to make extremely finely balanced ethical and practical judgements; to retain the trust of adults while thinking always of the best interests of children; to navigate bureaucracy and cope with heavy workloads. All the while knowing that if a mistake does occur then their career, indeed their professional status, may be ruined for ever.

So I am very glad that, today, Andrew Christie – one of the finest social workers in the country – has given me the opportunity to place on the record my gratitude to his profession and my admiration for the vital and under-appreciated work social workers do.

I’d like to think, and I’m sure I’ll be told if I’m wrong, that we are now moving towards a more mature relationship between social workers and central Government.

Building on foundations laid by my predecessor, Ed Balls, we now have a new College of Social Work, we have a prestigious new route into the profession for career-changers who’ve been successful in other fields, we’ve had superb work by Moira Gibb on how to improve support and training for the profession and ground-breaking reports from Professor Eileen Munro, which pave the way for progress to a more thoughtful development of improved practice.

Shortly we’ll be publishing the job specification for the role of Chief Social Worker – a new role which, like the Chief Medical Officer, will help bring balance and authority to the national debate on the profession does its job.

And we remain committed to publishing serious case reviews to encourage an informed debate when something goes wrong – as it inevitably will. A debate which will demonstrate that, if there is fault, it will very often reside not with social workers but with others – whether police, lawyers or whoever – and that far more important than any allocation of responsibility is a commitment to learn from the past so we can all do better in the future.

And it’s about learning from the past that I want to talk today.

Specifically, learning from the experience of those who have tried over the years to improve our child protection and adoption systems.

The relationship between care and disadvantage
One of those I have learnt most from is Martin Narey – Chief Executive of Barnardo’s for five years – a dedicated professional with a very special combination of moral courage and intellectual rigour.

Martin has come under fire for making one argument in particular.

He has been frank in acknowledging that earlier in his career he believed having children in care was a sign of failure. And believed that being in care condemned children, more often than not, to failure in the future.

But he has explained that, over time, he came to realise that the poor outcomes faced by looked after children were not a consequence of them being in care – they were a consequence of what had happened to them before they were taken into care.

It was the abuse or neglect they may have witnessed or endured in their earliest years which will have blighted their future. Neglect will have arrested their cognitive development; abuse will have made it more difficult for them to form secure relationships; the fatal mix of the two will have harmed them emotionally, intellectually, socially and personally.

Children and young people do not encounter disadvantage because they have been in care. They are in care because they have had to be rescued from disadvantage.

Martin also came to realise something else. Taking a child into care is not a failure on the part of social workers – but leaving children at risk of neglect or abuse is something none of us should wish to encourage.

Understandably, social workers do everything they can to keep families together. And, understandably, they fear being branded child-snatchers, do-gooders or anti-family if they initiate care proceedings.

But it is far better if social workers follow their instincts to intervene and rescue rather than acquiesce in abusive or neglectful parenting in the hope things will improve.

Because we know just how much damage is done to a child every day it spends in a home where there is no security, safety and certainty of affection.

Better to take children into care than allow them to be abused
So let me underline this. We in Government will back social workers who take children into care. We believe Martin Narey’s diagnosis of the problem is correct – and we know there are far too many children spending too long in homes where they are not receiving the care they need.

We do not regard more children being taken into care as a problem with social work which the profession must address. It is a problem with parenting, which our whole society must address.

My overriding approach to Government is to leave well alone when things are going well: to leave good schools, good parents, good companies to get on with it when they are doing a proper job. But when things go wrong – when cartels frustrate consumer choice, when schools fail their students and, most of all, when adults are neglecting, or abusing, children – then we should intervene, early and energetically, to put things right.

There is strong evidence that, in recent years, there has been too much reluctance to remove a child from circumstances of consistent and outright abuse and neglect – or to return them to those circumstances later.

Harriet Ward’s research into at-risk infants last year provided some horrifying examples of children left unprotected in dangerous and damaging environments:

– a baby whose parents so persistently forgot to feed her that she ceased to cry;

– a two-year-old left to forage in the waste bin for food;

– a three-year-old who could accurately demonstrate how heroin is prepared.

All these children remained with their birth parents for many months without being taken into care. Who knows how much damage they suffered, and how many children like them all over the country are suffering still?

This cannot be allowed to continue. The welfare of a neglected or abused child is more important than the rights of their parents, more important than the schedules of the courts, more important than ticking boxes on forms and much more important than the old saw that blood is thicker than water.

It is emphatically not the case that care is worse than a neglectful or abusive home. On the contrary, the research is undeniable: care is not perfect but, for some children, it can make life an awful lot happier. And, for some of the most vulnerable children, the sooner they are taken into care, the better.

A study by DEMOS in 2010, commissioned by Barnardo’s, showed conclusively that care improves the lives of many vulnerable children and young people. But those children whose entry to care is delayed by indecision or drift, risk longer exposure to damage and neglect; increased emotional and behavioural problems; and more placement disruption and instability.

Nor should we assume that returning a looked after child to their family is necessarily in that child’s best interests. A recent University of York study found that maltreated children who remained in care did better than those who were sent home to their families.

Research by Professor Elaine Farmer looking at children taken into care and then returned to their parents found that, two years after the children had been sent home, 59 per cent of them had been abused or neglected again.

We cannot let children down in this way.

I want social workers to feel confident that they can challenge parents in homes where there is alcohol or drug dependency, where there is no proper interaction between adults and children, where there is domestic violence, where boundaries between adult behaviour and children’s conduct are not properly policed.

And I want social workers to feel empowered to use robust measures with those parents who won’t shape up. Including, when an adult is not providing the home a child needs, making sure that child is removed to a place of greater safety.

Adoption and other permanent solutions

But where should that place be?

Well the most important thing is to find adults equipped to care, in circumstances that provide stability.

Sometimes that will mean fostering – and if there are one group of people who rival social workers in their unselfish commitment to helping our most vulnerable young people then they are foster carers…

But more and more often it should – must – mean adoption.

Because adoption provides what abused and neglected children need most – stability, certainty, security, love.

Of course I’m parti pris.

I was adopted at the age of just four months – given the stability, security and love which allowed me to enjoy limitless opportunities.

My experience of adoption has shown me how – whatever your start in life – being brought up by adults who love you, who are now your parents, is transformative.

Adoption is – in every sense of the word – for good. And the readiness of adults to make such a firm and unselfish commitment for a child they cannot know is, to my mind, an inspirational example of humanity at its best.

Adoption does not finish at the child’s 16th or 18th birthday, any more than biological parenthood does.

My adoptive parents are just as much my parents now that I’m a grown-up with my own children, as when I was a child myself.

And of all the possible permanent solutions, adoptions are the most likely to last. A study in 2010 by the University of York, called “Belonging and Permanence”, found that just 11 per cent of adoptions were disrupted after 3 or more years – compared to 28 per cent of fostering placements. When a child is adopted quickly, before their first birthday, the breakdown figure is only about 2 or 3 per cent.

Adoption gives a vulnerable child a home, and a family, for life.

Adoption rates have fallen

That is why it troubles me – more, angers me – that so few children today are benefiting from that generosity and humanity.

The decline in the number of children being adopted means a cruel rationing of human love for those most in need.

Adoptions have fallen by 17 per cent over the last decade.

The number of children adopted in England last year was the lowest since 2001. Only 3,050 children found new homes by adoption last year, just 2 per cent of them under the age of one.

These figures are even more remarkable when the number of children finding permanent routes out of care has actually increased. And we need to be careful that alternative solutions like special guardianship or residence orders are not used as a substitute for adoption when it would be the best option for a particular child.

As I pointed out earlier, the fact that more children are now being taken into care is not a problem we should lay at the door of social workers – but it is a problem if children in care are not found a proper home quickly.

I was lucky enough to be with my adoptive mother within four months of my birth. But many of those children available for adoption today have complex and challenging needs – and the average time between a child entering the care system and being adopted is now over two-and-a-half years.

What’s more, this average hides huge variations across different regions. Last year, five local authorities placed every single child within 12 months of their adoption decision.

But another four local authorities placed fewer than half its children in need of adoption over the same timescale.

We need a system that works for all children, regardless of where they live. A system which is quick, effective and robust.

Making sure the whole system works and improves for children
When a child can’t stay with their birth family, then the longer they wait for a permanent adoptive place, the more damage they will suffer – and the harder it will be to form a bond with a new family.

That is why it is so important to tackle delay throughout the system. We need to speed up care decisions, and work with local authorities to ensure they speed up their processes too.

In October last year we published new performance tables and we’re currently working hard to make this data more valuable for local authorities in identifying best practice and areas of weakness.

As we are here in the Isaac Newton Centre, I must pay tribute to the work that Andrew Christie, as Executive Director of Children’s Services for the three boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, has been doing with us to work out how local authorities can speed up decisions for the child at every stage.

As we develop our proposals further, I look forward to seeing similar leadership from every Director of Children’s Services, every Lead Member for Children, and every Family Court Judge.

Finding and assessing adoptive parents

Happily, there are now clear signs that more children are moving through local authority and court processes and being placed for adoption.

And I am sure that the reforms which will follow David Norgrove’s report into the Family Justice System will encourage that trend.

But as a consequence, we have an immediate and pressing challenge. We need radically to increase the supply of adoptive parents who are ready to give these children the love and stability they need.

I entirely reject the argument that there are too few people willing to adopt. I think there could be a vast supply: parents with their own children; couples – heterosexual and homosexual – unable to have children of their own; single individuals, both men or women.

But the barrier which looms between these prospective parents and their potential children is a process of recruitment and assessment which turns enthusiasm into exhaustion and optimism into despair.

Too many examples of the assessment process going wrong
We have been overwhelmed by stories from adopters and prospective adopters, telling us that the current system actively drives them away.

Let me mention a few examples:

Like the woman who made her first inquiry about adoption three and a half years ago. After meeting a social worker in her home and spending four days on a preparation course, she applied to adopt. It was another seven months before the assessment process even began – a process which took 15 months to complete. She was eventually approved to adopt, but that was well over a year ago – and she is still waiting to be matched with a child.

Or the white couple in London who knew that there were lots of black children in care and that those children have to wait 50% longer on average to be adopted. The assessment process dragged on for months, their files were lost, then they were told that the idea of their adopting a black child could not be countenanced.

Or the couple who had already adopted a daughter from abroad, and who wanted to add another child to their family. Eighteen months after their first enquiry, they are only now attending their first preparatory meetings. In the interim, hearing nothing, they chased up repeatedly only to discover that their address had been lost, and no effort made to find it. Despite repeated enquiries, they have been told nothing about how the assessment is decided, nor what particular qualities are sought in prospective adopters. In their own words, they feel that the “assessment of prospective adopters is based on the subjective opinion of a small group of people and…success is wholly dependent upon conformity to whichever set of political or social values happen to be flavour of the month”.

Or the couple wanting to adopt a child whom they already knew and loved, but who were turned down because one of them had not yet given up smoking for a long enough period.

Or the remarkable adopters of five disabled children who, just a few months ago, when they were ready to adopt a sixth, were turned away by nine local authorities because their previous assessments were out of date. When they persuaded the tenth local authority to give them a fast track re-assessment, they were told that a further adoption could not take place until they bought a new electric kettle with a shorter lead.

I could go on.

But I can’t continue without asking one fundamental question.

When so many children are in such desperate need of a loving home, and are waiting for months and years to find one, how can we treat would-be adopters this way?

The flaws in the assessment system

The current system of assessment has become bloated. Assessments regularly run to over 100 pages. They include huge areas of repetition and an astonishing amount of trivial detail, which seems to bear dubious relevance to adults’ capacity to be loving parents.

Highly trained social workers spend hours asking questions like whether there is a non-slip mat in the shower, whether the prospective adopters have a trampoline in the garden and, if so, whether it has a safety net.

A three page pet assessment form has been extended by one voluntary organisation to include a six page dog assessment – nine pages of forms to manage the risk of an adopted child living with a pet.

The quantity of material gathered has been confused with the quality of analysis – and there is no direct correlation between the two.

Understandably afraid of something going wrong, successive governments have tried to eliminate risk by maximizing form-filling.

But while they were right that risk has to be managed – adoption is too profound a step for us not to take care – we cannot eradicate risk with excessive bureaucracy. We must instead take steps to manage it, proportionately and sensibly.

I would like to take this opportunity to state that if something does go wrong (which we all know is bound to happen at some point) I have no intention of condemning social workers for decisions and recommendations which were sensible and sensitive at the time.

No system can be perfect – and it would be utter nonsense to pretend otherwise.

The Action Plan on Adoption

But we can do much better. That’s why, next month, we will be bringing out an Action Plan on Adoption.

We know that more bureaucracy is not the way to secure better outcomes for vulnerable children. And we know that the current system is leaving many children waiting for years to be adopted, and many would-be adopters disheartened and discouraged.

We need a system which helps professionals to assess prospective adopters, with better analysis and less form-filling;

We need a procedure which can be completed at speed, and which will not drive so many would-be adopters away;

We need to slim down pre-adoption assessment, and beef up adoption support;

And we need performance indicators which can help local authorities to measure how they’re performing against each other and improve.

As Jonathan Pearce, Chief Executive of Adoption UK, has pointed out, “it is rare to find an agency that is failing across the board”.

Equally, even the best performers always have scope for improvement.

I know that demanding a process which can be completed more speedily will mean that I run the risk of being called cavalier.

But I don’t mind. What I believe would be cavalier would be to allow the continuation of an adoption process which is so slow, so inefficient, that we condemn thousands of children to a life without parents.

A group of sector experts (including the CVAA, ADCS and BAAF) is already working hard on redesigning the assessment process to achieve this radical ambition, and we look forward to working with them over the coming weeks and months.

Matching children with adoptive parents

Another area which will need particularly close scrutiny is how to meet the challenge of matching children with adoptive parents.

This can be the most vital stage of the whole process. But all too often, it fails.

Many children waiting for adoption never get adopted. Many parents cleared to adopt never get the chance. And even when a successful match is made, parents and children have still had to endure an agonizing wait because the process just takes too long.

However conscientious they may be, practitioners who wait too long for any particular child, holding out for a perfect parental match, are not acting in that child’s best interests.

And we must bear in mind that matching a child to parents cannot be simply an intellectual process. We need to be more flexible and encourage would-be adopters to be flexible. The child they might go on to love and cherish may not be the child they first imagined – and I welcome the experimental adoption parties which BAAF has recently introduced to give potential parents and children the chance to meet.

The task of finding the right adoptive family is all the more important for children with challenging needs. Most often, the children who wait the longest to be adopted are siblings (including about 75 groups of three or more), children with disabilities or children from ethnic minorities.

These children are the most difficult to place – and that’s why it’s all the more important to welcome with open arms prospective adopters who are ready and eager to give them a home.

The Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies is already developing a proposal for a Social Impact Bond focused on finding adopters and providing adoption support for hard to place children.

Innovative initiatives like this could achieve real improvements for the most vulnerable children, and we look forward to seeing how these plans develop.

One particularly sensitive element of the matching process is, as you all know, matching by ethnicity. Which is much more complex than simply race.

I won’t deny that an ethnic match between adopters and child can be a bonus. But it is outrageous to deny a child the chance of adoption because of a misguided belief that race is more important than any other factor. And it is simply disgraceful that a black child is three times less likely to be adopted from care than a white child.

I heard, recently, of a foster carer whose local authority refused to let her adopt her foster child. The child was happy, and contented – she loved him, and he loved her. But she was white, and he was black. And the local authority insisted that he would have to be moved to black adoptive parents.

Eventually, when no black adopters could be found, common sense prevailed and the adoption went ahead. But only after the mother had endured a nightmare lasting two and half years – during which, as she said, “each morning I thought my son would be removed because another family had been found”.

This mother is by no means the only adopter told that she cannot adopt a child with a different skin colour to her own.

And although the new guidance I issued to local authorities last year explicitly addressed this issue, evidence suggests that too many have failed to change their practice.

If there is a loving family, ready and able to adopt a child, issues of ethnicity must not stand in the way.

I won’t say too much now, in advance of the action plan – but I can promise you that I will not look away when the futures of black children in care continue to be damaged.

Conclusion

Adoption transforms the lives of some of the most neglected children in our country. It is a generous act – and it can achieve incredible results.

I know this from the advice of experts, the statements of parents, the stories of children and from my own experience.

That’s why we are determined that adoption should happen more often and should happen more speedily.

By changing our attitude towards adoption, reducing the unnecessary bureaucracy of the assessment process and freeing up professionals to rely on their own judgement, I feel confident that we will be able to create a more efficient and effective adoption system.

I know that some supporters of adoption will have heard this before, and will be sceptical.

But I can assure you that I will not settle for a modest, temporary uplift in adoption numbers, nor a short-lived acceleration in the process. Nothing less than a significant and sustained improvement will do.

The most neglected, the most abused, the most damaged children in our care deserve nothing less.

Queen Elizabeth II – 2012 Queen’s Speech

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Below is the text of the speech made by HM Queen Elizabeth II in the House of Lords on 9 May 2012.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my Government’s legislative programme will focus on economic growth, justice and constitutional reform.

My Ministers’ first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability.

Legislation will be introduced to reduce burdens on business by repealing unnecessary legislation and to limit state inspection of businesses.

My Government will introduce legislation to reform competition law to promote enterprise and fair markets.

My Government will introduce legislation to establish a Green Investment Bank.

Measures will be brought forward to further strengthen regulation of the financial services sector and implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking.

My Government will introduce legislation to establish an independent adjudicator to ensure supermarkets deal fairly and lawfully with suppliers.

A Bill will be introduced to reduce burdens on charities, enabling them to claim additional payments on small donations.

My Government will propose reform of the electricity market to deliver secure, clean and affordable electricity and ensure prices are fair.

A draft Bill will be published to reform the water industry in England and Wales.

My Government will bring forward measures to modernise the pension system and reform the state pension, creating a fair, simple and sustainable foundation for private saving.

Legislation will be introduced to reform public service pensions in line with the recommendations of the independent commission on public service pensions.

A draft Bill will be published setting out measures to close the Audit Commission and establish new arrangements for the audit of local public bodies.

My Government will strive to improve the lives of children and families.

My Government will propose measures to improve provision for disabled children and children with special educational needs. New arrangements will be proposed to support children involved in family law cases, reform court processes for children in care and strengthen the role of the Children’s Commissioner.

Measures will be proposed to make parental leave more flexible so both parents may share parenting responsibilities and balance work and family commitments.

A draft Bill will be published to modernise adult care and support in England.

My Government will continue to work with the fifteen other Commonwealth Realms to take forward reform of the rules governing succession to the Crown.

Legislation will be brought forward which will introduce individual registration of electors and improve the administration of elections.

A Bill will be brought forward to reform the composition of the House of Lords.

My Government will continue to work constructively and co-operatively with the devolved institutions.

Members of the House of Commons, estimates for the public services will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my Government is committed to reducing and preventing crime. A Bill will be introduced to establish the National Crime Agency to tackle the most serious and organised crime and strengthen border security. The courts and tribunals service will be reformed to increase efficiency, transparency and judicial diversity.

Legislation will be introduced to protect freedom of speech and reform the law of defamation.

My Government will introduce legislation to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. This will also allow courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings, to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases.

My Government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses.

My Government will seek the approval of Parliament relating to the agreed financial stability mechanism within the euro area.

My Government will seek the approval of Parliament on the anticipated accession of Croatia to the European Union.

My Government will work to support a secure and stable Afghanistan, to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, including in Iran, and to bring greater stability to the Horn of Africa.

In the Middle East and North Africa, my Government will support the extension of political and economic freedom in countries in transition.

My Government has set out firm plans to spend nought point seven per cent of gross national income as official development assistance from 2013. This will be the first time the United Kingdom has met this agreed international commitment.

My Government will build strategic partnerships with the emerging powers.

The United Kingdom will assume the Presidency of the G8 in 2013: my Government will use this opportunity to promote international security and prosperity.

In the year of the Diamond Jubilee, Prince Philip and I will continue to take part in celebrations across the United Kingdom. The Prince of Wales and other members of my family are travelling widely to take part in festivities throughout the Commonwealth.

Prince Philip and I look forward to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games and to welcoming visitors from around the world to London and venues throughout the country.

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

William Hague – 2012 Speech on Diplomatic Tradecraft

williamhague

Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Foreign Secretary, at the British Academy, Carlton House Terrace in London on 17 October 2012.

It is a pleasure to be here, and I am grateful to the British Academy for holding this event. It makes an enormous difference to us in Government to have such well-informed and constructive critics and intellectual sparring-partners in the Universities and think tanks. And I am aware that many academics in this audience will have educated foreigners who have gone on to become diplomats and leaders in their own countries, forming a lasting attachment with Britain in the process.

I was fortunate to become Foreign Secretary after five years shadowing foreign policy in Opposition, spending time in many of our Embassies and meeting many of our diplomats. So I came to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with a strong sense of its importance to our national life. It is one of the very finest institutions in our country, and I am proud to lead it.

The Foreign Office is a unique resource that enables us to advance British interests by understanding and influencing other nations, helping British nationals overseas, supporting our economy and responding to threats to our security. It is one of the pillars of our international influence, along with our Armed Forces and Intelligence Agencies. And it is also part of our country’s tremendous soft power advantages in the world, along with the British Council, BBC World Service, our great Universities, our international development programmes and our cultural achievements including the Olympics and Paralympics.

There are few countries that can rival Britain for diplomatic skills and influence in the world. When we bring together our global diplomatic network in 158 countries, our seat on the UN Security Council, our membership of the EU, NATO and the Commonwealth and our strong relationships in every quarter of the globe, we are able to make a significant impact and continue to do so.

We saw this during the conflict in Libya, when our diplomats secured a UN Security Council resolution authorising military force that few people thought would be possible, and when the Foreign Office brought together more than 40 Foreign Ministers and Heads of Government countries for a conference in London, at less than a week’s notice, to galvanise the military and diplomatic campaign.

We showed the same leadership in a different way earlier this year on Somalia: bringing together 54 countries and organisations to agree a new diplomatic strategy in London, securing in parallel a UN Security Council Resolution and new action to counter piracy, and at the same time persuading Somalia politicians to reach agreement. Seven months later piracy is down, Al Shabaab is on the retreat thanks to the efforts of African forces, and Somalia has a new and legitimate government. .

We saw it this summer during the Games. The Foreign Office looked after over 100 Heads of State, secured co-sponsorship of the UN Olympic Truce resolution from all 193 UN Member States for the first time in history; supported the British Business Embassy which was attended by 3,000 business leaders and led to £1 billion worth of deals, and transformed our relationship with the next Olympic hosts, Brazil, by hosting 15 Brazilian government missions on everything from transport to health.

And I am particularly proud of the patient British diplomacy which helped secure just last week the Mindanao Framework Deal between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on 7th October, after forty years of conflict costing more than 120,000 lives. By setting up the International Contact Group, sharing the lessons of the Good Friday Agreement and working side by side with the parties as they agreed a roadmap to peace, British diplomats played an indispensable role. These are examples just from the past year and eighteen months.

I am constantly impressed by the sheer range of tradecraft involved in the Foreign Office’s work. It is impossible to do justice in a short speech to the skills and talents needed to operate in insecure or rapidly changing environments like Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan; in dealing with sensitive consular cases such as the recent shooting of the British family in France; to work in the European Union on ground-breaking sanctions on Iran; to carry out complex negotiations such as for a global Arms Trade Treaty; and to deal with technical and commercially sensitive issues such as financial services reform in China and the internationalisation of the renminbi.

The men and women of the Foreign Office excel at doing all these things and more, and our country’s interests rely on them always being able to do so.

But this global impact can never be taken for granted, and it rests, I believe, on four essential requirements:

First, we need the FCO always to be a strong and flourishing institution over the long term: a centre of excellence in government, able to attract the most talented new diplomats of the future, skilled at developing and retaining knowledge throughout the organisation and excelling in all areas of diplomatic tradecraft. It has to be able to generate the best possible ideas and analysis, and to provide foreign policy leadership that runs through the veins of the whole of Government.

Second, our diplomats need to have an unrivalled knowledge among diplomats of the history, culture, geography and politics of the countries they are posted to, and to speak the local languages. This is a fundamental requirement of diplomacy and we have given renewed emphasis to it. As a small aside, I was delighted that the first person to greet Aung San Suu Kyi when she arrived in the United Kingdom on her historic visit was our Head of Protocol. He was able to greet her in the Burmese he learnt 20 years ago on a posting to the country. These things matter and our diplomats really do need to get under the skin of other societies. They must be able to forge relationships of trust across all areas, including politics, defence and security, the media, civil society, business and commerce. They need to have a strong grasp of economic fundamentals as well as the workings of international diplomacy; they need to be expert in negotiation and other traditional diplomatic skills; and they must be well-versed in modern communication including now, very often, social media.

Third, we need our diplomats to be present in as many countries as possible across the world. The number of centres of decision-making in the world is growing. Without turning away from Europe or America we need to have stronger ties with a wide range of new powers of the 21st century, and this means in my view being strongly represented in them.

Our diplomatic network is the essential infrastructure of Britain’s influence in the world. Of course it is never set in stone and is bound to change over time, and only today I have announced changes to our diplomatic network in Iraq. However having an Embassy or post flying the British flag really matters, and creates an effect that can never be replicated by a diplomat with a laptop however hard they work. That is why we have drawn a line under the closures of Embassies and High Commissions that took place under the last government. Instead of that, by 2015 we will have opened up to 11 new British embassies and eight new consulates or trade offices, and sent 300 extra staff to over 22 countries in the emerging economies – including Burma, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Angola, Botswana, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines – but with the biggest increases in frontline staff in India and in China. We are the only European country that is setting out consciously to expand their diplomatic network in this way, and we are investing in our country’s future influence.

And fourth, we need the Government to use the Foreign Office as it is supposed to be used and not to sideline it. We set up our National Security Council to ensure that decisions about international relations and security are taken in the round, with all relevant Ministers at the table, with Foreign Office ideas and analysis informing every meeting.

I see it as part of my mission as Foreign Secretary to work with our senior diplomats to achieve a permanent and well-entrenched improvement in the Foreign Office’s ability to project Britain’s influence overseas for the long term by systematically building up the Foreign Office in each of these areas.

Together, we have spent much of the last two years engaged in the biggest drive ever seen to increase the traditional diplomatic skills and institutional capacity of the Foreign Office, under the banner of ‘Diplomatic Excellence’.

The highlights of this programme include a new language centre in the Foreign Office that I will open next year, which will have 30 classrooms and train up to 1,000 students a year. We will soon have 40% more speakers of Arabic and Mandarin in our posts overseas than we had only two years ago and 20% more speakers of Latin American Spanish and Portuguese.

We have a new Expertise Fund to deepen thematic and geographical policy expertise across the Foreign Office. It has funded, for example, the creation of an India cadre enabling diplomats to study Indian culture, politics and history in India itself before their posting. We have set up new training for staff working in the energy sector, to give British diplomats an edge in a competitive market and a greater understanding of business priorities. We have invested heavily in formal policy skills training; in all, a total of 774 staff at home and overseas have benefitted from International Policy Skills courses since April 2011, and we are investing in training for our locally-engaged staff to give them a greater role in the Foreign Office’s future diplomacy.

As part of our renewed emphasis on history, the original Colonial Office and Home Office Libraries have been renovated, and our excellent Historians have moved into the latter in the heart of King Charles Street. And they are consulted frequently by the Foreign Secretary. We are bringing our expert research analysts ever more closely into policy discussions, and have set up networks across the Foreign Office to tap into the expertise of serving or former diplomats on issues like the EU and soft power. We are bringing in outside experts to “challenge” our policy on everything from Iran and Sudan to the way we use our historic residences.

We are putting a lot of emphasis on developing our younger talent. I am pleased that some of these young diplomats are in the audience this evening, as well as some members of the Locarno Group of former Ambassadors which I created when I came to office, who spent time earlier today passing on tradecraft tips to their successors.

And earlier this year we invited senior colleagues from across Whitehall, business, media, international organisations and foreign experts to join a Diplomatic Excellence External Panel whose role is to assess our progress

I am confident that these programmes will strengthen the Foreign Office for the future. Our challenge now is to translate this renewed confidence into foreign policy ambition: so that we don’t just react to crises, but address major world problems.

I have been struck time and again over the last two years by the fact that we are one of the few countries in the world that is able to make things happen at a global level.

For example, last year we held in London the first international conference calling for rules of the road to moderate behaviour in cyberspace, including the risks of cyber attack and the growth of cyber crime. This is one of the growing challenges of the internet age. Drawing on the UK’s national advantages in this area and the prowess of GCHQ, we have succeeded in launching and defining a debate which has now led to follow-on conferences in Budapest and South Korea, and we are setting up a new programme to help other countries develop their cyber capabilities.

We have also recently launched a new initiative to challenge the use of rape as a weapon of war. We are calling for a concerted international effort to increase the number of prosecutions for this appalling crime so that we shatter the culture of impunity. We will use our Presidency of the G8 next year to launch work on a new International Protocol in the areas of prosecutions for sexual violence and the protection of victims, and we have set up our own team of experts in the Foreign Office which we will be able to deploy to support investigations in conflict-affected areas.

In both cases we are using our diplomatic network, our policy-making expertise and our global role to provide leadership. We are developing British skills and capabilities and making a difference in individual countries as well as on the international stage. These sorts of initiatives are the best possible use of our diplomats and the diplomatic tradecraft of the Foreign Office, and ample proof that we help shape our world for the better. Our G8 Presidency next year will be a major opportunity to demonstrate this leadership.

So the work we have in hand at the FCO is designed to ensure that Britain’s influence in the world is expanding, not shrinking, that we are connected to the fastest growing areas of the world, and that we retain a global leadership role on the greatest challenges of our time. It will mean that the Foreign Office has an even greater capability to promote Britain’s national interest for the long term. And I believe it will mean that we can say that with confidence that ours is indisputably the best Diplomatic Service in the world, advancing Britain’s national interest and our values even more effectively in the world of the 21st century than it has done for so long, and with such distinction, in the past.

Alistair Burt – 2012 Speech to the 4th Abu Dhabi Investment Forum

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Below is the text of the speech made by Alistair Burt, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, on 17 October 2012.

Your Excellency Sultan Al Mansouri, Your Excellency Nasser Ahmed Alsowaidi, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure to join you for the fourth Abu Dhabi Investment Forum. I am pleased to see such a great turnout for today’s event.

Since being appointed Minister with responsibility for the Middle East over two years ago, I have been fortunate enough to have visited the Emirate of Abu Dhabi four times. Along the way, I have forged some very strong friendships, including with my Emirati counterpart, Dr Anwar Gargash, and I was fortunate to host Nasser Al Sowaidi and the UAE-UK Business Council last May. I would also like to congratulate Nasser Al Sowaidi and Samir Brikho on the great start they have made in the first year of the Business Council.

I have seen firsthand, for example, the huge number of opportunities for British companies in the region. These visits have not only developed relationships, but enabled me to make a serious analysis of our respective opportunities from our enhanced friendships.

Bilateral trade

I will talk about specific sectoral opportunities shortly, but I would first like to outline some of the key trade statistics. Much of this will be familiar to many of you, but these numbers are impressive enough to bear repeating:

Last year the UAE was Britain’s 16th largest export market, and it has been the 13th largest for the first half of this year. Our exports to the UAE were £4.7 billion in 2011, up 21% on 2010. Take into account the size of the UAE’s population – nearly 8 million, which the World Bank ranks as 94th largest in the world – and you get a real sense of how impressive these statistics are.

More than 4,000 British companies are already active in the UAE – from small SMEs to large global multinationals – across a wide range of industry sectors, so you will be in good company if you choose to invest in Abu Dhabi.

The value of bilateral trade between Britain and the GCC countries is worth £20 billion annually – and the UAE accounts for over 50% of that figure, including companies based in Free Zones.

And by the end of this year we estimate that the value of bilateral trade between the UK and the UAE will be around £10.5 billion. We are well on course to meet our ambitious target of increasing the value of trade to £12 billion by 2015, from £7.5 billion in 2009. With its impressive programme of expansion on major infrastructure projects such as healthcare facilities and social housing, Abu Dhabi accounts, and will continue to account, for an increasing share of that sum.

Why invest in Abu Dhabi?

The trend, then, is clear. But why are companies choosing to invest in Abu Dhabi?

A key factor in my mind is the proximity between global markets in the East and West and the very favourable transport links, both across the Gulf and further afield. This, plus the readily available supply of commercial space, well-qualified staff and excellent education system means Abu Dhabi is the ideal place for companies whose longer-term objectives are to expand into other markets.

In short, the UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, offers an ideal hub for expansion, in much the same way as we see investment in the UK as also a launch pad for the EU. And we are seeing more and more British companies partner with Emirati ones in third countries such as Korea and Iraq. And I should also make clear the deep relationship between our two governments, our belief in the UAE as a progressive, vibrant, well governed state, a close ally whose society and systems we support, is a further reason for our endorsement of greater trade links between us.

Key sectors

So that is the big picture. But which are the sectors that offer the most potential for UK businesses?

Infrastructure is an obvious focus. As the UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, moves away from reliance on oil and gas revenues, we will see a continued drive to develop as a global player in tourism and culture.

Among the most impressive of the current projects in Abu Dhabi is the development of Saadiyat Island into a leading cultural centre. When completed, Saadiyat will be home to a branch of the Guggenheim Museum, The Louvre and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum – the latter in collaboration with the British Museum and designed by Norman Foster. With further plans to develop nine five-star hotels, Saadiyat offers a wealth of opportunities to construction and engineering companies, as well as firms in the creative industries sector. We are working hard to help British companies make the most of these opportunities.

The second area I wanted to highlight is Education. Education is vital for national success, and is one of Britain’s greatest strengths. It is also one of the growth businesses of the future.

The educational links between Britain and UAE are already strong. British institutions like Heriot Watt University, Middlesex University and the London Business School have established campuses. I was delighted to visit the British University of Dubai when I was in the UAE in September, and honoured to address students at the impressive new Sheikh Zayed University campus in Abu Dhabi last October. Both of these experiences convinced me of the enormous potential in this area, and I believe we can do more.

We should pool our assets and advantages for our mutual benefit: that means more Emirati students in the UK; more British students in the UAE; more collaboration between our universities and science parks; and more British companies helping to deliver education on the ground in the UAE.

The final sector I want to highlight is energy. With almost 10% of global supply, a hundred years of known reserves and production of 2.7 million barrels per day, it is clear that the UAE will remain a major player in the oil industry for the foreseeable future.

But the UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, is also a leader in the development of alternative energy. The Emerati government has embarked on one of the most ambitious programmes in the world to build a sustainable city. Designed by British architects Foster and Partners, Masdar is being designed and built using the latest technologies to reduce its carbon footprint. And it is home to several companies and research institutes that are pioneering new alternatives to carbon-based fuels.

Britain is well-placed to work with Emirati partners to continue to develop this sector, bearing in mind our notable strengths across all energy industries, including oil and gas, renewables, nuclear and thermal power generation.

These are just a few of the sectors of opportunity in Abu Dhabi – there are plenty more, not least in Financial & Professional Services, Healthcare and the Creative Industries.

How we can help

This government is committed to helping our companies win business overseas. We are absolutely clear that identifying and exploiting business opportunities in overseas markets will help to ensure and quicken the pace of Britain’s economic recovery. If we can show more ambition and create more global companies with British origins, we will cement our position as one of the great global trading nations.

Abu Dhabi can play an important role in this respect, and we are ready to provide assistance. The UK Trade & Investment team at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi is a mix of UK-based and locally-engaged officers, all of whom have a wealth of experience and contacts across the Emirate. So, whether you are looking for advice regarding a market entry strategy, or you need assistance arranging a visit programme when you visit the market, the team will be able to provide you with a tailor-made service.

There are many more expert speakers to follow, so I will wrap things up; but, if I could leave you with one thought, it is that it is important, I think, to remember that the relationship between our two great nations goes back 200 years. The strength of our commercial relations, which has been my focus today, has parallels across the bilateral spectrum – from our political relations to our thriving cultural ties.

I have no doubt that we will continue to strengthen our relationship during the next 200 years.

Thank you and Shukran.

William Hague – 2012 Speech on Consular Diplomacy

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Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Foreign Secretary, on 4 April 2012.

I have given many speeches as Foreign Secretary about our approach to foreign policy, our work for international peace and security and our strong emphasis on commercial diplomacy. But today I want to describe what we are doing in a vital area of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but one which rarely receives so much attention: strengthening Britain’s consular diplomacy.

When an Air France jet plunged into the Atlantic and 228 people died; British consular staff and police worked painstakingly to identify the 8 British victims from amongst the wreckage and body parts.

When the worst hurricane in Mexico’s history struck, Foreign Office staff battled along flooded roads, downed trees and tangled power lines to reach Cancun to help evacuate 9,000 British citizens.

And last year in Bangladesh, Foreign Office staff rescued four girls from forced marriage in a single day and returned them safely to Britain, including one girl who had been kept chained to her bed.

As these stories show, consular work is a very personal business.

It touches the lives of British citizens in difficult and sometimes extreme circumstances.

It is the only way most people come into contact with the Foreign Office, and it is one of our main responsibilities as a Department.

When we came into Government we boiled down our objectives to three priorities:

First, security: the Foreign Office has to safeguard Britain’s national security by countering terrorism and weapons proliferation and working to reduce conflict.

Second, prosperity: we must build prosperity by increasing exports and investment, opening markets, ensuring access to resources, and promoting sustainable global growth.

Third and the subject of my speech today, the Foreign Office must support British nationals around the world through the provision of modern and efficient consular services.

In the front of each and every British passport is a message which reads: “Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and Requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary”.

That is an expression of the responsibility we have to stand up for the rights of British nationals wherever they are in the world. When people travel our moral obligation to them does not stop at the Cliffs of Dover. At home, the first duty of the Government is the safety and security of British nationals. Abroad, it is the first duty of the Foreign Office, and consular work is one aspect of how we keep Britons safe.

I am giving this speech today because I want people to have a better understanding of the consular work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We already run one of the best consular services of any nation in the world, and I want to set out our plans to make it even stronger in the future.

And I want to pay tribute to all the staff involved, for their outstanding dedication and commitment. They help tens of thousands of British nationals cope with problems ranging from family breakup to natural disasters and revolutions. Often their work does not get the recognition it deserves and I want to begin to redress that.

Foreign Secretaries do not often give speeches on this subject. In fact, I am told that I am the first to do so.

But one of my personal priorities is to strengthen the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an institution, for the long term and in all its areas of work.

I want the Foreign Office always to be a centre of excellence in government, attracting the best talent from across our society, bound by a strong sense of identity and common purpose and home to the very best diplomatic skills, and I know that the Department as a whole aspires to the same thing.

This is good for our country, because a thriving democracy needs strong institutions.

It is good for British citizens, because strong diplomacy helps protect them and secures things that matter to them, from reducing terrorism to supporting jobs.

And it is good for the world, because it means our country plays a leading role in promoting human rights and democracy and in helping others.

So the need to strive for excellence in our diplomacy applies as much to consular work as it does to all other areas of foreign policy.

We need talented and highly trained UK-based and locally-engaged Foreign Office staff in many different countries.

We need people who speak the local language; who know the country inside out; who have a deep understanding of its government, its society and its institutions, and who are able to use the latest technology in creative ways to help British nationals, as our staff in Japan did to use Facebook to track missing people after the tsunami.

We need courageous people, who will travel to disaster areas, comfort the victims of violent crime and comb hospitals and morgues when our nationals are injured or killed overseas.

And we need people with judgement, who know when we should tell British people to leave a country but can also avoid over-reactions. During the Revolution in Egypt we were one of the few countries to judge accurately that the Red Sea resorts would remain safe for travellers.

So in this speech I will explain how we will maintain and strengthen this work around the world.

But first, I want to describe what it is that we can and cannot do.

If you are a British national and you get into genuine difficulty abroad, you can turn to the Foreign Office for certain types of assistance.

We help people who have lost their passports or need to find a doctor or legal advice, or who are struggling with bereavement in a country they don’t know well.

Often the circumstances are tragic and upsetting: we help the parent whose child has been abducted by their former partner; the traumatised victim of rape; the devastated family whose son has committed suicide; the distraught boyfriend whose partner has been murdered; or the vulnerable girl or boy who has been forced into marriage against their will. Last year, the youngest person we provided assistance to help rescue from a forced marriage was just five years old. At this very moment, our consular officers are dealing with saddening cases involving young vulnerable children being abandoned by their families overseas.

We help the victims of kidnappings and their families, maintaining daily contact if they need it and using all our diplomatic means to locate and help release their loved one.

We deal with crises such as terrorist attacks and conflict as well as natural disasters; and we plan for major events such as the Rugby World Cup and Euro 2012 so that British fans are helped to travel safely.

And we are also there when people bring trouble on themselves by breaking local laws, ignoring advice or committing crimes which lead to a prison sentence and, in the worst cases, even the threat of the death penalty.

Foreign Office staff have a responsibility to provide you with professional, non-judgmental advice and help; and to treat you fairly and equally whatever your gender, race, age, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, religion or belief.

This impartiality and dedicated public service reflects the highest values of the Foreign Office as a whole. And it can make a huge difference to anyone who finds themselves in any of these frightening and stressful circumstances.

The sorts of things we can do include issuing you with an emergency travel document if you lose your passport abroad and need to travel urgently. We will provide help if you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of serious crimes such as sexual assault overseas. If you are injured in hospital, we will visit you if there is need. If you are arrested or detained, we will also visit you as soon as possible after arrest, if that is your wish. And if you are in prison, in most countries we will visit you to monitor your welfare, to help you understand the local legal and prison system, to put you in touch with support networks and to help you find an English-speaking lawyer.

We do these things every day somewhere in the world.

But there are also things we cannot do, which is unsurprising when you consider the context.

Britons make more than 55 million individual trips overseas every year, and at least 6 million of our nationals live abroad for some of or all of the time. In the space of a year, approximately 6,000 Britons get arrested, and at any one time more than 3,250 British nationals are in prison around the world. At least 10% of all the murders of Britons in the last two years took place overseas, and on average more than one hundred British nationals die abroad each week.

As you can imagine, this produces an immense demand for our services. In fact, just under two million people contact the Foreign Office for some form of consular assistance each year: that is more than 37,000 people a week.

When you are aware of these vast numbers, you can understand why it is that Embassies cannot pay your bills, give you money or make travel arrangements for you, and why we cannot arrange funerals or repatriate bodies. We try to look after everybody in the same way, and to be consistent in how we help people whether they are rich or poor, famous or unknown.

We also have to observe the law. That means we cannot help you enter a country if you do not have a valid passport or necessary visa. We cannot get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people, and we cannot get you out of prison. We cannot resolve your property or other legal disputes for you. We cannot override the local authorities, such as police investigating crimes. And we cannot give you legal advice: consular staff are not lawyers.

There are also cases where members of the public waste time and scarce resources with ludicrous requests.

It is not our job, for example, to book you restaurants while you are on holiday. This is obvious, you may think. But nonetheless it came as a surprise to the caller in Spain who was having difficulty finding somewhere to have Christmas lunch.

If like a man in Florida last year, you find ants in your holiday rental, we are not the people to ask for pest control advice.

If you are having difficulty erecting a new chicken coop in your garden in Greece as someone else was, I am afraid that we cannot help you.

Equally, I have to say that we are not the people to turn to if you can’t find your false teeth, if your sat nav is broken and you need directions, if you are unhappy with your plastic surgery, if your jam won’t set, if you are looking for a dog-minder while you are on holiday, if your livestock need checking on, if you would like advice about the weather, or if you want someone to throw a coin into the Trevi fountain for you because you forgot while you were on holiday and you want your marriage to succeed. And our commitment to good relations with our neighbours does not, I am afraid, extend to translating ‘I love you’ into Hungarian, as we were asked to do by one love-struck British tourist. There are easier ways to find a translation.

These are a just a few examples of bizarre demands that get put to our staff overseas.

Criticism that is sometimes levelled against us should be viewed in that light. An effective consular service does not mean a nanny state.

So we ask British nationals to be responsible, to be self-reliant and to take sensible precautions. This includes following our travel advice so that you ‘know before you go’, getting the right vaccinations and visas; and familiarising yourself with local laws and customs. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of good travel insurance as we don’t want to see more heart-rending cases of families forced to remortgage their house to pay for a hospital bill overseas. If you do find yourselves needing our help, we do ask British nationals to be prepared to pay for certain services; since Consular assistance is paid for from fees not from taxation and where we do charge a fee for a service, we only do so to cover our costs.

In return, we maintain one of the most extensive and most effective consular networks of any country in the world.

We have consular representation in over 180 countries. More than 740 full time staff work on consular issues at any one time, and we have 160 other staff, trained in crisis management, ready to be deployed at any moment in response to crisis overseas. Last year we despatched them to New Zealand, Cote D’Ivoire, Japan, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and to Tunisia to reinforce our Embassies and High Commissions there. And we provide travel advice on 227 countries and territories which is viewed by more than eight million people a year, giving the public a detailed picture of the risks they may face around the world.

And I am also proud that we not only react to events, we also lead campaigns to change things for the better:

The Foreign Office works to alter attitudes to forced marriage; to improve conditions in prisons; to abolish the death penalty and to restrict the cases to which it to applies; to extend human rights; to combat the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation; and to deter people from crime by warning them about the potential penalties, all in support of British nationals and our democratic values. We were the first country to launch a special section on travel advice for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender travellers and we are the only country to have published an advice document for LGBT victims of forced marriage. And increasingly, we now give advice to hotels and governments on how to boost security in coastal resorts in Africa to reduce the risks of kidnapping.

When you consider that last year we issued 345,000 passports; provided nearly 18,000 Emergency Travel documents; helped some 20,000 Britons who had been arrested, hospitalised, whose relative had died overseas or who had been a victim of crime; provided face-to-face assistance to nearly half a million people; gave written support to another 350,000; answered nearly 1 million phone enquiries; assisted in 356 cases of child abduction; led the rescue overseas of 205 victims of forced marriage; successfully protected 6 British nationals from the death penalty and helped Britons after flooding in Thailand and Australia and instability across the Middle East, in addition to the other crises I have mentioned;

When you reflect that this entire service was provided to British passport holders, every day of the year, week in and week out, at a cost per person of £1.50 a year over the life of a 10-year passport, and without burdening the taxpayer;

And if you note that on top of this, Ministers are involved in many consular cases; meeting families and MPs and raising cases on visits overseas, for example to challenge slow judicial processes that leave British nationals in limbo;

Then you really do see that we provide a vital service to British nationals, and that foundations of our consular services are extremely strong.

Of course we do make mistakes, and sometimes things go wrong.

With so many tens of thousands of cases, many of which are unique, sometimes we do fall short, and often Members of Parliament take up these cases with us on behalf of their constituents.

In Libya for example we were criticised last year when a plane broke down that was due to go to the aid of British nationals, delaying that mission.

We will always constantly strive to improve what we do, and to ensure that we learn lessons from each major crisis.

We published a report on lessons learned in the case of Libya and we have implemented many recommendations from that report, including building more resilience into our consular system. But it is also worth noting that in Libya we succeeded in evacuating 800 British nationals who wished to leave the country, and 1,000 other nationals from over 50 countries.

In general, the Foreign Office receives three times as many messages of thanks as it does complaints or criticism. A very unusual experience for a Government department in my experience.

“Life is unpredictable and dealt me the worse possible blow at what should have been the best possible time of our lives”, wrote a man whose wife had died overseas, in a letter to our Ambassador and his team: “I would have been at a complete loss but for all your unforgettable and truly helpful assistance.”

The words of one young woman whom we helped to cope with a personal tragedy overseas are also typical of many messages that we receive. She wrote: “I was truly amazed by the reactions of the Embassy and Foreign Office. I have been travelling and working overseas for just over 8 years now and up to this point have never needed the assistance of an Embassy. I never could have imagined how supportive and comforting the people who work in this job could be…I really feel that the Embassy and Foreign Office worked above and beyond the call of duty on my behalf and I have nothing but thanks for everyone who was involved.”

We could not do this work as well as we do without other government bodies including the Home Office, the Identity and Passport Service, the Ministry of Justice, the UK Border Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Defence.

We also could not do it without the travel industry, charities, NGOs, voluntary organisations and local support networks, and members of expat communities who give their time for free. Some of those groups are represented here today. To them I say we are very grateful to you all and we value our connection with you.

We are determined to maintain and strengthen the Foreign Office’s consular work in the years ahead.

We will do this first and foremost by maintaining our global diplomatic reach and expanding it in some places.

We must always retain our ability to look after our own nationals through consular work as well as our wider diplomacy. We can never rely entirely on anyone else to do this.

Our government understands this, and that is one reason why we are expanding Britain’s diplomatic network in parts of the world and opening new Embassies.

We of course look for ways to work with other countries so that our nationals get the best possible protection wherever they are in the world, including arrangements with Commonwealth nations and the EU.

The Australians recently went to great lengths to secure the safety of a British national who was in grave danger in Papua New Guinea. Just last week we helped a Singaporean stranded in Mali by the coup to get home. And we were recently very grateful to Germany for evacuating an injured British national to hospital, after an attack on tourists in a remote area of Ethiopia in which five people were killed.

We benefit from the European Union arrangement that EU nationals with no Embassy of their own can turn to any other Member State for help.

But those who think we are ever going to subcontract consular services are mistaken. For us consular services will always remain a national responsibility.

Within the European Union, there is no role for EU institutions in defining the consular assistance that Member States should provide to their citizens, or in providing frontline consular assistance. These are matters for which national governments are accountable to their Parliaments and we will oppose EU competence creep in this area.

We will always ensure that our diplomatic network is configured in the best way to support British nationals as well as our wider interests. We have opened or are opening new British Embassies in South Sudan, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, El Salvador and as security improves, in Somalia; we have opened two new consulates in Canada and Brazil and plan to open six more in the emerging economies. In Europe, changing customer demands and the opportunities of new technology mean we no longer need large established Consulate offices in, for example, Florence and Venice, where the bulk of routine consular services are being delivered by consular hubs in Rome and Milan; or Funchal and Lille, where routine calls are now centralised. We plan to re-structure our consular services in Naples along similar lines this summer.

On top of all these improvements, we are introducing six new measures to improve our service.

First, we are opening a new crisis centre this summer with 50% more staff compared to this time last year, so that we can respond to multiple crises at the same time. We will be able to bring together teams of more than a hundred people from across Government to coordinate the response to crises, with a new call handling centre for worried citizens and families in trouble, and better audiovisual and IT equipment.

Second, we will set up a new network of contact centres which people can call, to provide round the clock coverage and free up more front line staff to deal with difficult cases.

Third, we are increasing our ability to respond to crises in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia by setting up a new Rapid Deployment team, on call 24 hours of the day, seven days a week, ready to be despatched to help British nationals wherever need arises.

Fourth, we will introduce a new mobile registration system by the end of this year for British nationals caught up in a crisis, which will enable people to register with the Foreign Office by text message from their mobile phones.

Fifth, we are freeing up resources and making our services more accessible by moving them online where we can, reducing queuing and unnecessary phone calls.

Finally, we are going to increase our focus on vulnerable people, so that we narrow the gap between the help they would get in the UK and that which they are likely to receive overseas. We already have arrangements to ensure that if someone is bereaved by a murder or manslaughter abroad, they will receive practical support from the Victim Support National Homicide Service, to help them access services like travel, translating and repatriation of remains. We want to build new partnerships to extend this sort of help to other bereavements and to support victims of other serious crimes, such as rape or other assaults resulting in life-threatening injuries, and people with mental health problems.

So this will be our approach: Maintaining and extending our diplomatic network, so that we are in the right places to help British nationals;

– Increasing our capacity to respond to crises, and our accessibility to the public;

– Using the latest technology to help British nationals get the information they need as quickly as possible;

– And training our staff to the highest standard, so that British nationals, including the most vulnerable, get the best possible advice and support.

In two years in the Foreign Office, I have come to see how consular work typifies the very best of the institution and the values it stands for, including commitment to public service, fairness and impartiality.

I have seen the ingenuity and determination of our staff in overcoming problems, their willingness to go the extra mile, and the resourcefulness and courage with which, time and again, they confront the unexpected.

All these things give me great pride in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, great confidence about what we can achieve in the future, and the certainty that it performs an indispensable role for the British public in this area as in so many areas; a service on which we can rely, and which we could never and will never do without.

Nick Gibb – 2012 Speech on School Improvement

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the then Schools Minister, at the North of England Education Conference on 6 January 2012.

Thank you Mick for that kind introduction, I’m pleased to be here to talk about “Passion, Potential, Performance: Thinking differently”.

I’m pleased to be back in Leeds where I spent the majority of my secondary school education – at Roundhay High School. My mother also spent a good proportion of her teaching career at Talbot Row Primary School, Roundhay and I’m looking forward to visiting Abbey Grange Church of England Academy later on today.

A few months ago I came up to Batley to celebrate the conversion of the independent Batley Grammar School into one of the first 24 free schools.

The NEEC has a long and distinguished history as a forum for education discussion for well over a century.

The case for comprehensive schools, the first plans for the National Curriculum and the drive towards grant-maintained status are just some of the educational milestones announced at an NEEC.

At last year’s conference, I promised that we would protect school budgets in cash terms at least and devolve as much autonomy as possible to schools and teachers. And, over the last year, that’s what we’ve done.

All our actions have been guided by three overarching goals:

– to close the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds

– to ensure our education system can compete with the best in the world

– and to trust the professionalism of teachers and raise the quality of teaching.

So that schools can take the lead in continuing professional development and leadership training, around 100 outstanding schools have been selected as Teaching Schools. These centres of excellence in teaching practice will give new and experienced teachers an opportunity to learn and develop their professional skills throughout their careers.

We’re giving schools a stronger influence over the content of initial teacher training and the recruitment of trainees, and we’re continuing to ensure that ITT provision focuses on the quality of school placements. We’re prioritising the training of more primary specialist teachers and encouraging ITT providers to offer specialist courses.

In light of research showing that nearly half of serious allegations against school teachers are unsubstantiated, malicious or unfounded, we’ve given teachers a legal right to anonymity from allegations made by pupils, until the point they are charged with a criminal offence. We have also revised guidance to local authorities and schools to speed up the investigation process when a teacher or a member of staff is accused of an offence by a pupil.

And the Education Act, passed in November, further strengthened teachers’ powers to enforce school rules, removing the 24 hours’ notice rule for detentions and allowing Pupil Referral Units the same autonomy and freedoms as schools.

One of the most visible signs that we’ve increased autonomy and put greater trust in the professionalism of teachers is our removal of excessive bureaucracy.

In just one year, under the last Government, the Department produced over 6000 pages of guidance. In one year of this Government, we cut over 6000 pages of guidance.

We’re continuing to shorten guidance in a wide range of areas: for example, slimming down guidance on tackling poor pupil behaviour from over 600 pages to just 50. In total, departmental guidance is being more than halved.

We’ve also revised school admissions and appeals codes to 61 pages rather than 138. Retaining just half of the previous 650 mandatory requirements on admissions authorities, the new codes are fairer and simpler for schools and parents alike.

We have ended the requirement for schools to set statutory performance targets, removed the expectation that every school will complete a self evaluation form, streamlined the inspection framework and clarified that neither the Department nor Ofsted expects to see written lesson plans for every lesson.

And our National Curriculum review is slimming down the curriculum to concentrate on essential knowledge and skills. New programmes of study are being drafted for full public consultation and I hope that many here will participate in that consultation in due course.

In all these areas and more, we are working to free schools and teachers from the burden of excessive and unnecessary bureaucracy.

Over and over again, international research has shown that increased autonomy at school level is reflected in higher standards. As the OECD says: “in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.”

Of course, one of the most powerful examples of increased freedom for schools is the expansion of the academies programme.

As we start 2012, there are 1529 academies. Over 1300 of these have opened since May 2010. More than a third of all secondary schools are now open or in the process of opening as academies, teaching over one and a quarter million children.

September 2011 also saw the opening of 24 new Free Schools, 4 studio schools, and a University Technical College. 100 new schools are set to open in 2012 or 2013, and early indications show that they will be overwhelmingly located in areas of deprivation or where there is a desperate shortage of school places.

We are delighted that so many schools are taking advantage of the freedoms of academy status; providing opportunities for more children to enjoy an excellent education.

Last summer, an independent assessment of the academies programme by the London School of Economics confirmed that “academy conversion generates… a significant improvement in pupil performance”. Statistics show that academies in some of the most challenging areas of the country are improving their results at twice the speed of non-academy schools.

And according to the LSE assessment, improvements in pupil performance were observed in academies and in their neighbouring schools. The academies programme doesn’t just bring improvements to an individual school, but to schools throughout the system.

We’re currently working hard behind the scenes to tackle policy blockages at local level which are preventing some schools from converting to academy status.

We’re creating an “Academies Work” area on the DfE website, gathering all the online resources on academies and conversion to make it easier for schools to find the information they need.

And as the programme continues to expand, we want to focus even more closely on driving up standards in low-performing schools.

We’ve already set out clear plans to turn round under-performing primary schools. We’re setting tougher floor standards, rising each year, to ensure that all schools continue to improve. The 200 weakest primaries will be converted into Academies, and robust action plans are being prepared in 500 more. If schools aren’t making the right progress, and local authorities don’t have a grip on the issue, we will be able to intervene to secure the best possible result for the children in those schools.

So by expanding the Academies programme, increasing autonomy at school level and improving teacher training, we want to drive up standards in schools right across the country.

We also want to make it clear that we are not prepared to give up on any child.

Children in alternative provision are among the most vulnerable in our education system. Yet despite hard work by dedicated professionals, statistics published for the first time last year show that only 1.4% of children in alternative provision in 2009/10 achieved five or more GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths, compared to 53.4% in all schools in England.

To drive up standards in alternative provision, we need to increase autonomy, accountability and diversity. From September 2012, outstanding Pupil Referral Units will be able to convert to Academies; and we will invite new providers to establish alternative provision Free Schools, bringing voluntary or private sector expertise to help these vulnerable children.

And we are piloting an approach to exclusions in which the school itself will commission alternative provision for the excluded child and be held to account for the achievement of that pupil. And Charlie Taylor, the Government’s Expert Adviser on Behaviour, is looking urgently into how we can improve alternative provision – and how we can ensure that another generation is not allowed to fail.

I’d like to take this opportunity to mention two particular priorities for the coming year.

First, reading. One of my greatest pleasures when visiting a good school is listening to children talk with real passion about their favourite books – the characters they love and the stories they tell.

And we’re lucky that some of the most magical and exciting children’s books ever written have been written in the English language – the works of Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson; Harry Potter and Narnia; the Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.

By the end of primary school, all children should be able to read and enjoy books like Harry Potter. But too many children can’t enjoy these brilliant books because they haven’t learnt to read properly.

One in six 11-year-olds is still struggling with reading when they leave primary school. One in ten 11-year-old boys has a reading age of seven or below. Secondary schools are forced to provide extra help and catch-up sessions when they should be introducing children to the breadth and depth of the secondary curriculum.

And children who cannot read are more likely to become disengaged and disruptive. A recent report by the Centre for Social Justice showed that between half and three-quarters of children permanently excluded from school display significant literacy problems . As the author said, “many display challenging behaviour to hide the fact that they cannot read.”

Over the last nine years, England has fallen in international reading league tables from seventh to 25th. English 15-year-olds are more than a year behind their peers in Shanghai, Korea and Finland in reading, and at least six months behind Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

This Government is determined to help all children to read widely and well, and develop a lifelong love of reading.

If children haven’t mastered the basic mechanics of reading they can’t develop their comprehension and understanding, or begin exploring and enjoying all sorts of books and poems.

But with the life-changing skill of turning words on the page into images, information and ideas, we hope that all children can become fluent and enthusiastic readers.

High quality research shows that systematic phonics is the most successful way to teach early reading. Synthetic phonics is equally effective for children of all abilities, from all backgrounds, and for boys and girls alike.

Last summer, we piloted the phonics check for 6-year-olds in around 300 schools around the country. The level they were expected to reach was set by two groups of teachers from the pilot, who independently agreed it was appropriate and challenging.

Only 32% reached the required level, which means that we all need to face up to an uncomfortable fact. Despite the hard work of teachers all over the country, too few children are able to read to a high enough standard.

The levels we currently expect children to reach at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 must not be the limits of our ambition – they should be considered the minimum. Rather than scraping a Level 2 at the end of Key Stage 1, more children can achieve a high Level 2 or even a Level 3.

26 per cent of children already reached level 3 in reading in 2011 – including some schools in the most challenging areas. We want these high expectations to become the norm.

From June, the Year 1 check will help all teachers to ensure that children grasp the basic mechanics of reading. The check will also identify any children who need extra help – and almost half of schools in the pilot said the check identified pupils with reading difficulties of which they were not previously aware.

To support teachers in developing their phonics teaching and ensuring all pupils learn the basics of reading, we are offering match-funding of up to £3000 to help schools buy high quality systematic synthetic phonics resources and training.

From September, a thorough understanding of the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics will be prioritised in teacher training and required for all teachers of early reading.

And phonics and reading are becoming a key part of the new Ofsted inspection framework. For the first time, Ofsted inspectors will focus on the teaching of reading in primary schools and listen to pupils reading aloud, with a particular focus on weaker readers.

But, of course, mastering the mechanics of reading is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a confident reader. We need to do more to encourage children to read for pleasure and to develop a life-long love of reading.

I remember a few years ago coming back from Finland. In the departure lounge at Helsinki airport it was noticeable how many children and young people were passing the time glued to novels – something not so prevalent at Heathrow and Gatwick.

And a 2009 PISA study shows that almost 40 per cent of pupils in England never read for pleasure – yet the difference in reading ability between these pupils and those who read for just half an hour a day is equivalent to a year’s schooling at age 15. A recent survey by the National Literacy Trust showed that a third of British children do not even own a book.

We are currently developing a national competition to encourage 9-12 year-olds to read voraciously at school and for pleasure at home. Instilling the habit of regular reading at an early age I believe is key to developing a life-long love of reading for pleasure, and we’ll have more to say about that later this year.

2012 is also, of course, the year of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. I know that this conference has been considering the role of sport in education over the last few days – and the Government is also working hard to make the most of this opportunity.

The advantages of competitive sport are well-known – particularly the benefits for pupils’ health and fitness, social skills and personal development.

Sport teaches young people commitment, dedication, how to work well in a team and how to perform as an individual. Young sportsmen and women quickly learn the importance of fair play – to be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat.

Yet only two in five young people currently play regular competitive sport within their own school. Only one in five plays regularly against other schools.

As a result of close collaboration between the Departments for Education, Health and Culture, Media and Sport, and Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust and ParalympicsGB, this year will introduce a new national sporting competition – the School Games.

Building on the excitement and enthusiasm around London 2012, we hope that the School Games will inspire a whole generation of young people to get involved in competitive sport.

There will be opportunities for more competition within and between schools, and at county and district level.

The School Games will culminate in national finals between the country’s best young athletes, and the first of these will take place in May at the Olympic Park. So far, almost 11,000 schools have signed up to take part in this competition.

So by increasing autonomy and reducing bureaucracy at school level, allowing more schools to take advantage of academy freedoms and focusing particularly on reading and school sport, we hope to drive up standards for all children, from all backgrounds.

A PISA study found that England has one of the largest gaps in the world between high and low performing pupils, and a strong relationship between social background and performance. 13.9 per cent of the variance in pupil performance in England can be explained by social background, compared to just 8.3 per cent in Finland and 8.2 per cent in Canada. Yet in countries like Finland, Canada, Japan and Korea, average standards are higher than ours, and achievement gaps are smaller.

A recent report from the OECD also showed that deprived pupils in this country perform significantly less well than deprived pupils in most OECD countries – putting us 39th out of 65 countries. According to PISA, just a quarter of pupils from poor backgrounds are “resilient” in the UK, compared to three-quarters in Shanghai-China and Hong Kong.

To put it another way, research published by the Department for Education last year showed that, if English children performed as well as their peers in Shanghai, 77 per cent would get five GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths, rather than the 55 per cent that we achieve now. That’s a difference of a fifth of the whole cohort – 100,000 children failing to achieve the qualifications that most employers see as the bare minimum.

And the gap in achievement between children from the wealthiest and poorest backgrounds is still too wide in English schools. As I just said, in 2010, 55 per cent of children achieved five GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths – but only 31 per cent of pupils on free school meals managed to do the same. And that gap between children from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds remains stubbornly wide.

International evidence shows us that it is possible for many more young people to achieve more highly than they do now. It is possible to narrow the achievement gap between the richest and the poorest. And this is not an either/or: it is possible to achieve both at once.

By learning from international and domestic evidence, helping the best schools to share excellent practice and supporting schools which are struggling, we want to give every child, from any background, the opportunity to make the most of their talents. Thank you.

Alistair Burt – 2012 Speech on the UK and Israel

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Below is the text of the speech made by Alistair Burt, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, at Bar Ilan University in Israel on 10 January 2012.

As Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa my duty requires me to see Israel in rounder terms, not solely for itself, but where it stands in the world and the region.

I want to tell you that the UK believes that Israel has a vital role to play in its region and its world, and that Israel’s well-being matters deeply to us.

We need Israel’s acumen and intelligence; its ability to work at the highest intellectual and technological level to help the world solve its problems, from the economy to climate and environmental change – and its readiness to use its gifts in higher education and intellectual property to help the world progress. Everyone knows that Israeli R&D is world-beating. Israeli inventions are helping to drive the global economy.

Israel’s strength is a regional bulwark for good opposing the threats to itself and its neighbours. Iran does not just threaten Israel. It threatens those who would be Israel’s allies in the Gulf, and in the Arab world who need Israel as part of a common cause against a regime dangerously loose. So we need to be clear – Israel’s strength is not a regional threat, but an anchor of regional stability.

And the world needs Israel’s values, of tolerance and justice, those values clear and strong and rejecting all challenges to them, and those who would corrode them. Because it is more than anything the strength of these values that is the best guarantee of Israel’s place in the world. And any corrosion of these values that would weaken Israel’s place in the world. Do not doubt that the flame and the values of Israel’s foundation lit up hearts and minds many thousands of miles away. It is essential that this land, these gifts, these contributions are used to full effect in the world.

So be in no doubt, as we enter the turbulent waters of 2012 that your values are our values, your strength is our strength, your well-being is our well-being.

And let me also say this Israel has lived with uncertainty and instability since the very beginning and suffered too much from terrorism. We’re dedicating this speech to the memory of the former Israeli ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, who was victim to a heinous terrorist attack right in the heart of London.

As Jonathan has mentioned, Argov has been described as ‘the perfect diplomat’ with an amazing ability to get on even with those who disagreed with him, always armed with a good sense of humour.

Just a few hours ago, I met with the parents of Daniel Viflic, the Israeli-British teenager who died following a missile attack on a schoolbus in southern Israel in April.

I am in no doubt what insecurity means to the people of Israel.

We’re just 10 days into 2012. The big question on many of our minds is ‘what will this year bring, following the turmoil of 2011?’ An essential aspect of this must be the search for peace with the Palestinians. As Chaim Weizmann once said, miracles sometimes occur, but one has to work terribly hard for them.

The talks that took place in Jordan last week finally ended a protracted impasse. By continuing the process that these talks started, Israel has the opportunity to show political leadership, courage and determination to make real progress towards a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Both sides need to look ahead and identify how we can best bring about the formation of a stable and viable Palestinian state, alongside a safe and secure Israel with internationally-recognised borders. As the Foreign Secretary has said, Israel’s security and the realisation of the Palestinians’ right to statehood are not opposing goals. On the contrary, Israel will be safer when a viable Palestinian state has been achieved. We continue to call for both sides to negotiate an agreement on borders, based on June 4, 1967 lines, with equivalent land swaps. This must include security arrangements that respect Palestinian sovereignty but protect Israeli security and prevent the resurgence of terrorism. There must be a just and fair solution for refugees; and agreement on Jerusalem as the future capital of both states. As a friend of Israel, we will continue to urge a return to meaningful negotiations on this basis.

We know it will not be easy. But it is not just Israel that will pay the price if we do not make progress towards peace. The occupation has a daily human cost for the Palestinians of the West Bank. The continuing restrictions have a daily toll on the people of Gaza.

In the West Bank, yesterday, I visited the Qalandiya checkpoint first thing in the morning to see the processes that Palestinians have to go through in order to cross into Israel for work, travel or medical care.

I also made a return trip to Nabi Saleh where the effects of the barrier and the nearby settlement construction are having a detrimental effect on the lives of the villagers.

It must be clear to the leaders on both sides that the current situation is unsustainable – that the status quo cannot continue, or else it will leave an indelible mark two great peoples with enormous potential.

I know that some of you may think that Britain no longer has a right to get involved in this region, after all, the Mandate ended almost 64 years ago.

But Israel-Palestine matters to us. It is the topic that consistently prompts the most heated debates in Parliament. My office is inundated on a daily basis with letters from concerned British citizens who criticise our policy for being too pro-Palestinian, and from just as many who think we’re far too pro-Israeli.

Well, we’re neither. Yes, our interest in this region is partly linked to a sense of historic responsibility. But the reason why we watch everything that happens here so closely is because it matters so much. We care about Israel and Israel’s future too much not to take an interest.

Jerusalem is at the heart of three great religions, and everything that goes on there, no matter how small, has the potential of making an enormous impact. We understand Israel’s bond with Jerusalem as its capital, it is the home of the holiest and most important structures in the Jewish religion.

If a peaceful solution to this conflict that has gone on for too long and already claimed too many lives is to endure, an understanding on Jerusalem will have to be part of the solution.

It is because of these sensitivities that we urge the sides not to take steps that could upset the status quo, and make agreeing a peace even harder. This is why we believe that building beyond the Green Line is not just illegal but counter-productive.

The more settlements that would have to be moved if there was a peace deal, the more families that would have to be uprooted, the harder it becomes to agree that deal.

And the harder it becomes even conduct negotiations with the other side in good faith, because building more and more houses across the Green Line does not show that Israel is absolutely committed to finding a just and lasting solution. It risks sending exactly the opposite signal.

I have to tell you that the absence of progress towards peace, together with the almost weekly announcements of this tender or that planning permission for new building, has a real effect on how the world sees Israel.

There’s a lot of talk of delegitimisation in Britain and elsewhere. And it’s true that there are some people who are implacably opposed to Israel – to Israel’s very existence. There have been since the first days of Zionism, and since Israel’s creation in 1948, and I fear there always will be. There are some of my Parliamentary colleagues who will stand up condemn Israel at any opportunity. But these are not the ones you need to worry about.

The ones you need to worry about are the ones in the mainstream, the centre ground. The ones who used to stand up and support Israel, but now stay silent. Or the ones who used to be silent, but are now critical.

Because opinion is shifting – among my colleagues in Parliament, among the British public, and more widely. It’s not yet catastrophic, and it’s not quick. But it is happening, and you should care, just as I care as someone who has for decades counted himself as an ardent friend of Israel.

We can argue for hours about who is to blame for the failure to make peace. It won’t get us very far, and if you go back far enough some of you might say it’s the fault of the British anyway.

But stepping aside from the blame game, some 25 years in the British Parliament have made me realise that for as long as there is no progress towards peace, and for as long as Israel continues to build across the Green Line, Israel risks losing friends.

There are some areas of disagreement between Britain and Israel. There are also many of major agreement, and close cooperation. A major issue at the top of our shared agenda is of course Iran.

In 2012, we will step up our efforts to stop the Iranian attempt to acquire nuclear weapons. The UK is a leading force in the international campaign to stop the Iranian regime acquiring a nuclear weapon – and arresting a progress which is clearly not intended for purely peaceful purposes. We work closely with Israel on this issue, and it is an extremely important aspect of our bilateral relationship.

No option is being taken off the table, as we pursue our dual-track approach of increasingly tough economic sanctions while remaining open to dialogue with Tehran.

A few weeks ago the British government imposed tough new financial restrictions against Iran. These new sanctions make it illegal for any financial institution in the UK to have any dealings with any institution in Iran, including the Central Bank of Iran. They are the toughest of their kind. And we will build on them, getting others to follow suit. We are working with the EU on sanctions against Iranian oil.

These sanctions are having an impact. The Iranian economy is heavily dependent on oil income; yet production is going down. And Iran is having difficulty refining crude oil and is not getting technology it needs to maintain and develop production. As the pressure continues to rise, the Iranian regime will face the prospect of a choice between its nuclear programme and maintaining its oil income.

There are no guarantees, and I can give no cast iron assurance of success. But I believe sanctions can work, and I know they are for now the best tool we have to achieve our shared goal.

We share Israel’s determination to prevent Iranian proliferation. Israel is not facing the threat of a nuclear Iran alone, and so its efforts must support those of the international community. We will work together to ensure that 2012 is not the year in which Iran realises its nuclear ambitions.

More so than anywhere else in the world in 2011, this region has seen sweeping changes and upheaval on an unprecedented level. Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria. The demand to be heard, the demand for democratic rights and proper representation left the region reeling.

The process that began a year ago in Tunisia, is far from over. It brings risk as well as great opportunity and hope for many people of the countries involved. Though few expected the path to democracy to be smooth, the ongoing struggle for democratic rights in Syria has been harsh and bloody. The demands of the Syrian people for democracy and freedom have been met by brutal reprisals and violent repression by the Assad regime.

This ruthless aggression continued last week even when Arab League observers arrived in the country in an attempt to report independently on the situation. Peaceful and courageous demonstrators are being mowed down by a cruel and brutal regime that refuses to accept the legitimate aspirations of its own people.

Bashar Assad long ago lost whatever remaining legitimacy he may have had. He should step down immediately in the best interest of Syria and the unity of its people.

I know that people here are concerned about what all these changes mean for Israel, for this country’s place among neighbours all of whom have several times been at war with Israel, and tried to destroy Israel even from its earliest days.

I know that as the world has praised the wave of change sweeping across the region, Israel has wondered if the world has succumbed to optimism.

I know that Israelis have watched the Tunisian and Egyptian elections and been concerned that the old regimes would be replaced not by liberal democrats interested in peace, but by hard-line regimes interested in Israel’s destruction.

Israelis have told me that they are asking themselves difficult questions. What will all this mean for borders that have been quiet for so many years? Were they better off having peace deals with leaders who did not represent their own peoples? Is peace even possible now that the new leaders of Israel’s neighbours must reflect the views of their people? Israel is right to ask itself these questions.

Many will argue that because of these regional events, now is not the time to make bold gestures when it comes to making peace with the Palestinians. It is a natural reaction at times of change, particularly change that may be threatening, to take the minimum risks.

But I believe that response would be the wrong one for Israel. If the new political order settles around it at a time of minimum hope in the peace process, then it may well lead to the political leadership of those countries being maximally hostile to Israel.

My advice would be: if you want stability, if you want security, if you want peace with your neighbours, and the best relations with the rest of the world, then making a peace deal with the Palestinians is urgent.

I want to turn now to the broader relationship between the UK and Israel. Last year was a key year for our bilateral relationship.

Legislation was passed that ended the anomaly that allowed people to abuse our court system to get politically-motivated arrest warrants against Israeli officials and military officers for alleged war crimes. The amendment, which was signed into law by the Queen in September, ensures that people cannot be detained when there is no realistic chance of prosecution, while ensuring that we continue to honour our international obligations.

We remain committed to ensuring that those guilty of war crimes are brought to justice. The Director of Public Prosecutions must now consent to the issuing of an arrest warrant for crimes of universal jurisdiction, putting an end to requests for warrants where there is no realistic chance of prosecution. This cloud that hung heavily over our bilateral relationship for too long has finally been lifted.

2011 was also a key year for trade and business between our two countries. When the final figures for trade and services for the year come in, we expect them to show a 25% increase on last year, and should reach 7 billion US dollars. We’re breaking records every year, and I am sure that this will continue.

One key development in 2011 was the start of a partnership between Britain and Israel in tech. We believe it is a partnership that could help both sides – the amazing quality of Israeli R&D can help British growth; the strengths of the British economy can help Israeli innovation go global, building using our skills in business development, capital, global reach, scientific prowess, and market access.

Both governments are committed to this partnership, and we have established in the British Embassy a new Tech Hub, a dedicated team tasked with creating lasting partnerships between UK and Israel in areas such as cleantech, biomed and digital technologies.

We have already had a stream of my Ministerial colleagues here leading delegations and demonstrating our support for this partnership. In 2012 there will be many more.

As students, you may well have come across negative reports about the UK’s attitude towards Israel, where universities are portrayed as hotbeds for delegitimisation and boycotts and sanctions against Israel. I know there is an image out there of British universities being hostile to Israel.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here today to talk to you, is to reassure you that this simply isn’t the case. There may be a small, marginal and yes very noisy group who attract a lot of attention every time they suggest boycotting Israeli academics, but in fact, there isn’t a single university in the UK with a policy of boycotting Israel.

When we look behind the sensational headlines and take a look at what is actually going on between our academics – there are groundbreaking projects and collaborations between UK and Israeli researchers, and real warmth and friendship between our universities.

This was evident in November when 60 British academics and researchers from over 20 universities came to Israel for the first UK-Israel conference on regenerative medicine. The conference brought together 250 leading lights from the UK and Israel to discuss this innovative area of medicine in which our countries are at the very cutting-edge of research, and to build connections for future collaborations.

Under the BIRAX Regenerative Medicine Initiative, £10 million will be awarded over the next five years to joint research projects bringing together British and Israeli scientists. The scheme gives generous support to joint high quality and ground-breaking UK-Israel research projects, which will have a significant impact on global health, enhance joint research between British and Israeli academic institutions and invest in early stage collaboration between researchers.

But yes, there are a handful of campuses where you have to be confident if you’re going to stand up and defend Israel – but this happens at a small fraction of our institutes of higher learning. The reality is that the vast majority of Jewish and Israeli students who study in the UK have an amazing time.

And so my message to you today is that if you’re thinking of continuing your studies overseas, think UK. Get in touch with the British Council here in Ramat Gan who will help you find the right university, the right course and explain what funding options are open to you.

I can guarantee you that you will have a fantastic experience. We have four of the top ten universities in the world and research facilities that have helped us win more than 80 Nobel prizes for science and technology alone. The UK, like Israel, has a disproportionate number of Nobel prize winners.

We want to see a significant increase in the number of Israeli students studying in the UK over the next year.

Now, before you have the chance to ask me some questions, I want to ask you some. How many of you have been to the UK before? How many of you would like to visit? Well, 2012 is the year to come to the UK. This year marks the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II – 60 years of extraordinary service. There will be celebrations throughout the UK this summer to celebrate the Queen’s reign, and the sense of strength and stability that she symbolises, particularly given all the changes that we have seen in this time.

And of course, we’re getting ready to host the greatest show on earth as London becomes home to the Olympic Games for the third time. With just under 200 days to go, the stadiums are ready, the tickets are sold and we’re getting ready to welcome the world.

We look forward to welcoming the Israeli teams to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer and hope that they manage to at least match – but hopefully even improve – on their performance at the Beijing games four years ago.

Whatever else, 2012 is guaranteed to be an historic year for us. Come and discover the many things that have made the UK a great place to live, work, study and visit.

Mark Hoban – 2012 Speech to the Insurance Institute

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Below is the text of the speech made by Mark Hoban, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, to the Insurance Institute on 10 January 2012.

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to speak here today. It’s a pleasure to be speaking at this event, with so many leading figures in the Insurance sector… CEOs, Managers, and young executives who are forging their careers at places such as here at Lloyds.

The Institute provides the ideal forum to analyse and debate the future of the Insurance sector. Not just over the coming year as we confront continued economic uncertainty, but also the coming decades as the industry rises to long term challenges.

We all know how easy it is to become absorbed by short term challenges…and we know insurers had some tough circumstances to contend with in the last year…

Rising levels of insurance fraud, especially in relation to personal injury claims…

Large catastrophe and man-made losses exceeding $100bn…

And of course the uncertainty across the Eurozone remains top of everyone’s list of concerns.

The ongoing sovereign debt crisis continues to undermine confidence across all our economies, the UK included.

But at the same time, it is equally important that we discuss the longer term vision…the challenges and the opportunities that face the UK Insurance industry over the next decade and beyond…

To capitalise on a long and sustained period of growth in the emerging economies;

The prospect of years of regulatory reform to correct the failures of the last decade;

And changing consumer behaviour, as consumers reduce demand for insurance products in difficult times, or look for new ways to access those products.

These are tough challenges for insurance companies, but they also represent opportunities for the UK insurance sector to build on its world leading strengths.

The UK industry is already the largest in the EU, and third largest in the world after the US and Japan

Within the UK economy the industry has a vital role as an investment intermediary, managing 26% of the UK’s total net worth and 13% of investments on the London Stock Market.

It is also a major investor overseas…with around 30% of premium income coming from overseas business, from both life and general insurance business.

And whilst the sector has withstood the recent crisis well, this is no time to be complacent. Consumers need to have confidence in financial services if they are to buy products and take advice, whether it is motor insurance or a sophisticated investment product. The banking crisis has affected consumer confidence and whilst insurers might take reassurance from the fact that it was a banking crisis, the reality is that for consumers it was a financial sector crisis and they don’t discriminate between them.

Domestic regulation

So regulatory reform is equally vital to restore the trust of consumers and taxpayers that had been so severely let down by financial institutions, politicians and regulators. As EIOPA President, Gabriel Bernardino, said in December last year, we need a “paradigm shift” to restore confidence in Europe’s financial services.

Consumers and taxpayers have to be confident that financial services do not jeopardise the stability of the rest of the economy. But at the same time, regulation has to be proportionate, evidenced based, and has to reflect the unique risks and characteristics of the Insurance market.

This is the approach we have taken in our reforms to abandon the failed tripartite regime of supervision in the UK.

We are establishing a permanent Financial Policy Committee inside the Bank of England to monitor overall risks in the financial system, spot dangerous inter-connections and stop excessive levels of leverage before it’s too late.

The interim FPC is also considering potential macro-prudential tools that the permanent body should have available for use in the banking sector. The FPC will note the particular characteristics of the insurance industry when they consider which, if any, macro-prudential tools should be applicable to the insurance industry.

We are also abolishing the Financial Services Authority in its current form, and creating a new Prudential Regulation Authority with a focus on micro-prudential regulation. It will bring judgement to the vital task of regulating the soundness of individual firms that manage risk on their balance sheet, particularly banks and insurance companies.

But we recognise, of course, that the business model of an insurance company is different to that of a bank. This is why we are proposing to provide the PRA with a specific statutory objective for its insurance responsibilities.

Insurance regulation will not take a back seat to deposit-taker regulation in the PRA.

Confidence is about more than financial soundness of firms, people need confidence when they buy products too.

A new Financial Conduct Authority will oversee the conduct of financial services firms, the operation of markets and the protection of consumers. It will have new powers, including the power to ban or restrict the sale of toxic products, and the ability to make public the fact that disciplinary action is being taken against a firm. The FCA will also have a strong mandate to act on competition, a first for a UK financial services regulator.

These are fundamental but necessary changes to how we regulate UK financial services, and the insurance industry. All these changes will be sat out in the Financial Services Bill, which will be introduced in to Parliament shortly, and I am grateful for the contributions from many firms represented here today to our consultation on reform.

Action which includes abolishing “no win no fee” agreements to ensure that defendants, including insurers, are no longer liable for these additional costs. The ABI has already said that as a result motorists can look forward to cheaper insurance.

We have also banned referral fees which should help towards curbing the “compensation culture”.

And we are working with industry to ensure flood insurance remains widely available in the future, and that consumers are clear about what they can expect from their insurer, and from Government.

As you know well, creating confidence is not the sole prerogative of regulation or governments. Industry has a role too.

Common to these regulatory changes is the drive to improve the standards that underpin firms across the industry. This is particularly relevant to you at the Insurance Institute of London, and in your efforts to promote professionalism among practitioners. We are encouraged by how we are already starting to see evidence of industry-led initiatives to improve standards As you know, initiatives to improve standards are not the sole preserve of the insurance sector as there is a renewed interest in professionalism across financial services as a whole.

Such work is consistent with just the sort of change discussed in the recent Parliamentary Joint Committee report on financial regulation reform. It also sends a clear message that firms that make up the insurance industry are taking an initiative to improve market trust and confidence in the public interest.

Solvency II

Whilst prudential supervision of insurance will be the responsibility of the PRA, it will be working within a framework created at a European level.

The UK has been a strong supporter of Solvency II. I firmly believe that it will help support financial stability in the sector and across the financial system through better risk-based capital requirements and its focus on strong risk management in firms.

And by providing a harmonised regime across Europe, Solvency II should increase cross border competition and create new opportunities for UK firms within the Single Market. This will in turn deliver increased efficiencies and reduced compliance costs to the benefit of both firms and consumers across Europe.

As you are aware, the Commission recently issued a consolidated level 2 text, the contents of which reflect a huge amount of negotiation and work by the Treasury, the FSA and the industry on a very wide range of issues.

Collectively, I believe that we have gone a long way to deliver on the key priorities that we agreed with the UK insurance industry at the outset of the level 2 negotiations. A key priority was to reach an acceptable agreement on the treatment of annuities, and I am confident the current long term guarantees package will work for the UK industry.

The UK has also ensured that Solvency 2 protects insurers’ role as a stable, long term provider for infrastructure through the “matching premium”. Indeed, as the Chancellor announced at the end of last year, an Insurers’ Infrastructure Investment Forum has been set up to explore ways of attracting debt finance from the insurance sector in our country’s infrastructure needs.

We have also achieved significant improvements in other priority areas, such as the treatment of capital and the calibration of the standard formula, in particular the inclusion of geographical diversification in non-life catastrophe risk.

We believe the level 2 agreement is now largely stable for these issues. As well as heading off any amendments that could affect or alter the implementation of the level 2 agreement, our priority is to secure an acceptable agreement on transitional arrangements for third country equivalence.

We have to take proper account of those third countries working towards equivalence so that UK or European firms are not put at a competitive disadvantage.

That brings opportunities for UK firms to expand to new markets, to innovate and provide new products, and help lead a UK recover by exporting our insurance expertise and services.

International competition and opportunities

Many UK firms already have a global footprint, and importantly have a strong presence in some of the fastest growing world economies.

With break neck growth in the likes of India, China and Brazil, it is absolutely right that we support our firms to capitalise on opportunities in emerging economies.

At the same time, we also have to ensure that regulation is proportionate, and that European Insurers are not unfairly discriminated against compared to international competitors.

The work of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, and the contribution made by bodies such as the Geneva Association to questions of systemic risk, are vitally important in that respect.

The conclusions of that analysis will have a profound impact on the regulatory landscape for Insurers in the years to come, as we already see with debates on recovery and resolution arrangements.

Consistent implementation

These are substantial challenges on the European regulatory front, and a substantial challenge for EIOPA as it grows into its role and builds its reputation.

We are keen to work with EIOPA in that ambition, and critical to its success is ensuring that it delivers high and consistent standards of supervision across the EU.

That means implementing Solvency 2 consistently across Europe to ensure a level playing field across Europe.

By doing so, EIOPA can take a major step in completing a single market in insurance, creating new international opportunities for the UK sector.

Tax

Of course, in similar spirit, we have been working hard to level the playing field for UK firms when it comes to insurance tax, and in particular, our reforms to the taxation of foreign profits.

In particular, we have listened to the industry’s concerns over the compliance burden and the tax barriers to restructuring for optimal capital efficiency under Solvency II.

In December we announced details of major changes in our approach to the taxation of foreign profits which reduce those burdens, and provide flexibility to UK headquartered groups making Solvency II related cross-border restructuring easier.

We are committed to creating the most competitive tax system in the G20 for our businesses and for our insurance companies.

Together with branch exemption introduced in the Finance Act 2011, our reductions in the corporation tax rate, and our work to rewrite the life tax regime, we are ensuring that we continue to attract the most innovative, successful and ambitious businesses and insurers to the UK.

New markets

Because I firmly believe that there are great opportunities to seize on new markets, promote technological innovation, and capitalise on changing consumer behaviour to drive the industry forward here in the UK.

For one, we know that increasing sophisticated technologies will increase the capacity of insurers to collect more granular data on risk, and help insurers improve risk modelling. It has the potential to allow better risk pricing and customer differentiation, leading to a better deal for low risk customers.

That said, we are also right to be wary. There is a risk that it could cause more segmentation in the market, reduce the tolerance for risk sharing, and potentially cause a shift with some consumers being priced out of the market altogether, leaving them completely uninsured.

Separately we are all familiar with how the internet is changing how consumers interact with the market place…and how Individuals are already more likely to buy general insurance products themselves, rather than with the advice and guidance of an intermediary.

This presents a major challenge to how the insurance industry interacts with and promotes its products to consumers.

It’s simply one part of a sweeping trend of consumer empowerment…. one that puts the consumer at the very centre of the financial system.

And a trend that the Government is fully supportive of as demonstrated by the new Financial Conduct Authority, and by the action we have already taken to support consumers in the Insurance sector.

Conclusion

These are all long term challenges that require long term engagement with the Insurance industry.

Of course, in the near term managing the risks from global economic uncertainty, and responding to regulatory reform will pre-occupy and consume much of all our time.

But we must also keep an eye on the long term vision.

It means ensuring that UK firms have the opportunity and build the ambition to engage and expand in the UK market, but also develop growth opportunities abroad.

And it means catalysing the kind of innovation, service delivery and product development to restore consumer trust and deal with society wider challenges such as savings and social care.

Industry engagement will be critical to delivering that vision, and I am sure the Institute here will play a vital role in encouraging the industry to think about the more strategic issues I have mentioned today.

I look forward to working with you all in the years to come to work towards that vision.

Thank you.

Michael Gove – 2012 Speech on Academies

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Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Education, at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College, London on 4 January 2012.

Last month, a headline appeared in the Hornsey Journal – a headline that would have been funny had its subtext not been so dispiriting. Stamped across the top of the page in stark, Nimrod Bold lettering were the words: ‘Campaigners: Hands off our failing school.’

Just think about that for a moment…

Futures are being blighted. Horizons are being limited. Generations of children are being let down. And yet the response of those ‘campaigners’ to an attempt to rescue the situation is ‘hands off.’

‘Hands off’ the unacceptable waste of talent.

‘Hands off’ the chronic, ingrained educational failure.

‘Hands off’ our failing school.

We’ve faced a good deal of opposition in the last year and a half. And I am certain 2012 will be no different. Because one thing I’ve come to realise during my time as Education Secretary is that the opposition we face is of a very particular kind…

It’s ironic, if you think about it. The popular critique of our reform programme has most often been of its underpinning motives. The talk was of an ‘ideologically-driven Academies programme’ and ‘ideologically-motivated school reforms.’ We’re supposed to be the ideologues. And yet…

And yet the truth is rather different. The Academies programme is not about ideology. It’s an evidence-based, practical solution built on by successive governments – both Labour and Conservative. The new ideologues are the enemies of reform, the ones who put doctrine ahead of pupils’ interests. Every step of the way, they have sought to discredit our policies, calling them divisive, destructive, ineffective, unpopular, unworkable – even ‘a crime against humanity.’

But the facts on the ground tell a very different story.

They said the reforms were untested…

A common attack is that our reforms – those that focus on school autonomy in particular – are experimental, untested and untried.

But the seeds of our reforms go back decades. The first City Technology Colleges were set up in 1988 – and indeed we are standing in one of the very first. These all-ability comprehensives enjoyed much more autonomy than other schools, and headteachers exercised their new-found freedom to extraordinary effect. Despite being overwhelmingly located in poorer areas, the CTCs achieved – and continue to achieve – great results: the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in CTCs who earned five or more good GCSEs at grades A* to C is more than twice as high in CTCs as it is for all maintained mainstream schools.

Some of the autonomy enjoyed by schools like the CTCs, and indeed grant-maintained schools, was eroded after 1997. But the best minds in the last Government knew that was a mistake. And when they were given the chance to shape policy we saw autonomy return and school leaders back in charge. Andrew Adonis knew it was headteachers, not councillors, not ombudsmen, not advisers or consultants, who made schools succeed. So he cut through the red tape and – as well as establishing the London Challenge, Black Country Challenge and Manchester Challenge – created the Academies programme.

In his memoirs, Tony Blair describes why academies proved so effective:

“An academy belongs not to some remote bureaucracy, not to the rulers of government, local or national, but to itself, for itself. The school is in charge of its own destiny. This gives it pride and purpose. And most of all, freed from the extraordinarily debilitating and often, in the worst sense, politically correct interference from state or municipality, academies have just one thing in mind, something shaped not by political prejudice but by common sense: what will make the school excellent”.

Labour’s Academies programme proved genuinely transformative and provided a solid basis for our reforms. But we had more than just the evidence of history to lean on. The principle of autonomy-driven improvement is solidly backed by rigorous international evidence. The best academic studies clearly demonstrate the effect of empowering the frontline. Trust professionals and they will exceed your expectations.

Research from the OECD and others has shown that more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards. In its most recent international survey of education, the OECD found that ‘in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.’ Two of the most successful countries in PISA international education league tables – Hong Kong and Singapore – are amongst those with the highest levels of school competition. And from autonomous schools in Alberta, to Sweden’s Free Schools, to the Charter Schools of New York and Chicago, freedom is proving an unstoppable driver of excellence.

Last November, Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann – of the universities of Stanford and Munich respectively – submitted a report to the European Commission under the auspices of the European Expert Network on Economics of Education . While the primary focus was on the relationship between educational attainment and economic growth, Hanushek and Woessmann’s research also highlighted the critical role of autonomy as a driver of high educational standards.

They found that:

Across countries, students tend to perform better in schools that have autonomy in personnel and day-to-day decisions, in particular when there is accountability.

They say that:

Critics of choice-based policies often argue that a greater reliance on choice and private competition can lead to greater segregation of students. On the other hand, in particular the additional choice created by public funding for privately operated schools may particularly benefit disadvantaged students whose choices are otherwise most constrained, and thus boost equity in the school system. In fact, the cross-country patterns suggest that a larger share of privately operated schools is not only related to a higher performance level, but also to a substantially lower dependence of student achievement on socioeconomic status – as long as all schools are publicly financed…In such a setting, allowing choice among schools can even lead to reduced segregation because access to good schools is no longer tied to being able to afford to live in an expensive neighbourhood.

So we’ve been working hard to increase autonomy for all our schools. Part of this has been about reducing central and local government prescription for all schools to give heads and teachers the space to focus on what really matters.

– The hundreds of pages of FMSIS forms: gone.

– The mammoth Ofsted Self-Evaluation Form: gone.

– The fortnightly departmental emails: gone.

– The Performance Management guidance: slashed by three quarters.

– The capability procedures: radically simplified.

– The Ofsted framework: slimmed down and focused.

– The behaviour and bullying guidance: cut from 600 pages to just 50.

– There’s more to come. In total, departmental guidance will be more than halved.

But beyond these changes – which we’ve implemented for the benefit of all schools – we’ve gone further: every school now has the opportunity to take complete control of its budget, curriculum and staffing by applying to be an academy.

They said schools wouldn’t be interested in becoming academies…
Now the critics said that schools wouldn’t be interested. They told us that there would be fierce opposition from teachers, heads and parents. That we wouldn’t see the kind of numbers we were anticipating.

Well…

As of today, there are 1529 academies open in England. 1194 are converters and 335 are sponsored.

45 per cent of all maintained secondary schools are either open or in the pipeline to become academies.

There are 37 local authority areas where over half of secondary schools are already academies, and 64 LAs where more than half of secondaries are either open academies or in the process of becoming academies. Over 90 per cent in North East Lincolnshire; over 88 per cent in Bromley; over 82 per cent in Swindon; over 80 per cent in Thurrock.

Three in five outstanding secondaries – and nearly one in 10 outstanding primaries – has applied to convert to an academy.

Over 1,250,000 pupils now attend academies. This means around one in seven pupils in state schools now attends an academy – one in three pupils in state secondaries.

In an average week, the Department for Education processes 20 applications from schools to convert to academy status, brokers another five schools to become sponsored academies.

One can hardly say there’s been a lack of interest…

The last Government saw academies as a secondary-only programme. One of the first things we did was extend academy freedoms to primaries. This is a vitally important part of our reforms.

If pupils leave primary school without the basics – if they fail to get a Level 4 at KS2 – then they start secondary school at an extreme disadvantage. Pupils can’t read to learn if they haven’t learned to read. They can’t begin to deal with more advanced mathematical concepts – or physics, or chemistry, or any number of other subjects – if they haven’t grasped the fundamentals of numeracy. And however good a secondary school is, there’s a limit to the extent to which they can pick up the pieces.

There are more than 1000 primaries where fewer than 40 per cent of pupils reach Level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics. These schools are leaving children to face a life of drastically narrowed choices in this world.

Insisting that schools educate their pupils to Level 4 standard isn’t that big an ask. Level 4 is just the basics. To achieve a Level 4 in reading pupils need to be able to interpret and understand the meaning behind a simple story. And in maths, all that is required is to be able to understand simple fractions and add, subtract, multiply and divide without the help of a calculator. It’s unacceptable that so many children are being let down.

So we must act urgently to tackle underperformance in primary schools. Part of the strategy is encouraging more primary academies.

More than 700 maintained primary schools are either open or in the pipeline to become academies. These range from small rural primaries – like Kings Caple in Herefordshire with 32 pupils – to large urban primaries like 843-pupil Durand.

There are 16 local authorities, such as Darlington and Cornwall, where more than 10 per cent of primary schools have opened or are in the pipeline to become academies.

We’re encouraged by the enthusiasm primary schools have shown so far. In the most recent months, there have even been more primary applications than secondary. But there’s more to be done.

We have identified more than two hundred primaries with the worst records and we have identified ten local authorities with unacceptable high numbers of under-performing primaries. We are working now to transform them into academies.

Most local authorities are being cooperative and constructive. They recognise the benefits academies bring.

Some, however, are being obstructive. They are putting the ideology of central control ahead of the interests of children. They are more concerned with protecting old ways of working than helping the most disadvantaged children succeed in the future. Anyone who cares about social justice must want us to defeat these ideologues and liberate the next generation from a history of failure.

They said academies would hurt other schools…
And becoming an academy is a liberation. It gives heads real freedom to make a difference. Longer school days; better paid teachers; remedial classes; more personalised learning; improved discipline; innovative curricula – these are just a few of the things that academy heads are doing to give the children in their care the best possible education.

Even more impressive than what individual academies are doing by themselves is what they’re achieving through cooperation. And this is a critical point. Because the critics warned these new schools would be soulless, selfish islands of elitism. Fragmented. Isolated. Even aggressive. In fact, this cynical prediction couldn’t be further from the truth. Heads, teachers, governing bodies, showed more commitment, more devotion, and a greater sense of moral purpose than the critics gave them credit for. Academies are not islands unto themselves; instead, what we’ve witnessed is an outpouring of desire to help others.

The critics said we concentrated too much on extending autonomy to the powerful. Well, like Abraham Lincoln I don’t think you help the weak by punishing the strong. If you get it right, then by emancipating the strong you can support the weak. That is why I have been so delighted that so many outstanding schools have stepped forward to sponsor other schools. Like Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, Altrincham Girls’ and Tollbar Academy in Grimsby. Already, 18 converter academies are sponsoring another academy.

Schools are continually finding new ways to work together and support each other. There are 403 converter academies in approximately 138 chains. These chains range from multi-academy trusts with shared governance and leadership to looser collaborative partnerships.

Like Kemnal Technology College – an ‘outstanding’ school in Kent – which became an academy in September 2010. It formed the Kemnal Academies Trust, a multi-academy trust that currently includes eight secondary schools and three primary schools, from Bromley, Bexley, Kent, Essex and West Sussex, with another school from Hampshire (Havant Academy) joining this month [January 2012]. A further five schools are expected to join by April. The academies in the Trust work collaboratively, sharing training and development of staff, working together on curriculum design, and using shared administrative and financial management services. And the schools are seeing the benefits, with results rising and vast improvements being made. Two of the schools in the Trust, Debden Park and Welling, were amongst the most improved in the country last year.

And chains offer the answer to many small primary schools thinking about how best to benefit from academy status. Take the 11 rural Devon primary schools who came together in November as the Primary Academies Trust. Church schools and community schools joining to share expertise and resources to serve the villages of north Devon with the inspiring leadership of two executive principals.

It’s clear that freedom need not be the enemy of cooperation.

They said academies wouldn’t really raise standards…
The critics also said academies wouldn’t deliver the promised academic improvements. They said our promises of rising standards were overblown, that effects would be, at best, negligible (if not – as some claimed – negative). Yet again, the facts on the ground tell a different story. In the 166 sponsored academies with results in both 2010 and 2011, the percentage point increase in pupils achieving five plus A*-C including English and maths was double that of maintained schools. Some chains are doing particularly well:

ARK results show an average 11 percentage point increase across their academy network.

The Harris Federation is recording an average improvement of 13 percentage points across its family of academies. Eight out of their 13 academies are outstanding.

ULT report a 7.1 percentage point improvement across their 17 academies – with six academies showing improvements of more than 10 percentage points.

The percentage of students at ULT’s Barnsley Academy achieving five or more A*-C grades including English and maths almost trebled in 2011. Fifty-one per cent achieved these results compared to 19 per cent in 2010. These are the academy’s best ever results and are a dramatic increase from the six per cent of students achieving these results in 2006 – the year before the academy opened.

These are not isolated cases. The Academies programme as a whole is raising standards. Recently academics at the London School of Economics published a landmark assessment of the scheme so far.

There we see three key findings. First, that ‘academy conversion generates… a significant improvement in pupil performance.’ Second, that – contrary to what the critics claimed was happening – this improvement is not the result of academies scooping up middle-class pupils from nearby schools. While it’s true that, increasingly, more middle-class parents want to send their children to the local academy, this phenomenon is a consequence of the school’s success, not the cause. And thirdly, beyond raising standards for their own pupils, academies also tend to raise pupil performance in neighbouring schools. Success is contagious.

They said the Academies programme would put SEN pupils at risk…
The critics also claimed academies would neglect their duty to some of those who need our attention most: pupils with special educational needs. They said academies would use their freedom to shirk their responsibilities.

But they were wrong. Twenty-three per cent of pupils in secondary academies have non-statemented special needs compared to 19 per cent for all secondary schools. And the percentage of pupils with statements in secondary academies is in line with the national average.

They said academies would neglect the disadvantaged…
Another group that critics claimed would be left behind by academies is disadvantaged pupils. They said autonomous schools would cream-skim the least challenging pupils and leave the rest to languish. But again, they were wrong.

The proportion of pupils on free school meals in academies – around 15 per cent – is comparable to the proportion for all state-funded schools. The crucial difference is that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to perform better in academies. The attainment rate for FSM pupils in academies improved by 8.3 percentage points between 2009 and 2010. This was over double the improvement rate recorded in comparable schools (4.0 percentage points) and also much higher than the national improvement rate for FSM pupils (4.6 percentage points). What’s more, the gap in attainment between FSM and non FSM pupils narrowed in academies between 2009 and 2010 (by 0.2 points). In comparable maintained schools, the attainment gap widened by 2.1 points over the same period.

They said we were creating Victorian-style exam factories…
When they can’t attack the popularity of the programme, and when they can’t attack the what’s being achieved, the critics move on to something more subtle: they attack the culture.

Some academies (so the argument runs) may get good results, but that’s only because they’re Gradgrindian exam factories. Creativity, child development, citizenship, well-being, and even fun are all being sacrificed to make way for merciless and unrelenting rote learning as part of an ideological push for retrograde Victorianism. It’s all about kings, dates, lunchtime detentions, and braid on blazers.

Well I’ve nothing against tradition. But the truth is that with more than 1500 academies, they embrace many educational traditions. Success comes from concentrating on the essentials.

Just last month, respected Harvard economist Roland Fryer published some very interesting research into the factors that drive pupil achievement. Together with his colleague Will Dobbie, Fryer identified certain startling correlations. He looked at the number of times teachers received feedback. The number of days pupils were tutored in small groups. The way data was used to drive instruction. The number of internal pupil assessments. What teachers expected of their pupils. The number of hours children actually spent at their desks. Fryer found that all these factors correlated with higher student scores:

Frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations – explains approximately 50 percent of the variation in school effectiveness.

These findings are fascinating in themselves. But there’s a particular nuance I want to highlight. Fryer and Dobbie introduced robust controls for three alternative theories of schooling: a model emphasising the provision of wrap-around services, a model focused on teacher selection and retention, and a ‘no excuses’ model of education. They concluded that, regardless of the particular education model of the school, the factors identified in their study – teacher development, data-driven instruction, a culture of achievement, and high academic expectations – produced similarly strong positive effects.

Why is this particularly important? Because it flies in the face of those critics who say that what we are advocating is a narrow, one-size-fits-all, Gradgrindian model. Critics who seek to set up false binary divides between rigour and creativity; between excellence and well-being; between an outstanding academic education and one which concentrates on character. Fryer’s work shows us that certain characteristics are related to high achievement with a variety of educational approaches. Expect excellence; offer intensive support; spend time in the classroom; use accountability intelligently; champion achievement… These are the principles that underpin great schools.

That’s why while academies come in different shapes and sizes, and while academy heads come from a variety of different educational traditions, and while the Academy programme is explicitly designed to let a thousand – or rather 1529 – flowers bloom, it’s nonetheless clear that the best academies share common characteristics. These are the characteristics clearly reflected in Fryer’s findings. These are the things we are advocating. And to say somehow this equates to demanding a return to the Victorian era is more than a lazy pastiche – it’s downright disingenuous.

I’ve spoken a good deal today about the facts on the ground. I’ve tried to show that the proof is in the proverbial pudding, and that the example set by the hundreds of existing academies is more than enough evidence to put the criticisms to bed.

But the sad truth is that, for some of these critics, the facts don’t matter much. And they’ll continue to view the spread of autonomy as an unwelcome onslaught. They’ll continue to talk about the Government ‘threatening’ schools with academy conversion.

Academy conversion is an opportunity. It’s only a threat to the complacent, to those who have been complicit in failure. It’s certainly not a threat for the children concerned; for them, it’s a liberation.

I have been asked not to challenge the leadership of the lowest performing schools in Haringey. But for years hundreds of children have grown up effectively illiterate and innumerate. In one of the most disadvantaged parts of our capital city poor children have been deprived of the skills they need to succeed.

Defenders of the status quo say these schools shouldn’t be judged in this way because they have a different approach – they are creative or inclusive. But you can’t be creative if you can’t read properly and speak fluently – you can’t be included in the world of work if you aren’t numerate.

The same ideologues who are happy with failure – the enemies of promise – also say you can’t get the same results in the inner cities as the leafy suburbs so it’s wrong to stigmatise these schools.

Let’s be clear what these people mean. Let’s hold their prejudices up to the light. What are they saying?

If you’re poor, if you’re Turkish, if you’re Somali, then we don’t expect you to succeed. You will always be second class and it’s no surprise your schools are second class.

I utterly reject that attitude.

It’s the bigoted backward bankrupt ideology of a left wing establishment that perpetuates division and denies opportunity. And it’s an ideology that’s been proven wrong time and time again.

Look at what’s been achieved in Harlem’s Children’s Zone or in the KIPP schools in America. The poorest children going to the best colleges because their teachers expect the best of every child.

And most importantly look what’s happened here. In the Harris Academies. In ARK schools like Burlington Danes or King Solomon or Walworth Academy. In Mossbourne Academy and Manchester Academy. Children from the poorest homes going to the best universities. Exam performances better than scores of schools in the leafiest suburbs. Ofsted ratings which are consistently outstanding.

So my message to those in Haringey and to others is: stop saying ‘hands off.’ Stop saying that the arrival of the expertise that can help your schools is a threat. They called Phil Harris a threat 11 years ago; he’s transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands. They said it was a threat when people from the City became involved in sponsoring schools – tell that to the children at King Solomon. The arguments being made in Haringey are the same ones that were made about Hackney Downs in 1995. Back then 11 per cent of children got 5 A* to C with English and maths. Now at Mossbourne 82 per cent in 2010 get 5 A* to C including English and maths, and ten students got offers to study at Cambridge this year.

And for those that say this approach is untested in primary schools you only have to look at what has happened right here at Haberdashers Aske Hatcham. In 2008 Monson Primary School was in notice to improve with falling rolls. Now 76 per cent of pupils are achieving Level 4 at Key Stage 2 and two more primaries have joined the federation.

But the teachers, parents and pupils of Hatcham and Mossbourne wouldn’t wish for a return to the past. We’ve heard a lot of arguments, a lot of excuses from those who don’t believe in giving children a better education. It’s time we called them what they are: ideologues.

It’s the same old ideologues pushing the same old ideology of failure and mediocrity. Who sought to cow anyone with a desire for change by accusing them of ‘talking down’ the achievement of pupils and teachers. The same old ideologues who strove mightily to make the world fit their theories – and damaged generations in the process.

What’s new is that the evidential basis of their policies, always thin, has now disintegrated altogether. Schools like Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham, which we have the privilege of being in today, and hundreds like it across the country, are proof of what can be achieved – not just for some children, but for all children.

Change is coming. And to those who want to get in the way, I have just two words: hands off.

Michael Gove – 2012 Speech to Schools Network

michaelgove

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Education, in Birmingham on 11 January 2012.

Introduction

As this is the SSAT’s first conference under its new name – The Schools Network – I thought it might be apposite to say a bit about networks and learning.

Life in the 21st century – and education in the 21st century – relies on us having systems that are flexible and adaptable. So I want to talk to you today about two of the flexible, adaptable networks we’re working on.

First, a flexible, adaptable education system, where schools have the freedom to innovate and collaborate in order to drive improvement.

And second, flexible, adaptable learning within schools, taking advantage of the way technology is transforming education.

A Schools Network

Underpinning our reforms is the principle – backed by the best international evidence – that autonomy drives improvement. In addition to having rigorous accountability mechanisms and a commitment to creating an outstanding teaching workforce, the highest-performing education systems are those where government knows when to take a step back. Rigorous research from the OECD and others has shown that more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards. In its most recent international survey of education, the OECD found that ‘in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.’ As the OECD points out, two of the most successful countries in PISA – Hong Kong and Singapore – are amongst those with the highest levels of school competition. And from autonomous schools in Alberta, Canada, to the Charter Schools of New York and Chicago, freedom is proving an unstoppable driver of success.

So we’ve been working hard to increase freedom for all our schools.

A big part of this has involved reducing central government prescription for all schools to make heads’ and teachers’ lives easier and give them the space to focus on what really matters.

The reams of FMSIS forms: gone.

The vast Ofsted Self-Evaluation Form: gone.

Fortnightly departmental emails: gone.

Performance Management guidance: cut by three quarters.

Capability procedures: simplified.

Ofsted framework: slimmed down.

Behaviour and bullying guidance: cut from 600 pages to 50.

There’s more to come. In total, departmental guidance will be more than halved. And our Curriculum Review will result in a clearer, slimmer core entitlement, which will free teachers up to get on with teaching.

Beyond these changes – which we’ve implemented for the benefit of all schools – we’ve gone further: we’ve given every school the opportunity to take complete control of its budget, curriculum and staffing by applying to be an academy.

There are now 1463 academies across England. More than 40 per cent of all secondary schools are now either academies already, or in the process of becoming academies. 1144 primary and secondary schools have converted since the general election. 319 are sponsored academies, of which 116 have opened since May 2010. 44 more sponsored academies are expected to open later this academic year.

Over 1.2 million pupils now attend academies – this means around one in seven pupils in maintained state schools are now attending academies and one in three pupils in secondary schools.

This million-strong group will benefit from the changes academy freedom can bring, like longer school days; better paid teachers; more personalised learning; improved discipline; and higher standards all round. Individual academies are using their new freedoms in a variety of different ways.

Like Seaton Academy in Cumbria, which was one of the first to open as a converter academy and to take advantage of academy freedoms. The school has been better able to tailor the curriculum to pupils’ needs. Having previously been bound by the local authority to implement new central strategies – regardless of how suitable such strategies were for the school – Seaton is now able to be more innovative. Greater budget flexibility has allowed Seaton to run more efficiently, and these savings have been ploughed back into the school. For example, they have introduced discretionary award payments for great teaching, which has been hugely motivating for staff. The academy has also started to rebalance the school year – with shorter summer holidays and a lengthened half-term.

Seaton is just one of many schools using their new freedom to do exciting things. The best scientific evidence proves that if you empower those at the frontline, they will exceed your expectations. A few months ago, academics at the London School of Economics published a landmark assessment of the academies programme.

They found three things. First, that ‘Academy conversion generates… a significant improvement in pupil performance.’ Second, that this improvement is not the result of academies scooping up middle-class pupils from nearby schools: the fact that more middle-class parents want to send their children to their local academy is a consequence of the school’s success, not a cause. And thirdly, beyond raising standards for their own pupils, academies also tend to raise pupil performance in neighbouring schools. Like CTCs and the Challenge schemes before them, academies are showing us all what amazing things can be achieved when heads are put in the driving seat.

But even more impressive than what individual academies are doing by themselves is what they’re achieving by working together. Under our plans, networks of schools are collaborating on a scale that has never been witnessed before. The facts on the ground are plain to see: increased autonomy and greater parental choice drive up standards and help tackle ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’ – and freedom does not need to be the enemy of cooperation.

Sponsors

Some of these networks are small – often just two schools, with one sponsoring the other. Yet while small, they’re driving real change. Tudor Grange Academy, Solihull (a converter academy) has sponsored Tudor Grange Academy, Worcester. Since becoming the sponsor, the Solihull school has provided intensive support to its Worcester partner. Improvements have been made in discipline, behaviour, attendance and attainment, with Tudor Grange, Worcester being oversubscribed on first choice applications for the first time. The benefits haven’t all been one-way. Tudor Grange, Solihull has been able to increase staffing and improve the pupil-teacher ratio. School leaders have reported feeling a greater sense of responsibility and accountability to the communities that they serve.

Partners

Other networks are slightly larger, with one academy partnering with several other local schools. Altrincham Grammar School for Boys in Trafford became an academy in February 2011 and is now working with three underperforming schools in the area. The school has been working particularly closely with Broomwood Primary, with specialist French and Spanish teachers from the secondary school helping teach primary pupils. This has helped Broomwood set up its own provision for language lessons. Similarly, having achieved a science specialism, Altrincham Grammar shared its expertise by giving its partners access to its labs; assisting partner schools in rewriting the science schemes of work for Years 5 and 6; and supporting teachers in delivering these schemes. Gifted and Talented students from Broomwood and other local schools are also offered the opportunity to attend after-school science sessions at Altrincham Grammar.

Chains

Many academies are also forming chains – formal networks of schools federated together, usually as part of the same Trust. There are 111 chains of converter academies with a total of 337 schools. The Coopers’ Company, a good with outstanding features school, chose to convert in a chain with a local school at the other side of the borough, The Brittons Academy, rated satisfactory. Prior to conversion, the heads developed an action plan of how they would support each other in future. Both schools converted on 1st April 2011. Coopers are working closely with Brittons on combined CPD days and have arranged paired support of weaker departments. They have also set up a management link between the two senior leadership teams, and the head teacher from Coopers has become the School Improvement Partner for Brittons.

All these changes have been possible because we have been resolute in our commitment to spreading autonomy – from the introduction of the Academies Bill within our first few days in office, to the way we’re continually reducing constraints and burdens on schools. We’re doing all this because we believe – and the evidence confirms – that the best way to create a school system capable of adapting and responding to the challenges of the 21st century is by giving great teachers and heads real power.

That principle extends to the way we’re going about securing the next generation of teachers and school leaders. We’re putting our best schools in charge of training and professional development. We’re expanding programmes like Teach First and Future Leaders, so that the most promising are trained by the most inspirational. And we’re working with the National College on programmes like the SLE and NLE, to ensure that the school leaders of the future are mentored by the best leaders of today.

Overall, our vision for the future is of a self-improving network of schools, innovating and engaging, competing and collaborating, teaching and training, for the benefit of all our children.

Digital networks

I want to turn now from networks between schools to an altogether different sort of network: networks of the digital kind.

It’s an understatement to say our world has been transformed by technology. There was a particularly poignant and wonderful illustration of this in a recent New Scientist editorial, written to mark Steve Jobs’ death. “Nothing dates the 1987 movie Wall Street”, the piece argues, “like the $4000 cellphone clutched by financier Gordon Gekko. It was the size of a brick and he could only talk for 30 minutes before having to recharge it.” In the 1980s, the capabilities of today’s smartphones would have been unfathomable to consumers and engineers alike. They’d have thought it impossible that so much powerful technology could be packed into such a tiny case. If you were trying to build an iPhone using equivalent components from the 1980s, asks the author, just how big would that phone be? Running through all the parts – from the antennas to the batteries to the GPS to the gyroscope to the accelerometer to the cameras to the mobile computing capability and more – New Scientist concludes you would need a truck to haul around an iPhone built of 1985 parts. We’ve gone from an 18-wheeler to a pocket in just 26 years.

It’s not just the hardware. Entire sectors employing millions of people didn’t even exist a quarter century ago. And many of those that were around in the ’80s operate today in ways that are unrecognisable to those of the past. Given the extent of the transformation – and the pace at which it’s happening – it is imperative we have a school system capable of adapting to and preparing for the challenges ahead. If we don’t, we will betray a generation.

And yet there is a perception by some that my department isn’t especially concerned about such things. That we care more about Tennyson than technology. That our interest is in Ibsen, not iTunes. That we’re more Kubla Khan than Khan Academy.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that our school system not only prepares pupils for this changing world, but also embraces the technological advances which are transforming education. My department is thinking hard about this and we’ll be saying more in the new year. But I’d like to talk briefly today about some of the critical developments that have been shaping our thinking.

One of the greatest changes can be seen in the lives of children and young people, who are at ease with the world of technology and who communicate, socialise and participate online effortlessly. Two-thirds of five- to seven-year-olds use the internet at home, rising to 82 per cent for 8- to 11-year-olds and 90 per cent for 12- to 15-year-olds. Over a third of 12- to 15-year-olds own a smartphone, and typically use the internet for 15.6 hours every week. Children are increasingly embracing technology at a younger age: for example, 23 per cent of five- to seven-year-olds now use social networking sites.

Yet the classrooms of today don’t reflect these changes. Indeed, many of our classrooms would be very recognisable to someone from a century ago. While there has been significant investment in technology in education, it has certainly not transformed the way that education is delivered.

Part of the problem has been that investment has focused on hardware. My fear is that, in the past, too much emphasis has been placed on machines that quickly become obsolete, rather than on training individuals to be technologically as literate and adept as they need to be. What’s more, fixating on expensive, soon-to-be out-of-date kit represents a failure to understand the fundamental changes taking place.

One major change concerns content. Technology is having a huge impact on the way educational material can be delivered. iTunesU now gives everybody access to the world’s best lectures. The Khan Academy provides 2700 high-quality micro tutorials on the web, so that anyone, anywhere can access them for free. Brilliant scientific publications like Science are building their own ecosystems of educational content. And by definition, as we move to a world where we expect every child will have a tablet, the nature and range and type of content that can be delivered will be all the greater.

Educational gaming, for example, is a booming area – and ripe for even further development. Games developed by Marcus Du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, are helping children engage with complex maths problems that would hitherto have been thought too advanced. And the Department for Education is currently working with the Li Ka Shing Foundation and the highly respected Stanford Research Institute on a pilot programme to use computer programmes to teach maths. We have not developed the programme – we are just helping them run a pilot. Stanford say it is one of the most successful educational projects they have seen.

These exciting advances are the sort of thing that a central government department could never hope to produce and maintain. And nor should it seek to: Whitehall must enable these innovations but not attempt to micromanage them. Such content is being created daily, and the vast majority is free to anyone with an internet connection. Our role is to help bring schools and these developments together.

To be absolutely clear: this isn’t about replacing teachers with YouTube videos – of course it isn’t. But it would be negligent of us not to look at how we can harness these developments for the benefit of all pupils. In Singapore, for example, I was lucky enough to witness how a superb lesson can be delivered through a mixture of online and teacher-led instruction. We can do it here too – and in the coming months we’ll be setting out how.

Another way in which technology is changing education is through its potential to create sharper assessment systems. Computer lab management software is now so sophisticated that an individual teacher can monitor how each student is doing simultaneously and then – without singling out that child in front of others – provide them with the direct amount of support that they need, accelerating the rate at which some children can learn and providing additional help for others. Problems can be picked up earlier. Students can be stretched when they’re ready. It’s the next step towards truly personalised learning – and it will also enable parents to have a better understanding of the level at which their children are operating.

Thirdly, technological advances can have a huge impact on teacher training. Teachers can more easily observe other teachers and learn more about the craft. Professional development content can be delivered in more accessible, engaging, and cost effective ways. Individual teachers can use the latest developments to refine their lessons to precision. As Michael Nielsen points out in his excellent new book, ‘Reinventing Discovery’, new developments allow teachers to get better feedback about how their lessons are being received. So not only does the spread of innovations like the Khan Academy mean there is more great teaching material on the web, but new tools like Google Analytics allow anyone to analyse video for attention, second-by-second, in a way that used to be very expensive and complex. All these are welcome developments.

Of course, in stressing the importance of digital content, I’m not saying we should neglect hardware altogether – far from it. But hardware means more than just the latest desktop – especially when many pupils are increasingly likely to have access to superior technology at home – or even in their pockets – than in their school’s computer lab. That’s why we need to think about how to give more children the chance to engage with truly cutting edge hardware, like 3D printers, or learn the fundamentals of programming with their own single-board computers, like the Raspberry Pi.

The challenge for us is this: how we can harness the many exciting technological leaps that are constantly being made? We will be saying much more early in the new year. Make no mistake: this is a priority for me. I believe we need to take a serious, intelligent approach to educational technology if our children are not to be left behind. As John Chubb and Terry Moe put it in their excellent book on the subject, a genuine engagement with the wondrous world of technological innovation will see children’s learning ‘liberated from the dead hand of the past.’ We owe it to pupils across the country to take this issue seriously.