David Laws – 2014 Speech on Free Infant School Meals


Below is the text of the speech made by David Laws, the then Schools Minister, in Birmingham on 11 July 2014.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at your conference today.

I am delighted to be here and to be able to thank you in person for all your hard work which you do and also – crucially this year – for the massive and successful effort which many of you are putting in to deliver the government’s policy of universal free infant school meals from this September.

I was reading recently about a research study into school food in the north of England.

In the study, around 40 children from 2 schools were provided with state-funded breakfast and lunch. The study reported how the meals improved the pupils’ behaviour.

What was the date of this study? It was not 2007, or even 1997. It was from 1907.

History of free school meals

In the mid-19th century, charities such as the Destitute Children’s Dinner Society raised money to provide meals for poor children.

Manchester provided meals for its poor and badly nourished children in 1879.

A similar scheme ran in Bradford, where the local school board argued that if the state were to take charge of educating pupils during the day it should take charge of feeding them as well.

These pioneers were taking a huge risk.

Incredibly, they were breaking the law in those days by providing these meals and could have been forced to stop.

Yet they understood clearly that, without a healthy meal, children would be less able to concentrate and succeed in school.

Pupils weren’t slow to realise their potential and take them up.

One of the first dinner ladies, Miss Cuff, reported that while on day one 13 children declined her oatmeal porridge, the next day this dropped to just 2 and from the third onwards her cuisine was eaten and enjoyed by all.

At first, the arguments that there should be national provision of free school meals fell on deaf ears.

To the Westminster establishment the idea seemed too radical, too expensive, too difficult and questionable in ideological terms.

Then, as now, there will always be people who find excuses to resist change.

But, gradually, people began to listen.

Recruitment of young men for the Boer War of 1899 to 1902 highlighted the under-nourishment of many of our children, and there was a new focus on the importance of healthy eating.

In 1906, we saw the passing of the 1906 Education (Provision of Meals) Act.

This gave local authorities the green light to spend public money on school food – and crucially – money from the treasury in order to do so.

The trail-blazers of 1906 lit a torch that would be taken up by people like Jamie Oliver, the School Food Plan team and many in this room a hundred years later.

Take up of free and paid for meals increased dramatically during the Second World War – from just 3% at its outset, to over 30% at its conclusion.

Come 1946, the day of our now much loved ‘dinner lady’ dawned: popularity of school meals had grown so much that paid assistants were introduced to supervise children as they ate their lunch.

And in June 1949, the number of school dinners reached nearly 3 million, over half of the total school population.

Take up reached a high water mark in 1974, when 70% of pupils ate school meals.

But one thing is clear: since that peak in the 1970s, the number of children receiving school meals has been in steady decline.

In the 1980s, the then government cut back on free school meal entitlement, and removed some of the standards designed to ensure healthy meals.

Take up of meals, and the quality of much food, went into steep decline – with a fall in the proportion of children taking school meals from roughly 7 in 10 to just 4 in 10.

That has been bad for attainment in schools. It has been bad for children’s health and concentration. It has undermined the socialisation which comes from children sitting down together each day and eating together.

And the removal of free meals has been an extra pressure on family budgets which has particularly hit low income families who take the initiative to get into work, but who then find that they lose their entitlement to free meals which can be worth almost £1,500 per year for a family with 3 children.

Free school meals are sometimes regarded as an aspiration and idea from the political left.

But I regard this as a common sense policy for the mainstream majority.

I happen to have the old-fashioned view that given that these children are the responsibility of the school and the state for around 7 hours a day, the least we can do is ensure that they eat healthily.

Many of our minds are now on this September, when infants will have a new entitlement to a healthy meal at school.

This policy is the latest milestone in the long history of school meals.

And it is one of the most important.

It is the biggest expansion of free school meals in over 65 years.

1.5 million additional pupils will become entitled to a free meal.

Now every step forward in the last 100 years has had its critics.

But remember that the work you do has a proud and long-standing heritage. You are part of a progressive movement that has always had one overriding priority: to improve school food.

The School Food Plan

It should come as no surprise that there is strong public feeling about school meals.

Whether we enjoyed them or not, they are a nostalgic part of British life.

Every parent wants their child to be able to eat healthily.

The nutritional quality of school meals has rightly been at the centre of recent debate. Demand for healthier, more nutritious, school meals has come from parents, schools, school cooks, caterers, academics and celebrity chefs.

Successive governments have responded by working with schools and their caterers to improve the standards of school meals, ensuring that they contain more healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables, and less unhealthy foods, such as fat, salt, and sugar.

But it is the work that all of you do that turns these standards into a reality.

The quality of school meals has continued to improve, thanks to the hard work of school cooks, caterers, teachers, parents and nutritionists, and we can now look back on turkey twizzlers as an unfortunate blip in the proud history of school meals.

But it was clear to me, and I am sure to many of you, that more needed to done.

That is why the coalition government commissioned John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby to undertake an independent review of school food, to look at how school food was being provided across the country.

I am hugely grateful to John, Henry, Myles and all those who contributed to the review.

The review confirmed that many schools now do a brilliant job of producing healthy, tasty, school meals and promoting the value of healthy eating.

But the review also found that there is still work to be done. There is still too much food with little or no nutritional value, low take-up of school meals and too many children eating packed lunches.

Many parents mistakenly imagine that a packed lunch is the healthiest option.

In fact, the evidence is that fewer than 1% of packed lunches meet the school food standards.

So, almost exactly 1 year ago to this day, the results of the School Food Plan were published and John Vincent came to this very stage to tell you what he and Henry had learnt, and what the government had committed to do next.

The plan contained both actions for government and for the school food sector. Like John and Henry, once we knew what needed to be done, we wanted to get straight on with improving the quality and increasing the take-up of school food.

Those of you here yesterday heard from Myles Bremner about the fantastic achievements in just 1 year. For example:

  • the new cooking and nutrition curriculum for all pupils up to the age of 14, which becomes statutory at the start of next term
  • new training materials, which focus on school food, in the headteacher training curriculum
  • work with Magic Breakfast to set up self-sufficient breakfast clubs in schools
  • significant work beginning to increase the take-up of good school food

And importantly, we have developed clearer, easier to implement, school food standards, which we published on 17 June, alongside practical and down-to-earth guidance for schools and their caterers. These regulations will become statutory in January 2015.

Universal free school meals

The plan also recommended that the government should offer free school meals for all children in primary schools.

This was a big and radical idea; but it wasn’t a new one.

Durham and Newham and other parts of the country had already piloted universal free school meals.

The results were clear.

Good, healthy school food, combined with universal provision, had a positive effect on all pupils, but particularly on those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Universal provision increased take-up among the disadvantaged who are eligible for meals, but don’t always take them up.

They removed the stigma of ‘being a free meals kid’.

They meant that the 1 in 4 children from working families, but who nevertheless live in poverty, got a meal for the first time.

When I visited a school recently in south London, I was moved when the headteacher told me about 1 parent who currently just misses out on free school meals, because she is in a low income job, being in tears after being told of the new entitlement, because of the positive impact it would have on her family’s budget.

Some people in the media seem to think our country is made up of very poor people on benefits who are the only ones needing financial help, and then the so called ‘middle classes’, who they view as all earning £100,000 or more each year.

But most people aren’t very poor or very rich. They are getting by. On £15,000, or £20,000, or £25,000. As a teacher in that London school said to me last week, ‘If you are a parent in London on £18,000 with 3 children, you don’t feel rich.’

This policy will make a huge difference to family budgets in these hard times. And do not worry about whether we are wasting money on families who can afford the meals – we are not paying for free meals in Eton, Westminster or Rugby private schools.

The pilots also showed that when universal free school meals were implemented, children were less likely to eat crisps and unhealthy packed lunches during the school day, and more likely to eat healthy food instead.

And, most importantly, there was a positive impact on children’s levels of literacy and numeracy.

Crucially, the pilots showed that to achieve the benefits of the policy it has to be a universal offer – to all children.

The pilots in which entitlement was only extended modestly to low income working families did not see the attainment and other benefits which we want to secure.

So this is a universal entitlement which we’re introducing not just because it’s popular with parents, though it most certainly is, but because the evidence shows that this is the right thing to do – the only way to secure the improved outcomes we want to see.

There are some who are against this policy as a point of principle. They don’t think it is the job of government to make sure all children get a healthy lunch.

Like those who blocked the first moves to provide healthy meals to school children 100 years ago, they argue it is too expensive; too radical; too difficult.

Government does not share that position.

We cannot allow some siren voices to undermine a policy that will save ordinary parents money and improve children’s education and health.

Left to their own devices, those who want to undermine this policy would take us back in time, unwinding over 100 years of progress on school food.

Government will not allow that to happen.

And that is why it is so important that we work together to make this policy a stunning success in September.

If we get this right, no one will be able to take it away – because it will be so popular with parents that no politician would dare.

That is the prize we are all working for.


I do not underestimate the challenges this poses to some schools – which will have been passed on to you and I’m especially grateful to LACA and the School Food Trust for the support they have given.

But I am determined and confident that we can work together to overcome them in some schools.

In the pilot areas, schools, catering providers and local authorities demonstrated that it is possible to deliver this policy of good quality hot meals in schools in the timescale we have allowed.

For some schools, the transition will present few challenges.

But I do understand that for others the challenge is much greater.

Every infant and primary school should by now have a plan in place to deliver universal free school meals to all of their infant pupils from September.

And the government is providing the necessary financial support. We have allocated over £1 billion of revenue funding to this policy over the next 2 years.

We have allocated £150 million of capital this year, specifically to help schools improve their kitchen and dining facilities. And for small schools, which I know can face particular challenges, we are making an additional £22.5 million available this year.

We will keep the availability of that small schools funding for future years under review to establish if we need continuation in the future.

In addition, we are funding a support service run by school food experts – including, of course, LACA and their main partner organisation, the Children’s Food Trust. That support service is doing a brilliant job in supporting school and caterers to find local solutions to their own individual problems, and I am enormously grateful to everyone involved for their hard work. Thank you to the whole, fantastic, team.

It is clear to me that schools are doing a truly brilliant job in preparing for this milestone.

I simply do not share the pessimistic view of some that headteachers do not have the ability to deliver on bold, ambitious challenges, with the support of many of you in this room.

Through local authorities and the support service I just mentioned, I have been tracking the progress schools towards meeting this important commitment.

And I can announce today that based on evidence from local authorities, schools and the support service, over 99% of schools now have a plan in place to deliver universal free school meals in September.

We are aware of fewer than 100 schools which still need further work to devise a delivery strategy, and the department and the support service are now working through, school by school, to offer support and ensure all schools are on track to deliver at the start of term.

This is a tribute to the phenomenal efforts of everyone in this room and headteachers, school catering teams, local authorities and governors up and down the country.

Of course, this does not mean everything will be perfect on day 1.

As has been reported, some schools will provide a cold meal initially, until capital works are complete.

In the medium term we expect all schools to be giving a hot food option – which is what is really necessary to meet the school food standards consistently.

And of course many schools will be bringing in meals from outside caterers, rather than cooking them on site – as we all know they do now.

Many of these meals are excellent, and some schools will want to continue this approach.

But let me be clear that I know many schools are raising their sights and want to bring back the on-site kitchens which were lost in the 1980s and 1990s in many parts of the country.

Some have already done this with our £150 million capital injection.

Others will want to do so in the future, after they have seen the increase in take up.

I commit today to looking very closely, after September, at what the government can do to support schools further in creating the right facilities and school environment to maximise the quality of food and the experience of eating it.

It would be unrealistic to think that in just 1 year we could rebuild the entire school estate, and reverse decades of neglect in some areas.

But we will commit to support this policy over time.

And I was not willing to allow the search for perfection to get in the way of delivering a step change in healthy eating which is needed right now.

And to the remaining very small number of schools who do not yet have a plan in place for September: my message is to work with your caterers and with the support service to ensure successful delivery.

They can give you practical help, and show you how other schools have risen to the challenge.

We will do everything in our power to help you deliver for your children.

Take Cheam Fields School in Sutton for instance. Following the announcement of September’s roll-out, the school stated publicly that they would not be able to implement the policy.

But after working closely with the support service, they now have a plan in place and are on track to deliver free meals to all their infant pupils from September.

In fact, I visited them last week and not only do they have a new pod kitchen, but the children have also composed a free school meal song!

I am excited that where many thought it impossible, there is a way of making this happen – and it is you in this room making it possible.

Cheam Fields School proves that, by working together, we are not only capable of changing systems, but also cultures and mindsets.

I realise that many of you are still on the journey Cheam Fields has made, and you are grappling with the challenge of delivering this policy.

I have seen first hand that organising school catering is not unlike a small military operation.

But I have also seen how much difference you – the unsung heroes of our children’s nutrition and education – can make.

You are doing an outstanding job. And the numbers prove it.

Of course there will be challenges along the way and the support service is continuing to provide support and guidance in the lead up to and over the summer holiday. In fact, the support service will continue to be available until the end of 2015, to help schools as they move forwards on that journey towards delivering a really excellent, sustainable school meals service.

But thanks to you, we are on track to defeat the sceptics who said we’d never do this; who argued that this shouldn’t be a priority.

I am enormously grateful to all of you in this room for all your hard work to make a reality of this exciting policy.

And I am grateful too to headteachers and their teams up and down the country, who are working tirelessly to make a success of universal infant free school meals at the same time as introducing other important reforms, such as a new national curriculum and assessment arrangements.

So it is a real privilege to be able today to speak to LACA members who are the cornerstone of this and to thank you for the work you have done and are continuing to do as we head to September.

This policy is going to be a success, thanks to your work.

It is going to be one of the landmark social achievements of this coalition government – good for attainment, good for health, great for British food, and good for hard working families.

Ignore the critics who want to snipe from the sidelines.

Together we are going to deliver something of which all of us will be very proud and which will make our country a better place for children to grow up in.

David Laws – 2014 Speech on Grammar Schools


Below is the text of the speech made by David Laws, the then Schools Minister, at Broadway House, Toothill Street, London on 19 June 2014.

It is a great pleasure to be here today and have the chance to say a few words on social mobility.

I would like to set out how government and grammar schools can work together to help every child succeed, whatever their background.

We may not see eye to eye on every point.

But I do think, between the Department for Education and grammar schools, we share a common goal in wanting to raise expectations, standards and access, so that regardless of a child’s background we offer them the best possible chance to fulfil their potential, in yours and other good and outstanding schools.

It is shameful that, in this country, the best way to predict a child’s exam results is to look at their family income and social background.

Breaking this stubborn attainment gap between richer and poorer pupils is my party’s key objective in the Department for Education. It is what drives me as a minister – it is behind the pupil premium – and it is at the heart of this coalition government’s education policy.

I know that it drives many of you too – and may well be what brought you into teaching in the first place.

The grammar school sector has a long and distinguished history and has been part of the English education system since the Middle Ages. Many of you can trace your school’s history back to the 16th and 17th century, if not earlier.

The political argument of the 1970s, as to whether selective schools should continue in the state sector, resulted in a significant decline in grammar schools. Today just 5% of schools are grammars, compared to a peak of 38% just after the Second World War.

Since the 1980s the number of grammar schools has remained fairly constant at around 164.

No political party now proposes to change this. The debate about grammar schools seems to have been put in the political deep freeze – with no plans either to increase or reduce the number of what are extremely popular schools in their localities.

I am not here to revive arguments about the relative merits of grammar schools and comprehensive schools.

I am here because I accept that grammar schools are a significant feature of the landscape in many local areas, and as Schools Minister I want us to be able to work together openly and constructively on social mobility and other areas

Grammar schools are often excellent schools. I accept them as an established fact of our education system and want to consider what greater role they can play in breaking the cycles of disadvantage and closing the opportunity gap.

I want to work with you, not preach at you, and help you to do what many of you are seeking to do already.

In doing so, I want to challenge you to improve the social mix of your schools, while accepting that the government and the non-selective primary sector also has a big responsibility in this area too. You cannot do this alone.

Original purpose of grammar schools

Many grammar schools were originally established to be engines of social change. Grammar schools were often established by charitable trusts or individual benefactors whose ambitions were to provide for the education of all local children, not just the privileged who could pay for it.

You will be aware of many schools established in the 16th and 17th centuries to help poorer children. Harvey’s Grammar School in Folkestone, for example, was established in 1674 for “20 poor boys of Folkestone”. The Blue Coat School in Liverpool was founded in 1708, and the founders described the school as “a school for teaching poor children to read, write and cast accounts”.

Before we look forward today, I therefore ask you to pause and look back.

How far do you meet those proud aspirations?

Are you, as some would have it, “stuffed full of middle-class kids”?

Or are you opening up opportunities to all bright children regardless of their background, or can you do more?

Why is entry to grammar schools so often maligned?

In my first month as Schools Minister, back in 2012, I was sitting at my desk in the DfE one day when a pile of answers to parliamentary questions was put before me to approve.

One of them that caught my eye asked how many disadvantaged children attend each English grammar school.

I knew the figures were bad. But as I read down the list of schools I was shocked, genuinely shocked, to see how few children from poor backgrounds are going to your schools.

In some schools the number of pupil premium or free school meal eligible pupils is actually single digit numbers.

You cannot be proud of that and you and us at the Department for Education should want to do something about this.

Critics often point to a culture of intensive coaching that can put off those with the potential but not the means to pay, and this could be one reason for the low levels of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in grammar schools.

Proportionately, grammar schools have the lowest levels of FSM admissions in England.

Last year, 21 grammar schools had fewer than 1% of pupils eligible for free school meals.

Ninety-eight grammar schools had fewer than 3% of pupils eligible for free school meals, and nearly all grammar schools (161) had fewer than 10% of pupils eligible for free school meals.

That is compared to a national average of 16.3% across all secondary schools in England.

Too often the proportion of disadvantaged children entering grammar schools is out of step with their catchment areas. For example, in Buckinghamshire in 2011, 14% of the year 7 cohort across the county were eligible for the pupil premium. But only 4% of those admitted by grammar schools were eligible for the pupil premium.

In Lincolnshire, it was 21% across the county, compared to just 7% in grammar schools.

I accept of course that this discrepancy is not just confined to the selective sector.

Many top-performing, non-selective schools also fail to attract a fair proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals.

Two-thirds have a percentage of FSM pupils that is 5 percentage points or more below the local area average.

So in the same way I’m challenging you and working with you, I will also be looking at those schools to do what we can do to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

What can government do?

I recognise that these headline figures hide a more complex underlying picture.

I asked analysts in my department to undertake a more substantial piece of work to dig deeper into the data, so we could really understand why so few bright but poor children end up in grammar schools.

This work presented an interesting picture.

It showed that a key barrier is the low level of free school meal pupils achieving level 5, typically a proxy for pupils you admit. So this is not just a challenge for grammar schools, but for the whole education system.

In other words this is not just something that can be blamed on grammar schools. I totally accept that.

But I simply cannot and will not accept a system that fails poorer children in this way.

My promise to you, alongside my challenge to you, is that this government will do everything in its power to make sure that more children from poorer backgrounds achieve their full potential.

We have introduced the pupil premium – £2.5 billion this year alone – targeted at those pupils who need extra help.

This money is supporting primary schools, feeder schools in all your areas, to boost the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

We have made it easier to identify high-achieving pupils from low income families by asking primary schools to monitor the academic progress of disadvantaged pupils in key stage 2 increasingly closely, with better data available through the RAISEonline system.

We are introducing free school meals for all infants, which in pilots raised attainment in English and maths, particularly for disadvantaged children.

And we have made the early years a top priority – extending free early education for all and giving 2-year-olds from lower income homes a free early years education for the first time ever.

Next year we are extending the pupil premium to disadvantaged early years children, while raising the primary pupil premium, skewing the budget to the age range that makes the most difference.

Finally, but crucially, we will not accept persistent weak performance and leadership in any school.

Schools in poor catchment areas often underperformed in the past, often for many years.

Now both the DfE and Ofsted will act swiftly to intervene in failing schools, so that they have the leadership and governance which they need.

Taken together, and over time, I believe that these crucial policies will start to shift the dial for poorer children – so that more and more reach level 5. There are already signs that the attainment gap is narrowing, particularly at key stage 2.

What can grammar schools do?

But what about those disadvantaged children who are academically able and do already achieve level 5?

In wholly selective areas fewer than half of pupils eligible for FSM achieving level 5 go into selective schools, compared with two-thirds of non-FSMpupils.

This cannot be right.

We calculated it would require a shift of just 200 level 5 FSM pupils to go into grammar schools in wholly selective areas to remove this particular bias – the failure to recruit pupils who should already be able to access your schools based on their attainment.

I was surprised that the number was so small, and actually so achievable.

Sadly, this speaks volumes of the work we need to do to secure better results in primary schools.

Your first, incredibly modest, job is to get these children into your schools. Over a decade, that would still be 2,000 more able pupils accessing some of the best schools in the country.

But, I think we would all acknowledge that aiming so modestly is not a satisfactory or inspiring ambition, and something neither you nor I are keen to do.

I want us to aim much higher than that.

My ambition is that all selective schools should aim for the same proportion of children on free school meals in their schools as in their local area.

This would mean an additional 3,500 free school meal pupils in selective schools every year, or an additional 35,000 pupils over 10 years.

There are likely to be many barriers in the way of this ambition and it is not something we can achieve overnight.

The problems range from parents not applying; pupils not revealing their full potential in the tests; local primary schools not considering your school as an option.

This presents a challenge to you and to us. I want us to be ambitious, I want to challenge the preconceptions about grammar schools and I want the sector to be able to show that it is responding to this challenge.

So we’ve talked about setting a longer-term ambition, but what can we do in the short term? This is something I have thought about a lot and forms part of the programme of work we have been doing jointly with the GSHA.

I am encouraged to see grammar schools leading the way in using the pupil premium as part of their admissions arrangements. This was a freedom set out in the 2012 Admissions Code and I am pleased to be able to say that 32 grammar schools have implemented an admissions priority for pupils eligible for free school meals this year.

This is a remarkable step and reflects a laudable commitment to putting the rhetoric around social inclusion into practical action.

In this area of pupil premium priority, your sector has been the leader.

I would like to thank the GSHA for working with us to support this move and encourage you all to think about whether this is something you could consider at your school.

We would like to see every grammar school adopt this approach.

There has been controversy recently about whether introducing a pupil premium admissions priority means you will automatically face an objection from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator.

Let me be clear. Anyone can object to the OSA, and you may face complaints.

There are people who will always resist change.

But as long as you have properly consulted on the changes and worked with the Education Funding Agency to make sure that the technical details in your funding agreement reflect this – then there is no case for schools to answer. The Admissions Code permits academies and free schools to give priority to pupils eligible for the pupil premium. And the recent determinations on this are clear on that point – these schools are lawfully permitted to prioritise pupil premium pupils.

We in the Department for Education will fully support any school that chooses to change its admissions criteria in this way – in fact, I want to see all grammar schools give preference to pupil premium pupils over the next few years.

But has the battle been lost before pupils even get to the point of admission? In some areas, a cottage industry has grown up offering coaching for entry to selective schools. Many children who have been “hot-housed” through coaching for grammar school entrance tests then struggle when they arrive because they have not acquired those independent learning skills that are crucial to further and higher education and the job market.

We all recognise that parents are passionate about getting their child in to a school that they think will best suit their child.

I don’t blame any individual parent or family for doing everything they can to help their individual child to get ahead. Doing your best for your child is a natural human instinct and one which we should commend and not criticise.

But these kind of coaching schemes put another barrier in the way of those children whose parents are unable or unwilling to pay for the additional coaching.

The GSHA is against coaching, not just because of access issues but because it can be a negative educational experience and the pressures this creates on children can outweigh any gains. So I really welcome the association’s work to encourage a move to entry tests that are less susceptible to coaching, and I am heartened to hear that at least 40% of grammar schools are now moving to the introduction of coaching resistant tests.

Again, I hope that all grammar schools will soon do so, and it will be interesting to see the impact of this.

The GSHA will be working with us, the Sutton Trust and the University of Durham to explore ways in which access to grammar schools by highly able deprived children might be improved by looking more closely at the testing process and what may be limiting the engagement of pupils with it.

I welcome that commitment.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, is the outreach work you do with your local primary schools and parents.

We can do what we can to raise attainment, make entrance tests more accessible and to give some priority in admissions – but unless parents and pupils see your school as suitable for them, then our efforts are wasted.

How many of you are partnered with your local primary schools, how many are engaging to identify those high-performing pupils who are not currently accessing your provision?

Best practice/call to action

Well, I know some schools are doing great work.

Pates Grammar School in Gloucestershire has held awareness events in local schools for pupils, staff and parents, and many of the rest of you will be doing this.

High-performing local pupils have been invited into the school, to knock down the local perception that this is a school for ‘rich kids’. The school is increasingly seen as an aspiration for local families.

There is also great work taking place in the 5 Edward VI grammar schools in Birmingham.

These schools are working towards obtaining an intake of 20% from disadvantaged families.

They have introduced coaching resistant tests and are building close links with primaries to engage in a test familiarisation project. We at the Department for Education want to see more clusters of grammar schools engaging in projects like these and reaching out to the local community.

I want all schools to build on the progress that is being made and seek to close the gap by increasing parental engagement, and stronger working with local primaries – with a focus on identifying potential.

In conclusion

In conclusion I want to place on record my gratitude to those grammar school headteachers that have already initiated real changes.

I know that you are deeply committed to educational excellence and seeing disadvantaged children attend your schools, and flourish in them.

And I want to thank the GSHA for their engagement and work.

But we are starting from a very low base.

And it is no surprise that grammar schools are today often struggling to make their case for a big role in English education when one of the biggest claims once made, about social mobility, looks so hollow on the basis of the figures we are all aware of and which I cited early on.

We all recognise grammar schools need to return to their original mission and great aspiration of being engines of social mobility.

If you can do this then instead of being treated as a small corner of the educational debate, you will be entitled to make your case with confidence and persuasiveness.

For our part, government will leave no stone unturned in our mission to raise attainment, for all children, in primary schools.

We do not expect you to change the world by yourselves.

None of us in this room can be complacent in our goal.

We have begun the journey, but there is a long way to go.

Let us be ambitious about what we can achieve together, and continue with that joint commitment and determination to make the difference for all children.

David Laws – 2013 Speech to Teaching Leaders Graduation Ceremony


Below is the text of the speech made by David Laws, the Education Minister, to the Teaching Leaders Graduation Ceremony.

I am delighted to be here tonight to celebrate the achievement of the fourth graduating cohort of middle leaders from the Teaching Leaders Fellows Programme.

And thank you all for the hard work you are doing in your schools to improve the standards of education available to the children who are most in need of additional help. Your dedication to getting the most for your pupils is inspiring.

The importance of high-quality leadership in schools cannot be overstated.

Analysis of Ofsted inspection reports by McKinsey has shown that the overall performance of a school rarely exceeds the quality of its leadership and management.

For every 100 schools that have good leadership and management, 93 will have good standards of pupil achievement. For every 100 schools that do not have good leadership and management, only one will have good standards of pupil achievement.

The support of great leadership and management helps all teachers to improve the quality of their teaching. And recruiting and training high-quality teachers for leadership positions amplifies their impact.

One great leader can build a team of great leaders. A team of great leaders can build a school of great teachers. And a school of great teachers can support thousands of children to achieve to their full potential.

It has long been held that having an outstanding headteacher can make a significant difference to the performance of a whole school. But it is not headteachers alone that make this difference. We need strong leaders at all levels within a school, working together as a team.

Middle leaders are able to take a direct role in improving teaching and learning. First and foremost they can act as models of great teaching. But they can also contribute to improving standards by helping other teachers to develop and by challenging under-performance. And they are at the forefront of developing curricula, and establishing systems to track and improve pupil progress.

Senior leaders benefit from distributing leadership to a strong group of middle-leaders because it frees up their time to focus on whole school improvement. Schools are stronger with great middle leaders because they are less reliant on a small group of senior leaders, and therefore more resilient to changes in the senior leadership team.

And by identifying and developing outstanding middle leaders today, we are able to help ensure that we will have a sufficient supply of outstanding headteachers in the future.

We need great school leaders because the challenges are great. Around 40% of young people still fail to secure 5 GCSEs at grade C and above, including English and maths, rising to above 60% when we look only at children from poorer families. These figures remain completely unacceptable for an advanced society such as England. We cannot accept these levels of educational failure, and there is nothing inevitable about this.

Excellent practice does of course already exist, and some schools are closing the gap between poorer children and their better off peers. But the attainment of pupils who are eligible for free school meals varies greatly between schools in different regions. There are too few secondary schools outside London where large numbers of pupils from poorer backgrounds are matching the attainment of their peers.

A recent report from Ofsted found that attainment at GCSE varies across the regions of England by 23 percentage points for pupils eligible for free school meals. But attainment varies by only 6 percentage points for pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.

In 2012, there were only 97 secondary schools in England with over 14% of pupils eligible for free school meals where these pupils attained above the national average at GCSE. Sixty-four of these 97 schools were in London. Well done London. But we have to be concerned that there were none in the South West or South East of England.

So schools with a strong record of attainment amongst all of their pupils are heavily concentrated in London. The weakest performing schools are spread across the country, and often in smaller towns rather than large urban areas.

And the greatest challenge is that within schools the quality of teaching varies too much. The Sutton Trust estimate that having a very effective rather than an average teacher raises each pupil’s attainment by a third of a GCSE grade.

This is both a striking finding and a great opportunity. It makes clear the consequences for individual children of ending up in the wrong class at school. But it also gives us a clear indication of what we need to do.

The quality of teaching is absolutely critical. And middle leaders like you can make improvements across a department so that all of the pupils benefit from the same high standards of teaching.

We look to you to help us meet these challenges. Teaching Leaders identifies and develops middle leaders to improve teaching in the most challenging schools, and for the pupils who will benefit most from it.

In 5 years, Teaching Leaders has grown from a pilot of 25 middle leaders to over 776 fellows in 365 schools. The vast majority of alumni stay in education. Of those from the 2011 cohort staying in education in the UK:

– 97% are still working in challenging schools

– 56% have been promoted within challenging schools

– 25% have been promoted to the senior leadership team

You and your cohort are improving teaching for around 15,000 pupils in 81 schools. The pupils for whom you are responsible are making more progress and achieving better GCSE results than the national average. And this is especially impressive given they come from groups that are too often expected to fail.

These pupils are being helped by outstanding teaching leaders such as Shamim Hussain. Shamim is Head of Maths at Lilian Baylis Technology School in Lambeth, where 76% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.

He has introduced systems to monitor and support teachers in the maths department. This has led to the majority of the team being rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, and the rest as ‘good’. Shamim also introduced systems to track student progress against challenging targets, giving pupils a clear picture of the learning gaps that they needed to address. Seventy-nine per cent of Shamim’s pupils made 3 or more levels of progress, significantly higher than the national average.

Jackie Bowen started the Teaching Leaders programme as Head of English and is now Assistant Vice Principal for Achievement at Cedar Mount Academy in Gorton, Manchester. Jackie worked with her team to move each member of staff up at least one Ofsted grade. Having been judged ‘inadequate’ when she arrived, 80% of Jackie’s team now secure ‘good’ or better in lesson observations.

Jackie’s work has helped achieve big increases in the proportion of pupils making expected progress and the proportion achieving a grade from A* to C. And this has been a success for pupils of all backgrounds. Amongst Jackie’s pupils there was no gap between the attainment of those eligible for the pupil premium and the rest of the cohort. If ever you needed proof that the gap between the achievement of poorer and better off pupils is not inevitable, Jackie has provided it.

This demonstrates what can be achieved. But we want to do more, especially in those areas that have not benefitted from the programme so far.

So I am pleased to announce that the Department for Education is investing an additional £9.9 million in Teaching Leaders from 2014 to 2016.

This funding will more than double the number of Teaching Leaders fellows and alumni from 776 to 1,706. This means over 900 new fellows, working with 3,000 classroom teachers, to improve teaching for 150,000 pupils.

And as well as creating more fellows we want to expand their reach. We want Teaching Leaders to work with schools outside of the urban areas that already benefit from the programme. This will include schools in the East Midlands, Humberside, West Yorkshire, the North East and Merseyside.

The new fellows in these areas will benefit from the same intensive programme that you all received. They will receive face-to-face coaching, and there will also be local evening training and more geographically-focused networks, providing opportunities to share with other middle leaders from their area.

But, of course, we must continue to improve the impact of the programme. Teaching Leaders has already found ways to enable more middle leaders to benefit from the programme within the funding that is available. Getting more from the money we spend is essential given the financial constraints that we face. I would like to thank you for this achievement.

My challenge to Teaching Leaders, and to you, is that whilst the programme grows in terms of the numbers of pupils it benefits, it also continues to grow in terms of the impact it has.

I want you to be at the heart of a self-improving school system:

– by working within and alongside teaching schools to recruit and train the next generation of outstanding teachers

– by growing the evidence base in education and leading on the development of evidence-based practice in schools

– and by using effectively the new freedoms that we are making available to schools

We look to you to provide the proof that by putting the teaching profession in charge of school improvement we can ensure that all children have the opportunity to succeed.

Thank you for everything you have achieved and will achieve. I wish all of you the very best for your future careers.

David Laws – 2012 Speech to the LGA Education Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by the Education Minister, David Laws, to the 2012 LGA Education Conference on 4th December 2012.

First of all, thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

Local Government has a massive and crucial role to play in delivering education.

It does now. It will in the future.

I want us to stay closely in touch, for two reasons.

Firstly, because I want to hear from you about any problems or issues at “ground level”, so that we can deal with these together.

Secondly, because we need to work together if we are to secure the best outcomes for young people in this country. The Department isn’t able to deliver our ambitions without your support and participation.

The Department’s communication routes with the Local Government sector are changing, as some of you know.

But I want to ensure that our contact is just as productive, indeed more productive, than in the past.

That will include a new, small, and focused “reference group” which will meet with me on what I envisage being a quarterly or bi-monthly basis.

And the Secretary of State and other Ministers will also of course engage regularly and through their own mechanisms.

I have been asked to speak today on the subject of “Raising Ambition; Achieving Potential.”

Whether intentionally or not, this choice of subject has a double meaning for me.

Firstly, because it is obvious that we need to work together to raise our ambitions about what young people, including from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, can achieve in their education.

We need to ensure that every young person can meet his or her potential.

We know that this is not presently the case.

Until recently, only 40 per cent of children secured good grades at GCSE. It is now 60 per cent. Improvements are always good news. But moving from a 40 per cent to 60 per cent system remains completely unacceptable.

We now need to move to a system in which 80 or 90 per cent of children can reach their potential. That includes stretching the most able.

But the key element of this must involve closing the appalling gap between the outcomes for disadvantaged children and the rest.

It is intolerable that in this country life chances are being so determined by social circumstances rather than innate ability and commitment.

Local authorities in inner London have helped transform the opportunities of disadvantaged young people over the last decade.

That is great. But it also highlights how badly we are failing these same young people in other parts of the country.

Young people only get one real chance to get their education right. That is why school improvement must be all about what both Martin Luther King and Michael Gove refer to as “the fierce urgency of now.” That is why Government Ministers are intolerant of failure and impatient for dramatic change.

Local Government must not only be our partners in delivering these changes.

You must be Leaders and innovators.

Local Government is so used to being dictated to by successive central governments that there is a risk that, at best, we just turn you into a delivery arm of central government.

But this risk is much, much, greater if you simply wait for us to dictate to you.

My message is this: identify the impediments to success in your area; work to demolish them; tell us what we can do to help. Bang on OUR doors. Do not wait for us to bang on yours.

In that sense the title of this speech is not just about children.

I want Local Government to have a greater ambition for its own role in improving educational outcomes. And I want all of Local Government to achieve its potential, not just a few flagship councils.

Local authorities have a key strategic oversight role in education. It is local authorities which have the legal responsibility to ensure that there is a school place for every child in their area. This is an important role, particularly in areas with rising pupil numbers.

Local authorities not only have to ensure provision, but they are vital in making the school admissions process work. It is local authorities which help deliver fair access for all.

There are many other strategic areas where local authorities are and will remain important. Take school transport, for example. It may not be glamorous, but those school buses are of critical importance for many pupils.

Local authorities can and must do much more than fulfilling their statutory duties.

Critically, they can and must support schools, challenge schools, and – where necessary – intervene in schools.

The Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, made it clear in his most recent report that more children than ever before are in good schools. That is fantastic news.

He has been clear that there are areas of the country where almost all schools are excellent or good. That, too, is fantastic news.

But progress and performance are not uniform across the country. Sir Michael has been equally clear that there are areas of the country where only a minority of schools are good enough. That is both tragic and unacceptable.

According to Ofsted, two million school children are in schools that are not good enough. No-one should be willing to accept that.

This, surely, is the biggest challenge of all.

And if local authorities want to retain their important role in schools then they must act when schools in their areas need to improve.

Too often in the past local authorities have failed to act to deal with failure or mediocrity.

Too many local authorities have felt that it is their job to champion “their” schools, regardless of whether these schools are delivering for their children.

But your job is to be champions for parents and pupils, not apologists for performance which isn’t good enough.

For sure, more schools are now Academies than ever before. And for sure, the relationship between local authorities and schools is different when a school becomes an academy. But the overwhelming majority of schools are still part of the local authority family of schools.

These schools need your support and, sometimes, your challenge.

Ofsted, as you know, is now raising the bar on inspections.

“Satisfactory” is no longer good enough. It now “requires improvement”.

Bluntly, there is no way my Department has the capacity to intervene in the number of schools which may now need intervention and support.

That is why you are so important.

If you did not exist, you would need to be invented.

And you do not need re-inventing as Schools Commissioners or some regional arm of my Department.

You just need to deliver.

You all need to do what the best councils are now doing.

I do not want to use this speech to single out those who are at the bottom of Sir Michael’s local authority list.

You all know who they are. Rather I want to concentrate on those at the top, places like Camden, Sefton and Trafford. I want to challenge those places to work with other local authorities who need assistance.

And I want you all to learn from the most successful local authorities.

Local authorities are stronger when they work together and can achieve more when they co-operate. Learning from each other is a necessity, and not a choice, if schools are to improve, and if local authorities are to remain an important part of the school system.

There are many ways for local authorities to intervene.

They can offer school support directly. They can encourage schools to form self-improvement clusters. They can find suitable sponsors for underachieving schools.

There is not one single option for delivering change.

But nor should there be an option for tolerating failure and mediocrity.

The Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has recently written to some local authorities highlighting problems in school performance in their area. Those letters have provoked strong reactions. Some people have welcomed them, and described them as fair. I admit that such comments have largely been private, but I assure you that they have been made.

Others have been upset, or even angry to receive them. Two groups have made representations along those lines. The first do not believe that Ministers should write such letters. I disagree. It is perfectly proper for the Secretary of State for Education to write to local authorities about the standards of education in their area.

The second group of people protested because they felt that the particular letter that they received was not a fair letter. Where that is the case, you should indeed tell us. Just as it is fair for us to write to you, so it is fair for you to reply. We will take your letters seriously – just as we expect you to take our letters seriously.

But in the interests of the children of this country, we need to set aside bruised egos and get on with working to ensure that the laggards come up to the standards now being delivered by the best. And quickly. Because each child has just one chance.

Ofsted will continue to shine a strong light on local authority performance in this area. And I will fully support them as they do this. Sir Michael Wilshaw has rightly said that he will hold Academy chains to account as well. This is not about picking on local authorities. It is about tackling failure – wherever it is occurring.

That leads to me on my next theme: the relationship between national and local government.

I want to highlight three legitimate expectations that you can have of us.

We should offer you the financial support that you need, we should be fair, and we should trust you, while ensuring that you are held properly to account.

Let me start with financial support. The Coalition Government took the decision at the start of the parliament to ring-fence the schools budget.

That spending is, therefore, protected come what may.

Not only that, but we also created the pupil premium that will deliver around £6bn of funding for children from poorer backgrounds over this parliament. That money can and must have life changing effects for those children.

But let me say this: all Ministers in my Department are aware of the basic need pressures in many parts of the country.

We know that there is a rise in the number of children, and we know that there are implications for school capital requirements.

We are also aware that schools need maintaining – that is why we are looking at the quality of the school estate at the moment.

We have fought hard to make sure that Treasury understands all these needs just as well as we do.

The Government has a responsibility to treat you fairly.

The Department has recently concluded its consultation on the future of LACSEG. Clearly reform is needed, and we are striving to be fair to maintained schools, Academies and Free Schools.

We are listening carefully to what you have to say.

We are also working hard on a national funding formula for schools.

The current system is hard to defend, and that is why we are working on a new approach.

But equally we know that we cannot move quickly from the current system to a new formula, for any new formula will create both losers and winners.

It is fair that we move to a national formula, but equally it is fair that we move carefully, and protect the losers. As you know, we already have a minimum funding guarantee in place at the moment, and we will want to build on this approach as we move to a national formula.

Fairness has many attributes, and financial fairness is only one of them. The Department also needs to be fair in the way that it treats different types of school.

Make no mistake, as I said earlier, we will hold all schools to account, whether they are maintained, Academies or Free Schools.

There are challenges ahead, for both of us.

There are delivery challenges in providing the relevant number of places for two-year-olds, and ensuring that they are of good quality. Those challenges are particularly intense in the second year of delivery, when 40 per cent of children will be eligible for a place.

There are challenges ahead in terms of raising the participation age. We have a duty to fund places for every person who takes them up, whether they want to stay at school, go to college, or take up an apprenticeship. We will fulfil that duty.

You, in turn, have a legal duty to ensure that people of relevant age are in full time education or training. We expect you to fulfil that duty.

Already the best local authorities in the country have impressive programmes in place. They identify young people at most risk of becoming NEET, and develop programmes to engage them. They work with schools, colleges and children’s services, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable. This includes referring those who are eligible to the new Youth Contract.

In such areas the number of young people who are NEET is very low. That is what we should all want to see, and again, local authorities should work with central government and learn from each other.

In other areas of the country there are still far too many young people who are not engaged in education or training. It is essential that the lower performing areas learn from the best and close this gap.

Let me conclude.

The relationship between local authorities and national government has not always been a good one. I regret that. Of course there will be points of tension, and points of disagreement. I understand that.

But equally, I believe strongly that we can and must create a new working relationship.

This new deal will be based on honesty, fairness, trust and accountability. And above all it will be based on both sides working together towards a common goal. That goal, of course, is to raise ambitions and achieve the potential for each and every child in our country.

To do that we need to raise the ambitions in Local Government and ensure that the potential of Local Government is realised in every part of our country.

Thank you.