Theresa May – 2000 Speech to Conservative Party Conference

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Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May to the 2000 Conservative Party Conference on 3 October 2000.

Thank you Chairman and I am delighted Ladies and Gentlemen to respond to this excellent debate on Education so very ably introduced by Marion Rix and John Harthman.

The quality of contributions we have heard this morning shows the importance this Party attaches to the education of all this country`s children.

Children have only one chance in their school education. If they are to develop their full potential, we must ensure they and their teachers have the freedom to be creative, the inspiration to achieve and the aspiration to be the best. That is our task and I am privileged to be part of it.

Joining me I have an excellent team. In the House of Commons, Tim Boswell, James Clappison, John Hayes and Geoffrey Clifton Brown; in the European Parliament Philip Bushill-Matthews and in the House of Lords, Emily Blatch, Doreen Miller and Joan Seccombe – “girl power” and haven`t they down a magnificent job in winning votes against the Government to defend grammar schools and keep Section 28.

And joining us on the platform is Cllr Peter Chalke Leader of Wiltshire and our spokesman on education at the LGA -and thank you Peter to you and your colleagues who help to keep our feet on practical ground.

Ladies and Gentlemen: We are ambitious for Britain.

We should be proud of the enormous wealth of talent that exists in this country.

Our young people have so much to offer and education is the key.

Sadly these talents are being squandered by a Labour Government that believes the bureaucrat knows best, that thinks inspiration lies on page 34 of a 100 page government circular, that aspires only to political correctness and that is ashamed of Britain our history and our culture.

What a wasted opportunity. The reality of education under Labour is that class sizes are rising, disruptive children are kept in class, teachers are leaving in droves, too much money is spent on red tape, and standards are stagnating,

Government policy has completely lost touch with the real world. One minister even wants to stop young children playing musical chairs!

Earlier this year the Government paid £4million to consultants to produce a 234 page report which reveals that to be effective a teacher must – wait for it – plan lessons well.

Over the past year the Department for Education and Employment has sent out one publication every hour a teacher is at work.

It`s not surprising that since Labour came to power nearly 100,000 teachers have left the profession. Earlier this year a head teacher in the North East was so disillusioned that he left to become a lorry driver. A primary teacher leaving her job to become a chauffeur saying “I was faced with masses of paperwork every day which was very time consuming and not what I became a teacher to do”.

And what of Labour`s broken promises?

David Blunkett promised that grammar schools were safe in Labour`s hands. Tell that to the parents and teachers of Ripon Grammar School and Ripon College who had to spend months working to save their schools in the face of Labour`s rigged grammar school ballots.

David Blunkett once told a Labour Party Conference “Watch my lips no selection by examination or interview”. Now he says that was a joke.

Children`s education is no joke Mr Blunkett. Ladies and Gentlemen watch my lips – the next Conservative Government will abolish the grammar school ballots.

David Blunkett promised grant maintained schools they had nothing to fear from Labour. Tell that to the headteachers worrying about yet more budget cuts- cuts that have averaged £150,000 per school.

David Blunkett promised head teachers they would get their budget direct. Two weeks ago he turned his back on them. Nothing will change and Labour town hall bosses will still be able to hold money back from our schools and children.

Why? – Because this Labour government is arrogant – they think they know what`s best

They`re out of touch – they just don`t know what is happening in the classrooms

And they don`t trust parents and teachers.

We do trust parents. That`s why we will increase parental choice and give parents the power to change schools where standards are failing. And we will give parents better information about the standards in their local schools by bringing in value-added tables, which better measure the quality of education at the school.

And we trust teachers. That`s why we will give them the freedom to get on with the job our dedicated teachers want to do – teaching children and raising standards – without constant form-filling and interfering red tape.

We have a new approach to raising standards in our schools. By making every school a Free School we will improve the quality of education and ensure that every child is receiving the education that is right for them.

Free Schools will enable Heads, teachers and governors to decide what is best for the children in each school. The bureaucrats in Whitehall don`t know what`s best; and in today`s fast-changing world the traditional model of local authority control of schools does not allow each school enough freedom to be creative to maximise children`s potential.

Free Schools will get their budget direct. It will be based on a national funding formula, which will take account of certain differing needs, but will start to reduce the current disparities in funding across council boundaries.

Too much money is held back from schools. Too much is wasted on bureaucracy. On this year`s figures our Free Schools policy would have meant on average an extra £540 for every child.

Free Schools will be able to keep their sixth forms – free from Labour`s threat of lower funding or closure.

Free Schools will be free to set admissions policy – and I`m confident that yes, there will be more grammar schools in future.

Free Schools mean a different role for central government. No more bureaucrats in Whitehall dedicated to drafting yet more circulars with which to bombard teachers and governors.

Free Schools also mean a different role for local councils – not running schools, but providing certain children`s services such as education welfare and statementing for special educational needs. Our thanks are due to all those who given so much over the years as councillors on LEAs. The future will be different. Our goal is to give children the best education possible and we must not be afraid to do what is necessary to achieve it.

Free Schools means a new role for governors who will be freed from much of today`s bureaucratic burdens, and who will have clearer responsibilities and powers.

Ofsted will be given the power to conduct spot inspections – seeing a school as it really is not after weeks of preparation.

One of Labour`s first acts was to abolish the Assisted Places Scheme depriving children from less well-off families of educational opportunities. Ladies and Gentlemen I can tell you today – the next Conservative Government will introduce a new Assisted Places Scheme.

The quality of education a child receives depends on the quality of their teachers. Our many hard working and committed teachers are fed up with a government that doesn`t trust them.

We want to set teachers free to get on with the job of teaching.

Teachers and parents also worry about discipline in the classroom. The disruptive few must not be allowed to damage the education of the many. The next Conservative Government will give Head teachers the power to expel disruptive pupils putting parents minds at rest that their child`s education will not be damaged by the disruptive few.

And there will be no appeal to the local authority – so the school can`t be forced to keep disruptive pupils in class by some politically correct Labour council.

The expelled pupils will not be forgotten as too many have been in the past. They will be given a full time education in Progress Centres away from the school site, but they will no longer be denying education to others.

But we need to do more to support teachers. Teachers are more vulnerable than any other group of professionals to false allegations of abuse from children. An NASUWT survey last year showed that over 80% of allegations made against teachers were false. Yet, the system seems to believe that an allegation is in itself proof of guilt. And teachers can find their names blazoned across the newspapers, their careers shattered – and all on the basis of a false accusation.

I heard last night of a teacher of 27 years who was falsely accused of abuse by a pupil. He lost his job, his role as a foster parent, and his role in the local scouts. His life ruined by a malicious accusation.

The next Conservative Government will give teachers anonymity in the media until the point where the police decide to press charges. The press will not be allowed to print their names or photos while the accusation is being investigated. Teachers lives should not be ruined by mischievous or malicious accusations.

We will do more to support those entering the profession. I have heard too many stories of teachers not being trained to teach children to read. Teacher training is too theoretical. Why on earth should someone training to be a teacher have to study “the politics of difference”?

The next Conservative Government will reform teacher training. Under the Conservatives trainee teachers will spend 80% of their time in schools and only 20% in college. More than three-quarters of a teacher`s training will be spent learning the skills and craft of teaching. Schools which are centres of excellence will be able to become training schools with funding and support to back that up. In future trainee teachers will learn how to teach in practice not just in theory.

Free Schools will raise standards in our schools. They will be free to be the good schools parents want with an enthusiasm for learning, a strong ethos and values.

But we need to support our FE Colleges and universities too. They need their freedom. FE Colleges will be given back freedoms Labour have taken away by changing their governing bodies and threatening them with Whitehall diktats on what courses they can offer.

And our universities need to be set free from government controls that mean they find it ever more difficult to compete on the world stage. Our young people deserve the best. With funding per student falling, Labour certain to introduce top-up fees, and universities finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain staff, standards in our universities are under threat as never before.

We owe it to our young people to stem the tide. That is why we will progressively endow universities. We will invest the proceeds from the sale of government assets like the radio spectrum in our universities setting them free of excessive bureaucratic control and interference and ensuring their academic freedom. Endowed universities would be free to recover their global pre-eminence and build a world role.

And they need to retain freedom over admissions. How arrogant of Gordon Brown to think he knows better than Oxford University who should be admitted to read medicine. And how irresponsible. In one speech he has done more to discourage state school pupils from aspiring to go to our leading universities than anyone else. The real problem is low expectations in state schools held back over years by Labour`s dogmatic insistence on levelling down standards.

We also want to help people into jobs. The Government`s New Deal is no deal for the 40,000 who`ve gone back onto benefit, the 60,000 who have failed to get a sustained unsubsidised job, or the 92,000 who left for an unknown destination. In fact far from finding jobs for 250,000 young people as Labour promised, the New Deal has only found jobs for 13,000.

We know that the best thing for someone who wants a job is to get into a job. That`s why we will replace the costly and ineffective New Deal with ‘Britain Works’. ‘Britain Works’ will give people the practical every day skills to get them into a job and help to keep them there.

Ladies and Gentlemen, for too long education in this country has been bedevilled by interference from the educational establishment. If we do nothing to stop this, our education system will grind to a standstill with falling standards betraying our children and damaging our county`s future.

Free Schools and Universities will enable us to develop the wealth of talents in this country to aspire to be the best.

There are those who say it won`t work, there are some who say it shouldn`t be done and there are those who say it can`t be done.

We know from Grant maintained schools that it will work.

For the sake of our young people to enable them to develop their talents to the full, it must be done.

With the will and determination and fired by an ambition for this country of quality education for all it can be done.

And Ladies and Gentlemen it will be done by the next Conservative Government.