Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May, the then Shadow Education Secretary, to the Conservative Spring Forum held on 4 March 2001.
It is clear from everything that has been said in this session, and from what I see in the schools I visit across the country that what we need now in education is a ‘radical approach – one that focuses on the best interests of children, that understands the purpose of education, that recognises the importance of diversity and choice, and that liberates schools from constant interference by the state.’
Not my words, but those of the former Chief Inspector of Schools Chris Woodhead.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the next Conservative Government will provide that radical approach.
Anyone who visits schools, who sees teachers inundated with paperwork, disruptive children in classes damaging the education of others, schools on a four day week and children being taught by unqualified staff will know that on education this Labour Government is all spin and no delivery.
When Tony Blair promised education, education, education no-one knew he meant the number of days a week children would be in school.
It’s no wonder parents are saying – We’ve paid the taxes so where are the teachers?
But Labour are not just failing to deliver, they are incapable of delivering because they are more interested in spinning to get headlines than they are in the needs of children.
They promised to spend a greater proportion of the national income on education than the last Conservative Government. They have spent less.
They promised smaller class sizes. Secondary class sizes have gone up and the pupil teacher ratio in primary schools has gone up.
They promised to cut bureaucracy. Instead they have deluged schools with endless Whitehall directives and initiatives – from the beginning of last year teachers received a directive a day from the Government.
Instead of giving more say to parents they have handed more power to local politicians and bureaucrats by scrapping our hugely successful grant maintained schools system.
They promised to raise teacher morale. Instead teachers are leaving in droves because they are utterly fed up with Blunkett’s bureaucratic burdens and constant interference from the centre.
And instead of leaving dogma behind they have vigorously pursued their vendetta against grammar schools.
These are the realities of what Labour has done to education in this country.
What can we expect from Labour if they get back in.
More spin, more Whitehall schemes, more paperwork, more disruptive pupils in class, more political correctness,
But fewer special schools, fewer grammar schools, fewer school sixth forms, fewer teachers,
Lower standards, larger classes and an education system aimed at turning out politically correct citizens with no idea of the history and culture of their own country.
Four years on we know the black hole between the rhetoric and reality of Labour.
When Tony Blair says he wants more private sector involvement in education, we know more power will be given to local politicians and bureaucrats.
When Tony Blair says he wants a better deal for teachers, we know the Government will continue to stifle the creativity and flair of teachers with a never-ending stream of directives from Whitehall.
When Tony Blair says he wants more diversity we know he will destroy the grammar schools through Labour’s vindictive ballots.
And when Tony Blair’s spokesman says it is the end of the bog-standard comprehensive we know the monolithic comprehensive system with no choice for parents is safe under Labour.
In contrast, Conservatives are ready to deliver a better education for our children, to deliver common sense not dogma.
We are ready to trust heads and teachers to get on with the job. We are ready to give parents real choice.
Because we will set schools free and let teachers teach.
If you had been with me when I visited a school in Lambeth last week I could have shown you exactly what we mean when we say we will set schools free.
The school was in one of the poorer areas of London. Violent crime there is three times the national average. In 1995 only 1 per cent of pupils came out of that school with 5 good GCSEs.
But after gaining its freedom under the last Conservative Government through grant maintained status the school improved beyond all recognition.
A report by Ofsted two years ago said it had made excellent improvement.
Almost a quarter of the pupils there now leave with 5 GCSEs at A to C and its continuing to improve and they’ve had their first Oxbridge entrant – tell that to Gordon Brown.
So what happened to turn this school around?
I’ll tell you.
We got rid of interference by local politicians and bureaucrats and replaced them with strong leadership from the head.
We made sure that teachers had the freedom to use their creativity and excellence to inspire the children.
The school has now developed its own distinct set of values. It has a strict code of discipline, it has its own uniform – a symbol of pride in the school – and it is now extremely proud of its sporting achievements.
Above all there is a real sense of team spirit among the staff, the pupils and their parents.
It is these things that make schools a success.
But Labour has already scrapped the school’s grant maintained status – putting it back under the LEA. And we can be sure that a second Labour term would mean further attacks on all that this and other schools like it have achieved.
Conservatives on the other hand want to make sure that all schools can benefit from freedom from political interference.
That’s what we mean when we say we will set all schools free.
Free Schools will be able to control their own destiny and as with grant maintained schools the quality of life for all in the school will improve. In Free Schools we will see heads, teachers, other staff and governors blossoming as they are able to use their expertise and judgement directly to innovate, to raise standards, to inspire pupils and to make a real difference to the education of children.
Free Schools mean that, once again, heads will be allowed to enforce discipline in their schools. They will be allowed to exclude pupils who are disrupting the education of the majority of pupils.
This Government is stifling the creativity and excellence of our teachers. Today they are form-fillers. Teachers will be teachers under the Conservatives.
Free Schools will mean not only that teachers are allowed to teach, but also that money that is currently wasted on bureaucracy will go directly to schools. Getting money out of central and local government direct to schools will mean on average £540 extra per pupil per year.
Labour are all spin and no delivery.
They promised much before the last general election. They have delivered rising class sizes, a national crisis of teacher shortages and schools on a four day week.
We have listened to parents, teachers and pupils all over the country.
They’re fed up with Labour and they know its time for common sense policies.
Education needs a government that trusts teachers and parents, that understands that children are different and their education should reflect their needs, that recognises that education is valuable in its own right and wants all to have the opportunity to develop their full potential.
Above all we need a government that will set schools free, let teachers teach and give our children the education they need and deserve.
Conservatives are ready to deliver.