Charles Clarke – 2004 Speech on Five Year Children Strategy

Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Clarke, the then Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons in London on 8 July 2004.

Today, I am proud to publish the Government’s five-year strategy for education and skills and for children’s services.
Since 1997, substantial new investment and significant reform have brought education, skills and children’s services to the centre of our national life. A powerful alliance now exists for higher standards, embracing parents, our schools, colleges and universities, the voluntary sector, local authorities and employers. Improvements can be seen across the board: nursery education is now available for all three to four-year-olds; our 10-year-olds are among the best readers in the world; specialist schools are producing our best-ever results in secondary education; record numbers of young people are going on to university; and adults at work are gaining new skills.

That progress has reversed years of under-investment and complacency; but more than that, it has lifted expectations in communities all over the country where educational failure had become entrenched. People know that education provides the key to lifelong achievement, and they now believe that it can be for them and for their children. They are right to have those expectations, challenging though they are to all of us in Government. Most parents do not want good schooling to depend on the ability to pay or to be rationed by admissions to selective schools. For many years, a quality education was the prerogative of the few: it must now become the entitlement of all.

Five key principles of reform will underpin our drive for a step change in children’s services, education and training: first, greater personalisation and choice, with children, parents and learners centre stage; secondly, opening up services to new and different providers; thirdly, freedom and independence for front-line head teachers and managers, with more secure streamlined funding arrangements; fourthly, a major commitment to staff development, with very high-quality support and training; and fifthly, partnerships with parents, employers, local authorities and voluntary organisations to maximise the life chances of children, young people and adults.

Our five-year strategy is ambitious for children and learners at every stage of life. In the early years, all parents will be able to get one-stop support through children’s centres that provide a combination of child care, education, health and advice services, and there will be a flexible system of “educare” that joins up education and childcare to provide twelve and a half hours of free support a week for three to four-year-olds before they start school, with more choice for parents about when they use it. Local authorities will play a major new role, through children’s trusts, in joining up all local services for families and children.

In primary schools, we will continue to drive up standards in reading, writing, numeracy and science, but also to enrich the school curriculum and to give every child the chance to learn a foreign language and to take part in music and competitive sport. We will develop more dawn-to-dusk schools offering child care and after-school activities to help children and busy parents.

Those extended schools, as they are called, will combine with early years and with family learning providers to provide a genuine educational centre to every local community.

In secondary education, we will build on the achievements of the past seven years to increase freedoms and independence, accelerate the pace of reform in teaching and learning and extend choice and flexibility in the curriculum. Driving our reform will be a system of independent specialist schools—not a new category of school, but more independence for all schools.

Independence will be within a framework of fair admissions, full accountability and strong partnership. We will never return to a system based on selection of the few and rejection of the many. The strict national requirement for fair admissions will remain and we will not allow any extension of selection by ability.

We will put in place eight key reforms. First, real freedom for schools will come only with secure and predictable funding in the hands of head teachers. Every penny meant for schools must get to them. We will therefore introduce guaranteed three-year budgets for every school from 2006, geared to pupil numbers, with a minimum per pupil increase for every school each year. That dedicated schools budget will be guaranteed by national Government and delivered through local authorities. We will consult in the autumn on the practical arrangements and on ensuring there are no adverse effects for other local government services.

Secondly, we expect all secondary schools to become specialist schools with a centre of excellence. They will now be able to take on a second specialism. High-performing specialist schools could become training schools or leaders of partnerships.

Thirdly, every school will have a fast-tracked opportunity to move to foundation status, which will give them freedom to own their land and buildings, manage their assets, employ their staff, improve their governing bodies and forge partnerships with outside sponsors.

Fourthly, there will be more places in popular schools. There is no surplus places rule. We already enable popular and successful schools to expand—we have a special capital budget for that. Now we will speed up and simplify the means to do it. There will be more competitions for new schools, which will enable parents’ groups and others to open up schools.

Fifthly, a new relationship with schools will be established to cut red tape without abandoning our ambitious targets for school improvement or intervention in failing schools. We will halve the existing inspection burden on schools, with sharper short-notice inspection. Schools will have a single annual review carried out by a “school improvement partner”—typically, a serving head teacher from a successful school.

Sixthly, in areas where the education service has failed pupils and parents, sometimes for generations, we will provide for 200 independently managed city academies to be open or in the pipeline by 2010. About 60 of those new academies will be in London.

Seventhly, through the “Building Schools for the Future” programme, and a sevenfold increase in the capital budget for schools since 1997, we will refurbish or rebuild every secondary school to 21st century standards in the next 10 to 15 years.

Eighthly, foundation partnerships will enable schools to group together to raise standards and take on wider responsibilities, such as special educational needs or hard-to-place pupils.

Local authorities will play a key part as champions of pupils and parents, setting a strategic vision for services in their area, encouraging and enabling strong partnerships of schools, holding schools to account and intervening where standards are at risk.

In each school, every pupil should have the personalised teaching they need to succeed, backed by excellent training for teachers, a broad and rich curriculum and more sport, clubs, societies and trips. We will continue to crack down on truancy and poor behaviour wherever it occurs, giving new powers to schools and local authorities.

From the age of 14 onwards, there will be a much wider choice of subjects, with better vocational options delivered in close collaboration with employers, and the opportunity to start an apprenticeship at 14. There will be more choice after 16, with high-performing specialist schools opening more sixth forms where there are not enough.

There will be a new framework for the curriculum and qualifications following the Tomlinson review. I appreciate the Conservative party’s support in working with us. That will help the reform process. I also appreciate the strong support that the director general of the Confederation of British Industry gave yesterday for working together. That is a positive step.

In the autumn, we will publish a Green Paper on bringing together activities and services for young people. The structure of what is currently offered to young people is too complicated and unclear, and we will tackle that.

For adults developing their skills, there will be free tuition for basic skills and for those going on to level 2 qualifications, which is equivalent to five good GCSEs. There will be a leading role for employers through sector skills councils and a reformed further education sector, rewarding success and closing weak courses and colleges. For those going on to university, there will be grants for students who need them, an end to up-front fees and a fair system for graduates to contribute to the cost of their course. There will be foundation degrees in vocational subjects, designed with and for employers, and world-class research to maintain our leading edge, particularly in science and technology.

This ambitious programme of reform is backed by the further investment announced by the Chancellor in his Budget statement in April. Spending on education will rise by more than £11 billion to £58 billion by 2008 and—through the efficiency review and the 30 per cent. reduction in the Department’s main staff—will be focused more than ever on front-line services.

The dividing lines for the future of children and schools are clear: whether we select a few, or raise standards for all; whether there is no role for local authorities, or a new role for local authorities; whether we take funding out of public services, or put it in; whether there is freedom for all, or a free-for-all; and whether some children matter, or every child matters. On this side of the House, we have made our decision: for excellence, for opportunity, for choice, but, importantly, for all.