Tony Blair – 1999 Speech on Education Action Zones


Below is the text of the speech made by Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, on 15 January 1999.

NB – the original numbers have been lost from the transcript.

I am delighted to be with you this morning – to see at first hand the good progress you are making in your school and the wider community through your Education Action Zone. And to launch the second round of EAZs nationwide – which have a key role to play in equipping Britain with a world class education service for the 21st century.

I cannot repeat too often that education is this Government’s top priority.

It is central to everything we stand for – making our nation strong and competitive, enlarging opportunity, building successful families and responsible citizens, and eliminating social exclusion.

That’s why we have launched an unprecedented crusade to raise standards. Why we have set ambitious attainment targets for every level of education. Why we are modernising the teaching profession. Why we have launched the New Deal to improve school buildings – from which more than 2,000 schools have already benefited.

Above all, it’s why we took the tough choices needed to re-order government spending so that education could get an extra � billion over the next three years – the best deal education has ever got from the national budget.

This �bn is not a cost, but an investment in our country’s future. It is an investment tied to clear goals. To make good schools beacons of excellence. To turn poor and mediocre schools into good schools. To make children of all backgrounds enjoy learning and achieve their highest potential.

Education Action Zones are a key part of our new investment.

EAZs are local partnerships to raise standards. We don’t have a national blueprint – what matters is what works. We are keen to see EAZs pioneer new approaches to learning and achievement, for the benefit of their own communities and as an example to others.

I know you are taking that mission seriously here in Blackburn. And I congratulate everyone involved in the zone for their energy and commitment.

I have just seen how new ‘whiteboard’ technology – a giant interactive computer screen – can promote new links between teachers and pupils, schools and businesses, and between different schools. The pupils working with engineers from British Aerospace on designing new products are learning skills of real benefit to their future lives and careers.

This is only one of many projects in your EAZ. I was particularly interested to hear about your early intervention team to tackle barriers to learning on housing estates, working with a dedicated Youth Offending Team.

Breaking down barriers is one of our toughest challenges:

  • Cultural barriers that make too many children think that success at school isn’t for them.
  • Bureaucratic barriers between different state and local agencies which have a shared remit for the welfare of young people
  • The barriers between the public and private sectors – between schools and employers, in particular.

Progress will only come from working together. Companies need successful schools in their area, and EAZs are an historic opportunity to play a part in forging them.

When people say ‘keep business out of schools’ I say: ‘the more support and involvement of the wider community – including business – in our schools, the better.’Schools and colleges should be working closely with employers to ensure that young people leave with the right skills and aspirations. The voluntary sector also has a larger role to play.

So I wish you every success as you take forward your EAZ in Blackburn.

Today we are inviting bids for the second round of EAZs. Our expectations are high. Let me emphasise three points.

First, we stand ready to make another significant investment. But we are looking for committed partnerships between schools, businesses and parent and community groups. By committed partnerships, I mean partnerships offering strong local leadership and clear goals.

Second, EAZs are about raising standards dramatically. They are not about innovation for its own sake, or for topping up budgets, but about projects closely targeted on raising achievement within a defined period, particularly in schools which need support over and above that which they are already receiving.

We therefore expect bids to pay attention to achievement targets agreed nationally and locally – not least our targets for raising attainment in English and maths at 11, for improving success rates across the board at GCSE, for cutting truancy and non-attendance, and for promoting participation post-16.

This is not an exclusive list, of course. Plenty of other areas merit attention – for example, projects to encourage very able and talented children to achieve their full potential.

We also expect that many bidders will wish to take forward proposals in the Teaching Green Paper to ensure the highest quality of teaching and leadership in our schools. We are looking for concrete proposals to raise standards – and evidence that they are likely to work.

Third, the role of Local Education Authorities. One of our key principles is that intervention in schools should be in inverse proportion to success. That includes intervention by both central government and by LEAs.

Within this framework, as David Blunkett said last week, we are keen to see modern and effective LEAs help weaker schools raise standards. LEAs which rise to this challenge have an important role to play – including a partnership role in Education Action Zones, as in Blackburn.

But we want LEAs to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Where this isn’t the case, we think it right that schools and other interested parties should be able to forge their own EAZ partnerships.

Partnership is the key. But partnership to modernise – not partnership to drift.

David Blunkett and I have always been clear about our intentions. New investment in our schools. A new voice for education at the heart of government. Bold measures such as EAZs to energise local communities.

But all for a purpose. To raise standards. To eliminate failure. To give us a world class education service, transforming the prospects of our young people.

I know you share that goal. We must work together to achieve it.