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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
In full: Blair's education speech
Tony Blair trailed his new plans for schools in England with a speech in Downing Street on Monday. Here is the full text of what he said.

Go to your local school. You can see the progress in the buildings, in the computers and the results. But it is not good enough. Not for Britain; not for the modern world.

Now I want us to lift our ambitions. We will continue to put more money into our schools, and complete the reforms we began so that in time we have a system of independent, self-governing state schools, with fair funding and fair admissions, but driven above all by the needs of pupils, wishes of parents and the dynamism of our best teachers.

The Ofsted report into teaching and the recent batches of school results show both the progress achieved and the challenge ahead.

We must do better to tackle the pockets of deep educational disadvantage

Ofsted found that standards in teaching had significantly improved - good or better teaching in primary schools rising from 45per cent in 1997 to 74per cent last year and from 59 per cent to 78per cent in secondary schools.

Ofsted said this gives grounds for what it called "cautious optimism". Of course, at the same time, it still found teaching in 1 in 4 schools was only satisfactory or poor.

We have had the best primary school, GCSE and 'A' level results ever. Now, around three quarters of children reach the expected grade in their literacy and numeracy tests.

It is true that if you break down literacy into reading and writing, the result is that only 57 per cent passed all three tests. But that is up from 43 per cent in 1997.

In other words, in eight years, the proportion of success to failure has been turned around.

It is also true that if you only measure five good GCSEs that include both English and maths, the proportion passing at 16 is 44 per cent rather than 56 per cent; but in 1997, it was only 35 per cent.

Take London. In 1997, 94 schools had less than 25 per cent of pupils getting five good GCSEs, and only 36 in the whole of London secondary education, achieving over 70 per cent five good GCSEs.

In 2004, only 17 schools had less than 25 per cent of pupils getting five good GCSEsand92 now getting over 70per cent. Again, radical turnaround for the better.

So despite our critics' desire to focus relentlessly on the negative, the picture is clear: there has been sustained improvement.

Moreover, almost any visit to almost any school will reveal the effect of the huge extra investment in buildings and equipment, together with over 30,000 extra teachers and 130,000 extra teaching assistants.

And there are 60 per cent more applicants for secondary teacher training in just six years, thanks to much better pay and radical initiatives such as Teach First.

But if the critics should accept the improvement, we must accept the challenge. We must do better.

We must do better to tackle the pockets of deep educational disadvantage; do better in lifting schools from average to good; do better in enabling more good schools to become genuine centres of excellence, giving as good an education in the state sector as anyone can buy in the private school system.

To do that, we have to take the reforms so far, learn from them and then complete the process of change.

That reform has led to improvement is, in my view, irrefutable. Literacy and numeracy strategies worked. There has been step change at primary level. Specialist schools, denounced at the time, have now consistently outperformed traditional comprehensives. The early results of City Academies are immensely promising. The Excellence in Cities programme turned round many of the worst examples of inner city failure.

But what can we learn from reform; what works and what doesn't; what is it necessary to do, to take the logic of the reforms presently in place, to their completion?

In answering those questions, it helps to set the reforms in education in the wider context of public service reform. In 1997, the public services were declining. Underinvestment was stark. This is not propaganda. It's fact.

Over half of the hospital buildings were pre the formation of the NHS. Schools were often in a terrible state of disrepair. Far too few nurses, doctors and teachers were being trained. Their pay had fallen way behind private sector equivalents. Waiting lists had risen by over 400,000. Some school results were getting better but very incrementally.

To be fair, there were genuine attempts at reform. But they only ever touched a small minority and through the incentives given, often accentuated inequalities in provision rather than ameliorated them.

For example GP fund-holding worked well for some practices but created a two-tier system that hugely disadvantaged others. GM [grant maintained] schools only covered 18 per cent of secondary schools and 3 per cent of primary schools and on both funding and admissions, where special privileges were given, created a real sense of anger amongst other less fortunate schools, needlessly creating a two-tier system.

In particular, the reforms did not tackle chronic failure. The number of failing schools in 1997/8 was 515. Thousands of people waited over 15 months for their operation, tens of thousands over a year.

So whereas there were elements of the reforms - greater powers for the frontline - that were welcome - they were seriously flawed because they helped the few at the expense of the many and developed within a culture of neglect and underinvestment where failure for some was seen as inevitable.

Since 1997, there have been two stages of reform. In the first, we corrected the underinvestment and drove change from the centre. This was necessary. For all the difficulty, without targets for waiting, for A&E, for school results, we would not have got the real and genuine improvements in performance.

In particular, we would never have dealt with chronic failure. In 2005, the number of failing schools is 238. From December no-one waits more than 6months on an in-patient waiting list.

In the second stage, essentially begun in 2001, we added another dimension. We started to open the system up to new influences and introduced the beginnings of choice and contestability.

We brought in the first wave of independent sector procurement in healthcare; choice in cardiac care and bit by bit, into elective surgery. People used to wait two years for removing cataracts. The maximum now is three months.

In schooling, specialist schools all have external sponsors, on a small scale but nonetheless important in focussing the specialism, whether business, science, languages, art or sport.

City Academies are further along the spectrum, with the external partner fully engaged in the formation of the school. And Academies, of course, are specifically designed for the schools that are underperforming and failing; the beneficiaries being some of the poorest kids in the inner city.

We are now at the crucial point where the reforms can be taken to their final stage.

In the NHS, healthcare will remain free at the point of delivery, but there will be a system in which patients can choose to go to any part of the NHS able to treat them, and with freedom for the independent sector to compete in providing the service.

The aim is to deliver an 18 week maximum wait, not on an in-patient list but on the combined out and in-patient wait ie door of the GP to door of the operating theatre.

In our schools, as I shall go on to describe, the system will finally be opened up to real parent power.

All schools will be able to have Academy style freedoms. All schools will be able to take on external partners. No one will be able to veto parents starting new schools or new providers coming in, simply on the basis that there are local surplus places. The role of the LEA will change fundamentally.

There will be relentless focus on failing schools to turn them round. Ofsted will continue to measure performance albeit with a lighter touch.

But otherwise the schools will be accountable not to government at the centre or locally but to parents, with the creativity and enterprise of the teachers and school leaders set free.

In both the NHS and in education, there will in one sense be a market. The patient and the parent will have much greater choice. But it will only be a market in the sense of consumer choice, not a market based on private purchasing power.

And it will be a market with rules. Personal wealth won't buy you better NHS service. The funding for schools will be fair and equal no matter what their status; and there will be no return to selection aged 11.

The reforms will naturally come under sustained attack. The right will say they don't go far enough. They will say there should be top-up vouchers in health and a free for all on selection in schools, with the LEA abolished.

Both would lead to inequity.

Parts of the left will say we are privatising public services and giving too much to the middle class.

Again both criticisms are wrong and simply a version of the old "levelling down" mentality that kept us in Opposition for so long.

The purpose of the reforms is to create a modern education system and a modern NHS where within levels of investment at last coming up to the average of our competitors, real power is put in the hands of those who use the service the patient and the parent; where the changes becoming self-sustaining; the system, open, diverse, flexible able to adjust and adapt to the changing world.

Where parents are dissatisfied, they need a range of good schools to choose from; or where there is no such choice, able to take the remedy into their own hands.

Where business, the voluntary sector, philanthropy, which in every other field is an increasing part of our national life, wants to play a key role in education and schools want them to, they can. Where local employers feel local schools aren't meeting local skill needs, they can get involved.

The system is being empowered to make change. The centre will provide the resources and enable local change-makers to work the change. We will set the framework and make the rules necessary for fairness. Where there is chronic failure, we will intervene.

But the state's role will be strategic; as the system evolves, its hand will be lifted, except to help where help is needed. Our aim, explicitly, is to combine the drive for excellence, often associated with the right in politics, with the insistence that opportunity be open to all, the basic principles of the political left, in a public service system where the relationship between Government and people is one of partnership; not central control or laissez-faire.

Let us set education reform directly in the line of the history of schooling in Britain.

History of education reform

Prior to the introduction of universal secondary schooling in 1944, there was no real right to education, at least beyond the primary phase.

But while education became universal, it was also unequal. The forgotten reality is that grammar schools denied choice to the vast majority of parents.

They catered well for the brightest students, but the 80 per cent of children who failed the 11 plus usually had to go to secondary moderns which failed to challenge them and where few achieved qualifications.

Until the sixties, only 15 per cent got five O levels and 5per cent of young people went on to university.

That's why pressure - initially from middle class parents angry about secondary modern standards - led to comprehensives in the 1960s and 1970s.

Local authority efforts to create equity often produced deadening uniformity, with child-centred learning and a rigid adherence to mixed ability teaching too often failing to raise expectations and meet basic standards.

Jim Callaghan recognised all this as Prime Minister in 1976 when he urged a National Curriculum to ensure a basic entitlement for all.

When it was introduced in the late eighties, it was accompanied by greater accountability through national testing and regular independent inspection.

Schools were also encouraged to apply for grant-maintained status, where they had more freedom over their assets and staffing.

But the Conservative government undermined this policy when they allowed unfair admissions and unfair funding.

And their failure to invest in education allowed real terms spending on schools to fall during the mid-nineties.

Re-energising secondary education

We sought to re-energise secondary education in a post-comprehensive system, by encouraging every secondary school to aim for specialist status, a process that has meant their setting challenging targets for improvement and developing a clear mission, with the support of external sponsors.

Grant-maintained schools kept their key freedoms as foundation schools, while all schools were given greater financial independence.

Academies were introduced in the areas of greatest challenge, harnessing the drive of external sponsors and strong school leadership to bring new hope to our most disadvantaged areas.

These structural changes were backed by radical reforms of teaching to help deliver a more personalised education for young people.

Through Excellence in Cities, we funded learning mentors and advanced classes for gifted and talented youngsters.

To help teachers address disciplinary problems, we greatly increased the places in off-site pupil referral units and on-site learning support units.

As I said earlier, crucially, these reforms were supported by an unprecedented level of investment in better teachers' pay; more support staff; new computers, new facilities; and new buildings.

Schools have access to twice as many computers, as well as new interactive whiteboards and broadband technology.

Investment in school buildings has risen six-fold.

An improving school system

What is important to schools - specialist, Academy or Foundation - that are doing well is their ethos, their sense of purpose, the strength of their leaders, teachers and support staff, the motivation of their parents and pupils.

The best state schools share these characteristics. But many would also like to go further: to develop new freedoms and strong relationships with sponsors.

  • From next year, schools will be able to plan ahead with a dedicated schools grant separate from local authority funding - and its distribution must be agreed by local heads and governors.

  • Ofsted has already begun new lighter touch which depend on schools taking more charge of their own destiny and standards.

  • And since August, all that has been required to become a foundation school is a simple vote of the governing body.

Self-governing independent state schools

What then should the schools system look like over the next five years?

Within two years, virtually every secondary school will be a specialist school.

We will have at least 200 Academies by 2010, with new opportunities to develop them wherever they can make a big difference.

The focus will remain on areas of real and historical underperformance and underachievement.

But Academies, as a legal model for independent state schools, could apply elsewhere, for example enabling independent schools to come into the state system on an agreed basis.

We need to make it easier for every school to acquire the drive and essential freedoms of Academies - and we need to so in a practical way that allows their rapid development to be driven by parents and local communities, not just by the centre.

Tomorrow's reforms will provide a logical and radical development of both the academy and the specialist school models - schools both independently managed and strongly distinctive, each with a powerful ethos and centre of excellence, offering wholly new choices and options.

Schools should not just play to their strengths, but be unafraid to present and market them to parents.

And this can mean developing national and regional educational 'brands' whether led by good schools like Thomas Telford, established educational charities like the Mercers or the United Learning Trust or linked to leading universities and business foundations.

If we are to enable every child to fulfil their potential, whatever their background, we must spread the benefits of such an approach widely, so that schools serving every community can build such links.

We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent state school - an opportunity not just open to a small number of schools, but to all who want it.

More power and choice for parents

And for parents that means:

  • It should be easier for them to replace the leadership or set up new schools where they are dissatisfied with existing schools

  • They should find it easy to complain where they are dissatisfied

  • They should have more practical information about their child's progress to realise potential

  • They should be able to exercise choice, whatever their background

  • And they should be more involved in decisions on issues like the curriculum, school meals and uniform

And with these rights comes an expectation that parents become much more engaged and interested in their children's education.

New system, new role for the local authority

And if parents are to have real power and choices, we must also open up the school system so that:

  • Good schools can rapidly expand and extend their influence

  • Independent schools can more easily join the state system parents can drive change where they want it

  • Failing schools are even more speedily turned around

  • Every school can quickly gain the freedoms they need to succeed

  • Every school has the freedom to work with new partners to help develop their ethos and raise standards

The best local authorities already increasingly see their primary role as championing parents and pupils rather than being a direct provider of education.

We need to see every local authority moving from provider to commissioner, so that the system acquires a local dynamism responsive to the needs of their communities and open to change and new forms of school provision.

This will liberate local authorities from too often feeling the need to defend the status quo, so that instead they become the champions of innovation and diversity, and the partner of local parents in driving continuous improvement.

Personalised lessons for pupils

Where schools have the right freedoms and flexibilities - underpinned by independent inspection - they can make a huge difference to the achievement and personal fulfilment of every youngster.

So there should be support for teachers and teaching assistants to work one-to-one with children who need extra help with literacy and numeracy.

There should be more advanced classes for the brightest youngsters.

And there should be renewed encouragement for setting by subject ability, which has already been extended since 1997.

Good discipline

But without good order and discipline in schools, it is impossible for teachers to teach and pupils to learn.

Schools have more on-site units to help them deal with disruptive pupils. There are more places, for longer hours, in off site pupil referral units.

But many schools still face real discipline challenges because there is too little consistency in dealing with poor behaviour, particularly the low level disruption to lessons that makes teaching and learning more difficult.

Moreover, some parents do not take their responsibilities seriously enough; and even question the teacher's right to discipline their child.

That's why Sir Alan Steer's discipline task force report is so important.

Teachers must have the clear and unambiguous right to discipline children.

Every school should have its own clear discipline code, actively and fairly enforced.

And parents must take their responsibilities seriously, and face sanctions where they don't.

Such reforms will create and sustain irreversible change for the better in schools....

Over the last 50 years, state education has improved. And that improvement has accelerated in the last eight years.

But successive reforms since the war have not always delivered all that they aimed to deliver.

What is different this time is that we have learned what works. We have the experience of successful schools.

What we must see now is a system of independent state schools, underpinned by fair admissions and fair funding, where parents are equipped and enabled to drive improvement, driven by the aspirations of parents.

We have pushed higher standards from the centre: for those standards to be maintained and built upon, they must now become self- sustaining to provide irreversible change for the better.

That is the challenge. We intend to meet it.




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