Schools for the future

As the UK seeks to set itself back on the path to prosperity, nothing matters more for the future strength of our economy and society than education. It is the primary driver of social mobility. It is essential for strong economic growth. Now, more than ever, the outlook for the country rests on its education system.

Successful schools across the country, some of whose leaders join us today, show what can be achieved. Yet more than half of all 16 year olds still leave school without a decent set of qualifications. Englands performance in the international school league tables gets ever less impressive. We have a narrower and shallower curriculum than our international competitors.

Before the general election, all three Parties identified some of the problems still facing the system today. Labour acknowledged the need to get more, better teachers into schools. The Conservatives emphasised the importance of genuine school choice. The Liberal Democrats rightly observed that the poorest are often still left behind. These issues inform our agenda today.

To secure the future of the English education system, a number of key questions still need to be answered. Should there be a core in the education system followed by all pupils and if so, what should it be? How can quality teaching best be supported and how can we improve the quality of teaching in schools? How can schools continue to deliver in an era of falling budgets? Is it possible to deliver school choice without extra cost? Can education avoid the trap of league tables in trying to move from input-based to output-based measures of success?

It is clear that, for all the progress that has been made, the system is still not delivering for those most in need. Children on free school meals are half as likely to get five good GCSEs as those who are not. And while there have been substantial increases in university participation among the least advantaged 40 per cent of young people compared to the mid-1990s, the participation rate among the same group of young people at the top third of selective universities has remained almost flat over the same period.

The new Government has made encouraging steps in its early days, freeing more schools from local authority control, allowing parents to set up new schools and giving heads more freedom over curriculum and teachers pay. These changes alone will not create great schools for the future. But teachers and parents have a rare opportunity to take advantage of the reforms that are currently being introduced. If they can seize this chance to reshape the education system, English schools can do even more to help those most in need, and to build the future the UK needs and its children deserve.