Lucy Powell speech to Labour party conference

Posted On: 
30th September 2015

Conference - I’m delighted to stand before you as Labour’s new Shadow Education Secretary.

Look Conference, there is a secret I need to let you in on. There is an old school network at play in the new shadow cabinet as Lisa Nandy and I went to the same school.

So whilst the Tory cabinet has the Eton boys, I’m proud to say that Labour’s has the Parrs Wood girls.

A good education shouldn’t be a privilege - it is every child’s right.

I’m passionate about this job. I've got three kids, one in secondary school, one in primary and one in nursery. All good local state schools - and none of them the subject of marital disagreement.

Education is at the heart of Labour’s vision for a better society.

There is no more important investment a country can make.

No better route to reducing inequality, raising aspirations, or creating a productive economy.

No better way to give every child a great start in life.

That’s why my mission is to put education at the heart of Labour’s offer to the country in 2020.

Conference. Tory thinking on education is dead.

In Nicky Morgan we have a Secretary of State who hasn’t had a new idea in a long time.

The Tories are stuck in old ideological thinking. To them, the name above the door of a school matters more than the teaching that goes on in the classroom.

They see academisation as the silver bullet to school improvement.

Conference they are wrong.

Labour’s sponsored academy programme did a huge amount to transform a small number of failing schools in disadvantaged areas - and brought much needed investment, support and innovation. It’s a legacy we should be proud of. 

But it was never about turning all schools into academies. There is no evidence that acadamisation, in and of itself, leads to school improvement. But the Tories' fixation has led to a centralised schools landscape, where the Education Secretary personally tries, and fails, to run thousands of schools from her desk in Whitehall. 

At the same time we are rightly seeing a huge devolution of other public services. In my own area of Manchester, we will be using these powers to tackle the deep root causes of low attainment. That schools are outside this devolution revolution is just wrongheaded.

So that’s why I’m clear - we will ensure there is strong local oversight and accountability of all schools.

Local authorities will be able to ensure sufficient places and fair admissions, and have the ability to intervene in any school that is failing. I want to encourage collaboration in communities of schools and for all schools to work with their local communities to drive up standards.

Let me also be clear. There will be no more Free Schools and academy chains will made accountable.

It’s not political heresy to say all this. It is the right thing to do.

But we now need to move the debate on from structures and onto the things that matter most in our education system;

driving up standards for all children;

raising aspirations;

and equipping young people with the skills and attributes to succeed in the modern economy.

We will address the challenges of tomorrow, not the dogma of today.

Blinded by their political positioning on free schools, the Tories have totally failed to address the big challenges facing education.

The chronic shortage of teachers.

The widening attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

The ever growing crisis in school places.

A failure to deliver their promises on childcare and Sure Start.

And the deepest, most severe cuts to post-16 education that we’ll have ever seen.

Instead they seem to be focusing their energies on bringing back the eleven plus with new grammar schools.

Not only is this the wrong approach but the evidence is really clear. Grammar schools do nothing for social mobility.

With hot housing and private tuition pervasive, it’s no wonder that just 3 per-cent of kids on free school meals attend grammar schools.  

That’s the sort of social mobility the Tories love - a tiny minority allowed to join their elite.

Our ambition is so much greater.

That’s why I’ll fiercely contest any moves by the Tory government to go down this road.

Conference my task over the coming period is two-fold.

We will develop Labour policy through partnership and collaboration underpinned by evidence.

And the relentless mission of my team and I - Nic Dakin, Pat Glass, Sharon Hodgson, Gordon Marsden and Jess Phillips - is to hold the government to account on the issues where they are wholly failing.

Teacher recruitment. Botched.

Teacher retention. In freefall.

Teacher shortages. Dangerously high.

Conference, doing down the profession, constantly changing the goal posts and ignoring the views of the workforce doesn’t encourage good teachers to stay in post. They are leaving in droves and it’s our children who are paying the price.

Add to this the ever growing school places crisis.

The government’s basic duties to provide a school place and teachers to teach are being wilfully neglected. It’s no wonder there’s a crisis in school places when local authorities have neither the means or the resources to open or expand good schools. This, we will change.

I’m proud that childcare was at the centre of this year’s general election. But I won’t let the Tory government get away with breaking its promise on more free childcare.

Investment in, and focus on, post-16 education is vital for young people getting decent jobs and for creating a productive economy. It’s perverse that under this government we are likely to see up to 40 per cent cuts in post-16 provision, leading to the closure of many good Sixth Forms and colleges.

I don’t intend to sit on the sidelines. We will make a difference.

On free schools meals we’ve already won a small victory this week. But let’s be clear this puts further pressures on early years and post-16 education.

So conference, we’ve got a lot to do.

I make you this promise as your Shadow Education Secretary, as someone from a family of teachers and as a mum.

Our Labour values at the heart of education policy.

A relentless focus on standards so every child can fulfil their potential.

Collaboration as the route to success.

Tackling inequality so that no child is left behind.

High expectations, high standards and excellence for all.