Nicky Morgan Tory conference speech
“Thank you conference.
Thank you Lawrence for the fantastic work you are doing to help young people back on the straight and narrow.
Thank you to Stephen and students from Redhill School, just one example of the talent, innovation and creativity that we see in our classrooms today.
Thank you to Amanda for your kind introduction and congratulations again on your stunning victory in May.
I want you to imagine a country.
Where 1 in 3 young people left primary school unable to read, write and add up properly.
You’d say that was a scandal.
Where the number of young people studying core academic subjects - subjects that would open doors to their future - had halved in 13 years.
You’d say that was an outrage.
Where vocational qualifications had been devalued, weren’t respected by employers and didn’t lead to a job.
You’d say that was wrong.
That country isn’t some far away land, it was this country and the education system we inherited in 2010 and, yes, it was a scandal, it was an outrage and it was wrong.
It’s a stark reminder of why we must never allow Labour to claim to be the party of fairness, of justice, or of opportunity.
That was the scale of the education challenge that we faced and it is a challenge that we have tackled head on.
Because education lies at the heart of what it means to be a Conservative.
Yes we’re a broad church.
But there are fundamental values that bind us together.
A belief in freedom, respect, responsibility.
And above everything else, what unites every Conservative is a belief in meritocracy.
That people’s success should be based on the efforts they put in, on the talents they develop and on the promise they show.
That commitment to meritocracy means nothing if we don’t give every child the chance to succeed.
And we follow in the proud tradition of Conservative Education Secretaries throughout history: Rab Butler, Margaret Thatcher, Ken Baker and of course my predecessor Michael Gove – all of us grasped the life transforming power of education.
For us social justice and One Nation are not just buzzwords. They explain all we’ve done and all we’re going to do to extend opportunity to every single child.
Now, I hold not one but two jobs in Government.
You know what they say “if you want a job done well ask a busy man”.
You might also say “if you want two jobs done well ask a busy woman.”
And it’s the same philosophy – the belief that everyone should have the same chances in life - that underpins my other job as Minister for Women and Equalities.
Equality for us isn’t about quotas, pink vans or separate train carriages.
Instead, it’s about that core Conservative philosophy which says the fact that you happen to be a woman, to be gay, to be from an ethnic minority, should never be a barrier to you achieving your all.
And unlike the Labour Party we practise what we preach. Because women are the backbone of this party and unlike Jeremy Corbyn we have put them at the forefront of this Government.
That belief in equality of opportunity has been our guiding principle for the past five years.
And I want to thank my team, Nick Gibb, Nick Boles, Edward Timpson, John Nash, Sam Gyimah, Caroline Dinenage as well as Margot James, Robin Walker, Anne Marie Morris, Stephen Metcalfe and Natalie Evans for everything they’re doing to realise it.
Look at what we have achieved.
We’ve raised the bar on standards in schools with a rigour revolution:
- An end to qualifications that employers and universities didn’t value and to the grade inflation that wrecked confidence in our exams.
- A tough new national curriculum that fosters a love for literature, a grasp of arithmetic and an appreciation of our history.
- 120,000 more six year olds on track to become confident readers thanks to our focus on phonics, and record numbers of 11 year olds mastering the 3Rs.
We’ve taken politicians and bureaucrats out of our classrooms. With:
- 3000 heads in good and outstanding schools trusted with the freedom to run those schools.
- 1000 failing schools transformed under the leadership of strong sponsors.
- More than 300 free schools set up by parents, teachers and community groups who demanded more than what they were offered.
We’ve been relentless in our focus on the young people most at risk of being left behind by:
- Speeding up the adoption process to help young people find a loving home and;
- Providing joined up support for children with special educational needs and their parents.
And we’re backing working parents by offering them 30 hours of free high quality childcare.
Because the focus of my department shouldn’t be ‘stakeholders’ or vested interests. It should be young people and their parents.
I am proud of everything we’ve done to put parents in the driving seat. Parents should be demanding of us. They should insist on the highest standards and expect to receive them.
So today we’re going to give more working parents something the best schools already do.
We will be giving families in thousands of schools a ‘right to request’ their school provides childcare for a full working day, before and after school and during the school holidays.
If enough parents call for childcare at their local school, we will expect the school to take reasonable steps to accommodate it, in a way that works for them.
Because we want working parents to have the confidence their child is in a happy and safe environment.
But for everything we’ve done as a Government, nothing would have been possible without the hard work of heads, teachers, school staff, social workers and governors.
We owe them the deepest debt of gratitude.
It’s through them the real revolution has taken place in schools across the country.
Schools like Corby Technical School which had over 400 applications for just 75 places.
They’ve used their freedom over the curriculum to focus on subjects like engineering and electronics, the very skills our economy needs.
Schools like School 21- an outstanding free school. The head teacher Peter Hyman, told me about how he swapped frontline Labour politics for frontline teaching.
Guess which one is more rewarding?
You may have guessed from the name, but this school’s mission is to prepare its pupils for life in the 21st century, building attributes like “grit” and “spark”.
It’s no wonder they have a persistent absence rate of just 1%. And as we know, turning up to school is the first step to a successful future. That’s why the Prime Minister announced new measures earlier today to tackle truancy - because we want all students to have the chance that School 21 offers.
And schools like Whitefield Infant and Nursery school in Pendle, where 90% of pupils speak English as a second language, but despite that challenge, they are rated Outstanding across the board: on teaching, behaviour, leadership and on achievement.
What unites all of these schools is that when you walk through the door the first thing they talk about is where their students are going, not where they’ve come from.
And they show there isn’t a one size fits all way of running a school.
Lord Adonis realised that when he started the sponsored academy programme.
We saw how that policy allowed inspirational heads like Sir Michael Wilshaw and Dame Sally Coates to turn schools which had been failing for decades, into beacons of educational excellence.
Not just raising standards in their individual schools, but giving new hope for the future to whole communities.
Which is why we supercharged that approach.
And nowhere more than in education do we see the fundamental difference between ourselves and the Labour Party.
They will never understand why a parent shouldn’t just settle for the school they’re offered, regardless of whether it’s any good.
They don’t understand why a head teacher would want the freedom to run their school in the way that works best for their pupils.
They don’t understand that their tolerance of low standards and belief in prizes for all, is nothing more than the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Simply put the Labour Party doesn’t get aspiration.
And you don’t have to take my word for it, take Lord Prescott’s, who said this summer - aspiration “what the hell does that mean”.
And so I wasn’t surprised to hear Lucy Powell’s first announcement as Shadow Education Secretary.
A pledge to reverse all we’ve done to empower heads and teachers, a pledge to place all schools back under the straightjacket of control by local authority bureaucrats.
But then what more should we expect from the person whose major contribution to politics in the last six months has been the EdStone.
But where Labour wants to turn back the clock; our eyes must be firmly focused on the future.
We must champion the interests of children and parents.
Because children get one shot at education and we owe it to them to give them the best one.
I’m reminded of a school visit I took earlier this year.
So many of my visits are inspiring and wonderful, but one comment from this particular visit has stuck with me:
It was the head teacher who turned to me and said “at my last school the kids would only ever be judged requires improvement”.
I’ll admit I was taken off guard, momentarily speechless. But I quickly became very angry.
How can we say that someone’s child, just because of where they’re born or where they go to school, can never hope to be outstanding?
As a mother, I think about how I’d feel if someone said that about my child.
I think it is a tragedy of lost opportunity for that child and for our country.
And I will not rest until that attitude is stamped out in all of our schools.
When I say we want educational excellence everywhere, I mean everywhere.
And I am determined to use the coming years to root out poor education wherever it lurks.
That is why we introduced a new Education Bill within weeks of the election.
Not only to speed up the time it takes to turn around failing schools.
But to shine a spotlight on those schools which have been coasting.
Schools, and many of them are in our leafy suburbs – that are getting results that are just ok, when they could be doing so much better.
And that is just the start.
It’s a well versed truth, that no education system can be better than the quality of its teachers.
I say without hesitation, that teaching is the noblest of professions.
Because teachers have in their hands the power to shape the destiny of thousands of young people.
We all remember the teacher who had a life changing impact on our own lives.
I certainly do.
The teacher who encouraged me to believe in myself, to challenge the status quo and to push boundaries, the teacher without whom I wouldn’t be standing here today.
Thank you Mrs Thynne.
But we need more of them - especially in our coastal towns and rural areas - too many of which struggle to attract great teachers.
Which is why we are working to ensure that schools in need of fantastic teachers and strong leaders get both.
And let me also say this:
In every school visit I do, I meet teachers who come into the profession through a range of backgrounds, at every stage of their career.
And if you are thinking about becoming a teacher we will help you to achieve that dream, so you can join the thousands of outstanding teachers, nurturing the next generation.
And that conference is what our education reforms are all about - the next generation.
There is no greater investment that we can make in the future of this country than an excellent education for all.
It’s what makes our country fair.
It’s what makes our country wise.
It’s what makes our country great.
It was once said that education is the ‘lighting of a fire.
Let us be the spark.
We've made huge strides in the past five years - a million more pupils now in good or outstanding schools.
Now let’s turn to the next million – and inspire them to achieve their all.
Let us make education our national mission.
For our children.
For our families.
For the security of our country.