From education to employment

Bridget Phillipson’s speech at Labour Conference

Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, speaking at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool.

Thank you, Jayne, and thank you, Conference.

Growing up in the North East in the 1990s, it was teachers and support staff like Jayne, who not only gave me an amazing education, but in doing so, taught me so much about why education matters.

They saw the value and worth, in each and every one of us.

And I never forget, that I am standing here today, above all, because I was lucky.

Lucky, to have a family filled with love.

Lucky, to have a school that cared.

And today I have the amazing good fortune, to be Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, with a fantastic team of shadow ministers around me.

Helen, Matt, Seema, Catherine, and in the Lords, Fiona, Debbie and Glenys.

But Conference, it goes to the heart of all our values, that life should not come down to luck.

That opportunity belongs to everyone.

That the role of government is to extend opportunity – fundamentally to extend freedoms – to each of us, and to all of us.

Freedom from fear, from ignorance, from illness.

Freedom from insecurity, from injustice and from poverty.

Freedom to achieve and to succeed, to learn and enjoy, to take part and to speak out.

These are the opportunities which for 13 years, this government has ripped away.

Those are the freedoms our children deserve, and it is the future which once again a Labour government will give them.

Conference, I joined Labour not simply because I knew Britain could be better, not just because I shared Labour’s values. No.

I joined Labour, 25 years ago this autumn, because I had seen what the Tories did to our country.

Then as now, the public realm literally crumbling around the next generation.

And because I saw with my own eyes, a Labour government making Britain better.

Year by year, step by step. We did it then, and we will do it again.

And just as life shouldn’t come down to luck, government cannot be left to chance.

It’s why Keir has set out, the five missions we will take, from opposition into government.

Because to be Labour is to believe, that the future is something we shape together, not face alone.

Conference, our missions speak to that ambition, that determination, that faith in our collective strength.

Rising growth. Falling crime. Healthier lives. Greener energy.

And the greatest of all, a determination that for each of us, and for all of us, background will be no barrier to opportunity.

And education is the key to that.

Now, I don’t need to remind you, that we see every day, how 13 years of Conservative failure means children’s backgrounds aren’t just limiting their opportunities.

It’s worse than that.

Conference, for too many children, across too much of our country, their backgrounds are ravaging their opportunities, all their lives long.

I tell you, it breaks my heart.

It starts with our smallest children.

The Tories have committed to slashing staffing and standards in early years childcare, and they have no plan for early education at all.

And as children grow, when school begins, the gaps widen just as the curriculum narrows.

Because for our children, the teachers aren’t there, aren’t qualified, or it isn’t their subject. The buildings are turning to dust.

Just on Friday, we found out the Conservatives had botched next year’s schools budget. By a staggering £370 million.

The mess that the next Labour government is going to have to sort out in education simply beggars belief.

Conference, every parent wants the best for their children. Every parent. Not just those who can afford it.

Aspiration and ambition are for everyone, and so too must be excellence and opportunity.

And I understand why parents worry about the education that the Tories are prepared to offer our children.

Parents want their children to read and write, to master maths.

But they want a lot more than that.

They want their children to learn about the joy of life too: to delight in music, to enjoy sport, to experience the beauty of art, and to know the wonder of science.

They want their children confident, ready to speak up and speak out.

They want them to carry a love of learning, right throughout life, that sets them up to achieve and thrive.

Conference, I want those standards, those expectations, those dreams, for every child.

Because I worry that for too many children, the fire that education should kindle in every mind, it doesn’t start, or it doesn’t catch.

The Prime Minister talks about extending maths to 18.

But if young people hate maths at 16, it’s just too late.

These problems need to be tackled early, not left to fester.

Apprenticeships down. Qualification reforms, botched then junked. A levy on employers that doesn’t deliver for companies or communities, for individuals or for our economy. Other people’s children. Our children, not theirs.

Again, with universities.

Degrees are for their children, not ours: it’s never their kids’ choices or chances, that they’re keen to wind back.

Student debt for nurses, for young people starting out, looking to buy a home and build a family – not their problem. Other people’s children.

The Education Secretary has made their ethic her motto: “nothing to do with me”.

Conference, I tell you, we will change every part of it, and we will change it for good.

In every part of our system, in every year of children’s lives, in every corner of our country, Labour will be the party of high and rising standards.

Conference, we know what the private schools lobby think of our ambition. They were arrogant enough to write it down. ‘Chippy’.

And if they or anyone else doubt my determination to deliver on our dream, then I have a message for them.

Chippy people make the change that matters. I will make the change that matters.

Together we will make the change the matters.

We will end the tax breaks that private schools enjoy to deliver high and rising standards, in every school for every child.

Now, Conference, our ambition starts, as education starts, at the beginning of all our lives: our childcare system must be about life chances for children, as well as work choices for parents.

That is why I am determined that new investment in childcare comes with ambitious reform, to ensure early education is available in every corner of our country for every family and every child.

To drive up standards for our youngest children and lift up the amazing people who support and teach them.

It’s why we’ll end restrictions on councils delivering childcare.

It’s why today I’m announcing that Sir David Bell, former primary school teacher, and former Chief Inspector of Schools, will leadLabour’s work, to develop the Early Years Plan.

The next generation deserve, to bring high and rising standards, for the workforce we need, for the qualifications they’ll have, for the settings where it’ll happen, for the education they’ll give, to deliver our ambition for a modernised childcare system, supporting families from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school.

Conference, high and rising standards cannot just be for families who can afford them.

I want them for my children. For your children. For all of our children.

That’s why as children start at primary school, we’ll deliver breakfast clubs to start each day, funded by closing tax loopholes for the global super-rich.

It’s why we’ll roll out early interventions to transform children’s speech and language skills, and tackle the attainment gap, in settings across our country.

It’s why, we’ll bring in the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, because we know it’s support staff, as well as teachers, who will deliver the change our children need, and Labour will value and respect them just as much.

And it’s why I’m proud to tell you today, that we’ll tackle our chronic cultural problem with maths, by making sure it’s better taught at six, never mind 16.

The last Labour government began a revolution in reading standards, a revolution still unfolding in our schools.

It’s past time, we brought that same focus to maths.

One in four of our children leave primary school without the maths they need. That is a disaster.

Maths is the language of the universe, the underpinning of our collective understanding.

It cannot be left until the last years of school.

I am determined that Labour will bring maths to life for the next generation.

Better training for teachers to teach, with confidence and success.

Better standards for our children, so they’re set up to succeed.

Because be it budgeting or cooking, exchange rates or payslips, maths matters for success.

And I want the numeracy all our young people need – for life and for work, to earn and to spend, to understand and to challenge, I want that to be part of their learning right from the start.

Conference, high and rising standards.

A richer curriculum woven through with speaking, listening and digital skills.

Through every subject and year of school.

It’s why we’ll invest in more teachers, in careers guidance, in mental health support, in work experience,

For all our children, in all our schools.

And we’ll deliver those standards not by ending inspection, but by improving it.

With annual inspection for the issues that matter most.

And we won’t stop there, because education doesn’t end there.

We’ll change the way students pay for their time at university, so none of our young people, fear the price they’ll pay for the choice they’d like.

And after 13 years of drift, Labour will create Skills England to bring leadership and ambition to England’s skills system.

A Growth and Skills Levy driving opportunity in every workplace.

Technical Excellence Colleges right across our country.

Skills not just for each of us, but for all of us.

Training the generation ahead, to build the greener, safer, healthier future we need.

Ours will be a government with not just vision, but drive. Not just a dream, but a plan.

Conference, the difference between us and the Conservatives, it isn’t just about values, competence, ideas.

It’s simpler: it’s all about hope.

Not just hope for each of us, but hope for all of us.

Hope for our society, and our country, as well as ourselves, and our families.

Hope that our greatest days are yet to come.

Conference, Labour will again bring hope to a new generation.

Labour is the party for the future we all deserve.

Thank you.

Sector Response

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:   

“Labour politicians are recognising that a re-set between the teaching profession and Government is required – and that very little of national Government ambitions can be achieved without working with, and in partnership, with teachers.  

“It should go without saying that programmes of educational improvement should recognise and support teachers’ expertise and build on the successes of the teaching profession. We welcome the focus today about the importance of early education and getting good foundations for young children. But this will require grappling with the funding issues and putting nursery schools on a sure footing.  Numeracy skills are really important skills for life and it makes more sense to focus on numeracy skills in primary. 

“We recommend that Labour’s promised review of curriculum and assessment should be rounded and forward looking, rather than a series of subject-by-subject attempts at reform. The NEU hopes to see Labour setting out the goals for its review and to be part of sector-wide discussion of them. 

“Looking to support and extend Further Education colleges, often over-looked, is sensible. Labour seem genuinely determined to deliver on the skills challenge, which will need local government working alongside local employers to meet the demand for improved skills training. A review of the national curriculum and what is assessed could achieve the much-needed rebalancing between skills, competencies and knowledge. 

“Any new administration is going to need the right mix of qualifications and motivating pathways at 14-19 to give opportunities to all students, including those with SEND and those eligible for pupil premium. 

“What is abundantly clear is that to maintain educational quality or get a step-change on pupil attendance and well-being will need adequate funding. High and rising standards will need more teachers and more time for teachers to focus on the core responsibilities of teaching and strong relationships with students. Current surveys show individual pupil needs is the top trend contributing to the work intensity of teachers. The recruitment and retention challenge simply must be solved – and this means making teaching, and the leading of schools in these times much more attractive. We had hoped to hear more today on a medium-term plan to restore pay to competitive levels and to work our way back towards the OECD target of 5% of GDP spent on education ” 

Teach First CEO Russell Hobby said:  

“We welcome Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson’s pledge that background must not be a barrier to opportunity and agree that igniting a passion for learning early is key to improving chances for all our children.

“High and rising standards begin with the school workforce. The recruitment and retention challenge needs to be tackled head on because, while potential is spread evenly, right now opportunity is not. Brilliant teachers are vital to changing that.”

AoC chief executive David Hughes, said: 

“It is great to see Labour put colleges and the opportunities they provide right at the centre of their plans for not just a better education system, but also to tackle the challenges we face around productivity and preparing for a greener, healthier future.  

“Throughout this conference, the Labour Party has stressed it is committed to addressing the achievement gaps in education. Shadow ministers have been clear that this will go right across every stage of education from early years, through schools, into colleges and universities.  

“They are also clear on what they want the outcomes to be, both in terms of accessing good jobs and fair pay, but also in terms of being positive and confident about lifelong learning, able to adapt, face up to challenges and thrive as the world and work changes.  

Ms Phillipson is right to point out that many young people reach post-16 education without the level of numeracy that will allow them to thrive in their chosen path, and we support plans to tackle that right across all parts of the education system, starting in the early years.  

 “This announcement is a good first step in that ambition and should make a difference. If Labour come into power, we would want to see this ambition flow through into post-16 education to ensure young people can break out of the cycle of repeated English and maths resits many currently face.   

“Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has said that the curriculum review for 16 to 19 year-olds will need to address the inequalities in that phase, and work out how we can better support the third of 16 year-olds who are not achieving good GCSEs in English and maths. We look forward to working with her and the wider education system to design a system that deliver for all.”  

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