“Making those dreams come true: that should be our calling as Conservatives.” Raab’s speech to Onward – full text

“People need the opportunity to benefit from their ability, their determination, and their hard-work.”

On Monday 11 March, Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP gave a speech for Onward on Unleashing the Great British Underdog: A vision for the Opportunity Society.

Good morning. I’d like to thank Havas Media for hosting us, and Will Tanner and the team at Onward for the vision, ideas and optimism they are bringing to our political debate.

Isn’t it great to be talking about something other than Brexit?

When I was appointed Brexit Secretary, some of you might’ve thought it was my dream job. I get that.
But that’s not my dream subject.

Brexit’s a big deal, and it dominates debate. But I got into politics to talk about something else. It’s something I feel very strongly about. And that’s what I want to talk you about today.

It’s hard get it down to a soundbite. You can say: ‘social mobility’ but that doesn’t really capture the full meaning, emotionally…morally … of encouraging and supporting young people to rise up, realise their potential, and fulfil their dreams.

I got into politics because I love this country, and I want every child… every child… to get their chance to make the best of their potential, and to be a success in life.

My father was a refugee to Britain. He arrived aged 6 with no English… but he made the best of his abilities and became a food marketing manager at M&S. There he met a clothes buyer, my Mum. They married and had my sister and me. This country gave my father a second chance. Maybe, that’s why he was one of the proudest Brits I knew.

Sadly, he died when I was 12. Just before he passed away, he did something that changed my life.

We lived near a great grammar school, Dr Challoners in Amersham, and I applied to go there.

There were three 12+ tests. I passed two … but on the day of the third, my sister was in a bad car crash that put her in hospital for several months. I went to school that day, and I sat the exam anyway. But I was thinking about my sister. I did so badly in the test that it brought my average down and I didn’t get in.

When my Dad found out what had happened, he appealed. He asked the school to take the average from the first two papers, and the appeal was successful.

Now, thankfully, my sister recovered. Sadly, just a month before my first day at Dr Challoners, my Dad passed away. But I can still remember… how proud he was that I was getting ready to go to school there.

His effort was worth it. That school changed his son’s life. I could not have had a better education, and not just in academic terms. The whole ethos of the school prepared the kids to fulfil their potential – and not just in work but in life.”

Building a Fairer Society

“I guess it’s natural that my family history has coloured my outlook, and my politics. My Dad was Jewish, Mum raised us Church of England and I married a Catholic.

I never expected that we’d still see the kind of racism my Dad suffered in twenty-first century Britain, that we’re now seeing in the anti-semitism plaguing the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. And I know there are many Labour MPs who are as disgusted as I am about that.

The first principle of a fair society is that is doesn’t discriminate on grounds of race, religion, gender or sexuality. That’s essential, but it’s not enough.

I want to see all our kids, everywhere, have the chance that my Dad had, that I had, to make a success of themselves – based on their abilities and hard-graft.

My experience taught me that no one-off meritocratic process will ever be perfect, so we need to build layer upon layer of opportunity, I’m talking about a ‘second chance society’, for those who miss out on their shot, whether that’s because of bad luck, a bad day, or they just happen to blossom later in life. We’ve got to make sure that our young people get a genuine opportunity to fulfil their potential.

But that’s not what’s happening in Britain today. Think about this: social mobility has actually declined in this country since the Second World War. And it’s not getting any better. It is one of the few things the Left and Right agree on in British politics … albeit with different explanations for the problem and what we should do about it.

We know the socialist or egalitarian answer, which is equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. But I don’t think that’s right.

People need the opportunity to benefit from their ability, their determination, and their hard-work.

If you make policies designed to deliver a society with equality of outcome… for every individual, regardless of how much they put in, it would drain our economic competitiveness, because you take away incentives for people to strive. And that kills aspiration.

So we’ve got a two-part challenge: one – we need to build a fairer society that strengthens the enterprise economy, rather than weakens it.

And two, we’ve got to make our country fairer… by expanding opportunity, not suffocating it as many on the Left would have us do.”

Build on what we got right – the Gove reforms

“But let’s just take a moment to recognise what we’ve been getting right.

The Gove revolution with its focus on phonics, numeracy and literacy, academic rigour, and greater freedom for head-teachers to pioneer new ways of running schools has been a huge success.

I know from my own experience, with two boys 4 and 6, how important phonics is. I’ve read to both boys every morning since they were six weeks old. And I’ve loved watching how phonics equipped them to feed their own curiosity, from the sun and stars to stories like the Gruffalo.

For us as parents too, we get a precious opportunity to bond with our kids, away from tablets and tv screens.

Because of Michael Gove’s reforms, we’ve seen literacy standards rise by 40% since 2012, when we introduced phonics. More broadly, we have 1.9 million more children in schools deemed good or outstanding.

Now, I’m not saying academic scores are the only thing that matter. Far from it. We need to be looking at our children in a much more rounded way. And that includes appreciating the value of sport, music, drama and art in building up self-confidence and self-esteem … particularly for young people from tough neighbourhoods, or difficult family circumstances.

I remember when my Dad died, I went up the hill to grammar school in Amersham, and down the hill on my BMX down to Slough Karate Club. I trained there for 20 years, made 3rd Dan, won two British Southern Region titles, and spent a year on the British squad.

Looking back, I understand it was about much more than the sport. There were strong role models, a cracking camaraderie, and an ethos of respect.

After the earthquake my family had been through, it certainly helped restore my confidence, and that hugely benefited my attitude to school and life.

There are lots of talented kids out there for whom sport and other non-academic pursuits are the catalyst to the self-belief they need … to turn the flicker of ambition into the flame of success.

At the same time, I know that some of the Conservative school reforms have been unpopular with teachers.
One concern I’m sympathetic to… is the charge of constant revolution. We need to allow the changes in curriculum, the introduction of the EBACC, and the new reforms to Ofsted inspections… to bed down, and give our teachers time, and the space to implement them.

If there’s one change I’d like to see, having sat on the Education Select Committee between 2013 and 2014, it’s to pay teachers more… for teaching in our tougher schools. That would make it an important part of career progression for the best in the profession. And think about it: what better way to give children from the hardest backgrounds exposure to the very best teachers?

What’s vital…is to allow these reforms the time and space to drive up standards across the board. Let’s not forget that improving standards of learning …across the whole state education system is the most important building block for improving social mobility.”

Widen Choice, Unleash the Aspirational Underdog

“But what we also know from Free Schools and Academies is that… one size doesn’t fit all.

We need to challenge our own assumptions and keep looking for new ways to set up ladders of opportunity for the bright kid of modest means.

Of course, you all know…everyone in this room with children knows… each one is different, unique, and they’re all the more precious for it. They have different aptitudes and passions.

One of the risks I’m conscious of… and try to guard against, as a Dad, is limiting my children’s horizons by my own experiences. I certainly don’t hanker for them to become politicians.

But, there’s a broader social challenge here. We’ve created a culture in this country that prizes academic attainment above all else, funnelling more and more young people through university regardless of the benefits or the costs.

And, anyway, when did we make it a condition of being a success in life that you had to go to university? Neither of my parents did, but I always admired the success they made of their lives. There’s an in-built snobbery that we have acquired in this country … and it is holding our young people back.

We need more ladders of opportunity for the bright, but not necessarily bookish kids who want to reach their full potential.

Let me give you an example: Tony Blair introduced Young Apprenticeships for 14 to 16 year olds, but they started to be phased out under Gordon Brown and then the Coalition. I think that was a mistake. 14 to 16 is the age when truancy rates spike, and if you lose those children from the classroom, it’s hard to get them back.

Young Apprenticeships were hugely successful. The kids who’d been falling behind the most, before they joined the scheme, gained the most from it. Instead of shutting down vocational opportunities, let’s revive Young Apprenticeships, at least as a choice, for this age group.

But, we can’t stop there. If we’re serious about offering our children a credible vocational alternative that leads to a good job, then we need to see it through consistently, and that means beyond school.

We should build on T Levels, by expanding and promoting degree apprenticeships, like the flagship one offered by Jaguar Land Rover partnered with Warwick University.

Degree Apprenticeships allow young people to combine working with acquiring a vocational degree, but without the fifty-thousand pounds of debt the average student racks up after a normal degree.

That’s one great scheme… but how can we stick rocket boosters under Degree Apprenticeships, to scale them up and expand access?

To start with, Degree Apprenticeships should be given greater access to the Apprenticeship Levy. They should be mandated as a top priority for the Institute for Apprenticeships. And they should be fully integrated as part of the UCAS application process for every young person. That would give them the same status as normal degrees, and offer a genuine high-quality technical alternative for the next generation of school leavers.

Let’s offer young people a choice with all of the opportunity university has to offer … but none of the debt.

That’s just one area ripe for reform. There are plenty of other areas where we must smash through the glass ceilings holding our children back.

I remember my first day as a trainee at Linklaters, the law firm. A partner said to me: ‘You can forget all that stuff you studied, it won’t help you in the real world. Your training starts now’.

I got a terrific training there, and I understood what he meant. I just couldn’t help thinking it was a hell of a waste of money … not to mention 5 years studying.
With tuition fees at their level today, that’s no joke for aspiring young lawyers.

So, since 2010, I’ve been championing non-graduate routes to becoming a solicitor. And they’ve flourished. Now we need to expand those non-graduate routes into other professions which are starting to catch on, like accountancy.

Likewise, we need to encourage young people, who’ve got some entrepreneurial spirit, to think about setting up a business. A few years back, I was involved in a review by the Royal Society of Arts into attitudes to setting up a business. It found that many parents and teachers didn’t take the idea seriously… they treated it like a gap year before university. That’s such a shame, when you think of the self-made entrepreneurs this country has turned out, from Alan Sugar to Tony Pidgley in my constituency.

We can’t lose that. We’ve got to rekindle that buccaneering entrepreneurial spirit for the next generation. And there are some brilliant initiatives out there. Take ‘Entrepreneur First’. Started by Angel Investors, it takes talented students, but there aren’t any formal academic requirements. They spend the first 6 months developing business ideas with mentoring and networking. Then, they spend the second 6 months turning their bright idea into a start-up business, with Entrepreneur First providing office space, living costs and seed capital.

It’s a terrific scheme. Let’s scale it up, so the next generation of budding entrepreneurs get their chance to start their own business from scratch.

The government could boost Entrepreneur First by allowing participants to take out the maintenance loan element of the student loan for the year, to promote access for poorer young people.

Next, we should consider increasing income tax relief for investors through the Enterprise Investment Scheme from 30% to 50% to attract more entrepreneurs to back it with their time and know-how.

The beauty of Entrepreneur First is that it boosts the enterprise economy and the opportunity society.

Let’s encourage our young people to find that great idea. To believe they can turn it into a great business. To believe there’s no limit to what they can achieve.”

Widen Access to some of the Best Schools

“And, finally, what about our brilliant independent school sector? Rather than bashing or abolishing, as some on the Left argue for, I want to open it up so more kids from poorer backgrounds actually benefit.

I’ve been arguing since 2012 that the government should adopt the Sutton Trust’s Open Access scheme.

At no extra cost to the taxpayer, that initiative would open up 90 leading independent schools to entry on meritocratic basis, with means-tested fee support.

When Open Access was piloted at Belvedere School in Liverpool, 70% of pupils received fee support, and a third were eligible for free school meals.

Ultimately, I’d love to see the Sutton Trust scheme as a first step to opening up all independent schools on a means-tested and meritocratic basis.

Of course, the Labour party will scream elitism. But many of the Labour frontbench benefited from a grammar school or private school, or sent their kids to one.

We shouldn’t let the Labour party’s hypocrisy stop us from expanding opportunities, giving those of modest means their chance to go to some of the best schools.

Just think what it would mean for the children growing up in the urban sink estate… or the rural backwater, to get the opportunity to go to schools their parents never dreamed they could attend.

Creating those opportunities, making those dreams come true: that should be our calling as Conservatives.”

Conclusion

“So, as I said to you at the start, I was lucky enough to get my shot in life. But today… too many young people don’t get theirs.

I want to see a radical program of Conservative reform … that’s the political passion I was talking about. We’ve got to break through the glass ceilings, raise more ladders of opportunity for every child, everywhere.

I want us to build an opportunity society… that empowers the aspirational underdog… to reach his or her full potential, however they started out in life.

Opportunity. That should be our lodestar. And that should be the driving mission for the Conservatives in post-Brexit Britain.”

Future of Education 3) Calvin Robinson: Leave the curriculum alone, and focus on quality of delivery

The third writer in our mini-series argues for a focus on finding and keeping good teachers. And asking tough questions of some PGCE courses.

Calvin Robinson is a teacher in London.

Since I left industry to pursue my vocation in education I’ve been a class teacher, a middle leader, and a member of the senior leadership team for a number of schools around London, and I’ve witnessed the same problems in the majority of them. Most teachers can relate to the common problems facing schools today, and while the Conservative Party has made proficient improvements to the UK’s education system there does at times feel like there’s a considerate disconnect between what goes on in the classroom and the decisions being made in the Department for Education. As a man on the ground, here is my view of what the future of Tory education policy should look like…

Starting with the highest priority, workload. First and foremost we should pledge to make no new changes to the national curriculum for the next parliamentary term. Michael Gove’s more rigorous knowledge-rich curriculum is fantastic, as is Nick Gibb’s synthetic phonics policy, and we’re just now starting to see the pay-off from both. Teachers are getting familiar with the new syllabus, students are starting to reap the rewards, it would be silly to make any changes now and would just create more angst. Better to earn back some trust from the onset.

On that note, we should also be doing everything we can to promote programmes such as Daisy Christodoulou’s No More Marking, which isn’t actually about doing away with marking, but is about marking more effectively by assessing pupils’ work through comparative-judgement. The evidence in support of whole class feedback over marking every piece of work is astonishing and could lighten the workload of so many overburdened class teachers practically instantaneously. There are so many bureaucratic box-ticking exercise like this that could be done away with, regular book looks with counter-productive feedback, individual lesson plans, we need to do our utmost to encourage schools to put an end to box-ticking and empower teachers to be the professionals that they are.

All of this will help with teacher retention, which is another area of concern and clearly related to workload. Here we could do quite well in promoting more ways of keeping the best teachers in the classroom, by opening up more career opportunities and ways to climb the pay scale ladder other than becoming middle management.

On that note, we should most certainly introduce training for middle leaders. Just because someone is fantastic at passing on knowledge to pupils does not mean they make good people managers. This is one of the principal problems with British schools today, and why so many of them can become unpleasant places to work. People are promoted above their level of managerial competence, and that’s not their fault, we’re not offering them sufficient training. It makes the department heads unhappy, in makes those in the department unhappy, and that’s not good for teaching and learning.

After workload and retention, I’d recommend we take a look at recruitment. The DfE has just launched their free recruitment website. This is a brilliant move but needs some heavy promotion to let both school leaders and potential recruits know it’s out there and ready to use. The next step would be to increase starting and unqualified teacher salaries. While teachers can eventually make a decent living, the starting salary is hugely discouraging, particularly if we want to attract more subject experts to enter the field.

We should certainly continue to promote partnerships that encourage career changes into teaching such as Now Teach, Teach First, School Direct etc. One new area of priority though should be to take a look at our current PGCE courses, and judge whether they’re truly fit for purpose. Many are still teaching outdated techniques and debunked theories such as individual learning styles – we should re-address their relevance and focus on evidence-informed practice.

Schools and school leaders need autonomy. It’s high time we trusted professionals to get on with their job, and the Academies programme has been great for both increased autonomy and in cutting bureaucracy. We also need to make it easier for parents and teachers to open Free Schools, especially in areas of deprivation where the community is calling out for good school places. Some of the large MATs are doing an amazing job, but they shouldn’t be allowed to monopolise or overshadow a local community’s drive to open good schools.

As for the curriculum, while I wouldn’t recommend making any changes for the next parliamentary term, there are some improvements we could make around delivery that could ease pressure on schools. Starting with encourage schools to share resources. Year in, year out, teachers are re-inventing the wheel, creating different versions of the same resources to line-up with the curriculum. Successful MATs like Inspiration Trust have already started creating curriculum centres to distribute a uniformly high standard curriculum across their schools and lighten teacher workload, others like Ark have even started selling their resources to other schools. It’d be great to see more of this sharing of best practise. Perhaps this is something that could be tendered out to a charity to setup a national curriculum centre website where schools and teachers can freely share and access high quality resources. Think along the lines of the TES resources website, but with some moderation and a modicum of quality control.

Vocational qualifications still need looking at. I had high hopes for the T-Levels and have been involved in the consultations from the beginning, but interest and commitment really doesn’t seem to be there, which is a huge shame. Not every child needs to go to university – the claim otherwise was one of the biggest lies of the last Labour government. So many young people are leaving university with worthless degrees and are left unable to find a well-paid job. Instead we should further promote apprenticeships, which are proving successful in industry. The Government would also do well to encourage extra-curricular subjects (dance, drama, music) as the arts are just as important as academic subjects for building the whole character.

Of course, I’ve left one of the most important points until last. Behaviour should become the main focus of the next education minister. Poor behaviour is preventing so many young people from being able to achieve a good education. Not necessarily their poor behaviour, but the poor behaviour of pupils around them.

Schools that implement high standards and low tolerance for bad behaviour are often lambasted in the press and face a backlash on social media. This is unacceptable. Schools need the full and proper backing of the Government and associated bodies to implement policies that ensure pupils demonstrate good behaviour for learning, so that every child is able to access the curriculum.

Tom Bennet’s report is a good place to begin. If a good education is the best form of enhancing social mobility, we’re doing young people a disservice by allowing rampant bad behaviour to go unchecked. All the recent hyperbole around exclusions isn’t helpful. Sometimes, unfortunately, one child has to be removed for the safety of the other 1,200 pupils and teachers in the school. It’s not a decision anyone makes lightly, but it’s one we have to trust schools to get on with. All children deserve the best start in life, and that means we have to enable adults to create a safe learning environment for all.

Conservative education policy is up for grabs

We trail a mini-series on what might happen next amidst a sense of uncertainty about will follow the Gove reforms.

Education is a journey from primary through secondary to tertiary.  Or so we may think.  But perhaps it would be better to view the system the other way round.

The best of the universities are the glory of our education settlement.  Seven of the world’s top 50 universities are in Britain.  Three are in the best ten.  Two of these, Oxford and Cambridge, top the table.  No country other than the United States, which dominates the tables, performs better in that top 50.  The exam system, based on GCSEs at 16 and A-levels at 18, is tailored for the university sector – enabling colleges to pick out the most promising students from the results (a function that it by and large fulfills).

Put aside for the moment claims that the sector is too large; that polytechnics and universities should never have merged; that for students to push on to the less meritorious of them makes no economic sense.  For all the defensibility of these propositions, the university sector works.  Debate, if you wish, the wisdom of saddling young people with large debts through tuition fees.  These have not deterred a record number of students from the most disadvantaged areas from going to university.

At the heart of this academic system is the academic ideal: that study is worth undertaking for its own sake.  Taxpayer funding and accountability, the needs of business, utilitarian thinking, the demands of research – all these are present and correct (up to a point), but the notion that it is civilising for people on the threshold of adulthood to join a community of scholars for a period of time dies hard.  And the presumption that knowledge is its own reward reaches down deep into the school system.

It was at the heart of the Gove reforms under the Coalition.  The former Education Secretary used two main levers to winch schools to roughly where he wanted them to be.  The first was pressure from above: the Nick Gibb-led phonics teaching and checks, reformed GCSEs and A-levels, an overhauled OFSTED ,a new national college for teaching and leadership.  The second was pressure from below through academisation, the new wave of free schools, and the nurturing of such campaigning bodies as the Free Schools Network.

Now along comes Robert Halfon.  The Chairman of the Education Select Committee – and our columnist – is challenging the status quo on school exclusions, itself is a Govian creation.  More broadly, he proposes to stand the Coalition’s revolution on its head.  Where Gove originally wanted to make GCSEs more like the old O-levels, Halfon wants to sweep both them and A-levels away altogether, introducing instead what he calls a baccalaureate at 18.

The Education Chairman offers up a pinch of incense to study for its own sake, and comes close to denying that there is an academic and vocational divide at all.  But it is hard to dispute that his focus is vocational and not academic; applied, not theoretical.  There is talk of the fourth industrial revolution, skills shortages, artificial intelligence, “the march of the robots”, a Royal Commission and of a new curriculum to replace one “conceived in 1904”.

On these pages, he has demanded that Oxford open up “to skills, degree apprenticeships and technical education”.  The emotional pulse that powers Halfon’s beliefs has a long and distinguished history.  Since the rise of the public schools and of a Prussianised Germany, through the missing technical element of the Butler reforms and the hastily jettisoned proposals of the Tomlinson report, we can hear a common chorus.

It is that the English education system went wrong on the playing fields of Eton, that the system is still preoccupied with turning out gentlemen rather than players, and that Britain lost its industrial edge precisely because of the academic-led system that the opening of this piece tried to describe.  It will be objected that the picture it painted is false, anyway: for most pupils, even now, education is not a journey from primary to tertiary. It ends at sixteen.

The Government wants to address the vocational side through T-levels and new colleges.  Critics will argue that this is yet more alphabet soup, and maybe laud Halfon’s more radical programme instead.  Our purpose today is not to argue the toss about whether his approach is right or wrong.  Rather, it is mull its narrower significance.  Who else in the Conservative Party is pushing a post-Brexit education programme that catches the eye?  Would it be right to U-turn on the Gove revolution?  Which way – as Nick Boles used to put it – is up?

It is self-evident that Brexit, or rather the Government’s handling of it, is sucking the life out of debate elsewhere.  But the absence of discussion within the Party about the future of education is striking.  One has come to expect a certain timidity about health policy, perhaps understandably given the electoral risks.  None the less, there is no history of Labour owning the education half of that odd, inseparable couple, schools-and-hospitals.  The quiet is uncanny.

In an interview with Andrew Gimson on this site last week, Damian Hinds said that the post he holds sometimes requires “a bold and vociferous and constant presence, at other times less so”.  This read as an admission that he sees himself as a consolidator rather than a trailblazer: a healer rather than a warrior, as Patrick Cosgrave used to put it.  And it is perhaps inevitable that the role of an Education Secretary in a government with no majority will be incremental – tweaking away at the teacher workload, T-levels and character education.

But this pause for breath leaves questions for the future.  Should education reform indeed be fixed on incrementally improving early provision and technical education – on some of the most visible gaps in the system?  Or should the Gove system be recharged, with faster academisation and more backing for free schools?  What has happened to the Theresa May Mark One vision, powered by Nick Timothy, of more grammar schools, and some universities compelled, in effect, to become technical colleges?

Or instead should Halfon’s ideas gain free rein, with a Royal Commission to look at overhauling the exam system, and presumably the University settlement too, from top to bottom?   What about further education? Where do adult and refresher courses fit in?  How can teachers and schools cope with supplementing the role of parents and homes?  Above all, what is education for, anyway?  Is the academic ideal at its core, and to be honoured and preserved, or simply outdated – a vanity to be hurled on the bonfire?

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that ConservativeHome will be running a mini-series on reform tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday.  Brexit will be robbed of purpose if politicians and parties have no idea what to do with it when it happens.

Interview. “Look, this is a Christian country”, says Hinds. But he adds that the cap on new faith schools’ admissions should stay.

At times, says the Education Secretary, the post he holds requires “a bold and vociferous and constant presence”. But “at other times less so”.

Damian Hinds says that as Conservative Education Secretary, the post he has occupied since January 2018, “there are always arguments to be won”, and you have to face up to the “forces of small-c conservatism”.

He adds that “if you stand still, you will go backwards”. But Hinds, described by his fellow parliamentarians as a man who has entered the Cabinet on merit, has an aversion to extravagant language and cannot be regarded as a publicity seeker.

In this interview, he sets out to show how reasonable his policies are. When he declares “this is a Christian country… it still has, at the core of its institutions, traditions which are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition,” his tone is studiously reasonable.

Hinds defends his refusal to lift the 50 per cent cap on faith-based admissions for new free schools by insisting there are there are “good community and integration reasons” for keeping it. His decision has angered the Roman Catholic Church, to which he himself belongs.

Before becoming a minister, he opposed the cap, and his appointment raised hopes in Catholic circles that he would use his power to sweep it away.

The Education Secretary instead says his “number one priority” is “to bear down on workload for teachers”, so fewer of them leave the profession.

He wants to accelerate the academies programme and urges ConHome readers to come forward as governors.

On Brexit, he says the Prime Minister has reached “a very good deal”, a point which tends to be forgotten amid “legitimate” concerns about the backstop. He observes that rapid progress is needed, and declines to say whether the Cabinet would continue to “hold their nerve” if the Prime Minister informed ministers she could only get concessions on the backstop at the EU summit on 21st March.

A paradox of his career is that he has risen higher than his good friend and contemporary Jacob Rees-Mogg, while remaining much less well known.

ConHome: “How did you beat Jacob Rees-Mogg and become President of the Oxford Union?”

Hinds [laughing]: “Let’s start with the important stuff.”

ConHome: “I think actually our readers are intensely interested. You were in the same college…”

Hinds: “We were in the same college [Trinity College, Oxford].”

ConHome: “You’re co-religionists.”

Hinds: “Yes, but that’s not desperately relevant,”

ConHome: “I’m not suggesting the Pope had anything to do with it.”

Meg Powell-Chandler [Hinds’ special adviser]: “Actually…”

Hinds: “Actually, Jacob was the first person I met at university, literally the first person. It’s one of those things you do when you arrive, and you have all the first years in a room, and I turned to the bloke next to me and said ‘Hello, I’m Damian’, and it turned out to be Jacob.

“He wasn’t dressed the same as all the other undergraduates. He just happened to be standing next to me. And we’ve been friends ever since.

“And the answer to your question about elections. As you know, there are lots of undergraduate elections, and I was lucky enough on that occasion. There’s not much more to it than that.”

ConHome: “Well actually, oddly enough, the most candid thing Boris Johnson ever wrote about politics was an essay about how to become President of the Oxford Union, in a book, The Oxford Myth, edited by his sister, Rachel.

“He said that what you need is ‘a disciplined and deluded collection of stooges’ who will get the vote out for you in their respective colleges.”

Hinds: “‘Stooges’ is one of those words you only ever actually hear in student politics.”

ConHome: “Michael Gove has admitted he was a Johnson stooge in those days. So you too had a collection of disciplined and deluded stooges? They weren’t deluded in your case.”

Hinds: “Lovely people. Actually there were three of us in that election, all three from the same college, and I think that was very, very unusual.”

ConHome: “Who was the third?”

Hinds: “Stephanie Young, now Stephanie Tyrer. That was a very unusual set-up. There were many other elections that Jacob won while we were undergraduates, but on that occasion I was lucky enough to come out on top.”

ConHome: “And did you enjoy being President?”

Hinds: “I loved it, yes.”

ConHome: “And who were your most famous visitors?”

Hinds: “I had the summer term. My favourite visitors, we had Alvin Stardust, who also sang, and Will Carling, the Rugby player.”

ConHome: “And who are your political heroes?”

Hinds: “It’s so clichéd to say Mrs Thatcher is your political hero, but point me to the person on our side of the Chamber who wouldn’t say that.

“As it happens, I’m a child of the Eighties [he was born in 1969], grew up in Manchester, it was a difficult time, proper divides in politics, and in the earlier part of that period I was a Leftie.

“I came to my realisation aged 16, 17 and joined our party, so I’ve got a reasonable pedigree given I’m now 49. But it was a realisation rather than something automatic.”

ConHome: “And how did you realise?”

Hinds: “Well I think the Eighties was an amazing time to grow up, partly because there was so much politics. Everything from the Iron Curtain and communism versus capitalism through the Miners’ Strike and privatisation.

“Some things we got wrong as well as some things we got right of course. But as a teenager you couldn’t help but be politically very conscious of what was going on around you.

“And I came to the conclusion, first of all that I was a very lucky boy, coming from a strong family and going to a good school [Saint Ambrose College, a Roman Catholic grammar school].

“But I came to the conclusion that the way to make more boys and girls lucky boys and girls was to have a strong economy with enterprise but also with social responsibility, and with people looking out for each other. And sometimes we got on the wrong side of that, towards the end of the 1980s, of course, in terms of how people perceived us.”

ConHome: “Do you have a favourite monarch?”

Hinds: “The Queen.”

ConHome: “And of her predecessors, of whom there are 39 including William the Conqueror?”

Hinds: “Are there only 39, all the way back to 1066?”

ConHome: “Yes, it’s not that many. Of course there were various people like Queen Victoria and George III..”

Hinds: “…who upped the average. Wow. I didn’t realise that. So I’m not going to profess to have a favourite monarch, other than of course Her Majesty. I do think the Queen is just so off the scale of amazingness and a role model for us all.”

ConHome: “When I put the same question to your predecessor but one, Nicky Morgan, she said Henry VIII. But when I and her special advisers expressed amazement, she switched to Elizabeth I.”

A division bell rang, and Hinds went off to vote. When he got back, the interview continued with a question about Brexit.

ConHome: “If Theresa May came back to Cabinet and said, ‘I can get something on the backstop, but not until the EU summit on 21st March,’ would you be happy to hold your nerve until then?”

Hinds [after a pause]: “I think the Prime Minister needs all of us to be behind her in this. Only she can know the exact dynamic of the negotiation, and exactly what is the best route forward.

“I won’t rehearse all the stuff about we need to get a deal, because clearly we do – I say clearly, it’s clear to me we absolutely do. Clearly already time is very short, and we need to make good and rapid progress.

“Obviously there are real worries about the backstop and it’s very legitimate for people to have worries about that, and legitimate to be seeking assurances.

“It is also true, and we must remember to keep saying it, that the deal overall is a very good deal. There’s been so much talk about the relatively I’m not going to say small issues that sometimes we don’t talk about the thing itself.”

ConHome: “But would you hold your nerve, and would your Cabinet colleagues hold their collective nerve, until 21st March?”

Hinds: “I think everybody is holding their nerve.”

ConHome: “Now on education, how important is it for an Education Secretary to be talked about? There have been some, people like Tony Crosland, who’ve gone on the offensive, who have been talked about – since Rab Butler, there’s been Crosland, Thatcher, Baker, Blunkett, Gove, and probably a few others, probably people like Boyle. Do you think that’s important, or not really?”

Hinds: “I actually think what’s really important is for the system to be working well, not letting down any of our children anywhere, and for the person doing my job, and all our ministers, and the whole department, to be making sure that happens.

“And sometimes that does require, and it certainly did when Michael [Gove] was doing this job, a bold and vociferous and constant presence, at other times less so.

“But there are always arguments to be won in this sphere, because there are forces of small-c conservatism – which is definitely not the same as our Conservatism – in the education world.

“And as a Conservative Education Secretary, you need to be facing up to those. If you stand still, you will go backwards.”

ConHome: “Would it be fair to say you’re more focussed on heads and teachers than on parents?”

Hinds: “It wouldn’t be fair to say I’m more focussed on heads and teachers. But without heads and teachers the parents would be very upset.

“And we have had a problem in the last few years with making sure we have enough teachers. So we haven’t recruited quite enough, and we’ve had too many leaving. And the biggest reason they leave is because of workload.

“So I’ve made my number one priority to bear down on workload for teachers. Which turns out to be not nearly as simple a task as people might expect.

“Because although in a popular image there’s all these forms that you’re making teachers fill in, I’ve tried very hard to find those forms and they basically don’t exist.

“It’s a much more endemic, complex set of circumstances that makes teachers work on average 50 plus hours a week, which again is much more than people would expect to hear.

“And I think from a parent’s point of view they don’t want to know that teachers are spending a huge amount of time other than teaching their children. It’s all the other stuff.”

ConHome: “If it’s not form-filling, what is it?”

Hinds: “The three biggest things are very large amounts of lesson-planning…”

ConHome: “Well that’s difficult to avoid, isn’t it?”

Hinds: “No, not necessarily. It depends on what you do. Obviously I want teachers planning lessons. And schools do much better lesson-planning than when we were at school, and that is a very good thing.

“But if you are producing lesson-plans because you think the Ofsted inspector is going to see them, and stockpiling ring binders full of these things – this does happen in many schools, this is not a productive use of time.

“Similarly marking. And email.”

ConHome: “Another problem is that good teachers are intelligent and capable people. If the economy’s doing well, they can go off and do other things.”

Hinds: “That’s true. If you’ve got four per cent unemployment that’s a bad time for anybody to be recruiting, because it’s a very competitive market. But I just say our vacancies are more important than everybody else’s.”

ConHome: “You did a piece on ConHome saying you firmly believe in academies. But are they being created quickly enough, do you think? Do you have enough sponsors? Or has your department been gradually reducing the financial incentives?”

Hinds: “Well it shouldn’t be about financial incentives. It is possible to help with the costs of conversion, but actually the big advantage of being an academy is about autonomy, and about being able to combine with other schools.

“We’ve just passed a really important milestone of more than half the children in the state sector being in academies, which is a great thing. We’re still seeing more coming forward for conversion. I would like to see that pace continue and accelerate.

“We also need more people, I hope ConHome readers will step up to this, to be governors and trustees. When you’ve got a devolved system, with lots of autonomy, the role of a governor can become a much bigger thing.

“And the academies programme is now for the first time since early Blair under threat from the Labour Party. It was originally a Blair invention.

“Michael Gove and Nick Gibb put turbo-chargers under that programme, massively increased the numbers, and actually I hear from Members of Parliament on all sides what a difference academisation has made.”

ConHome: “You gave a speech the other day about children’s character. How do you build children’s character without some ethical or religious input?”

Hinds: “Well I don’t think you do do it without some ethical input. I distinguish character and resilience from values and virtues, but they go together. So character and resilience, I talk about ‘believe you can achieve’, “be able to stick with the task in hand’, ‘understand the link between the effort I put in today and the reward I do or might get in the future’, ‘being able to bounce back when things go wrong’.

“All those things would also make you a really good criminal, and I don’t want you to be a criminal. So I also want you to be grounded in friendship, kindness, community spirit, all those values.

“Some people will get those through a religious education, others will get it through a non-religious but still an ethically based education.”

ConHome: “So what in your opinion is the role of Christianity in politics, both generally and for you personally? I asked Nicky Morgan this.”

Hinds: “What did she say?”

ConHome: “She said the Anglican Church is very important to her.”

Hinds: “Well the Anglican Church is very important to me too. I’m going to go a wee bit further. Look, this is a Christian country. I mean these days it is a multicultural country as well, and there are many different faiths represented, and vast numbers of people who have no religious faith.

“But it still has, at the core of its institutions, traditions which are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. And in Parliament you find – I’ve never actually done the maths, but it’s always felt to me that there’s a disproportionate number of people of some religious faith. Not necessarily Christian, but some religious faith.

“We start every day with Prayers, this little segment of the day, three minutes, the only part which is not broadcast, and I think whether people are Anglican or some other denomination, or an atheist, actually the majority of Members of Parliament I think appreciate that as a moment of reflection and thinking about the day ahead, thinking about why we’re here.

“Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Chaplain, does this prayer about remembering not to put personal self-interest in the way of what we do.”

ConHome: “What’s your view of free schools? It’s gone a bit quiet on free schools.”

Hinds: “We’re still doing this. We’ve got hundreds in the pipeline. Free schools are a type of academy, but brand new. They’ve brought a great deal of innovation. By bringing something different to an area, they create diversity and choice and a bit of competition with other schools.”

ConHome: “Is the Catholic Church still opting out of free schools – they were very cross, weren’t they, about the admissions cap?”

Hinds: “And that is still there. We’ve got a 50 per cent cap on faith-based admissions for new free schools. But they can now – and others can as well – open new voluntary aided schools.”

ConHome: “Why have you got the cap on free schools?”

Hinds: “There are good reasons for wanting to be able to ensure diversity in school provision. But the voluntary aided school route has always been there. The process for application is different from that for a free school, it has to have the backing of the local authority, but it’s been around since 1944 and has worked well.

“It’s mostly associated with the Catholic Church but actually there are Anglican VA schools as well, and indeed other faiths. It’s actually never technically stopped being possible to open a VA school. There just wasn’t any money available.”

ConHome: “But is there a lobby within the Conservative Party against lifting this cap on faith-based admissions to free schools? Is that part of the trouble?

“Because oddly enough, you seem to be standing up for the more traditional socialist way of doing things, even if it goes back to 1944. The Labour Party would have less to disagree with – local democratic control and all that.”

Hinds: “Free schools came in under the Coalition Government and there is obviously a reason why they came in as they did, and they’ve been a great addition to the schools system, including by the way having schools of religious character coming in, but with a cap of 50 per cent when oversubscribed.

“There was one large denomination which did not feel able to open free schools, which was the Catholic Church. And I was keen that every denomination should be able to open new schools. And of course the voluntary aided route isn’t only open to them, but it is open to them.”

ConHome: “And Catholic voluntary aided schools are opening, are they?”

Hinds: “There’s a round of applications that’s just happening as we speak.”

ConHome: “I still don’t understand why you refused to get rid of this cap. You don’t need legislation. You can decide, can’t you?”

Hinds: “There are good community integration reasons why the cap is as it is.”

ConHome: “This applies to Muslims as well.”

Hinds: “It applies to all faiths, in the same way that the opportunity to open a voluntary aided school applies to all faiths. We don’t make things specifically for individual religions.”

ConHome: “But would that be a worry, that you would then get some purely Muslim schools?”

Hinds: “There are purely Muslim schools, there are Jewish schools, there are Catholic schools, there are Anglican schools and they all play an important role. The key thing is that there is no significant religion in this country that wants to be able to open faith schools and can’t.”

ConHome: “I still haven’t got to the heart of your objection to lifting the cap.”

Hinds: “As I say, there are good community and integration reasons.”

ConHome: “What does that mean?”

Hinds: “It means it is right, and this is why the system was set up as it was initially, to be able to say, ‘Yes, we want to be able to have faith schools, but we also want to be able to have multiple ways, this is one of the ways, to make sure that we have full integration of communities. And that’s one of the ways we do it.”

ConHome: “And did you change your mind about this? Were you in favour of lifting the cap?”

Hinds: “If you looked hard, I think you would probably find a record of me somewhere in Parliament speaking about the cap before I was in a ministerial position.”

ConHome: “In your reckless youth.”

Hinds: “I wasn’t aware of all the considerations at the time.”

Will Tanner: Labour’s war on free schools would be a direct attack on social mobility

Angela Rayner’s hostility to academies runs against both the interests and preferences of parents and pupils alike.

Will Tanner is Director of Onward and a former Deputy Head of Policy in Number 10 Downing Street.

“The Tories’ Academy system is simply not fit for purpose”, raged Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, at last year’s Labour Party Conference.

A future Labour Government, she announced, would “instead focus on delivering what works to get the best results for pupils” by abolishing free schools and bringing academies under greater local authority control.

The uncomfortable truth for the Labour Party is that “what works best for pupils” seems increasingly to be studying at a school free from local control, just like an academy or free school.

According to official performance data published last week, the schools which deliver the most progress for pupils are free schools. If you track how pupils progress from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school, free schools achieve nearly a quarter of a grade higher in each qualification than other similar pupils nationally. This is double the average progress score achieved at the next best type of school, converter academies.

This is not, it seems, a fluke or fake news. It is the second year in a row that free schools have outperformed all other kinds of school on the government’s Progress 8 measure. The gap between free schools and other categories of school has also grown year-on-year. The best multi-academy chain in the country – Star Academies – achieved an average of nearly one and a half grades’ worth of progress for its 378 pupils last year.

In contrast, the type of school that Rayner would like all schools to be – local authority maintained schools – delivered an average Progress 8 score of -0.03, meaning pupils, if anything, marginally regressed over their years in secondary school compared to other similar pupils in England.

This is just the latest in a long line of evidence that giving schools more autonomy over what and how they teach delivers improved results for children. It is telling that 31 per cent of free schools are rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, compared to 21 per cent of all schools. It is true that sponsored academies have lower Progress 8 scores than other kinds of school, but according to research by the Department for Education published last week: “pupil outcomes in sponsored academies have typically improved since their formation in comparison with sets of similar schools”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents have noticed. According to research from the New Schools Network, primary free schools have been the most popular school type for the last five years running, and at secondary level have proved the most popular kind of school for the last four years. So, as if planning to abolish the most successful type of school wasn’t enough, Labour also wants to close down the schools that are most popular with parents.

But nowhere is the short-sightedness of Rayner’s schools policy more visible than in East Ham, where Brampton Manor Academy is transforming the fortunes of a community long beset by disadvantage. When Labour left office in 2010, Brampton Manor School was a good and improving secondary in a tough neighbourhood. A year later the school converted to academy status and in 2012 it opened a sixth form to direct its uncompromising approach to excellence to school leavers.

In 2014 the sixth-form generated its first offer from an Oxbridge college. The following year the number had risen to five. Last year, 20 children were given places at Oxford and Cambridge. This year the school doubled that, with 41 pupils being offered a place at Oxbridge, two thirds of which will be the first in their families to go to university. It’s nickname, the “Eton of East London”, is well-earned: Brampton Manor delivers more working class children from East London to Oxbridge than from some of the most exclusive and expensive private schools in the country.

When asked to reveal the secret of Brampton Manor’s success, its principal, Dr Dayo Olukoshi, talks explicitly about the benefits of the academy model. He talks proudly of his work to “eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy” and to “empower our staff to take risks and innovate in their classrooms”. The school has a study centre open from 6am to 7pm, funded by the Pupil Premium, and offers students Oxbridge preparation classes to drive higher levels of university success.

All of this would be more difficult, if not impossible, if Brampton Manor was bound by the kind of local authority strictures that the Labour Party have pledged to reintroduce.

The most galling aspect of Rayner’s schools policy, however, is the airbrushing of the Labour Party’s foundational role in the academy movement from 2002, and the wilful rejection of cross-party endeavour to expand those freedoms to every school. Academies were first championed by a young Andrew Adonis in the Downing Street Policy Unit, and later the House of Lords, before being embraced wholesale by David Laws and Nick Gibb under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

But gone are the days when the Labour Party recognises the role of academies like Brampton Manor in “bringing new hope and breathing new life” into local communities, as Tony Blair heralded in a speech in 2005. Today the policy is nothing more than a “Tory academies system”.

Labour says it wants to deliver “what works to get the best results for children”, yet it is increasingly evident that the winning formula is the exact opposite of its one-size-fits-all pledge to reinstate bureaucratic control. If the innovation-embracing approach of schools like Star Academies and Brampton Manor delivers whole grades’ worth of pupil progress and places at Oxbridge, that is the model we should be pursuing, not restricting.

Thankfully, the revolution started under Blair, and radically accelerated under Michael Gove, has already liberated thousands of schools and millions of pupils, and now more than half of all children in England benefit from the freedoms of academies and free schools. That is an auspicious milestone, but it is clear the battle is not yet won.

Damian Hinds: Labour is wrong to turn its back on academies

Putting teachers and heads in charge has consistently allowed schools and pupils to excel. We must continue to put our trust in them.

Damian Hinds is Education Secretary and MP for East Hampshire.

Trust. In the education world it has two distinct, yet related, meanings. One is the trust we place in head teachers, school leaders, and teachers to run schools and teach our children effectively.

The other is in terms of Academy Trusts: charitable organisations given the freedom to improve standards in the most appropriate way for that school environment.

Together they form the academies programme, which hands power back to schools and school leaders to make the right decisions for their pupils and communities, while providing teachers with mentoring, training, and the opportunity to share good practices.

I believe the programme is working: secondary school data out today show that converter academies achieve results well above the national average, and research out yesterday showed that standards are rising faster in the majority of sponsored academies than in similar council run schools.

This is great news for pupils, as figures out this week show more than 50 per cent of children in state-funded schools in England are now studying at one of the country’s 8,000 academies or free schools.

At this key milestone, we can be proud that generations of children stand a better chance of receiving a high-quality education that meets their needs, interests and abilities.

When the Conservatives came to government in 2010, the academies programme had already been around for a decade, with the aim of improving pupil performance and breaking the cycle of low expectations. The first academy opened in 2002 and 203 schools, mostly in inner cities, had been opened by the time Labour left office. Labour MP’s were praising their results from the rooftops.

Then the Conservatives came to power, with the inimitable Michael Gove as Education Secretary, and “rocket boosters” were put under the Academies programme, with more than 1,000 academies converting by August 2011.

The idea behind academies is simple really: teachers and school leaders know best how to run schools. This is backed up by research from the OECD. It found the creation of more autonomous schools improves outcomes, as school leaders have the freedom to innovate in curriculum, instruction, and governance.

We now have a system where a school can convert to be an academy – taking advantage of the autonomy and freedom that brings. Or a failing school is issued an academy order and brokered into an Academy Trust, to get the help and support it needs to improve – a so called ‘sponsored academy’.

Hillcrest Academy primary in the Chapeltown area of Leeds – one of the most deprived areas of the country, with historically poor outcomes for pupils – has seen a huge turnaround thanks to academisation. Hillcrest had 14 head teachers in 20 years, and had declined from a ‘good’ school in 2007, to ‘requires improvement’ in 2010, to ‘inadequate’ in 2013. In the space of two and a half years, after joining the GORSE Academies Trust, it received an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted, and hit has above-average reading, writing and maths skills and below-average pupil absence.

Converting into an academy also works for schools who are already doing well, but want to take advantage of the greater responsibility that comes with academisation. The Bicknell School, a special school in Bournemouth that had been rated ‘good’ in two inspections, became Tregonwell Academy in 2011. In its first inspection it was judged ‘outstanding’ in all areas, and has benefited ever since from putting teachers in the driving seat. It was inspected again in January 2018 and has retained its outstanding judgement.

Despite the positive trend for academies, Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, wants to end the academies programme and bring all schools back under local authority control. This would see a Labour-led “National Education Service”, with the government defining the curriculum for all schools and freedoms for heads stripped away. I wrote about this on ConHome when she first made the announcement, but to remind readers exactly what she said:

“We’ll start by immediately ending the Tories’ academy and free schools programmes. They neither improve standards nor empower staff or parents… we will use our time in government to bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector, with a common rulebook and under local democratic control.”

Not even wanting to get into what a common rule book written by Jeremy Corbyn would look like, in turning their back on academies Labour are turning their back on the freedom and innovation that have seen standards in our schools rise – putting ideology before what is right for our children.

Not only are academies and free schools some of the best-performing in the country, they can completely overturn expectations for entire communities where low achievement and stifled hope and opportunity had been the norm.

The Conservatives’ trust in educators to have the freedom to run schools in a way that best suits their local needs has paid dividends. I firmly believe in the academies programme, and that is why I will continue to advocate for the opportunities that becoming an academy can bring.

Dan Watkins: Six reasons why the Conservatives deserved to win that no confidence vote yesterday

It’s not hard to find reasons to be frustrated with the Government, but we are still delivering for the British people.

Dan Watkins was a three-time Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in Tooting and now campaigns with Kent Conservatives.

Everything is dominated by Brexit at present, but behind the scenes the Government is still continuing to deliver the Conservative’s domestic policies, much to the benefit of the British people. So here are six reasons why the country should be positive that the Government survived the vote of no confidence.

Tackling the Deficit

We should never forget that when we came to power in 2010, the Government couldn’t afford to pay for its public services and was building up a colossal amount of debt which future generations would have to pay. Years of spending restraint, combined with healthy growth of the economy, mean that Britain’s deficit is less that a fifth of what it was and debt as a share of the economy is coming down every year.
While we remain in power, the public finances stay in balance, reducing debt and allowing us to spend less on interest and more on public services.

Improving School Standards

Through the past eight years we have been reforming teaching, boosting Academies and opening Free Schools. We know these reforms are working because school standards are getting better and better, as measured by Ofsted, as well as international league tables, which we are steadily climbing. This year will see more Free Schools open and more Academies created, ensuring more children go to outstanding schools and receive a world-class education.

Boosting NHS Funding

The NHS is a huge organisation with a huge budget. As the population gets older, the demands upon it increase and the only way we can continue to fund its expansion is by growing the economy and investing those extra tax receipts into it. We have just detailed our Long Term NHS Plan, but it requires an extra £20 billion pa and this is only possible to find if we keep growing the economy. Another Labour-led recession would stop this extra funding dead in its tracks.

Creating an Enterprise Economy

From the moment we took office in 2010, the Conservatives have been making Britain the most business-friendly economy in the world. We have made it easier to start a company and to employ staff, cut business taxes and invested in research and development to support our high growth sectors such as creative, life sciences, automotive and more. Britain has been assessed by Forbes as the best country in the world to start a business. Every year we remain in Government is another year when Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour can’t undo our good work.

Protecting the Environment

Less heralded than other areas perhaps, but the results of our policies in energy and the environment have yielded excellent results. Renewal energy has expanded dramatically, carbon emissions have been slashed, plastic pollution is being tackled with radical action, and animals at home and abroad have won new protections. Michael Gove and DEFRA have more initiatives underway this year which will ensure that we continue to lead the international community on animal welfare and cleaning the environment.

Helping People into Work

Work is the bedrock of living a fulfilling life and this Government has done more than any other to give more people the opportunity to work. While welfare reforms have ensured that work always pays, the National Living Wage ensures that work pays even more.
Record numbers of people have been lifted out of the lowest paid work and the evidence shows that policies like Universal Credit help many more long-term unemployed into jobs. We need to have fully rolled out and bedded-in these initiatives before Labour get to power, so that it is much harder for them to reverse them.

At the present time, it’s not hard to find reasons to be frustrated with the Government, and indeed Parliament more generally, but when we’re out on the doorsteps campaigning, let’s be clear that the Conservatives are still delivering for the British people.

Nick Gibb: Our reforms to primary education are beginning to work. Here’s the evidence.

England achieved its highest ever score in reading in 2016, moving from joint 10th to joint 8th in the PIRLS rankings.

Nick Gibb is Minister of State at the Department for Education, and is MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.

The Government’s education reforms have been steeped in controversy. We have had to fight all the way against resistance from the education establishment – the teaching unions (although teachers themselves have largely embraced the new freedoms and are successfully delivering the more rigorous curriculum), university education faculties and self-proclaimed experts – but there is now increasing evidence that the reforms are working.

In 2016, primary school pupils in England took the new SATs that tested how well schools had been teaching the more demanding curriculum that Michael Gove and I developed in the years after the coalition government came into office in 2010.

The majority of schools responded well to a maths curriculum that required the division of fractions, that expected pupils to know their multiplication tables to 12 times 12 by year 4 rather than year 6. Schools were teaching the new spelling list that required pupils to know how to spell “nuisance” and “mischievous”. And for the first time in generations pupils were being taught sophisticated grammar, including the subjunctive.

But in 2016 ,when around 591,000 pupils sat down to take their tests, there were howls of criticism that the SATs were too difficult; reports of pupils crying and not being able to finish in the time allowed. Commentators queried the need for ‘fronted adverbials’ in the grammar test. When the results showed just 53 per cent of pupils reaching the expected standard in reading writing and maths we were accused of failing half of all children. Schools that hadn’t prepared for the new curriculum were shockingly exposed with even lower scores.

But over the next two years as schools became accustomed to the new curriculum and assessments, that 53 per cent figure rose to 64 per cent; and 75 per cent of pupils are now achieving the more demanding standards in reading.

England achieved its highest ever score in reading in 2016, moving from joint 10th to joint 8th in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) rankings. This follows a greater focus on reading in the primary curriculum, and a particular focus on phonics.

It has always been our aim for state schools to be as good or better than the best independent schools. Last week’s Sunday Times ranked the top private and state primary schools and, of the schools included in the tables, 250 state schools scored higher than all but 21 of the independent schools, with six state schools in the top ten.

Thomas Jones Primary School serves a disadvantaged part of west London and is ranked third state school, scoring higher than all but four of the independent schools in the Sunday Times list. I have visited the school a number of times because of its quiet focus on standards, particularly in reading where 10-year-olds are routinely reading secondary school level literature. The head, David Sellens, has high expectations of every pupil regardless of that child’s background or ability. It’s an approach and attitude we want to see replicated in every school in the country.

As a Government we are ambitious for more schools to be achieving ever higher results in their SATs. Next year, we are introducing a multiplication tables check to ensure every 9-year-old knows their tables. Whilst there is more to do, what is clear is that our reforms to primary education are beginning to work. In many parts of the country parents can be increasingly confident that their local primary school is a good school delivering higher standards of education for their children. It’s not yet true everywhere, which is why we are determined not to let up on our relentless focus on standards or abandon the free school and academies programme. Every parent deserves to send their children to an excellent school. We are determined that this is what our reforms will achieve.