Michael Gove to the Durand Academy

The Secretary of State talks about the making of an 'educational underclass'.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

It’s a huge pleasure to be here in Durand, one year on from its conversion to an academy.

An already outstanding school doing a wonderful job for children in one of London’s most challenging neighbourhoods has, in the last twelve months, made even more amazing strides forward.

New support for children in the early years.

More superb academic results at the end of Key Stage Two.

A new cohort of brilliant young teachers trained here – in the classroom – and transforming children’s lives.

And exciting plans drawn up to establish a brand new secondary school – with boarding accommodation - ensuring that young people in Lambeth can enjoy an outstanding state education which will equip them for the future every bit as effectively as any private school.

What has been achieved here is inspiring – and underlines how, thanks to great teaching, our young people can achieve anything.

Durand´s success is a result of partnerships. The school benefits from the active support given by caring parents. They know what a good education looks like, are ambitious for their children and believe in the aspirational ethos which permeates every classroom and corridor.

Children enjoy brilliant teaching from gifted young professionals. We are uniquely fortunate to have the best generation of teachers ever working in England’s schools today.

And the whole school community has a passionate and committed champion in the local MP, Kate Hoey.

Kate has been a brave campaigner for educational excellence and a principled advocate for a better deal for disadvantaged young people throughout her career.

She has always known instinctively what I have always believed passionately – the overwhelming majority of parents, whatever their background, want the same thing for their children.

High academic standards.

Rigorous qualifications respected by quality colleges and employers.

Strict discipline, smart uniforms and respect for your elders.

Playgrounds free of bullying and classrooms free of disruption.

Teachers who instil the values of care, consideration and respect for others.

And the assurance every child is being stretched so their individual talent can be nurtured.

That is what Durand provides – what so many great state schools provide – and with these ingredients in place children from any background can prosper.

Because the ingredients which make Durand a success have been applied elsewhere across South London.

Look at the academy schools set up by one of the most admirable men I know – Phil Harris – Lord Harris of Peckham.

His academy in Peckham gets half its students to secure five good passes at GCSE including English and Maths.

When the school was run by the local authority only five per cent of children got those passes.

Every single one of the schools he takes over gets at least an additional twenty per cent or more young people to pass five good GCSEs compared to the record when the local authority ran it. Some get 40 per cent more. His schools in Merton and South Norwood get 50 per cent more. And some of these schools have only been in his control for a couple of years.

Phil is able to support state education so generously because of his success in business.

His firm Carpetright has brought jobs and opportunities, as well as high quality low cost flooring solutions, to thousands.

But many of you may also remember that Phil – and those who work for him – were, like many of us, victims of August’s outbreak of social disorder.

His flagship building in Tottenham was torched in an act of nihilistic destruction.

And it became, for a period, a symbol of London’s loss this summer.

I found that tragic.

Because the buildings which tell the real story of what London’s young people are like, and are capable of, are the academies Phil runs which turn out hundreds of brilliant, talented, wholly admirable young men and women every summer.

And we have to make sure that the future for our young people is shaped by the values which make the Harris Academies such a success, not the values which ran riot on our streets this summer.

We cannot say often enough that what we saw this summer was a straightforward conflict between right and wrong.

On the one hand the overwhelming majority – those who work hard, those who set up their own businesses, those who came to this country to build a better life and create prosperity for others.

And on the other hand – a vicious, lawless, immoral minority who need to know that their crimes will result in exemplary punishment.

But while the first step in putting right what went wrong is clarity about responsibility.

The next set of steps require honesty about what has happened in our society.

To investigate where the looters came from is not to make excuses because of background.

It is to shine a light on failures that originated in poor policy, skewed priorities and the deliberate undermining of legitimate authority.

I believe in reform of our education system because I want to give inspirational teachers more freedom to do the job they love and give every child, whatever their background, an opportunity to get on.

But we know, every teacher knows, there are some children for whom education currently is a tragic succession of missed opportunities.

There is a direct line to deprivation which begins when children are failed in primary because their behaviour is not policed with proper boundaries and they are not taught how to read properly.

When these young people arrive in secondary school they cannot follow the curriculum and cover up their failure with a show of bravado, acting up in class.

That disruption is, in many cases, not effectively checked. That’s not because of any failing on the part of the teaching profession. It’s because we politicians haven’t given them the tools and training to keep order.

The learning of every child suffers but the disruptive children lose out most.

Some drift out of formal learning – playing truant and then becoming persistently absent.

They, and others who cause disruption, are often excluded from effective education and placed in ‘Alternative Provision’ and ‘Pupil Referral Units’.

Some of these units do a great job in tough circumstances.

But in many of these units for excluded children there is often no effective academic learning which prepares young people for work, no guarantee of effective supervision for the necessary number of hours, no accountability for money spent or outcomes achieved and no secure barrier to prevent these young people drifting further into gang culture or criminality.

These young people are not in school for much of their teenage years – they are on the streets – and on my conscience.

For all the advances we have made, and are making in education, we still, every year allow thousands more children to join an educational underclass – they are the lost souls our school system has failed.

It is from that underclass that gangs draw their recruits, young offenders institutions find their inmates and prisons replenish their cells.

These are young people who, whatever the material circumstances which surround them, grow up in the direst poverty - with a poverty of ambition, a poverty of discipline, a poverty of soul.

I recognise that using a word like underclass has potentially controversial connotations. It can seem to divide society into them and us.

But I believe there’s a merit in plain speaking.

I am also haunted by the thought that I might, if circumstances had been different, been one of them. I was born to a single parent, never knew my biological father and spent my first few months in care.

Thanks to the love of my adoptive mother and father, and the education I enjoyed, I was given amazing opportunities. So I know just how much the right parenting, the right values at home, and the right sort of school matter in determining a child’s fate.

I also know that if we are to tackle the scandal of our educational underclass we cannot shrink from radical action.

We need to make sure children arrive in school ready to learn.

We need to make sure children in primary school learn to read.

We need to make sure teachers have the tools and the training they need to keep order in class so every child can learn, and that requires a new, explicitly tougher, approach to discipline.

We need to make sure children are in education throughout their teenage years, and that requires a new approach to truancy.

We need to make sure those children whose behaviour is persistently disruptive are in institutions which are equipped to turn their lives around, institutions which are held accountable for their actions.

We need to make sure that every young person is taught in a way which inspires them and prepares them for the world of work.

We need to turn round the weakest schools, which are concentrated in our poorest areas, by ensuring nothing stands in the way of giving those children a quality education.

And we need, restlessly and relentlessly, to challenge, everywhere and always, the culture of low expectations that condemns so many young people to a lifetime incarcerated in a prison house of ignorance.

Let me spell out the action we are taking in each of these areas – and the further action I propose to take in the months ahead to accelerate our reform programme.

Firstly, school readiness.

If there is one theme which predominates in the conversations I have had with primary school teachers in the last year or so it is the difficulty they have in dealing with children who arrive in reception class totally unprepared to learn.

Teachers report to me that a growing number of children cannot form letters or even hold a pencil. Many cannot sit and listen. Many can scarcely communicate orally, let alone frame a question. Many cannot use a knife and fork. Many cannot even go to the lavatory properly. Some express their frustration through displays of inarticulate rage.

More than 1,200 children aged seven or under have been permanently excluded from their primary schools for violence or other disruptive activity in the last five years. A further 53,000 children aged seven or under were suspended for similar behaviour.

If children arrive in school unable to sit, listen and learn and then disrupt the learning of others then lives begin already blighted.

Which is why we are intervening.

It’s why we are increasing the number of health visitors to give parents good advice at the start of their child’s life and spot danger signs.

It’s why we are overhauling the adoption process to get children out of the most dysfunctional homes where their futures are at risk and into the arms of loving adoptive parents.

It’s why we are paying to extend fifteen hours of pre-school education every week to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds.

It’s why we have extended the number of hours of pre-school education available to three and four year olds from twelve and a half hours to fifteen hours.

But we can never do enough to improve a child’s development in the early years.

Which is why the Government is going to follow up the work of Graham Allen and Frank Field to extend the scope of early intervention. The Social Policy Review which the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are leading will take things further.

But let me be clear.

The number of families where we need to intervene is small. I do not support an extension of the state’s reach into the lives of every parent. That will only undermine the virtues – of self-discipline, responsibility and aspiration – which we need to encourage.

But where we do need to intervene we should not be worried about accusations that we are being judgemental, authoritarian or old-fashioned.

Children should not be brought up in conditions of squalor, should not have to endure abuse, should not have to witness domestic violence, should not be left to vegetate in front of the television while alcoholic or drug-addicted parents ignore their needs.

Having read – in the serious case reviews which follow child deaths or serious abuse – of some of the terrible conditions in which children are raised in modern Britain it is clear we need to be tougher on inadequate parents.

We have a responsibility to protect.

By making it easier to take vulnerable children into care, making it easier to ensure those children are adopted quickly and making it easier for those who adopt to secure the future of those whom they have enfolded in love.

If we do not act we will perpetuate the suffering of innocents by allowing them to be inducted into a lifestyle without boundaries, self-respect or hope.

And in the same way as I support intervention to ensure children arrive in school ready to learn so I support intervention to ensure children in school learn the most important thing of all – how to read.

You cannot read to learn until you have learnt to read.

But the level of illiteracy in England is shocking.

At the end of primary school one child in six still cannot read properly.

And illiteracy is concentrated in some of our poorest communities.

A full 42 per cent of black Caribbean boys, and 60 per cent of white boys eligible for free school meals aren’t reading properly at the age of 14.

But there is nothing either inevitable or fixed about the number of people who cannot read properly.

We know that teaching using the right methods can effectively eliminate illiteracy.

Using systematic synthetic phonics – a traditional method of sounding out and blending letters – can help almost any child save the most severely disabled to read English – whatever their socio-economic, cultural or ethnic background.

Rigorous academic research in Scotland – in Clackmannanshire and West Dunbartonshire – has confirmed that the early and effective deployment of systematic synthetic phonics effectively eliminates illiteracy.

Which is why we are providing schools with the resources and teachers with the training to deliver effective phonics teaching in every classroom.

And we will hold every school to account for how successfully they teach reading. Every child will have a new reading check after two years at primary school to ensure they are decoding fluently. Once secure in this basic skill then children can read for pleasure, and enrichment, to pursue their own interests and to discover the best that has been thought and written.

But unless children are secure in that basic skill then reading remains a painful, difficult and obscure process. Especially for those children who grow up in homes without books, without a reading culture, without access to literary excellence.

There is a considerable lobby which argues that any additional check on children’s progress, of the kind we are introducing for reading, is unfair, generates more work for everyone and narrows the purpose of education.

Which is, of course, nonsense.

What is unfair is a world in which the children of professors grow up surrounded by books and ready to read at six while many children who are poor grow up in ignorance and ready to rebel long before they’re sixteen.

What generates more work for everyone is a culture which acquiesces in failure early on and then leaves us all to pick up the pieces when a confused and betrayed child finds he has been denied access to his birthright.

And what really narrows the purpose of education is a failure to give children the key to understanding the full richness of human achievement, instead leaving them frustrated, disruptive and branded too difficult to teach.

Because one thing of which we can be certain is that the children who have not learnt to read properly are the children who disrupt everyone else’s learning and fatally endanger their own futures.

There is an ironclad link between illiteracy, disruption, truancy, exclusion and crime which we need to break.

But we must accept that there is no single measure any Government can take which will ensure proper behaviour in all our schools.

Over the years there has been a slow, and sustained, erosion of legitimate adult authority in this country. It has been subverted by a culture of dutiless rights which empowers the violent young to ignore civilised boundaries which exist to protect the weak and vulnerable.

I am a strong supporter of defending children’s rights

The right to learn in safety.

The right to have their talents nurtured in an ordered environment.

The right to express themselves, and their differences, in a culture of respect.

But these rights are everyday undermined by our failure to deal with the ignorance, insolence and violence of a minority.

The only way to reverse this dissolution of legitimate authority is step-by-step to move the ratchet back in favour of teachers.

We need to ensure, in everything we do, that we send a single, consistent, message that teachers are there to be respected, listened to, obeyed.

There is nothing arbitrary or unfair in insisting that students respect, and obey, teachers.

Teachers possess the knowledge that pupils should aspire to acquire, they have committed themselves to serve others, which is the virtue our society should most prize, and unless their authority is absolute in the classroom then they cannot teach and children cannot learn.

So that is why the legislation we are currently taking through Parliament takes every opportunity to strengthen the hand of teachers.

For years, teachers have lacked effective powers to search students for items which can cause disruption in class. Like mobile phones, flip video cameras and Blackberries.

Students have used their phones in the past to record disruption in school and post details online. This summer we saw how mobile technology can be used to co-ordinate widespread disruption and violence.

But there are some in the Lords who think this power to prevent disruption undermines children’s rights. I think nothing could be further from the truth.

Stopping the smuggling of Blackberries into classrooms safeguards children’s rights - the crucial rights of the majority to learn in peace, free of the fear of violence and intimidation.

According to a survey by the OECD 30 per cent of effective teaching time is lost because of poor behaviour in schools.

The right every child deserves to be taught properly is currently undermined by the twisting of rights by a minority who need to be taught an unambiguous lesson in who’s boss.

As well as strengthening teachers search powers we are also giving teachers the right to impose detention on the same day a school rule is broken.

Incredibly, to me at least, teachers used to have to give at least 24 hours notice of every detention.

Of course same day detention is inconvenient for some parents. But then disruption in class is more than inconvenient for every child who suffers.

And parents should take responsibility for their child’s behaviour in school. If you don’t want your child to face an inconvenient after-school detention then make sure they don’t misbehave in the first place.

As well as reinforcing the authority of teachers with these new powers we have also radically slimmed down the central guidance on discipline – from more than 600 pages of bumf to just 50 pages of clear and helpful support.

The mere existence of 600 pages of dos and don’ts on discipline sent a fatal signal to teachers – if you don’t play it by the book you could find it’s you who’s on the receiving end of disciplinary proceedings. So instead of enforcing the rules teachers were cowed by the rules.

We are determined to end that.

So as well as signalling to teachers they are freer to use their own judgement we are taking every step to back up the exercise of their own authority.

We are overhauling teacher training so every new teacher is given the proper support they need to manage poor behaviour. The fear of misbehaviour is a barrier to many good people becoming teachers and a reason why many good people leave the profession.

But not nearly enough time and expertise is devoted to giving new teachers the training they need to keep order.

Our new teaching schools - 100 outstanding schools with a superb record in raising achievement and exhibiting great teaching – will play a central role in giving teachers the practical hands-on experience they need in classroom management.

We will shift the emphasis in teacher training from outdated theory to the very best practice, and to outstanding providers – schools like Durand.

And we will ensure that when new teachers arrive in class they can deploy not just the skills they have acquired but also plain common sense.

That is why we have overhauled the rules on physical contact to make clear that schools should not have a no-touch policy and it is right to intervene physically to maintain order. Or indeed to comfort a child in distress.

And it is also why I cannot proceed with rules the last Government put in place which would have required teachers to go through an arduous bureaucratic process to record the details of every instance they do have to physically restrain children. The last thing teachers need at this time is another piece of regulation inhibiting their judgment, undermining common sense. The National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders have both warned that this new regulation increases the burden on teachers. And I have listened to what they, and other professionals, have said.

So let me be crystal clear – if any parent now hears a school say, “sorry, we can’t physically touch the students” then that school is wrong. Plain wrong. The rules of the game have changed.

I know, of course, it’s difficult to restore order in some schools. Which is why we’re doing everything we can to support teachers who do the right thing.

We’re changing the rules covering the malicious allegations made about brave teachers when they do step in to restore discipline.

We know that some of the most disruptive children attempt to divert attention from their own misbehaviour by confecting allegations against teachers who attempt to maintain order. Some of these allegations are foul and the majority baseless.

There were 1,700 allegations made against school staff in 2009/10 and fewer than one per cent resulted in dismissal or resignation.

But these allegations often lead to the suspension of the teacher concerned, the blackening of his name, a blight on his career progression and, for conscientious public servants, a deep sense of trauma and hurt.

That is why we are legislating to give teachers the protection of anonymity when allegations are made.

It’s why we have made clear to heads that they should not suspend teachers just because a child has made a wild allegation. Leadership teams should back their staff all the way.

We are also making clear to heads that false allegations are themselves a disciplinary offence and could lead to criminal sanctions.

And I will also work with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the prosecuting authorities so that these cases are investigated properly without delay ensuring the cloud of suspicion which hangs over professionals can be dispelled as quickly as possible.

Critically, these two particular changes, eliminating no touch rules and reforming the process which governs allegations against teachers, will help us in one other crucial change we need to make to improve discipline.

We need more male teachers – especially in primary schools – to provide children who often lack male role models at home – with male authority figures who can display both strength and sensitivity.

One of the principle concerns that men considering teaching feel is the worry that they will fall foul of rules which make normal contact between adults and children a legal minefield.

By changing the rules to make it clear that adults can exercise their own authority and judgement in every aspect of classroom management we can help reverse the flight of men from primary education and bolster still further the strength of the workforce.

And specifically in order to ensure that there are many more male role models entering teaching we will be launching our troops to teachers programme later this autumn, so that we can draft gifted individuals from the armed services into the classroom. Professionals who have devoted their lives to training young men and women in uniform will have the chance to intervene earlier in the lives of those they are best equipped to help.

The right sort of military training can have a fantastically beneficial impact on young people with a history of poor behaviour. Cadet forces provide structure, discipline and excitement for young people. As independent schools know. Which is why I’ll be asking for their help in extending the number of state schools which have cadet forces.

But its not just formal cadet training. The charity Skillforce, which is run by former soldiers, has a fantastic record in working with children who’ve had behaviour problems.

It offers programmes which give young people the chance to learn self-discipline, teamwork, endurance, practical problem-solving techniques and useful vocational skills. Its results are amazing.

But if young people are to benefit from the sort of programmes Skillforce offers, if they are to encounter strong role models, if they are to benefit from a disciplined learning environment, if they are to secure the qualifications which will give them control over their own lives then they need to be in school.

And in far too many cases they are not.

In many cases those young people who constitute our educational underclass simply don’t spend enough time in education.

The true scale of truancy in this country has been masked by statistical manipulation.

And the link between truancy and educational failure is stark.

For years, the critical measure of truancy was persistent absence.

For a child to count as persistently absent they had to miss at least 20 per cent of sessions. We have just published data that shows a far more revealing picture.

There are currently 175,718 children who are absent for this length of time.

But if you look at the number of children who are absent for 15 per cent of school time – at least a whole month of education - then the total is 433,129.

And the number of children who are absent for 10 per cent of the school year – around 30 sessions – is over a million.

A missing million of young people – missing out on school, missing out on learning, missing out on the opportunity to succeed

There is a dreadful correlation between poor attendance and educational failure.

Overall just over half of young people get five good GCSEs.

But only a third of those students who miss between 10 and 20 per cent of school get the basic minimum of five decent GCSE passes.

While three quarters of those students who attend 95 per cent of lessons get those five crucial GCSEs.

Those heads who have succeeded in turning round poor schools know that you have to tackle attendance first – you have got to have young people in class, on task, all day.

Because if they’re not in school when they’re 14, 15 and 16 they won’t be in education, employment or training when they’re 16, 17 and 18. They’ll be on benefits, in gangs and on their way to young offenders institutions.

A child who is persistently absent is currently 23 times more likely to end up excluded than other children – and as we know – 80 per cent of young men in custody were previously excluded from school.

So we have got to tackle the truancy tragedy in England.

We’ve begun by raising the bar.

Persistent absence used to be interpreted pretty loosely. You had to miss at least 20 per cent of all school sessions before being considered persistently absent.

We’ve tightened the rules so its 15 per cent. And, in due course, I want to go further.

We will give teachers the power to ensure attendance improves.

They can, at the moment, issue penalty notices and go to the courts to ensure mothers and fathers do their duty to get young people to attend school.

But policing of these sanctions is weak. When fines are imposed they are often reduced to take account of an adult’s expenditure on satellite tv, alcohol and cigarettes. And many appear to shrug off fines and avoid existing sanctions, refusing to take responsibility for their actions. So we need to review the sanctions schools, police, the courts, and the Government, have available.

I will be asking a team of teaching professionals, under the leadership of our discipline adviser and outstanding headteacher Charlie Taylor, to review these and other policies we might implement to prevent more young people falling into the educational underclass.

In return for giving schools more power, we will also expect them to secure improved attendance. Schools where truancy persists can expect much closer scrutiny.

In preparation for the new tougher inspection system, Ofsted will be trialling no notice monitoring inspections this term, targeting schools with poor disciplinary records and poor attendance.

These surprise inspections will mean that schools cannot – as some do – use a notice period to hide disciplinary issues. And the insistence on effective attendance will mean schools cannot – as some have – hide their poor disciplinary record by acquiescing in the absence of the most disruptive children.

We cannot have a situation where those most in need are abandoned – denied their right to education because we’ve denied teachers the authority they need to teach.

Of course, it’s not just by acquiescing in truancy that weak schools condemn some of their students to membership of the educational underclass.

It’s also by formally excluding or referring these children into institutions which are, in too many cases, poorly equipped to turn young peoples’ lives round.

At any time there are between 40 and 70 thousand children in alternative provision – in local authority pupil referral units or other institutions which are there to cater for those with behavioural problems.

Some of these PRUs are outstanding. Like the Bridge Academy run by Hammersmith and Fulham Council which does a superb job. The teachers and other gifted professionals who work in our best PRUs and offer the strongest alternative provision do the hardest job in education. And they deserve additional support in their work. Which we will give.

But, despite the best efforts of many dedicated professionals, far too few PRUs meet the standards we need.

Last year only 2 per cent were judged outstanding for educational achievement. While 32 per cent of them were judged inadequate for attendance.

And it’s not as though attendance at PRUs is onerous. The rules politicians have put in place mean they do not even have to provide a statutory minimum number of teaching hours.

Of course the poor quality of some alternative provision should not mean we limit the freedom of professionals in mainstream schools to take the steps they need to maintain order. Exclusion is an important tool all schools need to be able to use.

It is critical to any effective discipline policy that schools have the freedom to exclude children who have clearly over-stepped the mark.

And it is important that when children are excluded for violent acts and grotesque intimidation that they cannot be re-instated over the heads of a school’s leader and its governing body. If we are to send a consistent message that adult authority is to be respected then we cannot send a violent child back to a school from which a long-suffering head has expelled him. That is why we are legislating to reform the exclusion process to reinforce the authority of a school’s head and its governors.

But if we are to help schools deal effectively with disruptive children we need the policies which will secure much better alternative provision.

And that’s why we’re acting now to help professionals do an even better job.

We’re making sure PRUs are better governed and held to account for student performance.

We’re allowing those PRUs which are outstanding to acquire Academy freedoms and grow so more young people can benefit from their leadership.

And we’re allowing new providers to help by allowing alternative provision Free Schools to be established specifically aimed at supporting the most challenging children.

We’re also planning to overhaul the whole exclusion process so schools are given the money local authorities currently spend on alternative provision, they are given the freedom to commission the right alternative provision and they are then held to account for the performance of those children they place in alternative provision. By giving schools more resources, more flexibility and also more responsibility, the whole system will be better aligned to give all children the support they need.

But I want to be certain that we are doing everything – everything – to improve the quality of alternative provision.

Can it be right that there is no minimum guarantee of the number of hours of education young people are given?

Can it be right that so many young people in PRUs are allowed to be absent for so long without sanctions?

Can it be right that we have children with serious, clinically-specific, special educational needs being housed alongside those whose problems are behavioural not physical or neurological?

Can it be right that so much alternative provision is not properly registered, and therefore not properly inspected and not properly held to account?

That is why I will be asking the team led by Charlie Taylor to look urgently into how we can improve alternative provision – and make sure another generation are not failed.

I will be asking them specifically to work with Lord Harris of Peckham to see if we can accelerate the ability of Academy chains to establish new provision for excluded and disruptive pupils

But critical as that work will be, a proper national effort to stop any more children joining this educational underclass requires us to be determined in tackling failure everywhere.

There are more than one thousand primary schools where more than forty per cent of children leave unable to read write and add up properly.

More than 200 of those primaries have been under-performing for at least five years.

Many of them are concentrated in local authorities with an entrenched record of poor educational performance who’ve run out of excuses for their failure.

More than 200 secondary schools fail to get five good GCSEs for more than a third of their students.

Only 16 per cent of students overall get GCSEs in the core subjects of English, maths, the sciences, a language and either history or geography.

And those schools which do not reach acceptable standards in these areas are, overwhelmingly, the schools with poor attendance records, poor discipline, poor levels of teaching and learning, poor provision of extra-curricular activity, poor links with business or universities and, above all, poor leadership.

Which is why we are acting now to give the children currently in those schools a better chance.

It’s why we’re setting up university technical colleges – with longer hours, longer terms, a stretching technical curriculum and all the discipline of the workplace.

It’s why we’re setting up new studio schools – built on a human scale – for those children failed so far by conventional schools - with a curriculum tailored to those who need practical learning – and teaching delivered by skilled craftsman.

It’s why we’ve established 24 free schools – overwhelmingly in areas of educational need – with the longer school days, demanding curricula and brilliant leadership our toughest areas need.

It’s also why this year the Academy programme will take its biggest step forward yet – with more under-performing schools than ever before being taken over by high-performing schools, more high-performing schools taking formal responsibility for the weakest and Academy status becoming the norm for the secondary sector.

But the scale of the challenge we face means we must go further, and faster. And that is why the Government’s social policy review is so important.

Alongside it, I will be raising the floor standard below which no school should fall so we squeeze failure out of the system.

I will also be asking more great schools to play an even bigger role in turning round the weakest.

I will ensure planning laws change so great new schools can be set up in the poorest areas – and every Government department will be asked to hand over surplus buildings so we can get new schools across the country.

And as we review policy in the Department of Education we will look at how we need to further reform funding, take on partisan vested interests and change rules on things like public procurement to build on the idealism which reform has already unleashed

Just last week we saw how chains of Academies, not just those in the Harris group, but also those run by Ark, by EACT, by Ormiston and ULT had dramatically improved the performance of pupils since leaving local authority control.

Schools in the most challenging areas, with the toughest intakes, turned into beacons of excellence – with young people who’d been written off a generation ago now getting ready to write their first essays at Oxford and Cambridge – and children who’d been destined for the educational underclass now experiencing an education which is truly world-class.

Looking at those schools – looking at this school – it’s impossible not to be optimistic about the future – but we will only achieve everything of which we’re capable if we remember that nothing – nothing – should be allowed to stand in the way of the reforms which will give every child the education we would wish for our own.

Published 1 September 2011