If I were the minister…

A first draft of an introductory speech my ‘dream’ minister for education would make. What do you think?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would firstly like to thank the Prime Minister for allowing me the privilege of serving you as minister for education.

What a fantastic education system we have in this country. There  are tens of thousands of dedicated professionals delivering ever-more outstanding lessons in our schools, every day. They have a passion for learning, and they enthuse their students. Children of all backgrounds, of all abilities, with an enormous range of interests and needs are having their eyes opened to the fantastic possibilities offered by science, culture, arts, technology, humanties, languages, and so much more.

We can be proud of what has been achieved so far, and I thank my predecessor for his work to make the country a better place for the young people of Britain. He and I may not always have seen eye-to-eye, but there is no doubt that he, and the entire education department, worked tirelessly to keep our education system improving.

Amongst the notable successes of the previous government were the increases in numeracy and literacy, investment in to our school buildings, better terms and conditions for teachers and a drive for innovation. However, like this country’s best schools, and best teachers, we will not be complacent. Even with fantastic efforts from so many talented professionals, there are still children who are not getting the opportunity to achieve their potential. There are still some schools where students and teachers are not enjoying the learning experience that they deserve, and there are well-meaning schemes that have cost a great deal but, sadly, delivered very little in terms of improved outcomes. We want to take the best of our education system and improve it, and we will look long and hard at every scheme and every piece of bureaucracy to ensure it delivers effectively, and with good value for our taxpayers.

I want to engage with passionate educators up and down the country and create a vision of education that everyone can believe in and work towards. In the past, government has not always treated the education profession with the respect it deserves, and has pre-empted every policy announcement with a barrage of criticism of everything that has gone before. I will not do that. I do not, and shall not ever, subscribed to the view that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I want to hear the best ideas about how to take good systems, and make them better. Innovation, based on quality research, will be a central feature of this department’s work.

I never want teachers, unions, or indeed my own department, to suffer from a siege mentality. If constructive dialogue breaks down, and trench warfare ensues, nobody wins. Nobody has turned around a struggling school by encouraging leaders to publicly criticise the staff, nor by allowing teachers to attack their own leadership teams, and the same is true of the national education system. I will not play to the media with crisis stories, nor indulge in mudslinging. Respect and collaboration are key principles that my department will observe at all times.

The best schools know that they will improve most effectively by carefully analysing the information they have about students and staff. They know that one or two numbers can never give you the full picture about a student, but they know that good data is vital to shine a light on what is really happening. I intend to take the same approach nationally. We will collect data, analyse it carefully, and use it together with observations, discussions and professional judgements. Every school will be held up to the highest standards, and we will make careful comparisons locally, nationally, and internationally. However, no school will ever be judged to be failing on any single measure again. Education is complex, and we always recognise that.

I will work hard to provide vision and leadership, and ensure every school in the country has the capacity and ability to improve itself. Gone are the days where central government handed down strategies and schemes from on high and expected every teacher to function in the same way. I want schools filled with collaborative and innovative teams who critically review their own work and use the result of the best in education research to improve their practice. I want every stakeholder in education, be they parent, student, teacher, or leader, to truly understand their responsibility and power to improve the learning of every student in this country, and to work together to achieve it.

There is so much to do, and I have so much to learn. Like the best teachers, I will begin by checking my own understanding. Like the best schools, I will be gathering opinions from everyone. Like the best student, I will promise to work hard, to keep trying even when the going get’s tough, and to treat my peers with respect.

I am excited to begin, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself to you. The next chapter begins now.

Cheesy, and perhaps a little West-Wing-esque, but hopefully gets my point across. What do you think – could a minister really take this approach or is this wishful thinking?

One Reply to “If I were the minister…”

  1. I offer my congratulations to the new ‘dream’ Minister for Education for setting out such laudable intentions in his opening speech.

    What an interesting exercise! I am aware I will not do justice to this speech which is the result of much thought, care and craft, but for what it is worth, I offer my thoughts here.

    It strikes me that there is an earnest desire to do the best by all professionals; to elevate the status of teachers and those in the school workforce, and to be restrained about condemning the actions of those who offer less than their best. There is a desire also to distant this new office, from those in the past who have been critical of their predecessors, and that is commendable. There is a good balance between a focus on the internal matters of the management of the school and the external business of where a school sits in the context of our education system.

    All of this I applaud and find much to agree with. Indeed, there is little that I could take exception to in this speech, such is the passion it inspires in its call for action.

    If I have one small concern, it is in this phrase – ‘I want to engage with passionate educators up and down the country and create a vision of education that everyone can believe in and work towards.’ Here I believe we have problems, because instinctively, our views about what constitutes that vision of education are so diverse.

    In February 2010 I was invited to Westminster to a debate on SEN, by Michael Gove & Sir Robert Balchin. It was to consider the then Conservative Party’s Commission on Special Needs in Education.

    What struck me, as I listened to Michael Gove speak, was the passion and conviction in his voice as he set out his vision for an education system that met the needs of all young people. It quite surprised me, and I was impressed. There is nothing I have heard since, that makes me feel he has wavered from the path he set out for himself, way back in February 2010.

    What we may take issue with, may be the manner in which he achieves the vision he set out all that time ago, before even the existence of the Coalition Government.

    So, my thoughts are that all of this speech is most impressive and good, well considered and deliberated. It is just that niggling matter of a ‘vision for education’ that becomes problematic.

    Rarely does one man’s vision serve the whole nation’s needs, even where that vision may be a product of the views of the best educators in the land.

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