Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening gave her speech to Conservative Party Conference. The speech followed the overarching theme of the day, and indeed the conference: ‘A society that works for everyone’. During a well-delivered address she outlined the Conservative’s new policies to improve education in the most disadvantaged areas of the country, including the creation of innovative new ‘opportunity areas’ in the most deprived communities.
However, Justine’s speech began in the same way as ever other Cabinet Members’ – by celebrating the government’s record over last six years. In terms of education, she pointed to:
• The creation of over 2.5 million apprenticeships since 2010
• The removal of caps on university places
• The free schools programme, with the Conservatives committing to a further 500 by 2020
• The reform to the curriculum
• The doubling of free childcare provision for parents of 3 and 4 year olds
Keen to showcase her working class credentials, Justine highlighted her background. Having grown up in 1980s Rotherham, she said she was no stranger to disadvantage, and was the first in her family to go to university. Furthermore, she reminded us that she is the first comprehensive school educated Secretary of State, and said that her university education transformed her own prospects.
Commenting generally on education, Justine says there are three building blocks to success, which are providing students with knowledge and skills, the right advice at the right time and great challenging, life shaping experiences.
Of course, grammar schools featured prominently in her speech. Justine stated that grammars have a track record of closing attainment between those in receipt of free school meals (an indicator for poverty) and their better off classmates. Furthermore, she states that in grammar schools, disadvantaged students progress twice as fast, and 99% of grammars are good or outstanding.
And the new Secretary of State did not miss an easy opportunity to score party political points, criticising Labour’s “rank hypocrisy” over grammars after it was revealed that many of the Shadow Cabinet choose to send their children to selective schools, but don’t support the creation of new ones.
But the most interesting announcement is the creation of six new social mobility hotspots, or opportunity areas. A Social Mobility Commission report published on areas of deprivation earlier in the year picked out Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, Scarborough and West Somerset as those most in need of additional support.
These areas will now be part of the trial, which will work to ensure the most deprived students are given the opportunities deserved by all. In her speech, Justine promises extra support to teachers and better careers advice for these hotspots, a push on the three building blocks to success (above) but most importantly an individualised strategy for each area.
The education secretary’s speech is the latest in the Conservative Party’s all-out effort this conference to be seen as the party that is working for everyone, not just the privileged few.