Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green to the Labour Party annual conference in Brighton this morning.
Conference, I’m delighted to be here to debate how the next Labour government will overcome the challenges of the pandemic to deliver an education system that equips children for the future. For, as I have heard on visits to nurseries, schools, colleges and universities, the challenges we have to overcome are severe.
Children out of school for 115 days, isolated from their friends and teachers. Exams chaos, with students suffering two years of uncertainty and last-minute decisions disrupting their futures. Children with SEND experiencing huge disruption from school closures, and the shutdown of vital services. And hundreds of thousands of children left struggling to access remote learning, while this callous Conservative government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to provide free meals for children during the holidays.
We know, it’s not just during the pandemic that our children have been let down. For a decade we have seen the effects of the Tories’ neglect and underfunding of education: Class sizes soaring to their highest in decades, reversing the progress the last Labour government made; a SEND crisis as children have been left without the support they need and parent’s left feeling abandoned and a teacher retention crisis, with a third of teachers leaving our schools within five years.
But despite being overworked and undervalued, despite the chaos of the pandemic, our brilliant education workforce – teachers, leaders, lecturers and early years staff – have stepped-up. And I want to say, on behalf of the Labour party, you have inspired us, and we extend our deepest thanks for all that you have done.
But the Conservatives’ handling of the pandemic? Their handling of education over the last decade? Children held back, a workforce exhausted, and a widening attainment gap. Yet children themselves remain excited about their futures. They have high aspirations, high hopes and dreams.
And Labour is right there with them. We want every child, regardless of background, to achieve their ambitions. And that is why Labour wants to build on the positive changes we have seen: parents involved in their children’s learning, local schools working together for local communities, the phenomenal dedication of our education workforce.
So we deliver an enriching, enjoyable, world-class education that enables children to make the most of their childhoods and equips them with the skills they need for life. We’ve already shown Labour’s commitment with our Children’s Recovery Plan. A plan that recognises that children’s learning and wellbeing go hand in hand. A plan that would set children up for life with communication, teamwork, problem solving, social skills.
That’s why our plan would extend the school day for additional activities – breakfast clubs giving children the fuel to learn, art, sport, cooking, coding, book clubs – so that opportunities to develop life skills and enjoy new experiences become the norm for every child. It’s why we would invest in training world class teachers, and give schools the resources to expand small group tutoring, unlocking all the advantages it brings. Why we would support the early years sector, schools and colleges with an Education Recovery Premium, delivering additional learning support including for children with SEND, and engage with families around the SEND review and it’s why we are prioritising young people’s mental health, with access to a professional mental health counsellor for every school.
Conference, our children’s futures, life chances and aspirations must not be limited by the Conservatives treating them as an afterthought. They must not be limited by a recovery plan that the Government’s own catch-up expert described as “feeble” and they must not be limited by a weak Prime Minister who took months to sack a failing Secretary of State.
That is why today, conference, I am challenging the new Education Secretary to deliver a recovery guarantee. To ensure that every single child who has been let down, ignored and undervalued by this government not only recovers from the pandemic, but thrives on new opportunities to learn, play and develop – just as Labour’s plan would enable them to do.
But conference, we must go further to give every young person a brighter future. That’s why Labour will end tax breaks for private schools as Keir announced at the weekend, and use that funding to equip young people with the skills they need for work and for life. By providing every young person with work experience and careers advice, ensuring every child has digital access, getting young people who have fallen out of the system back into education, training or employment.
Labour in government transformed education and we can do it again. Delivering enriching, enjoyable childhoods. The opportunity for every child to reach their potential. The skills young people need for the future, and the skills our country needs. Conference, that’s my guarantee and how the next Labour government will make Britain the best place to grow-up.