TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINSTER'S FIRST AUDIO BROADCAST ON THE NUMBER 10 WEBSITE. 11 FEBRUARY 2000
Hello and welcome to what I am sure will be the first of many direct broadcasts from the Downing Street website. I'm sitting here at my desk in Downing Street in front of my PC terminal, which I'm just getting to use after many years of not really wanting to come to terms with the new computer technology. I did a course. I'm coming to terms with it. I'm using the new PC terminal and it really brings me to reflect upon what I wanted to say to you this week, which is of course the importance of education and skills-the importance of education and skills for everyone including adults but most particularly for our children. My children, like others, are having to learn the new technology. They have to become expert at it and they are going to be leaving school and going to work in a world in which skill and talent and ability is not just their route to personal fulfilment, it is their route to prosperity. They will need those skills and talents if they have got any chance of succeeding. And the country needs them to be highly skilled as well.
In Britain, we've always been excellent at educating an elite well. The top 20 per cent have always been pretty well educated. But for the majority, the standards just haven't been high enough. We've had a poverty of ambition and aspiration which has meant that large numbers of people leave school either without qualifications or without nearly the qualifications they need. Our vision for the education system is really like this. We need education throughout life. Everyone understands that.
It has to begin at a young age so the first stage is nursery education for the four year olds and three year olds. And we're pretty well on the way to achieving that. The four year olds have now got the chance of decent nursery education. We've doubled the numbers of three year olds who get the chances of nursery education and will extend that further over time.
Then after that, at the second stage, we need primary schools that really focus on the basics - getting literacy and numeracy right and I'll come back to that in a minute.
And then the third stage is a comprehensive system. That isn't comprehensive in the sense of being so uniform that everyone gets the same type of teaching in the same way as if they were all of the same ability. But is comprehensive in the sense that everyone gets the chance of an equal opportunity dependent on their ability, to do the very best that they can.
And the fourth stage is a university system where we're opening up access to more people and where we're building up really high class, high quality universities.
So, going back to the primary school system, this week we had a report from OFSTED - which is the body that inspects all our schools and says how they're doing - we had a report which was good news in many ways and showed where we still have to improve.
On the primary schools they've pointed out that, thanks to the reforms of the literacy and numeracy hour, then results of English and Maths for the test for 11 year olds had shot up to the best ever. And that's good news. It's a great tribute to the people and of course the teachers. And it's important in other ways too because what it meant was that we could see that the reforms introduced, which many people resisted at the time, have actually yielded good results, I think we're well on the way, with the reduction in infant class sizes and the new money that's going into primary school buildings to make our primary schools a place where kids can pretty much be guaranteed the very basics they need for later life education.
What we've now got to do is turn our attention to the secondary schools. And here, in a sense, we've tolerated bad results and low expectations, particularly in some of the inner city comprehensives, for far too long. Now when I said we wanted a comprehensive system in which there was equal opportunity but where we didn't have a uniform system, what I meant by that was we need schools that all have strong headteachers, good discipline and ethos of hard work and learning, high quality motivated teachers, parents that get involved, good facilities - all these things are vital, and you can tell a good school the moment you walk through the door. Those things are, if you like, common to all good schools. But then we also need to recognise that children are of different abilities and we also need to recognise that schools can specialise in different types of subjects. So what we are now doing is, as well as trying to raise standards generally in the schools, developing specialist schools and, in fact by the year 2003, about a quarter of our secondary schools will be specialist schools. That means that they will specialise in science or languages or technology and they'll offer something particular, and a bit more in those specalties that don't just attract children to the school but also raise the standards in the school generally.
Now along with all the other investment that we're putting in-with the changes in teachers' pay so that teachers can get an increase above the ordinary increase but related to standards of performance, along with the measures we're taking to train headteachers properly and to set up a new college of leadership for our schools where we're trying to develop the headteachers of the future - along with all these things, I think we will be able to build a secondary school system for the future that isn't about either returning to the old system where we divided kids up into successes and failures at the age of 11, but is getting away from, if you like, the 60s or 70s concept of the comprehensive school. So I think again there the OFSTED report said that we were making improvements. They said that the majority of schools were doing better than they were last year but we've got some way to go. And we've acknowledged that and I hope that the reforms that we're putting in place will help us get there. So, yes we've got a long way to go, but there's nothing more important in Britain than the sort of teenagers that emerge from our schools. And our aim has got to be that more and more of them get high quality, high class education that enables them to go into university or to develop their skills in a way that gives them the chance of fulfilling their own potential. And I think that's within our reach. We need the investment in our schools, but we need the reform and the modernisation too. So it's a long haul but this week's OFSTED report is important because it shows we can make a difference.
I'm the first to say that we have to go even further. That education is my passion, the passion of this Government. We said it would be our number one priority. It is our number one priority. And I think we can say as a result of this report this week that, yes, there's much still to do but a lot has been achieved. Britain's schools are getting better step by step, and, as those reforms take root, and as people start to see the results of those reforms, then I think we can build the notion of high quality excellent education for all as the national purpose for Britain as we begin the 21st Century.