Below is Mr Major's speech made to the Centre for Policy Studies at the Cafe Royal in London on Wednesday 3rd July 1991.
Some of you may wonder why I have selected the theme of education today. There are
so many other developments, not least in Europe, preoccupying Parliament and public.
But I make no apology. As you know, education is at the top of our agenda for the
1990s. As a matter of principle -
You may say it was ever thus. Disraeli declared that the fate of the country depended on education, and almost every subsequent prime minister has echoed that sentiment. But it only seems to galvanise us into action just about every 30 or 40 years. The 1870 Education Act established universal education in England and Wales. Balfour’s Education Act came in 1902, and Butler’s Act in 1944. Now we are embarked on an even more radical series of reforms, which began in the 1980s and are continuing into the 1990s.
Some people might feel tempted to say: “Look: we’re not daft. We know about the importance of education. We knew there was a lot to be done. But you've been in power for over a decade. Why haven’t you done it?”
Politicians are sometimes accused of not answering the question.
Be that as it may. In this case, I am prepared to be generous.
I will give you not just one answer -
The first is that the problems we are grappling with today go back a long time. For all our efforts to catch up over the past century or so, most historians would agree on one thing. The origins of our nation’s insufficient regard for education, and particularly education for work, lie deep in our culture.
On the one hand, we were suspicious of brain power. It made the squirearchy uncomfortable.
Only in Britain could it have been thought a defect to be “too clever by half” -
This ancient prejudice was then reinforced by the left, with its mania for equality.
Equality not of opportunity, but of outcome. This was a mania that condemned children
to fall short of their potential; that treated them as if they were identical -
On the other hand, we have inherited an almost equal disdain for vocational training
While respecting and enhancing academic values, we must infuse education with greater
awareness of the needs of the economy. We are therefore tackling not one problem
but two. It is not merely a matter of adjusting the curriculum, or restructuring
My second answer is this. No one can say that we have not made a bold beginning. More has been done to modernise our education and training in the 1980s than in the previous three and a half decades since the second world war.
Let’s take, to begin with, the vocational side. Just remember for a moment where we started from.
In 1979, there was no requirement to teach science or technology in our schools. No National Curriculum to ensure that every pupil studied maths and science, up to a required level of attainment.
No imaginative schemes, such as the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative, to bring business into contact with teachers and pupils. No City Technology Colleges, such as the superb Harris CTC at Norwood, which I visited this morning.
There were grant-
There were no Training and Enterprise Councils to link the worlds of education and
work. No national training schemes. No coherent structure of high-
And it was this Government that gave the polytechnics their independence. The results
are plain. They have flourished. They have attracted ever greater levels of interest
In recognition of their success, we have -
And then they ask what we have been doing, for the past 12 years!
My third point is this. In education Governments have been -
But that could not guarantee higher standards. Government, parents, inspectors, examiners,
The fourth and last part of my answer to that question on our Conservative record
goes back, again, to our culture. For it would be a poor sort of country that abandoned
interest in its past, in the race for technological expertise. A Conservative society
is one that knows about and respects its roots, while having the self-
Education is more than the acquisition of skills. The intrinsic worth of a trained mind was summed up by Aristotle with immortal conviction. “The life according to reason”, he wrote, “is best and pleasantest, since reason more than anything else is man.” A truth, perhaps, not universally acknowledged in the House of Commons.
We have therefore been engaged in the struggle to resist insidious attacks on literature
and history in our schools. It is a struggle that must continue. That is why I attach
great importance to the study of English. It is also why I am suspicious of the claim
that this can be done with minimal regard to the structure of the language -
It is why I have resisted calls to scrap A-
I say this not out of some romantic attachment to the past; but out of a conviction that past values and future needs complement each other. Those who argue that spelling should not be corrected ignore the world we live in, as well as the language we inherited. A world in which it matters to fill in a job application correctly. In which numeracy is a necessity. And in which vital export orders depend on the ability to communicate effectively, first in one’s own language and then in other people’s.
Our educational reforms have been driven by three interlocking ambitions. To raise standards. To widen choice. And to increase the accountability of the system to those who use and pay for it. These principles will drive our reforms forward in the 1990s, too. For there is still much to be done.
Too many youngsters reach 16 without any sense of where their education has been leading; without the motivation to take school learning forward into further education or training.
Too often teachers’ expectations of their pupils are too low. It is particularly
disturbing to find that it is less able children who have suffered most from the
zealous adoption of fashionable theories. It is they who have suffered from excessive
reliance on mixed-
To deliver higher standards, more choice and greater accountability in education
will require a professional and highly-
First, standards. The introduction of the National Curriculum has been the fundamental
first step. It is providing -
This change is truly revolutionary. It requires the organised teaching of facts and skills. It provides a guarantee that science and technology will be taught in our primary schools; that history and geography will enjoy their rightful place in the syllabus; and that every pupil will have to study a foreign language for five years. It puts special emphasis on the fundamentals in maths and English.
But it needs to be implemented flexibly. The National Curriculum must be a framework, not a straitjacket. It must be a guide for teachers, not a substitute for good classroom teaching. We are introducing refinements as it is brought in. On one, in particular, I lay great importance: allowing some young people, after the age of 14, to specialise in technical subjects, as they are able to do in so many other European countries.
It is already clear that the National Curriculum has brought a new sense of purpose
in schools up and down the country. At first the idea met with blind hostility in
predictable quarters -
But to set standards is not enough. In the interests of children, we need to know whether standards are being met. This requires regular assessment of their progress.
Let there be no doubt about the Government’s position. Tests are essential. And tests
are here to stay. Of course, tests are not the be-
Tests for seven year olds and eleven year olds must deal precisely with the core
It is early days -
We must also make sure that the established systems of testing older children maintain their value. This means addressing those criticisms of GCSE that give rise to a suspicion that standards are at risk.
It is clear that there is now far too much course work, project work and teacher
assessment in GCSE. The remedy surely lies in getting GCSE back to being an externally
assessed exam, which is predominantly written. I am attracted to the idea that for
most subjects a maximum of 20 per cent of the marks should be obtainable from coursework.
This, of course, is the sound principle we have recently proposed for A-
And we must also ensure that GCSE is properly calibrated to challenge the most able.
The same principles apply to that higher benchmark of excellence -
But it is equally vital to raise the esteem in which vocational qualifications are held. As you all know, the Government has set out radical proposals. These are designed to break down artificial barriers, which for too long have divided an academic education from a vocational one.
This is a crucial reform, and I am delighted by the very favourable reception that it has received. Challenging vocational qualifications are now being developed. The new diplomas announced in the White Paper will pull the two streams together, recording achievement in either or both, or in combinations of the two.
Providing a wider range of examinations, which lead to worthwhile qualifications, is a way of creating real choice in education. Choice and diversity are central to our aims. For uniformity is the curse of giant public services. The monolith must be broken up, and made more responsive to parents and pupils. I am glad to say the revolution is well under way.
I see a special future for grant-
In time I am quite sure that the grant-
I can therefore tell some further legislation is needed. We must ensure that the wishes of parents and governors are not thwarted by unreasonable behaviour on the part of education authorities.
We propose to smooth the path to grant-
Nor will this be all. We shall be putting forward a number of other measures to help
the fledgling grant-
We will also legislate to remove the technical and legal obstacles that stand in
the way of those voluntary-
We will go one step further, creating another new kind of school. We will enable
existing schools to transform themselves into grant-
Which leads me back -
We have sought to make room for parents within the cosy relationship between local
education authorities, their schools and their advisers and inspectors. Governors
and heads have been given the freedom to run their own schools, but there must be
parents on the governing body. Schools now have the freedom to break away altogether
from the local authority if they wish -
I have never yet come across parents who did not want to know how their children
are doing at school both in relation to their own ability and in relation to the
rest of the class. But far too many have the devil’s own job finding out. And the
country needs to know how schools as a whole are doing. Parents and taxpayers -
So as part of our plans for the Citizen’s Charter -
All this is part of our long-
My main message to teachers is simple, but important. We wouldn't be doing half what
we are doing if we did not have a high regard for the profession. I have made it
very plain that I do. Indeed, I married into it. But before anybody says that the
proof of the pudding lies in the pay, let me remind you of two central decisions
taken since I became Prime Minister. The first was the Government’s decision to honour
in full, during the course of this year, the recent pay award -
We must also ensure they have the best training. We are now looking hard at teacher training. The course criteria are now much tighter than they were. Much less theory. Much more practice. All teachers must now have direct classroom experience and a proper grounding in the basic subjects. They must be able to recognise the problems of children with special learning difficulties. This is good progress.
We want now to see more of the training based in school. Teachers must have the training
they need, not what the colleges think they ought to have. Over 600 mostly older
teachers have now been licensed to teach -
The changes I have outlined -
All change is, of course, unsettling. And I have said enough today to make it plain
that we are at a time of enormous change -
I have barely touched today on higher education, which is the area of our education
system where expansion is most spectacular -
This success story prompts me to emphasise one important and topical point. An integral part of the single European market is mutual recognition of qualifications and diplomas. Much progress has already been made on this. The ability of young people to make use of their qualifications throughout Europe will play a key role in fostering an unforced sense of closer European identity. The esteem in which our higher education is held gives us pole position in this process and I intend to keep it that way.
The ambitions I have shared with you today can only sketch the outline of the system we may see by the year 2000. For this time, the pattern of reform is being coloured in by millions of individual choices.
This means parents’ choices of the kind of education they want for their children.
Teenagers’ choices of courses and qualifications. School leavers' choices of further
education or training, provided by the new credits we are offering them -
The outcome will not, as too often in the past, depend entirely on government decree. So it cannot be predicted with the same certainty. But three consequences can be forecast with confidence.
First, with higher standards and greater accountability in education, teaching is
set to be one of the most challenging careers of the decade. Nothing less than the
best will do -