Department for Education
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Education Secretary addresses the ASCL Annual Conference

Gillian Keegan recently (08 March 2024) addressed school and college leaders at the ASCL Annual Conference in Liverpool.

Good afternoon and welcome to my home city of Liverpool! 

If you’re staying for the weekend, do make the most of everything that Liverpool has to offer… especially the nightlife. 

40 years ago, aged 16, I left a comprehensive school which was only a few miles away from this very building. 

92% of my classmates left with less than five GCSEs, or O-Levels as they were in my day, that are needed to reach the next stage of education. 

Many of my school friends left without a single qualification. 

Whilst it’s fair to say it wasn’t the best school in the country, it did have some good points. 

One teacher, Mr Ashcroft, stayed behind after school to teach me technical drawing and engineering, subjects that girls weren’t allowed to study in those days. 

He encouraged me and helped me to pass 10 O-Levels… which was considered a miracle! 

This led to the apprenticeship that kickstarted my 30-year career in international business. 

That, in a nutshell, is the power of education. 

Underperforming schools and colleges are now few and far between. 

That is thanks to your hard work. 

One of the best things about being Education Secretary is having the opportunity to visit schools and colleges around the country. 

During the last 18 months, I’ve listened, and I’ve learnt a lot. 

You told me about workload and the additional pressures being placed on our brilliant teachers. 

So, together we’ve set-up the workload reduction taskforce, aiming to reduce teachers’ and leaders’ working hours. 

You told me how difficult it can be to recruit and retain teachers. 

Together we’re building on our recruitment and retention strategy and introducing new routes into teaching, including the teacher degree apprenticeship. 

We’ve put you, the experts, in charge of leading your schools and colleges. 

How have we done that? 

Since 2010, we’ve massively expanded the number of academies from a few hundred to over 10,000. 

Giving you the power to lead and to make the right decisions for your schools and colleges. 

However, we all know that the best education systems combine trust in leaders, with consistent accountability. 

In the last 18 months I’ve been struck by the number of education ministers from countries around the world that have asked me, “how have you dramatically improved your school standards?”. 

I tell them it’s thanks to you, our fantastic school and college leaders, that around 90% of schools and 92% of colleges in this country are now rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. 

We’ve just heard from Martyn, who I was delighted to appoint as Ofsted’s chief inspector. 

Martyn has a wealth of experience, so I hope you’ll agree he’s an excellent choice. 

As you’ve heard, Ofsted wants to improve, it wants to listen. 

Now, since the pandemic, we’ve seen a worrying trend of more children being absent from school. 

What’s the point in building a world class education system if children aren’t in the classroom? 

At the G7 in Japan, I was reminded that attendance is actually a challenge in many countries. 

In January, the education minister in New Zealand spoke to me about how their overall absence rates had increased from 8% in 2019 to 12% in 2023. 

Even now they have over 40% of children persistently absent from school. 

That’s why access to data is critical. 

That’s why we’ve revolutionised ours. 

Making it some of the most comprehensive daily attendance data collected anywhere in the world. 

It’s the data that we’re receiving from 89% of schools which is helping us overcome this challenge. 

From September, all schools will be required to share daily data, providing 100% coverage. 

This work has helped ensure that there are 380,000 fewer children persistently absent or not attending school than last year. 

There’s been a theme of togetherness running through everything I’ve said today. 

We’re working together to tackle challenges, but also to grasp opportunities. 

We’re working together to improve school standards for all young people. 

We’re working together to get attendance back to pre-pandemic levels. 

It’s that theme of togetherness that we need to take forward. 

I can’t think of a more appropriate city to be in, to talk about togetherness. 

A city with a great sense of family and community. 

So, I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of the most loved sons of this city, Jürgen Klopp, the manager of undoubtedly the best football team in the world. 

He said, “to be successful, you need to be brave, you need to make decisions, and you need to feel responsibility”. 

I know you feel that responsibility. 

I know you will continue to be brave and take the tough decisions that are improving education standards for the children of this country. 

For that, I say thank you.


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