Conference, good afternoon, it’s fantastic to be here in Manchester.
For our country to prosper and succeed in the future, we need to make it a country that works for everyone.
Education and skills are right at the very heart of that ambition.
Our Party, in government, has made huge improvements to our education system, improvements that are transforming the opportunities for our young people and our country.
We should be exceptionally proud of that fact.
1.8million more children being taught in schools that are good or outstanding than when Labour were voted out in 2010.
That has not happened by accident. Labour’s legacy was grade inflation, which meant ever-rising GCSE grades whilst standards fell, and a shocking number of children leaving school without the basic skills they needed.
Conservative Education Ministers stepped in, with a programme of bold, ambitious reforms.
Giving choice to parents with the introduction of free schools.
Giving more freedom to head teachers to innovate and improve standards through academies.
Delivering a more rigorous curriculum, establishing a world-class examination system at GCSE and A-level, so our young people come out of our school system with the level of knowledge and the skills they need – and that ultimately employers need – to be successful.
And in this past year, we have gone further, tackling the iniquitous decades-old post code lottery in school funding in England, introducing a national fair funding formula, backed by an extra £1.3bn funding for the core schools budget.
And in the last month we’ve also delivered on our promise to introduce 30 hours of free childcare for working parents – that is going to make a very big difference to literally hundreds of thousands of families.
And in teaching, there are already a record number of teachers in our schools – 15,500 more than in 2010.
But I am determined to help strengthen the profession through stronger qualifications and ensuring access to continued professional development, right the way through a teacher’s career.
The fact is the historic attainment gap in our schools between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better-off peers is now finally closing.
And in Higher Education, thanks to our reforms and the removal of Labour’s perverse cap on student places – which was literally a cap on aspiration, more talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds than ever before are getting the chance to go to our world-class universities.
In fact, last year 18 year olds from disadvantaged areas were 43 per cent more likely to go to university than in 2009.
But there’s a whole lot more we can – and must do – to help make sure that this really is a country that works for everyone, and that the benefits of our education reforms are spread to all areas, so that how far someone can go in life isn’t determined by their family background or where in the country they are born.
But we know that for some children, their development has already fallen behind on literacy and numeracy by the time they even start school.
So, I am announcing that the next phase of our £140million Strategic School Improvement Fund will include a new focus on boosting literacy and numeracy during a child’s Reception year.
Our Maths Hubs are already spreading excellence in maths teaching.
Today I can announce we are now going to invest a further £6million to put them in more areas where we want them to make the biggest difference.
And we will also create a new £12million network of English Hubs, in the Northern Powerhouse, to further improve early language and literacy.
And because great teachers are at the heart of a great education, I want to do more to support schools to be able to attract and keep the best of the teaching profession.
We will invest more than £30million in tailored support for getting more great teachers in some of the schools that struggle the most with recruitment and retention.
And we will introduce a pilot student loan reimbursement programme to help attract and retain teachers, and we will target it at the subjects and areas of the country that need them most.
Last year in Birmingham, I announced the first six ‘Opportunity Areas’ – places facing some of the biggest challenges for young people growing up, where we are working inside and outside schools, with local communities and charities, and with employers like EDF Energy in West Somerset, Grant Thornton in Norwich, and Rolls Royce in Derby, not just to raise educational attainment in the school system, but also to raise sights and broaden horizons for those young people, through mentoring and work experience.
Since then I have doubled the number of ‘Opportunity Areas’ we are working in. I am determined that we will apply the lessons that we learn from them on what works, to boost opportunity for young people in other parts of the country too.
But I want also to talk about the children outside our mainstream schools, in so-called Alternative Provision settings.
These are the children with perhaps the most challenges in their lives, which mainstream schools often find it less easy to deal with.
Less than 4 per cent of these children achieved A*- C in English and maths GSCEs compared to more than 64 per cent of children in state-funded mainstream schools. None of us should accept that.
It is just as unacceptable that compared to other children, they are they are so much more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
But with the right support, earlier, their lives could have been on track.
In Alternative Provision there are some of the most dedicated, inspiring teachers and parents you will ever meet, but this is an area of education that has been set on one side for far too long.
So I will bring forward proposals to ensure that Alternative Provision is the best it can be, and that the best practice already there in this field becomes the norm, so that it gives all the young people in it the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
We will make sure those children can do better.
Now, on technical education: many people don’t realise that since 2010, with business, we have created more than 3.4 million apprenticeships. That’s millions of opportunities for young people to get development in the workplace.
Coming into this role, I felt it was so important that our education system post-16 should be gold standard for all our young people, not just the half who go on to A-levels and university. That’s what I said at conference last year.
And our reforms to technical education in this country are going to deliver choice for those great young people, and skills for our employers.
As we prepare to leave the European Union, this has never been more important for our country.
Because this great country of ours needs a skills revolution.
I want our country to have an army of skilled young people there and ready for the British businesses that so need them.
Labour was happy to import skills.
As a Conservative Government, we are going to build up our home-grown talent.
And that’s why in the Budget this year – hailed by the CBI as a ‘break-through budget for skills’ – we announced a half a billion pounds a year extra investment in our technical education reform.
We will pursue excellence in Further Education, as we have in our schools, and we will introduce T-levels, technical qualifications that will be every bit as rigorous and respected as academic A-Levels.
We will make sure that the technical education ladder is going to reach every bit as high as the academic one.
In 2015, we introduced degree apprenticeships, so individuals can earn while they learn, and in less than two years, more than 2,000 people have started one.
So today I am announcing the next wave of 27 Degree Apprenticeship projects, that will help meet the growing demand for these opportunities from the next generation.
Everything I have talked about is about giving our young people the chance to fulfil their potential. Not just some of them. All of them.
Many of them will have voted Labour at the last election.
I don’t agree with Labour’s proposals to scrap tuition fees.
Because, we can see the impact of not having fees over the border in Scotland. It leads to a cap on places, which is a cap on opportunity.
We know what happens. As the Sutton Trust found last year in Scotland, the gap between people from the most advantaged areas and least advantaged areas going to university is higher than in any of the other home nations.
I was the first person in my family to get the chance to go to university, and I want more and more young people to have that choice in the future, not fewer.
And we want to help students when they graduate.
That’s why we are taking action right now to freeze student fees, and it’s why we’re increasing the amounts graduates can earn every year before they start paying back their fees from £21,000 to £25,000, saving young graduates up to £360 next year.
But, if we are going to win the trust and support of young people more generally, we need to understand two things.
First of all, for lots of them, negative party politics is a turn-off.
Yes of course we should hold Labour to account for its empty promises – like Labour’s empty promise to young people on student debt – and they’re actually raising tuition fees in Wales – but that’s not enough.
Because secondly, they want to hear about how our polices are going to make their lives better.
We have to take the priorities of a new generation of voters, and make them our own.
And the means we’ve got to be positive, constructive, and optimistic.
We’ll win the battle of ideas by showing how our politics delivers for them in practice, how it makes a difference in their lives.
In the end, it’s about equality of opportunity – that’s why I’m a Conservative.
You’ve heard from me about how education is at the heart of our positive message to young people.
I’m someone who went through the state education system and went to my local comprehensive school. My teachers inspired me.
Whether it’s work in Opportunity Areas to lift the communities that can do so much better through education . . .
Whether it’s our technical education reforms giving young people post-16 great choices . . .
Or whether it’s understanding that we cannot allow a young person to be written-off because of the difficult circumstances that their life might have started with . . .
Education is about levelling up opportunity.
No one community or part of our county has a monopoly on talent.
Britain will only be at its best when we unlock all it all. That’s what social mobility is all about.
Stronger communities, a stronger economy, a stronger country.
Equality of opportunity. This for us is our party’s mission. A country that works for everyone.
The Conservative Party is the party that reached out to me when I was a young person growing up in Labour-run Rotherham . . .
. . . and I know we are a party that can reach out to young people today.
They want a choice, they deserve a choice, let’s give it to them.