Education Secretary Nicky Morgan sounded conciliatory as she took to the stage at the Conservative Party Conference and promised to ease teachers’ workload.
In a speech which was light on policy but demonstrated a significant change in rhetoric, Ms Morgan pledged to reduce the burden on teachers, but stopped short of announcing any policy to do so, instead promising to speak to teachers and unions.
She said: “I don’t want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well. I don’t want any child to have to settle for that.
“So I have set two priorities. Firstly, to do everything I can to reduce the overall burden on teachers, and second, to ensure that teachers spend more time in the classroom teaching. I don’t pretend this is easy. It’s not. The reasons that teachers in England work longer hours than their counterparts elsewhere in the world are many and varied.
“I wish I could announce some great initiative today that would solve this problem at a stroke. I can’t do that, but I will work with the profession over the coming months to find solutions, through the programme of talks with the unions, yes, but also through a new process of engagement with teachers across the country.”
Ms Morgan also said the government needed to show all schools, regardless of type, that they were equally valued.
She said: “Conference, if there’s one thing I ask of you today it’s that we show every school that we are on their side, that everything we have done has been driven by the desire to raise standards for all pupils in all schools.
“And that we care more about what a young person sees as they walk out of the gate than we do about the name they see on the way in.”
Despite claims by Skills Minister Nick Boles that careers advice would feature prominently, Ms Morgan’s speech contained no policy announcement on the subject.
Instead, she said that careers, “for too long overlooked in schools”, were now essential.
She added: “Let’s make work experience something of value, something that opens people’s eyes to the possibilities of the world of work, something that helps them aspire to more.
“And let’s get businesses working closely with schools to help children make the right choices at the right time, choices that help them pursue the careers they want… careers that perhaps they had never thought of before.”
Additionally, she spoke of the successes of existing policies including the English Baccalaureate, University Technical College and new Technical Baccalaureates.
Ms Morgan also announced the approval of 35 new free schools, and added: “We believe in free schools not because of ideology, but because they work.”