Malthouse pledges ‘constant pressure’ to boost school standards

Education secretary promises to be 'much more assertive about intervention and standards'

Education secretary promises to be 'much more assertive about intervention and standards'

England’s school system needs “constant attention and constant pressure” from government to “drive it forward”, the education secretary has said.

In a message to underperforming schools and academy trusts, Kit Malthouse warned there was “nothing quite as persistent as people hanging on to mediocrity”.

The new education secretary did not announce any new policies. Instead, he used his address to the Conservative Party conference this evening to promise his team would be “much more assertive about intervention and standards” in schools.

It further demonstrates ministers’ desire to take a more interventionist position on school standards, reversing the freedoms that the original expansion of the academies programme was supposed to achieve.

Boris Johnson’s government was accused of a “power grab” over schools with the first iteration of their schools bill. The legislation may now be under review by Liz Truss, but ministers signalled this week they would not change direction.

‘An awful lot more to do’

Malthouse said his team would want to celebrate the Conservatives’ “story of success” over the next two years “but also reflect on the fact that there’s an awful lot more to do”.

He said the “vast franchise” of England’s education system needed “constant attention and constant pressure from us as demanding friends to drive it forward”.

The government wants to be “much more assertive about intervention and standards” in schools, he said.

“That means that we need to be much more front foot about talking to schools about what they can achieve. We’ve seen as I said vast progress in lots of schools, but there are still pockets that need our attention.

“And we need to reflect on the fact that there’s nothing quite as persistent as people hanging on to mediocrity. Us finding, challenging, working with teachers, bringing all schools up to the standard of the best will be a key part of our mission.”

But Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said teachers “deserve better than rhetoric about ‘intervention’ at this critical juncture”.

“As more children and communities become poorer and parental anxiety about the cost of living rises, schools will do everything they can realistically do to support families.

“But ministers are overlooking the links between poverty and barriers to education- and leaving the expectation on schools to respond to the huge social challenge facing schools this autumn.”

‘Unashamedly interventionist’


Malthouse added that children “grow up in a blink”, and said ministers needed to be “patient and demanding on behalf of all those kids that we look after”.

The education secretary was joined onstage by his four other education ministers Jonathan Gullis, Kelly Tolhurst, Baroness Barran and Andrea Jenkyns, who each outlined the priorities for their briefs.

Jonathan Gullis, the schools minister, said the government was “not going to be ashamed to the interventionist to make sure children have every opportunity”.

He pledged to “champion teachers” and work with unions “to make sure that we are out there looking at how we can improve recruitment and retention”.

Barran focused on the government’s existing policy of intervening in failing schools and academies. With the schools bill on ice, ministers are reliant on existing powers and proposals for stronger intervention in schools rated ‘requires improvement’ twice in a row.

She said she was “particularly focused on is those 700,000 children who are in schools that are failing and have failed for some time”.

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