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Nadhim Zahawi: Full text of Tory Conference 2021 speech

The new education secretary addressed the sector for the first time today. Here is what he said.

The new education secretary addressed the sector for the first time today. Here is what he said.



With a name like Zahawi I can’t claim that my ancestors fought at the Battle of Hastings.

I was born in Baghdad, in Saddam’s Iraq and grew up there until my parents fled when I was 11.

They arrived in this country with almost nothing. But they believed in the limitless power of education to unlock opportunity.

They passed that belief on to me.

At the age of 11 I was sat at the back of a classroom unable to speak a word of English.

But with the support and guidance of my teachers I began to speak the language, think in the language and most importantly of all read the language.

Those kind, patient, dedicated teachers threw open the doors of my mind. And because of what they did for me I am able to proudly stand before you as the Member of Parliament for Shakespeare’s Stratford and the new Secretary of State for Education in Her Majesty’s government.

My own experience has formed what I believe about education. Talent and potential exist in all corners of our country. But that great untapped resource needs unlocking.

Being able to read unlocks the entire curriculum. Children who are behind in language development at age five are six times less likely to reach the expected standard in English at age eleven.

And maths achievement is an important driver in later outcomes.

” Every child deserves a great teacher. And every teacher deserves great training

A one grade improvement in GCSE mathematics maths is associated with an estimated increase of £14,500 in additional lifetime earnings.

I promise you that I will be led by evidence in the decisions that I take. We will relentlessly focus on what works. And we will irrevocably improve children’s futures and the future of this country.

Literacy and numeracy are the foundation of everything. Ensuring that our children recover what they lost during the pandemic is a moral imperative for this government.

We are delivering up to 6 million packages of tutoring in schools this parliament.

Literacy specialists from our English Hubs are currently delivering intensive support to over 1000 partner schools reaching approximately 50,000 pupils in Reception and Year 1.

To ensure that every young person is equipped with the skills they need for further study and the world of work we’re investing in programmes including maths hubs and the Advanced Maths Support Programme.

And at post-16 level we are funding colleges to deliver a further 2 million courses. One day soon I want T Levels to be as famous as A Levels!

Thanks to a Conservative Government one-to-one tutoring is no longer the preserve of the wealthy but the right of every child.

Every child deserves a great teacher. And every teacher deserves great training.

” I will bring forward a schools white paper in the new year outlining plans to tackle innumeracy and illiteracy “

So as the foundation of the next decade of reform during this parliament we will deliver 500,000 teacher training opportunities. We are carrying out a fundamental overhaul that will make this country the best in the world to train and learn as a teacher.

And that means investing in our outstanding early years staff too. 40% of educational inequality is baked in by the age of 5.

Great early education can change that. Which is why we are investing a record £180 million in developing and deepening the expertise of the brilliant men and women who care for and educate our children when they are absorbing most about the world around them.

And our ambition is not simply to recover but to build back better.

That is why I will bring forward a schools white paper in the new year outlining plans to tackle innumeracy and illiteracy. We will relentlessly drive-up standards building back a better and fairer school system.

I will work tirelessly to spread opportunity and unleash the brilliance of the young people of this country.

As Vaccines Minister I saw what is possible when we come together to deliver on a shared ambition.

The vaccine story epitomises the spirit of our United Kingdom. Give us a target no matter how ambitious and we will come together and we will hit it.

We used evidence, expertise, passion and commitment to deliver a world leading vaccine programme.

We will do the same with education coming together with the shared goal of delivering a bright future for our children.

Speaking as a proud engineering graduate of UCL I know that our universities are the envy of the world.

How many vaccines are named after a university? Only one!

Thanks to them we can be here together, we can hug our family and friends and we can live our lives.

Conference, I think this would be a fine moment to show our appreciation to the University of Oxford!

You know in some quarters it has become fashionable to knock this country to deride our heritage and mock our patriotism.

Well this country has given me everything.

A home, a life, a family and an opportunity to serve in Her Majesty’s government.

So never let anyone tell you that Britain is not great!

It took in a young Kurdish boy without a word of English and made him a Cabinet Minister.
Now it’s my turn to make sure that the opportunities that transformed my life are available to every child in every corner of our great country.

I intend to be the Secretary of State for aspiration and opportunity and skills.

And together we will level up this country and provide the key that unlocks the limitless potential of our next generation!

Thank you.



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3 Comments

  1. Debra Kidd

    You can’t improve maths grades at GCSE unless you remove the norm referencing system that caps the number of passes that pupils can achieve. Is he intending to do that? If not, it’s all just hot air.

  2. Hard to say too much as he has been in post for such a short time. My feeling is that this is a speech that says nothing really. As I read it I was reminded of Chris Mullins comment that when a new labour Minister ‘he had become better at reading out speeches that he had not written’. The speech reads, for me, as if it was authored by a band of loyal civil servants. It contains many of the current policy tropes such as ‘unlocking’, aspects of schooling as ‘drivers’ , children are ‘equipped’ with skills, things will be ‘delivered’ and of course the old favourite of ‘evidence based practice’. In the main I would see this as ‘more of the same’ and is in effect a clear endorsement of education as a means to provide human capital and as such a position that is continuing the kind of neo liberal ideologies that have underpinned so much in the public sector in recent times.
    In the analysis of such texts I find it helpful to look at what is not there. There are no mention of mental health. There is no sense that education might have intrinsic worth. That is could be a way that children learn to become inducted into subject disciplines and most important for me, that they might become free thinking, critical citizens.

    • Rachael Jubb

      Interesting thoughts, I can’t believe he thinks that all students in school can get private tutoring. The fund only covers some and once they have had 15 hours they are no longer eligible. This is not the same as tutoring paid for by parents. Had he any idea of what is actually being offered?