Election 2024

‘The proudest day of my life’: Phillipson’s full speech to DfE staff

Education secretary says she has 'greatest job in government', but warns of 'scale of the challenge ahead'

Education secretary says she has 'greatest job in government', but warns of 'scale of the challenge ahead'

New education secretary Bridget Phillipson told Department for Education staff she’s in the “greatest job in government”, but warned of the “scale of the challenge ahead of us”.

Speaking to staff at Sanctuary Buildings, Phillipson said it was the “proudest day of my life”. But she said while the change the party wants to deliver is “simple to describe”, it is “vast to deliver”.

“The Labour Government that is taking office today will be focused, relentlessly, on improving the life chances of all of our children,” she said.

“On driving high and rising standards throughout education, on ensuring that all of our people, in all of our communities, our businesses and our country, have the skills that they need to drive the growth that we can and must see, to build a better future not just for each of us, but for all of us.”

In a nod to the previous government, Phillipson said she is “focused on delivering, on building of the work the last government did, and on which so many of you will be justly proud of the work that you did, and I recognize that, to raise standards for our children, to deliver a better future for young people today”.

‘I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge’

But she added: “I want to be clear: I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead of us, the mountain we must climb to build the better Britain our young people deserve.

“That is the work ahead of us, the task to which we must all rise.”

In separate comments sent to press this evening, Phillipson added “opportunity should be for all – not just a lucky few. That’s why education is at the heart of the change this new government will make and will be at the forefront of national life.

“Education is key to improving children’s life chances. Lives are shaped by opportunity but too many people of all ages, in too many parts of this great country, simply don’t have the opportunities to succeed – this government will make sure they do.

“We’ll break down those barriers to opportunity through supporting children to get the best start in life, high and rising school standards for all and skills training to support growth, so that everyone can achieve and thrive.

“Government can’t do this alone. From day one we will reset the relationship between government, families and our education workforce; our dedicated teachers and school staff, early years staff, university and college professionals and social workers.

“Education will be at the heart of our national story, and it’s our workforces who are at the heart of education.”

Phillipson’s DfE speech in full

Thank you so much, and thanks to you all. It is truly wonderful to see you and I’m going to struggle to hold myself together. I think it’s such an emotional occasion for all of us.

I won’t speak for long: we’ve all got a really big and important job of work to do.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer

Just earlier this afternoon, Keir Starmer, our new Prime Minister, asked me to take on the role of Secretary of State for Education, in the Labour Government which the British people elected on Thursday.

It is the greatest job in government, the proudest day of my life, and I am so honoured to be here with you all today.

I’ve just been speaking with the Permanent Secretary, and I know in the days, weeks and months ahead, I will meet so many of you, and I cannot wait to have those conversations as together we begin to drive the change, that Labour is determined to bring.

And that change is both simple, and vast. Simple to describe, vast to deliver.

‘Mission-led government’

You will have heard, again and again, these last few weeks, that Labour wants to deliver a mission-led government.

And the greatest mission of this Labour Government, the greatest mission any government can have, will be to break down the barriers of opportunity, which hold back too many of our children, which scar the life chances of too many of our young people.

That mission will be at the heart of the work of this Department in the years to come.

You will have heard me repeat – again and again – over the recent weeks, some of what that will mean:

  • giving all of our children the best start in their early years
  • delivering breakfast clubs and excellent maths teaching in every primary school
  • expanding speech and language support
  • more teachers, stronger training for staff and leaders alike,
  • a comprehensive review of curriculum and assessment,
  • a reformed Ofsted alongside regional improvement teams in the Department,
  • professional careers advisors and compulsory work experience,
  • a new skills landscape and reforms to the existing Levy,
  • and improving mental health support for all of our children.

‘The values that drive me every day’

And the values that underpin that mission, the values that drive me every day, that drive our new Prime Minister, Keir Starmer, and every Minister in our new government, will also be at the heart of our approach as we tackle the issues that you all know well, but that have had rather less attention in recent weeks during the election campaign.

  • the support and outcomes for children with SEND and their families,
  • the need to bring reform to children’s social care and to build opportunities for our most vulnerable children,
  • the state of university finances, the challenges that we face within further education.

We must be a Department for every child, for every young person, for every learner in our country.

‘Relentlessly focused’

The Labour Government that is taking office today will be focused, relentlessly, on improving the life chances of all of our children.

On driving high and rising standards throughout education, on ensuring that all of our people, in all of our communities, our businesses and our country, have the skills that they need to drive the growth that we can and must see, to build a better future not just for each of us, but for all of us.

Our new focus means new objectives and a new direction, which will come round soon to you all.

And of course, this will also involve a new ministerial team which will be confirmed in the days ahead.

‘Building on the work of the last government’

Now I know that elections are a time for focus on the key issues that divide our country, where I and my party have disagreed with the past government in the years now behind us.

But today, and in the years ahead we are focused on delivering, on building of the work the last government did, and on which so many of you will be justly proud of the work that you did.

I recognize that, to raise standards for our children, to deliver a better future for young people today, and I want to be clear: I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead of us, the mountain we must climb to build the better Britain our young people deserve.

That is the work ahead of us, the task to which we must all rise.

And because we want to end governing by picking fights, the way that we do that must and will change.

So, I am determined that we will drive change together. Together across government.

‘Departments are made by the people who work in them’

Together with staff across education, together, where we can, with the trade unions who represent the education work force, and above all, and most importantly, together with every one of you.

Now the last thing I want to say just before I wrap up, is that great departments are not made by their Secretaries of State, but by all of the people who work in them.

I know that whether the government of the day is Labour or Conservative, no-one comes to work in this Department unless they are driven by the determination to deliver a better future for all of our children.

So I am so deeply proud that I will be working with all of you.

I know that in the Civil Service you are bright, committed people who put public service first, you chose to work here, on the greatest of our causes, our children, their education, shaping Britain’s future.

And I want this Department – our Department – (that’s going to take a bit of getting used to!) to be a place where every one of you is proud to come to work every day.

Where your contribution is valued, from the Permanent Secretary and the Secretary of State down, where your commitment, your contribution, the difference that you make every day is central to everything that we do.

I cannot wait to start. I can’t wait to meet all of you.

Let’s get to it.

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