British Queen celebrates

Gillian Keegan recognises the achievements of Church of England schools, and of teachers and leaders in schools across the country.

Good morning – it’s fantastic to be here with you all today.

As education secretary I often get asked what “education” means. Is it a particular subject, a skill, or is it something else?

And you know – I think there’s one unifying factor.

An education lets you do things that you couldn’t beforehand.

Preparing for this speech gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own schooling which was always in faith schools.

It was a different denomination – Catholic. I remember starting school aged four at St Mary’s, in St Helens, which is just outside Liverpool.

It was a terrifying experience, I think it is always quite a terrifying experience when you start school. But not least because it was run by nuns and they were dressed in black robes and they absolutely terrified me.

Through their kindness, I eventually overcame my fears and began to flourish in school. I learned an early lesson not to judge by appearance.

Overcoming fear is a valuable life skill and one that I use everyday in the world of politics.

Indeed, I’m using it right now at the annual conference of a church. A clear demonstration that I’ve learned to do something that I didn’t used to do.

That is the power of education. Even if those nuns might say, I’m addressing the wrong denomination.

I am grateful to Saint Mary’s and all my schools.

All the teachers at the fantastic faith schools have got me to where I am today. They also instilled faith in me, which is still a core part of who I am today.

Faith is something I think that everyone here can understand – and I want you to know how much I value the role the Church of England plays in educating our children.

Its reputation for excellence in schools speaks for itself, and you are one of my Department’s most valued partners.

You provide over a fifth of state-funded schools, a quarter of primary schools, and are the largest provider of academy trusts.

Your schools are more likely to be good or outstanding than those without a religious character.

There are Anglican colleges in every continent of the world, bar Antarctica. There is a potential growth opportunity there.

You are transforming lives. You should be proud of the work you do, and on behalf of the children you teach, I am eternally grateful.

Put simply, without the Church of England – pupils across the country would be learning less and doing worse.

And a big part of that is that you have used the academy trust model. This is the structure that we think is going to make the biggest difference for our children, but we know it only works if focused on improving quality all the time, always striving for excellence.

And I can promise you I will work tirelessly to support quality teaching and spread best practice. I’m taking forward the Review of regulation and commissioning, so we can do this to help improve outcomes for all our children.

That’s also why I want more schools to be in high-quality trusts.

To support you we will protect your schools, so that when they become academies they retain the statutory freedoms and protections that apply to Church schools.

It means working in each area to shape the right plan at the right pace that builds the quality that pupils need.

In the past 10 years we have made huge strides to give every child the chance in life they deserve. And all of you are central to that success.

Today 88% of schools rated Ofsted good or outstanding, compared to 68% when we took office.

From 2010, in just eight years we brought the UK up the PISA rankings from 25th to 14th in reading and 28th to 18th in maths.

Your schools have played a massive part in this. But to really flourish, we must go further still.

I am determined to ensure more children meet our expected standards at reading, writing and maths and I agree with the Prime Minister on maths to 18.

We all use maths every day, from grocery shopping, to buying financial products, to mortgages, to understanding good debt from bad. And we must equip our children to deal with life’s complexities.

But to make this all add up, there have to be great teachers.

Many of you will have heard me praise my apprenticeship which provided me with a great start to my working life at 18.

But that journey began with a school teacher called Mr Ashcroft.

He would stay late to teach me and another girl technical drawing and engineering, and that allowed me to get 10 O-levels at a school where most struggled to achieve only 4 or 5.

All thanks to one teacher at one school, helping me to realise my one opportunity.

I want every child to be inspired by a teacher like Mr Ashcroft. That’s why we’ve put in place a world-class teacher development system.

This includes the delivery of 150,000 fully funded National Professional Qualifications by 2024 and I want all school leaders to think about how NPQs can benefit both their staff and pupils.

I know the Church of England is a valued provider of these.

We also know they are hugely popular. So we want to see even more of our teachers doing them.

But for teachers to have an impact, they need to be in school.

I understand the pressures many people are facing including our teachers and we struggle with the economic challenges due to the war in Ukraine. Inflation eats away at all our pay checks.

On the top of my in-tray when I got this job was a joint letter from the four major teaching unions – it asked for an extra £2 billion next year and the year after to support our schools with increased costs and to help fund this years pay awards.

We were one of the few departments to be given money in the Autumn Statement.

And yes, we did get £2 billion more both years. The unions asked, we delivered.

That uplift means we will be funding schools, in real terms, at the highest level ever in history.

It may not have been smart to use so much political capital in my first couple of weeks. But I hope it goes to show my personal commitment.

I know from my speaking to thousands of teachers, many in your schools, that there is more to do.

My promise to you is I will always listen.

Saying my door is always open is a cliché but it is true. I am a very open person.

My ask of all of you now is that you now work with me to keep as many children in school as possible during the disruptive strike action.

I began by saying how my education had helped me in my career. I’d like to finish by sharing three key things I’ve learnt through that career.

First, you don’t get far without acting on what you know works; second, you won’t achieve much without a visionary leader and finally, you’ll barely get out of the starting blocks without working together and collaborating with others. Photo by David Woolfall, Wikimedia commons.

And I am looking forward to collaborating with you all to make sure our education system flourishes for all our children.