Every single child in a good school: that is my first and foremost priority.
Many will point out, rightly, that this is not a meagre ambition. It is not something that will come about easily.
My concern, now, is disadvantaged children who have missed a lot of school, and who are going back to a weak school.
Education recovery support
We already know that children have lost out on a lot of classroom education during this pandemic. It is why we are funding our educational recovery, with programmes specifically targeted at the most disadvantaged. And we are working with schools, leaders and teachers to target this support. We want to do this because, while it might be something of a cliché, it is completely true: teachers are our most important resource. Good schools and good teachers make the difference in children’s education.
But for schools to run well and good teachers to do their job effectively, we need strong, competent and moral leaders.
We have them in abundance and, throughout the pandemic, I was humbled to see the magnificent work of our teachers, school business professionals and volunteer governors, who have gone above and beyond their normal roles.
There is, however, an extremely small handful of individuals whose conduct falls short of the standards we would all expect of those who are trusted to educate our children. It is the case in all walks of life that there is a small number of “bad apples”.
It is not a product of the pandemic and I am not conveying this message now as a result of any specific concerns that have come about over the past 18 months.
I am raising it simply because this kind of leadership is not just a concern to those of us who want the public’s money to be used wisely, and in the interest of children, but it also leads to poor outcomes for pupils and apathy among staff.
It contributes to teachers leaving the profession and schools becoming trapped in a cycle of mediocrity. Now, more than ever, that is something we simply cannot have.
My message to teachers, parents and students is that we will always take robust action where this happens.
We do not want these individuals in the school system and, where we find them, we will look to take appropriate action against them.
Today, we are publishing new guidance to give absolute clarity on the circumstances in which we prohibit unsuitable individuals from taking part in the management of independent schools – including academies and free schools.
The law already exists but we are making it even clearer today what is unacceptable, and where, under section 128 of the Education and Skills Act 2008, the education secretary may give a direction prohibiting a person from taking part in the management of an independent school on prescribed grounds connected with the person’s suitability.
Section 128 directions are a tool that the department has used sparingly over the years, only in the most serious of cases. But, simply put, there is a line and, if a leader crosses it, we will come down very firmly and quickly to protect children’s education. Crossing it means sanctions, and that includes section 128 in extreme circumstances.
This law is only used rarely but it is vital that it is there to ensure that taxpayer money is spent well but, more importantly, to give teachers and students alike the environments they need to thrive.