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Helping hands will lift schools to new heights

In the Children's Plan, we set out our ambition for this country to be the best place for young people to grow up. But we can't do this without heads and teachers getting world-class support.

That's the message I'll be delivering to the Association of School and College Leaders in Brighton. This is the first 2008 social-partner conference and I look forward to lively debates about a passion we all share: delivering top education and ensuring every child has the best start.

Schools play a central role for children, but we can't expect them to do everything on their own. What happens outside school is as important as what happens inside when it comes to driving up standards. I don't want to turn teachers into social workers or housing officers. I want teachers to be able to focus on teaching. But all too often I'm told by schools that they find it hard to get the kind of specialised help their pupils need.

That's why the Children's Plan focuses on how we can make all schools into 21st-century facilities, with integrated services for all children and early intervention for those who need it.

Over the coming months, I want to hear from teachers about what more we need to do to ensure they get the support they need, including help from organisations such as health, housing and social services.

I also want to give teachers the chance to improve their skills. So I'll be announcing at the conference today how we can change the status of teaching by making it a masters-degree profession. This will be open to every teacher and we expect they all will want to complete it at some stage.

Ofsted says leadership and management is good or excellent in more than 60 per cent of schools. But good leadership is best learnt from other leaders, which is why I'm announcing today we will increase the number of National Leaders of Education. This programme involves leading professionals reaching outside their own institutions to pair up a supporting school with one that needs support, then driving up standards in both.

All these things will help us with our new national challenge.

In 1997, there were 1,610 secondary schools where less than 30 per cent of pupils got five good GCSEs, including English and maths. Last year, there were just 638, but we need to work together to bring all schools above this standard by 2012.

Many of these schools are moving in the right direction and doing an outstanding job in difficult circumstances. In some cases, there will be more help for the school leadership or more support in English and maths. Some schools may federate with other schools, and some will become a trust or an academy. In a few cases, the best option might be closure.

We will work with local authorities to ensure there is the right support and the right individual action plan for each school and we will publish a full strategy in May.

Ed Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

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