In our drive for world-class performance the next phase demands that we modernise secondary education so that it builds on the growing success of the primary sector rather than, as at present, dissipating it.
Our data shows that currently in the middle years (age 11 to 14):
around 30 per cent of pupils have regressed in English and maths a year after leaving primary school;
the quality of teaching is poorer than for any other age group;
pupils make less progress than in other phases, especially in science;
the gap in performance between girls and boys, already evident at age 11, widens significantly;
the performance of black pupils, especially boys, slips dramatically;
secondary schools with concentrations of pupils whose prior experience of learning has been uninspiring and whose present social circumstances are characterised by poverty, face an enormous challenge;
there is immense variation in performance among our secondary schools, even after controlling for intake.
In these circumstances it is not surprising that many aspirant parents of all classes, especially in the large conurbations, are sceptical about publicly-provided secondary education. A key goal, socially and educationally is to convince this group that we can deliver a service which meets the needs and the aspirations of their children.
Our strategy for doing so has two elements: a universal strategy to improve achievement for all pupils aged 11 to 14; and a targeted programme, Excellence in Cities, designed to promote both equity and diversity in England's major conurbations
The middle years
Our intenton over the next three years is to design and implement a strategy for the middle years which will be of comparable thoroughness and quality to the national literacy and numeracy strategies at primary level but which takes account of the greater complexity of secondary schools and the secondary curriculum.
Each aspect of this programme will be trialled over the next two years starting in about 200 secondary schools this September. From September 2001 it will be extended and by September 2002, the full programme should be in place.
Excellence in Cities
Excellence in Cities is a programme designed to transform both the reality and perception of secondary education in England's largest conurbations. Its purpose is to convince both parents and students that publicly-provided education can meet both their needs and aspirations. The programme has only been operational for 10 months but already there have been substantial reductions in truancy and exclusion and improvements in pupil attitude. New opportunities for the gifted and talented are being put in place - Latin is being taught in downtown Manchester, for example, and Mandarin in inner London.
The programme is hugely popular with teachers and principals. It has broken down the isolation of many inner-city schools and encouraged a new sense of shared endeavour.
We believe these are "vital signs" of improvement. Ultimately the programme should result in a complete re-engineering of secondary education. Instead of fitting students into the system as we did in the 20th century, we would build the system around the needs and aspirations of students.