Education changes lives by changing life chances. It is, as the great Conservative statesman Rab Butler said of his landmark 1944 Education Act, ‘the spearhead of social reform’. This week MPs from all political parties came together to mark the 70th anniversary of that Act, which made secondary education free for all for the first time.
Butler’s reforms broadened the horizons of the whole generation that came of age after the Second World War through the creation of a tripartite system of secondary schools based on aptitudes and ability.
South Holland is one of only a handful of places left in the country that has rightly retained the 11 plus, the result being schools of which we can all be proud. The 11 plus has also benefited our primary schools – raising standards across the board.
I am personally proud that my young sons attend two of our excellent local state schools. I’ve always taken the view that what’s right for the people I represent is right for me and my family.
Technical schools were the largely unfulfilled element of Butler’s tripartite system, providing an advanced vocational education, as due to the austerity of the post war years, very few were ever built. As a consequence, young people with practical aptitudes were denied the opportunities available in countries like Germany.
Now all this is changing, thanks to another great reforming Government. Locally in Holbeach the academies programme, started by the last Government and hugely expanded by the present one, has allowed the creation of schools such as the excellent University Academy Holbeach – which celebrates vocational as well as academic achievements – and through its partnership with the University of Lincoln benefits from shared resources and expertise.
There can be few towns the size of Holbeach with such superb facilities.
The Government has also set up University Technical Colleges (UTCs) which are essentially the technical schools Butler envisaged in 1944. All UTCs must have strong links to local employers, giving their students the opportunity to advance to skilled employment.
I am pleased to have been able when Minister for Skills to have greatly expanded the apprenticeship system, so giving far more young people the chance to learn skills in the workplace. Remarkably, up to two million apprenticeships will have been created in this Parliament alone, an unprecedented increase which is transforming how we see education and learning. For too long we undervalued vocational skills. Now, at last, by elevating the status of practical learning we are building a more just and cohesive society in which everyone has the chance to realise their potential – being their best by doing their best.
Rt Hon John Hayes MP