The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has sent his message loud and clear since entering Downing Street last month: education is going to be right at the top of this government’s priorities. I was so proud when the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, singled out heads, teachers, and teaching assistants for recognition in this week’s autumn statement, underlining that commitment.
Everyone has different reasons for being passionate about education, and most of us will have had that eureka moment, when you can finally see what x is equal to.
Mine was thanks to a teacher, Mr Ashcroft. He stayed late to help me take extra O-levels. I ended up leaving school with 10 of them, which for my Knowsley comprehensive was something of a miracle. His belief in me changed my life. Thanks to Mr Ashcroft I was able to get on to an apprenticeship in a car factory, which turned out to be my first steps on a 30-year business career that took me around the world.
Education is opportunity. It is the ultimate levelling-up tool, the closest thing we have to a magic bullet when it comes to making people’s lives better. Mr Ashcroft changed the course of my life. He is not alone – teachers do this day in, day out for children in every part of our country.
For many children and young people, their school and college days have been disrupted by bubbles and masks and isolation. Despite the pandemic’s challenges, our teachers, support staff, governors and headteachers kept schools open for our most vulnerable children and those of critical workers. Most were also able to quickly pivot to lessons online. And now they continue this mission, helping many thousands of pupils to catch up on lost learning as we recover from the impacts of Covid.
This week is our chance to show how much we appreciate our educators, with the National Teaching Awards, which have been featured on the BBC’s One Show.
The Teaching Awards recognise the best of the best. There are 16 categories including primary and secondary teacher of the year, outstanding new teacher and lifetime achievement awards. The latter is sponsored by my department to recognise a lifetime spent changing lives. What an incredible legacy.
Earlier this week, teachers and our schools were also thanked from the dispatch box by the chancellor. His words were backed up by £2bn more for schools both next year and the year after. We are funding schools fully. So much so that the core funding awarded is exactly what the unions representing teachers, heads and support staff have previously been asking for. The significance of this investment should not be underestimated given the backdrop of recession and high inflation. The IFS has already highlighted the point that our announcement will allow school spending to return to at least 2010 levels in real terms – the highest spending year in history – meaning in real terms we are putting more into schools than ever before.
We’re also upping teachers’ salaries. Our pay award for teachers this year is between 5% and 8.9%, with those new to the profession getting more. That means we are on track to ensure all new teachers have a starting salary of £30,000 by next year.
More than 2m tutoring courses have started through the National Tutoring Programme, helping to fill gaps in children’s learning and keeping them on track. That’s a revolutionary measure that would have been previously considered out of reach for most families. This investment will help us embed tutoring in the school system, allowing schools to provide it for children who most need it.
We are also funding up to 500,000 high-quality training opportunities for teachers up to the end of this parliament. That’s an investment in the profession and all the future Mr and Ms Ashcrofts.
The support we are providing is significant. It recognises both the immense value of this profession and the challenges it is currently facing. Given that, I look forward to seeing a de-escalation from unions, many of which are balloting. As a government we have listened and are continuing to listen.** *
We know there are further challenges we need to work through around pay, training, retention and recruitment, and I am determined to continue conversations about how we can address these issues. I am already having these with union leaders and I look forward to making progress without the threat of harmful strike action.
In the meantime, I’d encourage everyone to celebrate and thank our outstanding teachers, who change lives every day – just as Mr Ashcroft did for me.
• Gillian Keegan is secretary of state for education