WATCH: Layla Moran’s speech to Conference

New Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran gave a brilliantly inspiring, gutsy speech on education to Conference today. She basically challenged a huge amount of educational orthodoxy around selection and league tables and challenged the Liberal Democrats to come up with a bold new policy, saying that we have the imagination and the gall to do so. She got a well-deserved standing ovation.

The text is below.

It is such an honour, and still slightly unreal, to be addressing you for the first time today as the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon.

I’d like to start as I always do. By saying thank you.

Thank you to each and every one of you who helped me get to this point – I cannot thank you enough.

Anyone who knocked on a door, delivered a leaflet, made a phone call, made a donation.

And also to anyone who ever whispered words of encouragement in my ear. You all made a huge difference.

I promise that I will spend each and every day that I am in Parliament, fighting tooth and nail for my constituents and the Liberal values we all hold so dear.

Of course, it has not been an easy road to get here, and I’m sure every one of my colleagues in Westminster would say the same. And indeed anyone who has campaigned in any type of seat for the Party.

We all fought gruelling, exhausting election campaigns this summer.

But in OxWAb, that’s what the cool people call Oxford West and Abingdon by the way, we overturned a Tory majority of nearly nine and a half thousand to win by 816 votes!

To say I was surprised was an understatement.

My agent Neil Fawcett called me up about half midnight on the night to tell me it was ‘close but the wrong side of close’.

So when I realised half an hour before declaration that we’d done it, I ran outside to gulp down some air and wrote my acceptance speech on the back of a knock-up leaflet I had in my bag!

Hours later I had an interview on Woman’s Hour, did an event in London and my feet haven’t really touched the ground since.

I was particularly honoured to then be asked by Tim Farron, days after the election, to serve in his shadow cabinet as our spokesperson for Education.

Education is the issue that inspired me to get involved in politics.

It is my burning passion.

As a young teacher I was frustrated by the terrible mismanagement of our schools by Tory and Labour Governments alike, but it was the issue of educational inequality that made me angry.

And that anger led to action.

And that action led to me deciding, 10 years ago now, to join the one Party whose evidence-based policy would actually make a difference to the lives of children, and to work towards be an MP.

Those ten years have been bumpy for sure.

But to anyone who is out there, right now, thinking, I’d really like to do that job, I’ve got a burning passion too.

Then I’d like to look you in the eye and say ‘go for it, I bet you’d be great’.

I should tell you though, the House of Commons is as, if not more, bonkers than I thought it would be.

Some of it I was expecting. You may have seen I was jeered at PMQs when asking a question about the 30hrs free childcare policy. They were so loud the speaker had to tell them off and it made the papers.

Fear not! My skin is thick. But I tell you, I have to regularly suppress my inner teacher very hard. Detention! All of you!

Punch and Judy politics is alive and well. As is the constant fear of saying ‘you’ to a minister and being told off by the speaker for not speaking in the third person. As I said. Bonkers.

But most bonkers of all are the complacent, often white, often, male MPs who only ever play Party politics.

The ones who are so obviously out of touch with their constituents, and who, worst of all, can get away with it under our voting system.

Their only burning passion is themselves.

That’s why I am so encouraging of anyone who wants to join me to disrupt that system. You see, you’ll disrupt it just by being you. And being in touch. And daring to be different.

I am more determined than ever, despite occasionally feeling like I wandered into a Harry Potter book, to use my time there to make life better for real people.

The hard part is knowing where to start! So I’ll start with what I know best, education.

Today’s immediate challenges come no greater or more urgent, than the devastating funding cuts under this Government.

We know there are billions of pounds worth of repairs left outstanding in our school buildings.

We know there are more overcrowded classes.

There are shortages of teachers.

Subjects are being dropped from the curriculum.

And in some areas, parents are being asked to contribute to the cost of buying basic school supplies out of their own pockets.

As a school Governor, I can tell you, asking this is the last thing schools want to do.

But this also represents something deeper and more troubling.

The very foundation of our comprehensive school system is a belief that every child should be able to access a high-quality education – free.

Having to ask people to chip in a little bit here, and a little bit there –undermines that basic principle.

What kind of country are we becoming where schools have to rely on handouts to provide the very basics?

To paint the walls of classrooms or repair a broken window.

To buy books or take their pupils on a trip? I heard recently of a school in my area that had asked a local food bank to help it provide lunches.

In my county of Oxfordshire, head teachers are warning that “there is nowhere else to cut without seriously damaging provision”.

That’s code for, ‘the next thing to go are teachers’.

And things we take for granted: that students will be taught for a full school day, by a qualified teacher, in a reasonably sized class, are now under threat.

The scale of these challenges is terrifying.

And apparently, the Government’s only response is to plough on with the same obviously flawed approach.

Millions wasted on free schools in areas that don’t need the places.

Allowing private schools tax breaks, but breaking their promise to ensure the taxpayer benefits too.

A curriculum that excludes the arts and languages.

League tables that encourage cheating.

A teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

Record number of teachers off sick.

A disjointed admission systems.

I could go on and on and on.

Make no mistake – if this approach continues to go effectively unchallenged, the catastrophic impacts of this will play out for decades to the detriment of us all.

When this Government happily goes about playing politics with the education system, they fail to appreciate that this isn’t a trial or an experiment for the children concerned. This is their one shot.

And while I believe in lifelong learning, it is a biological fact that the way the brain develops in childhood is designed for development.

If we don’t get it right, then, we face an uphill battle to fix the consequences later on.

Imagine a baby whose parents don’t have the time to talk and play with them, and the children’s centre that gives parenting advice is no longer open – the impact will show itself from day one at school.

Imagine a young person whose learning difficulty goes undiagnosed throughout their years at school, and due to a lack of resources they never get the help they need – the impact will affect their whole career.

Imagine someone who has always loved music, and dreamt of going on to study it. But the school decides due to cuts that they’re unable to continue offering it – the impact will affect them for the whole of their lives.

Our education system has suffered for years from a lack of any visionary leadership.

The world is changing rapidly, content is more and more available and the prospect of a job for life is a nonsense for most people under 40.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence means more jobs are being automated. And it’s not just blue collar jobs anymore.

The future conomy demands a workforce that is flexible, emotive, creative.

And what has been the Government’s answer?

Narrow the curriculum, prescribe more content, encourage rote learning.

They are creating the very robots most likely to be out of a job in 20 years, putting everyone’s prosperity at risk.

Like the punchline of my Dad’s favourite Irish Joke ‘if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here’.

Conference, today, I would like to set down a challenge. That we should – and can – provide that visionary leadership and become the Party of Education once more.

We need to raise our sights and re-imagine what our education system could and should look like.

Rather than tinker with a fundamentally flawed system let’s explore what a truly modern, forward thinking education system, fit for the 21st century, actually looks like.

We are the Party to do it because Education is built into our Liberal DNA.

To build and safeguard a fair, free and open society: we must ensure people have equal access to information and have the confidence to apply it creatively.

To balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community: we must teach people not just how to take care of each other, but also to know themselves and their own minds.

To build a society where no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity: we must expose people to uncomfortable truths and empower them to have the courage of their convictions.

So practically speaking what could this mean?

Well, here are a few radical starters for ten. This is not Party policy. That will be for you to decide.

And I expect disagreement, this is the Lib Dems after all! But the point is let’s start the debate and see how we do.

Here’s the warm up.

Let’s think about selection and segregation.

Or to put in other terms, restricting access to education based on your parents’ backgrounds, or only valuing narrow definitions of ability.

How does doing this help create our future workforce? And what values does it teach?

Let’s take one form of it, Grammar schools.

My father was the first in his family to go to university. He was selected at 11 into the local grammar. His brother, didn’t make it. Their relationship suffered for years as a result.

But my uncle went on to university too and ended up doing very well indeed.

That policy served no purpose in my family except to tear brothers apart.

And what does it teach children at a critical age?

That some people are ‘better’ than others – when in fact that isn’t true at all.

Is that really a lesson we are comfortable with?

So why do we teach it then?

Ok next.

Why are we so obsessed by league tables?

What good comes of encouraging needless competition between schools to look like they have the best grades?

What have we done to create a system where a school felt it needed to exclude pupils because they didn’t get the required 3 Bs in their mock A-levels?

I believe that story is just the tip of the iceberg.

The whole concept of a market in education, brought in by both Labour and the Tories over the last 30years, has done nothing to address the attainment gap.

In fact, in some regions in the UK it’s getting worse, yet the practice persists.

The haves get into good schools, the have nots can’t afford to.

The vicious cycle repeats and the children suffer.

Instead, what if we said everyone had to go to their local school, but we gave that school the resources and the freedom to be a great local school?

What if instead of focusing our efforts on providing choice for parents, we thought instead about giving that choice to the students?

Ok. Last one, the plenary.

Let’s think about making education genuinely available to anyone who wants to pursue it at any age.

One of my heroes is a woman who I lived with when I did my masters.

Christine grew up on a council estate in London. In her 30s she decided, being a single mum, she was going to educate herself and make a different life for her kids than she had.

She got her A-levels, then did her first degree part time, then her PGCE. When I met her we were embarking on a course in comparative education.

All the while she had to keep working to pay for it and support her children.

Just because Christine came to education later in life, she had to pay for all of it, when others who’d had easier childhoods had it for free.

Which brings me to the pink dancing elephant in the middle of the room. Tuition fees.

I believe it is time we reimagined them too.

The thing is, I believe education is a public good and should be freely accessible.

But I also believe that only supporting the 40% of people who decide early enough that’s the path for them is fundamentally unfair.

What about the Christines of this world, don’t they deserve help too?

What about those who need to study part time? Or need to retrain? Or want to embark on a vocational course, but have family responsibilities and can’t make ends meet?

What if, we found a way for the state to help people access further education at any point in their lives?

Many would choose to go to University at 18, but equally they could do it via a different route, later.

At a time that is right for them, in a way that suits them, not just when and how the state dictates they should.

…..

Over the last few years, I could not be more proud of our party,

Our resilience, our compassion, our tenacity.

Our membership has grown and grown,

we have yet again defied the odds and survived political catastrophe.

But what now?

Conference,

I believe only the Liberal Democrats have the imagination and gall to challenge our education system from the bottom up.

It’s time for us to be radical.

It’s time to be bold.

It’s time to be brave.

For the sake of our prosperity and our economy.

For the sake of building a more understanding, more peaceful world.

For the sake of not just our future, but the future of generations to come.

Now is the time enter a new era.

It’s time we threw off the shackles of coalition and channel our energy into our creativity.

And reclaim our place not just as the Party of Education, but also the party of opportunity, equality and freedom for all.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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3 Comments

  • Laurence Cox 16th Sep '17 - 7:18pm

    A good point about league tables. They are worthless because they don’t tell you anything about how able the children were before they entered the school. A measure of added value by the school would be better, but still would not account for outside-school effects like parents employing private tutors. The only value of testing is to identify strengths and weaknesses of individual children and to tailor their education accordingly. This does not require the publication of data, only ensuring that it passes from year group to year group along with the child so that each teacher knows each child’s strengths and weaknesses.

  • But before tuition fees were introduced by New Labour, mature students got free higher education just like younger students. So is Layla Moran suggesting that we return to a system of higher education on that basis? If so, that is a welcome suggestion. Better still is a system where all education is free at the point of delivery and paid for by progressive taxation.

  • Sue Sutherland 17th Sep '17 - 12:17pm

    Congratulations Layla! I’m so pleased that you want to change education in a radical way and hope your energy and enthusiasm will lead us to do exactly that. It’s ridiculous to see a school as a unit in a competitive market. Instead we should be enabling co-operation so that different ways of learning can be offered to a young child and more subjects can be studied by older pupils, including developing those who have a great ability in a particular subject, as well as helping others to achieve higher grades.

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