Sir Keir Starmer will pledge to fight the “pernicious idea that background equals destiny”, with plans to “end once and for all” the “academic and vocational divide”.
In a major speech this morning, the Labour leader will warn a “class ceiling” is stifling opportunity for too many young people, and call for education to give all young people a “grounding” in both “skills and knowledge”.
The address in Gillingham, Kent, follows a series of policy announcements by the party over the past week for schools.
They have pledged to pay early career teachers £2,400 retention bonuses, require all teachers to have or work towards qualified status and create new “school improvement teams” across England.
Education is the fifth of Labour’s five big “missions” as it prepares to form a potential government, and Starmer will use the speech to set out his broad vision for reducing equality.
‘A snobbery that extends into adulthood’
He will warn of a “pervasive idea, a barrier in our collective minds, that narrows our ambitions for working class children and says, sometimes with subtlety, sometimes to your face – this isn’t for you”.
“Some people call it the ‘class ceiling’ – and that’s a good name for it. It’s about economic insecurity, structural and racial injustice – of course it is.
“But it’s also about a fundamental lack of respect. A snobbery that too often extends into adulthood. Raising its ugly head when it comes to inequalities at work – in pay, promotions, opportunities to progress”.
Starmer will explain why the mission is his “core purpose and my personal cause”.
“To fight – at every stage, for every child – the pernicious idea that background equals destiny.
“That your circumstances, who you are, where you come from, who you know, might shape your life more than your talent, effort and enterprise. No – breaking that link: that’s what Labour is for. I’ve always felt that. It runs deep for me.”
Starmer wants to ‘modernise’ the curriculum
He will set out plans to modernise the school curriculum “so that it properly prepares young people with the knowledge, skills and personal qualities needed to thrive in work and life”.
And he will speak of the need to “strengthen the teaching profession – so that we end the recruitment and retention crisis that is doing so much damage to standards in schools and ensure every child has an excellent specialist teacher in their classroom”.
Starmer will also set Labour a goal of changing Britain so children’s future earnings are “no longer limited by those of their parents”.
Leadership unions welcomed Labour’s focus on inequality, but warned its goals would not be achieved without proper investment in education
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said education “has been on the fringes of policy-making for too long and it is encouraging that Labour appears to recognise how central it should be”.
“One thing is for sure, unless the issues of pay erosion, inadequate funding and unmanageable workloads are addressed then there are not going to be enough teachers and leaders working in schools and colleges to enact the positive changes we all want to see.”
‘We must open our minds to AI’
The Labour leader will also warn today that “the race is on for the jobs and industries of the future” and Britain must “grow the talents of every child” to succeed.
This is the “world of artificial intelligence, of genomics, of technologies that stretch the boundaries of our imagination”, he will say, and we must “open our minds to meet that. Turn our eyes towards our children’s future. Make sure – we are preparing them for life and work in their Britain.”
The opposition leader will also talk of the need to end the “divide” between academic and vocational education – a “sheep and goats mentality that’s always been there in English education”.
“The ‘academic for my kids; vocational for your kids’ snobbery. This has no place in modern society. No connection to the jobs of the future.
“No – for our children to succeed, they need a grounding in both. Need skills and knowledge. Practical problem-solving and academic rigour. Curiosity and a love of learning too – they’ve always been critical.
“But now – as the future rushes towards us. We also need a greater emphasis on creativity, on resilience, on emotional intelligence and the ability to adapt. On all the attributes – to put it starkly – that make us human, that distinguish us from learning machines.”