Good morning. Last year, when Sir Keir Starmer gave his first speech as leader to a Labour conference, it was online, which meant that it had all the excitement, immediacy and clout of Zoom call. As if that was not enough, it happened just as the second wave of Covid was taking off, and it was overshadowed by a Boris Johnson televised address to the nation later in the day announcing some new restrictions. The speech was well received on its own terms, but, as a leadership-defining moment it was always doomed to failure.
That is why today’s speech is particularly important. If Starmer cannot use it to jumpstart Labour’s performance in the polls (which currently imply the party is on course to lose the next election), he will be out of excuses.
Labour briefed some extracts from the speech overnight, saying that Starmer would promise to make mental health treatment available to everyone who needs it within a month, and create drop-in mental health hubs aimed at children and young people. Here is my colleague Heather Stewart’s overnight story.
And this morning the party has released another snippet from the speech: Starmer will pledge to reform Ofsted so that in future it focuses on struggling schools, as part of a school improvement plan which the party says is intended to “boost the number of outstanding schools in all areas of the country; drive up standards; and enable every child to achieve their full potential”.
Here is an extract from the briefing released by Labour.
The national excellence programme will include: recruiting thousands of new teachers to address vacancies and skills gaps across the profession; reforming Ofsted to focus on supporting struggling schools; providing teachers and headteachers with continuing professional development and leadership skills training.
Even before the pandemic, 200,000 primary age children in England were growing up in areas with not a single primary school rated good or outstanding.
Labour says there are 200,000 primary-age children living in areas with no good or outstanding schools, and it says this is a particular problem in the north-east, where 11 out of 12 local authorities have a higher than average share of pupils attending an underperforming school. It also says “a secondary school pupil living in the north of England is around five times as likely to attend an underperforming school than one of their peers living in London”.
(Interestingly, in the briefing sent to journalists, Labour cites as the source for some of this data this report partly written by Onward, a mainstream Conservative thinktank.)
In his speech, Starmer will say:
I want every parent in the country to be able to send their child to a great state school.
On top of that, 40% of young people leave compulsory education without essential qualifications. What does that say about their future? We will not put up with that.
That is why Labour will launch the most ambitious school improvement plan ever.
There are only two items on the agenda for the day.
9.45am: Conference opens with a session headlined “General election report”. The contributors include Hayden Munro, the strategist credited with planning the New Zealand Labour party’s landslide win in 2020; Muthoni Wambu Kraal, national political and organising director for the Democratic National Committee in the US for the 2020 presidential election; Vaughan Gething, the Welsh government’s economy minister; Dan Norris, the Labour mayor of the West of England; and Shaban Mahmood, Labour’s national campaign coordinator.
12pm: Sir Keir Starmer gives his speech.
I will be focusing exclusively on Labour today. For the latest in the fuel shortage crisis, do follow my colleague Julia Kollewe’s business live blog.
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