On Thursday 5 October, Catherine addressed the Confederation of School Trusts Conference, in her first address as Shadow School’s Minister. Catherine set out Labour’s hope and vision for children and young people. Addressing the conference, she stated:

Thank you for the kind introduction.

This is my first conference, and first speech, as Shadow Schools Minister and I’m really excited to be here with you all today.

I am delighted to have taken on the role of Shadow Schools Minister

One of the best roles in our Shadow Government.

I know the power that Schools have to shape both today and the future,

helping to give every child the best start in life.

So, thank you for inviting me here today to share this journey with all of you.

The theme of your conference this year is BELONGING,

and it’s an incredibly powerful concept that for me invokes my very earliest memories of school.

I went to St Mary’s First School in Hexham, Northumberland.

I remember my first day at school like it was yesterday – though it clearly wasn’t!

I remember how I felt,

where I sat,

who I played with at break time,

what we ate (chocolate sponge and custard),

the daily milk which I loved in winter and dreaded in summer,

the boys who pulled my hair,

being the first in my class to graduate to a Berol handwriting pen from a pencil.

I remember it so vividly,

the feeling that I belonged to that small community of people.

That’s the power of a good school,

and a responsibility every one of you carries.

I’m proudly from Newcastle in the North-East and I have been the Member of Parliament for Newcastle North since 2010.

Whenever I am asked what the best and worst parts of my job are as an MP – which school children often ask – my answer is always the same.

Living in two places is the worst bit,

as my family stay in Newcastle whilst I travel up and down,

and I miss my husband, three children and German Shepherd when I’m not at home.

The best bit is easy too – visiting local schools and chatting to the children and young people.

I love seeing the unique community that exists in every school,

that sense of belonging,

and the confidence and honesty of the children I meet.

Question Time is nothing compared to a grilling from Year 5s!

From St Mary’s I went on to Sacred Heart Comprehensive – now High School – in Newcastle,

and there developed a real love of learning, and for history above all.

Given I now work in a vast historical Palace, that worked out quite well for me!

After a history and politics degree at Edinburgh University I was passionate about changing the world,

but also keen to return to Newcastle.

I remember the dilemma of all the careers I would have like to have pursued –

in journalism, charities, campaign organisations and politics

but for which I would have to go to London.

I chose Newcastle, and so set about post graduate studies in law at Northumbria University.

One of the things that brought me into politics whilst working as a solicitor was a passionate belief that young people shouldn’t have to choose between following their heart and following their dreams,

that Government has a role to play in spreading opportunity across our country more fairly,

And it’s a goal that still drives my politics today.

One of my first roles on the Front Bench after being elected in 2010 was Shadow Minister for Children and Young People,

a role I was delighted to undertake,

championing the needs of looked after children and support for early years.

I then joined the Shadow Treasury Team, where I focused on the economic levers Government can pull to support children and young people,

as well as the worrying trend of increasing child poverty.

Following the 2015 General Election and subsequent changes in leadership,

I took a step back from the front bench.

I served on the Education Select Committee,

during which time I visited South Korea and Finland to see first-hand their education systems.

I later joined the Treasury Select Committee.

We had our first female Chair in Nicky Morgan and undertook an inquiry into Childcare as national infrastructure,

ground-breaking for its time.

Most recently I Chaired Parliament’s Petitions Committee.

Through which we receive an enormous number of petitions on issues relating to children and young people.

From mental health to bed poverty, we see all.

That Petition on bed poverty.

Even after my years serving on the Education and Treasury Select Committees,

representing a constituency in the Northeast,

I was shocked to receive the petition.

The extent of poverty in Britain today is appalling.

Yet it was a teacher who brought that petition to Parliament,

and who founded a charity to provide beds to children in Leeds.

She recognised the barrier to learning that not having a bed posed.

She saw the way poverty held our country back.

She couldn’t teach a child that hadn’t slept.

That we are continuously heading in the wrong direction on child poverty is alarming.

When I have raised this with the Prime Minister –

as I got to do as a Select Committee Chair –

the problem was not even acknowledged,

The Conservatives are not even seeing a problem to be solved.

But we know the reality facing children and families.

Labour recognises the challenge of child poverty to a child’s education and life chances.

To a school’s ability to teach.

That’s why tackling it will be a priority for the next Labour Government.

Labour’s cross-government taskforce to deliver our Opportunity Mission.

will put a focus on reducing child poverty at the centre of how we secure opportunity for children and young people,

from every background and every corner of our country.

We also know that child poverty is just one challenge facing school leaders and staff.

The pandemic,

school catch up,

the cost of living,

And the mental health problems faced by children and young people

are just some of the challenges tackled on a daily basis.

Despite your best efforts,

far too many children are still being let down,

not given the opportunity to thrive,

held back by circumstance.

Successive Conservative Prime Ministers and governments have failed to give children and young people the focus they deserve.

Teachers and support staff go above and beyond to support children at school.

But sadly, increasingly, it’s just not enough.

Whether it’s a lack of bed, or trauma at home,

the number of children waiting for mental health support is continuously on the rise.

A child can’t learn if they have no peace of mind.

That’s why Labour will ensure every school has access to a specialist mental health professional,

and every community has a mental health support hub for those who seek support out of school.

It makes sense to resolve problems before they escalate, freeing young people to learn,

and teachers to teach.

I know that many of you may have had a difficult start to this new term.

I remember when I was in school under the previous Conservative government,

my school suffered from both underinvestment and misfortune, and as a result

I spent most of my education in temporary classrooms.

I was happy at school because I really loved learning,

but the Portakabins we relied on took up space on the sports fields

and the daily trudge through the cold, wet mud in winter took its toll.

I know the reality of temporary accommodation,

and the logistical and practical challenges it can present.

I will never make light of it for schools facing that reality today.

I take my hat off to those of you that have been forced to close your schools or reorganise teaching at short notice.

Whilst Government was more interested in shifting blame,

you were busy ensuring the safety of your staff and students.

Securing buildings and organising to keep lessons going.

I know who need thanks for their bloomin’ hard work.

I want to say thank you for the way that school leaders and staff have stepped in where the government has failed.

The Prime Minister when Chancellor was warned of the growing backlog of repairs needed to the school estate.

The risk of a building collapsing was assessed, by the Department for Education itself, as “critical – very likely”.

I’m frustrated at the chaos that for far too long has been this Government’s default position.

If the Government were inspected by Ofsted,

I’m pretty certain of the judgement that would be conveyed.

And it wouldn’t be ‘Requires Improvement’.

Why did it take so long for Ministers to act?

No matter how many times questions are asked, the answers do not add up.

Speaking of adding up….

in what alternative world must the Prime Minister be living

to announce a back of an envelope 16-19 maths policy

whilst schools up and down the country are literally having to prop their roofs up?!

Not to mention the shortage of qualified maths teachers, which I will come to shortly,

But I didn’t come here today to talk about the current Government and the mess they have made.

I want to focus on the future.

And the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

How we tackle the attainment gap,

And address child poverty,

To give every child the best start in life.

We need to break down the barriers that hold people back, by ensuring high and rising standards in every school.

That is what Labour, Keir Starmer, Bridget Phillipson and I are determined to achieve.

It is one of Labour’s core missions for government.

And that’s where the theme of your conference – Belonging – People, Place, and Purpose – fits so well.

To deliver on a Mission requires much more than Government.

It requires a Government that listens to and works with those of you already delivering in your schools and communities

to ensure that your Purpose – our shared Mission – truly succeeds.

Working with all of you, I believe we can deliver opportunity for all together.

Where you are born, or your family’s income should not determine what you can achieve.

We want to make Britain more equal and one of the fairest countries in the developed world.

Labour will introduce free breakfast clubs in every primary school in England.

A funded service, available to every child, from every family, in every primary school.

Breakfast clubs drive up standards and achievement.

They improve behaviour, and attendance.

Because it’s about the club, as much as the breakfast.

They enable parents to get to work.

We will set children up for the day and set them up to achieve.

And Improving standards doesn’t mean disrupting good schools.

But is does mean bringing in a fresh approach to our education system.

As well as bringing in fresh investment to our early years, we want to deliver a broad education – one that feels relevant to modern life.

That enriches young people, building both knowledge and life skills.

Many of you have worked hard to deliver the curriculum over the last thirteen years.

We want to build on those strengths by bringing greater breadth and depth.

Too often important creative and vocational subjects, and important life skills, have been squeezed out.

You will know that to ensure the basics such as reading, writing and maths, developing skills and knowledge,

you must ignite passions in music, sport, art, drama.

That strengthen young people’s engagement in their education,

and build confidence and skills such as communication, critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork.

Our Curriculum and Assessment Review will therefore be a carefully considered expert-led review.

A process that will listen to those on the frontline,

looking at the breadth of the school life,

with the aim of delivering a national curriculum which is rich and broad, inclusive and innovative.

It will look at the experiences from the beginning of primary through to the end of compulsory education.

And unlike the Prime Minister, we are committed to doing this in collaboration with the sector,

allowing time for schools, teachers, parents and students to contribute and to plan ahead.

Parents should also know where their child’s school excels and where there’s room to improve.

Where a need for improvement is identified, school leaders and staff should be supported to deliver change.

School inspection should be part of delivering this change.

That is why we will engage with experts across the education system,

and with parents and school communities

to deliver a new system of school report cards to replace headline Ofsted grades.

This too will be developed in consultation – with teachers and with parents

and we want to work with you all to ensure this system truly captures the breadth of school life.

Labour will work in partnership with parents, families, school leaders and staff to deliver this,

we want everyone to be partners in the push for better.

As with any great organisation, the greatest assets in your schools are your People.

But right now, across education, we know that we face an unprecedented workforce challenge.

Teaching should be respected and valued as the skilled job that it is.

The high turnover is a warning sign and needs to be addressed.

Because not enough teachers, leaders or support staff,

means that high standards are for some of our children, not all of them.

That is why the next Labour government will end the tax exemptions private schools enjoy,

and will invest in more teachers, better training, and new support for those stepping-up to leadership roles.

Not tax breaks for some of our schools, but high standards for all of our children.

Because, excellence is for everyone.

And we know that support staff play a crucial role too,

But too many are leaving the sector.

Leaving to work in supermarkets,

because the pay and conditions are better and they need to provide for their families,

but their hearts still lie in school,

Teachers get heard in the national conversation, but too often support staff do not.

To address this, Labour will reintroduce a School Support Staff Negotiating Body.

We know that the schools’ landscape has changed, and we want to make this work for the sector,

So, it’s important that we work together to ensure this brings in the change we need to see.

I know that you’ve not had the easiest of times.

The pandemic, catching up, asbestos, RAAC, the cost of living crisis and the huge challenge that is the mental health of our young people.

You are being asked to do more and more, being stretched further and further.

But I know you are ambitious for the future, as am I.

Ambitious to deliver for our children and young people.

I want to be the Schools Minister who works with you to secure that ambition.

To secure your Purpose, and Labour’s mission,

to break down the barriers and ensure every child has the start in life that they deserve.

To do that, we need to work together.

I look forward to working with you in the weeks and months ahead and hopefully into Government.

Thank you again.