As Shadow Schools Minister, Catherine addressed the School and Academies Show in Birmingham on 22 November 2023, setting out Labour’s vision for schools and education. A copy of her speech is below. 


Thank you for the kind introduction.

I’m delighted to join you here today.

I am now a few months into my role as Shadow Schools Minister

And I am enjoying getting to speak to schools, children, stakeholders and experts in the field.

That is why I am also pleased to be here today

to share Labour’s vision for our school system with you.

Because I don’t believe that things should stay the same, and I don’t believe you do either.

So I’ll explain what Labour in Government plans to do.


Schools have a unique power to shape both today and tomorrow,

helping to give every child the best start in life.

That’s the power of a good school, and a responsibility every one of us carries.

I was born and grew up in the North East of England and represent the constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne North in Parliament.

I love my region and my city,

but I am only too aware that we have far too much untapped potential,

as is true of so many other towns, cities and regions.

During Parliament week this year, I visited a number of schools to speak to children about Parliament and to hear from them about their concerns.

I love how confident children are about their vision for the world. They certainly don’t hold back on their views!

I often get asked what brought me into politics.

My answer is always the same, and the reason I was delighted to take on this role as Shadow Schools Minister.

A passionate belief that every young person from my region, and from every region, should have access to the opportunities they need and deserve to reach their goals.

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

And it’s the goal that drives my approach every day.

Breaking Down the Barriers to Opportunity

That’s also why I’m delighted it is one of Labour’s core missions for Government:

Breaking Down the Barriers to Opportunity.

Education is at the heart of this mission,

ensuring everyone has access to the opportunities that an excellent education brings.

But we must not underestimate the challenge that we are currently facing.

13 years of Conservative Government have left our schools buildings creaking,

and our teaching staff overworked and underappreciated.

Too many children left behind,

attendance at record lows,

a narrowed curriculum, opportunities outside of the classroom out of reach,

and an outdated and ineffective inspection regime.

Yet what is the Government offering in its program for Government this year?

A lost generation of children if they continue to fail to address the epidemic of persistent absence from school, whilst tinkering around the edges on A Level Reform.

Labour’s Education Values

But I don’t want to focus on the Government’s lamentable record today.

I want to talk about the difference a Labour Government would make.

About our vision, and the approach that Keir Starmer, Bridget Phillipson and I will take to giving every child the best education possible.

It lies at the heart of Labour’s mission for government.

Every child given the opportunity to thrive.

Breaking down the barriers that hold children back,

by ensuring high and rising standards in every school.

We want to empower the people who know the sector best,

teachers, school leaders and education experts.

Because you see first-hand how great practice can have a transformational impact on children’s lives.

Where it falls short,

we want to work with you to put it right,

to tackle the attainment gap,

to address child poverty,

to give every child the best start in life.

Resetting the relationship

But this requires a partnership.

Fundamentally, we need to reset the relationship between government and the sector.

Schools can’t do this alone, and neither can government.

This reset with schools requires a government that listens to and works with you, delivering in your schools and for your communities.

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

And ensure that where you are born, or your family’s income,

does not determine what you can achieve.

Child Poverty

Take child poverty.

Labour’s vision is one of breaking down the barriers and delivering high and rising standards for all children.

Challenges that children face at home don’t stop at the school gates.

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

To a school’s ability to teach.

There are dedicated people across our education system,

who go above and beyond to deliver for our children facing too many barriers;

the lack of a secure home,

long waits for support,

not having books to read or pens to draw with,

or sufficient food in their stomach to learn.

Too often schools are left plugging the gaps.

Having to direct limited resources into addressing the issues that children and young people face.

It is the Government’s role to break down those barriers to achievement,

yet at the moment it feels as if the barriers are being built higher still.

Labour gets this.

It’s why the last Labour Government was laser focussed on tackling child poverty,

and it’s the approach we will take into Government once more.

Curriculum and Assessment Review

Labour is committed to delivering high and rising standards for every child, regardless of background.

But we also want to deliver a broad education – one that is relevant to modern life.

Balanced with content that enriches young people’s lives, whilst building on both their knowledge and skills.

We won’t just invent a new curriculum within Whitehall and land it on schools.

That’s the Conservative way.

Labour’s reset means that we will work with teachers, leaders, and experts to bring together the best of practise and what currently works,

whilst bringing our education system into the modern age.

Every child should have a strong foundation in reading, writing, and maths,

just as they should also have the opportunities to do the things that give life colour – music, art, drama, sport.

Last week I joined a Primary School for their Funetics session.

Children taking part in sports and games.

Afterwards, whilst I was still catching my breath,

I was asked by the children why there is so little time and opportunity for sports and activity –

for fun, and enjoyment – not just for competition.

Subjects like art, music and sport build confidence and vital skills:

communication, critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork,

and every child should gain them – not just some.

For some children it’s the only thing that brings them to school each day – and we know what a challenge that is at the moment.

These are skills employers value and which parents – and teachers – know help their children to achieve.

Providing a rich and broad experience that ensures young people leave school ready for work and ready for life.

Embedding digital, oracy, and life skills in their learning, such as “real world” maths teaching.

Alongside this, we need an assessment system that captures the full strengths of every school and every child.

Assessments and examinations that can test the wide range of skills and abilities.

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.

Breakfast Clubs

We also have a plan to introduce free breakfast clubs in every primary school in England.

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

To improve learning and development, behaviour and attendance.

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

This will get children learning, playing, and socialising at the beginning of the day.

It will help hard working parents get to work on time in the mornings.

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

We will fund it through scrapping the tax reliefs for the richest.

That’s Labour’s way of ensuring every child can be ready to learn each day.


Getting children into school and ready to learn is essential,

because every day of education matters to the life chances of children,

and tackling persistent absence is mission critical.

We must avoid a lost generation of school children, holding them back.

A broad curriculum, alongside breakfast clubs getting children into school will help to address the epidemic of persistent absence.

But we’ll go further by rebuilding the relationship between schools, families and government so that we can work together to fix the problems.

Every day of school matters, for every child.

Mental Health

We know that mental health is a significant challenge facing children and young people.

Holding them back from getting on at school.

Labour will ensure mental health hubs in every community and mental health counselling in every secondary school.

Because we can’t continue to see the number of children waiting for mental health support continuously on the rise.

Impacting on their ability to learn, as well as their health.

Providing support to address problems before they escalate,

freeing up young people to learn, and teachers to teach.

Helping to tackle some of the root causes of persistent absence.

Driving more regular attendance at school.

Improving standards

I know that there has been so much change in the sector,

so, our mission to improve standards doesn’t mean disrupting good schools.

We want to learn from and build on what works,

whilst bringing a fresh approach to our education system.

Parents should know where their child’s school excels and where there is room for improvement.

Inspection should be a force for that improvement.

Identifying areas of strength and weakness,

giving parents confidence.

A confidence from knowing how their child’s school is doing.

A single word can never encapsulate the breadth and complexities of a child’s experience at school.

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

and with parents and school communities,

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

A system that truly captures the breadth of school life,

driving high and rising standards whilst giving confidence to parents about their child’s education.

Supporting a system that will break down the barriers to opportunity,

and close the attainment gap that holds children back.


When I visit schools, I am always blown away by the dedication of those working in them.

I am sure everyone has their stories of someone who went above and beyond,

who ignited a passion for a subject,

or the confidence to take on a challenge,

who provided encouragement in the classroom, on stage, or on the field.

Teachers, school leaders and support staff are at the heart of every school community,

but they have been consistently let down by the current Government,

which has led to a staffing crisis in our schools.

The last thirteen years have left teachers overworked, overstretched, and undervalued.

How can we expect our schools to provide a world-class education if they don’t have the team to deliver it?

The shortage of teachers, leaders, and support staff means that high standards are for some of our children, not all of them.

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

Under a Labour Government teachers will be critical to delivering our vision for education

and breaking down the barriers that stand in the way.

That’s why Labour will also end the tax exemptions that private schools enjoy.

With the money raised, will recruit over 6,500 new teachers to address vacancies and gaps across the profession,

and provide continuing professional development and leadership training,

giving teachers the time, space and opportunity to continue to develop their skills.

We cannot underestimate the importance of experienced teachers,

not only in the classroom but also in mentoring and supporting other teachers along the way.

We will review the network of bursaries and incentive payments to ensure we’re spending money effectively to keep brilliant teachers in our schools.

We want to attract the best to join teaching, and to stay.

School Support Staff

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

This week I will be celebrating them alongside UNISON the union

through their Stars in Our Schools day.

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.

That’s why Labour will reintroduce a School Support Staff Negotiating Body.

Bringing consistency to terms and conditions, a voice for support staff, with representatives from trade unions, local government employers, and schools and academies.

We want to work alongside staff and the sector to ensure that the body can be a positive forum.

Allowing all of these key pillars of the schools family to be recognised, and address the staffing crisis holding our schools back.


We know that a General Election is coming soon. Frankly, it couldn’t come soon enough.

Labour not only has the vision, but the plan and the energy to deliver for schools and children.

Our mission driven government will break down the barriers that are holding too many children back,

and ensure high and rising standards for all.

I know you have hopes and dreams for how things could be done differently.

Ambitions to deliver for our children and young people.

Labour does too.

That’s why we want to reset the relationship between Government and schools so we can deliver that change together.

Thank you.