Layla opened with a throwback to her election last year...
One year ago, I stood here fresh faced and new. Still recovering from an exhausting election, but full of excitement and enthusiasm. Impatient to play my part in rebuilding our Party after a couple of devastatingly disappointing election results – where cool reason lost, and hot rhetoric won.
I was determined to play my part in creating a radical, liberal movement that every one of us in this room could call home.
Now a lot has changed in the last 18 months – except perhaps the ongoing failure of ministers to come up with a Conservative plan for Brexit.
But one thing that has never changed – not for a second – is my excitement. I am just as determined and hopeful today about the future of our Party, about ensuring we are the political home for everyone who shares our ideals.
She slammed the Government's shameful handling of education...
I was a teacher being an MP. My whole reason for entering politics was to create an education system which truly gives every child the opportunity to make the most of this scary, challenging but ultimately marvellous world we live in.
But conference, in the 18 months that I’ve been an MP it feels like the country is moving further and further away from a good education for all. Schools are facing a severe teacher crisis – over the last year 80 percent of teachers say they have seriously considered leaving their jobs.
More disgraceful still, the Government is failing our children. Funding pressures mean that we’re dropping subjects from the curriculum – shrinking the scope of learning, and limiting horizons for the future at the very point when we need those horizons to be stretched to the limit.
And worst of all, there is the toxic culture of high stakes testing which is causing untold damage to children’s mental health.
I’m not saying we don’t need tests. They are an essential part of any successful system. But they can never be the whole of it, and in recent times the ‘Exam-atollahs’ have run riot through our schools.
Layla spoke about the damage Ofsted is doing to our schools...
When we gathered for Spring Conference, we passed a policy paper which set out plans to radically overhaul Ofsted, League Tables and Primary School Exams - a powerful combination which would start to unpick the culture of excessive control and nanny-state interference which is poisoning our schools.
Conference, I am so proud that we are the only Party that has stood up to say what so many in the education profession have been calling for, for years: we must scrap Ofsted.
...and league tables...
It beggars belief that we insist on continuing to publish league tables which cultivate a damaging system where schools compete so ferociously that they forget their true purpose: to improve education for all. Did you see the stories over the summer about the number of students who were excluded to make league tables look better!
Low performing pupils from poorer families were scrubbed from the roster to make the school look better, following a policy encouraged by the Government. Theresa May is literally scrubbing out those children's futures. I call this educational cleansing. And it is a disgrace.
...and primary school exams.
And conference, we know it’s high time we ended the unnecessary stress placed on pupils and teachers caused by high stakes testing in primary schools - which is why we agreed to get rid of SATs.
The Government’s obsession with these tests is letting young people down badly. It perpetuates a focus on rote learning, rather than offering any real measure of children’s creatively, depth of understanding or ability to work as a team.
She called for grammar school reform...
I believe every child, at every stage, should have every chance of accessing the best. They can never be written off. They can never be rejected and consigned to a worse option. We can never give up on them or their potential. And it is for this reason that I believe we need to reopen the debate on Grammar schools.
My issue is not with the schools themselves. In fact many are brilliant schools and their local communities are rightly proud of them. However, it says everything that only 3% of children on free school meals go to Grammars. That’s compared to an average of 14% in surrounding areas.
How, when we know they do nothing to drive social mobility, does the Government push them to expand? What a waste of money! How, when we know families spend thousands of pounds on private tutoring to pass the 11+ can the Government claim that they are accessible to all?
Now to be absolutely clear: I don’t want to close grammar schools down. Most provide an excellent education to children who attend them.
What I want is for every child in areas which have grammar schools, to have an equal chance to attend them, an equal chance to benefit from the excellent facilities they offer.
So what I do want to do – what I would like to see us do as a Party, hand in hand with the communities that this affects– is take on the harmful, antiquated tradition of the 11+ exams and indeed all barriers to entry in the state system.
...and another look at independent schools...
My only wish is that every child in this country should have the same opportunities that are available in independent schools. But given that they mainly serve families in the top 5%, given the creaming off effect from surrounding schools, given that many of these families don’t even pay tax in the U.K, how can we justify their charitable status?
Now maybe they can. Many do brilliant work in their communities. But some do the bare minimum. We need better evidence about the impact they have, good and bad. I’d like to see us do what the Government felt it could not. I think we should remove charitable status unless an independent school can concretely show it’s benefiting the entire community, like a charity might.
and significant investment into Special Educational Needs provision.
We have a problem with Special Educational Needs. Many parents feel they have no choice but to game the system and try to get into a particular local school or opt out altogether and home school. But isn’t it sad that parents need to think this way? Because the implication is that many, many schools do not have the special needs provision that parents can believe in.
The Liberal Democrats should be committing to a massive additional investment in this, and I intend to bring a costed package of proposals back to this conference. To bring provision to every school in line with that of the very best. State or private.
Layla lamented vicious Conservative cuts to youth services...
Teachers point out that children are more influenced by the world around them, than the world inside the school gates. And they are right. I won’t forget out of school provision, when I develop these proposals.
The decimation of youth services because of funding cuts by many councils over the last two years must be reversed. And I don’t just want to get back to where we were five years ago. I want to see us go much further with ring-fenced additional investment in youth and children’s services to ensure they reach more children and young people and provide more varied and high quality support than ever before.
She committed to providing teachers the support they deserve...
What can we do to better support our teachers? Because they are without a doubt the most valuable part of our education system. What can we do to value them and stem the flow of people leaving the profession they love?
I think we can all agree teachers are long over due a pay rise. But when asked they rarely say it’s just about the money. We need to do more to tackle the bureaucracy that makes their workload unsustainable.
And what can we do to empower them? To make their jobs not just tolerable again, but truly the most rewarding job in the world – which of course it should be! Giving teachers opportunities to continue training and developing in their profession is key.
We should be giving our teachers training equivalent to the best education systems in the world. In Iceland, there is a minimum requirement for all teachers to undertake 150 hours a year – why don’t we seek to match that?
...and finished by rallying conference to keep fighting for better education.
Conference, I don’t pretend for a second that there is a magic roller to create a truly level playing field. But we have to try. And I ask you to join me again today, in being bold.
As Liberals, we demand an education system that enables every individual to fulfil their potential.
We demand an approach that looks forward in a fast changing world.
And, whatever their background, we demand better for every single child.