Conservative Party Conference: Norfolk MP says ‘we must be like Japan’
09:32 09 October 2012
Minister and South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss has called for British education to be more like Japan’s, where the majority of youngsters leave school having studied A Level maths.
She was speaking at the Conservative conference in Birmingham at a meeting focused on how education could tackle social deprivation.
Studying maths boosts an individual’s earning power, but in the UK the number of pupils continuing with the subject and their proficiency relative to other nations has fallen in recent years.
Ms Truss told conference delegates: “In Norfolk I speak to a lot of businesses all the time about what kind of people they want in their business and I know how they struggle to recruit on technical skills and business management, in engineering, in quantative subjects.
“If you look at the national data, businesses also have a strong need for people with foreign language skills. In industries like food and farming, which I’ll just highlight is Britain’s number one manufacturing industry, not cars but food and farming, again there’s a real need for skilled staff.”
She added: “One of the things we should be doing in Britain is looking at other countries in the world; seeing that Japan has 85pc of students that get maths A level and saying, ‘why can’t we be like that – why can’t we be more like that’?”
She told how Germany had transformed its education system after international tests revealed it lagged behind other countries in key subjects. In 2000 the UK was 12 places ahead of Germany in maths league tables, but by 2009 it was 12 places behind.
Ms Truss said the UK would have to implement German-style reforms including a focus on English, maths and foreign languages along with longer schools days.
She highlighted Norfolk schools experimenting with their teaching day; like the Great Yarmouth Primary Academy which has introduced a new regime in which years five and six pupils stay at school until 6pm.
When lessons end at 3.30pm youngsters eat, do an hour of extra-curricular activities and then an hour of homework.
Ms Truss argued that the government’s new English Baccalaureate was already leading to more students taking core subjects, and she highlighted a new measure requiring all pupils to study a foreign language from age seven.
Later this year the government will announce the new national curriculum, which will set national standards but, said Ms Truss, will also give schools “flexibility” in how they teach it. She said: “I don’t think it’s good enough to just catch up with Germany.
By the time these reforms take place, and Michael Gove has set an expectation that it will be ten years before we see the full effects, the world will have moved on again.
“We can’t just get to where Germany was in 2009, we need to leapfrog them and hit the next level of demand.”