The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Remarks on the Education and Training White Paper – 20 May 1991

Below are Mr Major’s introductory remarks at the launch of the Education and Training White Paper on 20th May 1991.


You will all have a copy of my formal statement in your press packs – so I do not intend to read it all out.

But what I would like to do before we take your questions is to say a few words about why I believe these reforms are so important and why I wanted to be here myself to help launch them.

I remember very well what it was like to be 16 and to believe that school had nothing to offer. To think that exams didn’t matter that much. To convince yourself that school was a bit of a waste of time. I left at the first opportunity. Of course, it wasn’t long before I realised that qualifications did matter. But to get them, I had to start again. I had to do correspondence courses. It was a slog, and I only did it because I had to retrieve what I had lost.

What still happens all too often is that young people bale out of school at 16. If they aren’t lucky enough or determined enough, they don’t have another go. That means two things: first of all, they don’t have the sense of achievement – or the better paid job – that they could have. And second, the country as a whole does not have the skilled and motivated workforce it needs.

So what we have to do is break down the artificial barrier which has for too long divided an academic education from a vocational one, the blue collar worker from the white collar one. We are going to streamline our system of vocational qualifications and raise the esteem in which they are held. At the higher education level, our theme is the same. The polytechnics have come of age, and the dividing line which still exists between them and universities will be ended.

The reason I welcome these reforms is that they offer young people the opportunities and choices that I did not have. We have already succeeded in attracting more young people into further and higher education and more into good quality training than ever before. But now we are moving a stage further. We are pressing ahead with a package of far-reaching reforms which will help many more young people and adults to make the most of the talents they were born with, and will equip them with the skills which they and employers need.

People develop at different speeds and in different ways, and our system of education and training has to reflect that. I don’t want to see young people being forced to fit in with the system. I want the system to fit in with them. What’s more I don’t want to see them being forced out to a particular training programme, and I don’t want to see employers being forced to provide training. The right way is to work with the grain, giving people the chance to choose for themselves. That’s why we are introducing a new system of training credits so that young school leavers will be able to buy the training they want from the provider they want.

These White Papers bring more opportunities. They bring better opportunities too. I believe in levelling up, not levelling down. I want higher standards across the board. I want vocational qualifications to mean something, and I want academic qualifications to mean something. A Levels are – and will remain – the benchmark of excellence. I want young people to be stretched – because it is when they are stretched that they give of their best. That is what these reforms will do.

This is a very good day for young people. It is a good day for their parents. And it is a good day for employers. I believe that these White Papers will come to be seen as a turning point in the history of education and training in Britain. They will extend choice and provide new opportunities to many more people than ever before. They will encourage excellence. They will help build up the skilled and motivated workforce that employers need. They will bring the schoolroom and the world of work closer together. They will improve the quality of the careers advice that young people receive. They will give each and every young person the chance to develop to the best of his or her ability. They will, in short, give us the key to success.