Poverty of aspiration. That, Gordon Brown will argue today, lies at the heart of the failure of the British education system to be world beating. The prime minister has, once again, put on his thinking hat for what promises to be another densely argued speech. He believes that the educational debate in this country since the war has been damaged by an obsession either with state-only solutions or market-only solutions. In fact, he will argue neither can provide the complete answer when the real problem lies with the culture of education in this country.
Poverty of aspiration has been driven, he argues, by an elitist equation that more education must equal less quality and that there is limited room at the top. This pessimistic view is, in any event, outdated, he will argue, by globalisation. The competition is, in other words, no longer to be in the elite with A grades or places at Oxbridge but for a place in highly skilled, highly paid workforce of the global economy.
What does this mean in practice? There he is somewhat more vague.
He's setting a new target to eliminate within the next five years what are now dubbed failing schools. All schools, he'll say, should meet the target of getting at least 30% of their pupils achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Maths. To achieve this he'll urge councils to use both market and state solutions - turning failing schools into academies or bringing in private sector support or simply closing them down.
He will pledge to do more to recruit the brightest and the best to be teachers and to increase the level of parental engagement and interest in a child’s learning.
Whilst pledging to raise the aspiration of the school system Mr Brown will argue that every child should aspire to an apprenticeship if not to higher education. There will, he will promise, be up to £15,000 to compensate employers for the costs of that training.
UPDATE, 01:00PM: Some are concerned about my reference to the "British education system". Britain, of course, has three education systems and the UK has four. Whilst the specific policy of closing failing schools or turning them into city academies does not apply outside England, the Brown critique about "poverty of aspiration" clearly does apply to all.
Brown's speech (which you can read here) makes an interesting contrast to Michael Gove - the Tory education spokesman's article in today's Telegraph. The Tories are manning the barricades in defence of the A-level "gold standard" as once they did over the dilution of excellence in our universities. Labour is claiming that this is an old fashioned and elitist defence of educational privilege for a few.