Brown heralds the halcyon days of the school motto

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An impassioned plea for a return to the days when the school motto was in the forefront of pupils' minds was delivered by Gordon Brown yesterday.

He confessed he was always more impressed by the motto of the school down the road from Kirkcaldy High School where he was as a pupil. It was "Rise to the light" whereas his was "I will do my utmost".

He told an audience of headteachers and academics that school mottos were "a declaration of faith in the future". "They should make it possible for young people to bridge the gap between what they are and what they have the wherewithal to become," he said.

He singled out two of the Government's new privately sponsored academies as the best examples of school mottos in the state sector. Bexley Business Academy in Kent – the first to be opened under the Government's programme had adopted "No goal is beyond our reach" while Paddington Academy in west London had "Best for everyone". But, he conceded, they did have the capacity to score own goals – citing the example of the former Brighton and Hove Grammar School's "Without labour, nothing". The double entendre, he said, became more apparent when the school moved to new premises and its own buildings were turned into a maternity home.

Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary a former pupil of Nottingham High School, recalled his – "Praise the end". "During my whole time at school we were debating what it meant," he said.

David Grant, a local authority councillor and former school inspector, thought his school's motto, "He conquers who suffers", was a commentary on grammar school life in the 1950s.

Mr Brown insisted a school motto helped pupils to "aim high". "I'm lucky I went to a school where we aimed high," he said.

"That's what I want for every school in the country. In Britain, there should be no cap on achievement, no ceiling to where your potential can take you."

Meaningful mottos

* Kirkcaldy High School (Gordon Brown's school): "I will do my utmost"

* Bexley Business Academy, Kent: "No goal is beyond our reach"

* Paddington Academy, west London: "The best in everyone"

* Brighton and Hove Grammar: "Without labour, nothing"

* Banksome School, Darlington: "Achievement beyond expectation"

* Nottingham High School (Ed Balls' school): "Praise the end"

* Camden High School for Girls: "Onwards and upwards"

* Kennet School, Newbury, top: "Excellence through endeavour"

* Howard School, Medway: "To strive and achieve is to succeed"