Nick Gibb – 2017 Speech on School Business Professionals

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards and Minister for Equalities, to National Association of School Business Management National Conference on 16 November 2017.

It is a pleasure to be back again at the National Association of School Business Management National Conference. Can I just start by wishing CEO Stephen Morales a speedy and full recovery from his accident at the weekend. As I said last year, school business professionals play a crucial role in schools, freeing teachers and headteachers to focus on delivering a knowledge-rich education and improving the life chances of pupils. Your expertise helps shape the strategic direction and governance of schools.

Which is why it is important to celebrate NASBM moving to Institute status. This is an important step for the status of your profession and for school leadership and governance as a whole. It is yet another milestone in the journey of school business professionals, as you become an integral part of the school system.

The role of the school business professional has never been more important. As part of a school’s senior leadership team, many of you play a vital role in setting strategic direction. Having started my career as an accountant at what was then Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Co. – before the firm merged and became KPMG – I know that an analytical approach to detail and prudent financial management should be the basis of any decision-making.

This understanding should be at the heart of all organisations, whether private or public sector. A forensic interrogation of the detail and a careful management of resources frees an organisation to operate more efficiently and more effectively. For schools, this means improving the use and deployment of resources and freeing teachers to focus on what is most important.

School business professionals play a vital role in strategic and financial management, which enables more teachers and headteachers time to be given over to teaching a high-quality, knowledge-rich curriculum. This allows for more money to be spent on evidence-informed CPD for teachers, to improve pedagogy and develop staff in preparation for future leadership responsibilities. And it provides greater opportunities for those essential intangibles that are so vital to providing a great education for all pupils, such as extra-curricular programmes and educational visits.

As the old saying goes: look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. But I know your role goes much further than that. The strategic oversight and the financial expertise that you bring to schools gives teachers and headteachers something that is even more valuable than extra financial resource; a skilled school business professional gives teachers more time.

Research supports this, having produced strong evidence to suggest that a high quality, skilled school business professional can ease workload, saving headteachers up to a third of their time. We want more schools to benefit from this, which is why we want to enhance entry routes and options for professional development.

We want to grow and support your workforce and we have supported NASBM to ensure there are quality apprenticeships available for school business professionals. This includes a route for school business directors through the level 6 Chartered Management Degree Apprenticeship.

And we are working to encourage known school business professional networks to expand, as well as supporting professionals to set up new networks. Our aspiration – over time – is that every school business professional should be able to join a network.

We want teachers and headteachers to understand how a strong school business professional can help improve their school and reduce workload.

Teachers dedicate their working lives to improving the life chances of the pupils they teach. It is the duty of government to free teachers from the bureaucracy that too often prevents them from using their time as productively as possible and as they would like.

Upon taking office in 2010, the government scrapped 20,000 pages of unnecessary regulation and guidance, freeing teachers to focus on teaching. We are working with Ofsted to bear down on time-consuming tasks that do little to improve pupil attainment. For example, the scourge of ‘triple marking’.

But there is more that needs to be done. The past 7 years have seen significant change in the school system as our reforms bed in. Teachers and headteachers have responded well to the more rigorous national curriculum; the new GCSEs have been received well by the profession; and we are bringing stability to assessment in primary schools.

These reforms are raising standards:

– Thanks to the focus on phonics reforms, this year, 154,000 more pupils are on track to becoming fluent readers than in 2012
– The proportion of pupils fulfilling the science pillar of the EBacc has risen from 62% in 2010 to 91% this year
– And the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers shrunk by 9.3% at KS2 and 7% at KS4 between 2011 and 2016

We all owe our thanks to teachers and our admiration for what they have achieved. Since 2010, there has been a transformation of the school system, improving the life chances of pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But teachers deserve more than our thanks. Government should support teachers to make their workload more manageable and provide them with more time to focus on what is most important: raising academic standards for all.

School business professionals can and do play an important role in giving teachers back their time. You are the key levers that enable the employees of every school to most productively use that time.

We want to see increased recognition of the value of school business professionals across the country. I look forward to working with the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL) to raise the status of school business professionals and develop the expertise of the hardworking professionals already driving improvements in our school system.

Teachers and headteachers – supported by school business professionals – now enjoy far greater control over the destiny of their own school. Academy freedoms accentuate the greater autonomy enjoyed by teachers, but the government has given greater powers to all teachers.

Greater powers now exist to deal with disruptive behaviour, which for too long blighted English education. Importantly, the government granted anonymity if teachers faced allegations from parents or pupils.

The scourge of the ‘Ofsted teaching style’ has been eliminated. No longer does Ofsted make judgements about the pedagogical approach used by schools. Teachers are trusted. Instead, they are judged on the ends they achieve.

Pedagogy is now a matter for teachers. It is a subject that is hotly contested in vibrant debates, which are increasingly being led by teachers: sharing platforms with academics at ResearchED; debating with intellectuals at the Institute of Ideas; and flooding the blogosphere with insightful critiques of received wisdom. This is the new normal in teaching.

Teachers have seized their profession and are shaping the future. The great explosion of ideas that has emerged in the past few years has changed teaching forever. Unshackled from the grips of conformity, teachers have begun to question the previously unquestionable.

Tom Bennett’s tireless campaign to improve school behaviour means that poor behaviour can no longer be dismissed as a consequence of uninspiring lessons. The days when classroom management is seen as the sole responsibility of the classroom teacher might – finally – be numbered. As Tom Bennett makes clear in his report Creating a Culture, managing pupil behaviour requires a whole-school ethos where classroom teachers are supported by senior staff.

High expectations pervades so much of what teachers are now demanding. Consider the contributions to ASCL and PTE’s recent pamphlet ‘The Question of Knowledge’, which makes the powerful case for a knowledge-based curriculum.

Luke Sparkes and Jenny Thompson, architects of the success of Dixons Trinity Academy – a free school in Bradford that ranked in the top 10 schools nationally for progress achieved – described the ongoing, teacher-led quest to raise standards, writing, I quote:

A knowledge-based curriculum is about harnessing the power of cognitive science, identifying each marginal gain and acting upon it; having the humility to keep refining schemes of work, long term plans and generating better assessments.

Government can take some credit for providing inspirational teachers with the freedom they needed, but the impetus comes from the profession seizing the opportunities that have become available.

Consider the books that teachers now recommend to each other. Writing for the Chartered College of Teaching earlier this month, Elizabeth Royde reviewed Daisy Christodoulou’s masterful debunking of previous educational orthodoxy, ‘7 Myths About Education’. Her decision to conclude the review with a quote from the book was particularly powerful. Discussing the hyperbolic rhetoric of those opposed to teacher-led instruction, Daisy Christodoulou wrote the following:

It is a baffling overreaction: to move from a legitimate criticism of mindless rote-learning to the complete denial of any kind of teacher-led activity. The solution to mindless rote-learning is not less teacher instruction, it is different and better teacher instruction.

This quotation sums up the step-change there has been over the past few years. Teachers have claimed their voice. No longer will sound-bite criticisms be enough to dictate how teachers teach. Informed by a nuanced understanding of the evidence, teachers will no longer tolerate bland pronouncements from those who presume to be in a position of authority. Evidence is becoming the new currency in the marketplace of education ideas.

Debate – as it has done for the last few years – will continue to rage. The freedom seized by the profession means that all will have a voice, but ideas will be weighed and will be discarded if found wanting. The heterogeneity of debate has encouraged a hundred flowers to bloom.

Innovative academies and free schools – of varying and differing stripes – provide opportunities to test empirically different approaches to the curriculum and pedagogy. Twinned with the vibrant debate amongst teachers and academics, exemplary schools will serve to test ideas. The theoretical will become empirical, shaping debate and advancing our understanding.

Free from government intervention, the feedback loop needed for a self-improving school system is now taking shape.

The most successful innovative schools – such as Dixons Trinity Academy, which registered a Progress 8 score of 1.22 and an EBacc entry rate of 81% – are now beacons for others to copy. Dixons Trinity proudly stands as a living counter example that discredits the notion that outstanding education is somehow the preserve of the wealthy or those who live in the London. This school demonstrates unquestionably that all children – wherever they live in the country and whatever their family background – can achieve outstanding academic results.

These schools are a bitten thumb, if you like, to all who clamour for contextualising achievement and a consequent lowering of standards. They represent a teacher-led fight to show what it is possible to achieve.

But that is not to say that government cannot play a vital role in raising standards. The government overhauled the national curriculum, ensuring that children are taught the knowledge they need to thrive in an ever more globalised world. We have put an end to grade inflation and introduced more rigorous national assessments.

Thanks to the hard work of teachers and headteachers, the strategic support and expertise provided by school business professionals, and the reforms that we have brought in since 2010, there are now 1.8 million more children in schools rated good or outstanding than there were in 2010.

In July this year, to support schools to continue to drive up standards for pupils, we announced an additional £1.3biilion for schools and high needs across 2018-19 and 2019-20, in addition to the schools budget set at Spending Review in 2015. This means that funding per pupil for schools and high needs will, at a national level, be maintained in real terms for the next two years.

And following our announcement in September 2017, in September 2018, for the first time, under the national funding formula, school funding will be distributed based on the individual needs and characteristics of every school in the country. The new NFF will provide for an increase in funding in respect of every school, allocating a minimum of £4,800 for each secondary school pupil and £3,500 for every primary school pupil in 2019-20, nationwide.

Fixing our outdated, anachronistic and deeply unfair school funding system is another example of the good that government can do, creating a level playing field from which professionals can do what is best for their schools.

But, as you will all be aware, the challenge does not stop there. Of course, whilst the way schools are funded is important, it is also vital that schools themselves continue to get the best value from their resources, to improve pupil outcomes and promote social mobility. Alongside our substantial investment, we are committed to helping schools improve their efficiency in order to achieve this.

Incisive analysis of how school funding is spent can dramatically affect the success of a school in delivering for pupils. The expertise and strategic view that a school business professional can bring to financial decision making is beyond question, and we want more schools to benefit from this expertise.

School efficiency must start with – and be led by – schools.

Central to this is our approach to integrated curriculum and financial planning. Curricula should be inherently integrated with good financial planning. We know that this integration is pivotal to school efficiency.

We want to highlight and develop the support, guidance and tools that are already available to help you to maximise your schools’ efficiency and long-term financial health.

Currently, we are helping schools to get the best value from their non-staff expenditure through the ambitious initiatives set out in the Schools’ Buying Strategy, which was published last January. In particular, we have made positive progress with the Buying Hubs and are on track to start delivering support to schools in the North West and South West pilot regions early in the New Year.

Further, we have helped schools to procure better value goods and services on areas all schools purchase thanks to our recommended deals. Schools can save on average 10% on their energy bills, or 40% on printers, photocopiers and scanners. We intend to expand these deals where it would help schools for us to do so.

And over the summer, we launched an updated and significantly improved benchmarking service for schools, based on feedback and user testing with school business professionals.

We will continue to build on this offer. When a school is at risk of falling into financial difficulty, it is right to intervene – directly with academies, or working with local authorities in the case of maintained schools. In these cases, we will deploy experienced efficiency experts to provide direct support to schools.

The government is on a mission to support schools to use their resources as efficiently and effectively as possible. We’re looking forward to working with the Institute for School Business Leadership in this joint endeavour, which is why it is a pleasure to be here today to celebrate your move to institute status.

Thanks to your strategic oversight and governance, and the hard work of teachers and headteachers, the school system has gone from strength to strength since 2010. Thank you for everything you have done, and will do in the future, to improve standards in our schools and to drive social mobility.

Nick Gibb – 2017 Speech at FASNA Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards and Minister for Equalities, at the FASNA Conference on 2 November 2017.

Year on year, the voice of Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association (FASNA) grows ever more prominent in the nation’s great education debates. FASNA – under the stewardship of Tom Clark – continues to be an independent voice, arguing for the empowerment of teachers and the pursuit of evidence-based policies that enable schools to raise standards for all pupils.

FASNA promotes autonomy for schools, believing that autonomous schools are the best vehicle to innovate and raise standards for their pupils, in the best interest of local communities. This is a belief that we share. Thanks to the reforms of this government, support from organisations like FASNA and the hard work of teachers and headteachers around the country, there is now a burgeoning empirical evidence base for this belief.

Herein lies the power of greater freedom and autonomy for schools. By empowering teachers and headteachers and promoting an atmosphere of innovation and evidence, power is wrestled from the old authorities. Ideas are weighed and, if they are found wanting, they can be discarded.

By unleashing the proliferation of ideas, it is no longer the exclusive prerogative of LA advisers or education faculties of universities to dictate pedagogy or curriculum to teachers. Teachers – empowered by our reforms – have seized back their profession.

And thanks to powers granted by the government and the expansion of the academies and free schools programmes, teachers and headteachers now enjoy far greater control over the destiny of their school. Decision making has truly been localised and professionalised.

Alongside the greater freedoms made available to teachers in free schools and academies, the government also scrapped 20,000 pages of unnecessary regulation and guidance, freeing teachers to focus on teaching.

Greater powers now exist to deal with disruptive behaviour, which for too long blighted English education. Importantly, the government granted teachers anonymity if they faced allegations from parents or pupils.

But freedom has not only been granted, it has been seized. For example, Tom Bennett’s report, ‘Creating a Culture’ – drawing on evidence and examples from high performing schools – documents how all schools in all circumstances can achieve high standards of behaviour.

It is the determination of teachers to prove that all children thrive when given a classical liberal education – after decades of being told that Shakespeare and good behaviour isn’t for children from certain backgrounds – that has been the most important consequence of greater teacher autonomy.

The flourishing online community of teacher-bloggers – who share their experiences, challenge received wisdom and critique evidence – are raising the status of the profession and improving the lives of pupils. Few examples from teaching better sum up the perennially underestimated effects of freedom than the effect that this heterodox collection of teachers have had on the profession.

And this new education commentariat – distinguished from those they are replacing because of their current classroom experience – are taking their influence offline. Through teacher-organised, grassroots conferences such as ResearchED, evidence of what really works in the classroom is spreading quickly throughout the system.

From Andrew Old’s long-standing campaign against the so-called ‘Ofsted teaching style’, to Greg Ashman’s tireless commitment to evidence-based practice and Jo Facer’s thoughtful and personal reflections, these classroom teachers provide insight, commentary and challenge from the classroom – making redundant those who seek to speak for teachers.

And teachers have seized control of schools too. This year’s GCSE results go to show the effect of greater autonomy: 8 of the top 10 schools for progress made by pupils were academies or free schools.

These extraordinary schools are changing what is thought to be possible and raising expectations across the country. They are an example to any school seeking to improve.

And whether you look at Reach Academy Feltham, Dixons Trinity Academy or the Harris Academy Chain – which had three schools register Progress 8 scores above 1 – there are some obvious similarities.

All of these schools teach a stretching knowledge-rich curriculum. Each has a strong approach to behaviour management, so teachers can teach uninterrupted. And all of these schools serve disadvantaged communities, demonstrating that high academic and behavioural standards are not – and must not – be the preserve of wealthy pupils in independent schools.

In the areas of the country where the government’s reforms have matured most rapidly, school-level autonomy twinned with a sensible accountability system has created a range of different schools from which parents can choose.

All around the country, the government has built the foundations of an education system through which teachers and headteachers control the levers over school improvement and parents exercise choice, wrestling power away from local education authorities and handing it back to local communities.

With an intelligent accountability system to maintain high standards, innovative schools collaborate and compete with one another to improve teaching, the quality of their curricula or retention of their staff.

The guiding principles behind the reforms to the curriculum, assessment and accountability structure were simple: raise standards, increase rigour and ensure that every child – whatever their background – receives a high-quality, knowledge-rich academic education up until the age of 16.

Schools are now judged based on the outcomes and progress they achieve for their pupils, giving a truer picture of the achievements of schools. The government wants to do even more to attract teachers to schools in challenging areas, but the change in emphasis in the accountability system should go a long way towards breaking down the barriers to attracting teachers to where they are most needed.

Of even greater significance has been the refinement and improvement of the national assessment system. In order to encourage schools to enter more pupils into rigorous academic GCSEs, the government introduced the EBacc performance measure, a key combination of academic subjects: maths; English; two sciences; a humanity; and a language. This combination of subjects provides pupils with a broad academic core of knowledge and provides pupils with the best opportunity of being admitted to the UK’s most prestigious universities.

A recent report from the Sutton Trust found that pupils at schools that had enthusiastically adapted its curriculum to enter more pupils into the EBacc combination of subjects were more likely to achieve good English and maths GCSEs and go on to take A level or equivalent Level 3 qualifications, as compared to a set of schools with similar characteristics.

Additionally, the pupil premium gap closed slightly more in these schools compared with schools with similar pupil intakes, but which had not adapted its curriculum choices to promote greater take up of the EBacc.

This policy has resulted in some significant improvements. Since 2010, the proportion of pupils studying the science component of the EBacc has risen from 63% to 91%. Similarly, the proportion of pupils studying either history or geography has risen from 48% to 77%. These figures show the scale of what has been achieved in education over the past seven years.

However, there is much more to do if we are to achieve our manifesto target of 75% of pupils studying for the EBacc by 2022 and 90% studying the EBacc suite of qualifications by 2025. This year, for the first time the proportion of pupils entering subjects in all five pillars fell slightly, whilst the proportion of pupils entering four pillars or more rose 6%. More pupils took more EBacc subjects, but fewer pupils took all five EBacc subjects needed.

The proportion of pupils taking GCSE languages has risen from 40% to just 47% this year, falling from 49% last year. Too few pupils are being taught a foreign language. In an ever more globalised world, having an economy with a voracious appetite for people with knowledge of a foreign language and being a great trading nation and host to the world’s financial capital, we must do more to ensure more pupils study languages at GCSE.

We cannot always rely on businesses’ demand for multi-lingual senior staff to be met by foreign born or non-UK employees or those educated in the independent sector. We need those opportunities to be equally available to young people educated in our state schools.

Our accountability system – including the EBacc entry and attainment measures – rewards schools for their achievements and incentivises behaviour that improves outcomes for pupils, maintaining standards and allowing for innovation. But, too many schools have been competing on an unequal footing because of the unfair and anachronistic funding system.

The unfair, opaque and outdated school and high needs funding system meant the same pupils would attract significantly different levels of funding depending on where in the country they went to school. The government is grasping the nettle and addressing this unfairness.

As FASNA knows, the need for reform has been widely recognised, because of the manifest unfairness in the current system. For example, Nottingham receives £555 more per pupil than Halton despite having similar proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals.

For the first time, school funding will be distributed according to a formula based on the individual needs and characteristics of every pupil and school in the country. This will direct resources where they are needed most, and provide transparency and predictability for schools.

Time and time again since 2010, the government has demonstrated the desire to take on the big questions that confront our country.

Following extensive consideration, involving two public consultations – generating over 26,000 responses – and a large number of meetings with teachers, headteachers, councillors, governors, academy trusts and MPs, the government announced the final national funding formula for schools and high needs in September.

The introduction of the national funding formula is supported by significant extra funding of £1.3 billion across 2018-19 and 2019-20, over and above the budget announced at the 2015 spending review, ensuring that no school will lose out as a result of these reforms.

Thanks to our careful management of the public finances, we are able to increase core funding for schools and high needs from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £42.4 billion in 2018-19 and £43.5 billion in 2019-20. That’s £2.5 billion more in 2019-20 than in 2017-18. This will allow us to maintain school and high needs funding in real terms per pupil for the next two years.

To provide stability, the Government has announced that local authorities will continue to decide final, individual school budgets for the next two years.

However, the funding local authorities receive will – for the first time – be allocated according to a clear and transparent formula based on the characteristics of pupils and schools in their areas.

This historic reform, backed by increased investment, will ensure:

An increase in the basic amount of funding every child attracts to their school, compared to our proposals in December

A minimum per pupil funding level of £4,800 for secondary schools and £3,500 for primary schools in 2019-20

A minimum cash increase for every school through the formula of one per cent per pupil by 2019-20, with underfunded schools seeing rises of up to three per cent per pupil in 2018-19 and a further three per cent per pupil in 2019-20

A £110,000 lump sum for every school to help with fixed costs, and an additional £26 million to rural and isolated schools to help them manage their unique challenges

The final national funding formula will benefit schools right across the country. Rural schools will gain on average 3.9% through the formula, with those schools in the most remote locations gaining 5.0% and schools with the highest numbers of pupils starting with low attainment will gain on average 3.8%.

In order to provide transparency to the public, we have published the full detail online, so that everyone can see notional figures illustrating what these reforms mean for their local schools.

We have also recognised the need for additional investment in high needs to support the most vulnerable pupils. Every local authority will see a minimum increase in high needs funding of 0.5% in 2018-19, and 1% in 2019-20. Overall, local authorities will gain 4.6% on average in their high needs budgets.

These much-needed reforms to school funding provide teachers and headteachers with the resources they need to continue to drive up standards in schools, and they allow parents to choose the best school for their child safe in the knowledge that they will receive the fair funding their child deserves.

By combining greater autonomy, raised expectations and a level playing field for all, the school system has gone from strength to strength. Where appropriate, the government has stepped back, with teachers, schools and MATs having control over their destiny. No longer does the scourge of the ‘Ofsted teaching style’ dictate pedagogy in English classrooms. Now teachers are free to pursue and debate the most effective teaching methods.

But government has played, and will continue to play, an important role. As well as levelling the playing field and liberating teachers from unnecessary constraints, the government has played a crucial role in raising standards for all.

Thanks to the phonics reforms, 154,000 more pupils are on track to be fluent readers this year than in 2012. The review of the national curriculum has seen knowledge restored to the heart of schooling, better preparing pupils for working life and introducing them to the great conversations of humankind.

Government will continue to raise standards for all children, whatever their background. We are determined to close the ‘word gap’ that exists when pupils first arrive at school. We know that disadvantaged pupils arrive in reception with less developed language and vocabulary than their more affluent peers.

In the interests of having a socially just and socially mobile society, it is important that we do more to address this inequality. Children who struggle with language in reception are six times less likely to reach the expected standard in English at age 11 and ten times less likely to achieve the expected level in maths, demonstrating that early language development is key to unlocking potential.

And we are determined to make progress in preparing pupils for the rigours of secondary school. The new primary maths curriculum and the introduction of the multiplication tables check will help ensure that every pupil leaves primary school knowing their times tables, granting secondary maths teachers the freedom to cover complex mathematical concepts secure in the knowledge that their pupils have the requisite domain knowledge.

Alongside a dynamic and self-improving school system, government has an important role to play in spreading excellence to all parts of the school system.

That is what we will continue to do.

Over the past seven years, the school system has been transformed:

Teachers and headteachers have been empowered, being given additional responsibilities, more autonomy and a greater voice

Rigour has been returned to our education system, with more pupils studying core academic subjects and innovative free schools and academies leading the way in raising standards

Schools will be funded fairly and transparently for the first time FASNA has played a key role in the national education debates, arguing for greater freedom and autonomy for schools. Your contribution has been invaluable in shaping, developing and fine-tuning national policy, and I look forward to working with you in the future.

Nick Gibb – 2017 Speech on Knowledge-Based Education

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards and Minister for Equalities, on 19 October 2017.

It has been a pleasure to work with the Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL) over the years as Minister of State for Education. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Malcolm Trobe for all of the work he did as interim General Secretary, and Deputy General Secretary before that. It has been a pleasure to work with him and I look forward to working with Geoff Barton in the years ahead.

The way the curriculum is discussed in this country has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. In 2007, the previous government launched a national curriculum that had been stripped of knowledge content in favour of skills.

‘Could do Better’ – a review of the then National Curriculum carried out by Tim Oates in 2010 – found that the National Curriculum for England had been subjected to a protracted process of revision, with the 2007 reforms failing to adequately draw from emerging analysis of high-performing systems around the globe.

A change of government in 2010 prevented the Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum recommendations being brought in. This review argued that the primary national curriculum should place less emphasis on subject areas and a greater emphasis on so-called areas of learning and development:

– personal, social and emotional development

– communication, language and literacy

– problem solving, reasoning and numeracy

– knowledge and understanding of the world

– physical development

– creative development

This review of the primary curriculum drew on the example of Finland – still the doyenne of the international education circuit – which had moved away from emphasising knowledge just at the time it reached the summit of the international education league tables. The review described the Finnish position as follows:

Core content is described as activities and skills, rather than detailed subject-based content. This places the onus on the municipality, and more importantly on the school, to develop their curriculum to meet learners’ needs as well as national expectations.

The Finnish curriculum also had seven cross-curricula themes:

– growth as a person

– cultural identity and internationalism

– media, skills and communication

– participatory citizenship and entrepreneurship

– responsibility for the environment, well-being and a sustainable future
safety and traffic

– technology and the individual

The review drew on numerous other international examples of countries that have moved away from a traditional focus on knowledge and towards generic, cross-cutting skills. The romantic notion that teachers need not focus on knowledge and instead turn their attention to developing creativity or communication skills has gripped many countries around the world.

But as Gabriel Sahlgren argued in Real Finnish Lessons, Finland’s success – often a catalyst for skills-focused education reforms in other countries – is probably not explained by their more recent curriculum changes. These changes have been wrongly credited with education success, which is more likely to be due to Finland’s traditional educational culture until that point at about the turn of the millennium when it changed.

Instead, Sahlgren argues persuasively that Finland’s recent fall in performance – albeit from a very substantial height – is due to a movement away from this culture. In particular, the teacher-centred educational culture is being replaced by more pupil-led ways of working.

Thanks to the result of the 2010 general election, the English education system did not undergo further skills-focused reforms. Thanks to the work of Tim Oates and others, the new National Curriculum put knowledge back at the centre of schooling.

And knowledge is – rightly – back at the heart of discussions about the curriculum. ‘The Question of Knowledge’ is an important pamphlet, making the case for a knowledge-rich curriculum with essays written by leading experts and headteachers. It is a significant contribution to our national education conversation.

In her foreword, Leora Cruddas describes the importance of E. D. Hirsch – someone who has deeply influenced my thinking on education:

The influence of E. D. Hirsch on educational thinking has been profound. At its heart is the idea that returning to a traditional, academic curriculum built on shared knowledge is the best way to achieve social justice in society. His work has also encouraged schools to focus on the concept of building cultural capital as a way to close the attainment gap.

A knowledge-based curriculum is too often tarred by opponents as entrenching social divisions, whereas a well taught knowledge-rich education is a driver of true meritocracy – as the headteachers who contributed to this pamphlet well know.

Dame Rachel De Souza – of the Parent and Teachers for Excellence (PTE) and the Inspiration Trust – understands the importance of knowledge as well as anyone:

Knowing those things – and not just recalling the bald facts but deeply understanding them – gives you an upper hand. It gives you the confidence to discuss a wide range of live topics with those around you, it gives you social status. It makes you part of the club that runs the world, and the inside track to change it.

And the pendulum swing towards knowledge and away from skills that has taken place over the past few years has been profound.

Academies and free schools have control over the curriculum they teach, and with the National Curriculum setting the standard high, innovative schools led by exceptional head teachers have developed world-class curricula. But shifting a school’s focus towards a knowledge-based curriculum is not a short-term commitment, as Stuart Lock – the newly appointed headteacher of Bedford Free School – explains:

I think there is a real danger that developing a knowledge-based curriculum might be seen as “done” after a year or two. In reality, we are just over one year into a long-term job. There is no moving on to another initiative; we are playing the long game. This is what is important in schools, and hence is our continued focus for development over the next few years. Everything is subservient to curricular questions. So pedagogy, assessment, tracking and qualifications must lead on from us developing further our understanding of what makes a pupil knowledgeable, and ensuring we get as close to that understanding as possible.

This view is shared by Luke Sparkes and Jenny Thompson of Dixons Trinity Academy, which achieved outstanding results this year. Their excellent free school serves a disadvantaged community in Bradford, and is one of a number of high performing free schools and academies that demonstrate that a stretching, knowledge-rich curriculum, a sensible approach to behaviour and evidence-informed teaching result in exceptional results for all pupils.

High performing free schools and academies are providing empirical evidence of what it is possible to achieve when teachers and headteachers – given freedom to innovate with their curriculum – pursue an evidence-based approach. The exceptional results achieved by schools such as King Solomon Academy, Mossbourne Community Academy and Harris Academy Battersea demonstrate that disadvantage need be no barrier to achieving academic excellence.

But the excuse-making has shifted. Increasingly, there is a chorus of nay-sayers who claim that only schools in London or the south east can achieve top results. Dixons Trinity Academy – along with the likes of the Tauheedul Education Trust – shows conclusively that geography need be no barrier to academic achievement.

According to Luke Sparkes and Jenny Thompson, the secret to success isn’t the socio-economic make up of your cohort or the location of your school. For them:

A knowledge-based curriculum is about harnessing the power of cognitive science, identifying each marginal gain and acting upon it; having the humility to keep refining schemes of work, long term plans and generating better assessments.

Unlike the easy-sounding promise of generic skills, there is no doubt that developing a knowledge-rich curriculum is hard. But, unlike a skills-based curriculum, the rewards are worth it.

The West London Free School – run by Hywel Jones – is determined to provide a classical liberal education for all of its pupils. Too often, when considering what comprises a knowledge-rich curriculum, the arts are not given the prominence they deserve.

In tired arguments against the English Baccalaureate, opponents of the policy sometimes characterise proponents of a knowledge-rich curriculum as opposing the development of human creativity and appreciation of the arts. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Analysis published earlier this year by the Department for Education showed that there is little correlation between the change in EBacc entry and the change in arts uptake in state-funded mainstream schools. The small correlation that does exist suggests that schools where EBacc entry has increased tend to have also seen an increase in their arts uptake.

In an earlier NSN report showing the same trends, the Culture Minister Matt Hancock and I wrote that there should be no battle between the arts and other subjects, but instead a battle for stronger, better, well-rounded education.

I am clear that the arts are a vital component of every pupil’s education. Arts and culture are part of the fabric of our society and the government firmly believes that every child should be taught a high-quality arts curriculum.

At Hywel’s school, music has pride of place in the curriculum – a school in which the vast majority of pupils are entered for the EBacc suite of core academic subjects. That is because music – along with other important arts subjects – has an important role to play in ensuring that pupils leave school with the cultural literacy they will need. And cultural literacy is a vital goal of a knowledge-rich curriculum, as Hywel explains in his essay:

We want children to leave our school with the confidence that comes from possessing a store of essential knowledge and the skills to use it. We believe that independence of mind, not compliance with socio-economic expectations, is the goal of a good education. We believe the main focus of our curriculum should be on that common body of knowledge that, until recently, all schools were expected to teach. This is the background knowledge taken for granted by writers who address the intellectually engaged layman – the shared frames of reference for public discourse in modern liberal democracies. Sometimes referred to as “intellectual capital”, at other times as “cultural literacy”, this storehouse of general knowledge will enable all our pupils to grow to their full stature. Passing on this knowledge, as well as the ability to use it wisely, is what we mean by a classical liberal education.

The implementation of a core-academic curriculum currently occupies less bandwidth in our national conversation, but it is no less important. And the deep subject knowledge of teachers is vital to the successful delivery of the curriculum, as Ian Baukham made clear in his excellence review of modern foreign language pedagogy for the Teaching Schools Council.

In his essay for ‘The Question of Knowledge’ he expertly dissects the key relationship between a teacher’s subject and curriculum knowledge, and their appropriate choice of pedagogy. He writes:

The core knowledge pertaining to a foreign language when learnt by a novice consists of vocabulary (words, the lexis), grammar (the rules, syntax, morphology) and pronunciation and its link to the written form (phonics, phoneme-grapheme correspondences). It is essential that language teachers understand this and that their curriculum planning must sequence the teaching of this knowledge and its practice to automaticity in structured but decreasingly scaffolded contexts.

He also adds an excellent critique of the dominant pedagogical approaches that grip far too many modern foreign language classrooms in our country:

The modern languages equivalent of ‘discovery learning’ or ‘child centred’ approaches, which we now understand to be not only time inefficient but also unfairly to disadvantage those pupils with least educational capital, is a ‘natural acquisition’ approach to language learning. A ‘natural acquisition’ approach emphasises pupil exposure to the language, exaggerates the role of ‘authentic resources’ at the expense of properly constructed practice or selected material, and tends to favour pupils spotting grammatical patterns for themselves rather than being explicitly taught them. It tends to emphasise the ‘skills’ of linguistic communication, listening, reading, speaking and writing, over the ‘knowledge’ which is a prerequisite for these skills (grammar, vocabulary and phonics), and it often turns the skills into the content leading to an ill-conceived curriculum. Moreover, it tends to plan courses around thematic topics (so holidays, the environment and so on) and in so doing to de-emphasise grammatical progression towards a coherent whole picture, as in such a schema grammar is secondary to the ‘topic’ so is introduced in small disconnected chunks as pertaining to the thematic topic.

Again, this critique returns to the core purpose of the movement for a core academic curriculum for all, embodied by this pamphlet. The driving motive behind the reforms the government has embarked upon since 2010 is shared by this teacher-led movement; the desire for every child in this country to receive a world-class education that equips them with the knowledge they need, taught to them by expert teachers, using evidence-based approaches to teaching.

It is a simple aim, but realising this ambition requires and will require great effort and our continued joint endeavour. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who is here and everyone who contributes each and every day to this movement. Together, we are changing this country’s education system for the better.

Nick Gibb – 2017 Speech at ResearchED National Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards and Minister for Equalities, at the ResearchED National Conference on 9 September 2017.

Summarising the aims of ResearchED, Tom Bennett recently wrote that ResearchED is determined to break things. Not for the sake of destruction, but to break the shibboleths that have, for too long, dominated education policy and stifled the spread of evidence-led teaching.

As The West Wing’s President Bartlet said to Will Bailey (borrowing a quote from the anthropologist Margaret Mead):

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.

ResearchED is a grassroots, teacher-led revolt against the old order in education, a challenge to received wisdom and a rejection of the status quo. You are the small group of thoughtful, committed teachers who are changing the world of education.

These conferences are changing the relationship between teachers and education research. As many teachers have told me and as many teachers in this room will no doubt recognise, the research historically presented to teachers was monotone in content and seldom used.

ResearchED is different. By granting a platform to a wide range of views, the currency of speakers is the quality of the evidence they are presenting. And teachers can vote with their feet. As Tom Bennett put it in a recent blog:

In one room you might have a government minister taking questions of the evidence base of their latest policy, and next door there might be a teaching assistant discussing how she launched journal clubs at her school. I love that sense of levelling, of democratic representation that it embodies.

I think this perfectly sums up ResearchED. Although, I am now wondering who is speaking next door.

Not only is this conference the embodiment of teacher empowerment. It is a triumph of science over assumed authority.

Irreverence for authority is arguably the most liberating consequence of the scientific method. Whilst there is still cause to listen to and learn from learned men and women, no opinion – however authoritative – can be cause to dismiss evidence out of hand.

Science, facts and objectivity don’t care about your reputation. Science cares about your evidence, your data and your hypothesis. In science, P-values trump PhDs.

So today, I hope all participants will take advantage of the cast list of speakers that Tom has assembled and seize the opportunity to challenge Dr Becky Allen on her analysis of this year’s GCSE data, probe the validity of comparative judgement with Daisy Christodoulou, debate direct instruction with Kris Boulton, explore the effectiveness of academies with Karen Wespieser or quiz Amanda Spielman on the reliability of Ofsted inspections.

There are many examples from the history of science to show reputation need be no barrier to making meaningful contributions to human knowledge and understanding. Few are more inspiring than the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, portrayed in the film ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’.

Having had almost no mathematical training, he began a postal relationship with English mathematician GH Hardy in 1913. From the quality of the mathematics in the letters, Ramanujan’s genius was immediately apparent.

By 1914 he was working in Cambridge, following a month-long voyage across the globe. In the next 6 years, before his untimely death at age 32, this previously unknown son of a sari shop clerk made important contributions to mathematical fields such as analysis and number theory, becoming one of the youngest fellows of the Royal Society.

The romance of this story shows the emancipatory power of scientific thought, but it also goes to demonstrate that any source of evidence and new ideas can cast doubt on received wisdom and generate better understanding.

And it is by permitting and embracing doubt, that humanity has made some of its greatest strides. Doubt is to be embraced, not eschewed.

Consider the early debates on quantum mechanics – as I often do – between two of the greatest physicists to have ever lived: Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. Famously, Einstein was reticent to accept the full consequences of the uncertainty principle. He famously declared: “I, at any rate, am convinced that God does not throw dice.”

Through debate, experiments, data and evidence, Niels Bohr’s interpretation triumphed over that of Einstein – arguably the greatest scientific authority since Newton.

Real science and proper research is open to doubt. It does not baulk at challenge, but embraces it and evolves to improve knowledge and understanding.

ResearchED is now established around the world – with teachers in 3 continents coming together to share and debate the research that has inspired their teaching. It is a forum that allows teachers to debate what the evidence says about best practice in schools.

This movement – as I said last year – will improve the education and life chances of millions of children. Year on year, the speakers at the conference become more diverse. Importantly, this diversity includes hosting speakers with contrasting political, philosophical and educational viewpoints.

And yet, there are still some education academics who question the motives of Tom Bennett, ResearchED and all of the volunteers who help to make these conferences a success. To my mind, this is an indictment of those researchers who choose to disparage this movement, rather than engage and contribute.

Refusal to debate one’s research and share it with teachers, begs a number of questions. Notably, what is education evidence for, if it is not to be shared with teachers? And what is there to fear from presenting and discussing your research at a politically, philosophically and educationally diverse conference?

But presenting one’s research to classroom teachers shouldn’t be countenanced as a fear, but as an opportunity. As should the chance to present, discuss and debate in a vibrant marketplace of ideas such as ResearchED.

The Heterodox Academy is a politically pluralistic group of professors working in various academic fields, drawn together to improve academia by enhancing viewpoint diversity and the conditions that encourage free inquiry. This group – which includes the likes of Philip Tetlock and Jonathan Haidt – has highlighted the cost of a lack of ‘viewpoint diversity’ in social science and humanity departments.

Thankfully, there are many respected academics who are seizing the opportunity to present today. Teachers attending this conference will have the opportunity to listen to Dr Pedro De Bruyckere dispel myths and point to promising avenues for the role of technology in education. Dr Christian Bokhove of Southampton University will be arguing that some myth busting in education is oversimplistic and creates new myths. And Professor Ayako Kawaji is running a session on what we can learn from expressive writing in Japan.

But it is a shame that some would rather stay in their ivory towers than participate today.

The intellectual timidity of those who choose to smear ResearchED, whilst refusing to debate their evidence, stands in stark contrast to the efforts that ResearchED makes to be inclusive for all.

On a very limited budget, armed with little more than the goodwill of speakers and volunteers, ResearchED will run conferences in New York, Toronto and Amsterdam in the coming months. Included in the meagre entrance fee is lunch, snacks and a crèche for parents of young children. All for a fraction of the price of some education conferences. Here endeth the advertisement!

Responding to some recent criticism, Tom Bennett decided to restate the objectives of ResearchED, arguing that it is “important to continually define ourselves, in order not to be misrepresented or misunderstood.”

He eloquently explained his mission to disrupt shibboleths and tip sacred cows:

ResearchED delights in debate, changing paradigms, and helping to generate a polite revolution in the classroom. I started it because I believed passionately – and still do – that education needs a revival, if not a reboot. It labours under so many false dogma and uninformed suppositions that in many ways it resembles medicine in the 18th century, when the doctor’s authority was privileged, and his hunch was the final word. Just as medicine finally succumbed to empirical science, so too should education – as an aid to our decisions, not as an authoritarian mosaic tablet. It should intersect with our every action, so that when evidence is available we use it to inform our pedagogy and policy rather than stifle it. Bogus fads like Learning Styles and Brain Gym are the least of it; wild, unchecked pseudoscience abounds, untested, unrestrained. It is still possible for a teacher to be told that group work is the best way for children to learn, without any consideration of when, and where and how it might be applicable. Teacher talk is reviled, despite the enormous amount of research that suggests that careful, dialogic teacher talk is one of the most effective ways to convey information that is then retained. There are many more example of such things. None of these matters are settled, but every educator should be entitled to hear the evidence on both sides and make up their minds on the matter.

The contrast with those who eschew the international ResearchED conferences could hardly be greater.

Tom is right that it is important to restate one’s beliefs. Not only can we be misrepresented and misunderstood, but we can lose arguments that we thought we had already won.

In this country, we are winning the argument in favour of a knowledge-rich curriculum; we are winning the ‘reading wars’; and parents are voting with their feet on the question of free schools.

We must continue to expound the evidence in favour of how a knowledge-rich curriculum benefits all pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged. In the same breath, we must continue to make the argument for the EBacc. This policy is crucial to ensuring that all pupils benefit from a broad and balanced core academic curriculum at GCSE.

Research suggests that lower participation from disadvantaged pupils in these core academic subjects can negatively affect social mobility. Yet overall, disadvantaged pupils remain half as likely to be entered for the EBacc subjects as their non-disadvantaged peers, and the gap in EBacc subject entry persists even among the most academically able disadvantaged pupils.

Evidence from the Sutton Trust found pupils in a set of 300 schools that increased their EBacc entry, from 8% to 48%, were more likely to achieve good English and maths GCSEs, more likely to take an A level, or an equivalent level 3 qualification, and more likely to stay in post-16 education.

The authors of that study noted that “pupil premium students benefitted most from the changes at these schools”. That is why this policy is so important and why we must continue to make the case.

But there are some who argue that the EBacc is not right for some pupils – too often these are pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I firmly disagree with this view.

A recent publication from the Institute of Education examining the effect that GCSE choice has on education post-16 added yet further weight to the evidence demonstrating that the EBacc is crucial to driving social mobility.

The paper found the following:

Students pursuing an EBacc-eligible curriculum at 14-16 had a greater probability of progression to all post 16 educational outcomes, while taking an applied GCSE subject had the opposite effect. There were no social class differences in the advantages of pursuing an EBacc-eligible curriculum which suggests that an academically demanding curriculum is equally advantageous for working class as for middle class pupils.

On launching the report, one of the authors, Professor Alice Sullivan, said:

The results show that controlling for both prior attainment, and a range of socio-economic and other factors, pupils who had taken EBacc subjects at GCSE were 7 percentage points more likely to stay on at school.

The EBacc is of benefit to all pupils, irrespective of their prior attainment, background or sex. Indeed, the report found that:

Pursuing an EBacc-eligible curriculum increased the chances of educational progression particularly strongly for girls and white young people, and studying an applied subject decreased the chances of girls staying on. In particular, studying an EBacc-eligible curriculum at age 14-16 increased the chances of studying subjects favoured by selective universities at A Level.

Given the importance of raising attainment for white working-class boys and increasing the proportion of girls taking STEM subjects – particularly post-16 – these results are very encouraging.

The government will continue to make the case for more pupils studying the EBacc. We believe that a core academic curriculum comprising the EBacc subjects alongside other high-quality, knowledge-rich subjects – including the arts – should be available to the vast majority of pupils, because that is what the evidence shows.

As Tom Bennett has said:

You know who benefits most from working with evidence? Children. And of them, who benefits most? The least advantaged. Those with no second chances, no tutors, no jobs waiting for them in publishing no matter how they do. The children who are poor, marginalised, miles away from the opportunities and privileges of the elite. They are the ones who need this the most. It is our duty to overturn every dogma we have, obtain the best evidence we can, and turn that into rocket fuel for the ones that need it the most.

Many schools – including those making the most progress in the country – are providing their pupils with opportunity to study the EBacc suite of qualifications. The government is determined that schools around the country follow the evidence and grow the number of pupils given access to these core academic subjects.

With every new piece of research that confirms the importance of a core academic curriculum to social mobility and improved attainment, we must push back the voices of opposition. We must make the moral and evidence-based case for an academic curriculum for all pupils, regardless of background.

Making the case at conferences such as this, at TeachMeets or in the school staff room is vital. Consider another evidence-based argument, which is now close to being won thanks to tireless work by teachers and academics pursuing the evidence.

For over a century, war has waged in education over the most effective means of teaching children to read. Finally, this fight is coming to an end thanks to the strong evidence in favour of systematic synthetic phonics.

One of the most important interventions in this war came from America’s Rudolph Flesch in 1955. In his book titled ‘Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It’ Flesch concluded that Johnny was being held back at age 12 for his poor reading ability because he had not been properly taught how to read.

Johnny had been taught to read using a method known as ‘look and say’, in which children repeat written words they see on the page until they recognise the whole word on sight. As they begin to recognise more and more words, so the theory goes, they pick up the ability to read.

This was regarded as easier than the time-honoured method of teaching the sounds of the alphabet and how to blend these sounds into words, the method known as phonics. Flesch was deeply critical of the existing orthodoxy in the USA about how best to teach reading.

For decades, educationalists formed 2 camps – a small group in favour of using phonics was opposed by a larger body that promoted this so-called ‘look and say’ or ‘whole word’ method. According to this now-discredited theory, children would learn to recognise whole words or use context or other stimuli to guess what the word might be.

Thankfully, due to the overwhelming evidence in favour of phonics, there are now few educationalists prepared to deny that phonics should play a role in early reading instruction. Sadly, though, as so often when a losing argument is in its death throes, many decry the false dichotomy between teaching using phonics and using these now discredited approaches to reading.

Instead, many educationalists advocate using a mix of methods, combining guessing at words using context with some phonics training thrown in. Again, the evidence clearly shows that this is not an effective means of teaching children to read.

These fallacious and unevidenced beliefs about reading instruction have blighted the early education of generations of children around the world.

I vividly recall meeting a 9-year-old girl in a school I visited shortly before the 2010 general election. This girl had never been taught to decode. Instead, she had been given books accompanied by descriptive pictures. Rather than using her knowledge of the phonetic code, she was encouraged to guess words using pictures and the context of the story. The tragedy was that at the age of 9 she simply could not read – a situation that should not and need not have been allowed to happen. But, alas, she was not unique.

But in recent years there has been a reading revolution in England’s schools. Last year, thanks to the hard work of teachers and the emphasis the government has placed on teaching phonics, there were 147,000 more 6-year-olds on track to become fluent readers than in 2012.

This achievement is the culmination of evidence-based policy and teaching.

In 2016, 81% of pupils reached the expected standard in the phonics screening check, up from just 58% in 2012. And with 91% of pupils reaching this standard by age 7, there is room for even greater achievement.

There are few – if any – more important policies for improving social mobility than ensuring all pupils are taught to read effectively. Literacy is the foundation of a high-quality, knowledge-rich education. Those opposed to the use of systematic phonics instruction are, in my view, standing between pupils and the education they deserve.

Unfortunately, the pernicious arguments that ignore the evidence in favour of phonics still abound and are having a detrimental effect on the take up of phonics in some parts of the country.

By 2014, about two-thirds of primary teachers surveyed by the government agreed that the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics has value in the primary classroom. However, 90% also ‘agreed’ or ‘agreed somewhat’ that a variety of different methods should be used to teach children to decode words.

The evidence in favour of using phonics during early reading instruction is overwhelming. Now, the battle is to spread this message to all classrooms. Events such as this one provide an excellent platform for disseminating evidence-based practice. It is important to make and remake the arguments so that all pupils benefit from the very best teaching methods in primary school.

And just as it is important to expound the evidence in favour of effective teaching practice, it is vital to reflect on and celebrate the structural reforms that are driving improvements in England’s education system.

The expansion of academy freedoms to nearly 7 in 10 secondary schools and 1 in 5 primaries has improved parental choice and increased diversity of provision in schooling, injecting challenge and spreading innovation throughout the school system.

Whilst there is plenty of data to demonstrate this success, the most compelling evidence for providing teachers and schools with greater freedom comes from visiting some of the highest-performing academies and free schools in England.

This year, yet another group of free schools saw their first cohort of pupils receive their GCSE results. Whilst we do not have confirmed pupil-level or school-level data, there are a number of schools who appear to have done very well. Schools such as Reach Academy Feltham and Dixons Trinity Academy – both of which serve disadvantaged communities – have reported excellent results.

As with other leading academies and free schools, these innovative free schools pride themselves on having a strong approach to behaviour management and teaching all pupils a stretching, knowledge-rich curriculum.

As more and more of the country’s leading academies and free schools – such as Harris Academy Battersea, King Solomon Academy and the Tauheedul Islam Boys and Girls High Schools – register country-leading academic results for their pupils, we will see a change in expectations and approach in schools around the country.

These high-performing academies and free schools serve as evidence of what it is possible to achieve. They demonstrate the power of having the very highest expectations of all pupils and they have raised what we now conceive of as high expectations. Importantly, they show that a core academic curriculum, serves the interests of all children.

They also dispel the myth that teacher-led instruction and the highest behavioural expectations are only right for certain children in specific regions of the country.

No longer is it tenable to argue that the success of the trailblazing King Solomon Academy can only be achieved in London. One only needs to visit Tauheedul Schools in Blackburn or Dixon’s Trinity in Bradford to dispel that myth.

These arguments are not theoretical anymore. They are empirical.

As well as providing a high-quality education to their pupils, free schools have served as petri dishes. They have shone a light on what works in schools. What whole school policies, which curricula and which pedagogies work best.

And teachers can visit these schools, taking inspiration and ideas from what they see back to their school. Through their excellence and by sharing their stories, these free schools are providing and disseminating evidence.

By pursuing the evidence, fostering innovation and sharing findings with others, free schools have started an education revolution that cannot be ignored. In this way, they mirror what is happening at ResearchED.

Through innovation and a desire to challenge and create new solutions, teacher-led organisations are changing the education landscape. Evidence and empiricism now trumps dogma and received wisdom. And teachers, academics and – most of all – pupils stand to gain.

Thank you.

Nick Gibb – 2016 Speech on Mathematics Teaching

nickgibb

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, in London on 12 July 2016.

Can I start by thanking you for inviting me to join you at your conference today. I hugely appreciate the work that ACME have done to inform both government policy and classroom practice since its foundation in 2002.

Since I first became Shadow Schools Minister in 2005, I have visited several hundred schools. During my visits, particularly to primary schools, I often ask whether I can speak to the class as a whole. Over the years, I have developed something of a lesson routine: I explain to pupils the job of a government minister; a little bit about how Parliament works; and a few titbits of British history. And I also quiz pupils on their general knowledge, in particular on their times tables. And I think it is becoming general knowledge that I do this, and it deters schools from inviting me.

And over the years I have noticed a change. When I ask pupils, “Do you know your times tables?” I am increasingly greeted, not with downward looks and shuffling feet, but with confident classroom cheers of “Yes!” Last month, I was in Chacewater Community Primary School in Cornwall, and every year 3 and 4 pupil I quizzed had automatic recall of all their times tables, even the tricky 7 times table, and all the way up to 12 times 12.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “The Schools minister is talking about times tables again. When will he realise that mathematics is about so much more about this?” I willingly accept that immediate recall of basic number facts is not the totality of mathematics education. Conceptual thinking and real world problem-solving are – ultimately – what we need our pupils to be able to perform once they leave school.

But, as recent and rigorous research into cognitive psychology has shown, number knowledge and fluency in written calculation are not the antithesis of problem solving in mathematics. Rather, they are the royal road by which complex mathematical thinking is achieved.

And that is why I am so delighted to see increased evidence on the ground of schools ensuring their pupils master these basics, before more complicated mathematics is introduced.

Today, I want to celebrate a renaissance in mathematics teaching that is taking place in our schools. Currently happening on a small scale, it has the potential to revolutionise the teaching of the subject in this country.

Before I was elected to Parliament, I worked as a chartered accountant. As such, I belonged to a select group of people for whom it is not socially acceptable to claim “I can’t do maths.” For decades, this phrase – “Can’t do maths” – has been a common refrain in British culture. It is extraordinary that in a country which produced Charles Babbage and Bletchley Park, a deficiency at mathematics has come to be seen as a defining national characteristic.

But there are high-performing jurisdictions abroad, as well as exceptional schools at home, which demonstrate that the vast majority of children, if taught well, can achieve at mathematics. See for example King Solomon Academy, a non-selective school in central London.

This school places a strong focus on depth before breadth in numeracy and literacy, and in 2014, all but 5% of King Solomon Academy pupils achieved a GCSE in mathematics at grade C or above, and in fact 82% achieved at grade B or above. This is an astonishing achievement for any non-selective school, let alone an inner-city school with a proportion of disadvantaged pupils over 3 times the national average.

And King Solomon Academy is not alone: Bethnal Green Academy in east London, Thomas Telford School in the West Midlands, Emmanuel College in Gateshead, are all comprehensive schools, serving socially mixed populations, where well over 90% of pupils get a good GCSE in mathematics.

Of course, the expert mathematics teaching we see in the best of our schools does not yet characterise all of our schools. According to the international PISA tests carried out by the OECD, 22% of 15-year-olds in this country performed at the lowest level of mathematics proficiency in 2012. This means they were unable to carry out simple tasks such as recognising that travelling 4 kilometers in 10 minutes means going at the same speed as travelling 2 kilometers in 5 minutes.

In countries such as Korea and Singapore, and cities such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, the percentage of low-performing 15-year-olds is below 10%. There is nothing different about children in these countries, but there is something different about their approach to teaching maths.

To learn more about maths teaching in these countries, the government founded the maths hubs programme in 2013. Thirty-five maths hubs have been established in schools or groups of schools throughout England, to become centres of expertise in south-east Asian mastery teaching.

Over the past 2 years, we have arranged for 127 teachers from Shanghai to teach in English schools for 3 weeks, and 131 teachers from England to teach in Shanghai. This partnership will continue over the next 2 years, with many more teachers from England and China benefiting from the exchange programme and the opportunity this offers to strengthen the teaching of maths in primary schools.

According to an independent evaluation by academics from Sheffield Hallam University, based on data collected between February and July last year, early indications are that the exchange has the potential to foster a radical shift in mathematics teaching in participating primary schools.

One primary school profiled in the report had implemented many aspects of Shanghai teaching, such as: additional lessons for pupils needing more support; 35 minute lessons, with the first focused on developing conceptual understanding, and the second on practice and consolidation of new content; and a change of classroom organisation from small groups of tables based on attainment, to rows of children facing the front – leading to more whole-class engagement. The school reports that pupil results have already seen an increase in that school.

The report also stated that across all 48 schools in the hub network, most teachers reported that the changes implemented had led to positive outcomes for pupils, which included an “increased enthusiasm for mathematics, deeper engagement, increased confidence, and higher levels of attainment”. The report cited examples of schools’ improved outcomes, including, and I quote, “in one school, year 3 pupils who followed a mastery approach achieved higher scores than year 4 pupils who had been taught in the usual manner on the same assessment task”.

I had the great privilege of travelling to Shanghai in March to witness their maths teaching. Of course, there was an admirable emphasis on mastering the basics. But I was also greatly impressed by the emphasis placed on ensuring mathematical procedures and knowledge are underpinned by strong conceptual understanding, often through visual representations. In addition, a great emphasis was placed in these schools on ensuring that pupils use clear and precise mathematical language from an early age to articulate the procedures they perform.

But perhaps most crucially, the knowledge, examples and questions which underlie successful teaching across south-east Asia are embodied in detailed curriculum, and high-quality textbooks.

I have frequently spoken about my belief that pupil outcomes in Britain have been held back, significantly held back, by an anti-textbook ethos in our schools. This ethos is based on a longstanding prejudice that equates textbooks with unimaginative teaching. It is clearly reflected in international surveys of teaching practice. According to the 2011 TIMSS international survey, 70% of Singaporean pupils in year 5 are taught by teachers who use textbooks as a basis for instruction in lessons. In Finland, the figure was 95%. But in England, the figure was 10%.

A similar finding exists in the OECD’s Equations and Inequalities report published last month. Of all 64 participating countries, the UK had the third lowest proportion of pupils taught in schools with a formal mathematics textbook policy. According to the survey, only 2% of UK pupils attend schools where either heads, local authorities, or national government choose textbooks. This was the fourth lowest proportion in the OECD. Together, these figures suggest that schools in the UK, almost uniquely, have not seen textbook choice as an area for strategic school improvement.

By contrast, in Shanghai and Singapore, an enormous amount of thought and care goes into the construction of maths textbooks, planning in great detail the sequence of teacher exposition. No pupil’s understanding is left to chance or accident: every step of a lesson is deliberate, purposeful and precise.

Contrary to what many critics suppose, the common curriculum and textbooks in south-east Asia do not constrain teacher creativity. Quite the opposite: high-quality resources provide a foundation upon which creative and imaginative teaching can be built.

In the spirit of learning from the best jurisdictions in the world for teaching mathematics, I am delighted that England’s maths hubs are currently trialling 2 English adaptations of Singapore mathematics textbooks, entitled ‘Maths No Problem’ and ‘Inspire Maths’. The feedback we are getting from teachers and pupils so far is overwhelmingly positive, not least due to the workload savings that a well-designed textbook can provide.

In addition, maths hubs are learning that south-east Asian teaching methods depend upon whole-class instruction from the teacher. As Charlie Stripp from the National Centre for the Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics has observed, this does not mean reducing pupils to being passive recipients of boring lectures, as some caricatures of south-east Asian teaching suggest. Teaching there is teacher-led, but not teacher-dominated, with constant questioning and interaction between the teacher and the pupils in the class.

In 2014, a fascinating piece of research was published by Professor David Reynolds of Southampton University, and his Chinese postgraduate research student Zhenzhen Miao. They videoed lessons in both countries, to find out what teaching methods were being used to such great success in the Chinese classroom. The answer was clear: in Chinese classrooms, whole-class interactive teaching made up 72% of lesson time, compared with only 24% of lesson time in England. In England, almost half of the time – 47% – was used up on pupils working individually or in groups, compared with only 28% of the time in China.

But perhaps most importantly of all, mastery mathematics teaching is based upon the principle that, if taught well, all pupils can master the content of a lesson. According to the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey, differentiated teaching is not common in high-performing south-east Asian countries. This is because it reinforces the performance gap between high and low attaining pupils. Across the OECD as a whole, the practice of differentiating work by ability whilst teaching has a negative relationship with pupil outcomes – an insight provided by the maths teacher and education blogger Greg Ashman.

Through visiting maths hubs and talking to their teachers, I have been consistently impressed by how positively teachers have engaged in the project. Over the next 4 years, we will spend up to £41 million cascading south-east Asian mastery teaching to primary schools throughout the country via our maths hubs network. This money will subsidise new mastery textbooks in thousands of primary schools, train a cadre of 700 specialist mastery teachers, and fund teacher release so that more teachers can – in turn – be trained by them.

Supporting maths hubs in delivering this ambitious vision will be the National Maths Education Centre, which I am launching the tender for today. The centre will provide leadership to our maths hubs in transforming primary mathematics, through training teachers in south-east Asian mastery methods.

Such measures will ensure that, in time, mastery methods are the default approach for teaching mathematics in primary schools throughout the country.

Today also marks the publication of Stephen Munday’s report into core content for initial teacher training, and David Weston’s new standard for professional development. Both Stephen and David have worked hard, canvassing a broad and varied set of opinions, yet still managing to find some clear and well expressed principles to guide both the initial and the continuous training of classroom teachers.

I am particularly pleased that both Stephen and David’s reports emphasise the importance of subject knowledge, and pedagogical subject knowledge. Much of teaching is, of course, a craft. But it is a craft that is underpinned with concrete knowledge about what to teach, and how best to teach it. Both reports emphasise that high-quality professional development does not end with becoming a qualified teacher, but should continue throughout a teacher’s career.

Nowhere is this more the case than in mathematics. A good maths teacher will know precisely how best to explain ratio, prime numbers, and expanding brackets in an algebraic equation, and will be able to anticipate the common misconceptions that can occur. These reports, along with the expanded funding of the maths hubs project, should ensure that high-quality subject-based training will be available for teachers for years to come.

This government has also pledged to introduce a computerised multiplication check to ensure that basic number facts are being mastered by pupils before they leave primary school. The announcement was received positively by many parents and teachers. But I am disappointed that some influential voices within maths education remain opposed.

One English educationist, now residing at an American university, appeared in the TES in December arguing she would “ban” times table tests, and told the Telegraph that they have nothing to do with mathematics. Earlier last year, Conrad Wolfram wrote in the Financial Times that calculation is an “obsolete skill”, thanks to technological advances of the 21st century.

That last comment reminded me of an influential pamphlet about the future of mathematics entitled ‘I do, and I understand’. This pamphlet suggests that in the age of the computer and the “simple calculating machine”, mental arithmetic has become a thing of the past. It was written in 1967. Such a romantic view was wrong then, and I believe it is wrong today.

Five decades of research into cognitive science, as reviewed by the American psychologists James Royer and Loel Tronsky, shows that there is a positive relationship between computational automaticity and complex mathematical problem-solving skills.

Of course, mathematics is not limited to number knowledge, just as reading is not limited to decoding words. But fluent number knowledge is an unavoidable gateway to pass through before achieving the more valuable prize of complex problem-solving. When your working memory is freed of having to make simple calculations, it can think more fully about the conceptual underpinnings of a problem. As the American cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham has written, “This automatic retrieval of basic math facts is critical to solving complex problems, because complex problems have simpler problems embedded in them.”

A lovely example of this was provided by the mathematician Hung-Hsi Wu, in the magazine American Educator. In order to illustrate to pupils the concept of a repeating decimal sequence, teachers may want to ask pupils to carry out a long division sum such as 1 divided by 3. But in order to carry out that long division, pupils will need to have automatic recall of some simple addition and subtraction sums. Thus, a fluency in number facts, and a knowledge of the long division procedure, are necessary for pupils to understand the concept of a repeating decimal.

Whilst I believe that significant mistakes have been made in the fashions of mathematics teaching in the past, there are many reasons also to be optimistic about the subject’s future. Pupils themselves are increasingly recognising the benefits of studying mathematics past GCSE. Since 2010, the proportion of pupils entering mathematics A level has increased by 18%, the proportion entering further maths A level has increased by 27%, and the proportion entering physics A level has increased by 15%.

In addition, we have encouraged many more pupils to continue studying maths beyond the age of 16 through developing the new core maths qualification. Pupils who achieve a good GCSE in maths are now able to keep the subject fresh in their minds through studying the application of mathematics in real life situations. In the data-rich world in which we live, many, many more academic subjects require a basic facility with numbers and statistical analysis, and the core maths qualification will help pupils achieve this.

However, we need to go even further. This is why the government has commissioned Professor Sir Adrian Smith to review the case and feasibility for more or all students continuing to study maths to 18 in the longer-term. His review, the terms of reference of which we have published today is looking at how we can build on recent rises in participation and the introduction of vital new qualifications to ensure that as many pupils as possible learn the skills they will need to succeed in the modern economy.

Not enough pupils currently leave education with these skills, but where pupil outcomes at mathematics in this country are low, I do not believe it is because of a lack of good teachers, or good schools, or good parents. I believe it is because of a lack of good ideas.

The current renaissance in mathematics teaching is enlivening our classrooms with good ideas about mathematics teaching from around the world. Through the government’s maths hubs programme, the evidence of cognitive scientists, and the innovation brought about by increased school autonomy, teaching methods in mathematics are improving year on year.

Methods that were once castigated as ‘outdated’ and ‘bad practice’, such as memorisation, frequent assessment, and the use of textbooks, are being rehabilitated in English classrooms. For someone who visits schools across the country every week, this change is palpable.

With such developments continuing, I am confident that we will one day have a country where mass innumeracy, and the phrase “Can’t do maths,” are things of the past. The demands of the working world in the 21st century are such that all pupils – and not just the future accountants of this world – must have it within them to “Do maths.”

Nick Gibb – 2016 Statement on Initial Teacher Training

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Below is the text of the statement made by Nick Gibb, the Minister for Schools, in the House of Commons on 12 July 2016.

I am today publishing the reports of the three initial teacher training (ITT) expert groups which I commissioned last year, following a review of ITT carried out by Sir Andrew Carter OBE. Alongside these reports I am also publishing a Government response setting out how we intend to take forward the groups’ recommendations.

The review groups were tasked with developing a new framework of core content for ITT; behaviour management content for ITT; and a set of standards for school-based ITT mentors. The three groups were chaired by, respectively, Stephen Munday CBE, Tom Bennett, and the Teaching Schools Council (under the leadership of Vicki Beer CBE and, latterly, Dr Gary Holden).

Sir Andrew Carter’s report, published in January 2015, highlighted that the system in England is generally performing well, but that more needs to be done to ensure all trainee teachers receive a strong grounding in the basics of classroom management and subject knowledge development, as well as key areas of practice such as assessment and an increased understanding of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Sir Andrew also suggested that the quality of school-based ITT mentoring is not as good as it could be, and his report made a number of recommendations to both Government and the sector in this regard.

Good teachers are the single most important factor influencing pupils’ achievement in school. The Government are therefore committed to ensuring that the education system can recruit, train, develop and retain the best possible teachers in our schools. Key to this is to strengthen the quality and content of ITT programmes so that new teachers enter the classroom appropriately equipped in essential areas such as subject knowledge development and subject-specific pedagogy, practical behaviour management strategies, a sound understanding of SEND, and the ability to use the most up-to-date research on effective teaching practice.
The Government welcome the reports of the three expert groups as an important step towards realising our goals of further improving the quality of teacher training and raising the status of the teaching profession, while directly addressing the issues raised by the Carter review. Our recent White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, published in March 2016, set out plans to develop a new set of quality criteria that will in future be applied when training places are being allocated to providers. We will therefore consider how best the new framework of content can be used to inform those criteria, with a view to ensuring that all providers who are allocated training places are clearly demonstrating the quality of content in their courses. Further detail of how we intend to apply the new criteria to the allocation of ITT places from 2017/18 onwards will be published shortly.

Tom Bennett’s report sets out some clear recommendations for the teacher training sector on how behaviour management should be delivered within ITT. An abridged version of his full recommendations has formed part of the new framework of core content for ITT. It is clear from the report that providers of ITT should ensure that trainees are able to access high-quality training before they are ready to enter the classroom; this is a recommendation with which we strongly agree, and we would encourage all providers to ensure that their programmes are structured accordingly.

Linked to high-quality training programmes is the critical role that school-based mentors should play in supporting teacher trainees to develop into effective teachers. This is particularly true as we continue to drive the move towards more school-led teacher training, as set out in the White Paper. The Teaching Schools Council, led firstly by Vicki Beer CBE and subsequently by Dr Gary Holden, has developed a set of standards that I believe can help to bring consistency to the practice of mentors, raise the profile of the mentoring role in school-led training, and contribute to building a culture of coaching and mentoring within the teaching profession. All of these are crucial if our next generation of outstanding teachers is to have the greatest possible impact on improving standards of teaching and allowing our children to reach their full potential.

I am placing copies of the reports from Stephen Munday CBE, Tom Bennett and Dr Gary Holden, along with the Government’s response to their recommendations, in the Libraries of both Houses.

Nick Gibb – 2016 Statement on Term-Time Holidays

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister for Schools, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2016.

The High Court oral judgment represents a significant threat to one of the Government’s most important achievements in education in the past six years: improving school attendance. For this reason, the Government will do everything in their power to ensure that headteachers are able to keep children in school.

There is abundant academic evidence showing that time spent in school is one of the single strongest determinants of a pupil’s academic success. At secondary school, even a week off can have a significant impact on a pupil’s GCSE grades. This is unfair to children and potentially damaging to their life chances. That is why we have unashamedly pursued a zero-tolerance policy on unauthorised absence. We have increased the fines issued to parents of pupils with persistent unauthorised absence, placed greater emphasis on school attendance levels in inspection outcomes and, crucially, we have clamped down on the practice of taking term-time holidays. Those measures have been strikingly successful: the number of persistent absentees in this country’s schools has dropped by over 40%, from 433,000 in 2010 to 246,000 in 2015, and some 4 million fewer days are lost due to unauthorised absence compared with 2012-2013. Overall absence rates have followed a significant downward trend from 6.5% in the academic year ending in 2007 to 4.6% in the academic year ending in 2015.

These are not just statistics. They mean that pupils are spending many more hours in school, being taught the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life. It is for this reason that we amended the 2006 attendance regulations in 2013. Previously headteachers were permitted to grant a family holiday during term time for “special circumstances” of up to 10 days per school year. Of course, the need to take time off school in exceptional circumstances is important, but there are no special circumstances where a 10-day family holiday to Disney World should be allowed to trump the importance of school. The rules must apply to everyone as a matter of social justice. When parents with the income available to take their children out of school go to Florida, it sends a message to everyone that school attendance is not important.

The measure has been welcomed by teachers and schools. Unauthorised absences do not affect just the child who is absent; they damage everyone’s education as teachers find themselves having to play catch-up. Because learning is cumulative, pupils cannot understand the division of fractions if they have not first understood their multiplication. Pupils cannot understand why world war one ended if they do not know why it started, and they cannot enjoy the second half of a novel if they have not read the first half. If a vital block of prerequisite knowledge is missed in April, a pupil’s understanding of the subject will be harmed in May.

The Government understand, however, that many school holidays being taken at roughly the same time leads to a hike in prices. That is precisely the reason that we have given academies the power to set their own term dates in a way that works for their parents and their local communities. Already schools such as Hatcham College in London and the David Young Community Academy in Leeds are doing just that. In areas of the country such as the south-west, where a large number of the local population are employed in the tourist industry, there is nothing to stop schools clubbing together and collectively changing or extending the dates of their summer holidays or doing so as part of a multi-academy trust. In fact, this Government would encourage them to do so.

We are awaiting the written judgment from the High Court and will outline our next steps in due course. The House should be assured that we will seek to take whatever measures are necessary to give schools and local authorities the power and clarity to ensure that children attend school when they should.

Nick Gibb – 2016 Statement on Key Stage 2 Tests

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister for Schools, in the House of Commons on 10 May 2016.

With permission, I will make a statement about key stage 2 tests.

Last night the Department for Education was made aware of an issue involving the key stage 2 English grammar, punctuation and spelling test, which was mistakenly uploaded on to a secure website by Pearson. Pearson is the external marking supplier contracted by the Department to mark the tests.

At this stage, we know that the test was mistakenly uploaded at about 5 o’clock yesterday evening. It was uploaded on to a secure site, which was not accessible to anyone without approval from Pearson. Pearson was informed that the test was on its site by markers during the course of the evening, and removed the material from the site at 9.01 pm. The Department was separately alerted to the situation at about 9.30 pm by the media, and contacted Pearson immediately to establish the facts. Pearson’s records show that during the short period when the materials were live, 93 markers—all with the appropriate clearance—accessed the material.

It is worth emphasising that the only people with access to the site are contracted markers, all of whom are under a contractual obligation not to share sensitive information. I should also point out that it is standard and appropriate practice for key individuals to be given prior access to assessment material in order to ensure that the delivery of tests and marking of papers can occur in a the smooth and timely way. Some 23 senior markers had access to the material from 1 April, and 153 team leaders had access to the material from 11 April.

Clearly, in this system, it is essential that people in positions of trust can be relied on to act appropriately. Unfortunately, in this case, it appears that one person could not, and leaked the key stage 2 English grammar, punctuation and spelling test to a journalist. I have spoken to Rod Bristow, the president of Pearson UK, this morning to ask for a full explanation of how this mistake occurred. He has accepted full responsibility for the error and has committed to investigating the matter quickly and fully.

Specifically, I have asked Rod Bristow to look at two issues. First, how did the material come to be uploaded on to the secure site in error? This was clearly a mistake which should not have been possible. Secondly, I have asked that all records be examined and all information interrogated so that the culprit who leaked this sensitive information can be identified. I am satisfied that Pearson understands the seriousness of the issue and the need to take action quickly to provide clear and unequivocal answers to these two questions. Once I have this information, I will consider what action it may be appropriate to take. I will explore the full range of options available to the Department, including looking at contractual and other routes to seek redress.

I would like to reiterate that we have no evidence to suggest that any sensitive information entered the public domain before children started taking the test today, and the tests are going ahead as planned. My officials were monitoring social media and other platforms through the night and found no sign of materials being made available. The journalist in question took the decision not to publish the test papers and I am grateful to him for that. Although this is a serious breach—and I am determined to get to the bottom of how the error occurred—it is clear that the actions of almost every marker involved have been correct and proper, and that the integrity of the tests has not been compromised. Teachers and schools should have confidence in the content of the tests and in the processes underpinning the administration of the tests in schools and the subsequent marking.

I would like to make a few comments about the wider context of primary assessment. I acknowledge that there have been errors in the administration of tests this year. While it is important that we address those errors, they should not detract from the central importance of testing in the life of a school. Tests are an appropriate and essential way for us to understand how well schools are doing, and where more support needs to be targeted so that every child is given the best possible opportunity to succeed throughout their time in school and to get the best preparation for adult life.

We have taken clear action to strengthen the primary curriculum, to ensure that children today are being taught the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy that are vital for their future success. There are some who say that tests are inherently wrong, that we should not test children and that we are creating a regime that is overly stressful. I disagree. Yesterday, ComRes released a poll of 750 10 and 11-year-old pupils for the BBC, in which 62% of pupils responded that they either “don’t mind” or “enjoy” taking the tests. That is far more than those who said that they “don’t like” or “hate” taking the test. Altogether, more of the polled pupils reported that they “enjoy” taking the tests than “hate” them.

Testing is a vital part of teaching: it is the most accurate way, bar none, that a teacher, school or parent can know whether a pupil has or has not understood vital subject content. What is more, the process of taking a test actually improves pupil knowledge and understanding. As such, testing should be a routine and normalised part of school life. When the time for national curriculum assessments comes around, pupils should be entirely accustomed to the process. I would like to finish by reiterating that the key stage 2 English grammar, punctuation and spelling test remains valid and is going ahead as planned. Teachers, schools, parents and others should have confidence in the test, and it will remain part of the primary assessment system. I commend this statement to the House.

Nick Gibb – 2016 Speech on School Improvement

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, in Brighton on 5 May 2016.

Can I start by saying thank you for inviting me to join you today at your annual conference. It is an honour to be included on such an esteemed roster of speakers, though it is rather daunting to offer insights on leadership when followed by the likes of Charles Moore and David Starkey, biographers of Margaret Thatcher and Henry VIII respectively.

One of the advantages of speaking first, however, is that I can lay claim to all of the more obvious quotations about political and school leadership. It was Winston Churchill, in his memoirs ‘My Early Life’, who made the observation: ‘Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested.’

Whilst this may be true of an English public school at the end of the nineteenth century, it would not apply to English state schools for much of the twentieth century.

Up until the 1988 Education Reform Act, the budget for state-maintained schools was reserved for only a miniscule proportion of expenditure – exercise books and school stationery, so the cliché went. Decisions on school meals, school maintenance, staff training, and school insurance all lay with the local authority. Even something so crucial to a school as the recruitment, appointment, and payment of staff was decided by the local authority, not the school head.

Only during the late eighties, with the arrival of what became known as the ‘local management of schools’, could school hire staff as they saw fit. Only then did decisive and strong school leadership become a genuine possibility in the state sector.

Since the arrival of local management of schools, the trend in school reform has been towards greater school autonomy, and greater powers for heads. And this trend has significantly accelerated since 2010. Our government has been guided by the international evidence showing that high levels of school autonomy, coupled with strong accountability, is a consistent feature of the world’s top-performing school systems.

But one has to go further, and ask: ‘why are autonomous school systems superior to school systems characterised by centralised direction?’ My answer would be this. English state education was once characterised by uniform mediocrity, and a sense of resigned acceptance that it would forever be thus.

I remember talking to a consultant who in the early 2000s was asked to write a report on what could be done to improve London’s state schools. So, as any consultant would, he set out to find case studies of those high-achieving state schools within London which were delivering an outstanding education to pupils in disadvantaged circumstances. He returned empty handed: no such schools could be found.

Nothing could have summed up the outlook at the time better than that once ubiquitous phrase: ‘bog-standard comprehensive’.

How different the situation is today. We now have a school system where autonomous schools are able to break free from the intellectual and bureaucratic constraints of the past, allowing school leaders to beat a new path of previously unimaginable success. King Solomon Academy was founded in 2009 in one of the most disadvantaged London wards for child poverty. 44% of the pupils are eligible for free school meals – more than 3 times the national average.

From its inception, King Solomon Academy created an ethos-based on no-excuses school discipline, and unapologetically high academic expectations. Today, it is the best non-selective state secondary school in the country, according to the 5 A* to C measure at GCSE, with 95% of pupils reaching that standard.

King Solomon Academy is now able to spread its means of success to the 34 other schools within its multi-academy trust, Ark Schools. Unsurprisingly, school leaders are clammering at the doors to visit King Solomon Academy.

As a result of a cohort of some of the best teachers we’ve ever had in the state sector, 1.4 million more pupils are in ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools today compared to 2010. We have a generation of Teach First alumni and other teachers who are challenging prevailing education orthodoxies. People like Joe Kirby, Katie Ashford, Rob Peal, David Perks and Hwyell Jones.

We have a profession that is embracing an evidence based approach to the curriculum and pedagogy – new institutions such as Research Ed, founded by Tom Bennett and the Knowledge Network, a grouping of teachers committed to a knowledge rich curriculum. This government’s reforms have been the most radical and far reaching since the 1944 Butler Act. That’s why, on occasion, ‎they attract controversy. Our reforms are designed to deliver more schools like King Solomon; non-selective schools achieving GCSE results that exceed those of many selective independent schools.

Of course, there are still too many failing schools with weak leadership in this country. But that number is significantly down since 2010. We have taken nearly 1,400 failing schools out of local-authority control and had their governance transferred to academy trusts. We have invested heavily in the use of phonics in primary schools, and in an innovative scheme to the mastery method of mathematics teaching from Shanghai and Singapore to English schools; 2 measures which, in time, could all but eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy.

Reforms in education cannot be rushed. Changes to the examination and assessment system, which began in 2010, are only just starting, with 20 new GCSEs and 11 new A levels being taught from September and new national curriculum assessments at primary school being taken this week and next. And there has been a complete end to grade inflation since 2012. Quick fixes for turning the tanker of educational underperformance in this country do not exist. But let me reassure you that things are moving in the right direction.

The state and independent sectors need to work together – using your expertise to sponsor academies and new free schools, helping us to create more state schools that deliver standards we are seeing at Mossbourne Academy, the City Academy Hackney and the London Academy of Excellence – a project in which some here are involved. School leaders visiting these schools will return full of new ideas for improving the curriculum, teaching and organisation at their own institution.

And this is how improvement in any sector occurs: autonomy allows exemplary institutions to emerge, and the innovations which made those institutions exemplary can in turn migrate to drive improvement elsewhere. In time, and given the right channels of communication, the ideas which currently characterise the best of the education sector, will come to characterise the rest of the education sector.

The historical trend towards school autonomy has not been entirely linear. When I first became Schools Minster in 2010, it was clear that – whilst power had passed from local authorities to schools – the Department for Children, Schools and Families as it was then known, had become addicted to meddling in the minutia of school administration.

Schools had gone through a period of ‘initiativeitus’, with a constant turnover of ‘clever wheezes’ emerging from the department, or one of its ever-growing panoply of quangos. national strategies, national curriculum re-writes, a Five-Year Strategy, Every Child Matters – all burdening schools with bureaucracy and complex guidance.

We took clear and purposeful action to free heads from such meddling. We disbanded, merged or cut the government funding of 8 government quangos, an alphabetic soup including Becta; the GTC; the NCSL; the SSAT; and the QCDA.

We also removed 21,000 pages of unnecessary school guidance, reducing the volume by 75%, and centralising all that remained in one place on the GOV.UK website. In place of continual missives to school leaders, the department now sticks to one short monthly email.

Needless legislation which constrained the smooth running of schools has been amended, strengthening teachers’ powers to discipline pupils: teachers can now issue same-day detentions; they have stronger powers to search pupils’ possessions; and we have clarified teachers’ power to use reasonable force.

Today, headteachers no longer have to complete self evaluation forms, submit annual absence and performance targets to local authorities, or instruct their teachers to produce lesson plans or teach in a particular style simply to please Ofsted inspectors.

At the department, we have worked constructively with Ofsted and Sir Michael Wilshaw to ensure that headteachers are freed to focus on what is best for raising pupil outcomes, and not what is best for pleasing visitors. Ofsted guidance was reduced in 2014 from 411 to 136 pages, and last year guidance was further reduced despite the increased reach of the common inspection framework. The guidance that remains is clear, considered, and concise.

For headteachers who lead academies, the freedoms are more extensive still. They have more control over their funding, the ability to change term times and the school day, greater freedom over their curriculum, and the freedom to choose where to go to get the best services, such as behaviour support and school improvement.

This is because institutions thrive when the people who lead them are actually in charge. Conversely, there is nothing more deflating than being responsible for an organisation over which you do not have adequate control.

Crucial to a policy of school autonomy is, of course, having enough school leaders with the right skills and experience. For this reason, a significant focus of the white paper that we published in March is on improving the quality of school leadership within our schools.

The National Professional Qualification for headship, known as the NPQ, became optional for heads in the state-funded schools in 2012. We have passed on the delivery of these qualifications to schools and other organisations, in a bid to ensure their content is as focused as possible on real school concerns, and not distracting theories.

We are now taking reforms a step further, redesigning the NPQ to make it a truly world-class badge of excellence. We are convening a group of leading headteachers and education experts to guide and advise on exactly what this qualification should include, and the group will include expertise from across the state and independent sectors.

We will make sure that the new NPQ focuses solely on the practices which are backed up by rigorous evidence and research, not fads.

You may have noticed that when I earlier listed exemplar schools which visitors are keen to visit, they were all in London. Of course, there are excellent schools in all parts of the country, but we are keenly aware of the existence of cold and hot spots in school improvement. Good leaders are indispensable for turning schools around, but tempting good leaders to schools in areas of historic underperformance is an ongoing challenge.

For this reason, we are launching an Excellence in Leadership Fund, which will offer the development of innovate programmes to train leaders to work in areas where they are needed most.

For ambitious heads who take over failing schools, change cannot occur overnight. Schools run on annual cycles. It has been a disincentive for some leaders taking over underperforming schools, however, that they feel at risk of being judged harshly by Ofsted before they have had time to turn the organisation around.

To prevent this occurring, we are working with Ofsted to introduce ‘improvement periods’, which give new heads taking on challenging schools sufficient time to make an impact. Where a new head steps in to a school requiring improvement, the school will not face re-inspection until around 30 months after the previous inspection. And where a failing maintained school is replaced by a sponsored academy or a new sponsor is appointed to drive further improvement in an academy, the school will not normally face inspection until its third year of operation.

We have invested in a number of programmes which encourage promising young graduates into the profession, or which train promising teachers to take on leadership positions.

Teach First, for example, currently has 2,463 graduates of its programme teaching in UK state schools. Of these, 1 in 3 is already a middle or senior leader, and 18 are headteachers.

For bright and ambitious young graduates, a career in teaching now offers rapid advancement opportunities to rival any other profession.

And career advancement for teachers does not end with headship. The challenges of running a multi-academy trust demand a whole different set of abilities compared to headship, but equally should offer an exciting new avenue for the brightest and best in the profession to continue progressing throughout their careers.

This government will have achieved its aims, if in the years to come, teaching has become established as one of the most exciting and rewarding professions available to young people.

It is a remarkable fact, and perhaps no coincidence, that King Solomon Academy is today making headlines as the best school in the country, but 6 years ago was making headlines for employing the youngest head in the country: Max Haimendorf, who established the school aged just 28 years old, and is still there today.

Another inspiring school leader who I would like to mention is Katharine Birbalsingh. She is currently running a free school in Wembley which shows an admirable disregard for the way in which English schools are normally operated. The school is unapologetically strict and demanding: desks are in rows; corridors are walked in silence; and pupils memorise subject content for weekly tests.

Having visited the school last year, the whole institution emits a sense of positivity and purpose quite unlike any other school I have ever been inside. In this area of significant deprivation, children are brimming with pride at the progress they are making.

Such a school could never have existed before the academies and free school policies. Today, there are over 300 free schools in operation, which will create over 153,000 new school places once at capacity. The best are already extraordinary success stories, forcing all of us to revise our expectations about what children, particularly children from deprived backgrounds, are capable of achieving.

When this government talks about increased school autonomy, I do sense the incredulity with which some school leaders react. They point to a new curriculum; new national assessments at ages 7 and 11; and reforms to GCSE and A levels.

It is true that since 2010 we have overhauled the testing and assessment system, but that was for good reason. In 2010, 55% of pupils achieved the ‘minimum standard’ of 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and mathematics. However, this number masked a multitude of deficiencies. The design of performance measures encouraged schools to enter its pupils for ‘equivalent qualifications’ in less academically demanding subjects, which employers told us were worthless. And there was suspicion of grade inflation within the profession and amongst employers.

Having compared the reported improvement in GCSE results to an annual benchmarked aptitude test, Professor Coe of Durham University concluded that the question, I quote, ‘is not whether there has been grade inflation, but how much’.

There was also a widespread feeling that qualifications, in particular GCSEs, did not represent the mastery of a sufficiently challenging body of subject knowledge. Did a good GCSE in history represent a basic understanding of the chronology of Britain’s past? Did a good GCSE in MFL mean a degree of fluency in the language? Did a good GCSE in English Literature mean a pupil had read widely from the corpus of great works?

The trend towards modular entry for GCSE, and the existence of A and AS levels, meant that pupils were experiencing a continual cycle of examination cramming and practice, limiting opportunity for teachers to revel in the simple pleasure of teaching their subject. Similarly, controlled assessment had become a time-consuming burden on teachers, which limited classroom teaching, and encouraged dubious practices in schools.

So we saw a pressing need to reform the examination system. Many of these reforms which began almost 6 years ago are only just becoming a reality in schools. I believe this process of reform is consistent with a policy of school autonomy. The government’s role in education should not be to dictate school practices, but it does need to act as the guardian of high expectations.

General Patton’s dictum on leadership was this: ‘Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.’

And that represents the philosophy behind our education reforms. Good government does not improve public services. It sets the conditions in which public services can improve themselves. That is what our reforms are achieving in this country’s state schools.

Nick Gibb – 2016 Speech on the Curriculum

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, in London on 27 April 2016.

Thank you for inviting me to join the ASCL curriculum summit today.

Developing a well-thought-through, challenging school curriculum is central to the running of any school, and this is a topic I am always keen to discuss.

Schools are making significant changes to their curriculum to prepare for new examinations. Next month, primary pupils will for the first time sit tests assessing them on the new national curriculum. New GCSEs in maths and English are already being taught, and will be examined for the first time next year. And this September, secondary schools will see the first teaching of 20 new GCSEs, and 11 new A levels.

The subject of school curriculum is also timely from a historical perspective. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan’s ‘Ruskin speech’, a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades.

Back in 1976, Callaghan alluded to the significant concerns that existed amongst parents and employers about the form many school curriculum had taken during the ‘experimental’ atmosphere of the mid-1970s. He suggested that there is, I quote, a “strong case for the so-called ‘core curriculum’ of basic knowledge” in schools.

In doing so, Callaghan was making a bold foray into an area of school life which had been dubbed the ‘secret garden’, to which educationists had previously been granted exclusive access, and politicians and the public had never seen fit to tread.

But, as Callaghan said at the time, £6 billion is spent every year on education, so in his view public interest in how this money is spent was, I quote, “strong and legitimate”. I believe the same is true today, though the figure of overall expenditure rather higher.

The government’s curriculum reforms, which began in 2010, have been a lengthy and thoroughgoing process, but necessarily so. Many changes which began 6 years ago are only now hitting the ground in schools. With that in mind, today is an opportune moment to revisit the original justification for these reforms.

In 2010, 64% of pupils achieved a level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of primary school, but we were continually hearing from secondary schools that even pupils who arrived brandishing their level 4s were not, in fact, sufficiently prepared. Pupils unable to write cogently, or perform basic procedures in mathematics, were being judged as having met the expected standard aged 11.

At GCSE, 55% of pupils achieved the ‘minimum standard’ of 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and mathematics. However, this number masked a multitude of deficiencies. The design of performance measures encouraged pupils to enter ‘equivalent qualifications’ in less academically demanding subjects, which employers told us they didn’t value. And there was widespread suspicion of grade inflation within the profession and amongst employers.

Having compared the reported improvement in GCSE results to an annual benchmarked aptitude test, Professor Coe concluded that the question, I quote, “is not whether there has been grade inflation, but how much”.

Lastly, there was a widespread feeling that qualifications, in particular GCSEs, did not represent the mastery of a sufficiently challenging body of subject knowledge. Did a good GCSE in history represent a basic understanding of the chronology of Britain’s past? Did a good GCSE in MFL mean a degree of fluency in the language? Did a good GCSE in English literature mean a pupil had read widely from the corpus of great works?

We all know the cliché of older generations asking their children, or grandchildren, ‘don’t they teach you that at school?’ We were determined to allow the children of tomorrow to answer such inquisitions, ‘yes, in fact, they do’.

Before 2010, pupils’ future life chances were being sacrificed for an illusion of success, which served short-term political expediency. Our objective whilst in government from that date onwards has always been to help build an education system that instead is designed for the long-term benefit of pupils.

More challenging standards may mean a temporary drop in the reported success rate of pupils – for example for those taking their key stage 2 national assessments in 2 weeks’ time. But this is something that we are unafraid to oversee. Because let me ask you: what is a more responsible political decision? To be realistic about the level of numeracy or literacy a child has achieved at the end of primary school, and increase the likelihood that any shortfall is addressed; or to tell a child that they have reached an adequate level of literacy and numeracy for their age, when their secondary school will state they have not?

You do not need me to tell you that the implementation of the new key stage 1 and key stage 2 tests has been bumpy, and I and the department are more than willing to accept that some things could have been smoother. The current frameworks for teacher assessment, for example, are interim, precisely because we know that teething problems that exist in this phase of reform need to leave room for revision.

But against those who attack the underlying principle of these reforms, I stand firm in my belief that they are right and necessary. Our new tests in grammar, punctuation and spelling have been accused by many in the media of teaching pupils redundant or irrelevant information. “Completely inappropriate” was the verdict of one union general secretary interviewed on Radio 4 last week.

One fundamental outcome of a good education system must be that all children, not just the offspring of the wealthy and privileged, are able to write fluent, cogent and grammatically correct English. This is the sort of written language which tutors expect to see in university essays and employers expect to see in a covering letter. All children, irrespective of birth or background, should be able to write prose where verbs agree with subjects, commas separate independent clauses, and pronouns agree in number with the nouns to which they refer.

Now, for children from homes where parents read and share books with their family, it may be possible over time to assimilate such grammatical rules indirectly. But for a great number of children in our schools, the easiest way for a teacher to explain to their pupils the rules that govern our language is to ensure that both have a shared vocabulary of grammatical terms. And when it comes to learning a foreign language, the benefit of having a shared vocabulary of grammatical terms is, again, enormous.

And, of course, the learned op-eds which attack the addition of grammar to the national curriculum are always grammatically correct – why the writers would want to take from children the ability to write with the accuracy that they consistently display is beyond me. It often occurs to me that grammatical knowledge, as with knowledge more generally, is much like money: only those who have it can be complacent enough to deny its importance.

This is also why we are undertaking the process of enhancing the subject content of our GCSEs. The new mathematics GCSE introduces more demanding content, such as ensuring pupils work with percentages higher than 100%, and use inequality notation to specify truncation or rounding errors.

Teachers are also half way through teaching the new English literature GCSE. I recently read a blog by an English teacher about planning for the new exam, in which he wrote, “I’m not afraid to say that, in our humble little department, we’re rather enjoying it”. His English department had been writing long-term plans to teach new texts: ‘Lord of the Flies’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Macbeth’ and a number of poems.

The texts that awarding organisations are offering for the new GCSE show a rich and rewarding span of literature old and new, from ‘Animal Farm’ to ‘Anita and Me’, Charlotte Bronte to Kazuo Ishiguro. In 2010, 90% of pupils studying for an English literature GCSE read, as their only text, the same short novella. Such narrowing of the GCSE curriculum is no longer possible.

The aforementioned blog was titled, ‘The New English GCSEs: a pleasure, not a chore’, and this is the spirit in which I hope that other new GCSEs are taken on in schools.

Geography teachers will teach the geography of the country we live in and the world in greater depth to their pupils, and carry out at least 2 pieces of fieldwork outside the classroom. Science teachers will address topics from the cutting edge of their subject – such as the human genome in biology, and nanoparticles in chemistry.

The new computer science GCSE will require students to understand mathematical principles and concepts such as data representation, Boolean logic and different data types. Students will also have to understand the components of computer systems, and write and refine programs.

In history, teachers can break away from the previous diet of predominantly 20th-century history that pupils have commonly studied at GCSE for 2 decades. History teachers with a passion for the medieval period can now teach in-depth studies of the Norman Conquest or Edward I. Those teachers with a passion for the early modern can choose between Spain and the ‘New World’, or the Restoration.

I am pleased to say that in all of the new GCSE and A level subjects, Ofqual has accredited at least one exam board qualification. I am also delighted that high-quality GCSEs and A levels in a range of community languages, such as Panjabi, Portuguese and Japanese, will continue. This comes as a result of government action and the commitment from those exam boards who have worked with us to protect these languages.

Of course, planning for these new examinations is placing a significant workload on teachers for the next 2 years. But as workload burdens go, I hope that secondary school teachers will see this as a chance to re-engage with the subject they love, the subject that they went into teaching to communicate.

In addition, a host of reforms that we have pursued since 2010 have been explicitly geared towards reducing extraneous workload burdens for teachers, freeing them to focus on the areas of school life, like the curriculum, that really matter. It is no longer compulsory to write a SEF for Ofsted; the inspectorate no longer require individual lesson plans during inspections; and we have removed 21,000 pages of unnecessary guidance for schools, reducing the volume by 75%, and centralising all that remains in one place on the GOV.UK website.

In addition, the independent workload reports which were published last month offer clear and constructive guidance for schools and for government, to ensure that such burdens reduce further.

The reformed performance measures which coincide with the new GCSEs will free teachers’ time to value the progress of every pupil individually, whether they are on the cusp of achieving a C or a new grade 5 or striving to reach an A* or a new grade 8 or 9.

On the topic of performance measures, there have been concerns amongst ASCL members about our aspiration that, in time, 90% of pupils will be entered for the EBacc. And I understand why these concerns exist. The key concern appears to be the challenge of teaching modern foreign languages to a much larger proportion of pupils, in terms of both recruitment of teachers and achieving success for lower attaining pupils.

There is work afoot on both fronts to tackle these concerns. We are in the early stages of developing a range of programmes to boost the number of teachers recruited to teach foreign languages in our schools. And I am delighted that today the Teaching Schools Council announced their forthcoming review into how foreign languages are taught in secondary schools. Led by former ASCL President Ian Bauckham, this report will look at rigorous research and international evidence, and provide schools across the country with thought-provoking, practical advice on how to pursue the most effective method for teaching foreign languages to their pupils.

Many have challenged the fundamental premise of the EBacc performance measure, arguing that a core academic curriculum up to the age of 16 is not suitable for all pupils. This is a claim with which I cannot agree. A tacit snobbery about ‘kids like these’ – which so often means kids from poorer homes – can lie behind such claims. Indeed, research by the Sutton Trust has revealed that high-achieving pupils of precisely the same starting point at secondary schools are significantly less likely to be entered into the EBacc if they are on free school meals. In 2015, 19% of pupils in Knowsley were entered for the EBacc, compared with 58.9% of pupils in Barnet.

An academic education is the entitlement of every child, irrespective of birth or background. All school leavers should be able to partake in intelligent conversation, and to do so children need to be given a good level of cultural literacy. This should be seen as a foundational purpose of any school.

It is the luxury of living in today’s world that there is no rush to start studying for the workplace. All pupils can be afforded the time and opportunity to be initiated into the great conversations of humankind, and develop an intellectual hinterland which will last them a lifetime.

In his Ruskin speech, Callaghan attacked the view that lower attaining pupils should be fitted with, I quote, “just enough learning to earn their living in the factory”. His retort was that all schools should, I quote, “equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive place in their society”.

The same mission lies behind the EBacc policy. A child will almost certainly end up working in a job far removed from the curriculum content that they studied at school. But to limit the work of school to the world of work is depressingly reductive. Adults do not just work: they also read, converse, travel, vote and participate in other processes of democratic life. Just because someone goes on to work in a technical or scientific field, it does not mean they should not enjoy great literature, understand the history of their own country, or be able to communicate in a language other than their own.

All children can rise to this challenge. The structural reforms undertaken by this government have created extraordinary school success stories, which force all of us to revise our expectations about what children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, can achieve.

King Solomon Academy sits in one of the most disadvantaged boroughs of London for child poverty – 44% of its pupils are eligible for free school meals – just over 3 times the national average. Yet last year, 77% of their pupils achieved the English Baccalaureate – compared to a national figure of 24%. The Tauheedul Islam Girls High School in Blackburn has a higher than average proportion of disadvantaged pupils, and 95% of its pupils speak English as a second language. Yet last year, 74% of their pupils achieved the EBacc.

Lastly, I would like to talk briefly about the importance of focusing on curriculum as a means of school improvement. Many during Callaghan’s time referred to the curriculum as the ‘secret garden’ for policy makers, but I think that the curriculum has also in recent history been something of a ‘secret garden’ in schools – an issue which is seen as slightly peripheral when it comes to driving improvement.

I am delighted to see how many schools are now thinking about how to devise a curriculum that consistently challenges their pupils, and does not allow a single year to be wasted.

Ark Schools, which has been devising a mathematics curriculum to be taught in all its schools based on the mastery principles of south Asian countries. Harris Academies and the Inspiration Trust have both appointed teachers to work across their schools in certain subjects, driving improvements on the quality of curriculum taught to their pupils.

Last year, a think tank called the Center for American Progress published a report entitled ‘The hidden value of curriculum reform’, which showed that adopting new curriculum resources is an inexpensive, effective and currently under-recognised means of improving pupil outcomes.

Their claim was based on an analysis of 4 elementary school mathematics curricula, conducted by the US Department of Education in 2011. The most successful curriculum in boosting pupil outcomes was Saxon math, a ‘back to basics’ approach which blends teacher-directed instruction of new material with daily recap and practice (much like the ‘mastery’ principles of mathematics teaching that we are currently spreading through our 35 maths hubs).

The Center for American Progress report created a minor tremor on Twitter thanks to the claim that – compared to other school improvement policies – adopting an effective school curriculum such as Saxon maths has almost 40 times the average cost-effectiveness ratio.

Due to the increased challenge of national examinations, and the new degree of innovation occurring in schools and academy trusts, I believe the conversation about curriculum taking place today is of a higher quality than at any time in the past. And this is a conversation that should lie at the heart of any successful school.