Nick Gibb – 2018 Speech to the International Conference for the Teaching Profession

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, to the International Conference for the Teaching Profession on 22 March 2018.

It is a pleasure to be here in Lisbon at the ISTP 2018, a year on from the successful and fruitful ISTP 2017 in Edinburgh co-hosted by the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments.

Last year, we agreed to promote greater equity through commitments to ensure that:

Every pupil has the opportunity to achieve their potential, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds;

We raise the status of the teaching profession; and

Teaching is firmly grounded in high quality research.

Over the course of the last year, England has continued to make strides in these important areas.

In 2010, the government introduced the English Baccalaureate – known as the EBacc. This is a school performance measure rather than a qualification. It is designed to increase the number of pupils taking core academic GCSEs – English, maths, sciences, a language and either history or geography. These GCSEs provide pupils with the broad academic grounding up to the age of 16 that they need to be successful, whatever route they choose to pursue post-16.

Many countries represented here today will consider it axiomatic that pupils study these subjects to at least the age of 16. But in England in 2010, only 1 in 5 pupils were taking this combination of academic GCSEs. That figure is now almost 2 in 5. The government is ambitious for this figure to rise further – to 90% of year 10 pupils studying the EBacc by 2025.

Already, there are promising signs. This year, we saw the highest proportion of disadvantaged pupils, those who receive free school meals, pupils with special educational needs and pupils with English as an additional language taking these core academic GCSEs.

Not only this, results show that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers has shrunk at primary and secondary school. Since 2011, the attainment gap at age 11 has decreased by 10.5%. Whilst at 16, it has shrunk by 10% since 2011.

The government is raising standards for all pupils, but the tide is rising fastest for those who need it most.

Academies and free schools – which now make up over 70% of secondary schools and over 25% of primary schools – operate independently of local government.

Free schools are amongst some of the highest performing schools in the country and pupils in free schools made more progress, on average, than pupils in other types of school in 2017.

Free schools are amongst some of the highest performing schools in the country and pupils in free schools made more progress, on average, than pupils in other types of free schools in 2017.

Dixons Trinity Academy – a free school based in Bradford – achieved extraordinary results with its first set of GCSEs, placing it in the 10 top schools in England for the progress achieved by its pupils. Strikingly, the progress score for disadvantaged pupils was higher than for that of their more affluent peers.

But the success of the free school and academy movement is not confined to individual schools. The growth of multi-academy trusts has seen excellence spread across schools. Multi-academy trusts are combinations of academies, from 2 or 3, to as many as 50 or 60 academies, all reporting to one group of independent trustees.

Made up of a combination of schools that have been taken out of local authority control because of that poor performance, which we call sponsored academies; and high performing schools that have voluntarily opted out of local authority control, which we call converter academies; and newly created academies, which we call free schools. These high performing multi-academy trusts demonstrate what it is possible to achieve when power is placed in the hands of high-performing, competitive trusts.

Irrespective of the history of the schools they run, these multi-academy trusts have generated excellent academic results for the pupils they serve, as they compete with other multi-academy trusts in terms of their reputation for academic rigour.

So, the clear advantage of taking schools away from local authority control, is that for the first time, schools are now accountable to their trustees rather than to bureaucracies and there is genuine competition between groups of schools which forces them to respond to the concerns of parents for higher standards of behaviour and stronger academic results.

Thanks to a forensic approach to curriculum design and the implementation of evidence-based approaches to managing poor behaviour, the Inspiration Trust and the Harris Federation – two of the best performing multi-academy trusts – have conclusively demonstrated that all pupils can achieve – whether they live in coastal Norfolk or inner-city London.

They demonstrate that neither the socio-economic context of pupils nor the historic reputation of a school need be a barrier to excellence. And – just as importantly – they provide a model for ensuring that all children succeed. As with Dixons Trinity, schools in these leading multi academy chains are characterised by knowledge-rich curricula, high behavioural expectations and evidence-based teacher-led instruction.

As well as providing the freedom and autonomy to leading free schools and multi-academy trusts, the government is determined to support and empower teachers to raise standards in their schools. The recently closed consultation on how to improve career support and progression for teachers was designed in tandem with the profession. We will respond to the proposals outlined in that consultation – including how we can take forward plans for an Early Career Content Framework – later in the spring. And we will continue to work closely with teachers and teacher representatives on these proposals.

Another key strand of the government’s work to support and empower teachers is the government’s priority of reducing teacher workload. Teachers should be freed from spending hours on marking and entering progress-data, particularly when evidence suggests these do not improve pupil outcomes.

And headteachers need the security of knowing that their autonomy won’t be compromised by rogue school inspectors. That is why the government – in tandem with Ofsted, the schools inspectorate – has been clear on what inspectors will, and will not, ask when they visit schools.

We are also committed to clarifying the roles of different actors within the system, including what we call Regional Schools Commissioners, the 8 regional offices of the Department for Education. In order to provide teachers and headteachers with the opportunity to innovate and raise standards, they need to know that the accountability system within which they work is fair, transparent and – when needs be – supportive rather than punitive.

The government has played an active role in raising standards in schools and in empowering and supporting teachers. But, it is by standing back and promoting teacher voices, that the government has helped to make the most progress in promoting evidence-based teaching.

There is still a long way to go in empowering all teachers with the knowledge they need. But the success of ResearchED – a series of teacher-led research conferences founded by the teacher Tom Bennett now spanning 4 continents – shows teachers’ appetite for research. Tom Bennett wrote recently about the movement of teachers who are dedicating their Saturday’s to discussing and sharing research with one another. Writing powerfully and metaphorically he penned the following:

My ambition is that we start to drive this voluntary professional development, which then cascades back into schools and starts conversations that starts sparks in classrooms that catch fire and burn down dogma. That initial teacher training makes evidence its foundation (where it does not do so already), platforming the best of what we know rather than perpetuating the best of what we prefer. For new teachers to be given skills to discern good evidence from bad. For that to bleed eventually into leadership and from there into the structures that govern us.

But time and again, teachers run up against entrenched views held by those in positions of authority. For example, late last year, an academic from Durham University called the government’s promotion of systematic synthetic phonics ‘seriously flawed’; flying in the face of decades of evidence from around the world that phonics is the most effective method for teaching children to read. He went on to claim that drawing on scientific evidence to inform policy making in science “can be especially dangerous”.

Thankfully, the results from the PIRLS international reading tests came out within a month of these comments. This assessment of 9 and 10 year olds’ reading comprehension showed that England had risen from joint 10th place in 2011 to joint 8th place in 2016, thanks to a statistically significant rise in our average score. And low-attaining pupils had gained most showing again that the government is raising standards for all, but the tide is rising quickest for those who need it most.

These results were a vindication of the government’s evidence-based insistence on the use of systematic synthetic phonics in teaching children to read.

Too often in education, academics use their positions of authority to ignore the evidence and promote their own beliefs. For too long, education has suffered from putting belief over evidence.

As policy makers, if we are to empower teachers to pursue evidence-based approaches, we must confront the evidence as we find it, not as we would wish it to be.

So, when we come to discuss so-called ‘pedagogies of the future’, I hope that we will treat unfounded claims sceptically. Instead, we should discuss the data from PISA 2015, which showed that in all but three countries, higher levels of teacher-directed instruction led to significantly higher science results. And we should interrogate the data showing that in the majority of countries, pupils reporting higher levels of enquiry-based instruction achieved significantly worse results.

As we would expect of teachers, data and evidence should be the starting point for our conversation, not something to fit with our pre-existing conceptions.

But we must not ignore these conceptions. These too must be interrogated and the nuance explored. The caricature of teacher-led instruction as turgid and dull must be dispelled. Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction make clear that teacher-led instruction should be interactive. These evidence-based principles suggest that teachers, amongst other things:

ask a large number of questions and check pupil responses; and
provide models and worked examples.

And the evidence from PISA 2015 supports these findings. According to the data, the most successful science classrooms were those where teachers explained scientific ideas, discussed pupil responses to questions and clearly demonstrated an idea.

Rosenshine’s principles, which draw heavily on cognitive science, are backed up by the PISA 2015 data.

Reflecting on the relationship between researchers and teachers in the conclusion to his 2002 essay Classroom Research and Cargo Cults, E. D. Hirsch – the educationalist who has most influenced my thinking – stressed the need for this relationship to evolve.

Drawing on the comments of a colleague, he laid out his vision for cognitive science research and teaching practice to mirror the relationship between biochemistry and medical science.

In England, it is clear that schools are beginning to take this ambition to heart. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), whose General Secretary Carl Ward is here today, and PTE, Parents and Teachers for Excellence, a pressure group calling for more subject knowledge in the curriculum – and whose CEO Mark Lehain is also here – together they organised a pamphlet to support teachers to adopt a knowledge-rich curriculum.

In this pamphlet, titled The Question of Knowledge, Luke Sparkes – headteacher of Dixons Trinity Academy – explained how that school uses cognitive science to inform their curriculum planning:

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.

Examples such as this show that Tom Bennett is right; teachers demanding better evidence is slowly changing education.

Thank you.

Nick Gibb – 2018 Speech to Conference for Commonwealth Education Ministers

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, to the Conference for Commonwealth Education Ministers on 22 February 2018.

Thank you Dr Mohamed. And thank you also to those fellow Education Ministers I have had the opportunity to meet over the last few days. I think this has been a very successful conference. I would like to congratulate the Secretary General and the Fijian Government for hosting a very successful conference. It has been wonderful for me to have had so many productive, interesting and warm conversations with fellow ministers, in meetings and at the very successful receptions that have been held throughout the course of the conference. I have really valued the opportunity to learn about other education systems and to discuss so many shared challenges that we all face across the Commonwealth. I am sure that many of us will stay in touch in future and continue to support each other where we can.

The UK government is looking forward to welcoming your Heads of Government to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April. We will discuss shared challenges, and move forward – I hope – renewed, and revitalised after that conference.

These international gatherings are helpful in shaping shared policy objectives and working collectively to overcome challenges. For example, the Millennium Development Goals focused minds on universalising access to education. And now, the Sustainable Development Goals are going further.

In recent years, great strides have been made across the world. It should not be forgotten that in 1990 there were 1.8 billion people living in absolute poverty. This has been reduced over those years since by a billion. But, there is still much more to do. As our Foreign Secretary wrote recently:

Look at those countries where population is growing the fastest, where unemployment is highest, and where the tensions are greatest, and without exception you will find a common factor: female illiteracy.

Boris Johnson was correct when he went on to state that this is both a moral outrage and ‘contrary to the interests of world peace, prosperity, health and happiness.

Globally, 130 million girls are not in school. So I would urge member states to commit to work together and individually to ensure 12 years of quality education for all by 2030.

But we must be more ambitious than seeking universal access. We must turn our attention to ensuring pupils receive the high-quality education they deserve.

Of those pupils in school in low income countries, 90 per cent are not on track to master the basics of maths, reading and writing by the end of primary school.

Raising school standards for pupils from all backgrounds has been the driving force behind the government reforms in my country since 2010. The government’s mission is to provide pupils with the knowledge-rich education that will prepare them for the rigours and opportunities of the 21st century.

Core academic subjects have returned to the heart of the secondary curriculum and we have pursued evidence-based approaches to teaching, raising standards for all. At the same time, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers has narrowed both at primary and secondary schools in England since 2010.

In education, there is nothing more important to spreading opportunity than ensuring all pupils are taught to read effectively. Figures from the UK show that pupils who are reading well by age 5 are 6 times more likely than their peers to be on track by age 11 in reading, and 11 times more likely to be on track in mathematics.

But, in the years just before we came into government in 2010, we knew something was wrong with the way our primary schools taught reading. England was stagnating in the international league tables and the international data also showed a wider gap between top and bottom performers than in most other countries, leading to England being known for its ‘long tail of underachievement’.

And data from 2012 showed that we were the only OECD country where the maths and reading abilities of our 16-24 year olds was worse than that of our 55 to 65 year olds. A misguided move away from evidence-based approaches to teaching children to read was stifling opportunity for too many children.

For decades, the overwhelming weight of international evidence – including the influential longitudinal study from Clackmannanshire in Scotland – pointed to systematic phonics as the most effective way to teach children to read.

Phonics teaches children to associate letters with sounds, providing pupils with the code to unlock written English. And despite the evidence in favour of this approach – a traditional approach – the government’s phonics reforms were controversial and met with widespread opposition from teaching unions and other vested interests.

All primary schools in England are now required by law to use phonics as they teach pupils to read. But more controversially, the government introduced the Phonics Screening Check in 2012. This is a short test comprising a list of 40 words that 6-year-old children read to their teacher at the end of year 1.

The proportion of pupils passing the Phonics Check has increased every year since it was introduced by us in 2012. In 2012, the first year of the Phonics Check, just 58 per cent of 6 year olds reached the pass mark of 32 out of the 40 correctly read words, so 40 per cent were failing. This year, 81 per cent of 6-year-olds reached that standard, with 92 per cent of children reaching that standard by the end of year 2.

This year, 154,000 more 6 year olds were on track to be fluent readers than in 2012. Last year, 147,000 more 6 year olds were on track compared to 2012.

And the success of this policy has been confirmed by the international PIRLS results (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). The international study of 9-year-olds’ reading ability in 50 countries showed that England has risen from joint 10th place in 2011 to joint 8th place in 2016, thanks to a statistically significant rise in our average score.

But more importantly, these tests show that we are dealing with the ‘long tail of underachievement’ that has stifled opportunity. The PIRLS results show that reading has improved for pupils from all backgrounds, but it is the low-performing pupils who are gaining most rapidly.

The report found that performance in the Phonics Check was strongly predictive of PIRLS performance, vindicating the government’s drive to universalise this evidence-based approach to teaching. The PIRLS national report for England states that, and I quote:

Pupils who scored full marks in the phonics check were also the highest scoring group in PIRLS 2016, with an average overall PIRLS score of 617. In contrast, pupils who did not reach the ‘expected standard’ in the Year 1 phonics check perform below England’s overall average, with lower phonics check scores being associated with decreasing average PIRLS scores.

So that is why our government is determined to go even further and see more pupils reach the expected standard at age 6. And if I could just quote the New Zealand Minister’s earlier quote:

We have gone so far, we’re going to go further still.

The government has also faced-down much opposition to the drive to increase the proportion of pupils studying core academic GCSEs at age 16. The English Baccalaureate, that we introduced as a performance measure, requires pupils to study GCSEs in English, maths, at least two sciences, either history or geography, and a foreign language.

Schools are measured now on the proportion of their pupils entering GCSEs in all 5 categories, and on the attainment of their pupils in these subjects.

Since 2010 – following a long-term decline in pupils taking these core academic subjects – there have been sharp increases in most of these subjects. For example, the proportion of pupils taking the science component of the EBacc has risen from 63 per cent to 91 per cent, and the proportion studying history or geography has risen from 48 per cent to 77 per cent.

Nationally, nearly two-fifths of pupils are entered for the EBacc. This is up from just over one-fifth in 2010. But again there is still much more to do, to reach the government’s ambitious target of 90 per cent of pupils studying towards the full suite of EBacc GCSEs by 2025.

Since 2010, the proportion of pupils studying a language to GCSE has risen from 40 per cent to 47 per cent and we are determined to raise participation in languages much further in the years to come, particularly as Britain raises its eyes to the opportunities that await post-Brexit.

Evidence supports the government’s desire to drive up participation in these core academic subjects. Evidence from the Sutton Trust found that pupils in a set of 300 schools that increased their EBacc entry, from 8 per cent to 48 per cent, 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.

And these findings were corroborated by work carried out by the Institute of Education in London examining the effect that GCSE choice has on education post-16, and I quote:

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.

And this year more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds entered the EBacc than at any point since the measure was created.

Again, there is still much more to do. Disadvantaged pupils remain almost half as likely to be entered for these subjects than their more affluent peers. But it is essential that all pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are given access to the core academic subjects that widen opportunities at post-16.

But the government is making progress in widening opportunities, whilst raising standards for all. Recent figures from national assessments that are published on a school by school basis taken at 11 and 16 reveal that the attainment gap has closed since 2011 at both primary and secondary schools, by 10.5 per cent for primary and 10 per cent for secondary.

Despite the controversy and claims from many in my country that the government’s standards-raising policies would hurt the performance of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, in fact universalising access to evidence-based teaching methods and widening opportunities to study core academic subjects has been to the benefit of all, particularly those most in need.

There is more to do of course. There are still too many pupils not reading at the expected standard by age 6; and there are too many pupils – particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds – not being entered for the full suite of core academic GCSEs. But much progress has been made since 2010 and the government – in step with teachers – is ambitious and determined to go further in the years to come.

Thank you very much chair for listening. I am very happy to answer any questions you may have on what has been a very controversial seven years of education reform in England.

Nick Gibb – 2018 Speech at Education World Forum

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, at the Education World Forum on 23 January 2018.

How can and should policy be developed to ensure education equity? A knowledge-rich curriculum should be at the heart of all schools. We believe that is key to ensuring education equity. Endowing pupils with knowledge of ‘the best that has been thought and said’ and preparing pupils to compete in an ever more competitive jobs market is the core purpose of schooling.

And ensuring that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have the same opportunities as their more affluent peers to benefit from the cultural capital of a stretching and rigorous curriculum is key to addressing the burning injustices in our societies and driving forward social mobility.

Designing and implementing these curricula should follow a thorough interrogation of the research. It is right that debates are had about what knowledge we wish to ensure all pupils possess. It is understandable that there are differing opinions about how best to prepare pupils for the challenges of the 21st century. But opinions must change as the facts change.

In 2010, the government came to office in Britain. We inherited a curriculum that was not fit for purpose. The national curriculum had been stripped of knowledge, leaving pupils without the cultural literacy they needed.

England was stagnating in the international league tables and too many pupils were leaving school ill-prepared to compete in our increasingly globalised world. Data from 2012 shows we were the only OECD country where the numeracy and literacy of our 16-24 year olds was no better than that of our 55 to 65 year olds.

We reformed the national curriculum, restoring knowledge to its heart and clarifying what we expected children to be taught. The issues with the 2007 National Curriculum were best summed up by the statutory requirement of secondary chemistry pupils to understand ‘that there are patterns in the reactions between substances’.

In ‘Could Do Better’ Tim Oates used this example to highlight the vagueness of the 2007 curriculum, writing:

This statement essentially describes all of chemistry. So what should teachers actually teach? What are the key concepts which children should know and apply?

The new maths national curriculum for primary schools provides many examples of the specificity and detail needed for a successful curriculum, such as the structured sequence of efficient written methods of calculation that pupils are expected to have mastered at different ages.

But the curriculum does not sit in isolation. The government also embarked on an ambitious reform of our national qualifications. Grade inflation was rife under the previous government and too many pupils – particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds – were being entered into low quality qualifications. Public confidence in the education system had been knocked.

The government put an end to grade inflation and is introducing new GCSEs and A levels that put England’s exams on a par with the best in the world. These changes are breathing life back into the country’s education system.

However, the introduction of new assessments has also been important. The government has announced the introduction of a multiplication tables check for year 4 pupils – a short online assessment designed to support the curriculum stipulation that pupils should know their tables by age 9. The government is determined that no child leaves primary school without securing the basics of mathematics.

Already, the government has had success thanks to another curriculum change supported by a short assessment. Conscious of the overwhelming research in favour of teaching children to read using systematic synthetic phonics, the government embarked on a campaign to ensure every child is taught to read using the most effective methods. As well as requiring schools to teach using an evidence based phonics programme, the government introduced the phonics screening check – a short assessment of a pupil’s ability to decode simple words.

The phonics screening check was introduced for the first time in 2012. That year, just 58% of 6-year-olds could correctly read 32 or more words from a list of 40. Thanks to the hard work of teachers and the government’s drive for phonics, there are 154,000 more 6-year-olds on track to be fluent readers this year. The proportion passing the phonics screening check in year 1 has risen to 81%, with 92% having passed the check by the end of year 2.

The success of this policy has been confirmed by international results. The PIRLS international study of 9-year-olds’ reading ability in 50 countries around the world showed that England has risen from joint 10th place in 2011 to joint 8th place in 2016, thanks to a statistically significant rise in our average score. And the data is clear on the role that the phonics reforms played in these results, with the report accompanying the results concluding that:

The characteristics that were most strongly predictive of PIRLS performance included prior achievement in the Year 1 Phonics Check.

Thanks to the hard work of teachers and by twinning carefully sequenced, knowledge-rich curricula with wider support, the government is raising standards in our schools.

In carrying out the reforms implemented since 2010, the government was careful to pursue evidence based policies. In the world of education, there are many voices who argue that the 21st century has somehow changed how education must be done. They conclude that the technological age necessitates a different approach to education. With the support of some in the business world, they encourage teachers to turn their attentions to developing the creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills of their pupils.

Around the world, many educationists – and I see one or two of them here – promote skills-based curricula as the way to prepare pupils for life in the 21st century. Often, knowledge-rich curricula are derided as an impediment to helping pupils to become creative critical-thinking problem solvers, but this is to confuse means with ends.

The mistake made by these influential voices in education is to believe that creativity is a skill independent of subject domain-specific knowledge; that critical thinking can be taught discretely from the subject being thought about, or that one becomes a better problem solver simply by practicing solving problems.

Just as musicians become proficient by learning their scales, it is as important that pupils build up the underlying knowledge they will need. We cannot expect a pupil to think critically about the causes of the First World War without an understanding of the delicate balance of power that existed at the turn of the 20th century. And we will not prepare pupils to be the creative, problem solving mathematicians of the future without giving them a firm grounding in the foundations of mathematics.

This government in the UK is determined that the new national curriculum endows pupils with the knowledge they need, so that they are best prepared for the rigours of a globalised 21st century jobs market. But doing so must be done with due regard for the evidence. There are too many examples of governments around the world that have mistaken ends with means in the hope of preparing pupils for the 21st century, damaging educational standards in the process.

Writing for the London School of Economics, Professor Lindsay Paterson of the University of Edinburgh has been a vocal critic of movements calling for skills-based curricula, writing of the underlying philosophy:

It belongs to that strand of curricular thinking sometimes known as constructivism. The essence of this view is that studying bodies of knowledge is pedagogically ineffective. Knowledge goes quickly out of date, and learning it is dull. Children emerge allegedly unable to think for themselves, unskilled for work in the new economy, and unprepared to act as democratic citizens. Instead, children should be enabled to construct knowledge for themselves.

This description exemplifies the belief system behind such changes. But this view is not supported by the international evidence. As Professor Paterson goes on to say, referencing teachers who are leading the knowledge-revolution in England:

It is increasingly clear from international comparisons that neglecting knowledge is educationally disastrous. One body of international evidence for that is assembled by E. D. Hirsch in his 2016 book Why Knowledge Matters. Especially cogent arguments in the same vein have come from two teachers in England who have become eloquent writers – Daisy Christodoulou’s ‘Seven Myths About Education’ (2013) and David Didau’s ‘What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong’ (2015). The critique does not deny that skills matter, but rather says that the best way to acquire skills is through gaining knowledge.

This nuanced understanding of the relationship between knowledge and skills is crucial to approaching curriculum design. In particular, the importance of subject domain specific knowledge to skill acquisition and transferability should be more widely understood.

A successful curriculum should enable pupils to participate in the great conversations of humankind, and it should prepare pupils to thrive in an ever more globalised and competitive economy. Both of these ambitions require a curriculum designed to give pupils access to the best that has been thought and said. Pupils deserve a rich and stretching knowledge-based curriculum that provides them with cultural literacy and a foundation of knowledge to use and apply in a variety of contexts.

We should judge our curricula by their success in achieving these aims.

Thank you.

Nick Gibb – 2017 Speech on Reading

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, on 5 December 2017.

Teaching children to read is the key to unlocking human potential. It is the cornerstone of education. Infinite worlds are laid at our feet; from Charles Dickens’s portrayal of ambition and lost values in 19th century England in ‘Great Expectations’ to Ishiguro’s subtle portrayal of repression in the dying days of Britain’s great houses in ‘The Remains of the Day’.

Reading emancipates us from the everyday. It liberates us to pursue our interests in non-fiction and it introduces us to the great heroes and anti-heroes of the ages. Through the canon, we are invited into the conversation of humankind.

From musing the plight of the human condition to learning about the majesty of space-science, reading is the foundation from which we build knowledge.

That is why improving literacy has been at the heart of the government’s drive to improve standards in England’s schools. One of the most controversial education reforms introduced by the Conservative-led Government in 2010 was our decision to require schools to use phonics to teach children to read.

In the years just before we came into government in 2010, we knew something was wrong with the way our primary schools taught reading; England was stagnating in the international league tables. The international data also showed a wider gap between top and bottom performers than in most other countries. England was well known for its ‘long tail of underachievement’.

I vividly recall visiting classrooms around the country where pupils were being failed; too many were unable to read. Effectively, locked out of achieving their potential. This was not through lack of effort from them or their teachers, but because of a dogmatic romanticism that prevented the spread of evidence-based teaching practices.

Those who stood in the way of evidence-based phonics reaching England’s classrooms are responsible for stifling human potential and negatively affecting the life chances of countless children.

We are the only OECD nation where literacy is no better amongst the 16-24 year olds than amongst the over 55s. What more stark statistic could there be to exemplify the damage dogmatists have inflicted on our education system?

Prior to our reforms, schools were using variations of a method called ‘look and say’ to teach reading, in which children encountered frequently used words over and over again until they were recognised automatically. Where schools were using phonics they were mixing and matching with these other methods, which significantly inhibited its effectiveness. Contextual clues encouraging children to guess at words – rather than sound them out – were widely encouraged, breaking the link between the alphabetic code and spoken language.

The theory was that this was an easier way to learn to read than learning the 44 sounds of the alphabet and how to blend them into words. In reality, there was no evidence to support the ‘look and say’ approach; it was simply in keeping with the philosophical opposition to formal instruction, which was so ubiquitous in teacher training colleges and education faculties.

The trouble was that this method was letting down too many children, particularly the least able. Decades of evidence from around the world – including the influential longitudinal study from Clackmannanshire in Scotland – pointed to systematic phonics as the most effective way to teach children to read.

Phonics teaches children to sound out words sound by sound and then ‘blend’ these sounds together, unlocking the code of written English.

When we came into office in 2010, therefore, one of the first things we did was to strengthen the National Curriculum, explicitly requiring schools to teach reading using phonics. We funded training and phonics materials and books for schools. And, most controversial of all, we introduced a test for all six-year-olds, called the Phonics Screening Check.

This test consists of a list of 40 words that the child reads to their teacher. Half the words are ordinary words and the other half are made up ‘pseudo-words’, which are demarcated by a cartoon alien so that children are not confused by these unfamiliar words. The inclusion of these pseudo-words is important, as it is impossible to guess how to pronounce them, ensuring children have been taught to decode words using phonics rather than learning words by sight.

In 2012, the first year of the Phonics Check, just 58% of six-year-olds reached the pass mark of 32 out of the 40. This year, 81% of six year olds reached that standard, with 92% of children reaching that standard by the end of year 2.

Reading is the fundamental building block to a successful education. Securing the mechanical ability to translate the hieroglyphics of letters on the page into words is a necessary component to achieving fluency in reading; allowing children to build their speed of reading, their comprehension and to develop a joy and habit of reading for pleasure.

And this is not an un-evidenced assertion. This is a statement backed up by decades of research. Consider the conclusions from the longitudinal study carried out in Clackmannanshire:

– Improvements in word reading had grown from 7 months ahead of chronological age in Primary 1 to 3 and a half years in Primary 7;

– A similar gain was seen in spelling, with pupils increasing their advantage over the expected chronological age following the use of systematic synthetic phonics, bucking the trend for the effects of education interventions to ‘wash out’ over time; and

– Reading comprehension scores were still significantly above the expected standard for chronological age by the end of primary school.

Extraordinarily – despite all of the evidence in favour of phonics – we faced opposition from various lobby groups: those opposed to testing; those professors of education who had built a career on teaching teachers to use the ‘look and say’ approach; and the teaching unions.

We pressed on nonetheless, confident in the evidence base and encouraged by the thousands of teachers who had embraced and supported this method of teaching children to read and who could see the results in their classrooms.

Today, we received the first set of international evidence that confirms that our approach is working. The international study of 9-year-olds’ reading ability in 50 countries showed that England has risen from joint 10th place in 2011 to joint 8th place in 2016, thanks to a statistically significant rise in our average score.

Perhaps most importantly of all, today’s results show reading has improved for pupils from all backgrounds, but it is the low-performing pupils who are gaining most rapidly. The tide is rising, but it is rising fastest for those who need it most.

Slowly, but surely – thanks to the government’s relentless focus on rigour – England is dealing with the ‘long tail of underachievement.’

The pupils who took part in the international survey were the first cohort to have taken the Phonics Screening Check in 2012; the cohort to have been taught to read after we changed the law requiring schools to use phonics.

The details of these findings are particularly interesting; I hope they ring in the ears of opponents of phonics whose alternative proposals would do so much to damage reading instruction in this country and around the world.

For example, the data is clear on the role that the phonics reforms played in these results:

The characteristics that were most strongly predictive of PIRLS performance included prior achievement in the Year 1 Phonics Check, followed by resources at home, both in terms of educational resources (e.g. the number of books the pupil has in their home) and socioeconomic status (as determined by historical free-school-meal eligibility).

Teaching children to decode is crucial to reading comprehension. And the detail of the relationship between pupil scores on the Phonics Screening Check and pupil scores in the PIRLS tests bring this to life:

Pupils who scored full marks in the phonics check were also the highest scoring group in PIRLS 2016, with an average overall PIRLS score of 617. In contrast, pupils who did not reach the ‘expected standard’ in the phonics check (score below 32) performed below England’s overall average, with lower phonics check scores being associated with increasingly lower average PIRLS scores.

These results are stark. They stand in defiance to those who still choose to ignore the evidence.

But the argument of those opposing the use of phonics has always relied more heavily on emotion than evidence. For years, proponents of evidence-based approaches to reading have been wrongly accused of making children ‘bark at text’, ignoring the importance of reading for meaning and damaging pupil confidence and love of reading.

Whilst the evidence from the PIRLS data demonstrates that phonics has improved reading comprehension levels, there is also data that dispels their other tawdry myths about pupil confidence:

A higher percentage of pupils in England were categorised as being ‘very confident’ readers (53%) compared to the international average (45%). Pupil confidence in reading was strongly associated with average performance in PIRLS, with the most confident readers in England scoring over 100-points more than those who reported the lowest levels of confidence.

These results are a vindication of the government’s boldness in pursuing the evidence in the face of ideological criticism. They are a tribute to the hard work and dedication of primary teachers who have quietly revolutionised the way children are taught to read in this country. And they promise even more in the future.

The 5000 nine-year-olds in England who took part in this international study in 2016, all took the Phonics Check in 2012 when just 58% passed nationally. Future international studies will be of children taught even more effectively as the proportion passing the Phonics Check has risen steadily year on year.

This year, thanks to the government’s continued drive for phonics, 154,000 more 6 year olds were on track to be fluent readers than in 2012. Last year, 147,000 more 6 year olds were on track than in 2012. In 2015, that figure was 120,000. These numbers show the trend, but every single one of them is an individual child given a better start to their education.

They show that the government is building a Britain fit for the future, where every child is afforded the best start in life.

And they are a reminder of the damage that can be caused when dogma flies in the face of the evidence.

Slowly but surely, the education sector and the teaching profession are embracing evidence and raising academic standards for all.

Thank you.

Nick Gibb – 2017 Speech at the Policy Exchange

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, at the Policy Exchange on 30 November 2017.

Over the past 7 years, the school system has seen dramatic improvements. Teachers and headteachers have been given greater control than ever before; leading free schools and academies are shining a light on what works; and a renewed focus on the importance of core knowledge has seen the first signs of a return to textbooks.

Since 2010, there has been a transformation of England’s education system. The quality of education received by England’s pupils has improved dramatically, with 1.9 million more pupils taught in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.

The proportion of pupils studying at least two science GCSEs has risen from 62% to 91% since 2010, better preparing them to compete in a global 21st century marketplace.

And the accountability system has been overhauled, turning attention away from an obsessive focus on the C/D borderline towards ensuring that all pupils make as much progress as possible. The focus pre-16 has rightly returned to ensuring that all children are taught a broad and balanced academic curriculum.

Whilst the government is determined to ensure that there is a stretching and prestigious technical route for pupils post-16, we know that a knowledge-rich academic curriculum pre-16 is the best preparation for success whatever route a pupil chooses to go down. That is why 96% of non-GCSE and IGCSE qualifications have been removed from the school performance tables since 2010.

As well as removing qualifications that do not serve the best interests of pupils, we have incentivised greater take-up of GCSEs that do prepare children for the next phase of their education. Thanks to the EBacc, we have seen dramatic increases in the proportions of pupils studying core academic GCSEs.

We know that lower participation from disadvantaged pupils in these core academic subjects can negatively affect social mobility. Yet overall, disadvantaged pupils remain almost 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.

That is why the government has announced plans to have 75% of Year 10 pupils working towards the EBacc by 2022 and 90% of Year 10 pupils working towards the EBacc by 2025.

A recent paper from the Institute of Education found that:

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.

The government has been determined to drive up standards since taking office in 2010. In order to do so, there needed to be a focus on the system-wide options available to government, such as the accountability system.

But real change in education is driven by what happens in the classroom. In particular, what is taught to children and how effectively it is taught. Incentivising subject choices that leave open a wide array of technical and academic options post-16 is an important component of this. But so is the content of each subject.

The past decade has seen the emergence of a teacher-led drive to put ‘core knowledge’ at the heart of the curriculum. Influenced by the work of the great American educationalist E. D. Hirsch – who spoke at Policy Exchange in 2015 – the concept of ‘cultural literacy’ has gained currency.

Classroom teachers concerned about the deleterious effects of the 2007 skills-based curriculum expressed their dismay at the unsubstantiated ideological drive to focus on supposedly transferable, cross-curricula competencies.

In ‘7 Myths About Education’, Daisy Christodoulou expertly dissected the commonly held belief that teaching transferable skills is desirable and possible. It is neither. As a result of her concise and devastating assault on the edu-myths that pervaded so much of education, the importance of domain knowledge is now much more widely understood.

Rob Peal documented the history of progressivism’s expansion and domination of all corners of the education system in his polemic ‘Progressively Worse’. From Plowden and the later sweeping aside of the Black Papers, to the subversive takeover of the national curriculum project and the ideological conformism demanded by so many local education authorities, the damage inflicted on children was laid bare.

This teacher-led movement continues today. A vocal minority has formed an online community, fighting back against those who seek to return to the past. Winning converts as they go, these teachers have set the stage for important changes in classrooms all over the country. They have shifted the Overton window, as can be seen from the changing narrative of those whose influence they continue to push back.

The review of the national curriculum – led by Tim Oates – took place in this wider context. It overhauled a curriculum that was not fit for purpose, raising the bar for what was expected and putting knowledge back at the heart of schooling.

The new national curriculum insists that children should know their times tables by the end of Year 4. This is being supported by the introduction of the multiplications tables check, announced in the primary assessment consultation response earlier this year.

Work is underway to ensure that the Key Stage 2 reading assessment draws from the wider curriculum to help ensure that all children are being taught a broad and balanced, knowledge-rich curriculum that builds their wider vocabulary and best-prepares them for the rigours of secondary school.

From the high bar set by the national curriculum, innovative academy chains and leading free schools have built and are iterating demanding curricula. Take the Harris Federation, which recorded some outstanding results this year; 3 of their schools registering progress 8 scores above 1.

Time and again, when the strongest multi-academy trusts take over a failing school they turn it around. A stretching knowledge-rich curriculum and high behavioural expectations for all does work.

And there are a growing number of academy trusts and free schools demonstrating that academic excellence need not be reserved to London. This year, Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford registered a progress 8 score of 1.22, putting it in the top 10 for progress achieved, demonstrating that geography need be no barrier to academic achievement.

Leading academies and free schools show what it is possible to achieve. They provide an evidence base for other schools to learn from. Year on year, as new secondary free schools reach their fifth year and their first set of GCSE results are published, it is becoming ever clearer what works in education.

Leading free schools and academies ensure a meticulous focus on developing coherent, well-functioning systems that save time and money, so that teachers can focus on what is important. In turn, greater focus is given to the detail of what is done in lessons.

Too often, those seeking to inform national education policy and those commenting on it miss the lessons that can be learnt from what the leading schools are doing. There is a pre-disposition to discuss the education system at the level of school-accountability or school structures. In turn, too little focus is given to what happens in the classroom, where so much attention is paid by these leading multi-academy trusts.

The reading revolution that has occurred in this country over the past 7 years has dramatically improved the education of hundreds of thousands of children. This year, there are 154,000 more children on track to be fluent readers than in 2012 thanks to the introduction of phonics.

The success of this policy is a victory for evidence over dogma. And it is a policy that other countries are seeking to replicate; as a result of the success enjoyed in England, Australia is looking at adopting the same evidence-based approach to early reading instruction.

However, appreciating the true scale of what has been achieved thanks to the phonics reforms requires an understanding of what difference has been made in the classroom.

We supported teachers to adopt evidence-based approaches to teaching early literacy by providing matched-funding for phonics resources and through the dissemination of best practice across the country. Consequently, the views of teachers about reading instruction slowly began to change.

By 2013, about two-thirds of primary teachers surveyed by the government agreed that using systematic synthetic phonics was important. Our reforms have been successful only because the intervention we are promoting – systematic synthetic phonics – works, and has decades of international evidence behind it.

Without the drive to promote the evidence in favour of phonics and change perceptions and practice in the classroom, the policy would not have been such a dramatic success.

The question that should be at the forefront of a policymaker’s mind is: how is this going to change what happens in the classroom? This question is certainly at the centre of my thinking, as can be seen from the adoption of two important policies from top performing jurisdictions in the Far East:

The introduction of Teaching for Mastery, adopting and adapting Shanghai’s approach; and

The re-introduction of textbooks into classrooms, drawing on the success of Singapore.

Thanks to the work of the teacher-led maths hubs, we now have 281 Mastery Specialists, working in 789 schools. By 2023, we expect 11,000 primary and secondary schools to be involved in the Teaching for Mastery programme. This teacher-led programme takes important aspects from the pedagogy that characterises the successful East Asian approach to maths teaching and translates it to English classrooms.

The national curriculum has raised expectations for primary schools and the evidence-based Teaching for Mastery approaches provide teachers with the tools they need to meet these expectations, exemplifying the important relationship between system-level and classroom-level in delivering successful policies that change what is happening in the classroom.

A key lesson that we have taken from the success of the Far East is the importance of textbooks. We know – thanks to the work of Tim Oates – that top performing jurisdictions have high-quality textbooks that work coherently with the curriculum.

In Why Textbooks Count, he makes clear the stark differences in our approach to textbooks and those of the highest performing jurisdictions. In England, only 10% of pupils’ teachers use maths textbooks as the basis for their teaching compared to 70% in Singapore.

Textbooks provide the detailed knowledge implicit in the national curriculum programmes of study, which are succinct and broad descriptions of the content that needs to be taught. For example, the Key Stage 2 Science Curriculum requires 9-year-old pupils to be taught that “unsupported objects fall towards the Earth because of the force of gravity”. This could be taught superficially or in a way that conveys a genuine understanding of the science involved. Herein lies the power of textbooks.

But despite their importance, textbooks have been on the decline for a long time in England’s classroom. Ideological hostility to the use of textbooks, particularly in primary schools, developed in the 1970s. Their replacement with work sheets and hundreds of thousands of bespoke written lesson plans has added to teacher workload, detracted from coherence and negatively affected standards. But this long term movement away from the use of textbooks might be about to go into reverse.

Thankfully, the last few years has seen a number of high quality textbooks come to the market to support the new national curriculum. Responding to the demands of the new national curriculum and demands from primary schools for Teaching for Mastery materials, publishers are again writing knowledge-rich textbooks.

The latent demand for textbooks has grown over the past few years. The online curriculum debates centred on the role of knowledge organisers – led by the likes of Jon Brunskill and Joe Kirby – is evidence of interest in how knowledge can and should be sequenced and presented to pupils.

And increasingly, teachers like Robert Orme and Robert Peal have taken to writing their own textbooks. Drawing on the international evidence, these materials – honed in their own classrooms – are returning the textbook to the heart of schooling.

History and Religious Education have such a wealth of stories, characters, events and places that should be common currency for all. Textbooks are crucial for translating the framework of knowledge outlined by the national curriculum and bringing it to life.

The best textbooks do not recommend activities, prescribe schemes of work, take up space with enormous images, or offer guidance on writing style or exam technique. Those are all things teachers can do, and often enjoy resourcing.

Instead, they provide something teachers will always struggle to create on their own – high quality, considered, extended prose pitched ambitiously, but not unrealistically, which can form the basis for lessons and schemes of work.

The textbooks being launched tonight do just that. They are a bridge from the national curriculum that enables teachers to build the cultural literacy of their pupils and introduce them to the ‘best that has been thought and said’.

The new national curriculum was crucial for raising the bar and returning knowledge to the heart of schooling, but the teacher-led move back towards textbooks will be integral to ensuring that the national curriculum is as effective as we hoped.

They are yet another example of the focus that is needed on what is happening in the classroom. The government recognises the importance of textbooks, and will continue to support the development of high-quality, knowledge-rich resources. Already, work has begun on the curriculum fund announced in the manifesto, which will encourage Britain’s leading cultural institutions to develop knowledge-rich materials for our schools.

By focusing on how to support teachers to further improve what is happening in the classroom as well as the macro issues of the school system – such as the accountability system – the government is determined to build on the success of the past 7 years and ensure Britain is fit for the future.

Thank you.

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

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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.”