Nick Gibb – 2019 Statement on Relationship Education in Schools

Below is the text of the statement made by Nick Gibb, the Minister for School Standards, in the House of Commons on 16 July 2019.

This spring, Parliament passed the relationships, sex and health education regulations with overwhelming support. We know that many parents agree that these subjects should be taught by schools. We also know that for some parents, this raises concerns. Parents have a right to understand what we are requiring schools to teach and how their child’s school is intending to go about it. That is why we will be requiring schools to consult parents on their relationship education or RSE policy. Open and constructive dialogue can only work, however, if the facts of the situation are known to all.

We are aware that misinformation is circulating about what schools currently teach about relationships and what they will teach when the new subjects are introduced. The Department for Education has undertaken a number of activities in response. In April this year, we published frequently asked questions designed to bust myths on the subjects. They have been translated into three languages. In June, we published the final version of the relationships, sex and health education guidance, as well as guides for parents on the subjects. Alongside that, we produced infographics that can be easily shared on social media—including WhatsApp, where we know much of the misinformation is shared—setting out the facts. We also sent an email to almost 40,000 teachers, providing them with factual information and links to various documents.

The Department has also been working on the ground with Birmingham City Council, Parkfield School, parents and other interested parties to convey the facts of the policy and dispel myths, to support a resolution to the protests in that school and nearby Anderton Park School. Nationally, we have worked with the National Association of Head Teachers to understand where there might be parent concerns in other parts of the country and to offer support. We will continue those efforts to support the introduction of the new subjects, which we strongly believe are hugely important for children growing up in modern Britain.

Nick Gibb – 2019 Speech on Schools in Winchester

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister for School Standards, in the House of Commons on 3 July 2019.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) on securing this debate and on his excellent and well-informed speech. He is particularly passionate about supporting schools in his constituency. We have many conversations around the building—in the Library and elsewhere—about his support for his local schools and his concerns about particular schools, and I do enjoy those conversations.

My hon. Friend shares the Government’s ambition that every state school should be a good school that teaches a rigorous and balanced curriculum and offers pupils world-class qualifications. Since 2010, the Government have focused on driving up academic ​standards, and I note that all but one of the state schools in the Winchester constituency are graded good or outstanding. I wish Fey Wood, the headteacher of Oliver’s Battery Primary School, a happy retirement after a long and successful career in teaching.

It is only by continuing to have the highest standards across the board that we can ensure that every school ensures that all children and young people are able to fulfil their potential. High standards, which are exemplified by many Winchester schools, have been a key focus of our radical reforms since 2010, but we recognise that there is still work to be done and remain committed to ensuring a sustained improvement in standards.

As part of our aspiration that all children should experience a world-class education, we reformed the national curriculum, restoring knowledge to its heart and raising expectations of what children should be taught. This is being delivered by all maintained schools and sets an ambitious benchmark for academies that we expect them at least to match. Too many pupils, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, were being entered into low-quality qualifications, so we also reformed GCSEs to put them on a par with qualifications in the best-performing jurisdictions in the world. The result is a suite of new GCSEs that rigorously assess the knowledge and skills acquired by pupils during key stage 4, and are in line with the expected standards in countries with high-performing education systems.

I note that for Winchester the average attainment 8 measure, which shows the average score of a pupil’s eight best GCSE grades, is well above the national average. Clearly, secondary schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency have adapted well to the new, more demanding GSCEs.

The Government also introduced the English baccalaureate school performance measure, which consists of English, maths, at least two sciences, history or geography, and a language. Those subjects form part of the compulsory curriculum in many of the highest-performing countries internationally, at least up to age 15 or 16. The percentage of pupils in state-funded schools who take the EBacc rose from 22% in 2010 to 38% in 2018, but we want that to rise to 75% by 2022 and to 90% by 2025. I recognise the challenge that presents, but it is right that we should aim to provide the best possible education and therefore more opportunity for young people.

Again, Winchester has risen to the challenge: in 2018, some 55.3% of pupils in the constituency’s state secondary schools entered the EBacc. My hon. Friend will be pleased that Winchester is leading the way.

The Westgate School in Winchester is doing particularly well, with 66% of pupils entering EBacc—well above national and local authority averages. Having young people learning languages is vital if Britain is to be an outward-looking global nation, so it is excellent that 74% of Westgate’s year 11 pupils studied a language GCSE in 2018.

Literacy is hugely important, Mr Deputy Speaker—sorry, Mr Speaker. You have been there long enough; I should know by now that you are not a Deputy Speaker. Children who are reading well by age five are six 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. Ensuring that all pupils in England’s schools ​are taught to read effectively has been central to our reforms, and we are now seeing the fruits of that work. By the end of year 1, most children should be able to decode simple words using phonics, and once they can do this, they can focus on their wider reading skills and develop a love of reading.

In England, phonics performance has improved significantly since we introduced the phonics screening check in 2012. At that time, just 58% of 6-year-olds correctly read at least 32 out of the 40 words in the check. In 2018, that figure was 82%. In the district of Winchester, 84% of pupils—I think my hon. Friend mentioned that figure—passed the year 1 check. While that is just above the average, I am keen that we are ambitious and that the percentage of pupils meeting this standard continues to rise.

We can see that this focus on phonics is having an impact. In 2016, England achieved its highest ever score in the reading ability of nine and 10-year-olds, moving from joint 10th to joint eighth in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study—PIRLS—ranking. That follows our greater focus on reading in the primary curriculum, and the particular focus on phonics. At key stage 2, Winchester again does well, with 74% of pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in 2018, compared with 64% nationally and 68% in Hampshire—a figure that my hon. Friend also cited.

Thornden School is a highly successful academy in my hon. Friend’s constituency—an example of the freedom we have given frontline professionals through the academies and free schools programme. Since 2010, the number of academies has grown from 200 to over 8,500, including free schools. Four out of ten state-funded primary and secondary schools are now part of an academy trust. Converting to being an academy is a positive choice made by hundreds of schools every year to give great teachers and heads the freedom to focus on what is best for pupils. It allows high-performing schools to consolidate success and spread that excellence to other schools. The figures speak for themselves: around one in 10 sponsored academy predecessor schools were good or outstanding before they converted, compared with almost seven in 10 after they became an academy, where an inspection has taken place.

I note that my hon. Friend is a trustee of the University of Winchester Academy Trust—an innovative partnership supported by the university that has been successful in two free school bids. He will know at first hand the vital role that governors, trustees and clerks play in supporting our education system, and especially the additional reach and capacity that a multi-academy trust can bring to improving the education of even more children.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of school funding. Core funding for schools and high needs has risen from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion in this financial year. This year, all schools are attracting an increase of at least 1% per pupil, compared with their 2017-18 baselines. Those schools that have been historically underfunded will attract up to 6% more per pupil, compared with 2017-18—a further 3% per pupil on top of the 3% they gained last year—as we continue to address historic injustices. In Winchester, the per pupil percentage increase in this financial year is 6.5%, compared with 2017-18.​
We are well aware, of course, that local authorities and schools are facing challenges in managing their budgets in the context of increasing costs and rising levels of demand. We will be making the strongest possible case for education at the spending review and pushing for maximum levels of visibility for the education sector. I hope my hon. Friend will be reassured by that. The Secretary of State has made it clear that, as we approach the spending review, he will back headteachers to have the resources they need to deliver a world-class education

My hon. Friend asks how we are helping schools to meet cost pressures. We have announced a strategy to help schools reduce their costs and make the most from every pound. This strategy includes recommended deals covering energy, water, IT and photocopying. Our Teaching Vacancies site, which is now available across the country, is a free job listing website that will drive down schools’ recruitment costs. We have also launched a new price comparison site called School Switch to help schools lower their energy price by comparing tariffs.

My hon. Friend raised the important issue of high-needs funding. We recognise that local authorities, including Hampshire, are facing high-needs cost pressures. That is why we allocated an additional £250 million of funding towards high needs over this year and next year, on top of the increases we had already promised. Hampshire will receive £6 million of this additional funding.

Our response to these pressures cannot simply be additional funding. That is why in December the Secretary of State wrote to local authority chief executives and directors of children’s services to set out our plans. Those plans include reviewing current special educational needs content in initial teacher training provision, and ensuring a sufficient supply of educational psychologists, trained and working in the system. We will continue to engage with Hampshire County Council and other local authorities, along with schools, colleges, parents and health professionals, to ensure that children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities get the support they need and deserve.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of capital funding. Regrading capital funding for improvements, for financial year 2019-20 we have allocated £22.7 million to maintained and voluntary-aided schools under Hampshire County Council. This includes a school condition allocation of £18.98 million for Hampshire to invest in maintaining and improving its schools, as well as a total of £3.7 million in devolved formula capital for individual schools to spend on their own priorities. In 2018-19, maintained and voluntary-aided schools in Hampshire also benefited from an extra allocation of £6.5 million from the additional £400 million announced at last year’s Budget.

Six schools in Hampshire are included in the Priority School Building programme, which is rebuilding or refurbishing buildings in the worst condition at over 500 schools. Hampshire has been allocated £231.2 million to provide new school places between 2011 and 2021, which they can invest in places at any type of school, including academies. The latest available data shows that there are 10,700 more school places in Hampshire today than in 2010.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue of teachers’ pensions. The teachers’ pensions scheme is an important one for this country. It is one of only eight that are guaranteed by the Government, because we believe that ​it is important that we continue to offer excellent benefits in order to attract and retain talented teachers. The employers’ contribution rate to the teachers’ pension scheme will increase from 16.4% to 23.6% in September 2019, as my hon. Friend pointed out. As confirmed in April, we will be providing funding for this increase in 2019-20 for all state-funded schools, further education and sixth-form colleges, and adult community learning providers. This includes local authority centrally-employed teachers, teachers at music education hubs and funding to local authorities for pupils with EHCPs who are educated in independent settings.

My hon. Friend mentioned the supplementary fund. We have published how we are distributing the pensions funding to schools, but in order to match the funding as closely as we can to the actual cost that individual schools will face, we are allocating the funding using a per-pupil formula. That means we need a supplementary fund, to ensure that no school is placed in financial difficulty by the pension changes. It will mean that no school faces a shortfall of more than 0.05% of their ​overall budget. We are currently working with stakeholders on the specifics of the fund, with a focus on ensuring that the processes involved are as efficient and streamlined as possible for schools. We will announce details of the supplementary fund in October, including how schools can apply, alongside publishing school-level grant allocations.

I want to congratulate my hon. Friend on the success of many schools in his constituency at improving and maintaining the high standards that our children deserve. I have set out the range of reforms that the Government have introduced since 2010 with the sole focus of raising standards. I thank him for raising his concerns about funding, and I hope I have reassured him that we will be making the strongest possible case at the spending review and pushing for maximum levels of visibility for the education sector.

Nick Gibb – 2019 Statement on School Condition Funding

Below is the text of the statement made by Nick Gibb, the Minister for School Standards, in the House of Commons on 4 April 2019.

Today, I am announcing the allocation of over £1.4 billion of capital funding in the financial year 2019-20 to maintain and improve the condition of the school estate.

This funding is provided to ensure schools have well maintained facilities to provide students with safe environments that support a high-quality education. It is part of £23 billion committed over 2016-21 to deliver new school places, rebuild or refurbish buildings in the worst condition and deliver thousands of condition projects across the school estate.

For the financial year 2019-20, the £1.4 billion of capital funding includes:

Almost £800 million for local authorities, voluntary aided partnerships, larger multi-academy trusts and academy sponsors, to invest in maintaining and improving the condition of their schools.

Over £400 million available through the condition improvement fund for essential maintenance projects at small and stand-alone academy trusts and sixth-form colleges.

Over £200 million of devolved formula capital allocated directly for schools to spend on small capital projects to meet their own priorities.

Details of successful applications to the condition improvement fund have also been published today, covering 1,413 projects at 1,210 schools and sixth-form colleges.​
Details of today’s announcement will be published on the Department for Education section on the website. Announcement notifications are also being sent electronically to responsible bodies’ chief executive officers.

Nick Gibb – 2018 Statement on Teachers’ Pay Grant

Below is the text of the statement made by Nick Gibb, the Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 24 October 2018.

Today I am confirming the allocations for the teachers’ pay grant for 2018-19.

The teachers’ pay grant was announced on 24 July by the Secretary of State for Education. This will be worth £508 million in total and will fully fund the 2018-19 ​academic year pay award to the end of the spending review period, over and above the 1% rise schools would have expected and been planning for.

On 14 September the Department for Education published the rates and high-level methodology for the teachers’ pay grant.

The grant will be paid to all state-funded schools and academies, including maintained nursery schools. This will be on the basis of pupil numbers in mainstream schools, and place numbers in special schools and other specialist provision. All schools will be funded for at least 100 pupils or 40 places.

Funding for mainstream schools will be allocated on the basis of pupil numbers and each school will have a specific allocation which cannot be modified by the local authority.

Local authorities will receive an allocation in respect of specialist provision in their area. This will be based on the number of places in each school, with all schools being funded for at least 40 places. The local authority will have the flexibility to allocate funding to the schools in their area, taking into account the particular circumstance of the schools and following consultation with them.

Further details and guidance will be published on

Nick Gibb – 2018 Speech at Launch of Midland Knowledge Hub

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, on 10 May 2018.

It is a pleasure to be at the launch of the Midland Knowledge Hub. Today marks another milestone in the movement to ensure that all children benefit from a knowledge-rich curriculum.

This movement is driven by a desire to ensure all children – wherever they live and whatever their background – receive their entitlement: an education in the best that has been thought and said. In the words of E. D. Hirsch:

We will be able to achieve a just and prosperous society only when our schools ensure that everyone commands enough shared background knowledge to be able to communicate effectively with everyone else.

This is why the importance of assumed knowledge is vital.

Writing for Parents and Teachers for Excellence and ASCL’s ‘The Question of Knowledge’, Leora Cruddas summed up the roots of this movement, and what we hope to achieve:

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.

Parents and Teachers for Excellence, as we’ve heard, is at the forefront of this movement. It started – in the words of The West Wing’s President Bartlett – by a small group of thoughtful and committed teachers and headteachers, and this movement is changing education in England.

Teachers from all across the country have been inspired to put knowledge at the heart of their curriculum, which explains the popularity of the Midland Knowledge Hub’s ‘What does a knowledge-rich school look like’ event, taking place this weekend. There are 180 people coming to that inaugural conference.

Writing in anticipation of the event, Chris Martin, headteacher of St Thomas Aquinas, described how his thinking has changed in recent times. Having grown frustrated with the endless additional sessions for Year 11 pupils before and after school, which added, of course, significantly to teacher workload, he realised that there must be a better approach. Writing in a recent blog, he described how he was influenced by what other schools have achieved. And I quote from his blog:

After visiting Michaela School, St Martin’s, Mossbourne Academy, Dixons Trinity Academy and sending colleagues to Bedford Free School and others, and attending numerous ResearchED Conferences, I soon began to realise that there was an alternative approach out there.

He is now working to transform the curriculum at his inner-city Birmingham comprehensive. In conclusion to his blog, Chris Martin reflects that he is increasingly convinced that these changes will transform the life chances of his pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils. To quote again:

Once you go down the journey of a knowledge-rich school, I have found that you become more and more convinced it will transform the lives of disadvantaged students. Quite simply, they will get better GCSE grades as a result. More importantly, they will stand on the shoulders of giants they wouldn’t have known existed.

So ensuring that every child – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – is endowed with the cultural capital they need for success is at the heart of the movement. A desire for social justice and equality of opportunity is why we want a knowledge-rich curriculum for all pupils. All pupils deserve a broad and balanced curriculum that introduces them to the wonders of physics, the majesty of music and the great works of literature.

And Clare Sealy, a primary headteacher working in Bethnal Green, made clear the link between the curriculum and children’s cultural entitlement in a blog late last year, writing, and I quote:

The curriculum is the means by which we ensure that all our children get their fair share of the rich cultural inheritance our world affords.

And in schools across England, a desire to ensure that all pupils benefit from a knowledge-rich curriculum is driving headteachers to consider how school culture best allows pupils to thrive. Whether in rural Leicestershire or inner-city Birmingham, headteachers must set and help maintain a school culture in which teachers can teach and pupils can learn. And in the words of Clive Wright:

We are not facilitators at Saint Martin’s, we teach, we are experts whose job it is to convey our expertise to pupils and enable pupils to remember.

So providing children with an introduction to the canon requires teachers to deliver their expert subject knowledge, without fear that their careful sequencing of the material will be interrupted by low-level disruption.

Creating and a culture where all pupils can thrive allows teachers to focus on developing their teaching, reading research and refining their curriculum. Reflecting on what had already begun to change in his school, Chris Martin wrote the following:

Since January, with the improvement in behaviour, our conversations with staff have turned back to what is being taught. If we are serious about raising achievement of our disadvantaged students, we are serious about them studying challenging texts right from their first day in Year 7. We have talked about pedagogy, but in a way I have never talked about before in my teaching career. We are talking about direct instruction and modelling and giving staff permission to teach their subject rather than entertain. We discuss distributed practice and interleaving key content to ensure our kids can recall key knowledge months after they are first taught it. Although very early days, our staff feel affirmed because they have permission to be experts.

A school culture that minimises disruption and reduces unnecessary teacher workload frees teachers to develop and hone their craft. The question is no longer ‘How am I going to teach Year 9 today?’ Instead, by providing teachers with a coherent curriculum programme, teachers can focus on more important questions:

How should I build on prior knowledge?

What is the best way to sequence the new material?

How will I ensure pupils retain what is taught?’

The search for expertise in teaching lies at the heart of these questions, amongst others. As Clare Sealy puts it when considering just one of these questions:

If children don’t remember what we have taught them, then even the richest curriculum is pointless. Knowledge can’t empower if it is forgotten. So as well as thinking about what is the richest, best material to put into our curriculum, we also have to structure our curriculum in a way that make remembering almost inevitable.

So consideration of how pupils learn is at the heart of teacher expertise. When writing ‘What Is Expert Teaching’ for the Institute for Teaching, Peps McCrea looked at what expert teachers know. And amongst the defining characteristics of expert teachers is a knowledge of how children learn and how to use what we know from cognitive and behavioural science.

Describing his own early experience of the classroom, Nick Rose, who is the Curriculum Director at the Institute for Teaching, reflected on the importance of teachers having an understanding of how memory works, and he wrote:

I gained great satisfaction from pupils achieving ‘lightbulb’ moments in lessons where they appear to ‘get’ a new idea, but this was often countered by bitter disappointment when I came to assess learning at a later date and often discovered that such breakthroughs were ephemeral.

Expert teachers draw on their extensive knowledge – from knowledge of their pupils, to an understanding of cognitive science and their subject and curriculum knowledge – to inform the innumerable decisions they make each and every day in the classroom. As with other top professionals, this knowledge is critical to their professional identity. Expertise in these areas distinguishes teachers at the top of their profession.

Which is why it is crucial that schools set the culture, provide a well-resourced, high-quality curriculum and support teachers to develop their expertise. By providing this framework of support to teachers, schools and – most importantly – pupils will benefit.

Andrew Percival – head of curriculum in a primary school in the North West – described how his school is embracing a knowledge-rich curriculum in a widely shared blog. Like Chris Martin, he is seeing several benefits from taking a knowledge-rich approach to designing curriculum. In his conclusion he lists some of them:

We will know exactly what is taught across school in every subject in every year group. There will be clarity in definitions and terminology to reduce variation from year group to year group.

We will have a much clearer sense of the progression in each subject from Reception to Year 6.

We will know exactly which resources are needed throughout the year so can ensure these are purchased well in advance.

We can ensure that threads are woven carefully through the curriculum e.g. the concepts of ‘parliament’ and ‘civilisation’ will exist in multiple History units in different year groups to ensure they are remembered for the long term.

We can ensure greater consistency in the curriculum across school from one year to the next.

We can be more confident that our children make good progress in foundation subjects developing robust knowledge and vocabulary.

Across the country, teachers are adopting a knowledge-rich approach to curriculum. Driven by social justice and a desire to ensure that all children are taught the best that has been thought and said, a grassroots movement of teacher innovation has resulted.

So thank you to everyone that has been part of this movement. The movement is growing, and it’s growing to the benefit of teachers, pupils and our country.

Thank you so much for what you are doing.

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.