David Miliband – 2004 Speech on the Future of Teaching


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Schools Minister, David Miliband, in Cambridge on 3rd November 2004.

It is a pleasure to be here today.  Your focus on the future of teaching is appropriately timed.  We have more teachers than for a generation; they are better supported by 100 000 more support staff than seven years ago; and Ofsted say that standards of teaching have never been higher.

But we also know that while test and exam results suggest a rising tide of educational achievement, including in our toughest areas where achievement is rising faster than the national average, there remains significant untapped potential in our younger generations.  Charles Clarke has said he believes in recognising achievement by quality not quota, and on that basis we cannot rest:

– 25% of 11 year olds do not read, write and do Maths well;

– 45% of 16 year olds fail to get five GCSEs at grade A-C;

– 25% of 16-18 year olds are neither in full time education nor in training.

So we have challenges ahead, and their resolution depends on good teaching.  That is why this conference is important.

The American educationalist Lawrence Downey has captured the nature of the challenge very well.  He says: “A school teaches in three ways; by what it teaches, by how it teaches, and by the kind of place it is.”

Today I want to talk about “How we teach”.  Admittedly dangerous territory for a politician, but one that is vital.  My contention is that your title – “the future directions of teaching” – buries rather than unearths the key issue.  We cannot talk about the future of teaching unless we think about the nature of learning.  They are two sides of the same coin.  And thinking about the nature of learning requires us to do more than shape teaching around the needs of the learner; that is important as we debate new ideas on multiple intelligence; but thinking deeply about the nature of learning requires us to mobilise the energy, ideas and motivation of the learner to exploit the power of teaching.

In all the debates about school improvement, in all the discussions of productivity in the education system, this key factor of productivity is too often sidelined. The engagement of the pupil – the heart of active learning – is not an alternative to good teaching. It doesn’t mean the displacement of the teacher. It does make teaching a different process to one based solely on the transmission of knowledge from the mind of the teacher to that of the learner.

My argument is simple:

– Personalised Learning is the big idea in education today, and has at its core the idea of the active learner;

– The goal is for all pupils to have a real sense of shared ownership of their school experience; for that, teachers and learners need to work together in new ways;

– And to deliver such an entitlement on a universal basis we need to extend principles of flexibility and empowerment in our education system.

Personalised Learning 

Personalised Learning is for me the way in which a school tailors education to ensure that every pupil achieves the highest standards possible. It is educational provision shaped around the needs, interests and aptitudes of every pupil. It is not new for our best schools; but it is a new frontier for many.

There are five key elements to Personalised Learning. Each one has at its core the contribution of the active learner.

First, assessment for learning uses data and dialogue to diagnose every student’s needs, interests and aptitudes. Pupils have shared ownership of this process because they participate actively in the dialogue. They have a voice and their voice is heard.

Ofsted tells us that just four out of ten secondary schools use assessment for learning well. Staff at Seven Kings School in Redbridge vouch for the power of assessment for learning. They use assessment for learning to provide structured feedback to pupils, to set individual learning targets, and to help plan lessons according to individual needs. This is personalisation in schools and the improved results are one of the rewards. In 1997, only around half the students achieved 5 GCSEs A* – C. In 2004, this number had risen to almost 85%.

The dialogue helps to highlight the strengths that would profit from further stretch, to identify the weaknesses that would benefit from further support and to determine the most appropriate learning pathways.

St Bonaventure’s is an 11-18 boys’ comprehensive with a mixed sixth form. It uses assessment for learning strategies to tackle underachievement head on. By carefully monitoring pupil progress each term and regularly reporting to parents, potential under-achievement can be picked up at an early stage. Ofsted has commended its achievements with Afro-Caribbean pupils and the school is now sharing its good practice throughout the education community.

Embed these practices in all schools and we will achieve a step-change in achievement. That is why the Pupil Achievement Tracker is at the heart of our drive to ensure critical self-review of performance in every school.

Second, personalised learning demands effective teaching and learning strategies that develop the competence and confidence of every learner. High quality teaching delivers these strategies.

It does so because it immediately engages the pupil and gives them a sense of shared ownership in the learning process by recognising and building on their individual needs, interests and aptitudes.

From this sound base, the teacher moulds their repertoire of teaching skills to meet the diverse needs of individual pupils. As a result, they continue to actively engage the pupils, to stretch and support them as appropriate, and to accommodate different paces of learning.

In such a learning environment, pupils acquire the skills to fulfil their own potential. Sound pedagogy has increased their knowledge, but it has also given them the capability and the belief to take more responsibility for and control of taking forward their own learning.

Cramlington Community High school, a 13-18 mixed comprehensive in Northumberland, is an example of what is possible. First years take L2L, “Learning to learn” as a core course. It has a specific slot on the timetable because it’s felt that both pupils and the school gain from the course. It even has its own suite of 3 rooms with interactive white boards, 4 laptops on each table and a large flat screen PC to encourage collaborative work, and audio and video facilities. The course teachers from a wide range of curriculum areas are chosen because of their excellent understanding of a variety of teaching methodologies. Their teaching seeks to develop the 5Rs (resilience, resourcefulness, responsibility, reasoning and reflectivity). Questionnaires and journal entries create a constant dialogue to assess changes in motivation and perceptions of learning, which can then inform the learning environment. The aim is to give pupils the competence and confidence that they can use across the curriculum, throughout their school years and beyond.

With the proportion of pupils achieving 5 or more grades A*-C (GCSE/GNVQ) up from 63% in 2001 to 73% last year, this is a good school striving to be even better.

Third, curriculum entitlement and choice is needed to engage students, with clear pathways through the system.

In primary schools, it means students gaining high standards in the basics allied to opportunities for enrichment and creativity. In the early secondary years, it means students actively engaged by exciting curricula, problem solving, and class participation. And then at 14-19, it means significant curriculum choice for the learner.

This is where the vision of the Tomlinson report on 14-19 education is powerful. It sees the long-term goals for all students of stretch, incentives to learn, core skills and specialist vocational and academic options. It is a future already being charted by diverse groups of schools, colleges and employers across the country.

An exciting innovation in curriculum development is happening at Preston Manor School in Brent, a school that achieves very high standards in pupil performance with an ethnically diverse pupil profile.

The school looks to develop pupil self esteem by encouraging pupil participation and actively promoting pupil voice. Starting in October 2003, a team of students from Preston Manor and 3 other schools in Brent have been working with Blaze Radio and the National Youth Theatre to produce “The Manor”, a radio soap opera and website designed as a learning resource for the PSHE and Citizenship curriculum.

Their teachers talk of the range of personal and interpersonal skills that have been developed by raising and dealing with issues through drama. The website, the performance at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and the upcoming roadshow will mean that this effective practice can then be shared with an even wider audience.

We will be coming forward in the New Year with a detailed and positive reaction to the Tomlinson Report.

Fourth, personalised learning demands a radical approach to school organisation. It means the starting point for class organisation is always student progress, with opportunities for in-depth, intensive teaching and learning, combined with flexible deployment of support staff. Workforce reform is absolutely crucial. The real professionalism of teachers can best be developed when they have a range of adults working at their direction to meet diverse student need.  It means a school ethos focussed on student needs, with the whole school team taking time to find out the needs and interests of students; with students listened to and their voice used to drive whole school improvement; and with the leadership team providing a clear focus for the progress and achievement of every child.

A radical approach to school organisation also recognises that other well-established strategies have a role to play.

Students of all ages have long used peer tutoring as an assessment revision strategy for example – working together and testing each other. It is a strategy that we should exploit further, because recent examples from peer-tutoring practice in schools indicate that when it is applied across the pupils’ school experience, there are marked gains in pupils’ achievement across a number of measures. Pupils use one another’s knowledge and skills so that they can both do better. But the role of the teacher is still crucial. They ensure that children learn how to work most effectively in this way, organize pupils into the most appropriate groups, and set the tasks which offer the right level of challenge.

In Cornwall LEA for example, they have made the “thinking together” teaching strategy a key part of their in-service training in their drive to implement the primary strategy “Excellence and Enjoyment”. Their evidence from ten years of data is that pupils in schools that have adopted the strategy have achieved significantly higher SATs scores in Maths and Science than pupils in control schools who have not used the strategy.

At Eggbuckland Community College, pupils are taught the skills which make peer tutoring more than just a conversation between two pupils. Ofsted has described the strategy as one where “pupils help one another with topics that they’ve struggled to master and readily share the fruits of their research or other ideas.”

Fifth, personalised learning means the community, local institutions and social services supporting schools to drive forward progress in the classroom. Every school needs a strong sense of itself, but must also look beyond the school to make the most of these potential partnerships. The reason for doing so is because every pupil deserves the best opportunities, wherever they may be found. By focussing on the best deal for their pupils, schools show pupils that they do have shared ownership, because schools show that their pupils’ interests matter. There is already real innovation.

For example, Shireland Language College in Sandwell is building stronger partnership with parents. It’s working with its six primary school partners to use ICT to provide parents with more and better information about their children’s progress. Every family has been given a computer on loan, and parents have been trained to view their children’s homework online. The next stage of the project will enable parents to access their children’s achievement and attendance data, so that they can work with schools to identify and respond to each child’s individual learning needs.

Millfield Community School in Hackney has integrated services and developed a wide range of provision. Its offer to students includes a breakfast club that opens at 7am, play centre provision until 6pm, and a Saturday school that teaches an accelerated learning curriculum for Key Stage 2 pupils. The school is also proactive in educating parents on how best to support their children, providing guidance on the education system and the curriculum, as well as family learning courses in literacy, numeracy and ICT.

The challenge of delivery

Our goal must be a strong and confident learner at the heart of the teaching process. This agenda will promote excellence and equity. Our challenge is to deliver this in every classroom in the country. It can’t be achieved by central control. The role of Government must be to create the most conducive conditions for creative and informed professional decision-making. I see three aspects as critical.

First, there is no substitute for schools leading reform. Professional collaboration and networking help to generate excellence. By supporting collaboration and networking, we can enable our best schools to become locomotives of progress in others; with our best teachers helping the rest; and our best departments sharing their best practice. The hard edge of this collaboration is improvement, with schools developing the capacity to deliver personalised learning. That is the purpose of:

– the 4000 strong network of Advanced Skill Teachers, with over 300 focussing specifically on ICT, who spend the equivalent of one day a week helping other teachers outside their own school improve their offer.

– the Leading Edge Programme, in which 100 schools work with 600 partners to tackle some of our toughest learning challenges – including efforts to increase achievement amongst pupils from disadvantaged and / or minority ethnic backgrounds.

– the Excellence in Cities programme, that develops school partnerships and shared responsibility for, amongst other things, opportunities for gifted and talented students, Learning Mentors, and City Learning Centres that give pupils better access to the latest education technology.

– and the online communities of professionals, who are debating reform, discussing what works in their own classrooms, and helping to chart the future of education.

Second, there is no substitute for sponsored innovation. That is the evidence of the Academies programme. Academies are demonstrating that radical innovation can transform the structure and culture of schools beset by endemic underperformance. They do things differently to raise attainment: like a five term year, an extended day, longer learning sessions, better use of ICT, a bigger role for governors.

– Innovative teaching of ICT is happening at the City of London Academy. Rather than the teacher leading pupils through a menu of software, learning takes place through guided discovery.  The laptops have a variety of applications and the students are encouraged to experiment and find for themselves the potential of the software. The whole curriculum builds on this by allowing students to use their ICT skills in other settings and to solve a range of problems.

– Innovation in school organisation is happening at the Walsall Academy. The school day is organised into two sessions per day, with students spending the whole morning or afternoon in one curriculum area. The novel structure to the day is working well, particularly with year 7 students, who sometimes struggle with the transition to secondary school.

– Sponsored innovation is not confined to schools. Government can also promote innovative partnerships between school, colleges, Higher Education and Business, which are important for putting a wider pool of skill at the service of young people. Our national partnership with Cisco is broadening their opportunities to engage with new technology. There are now over 600 Cisco Network Academies that reach about 24,000 students across the country.

Third, we need to have the right accountability framework in place. On that score, there is real progress on the way:

– We are introducing the school profile. This will be one short, accessible document that brings together the key information about a school’s performance, the school’s view of what makes it special, and what its priorities are for the future;

– We are reforming the inspection system. Visits will be shorter and sharper, and intervention will be in inverse proportion to success;

– We are developing a New Relationship with Schools. The relationship will be based on the 3 principles of legal and financial flexibility, smarter accountability, and hard-edged collaboration. These principles will enable our schools to deliver reform. To help deliver reform, there will be a single conversation with a school improvement partner to assess performance, set improvement priorities and identify support needs.


These are the nuts and bolts. But teaching and learning are about culture as well as technique. On this front, we all have a job to do.

There’s an old culture that has had its time and we need to sweep it away. It says that more will mean worse; that public services cannot deliver excellence; that poor children will always get poor results.

There’s a new culture that we need to promote to take its place: high aspirations for all; a willingness to take risks; a commitment to excellence for the hardest to reach as well as the easiest to teach.

The future of teaching and learning is about this new culture in schools and a new culture in our wider society. They nurture each other. I want all schools in the future to engage with pupils and the wider community in such a way as to achieve lasting change. That is the potential of education and that is the potential we have to fulfil.

Step 1 is to recognise achievement. Step 2 is to articulate the vision. Step 3 is to mobilise the community. That is our task now, and I look forward to working with you to achieve it.