Michael Gove – 2011 Speech to the National College


Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Education, in Nottingham on 13 September 2011.

It’s a special pleasure to be here in Nottingham this evening – it gives me an opportunity to say some very heartfelt thank yous.

To Vanni Treves, Toby Salt, and, above all, Steve Munby, for the visionary leadership they have shown at the National College;

To their team – some of the most gifted and committed people in education today;

But above all to you – the heads of the first 100 Teaching Schools.

You are 120 of the best school leaders in England – which means 120 of the best school leaders in the world.

And 120 of the most important people in this country.

The history of educational improvement in this country has sometimes been written with references to parliamentary Acts – whether it’s Forster’s, Fisher’s, Butler’s or Baker’s.

And implicit in that narrative has been the assumption that educational improvement in this country has been driven by politicians – usually Liberals or Conservatives.

Whereas of course, the truth is entirely different.

Educational progress in this country has not been driven primarily by politicians.

It’s been driven, generation after generation, by teachers.

And especially headteachers.

People like you.

From Arnold of Rugby to Wilshaw of Mossbourne,

From Roxburgh of Stowe to Wilkins of Outwood Grange,

From Rae of Westminster to Ross-Warzynski of Altrincham…

The pioneers who have redefined what we think of as excellence in education have always been teachers…

And the reformers who have consistently raised our expectations of what education can achieve have always been headteachers…

But there has been one change – even in my lifetime…

The biggest names in contemporary education

The most influential leaders

The bravest reformers

Are now, overwhelmingly, in the state sector not the private…

So when people ask me the question – how will you improve our state schools

I always answer – by relying on our state schools…

And, specifically, by relying on you in this room.

So – no pressure there….

And, looking around this room, I feel a special sense of confidence that in your hands state education is in the right hands.

Every time Governments have given great leaders more room to exercise autonomy, they’ve taken an inch of freedom and made a mile of difference to thousands of young lives.

Look at the City Technology Colleges set up after 1988. These all-ability comprehensives enjoyed much greater independence than other schools. Headteachers exercised new-found power to extraordinary effect. Despite being overwhelmingly located in poorer areas, the CTCs achieved – and continue to achieve – great results: the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in CTCs who earned five or more good GCSEs at grades A* to C is more than twice as high in CTCs as it is for all maintained mainstream schools.

Of course, the autonomy enjoyed by schools like the CTCs, and indeed Grant-Maintained Schools, was eroded after 1997.

But the best minds in the last Government knew that was a mistake. And when they were given the chance to shape policy we saw autonomy return and school leaders back in charge.

Andrew Adonis knew it was headteachers, not councillors, not ombudsmen, not advisers or consultants, who made schools succeed. So he cut through the red tape, and established the London Challenge, Black Country Challenge and Manchester Challenge. In every case strong heads were teamed with schools in challenging circumstances and they achieved great results.

Alongside those school improvement programmes, another, even more radical set of changes gave school leaders an even greater opportunity to make a difference.

The Academies programme gave great heads the chance to totally transform underperforming schools by taking them out of the local authority embrace, bestowing on them all the freedoms CTCs had, and then giving them the chance to take more schools under their wing through chains and federations.

And those Academy chains have achieved amazing things. School leaders like Dan Moynihan at Harris, Barry Day at Greenwood Dale, David Triggs at AET and Paul Edwards at the School Partnership Trust have spread excellence far beyond their own individual schools and transformed hundreds of lives for the better.

And inspirational as those individuals are, they are not exceptional. We know that given the right level of independence many, many school leaders can match them.

The evidence proves that if you empower those at the frontline they can exceed your expectations. A few months ago, academics at the London School of Economics published a landmark assessment of the Academies programme.

They found three things. First, that “Academy conversion generates… a significant improvement in pupil performance.” Second, that this improvement is not the result of Academies ‘creaming-off’ pupils from nearby schools: the fact that more middle-class parents want to send their children to their local Academy is a consequence of the school’s success, not a cause. And thirdly, beyond raising standards for their own pupils, Academies also tend to raise pupil performance in neighbouring schools.

Like CTCs and the Challenge schemes, Academies showed what amazing things can be achieved when heads are put in the driving seat.

And the international evidence confirms this.

The highest-performing education systems are those where government knows when to step back and let heads get on with running their schools. Rigorous research from the OECD and others has shown that more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards. In its most recent international survey of education, the OECD found that “in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.”

In Singapore, often considered a model of authoritarian centralism, the Government has nonetheless deliberately encouraged greater autonomy in the school system – and dramatic leaps in attainment have been secured as a result. Schools where principals are exercising a progressively greater degree of operational freedom are soaring ahead.

In Alberta, Canada, a diverse range of autonomous schools offer freedom to professionals and choice to parents. As a result, Alberta now has the best performing state schools of any English-speaking region.

And in America – where the Charter Schools system implemented by New York and Chicago is one of the most radical models of school autonomy – headteachers are turning around the lives of hundreds of thousands of the most deprived children. To take just one example… Harlem Success Academy 1 in New York has a pupil intake of amongst the most disadvantaged in the state. Yet the school now performs at the same level as New York City’s gifted-and-talented schools – all of which have tough admissions requirements, while Success randomly selects its pupils by lottery. With New York and Chicago leading the way, more parents across America are demanding Charter Schools in their local areas.

Freedom works; and the word is spreading.

And what is also spreading – and with your help will spread even further – is the superb practice your schools exemplify.

When one looks at the best heads and the best schools in the country, several common characteristics leap out.

First, uniformly high expectations.

Our nation has suffered for generations because we’ve presumed that only a minority are capable of academic excellence. But the amazing performance of the best state schools proves otherwise.

As the Prime Minister pointed out last week, when comprehensives such as Walworth Academy in South-East London and Burlington Danes in Hammersmith, with almost half their students on free school meals, can get 70 and 75 per cent of their students to pass five good GCSEs including English and Maths, then its clear politicians have been consistently underestimating what our young people are capable of.

But you know that. Great heads, like you, recognise that giving many more young people a rigorous academic foundation will provide them with the basis for a brighter future, whatever they choose to do.

The OECD has reminded us today that the higher the level of academic knowledge, the greater the economic, professional and cultural opportunities open to any child.

And as Alison Wolf pointed out in her ground-breaking report on vocational education, premature specialisation, particularly the abandonment of core subjects before the age of 16, limits the opportunities all children deserve to enjoy.

RH Tawney was right when he said: “what a wise parent would wish for their children, so the state must wish for all its children.”

And any wise parent today will be aware that both prestigious universities and discriminating employers especially value students with qualifications in rigorous subjects such as Maths, English, the sciences, foreign languages and the humanities.

So inspired by the example you have set, we looked for ways to work with the grain of parental expectations and to meet the demands of employers and colleges.

Together I believe we can encourage more state schools to give their pupils an even more rigorous academic grounding. Which is why we have introduced the English Baccalaureate: a suite of rigorous GCSEs that, we believe, gives every young person more choices in the future.

I know that many of you agree: the proportion of pupils receiving the E-Bacc at the schools represented in this room is much higher than the national average.

The E-Bacc has already prompted a welcome uptake in the number of pupils choosing to study history, geography, foreign languages and the sciences.

There has been a particular increase in the number opting to study the three separate sciences at GCSE. In a recent survey undertaken by the Department the numbers doing physics chemistry and biology GCSEs appears to have risen by more than 100 per cent.

Of course, as I have learned during my short time in this job, no good deed goes unpunished.

And schools like yours, which perform superbly academically and thus give children amazing opportunities, are sometimes damned as exam factories. Gradgrindian institutions where children are shackled to their desks until they’ve managed to clear the C/D borderline and then starved of any access to culture, enlightenment or entertainment until they’ve got their A*.

But the truth we all know is that, overwhelmingly, those school that do well in exams are those schools that have also got other things right.

Schools that understand that citizenship is not simply a subject that you teach for one hour a week, but far more an approach towards others which you embody every minute of the school day.

Schools that encourage their staff and their pupils to see themselves as a part of a wider community; to volunteer; to show respect for others; and to exhibit the qualities that exemplify great citizens of the future.

Schools that can see the importance of competitive team sport extending beyond physical fitness – into character building and an ambition to be the best.

Schools that appreciate the need to foster creativity – in graphic art, in design, in music, in dance, in drama and in literature, while at the same time recognising that their pupils can only truly be creative when they’ve mastered the basics.

Schools like your schools.

These virtues, these values are obvious to any visitor – well before you’ve had the chance to inspect the pupil attainment stats and see how performance compares with Fisher Family Trust expectations.

That’s why I think its important for me, as a politician, to emphasise that the most important things that happen in a school can’t be captured in national curriculum programmes of study and will never be measured in league tables, can’t be legislated for, regulated into existence or implemented as part of a National Strategy.

What they can be, however, is observed, applauded, celebrated and replicated.

Which is why your role is so important.

Because Teaching Schools can exemplify these virtues, evangelise for these values and ensure they become widespread.

You can show that what is sometimes called the tacit – or hidden – curriculum is as important in making a school outstanding as performance in any test demanded by the national curriculum.

I want to work with you – and the National College – to spread great practice in these areas.

And I have asked Ofsted to ensure that is made easier. By using its reports to celebrate more often what is special about our best schools – by moving away from verdicts based on data to judgments based on wide, extensive and nuanced observation.

But let me be clear – that is not a retreat from telling hard truths to administering soft soap.

Your schools are all rated ‘outstanding’ in Ofsted’s ‘teaching and learning’ category. But it is a worry to me that so many schools that are still judged as ‘outstanding’ overall when they have not achieved an outstanding in ‘teaching and learning.’ I intend to ask the new Chief Inspector to look at this issue and report back to me with recommendations.

These are just a few of the ways in which you have influenced our approach.

And I want schools across the country to learn from you too. That’s why I am absolutely delighted that you have decided to take up our offer of becoming Teaching Schools.

There is a growing trend amongst world-leading education systems toward more classroom-based teacher training. Research undertaken by McKinsey’s in 2010 looked at eight high-performing education systems around the world. What they found was that the best systems embed professional and talent development in schools.

And that’s no surprise to me. Because that’s where the real experts in education – teachers and leaders – tend to be found.

In Finland trainees receive extensive classroom teaching practice under the guidance and supervision of experienced teachers.

In Singapore I saw trainees learning how to improve their craft and strengthen their classroom management skills by observing the very best teachers at work in the classroom.

In China I found that every classroom was treated as an open space with teachers welcoming observation so they could learn from watching others, and being watched themselves.

All of these nations currently outperform us educationally and the emphasis they place on both intensive school-based classroom training and continual school-based professional development is at the heart of their success.

Higher education institutions will continue to make a significant and important contribution to teacher training. But we want schools to play a much bigger role.

As employers, schools should have greater responsibility for recruitment; be more involved in the provision of quality placements; and have more say in the development of content for training.

There are already ways for schools to be involved in teacher training, and some of you here today are participating in these schemes. But we want to make it easier for more schools to get involved. So we will allow schools to recruit trainees and then to work with an accredited teacher training provider to train them to be qualified teachers.

Schools will be expected to employ these trainees after graduation. So there will be an incentive on the part of the schools to recruit the very best – thus driving up the standard of prospective teachers further.

And the enhanced prospects of securing a job in a great school will entice even more high-quality applicants.

And as a further incentive to attract top graduates into the schools that most need them, trainees who are recruited and selected by schools with a high proportion of pupils on free school meals will receive a larger bursary than other trainees.

Having a more direct involvement in initial teacher training means that schools will also get a greater say in shaping what teachers learn.

And I want your views on how we can, together, improve the subject knowledge of teachers in critical areas.

The science and maths communities have been clear that they would like to see much more teaching of science as three separate subjects in secondary school.

It provokes the question why the National Curriculum for science is not currently divided along subject lines. Why should we have a science curriculum that’s split into areas like ‘The Environment, Earth and Universe’ and ‘Organisms, Behaviour and Health’? Why not have biology, chemistry and physics? Of course, I don’t wish to pre-empt the National Curriculum Review, but I do want your views on how we can ensure the quality of science teaching continues to improve.

If our National Curriculum Review does conclude that science should be taught as three distinct subjects, this would obviously have knock-on effects on teacher training and the way that courses are funded. Many members of the science community argue that teacher training has hitherto focused too much on general science teaching, and that this has encouraged generalists at the expense of specialists. The physics community have found this particularly problematic. They say that many physics and engineering students want to train as physics teachers – or physics and maths teachers – but are put off by the way that training is currently organised, because many physicists and engineers do not want to teach chemistry or biology.

At a time when we desperately need more physics teachers, it makes sense to think of ways we can make entering the profession more attractive. With only 0.4 per cent of engineering graduates going into teaching, we need to look at how we might tap in to that pool. The Institute of Physics’ new pilot PGCE in Physics and Maths is exactly the sort of innovation we need and we strongly support it. We want to see more such innovations and, as Teaching Schools will have a greater involvement in course development, we look to you for new ideas.

Another topic on which I’d be interested to hear your thoughts is the issue of specialist primary teachers. Most state primary teachers are trained as generalists. But some of the best state primary schools in the country insist on discrete subject teaching in KS2. And one of the things many parents value about private primaries is that they often have specialist teaching from an early age. Obviously, I am alive to the practical difficulties of demanding too high a degree of specialism in, say, small rural primaries. Nonetheless, I think the idea is worth exploring further, and I will be discussing with the TDA how we could prioritise courses that train primary specialists – especially in maths and science.

Improving ITT is crucial, but while I am evangelical about the need to attract even more high quality people into teaching I am equally determined to improve the support we give to those already in the profession.

And I believe no institutions are better placed to provide superb continuous professional development for teachers than your schools.

At the moment, too much CPD provision is, frankly, a bit scattergun. There are a lot of great programmes being delivered, but there are also a number of less good schemes. It’s difficult for every school to know what constitutes a worthwhile investment. That is one reason why we see the level of spending on CPD vary so much between schools.

Teaching Schools can help, not only by advising other schools on great CPD services they’ve used, but also by providing such services themselves.

Teaching Schools can use their close relationships with other schools to develop CPD programmes that genuinely fit existing demand. And other schools will choose whether or not to take advantage of these programmes, making Teaching Schools accountable to their peers.

As with initial teacher training, the National College will be responsible for quality assuring the work Teaching Schools do, and will remove accreditation from any school not meeting the standards. CPD is yet another area where we’re moving to a model that puts schools in control. We’re letting heads buy in – and help create – the services they really want.

And one area where we are convinced the demand exists for improved support is at the level of middle leadership. Specifically at department head level.

That is why we are introducing a new programme – Specialist Leaders in Education – to ensure outstanding middle leaders, whether heads of department or those at assistant and deputy level – can help other schools and in turn prepare themselves to step up to the next level.

There will be 1,000 SLEs in the first year, rising to 5,000 by the end of 2014. Part of Teaching Schools’ role will be ‘talent spotting’ the best senior and middle leaders and helping them earn SLE status. This will involve providing them with training, mentoring and support – while at the same time deploying them to improve neighbouring schools. Through such programmes, the wealth of knowledge, wisdom and experience in this room will be passed on to the next generation of heads.

One in four existing headteachers will be eligible to retire in the next four years. We need to ensure that there are enough dynamic, committed young headteachers to take their place in the future. And with our SLE programme we can help ensure that succession planning in all schools becomes easier. So more gifted professionals can take on the special responsibilities, and enjoy the special sense of pride, that comes from being a headteacher.

Of course for all of us in education the driving moral purpose behind our work is the belief that every child has a talent which deserves to be identified, nurtured and stretched.

And we all know that children only have one chance at education.

That’s why I have made it clear that this government will not allow underperforming schools to simply carry on as before. That’s why we’ve raised floor standards and why we’re taking new powers in the education bill to intervene when schools are in trouble.

Where children are being failed, action will be swift. And Teaching Schools will be central to our reforms. You all have the capacity to help enhance the leadership, improve the teaching and fix the behaviour problems in our most challenging schools.

And it’s not only in our most challenging schools that you can have a transformative effect. As the Prime Minister pointed out last week, there are far too many coasting schools in the country, with a level of performance we still term satisfactory but we all know isn’t good enough.

Teaching Schools have the capacity to form partnerships with these schools, providing them with advice and support. Many of these schools will themselves have the capacity to improve but they need encouragement, a guiding hand, and the setting of higher expectations. We’ll be saying more, shortly, about how we ensure progress is made. But your role will be critical.

Looking at the road ahead can sometime be unnerving. The enormity of the challenges we face can be daunting: for all the advances we have made – and are making – in education, thousands of children are still being failed. And events such as the summer riots can test our faith further: schools are being confronted with a more complex set of challenges than ever before.

Yet looking around the room today, it’s impossible not to be optimistic about the future. Each one of you is living proof that one person can make a difference to the lives of thousands. And by listening to you, by trusting you, by handing power to you, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.