Michael Gove – 2013 Speech at the National College for Teaching and Leadership

The speech made by Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Education, on 25 April 2013.

I want to begin by saying thank you.

I’m grateful to Charlie Taylor for inviting me here today.

And I’m grateful to him for the work he’s already done at the Teaching Agency in reforming teacher training.

As well as the work he’s leading now through the National College for Teaching and Leadership to build on its past successes.

But one thing I am particularly grateful to Charlie for is something I’d also like to thank all of you for doing.

Having a vocation.

All of you – thankfully – resisted the temptations of other professional paths and chose to teach.

No one in this room is a conscript, no one is in their job because economic circumstances forced it on them, no one in this room approaches every day with the sense of futility that comes from feeling your talents are being wasted.

All of you know the sense of fulfilment that comes from choosing your path and doing a good job well.

No excuses – we must do better

My ambition for the state education system is simple. I want every young person to have the freedom – as an adult – to choose the path that is right for them.

I want young people to leave school with the qualifications, the confidence and the character to be able to decide their future for themselves – to become authors of their own life story.

Sadly, there are still young people who leave school without the exam passes, without the literacy, without the numerical ability, without the strength of character, to choose their own future. They are unable to choose the jobs they want, unable to buy a home in which to raise a family, unable to play a part in a modern democracy as fully engaged citizens.

Those young people are, overwhelmingly, from our poorest homes. And while it is a source of great encouragement to me that we are reducing their number, every child who leaves school without the tools to succeed is a reproach to our consciences.

Because all children can succeed in school – and many, many more than we allow for at the moment can secure outstanding exam passes, complete demanding apprenticeships, achieve our new, and aspirational, technical baccalaureate standard or go on to university.

That is why I am deliberately setting higher and higher standards for our state school system every year. Because I know we can meet, and surpass, those higher standards. And every time we do, more children are emancipated from ignorance and liberated to succeed.

The reason I am so convinced we can aspire to better every year is that is what you all do. There’s not a head here who would be satisfied with the same level of GCSE performance year on year. And in every school I’ve ever visited that is heading in the right direction, the senior leadership team make public how grades have improved every year and are clear about what more is expected of students.

And in affirming my belief in higher expectations – year on year – I’m not just reflecting what happens in the best schools, your schools.

Nothing matters more than teaching

I am also underlining my belief in the power – and importance – of teaching.

Because I believe that if you take children, from whatever background, and maximise the amount of time they have with a great teacher then you can see them make astounding progress.

There are some people who deny the importance of teaching.

On the right there are some people who think that intelligence is somehow a fixed commodity; that schools should identify those who are able, put them on one path, and find an alternative track or tracks for others who cannot benefit from a stretching curriculum.

And on the left there are some people, including leaders of teaching unions, who argue that children from poorer homes are so economically and socially disadvantaged that their fates are fixed before they even reach school.

Both positions seem to me sad because they deny the power of teaching to transform lives. The people who hold those positions seem to me to be the real enemies of promise.

None of us would be here today if we didn’t believe that teaching can change a child’s life immeasurably for the better.

And that is why everything the government is doing in education affirms the importance of teaching.

And that is why I am so convinced that the best people to be driving change in our education system and setting higher standards than ever before should be teachers.

Teachers in charge of schools

It’s a belief that teachers should be in charge that lies behind our structural reform programme in education.

Our first legislative act as a government, the Academies Act, was designed to put teachers back in control, or more fully in charge, of their schools.

The rapid growth in the number of academies (from just 203 when the coalition government was formed to 2886 now) was not driven by ministerial fiat but by teachers, many in this room, taking control.

Amazing things have been, and are being, achieved by the academies movement. But all politicians – and commentators – should realise those amazing things are being achieved by teachers in a teacher-led movement.

The success of the Greenwood Dale Academies Trust is down to the leadership of one teacher above all – Nottingham’s own Barry Day – and now he and his colleagues are helping to transform schools which had lost their way in some of the poorest areas of the East Midlands, schools like Nottingham Academy or Queensmead Academy in Leicester.

The growth – and the achievements – of the Kemnal Trust are a result of the ambition of another inspirational teacher – John Atkins. The Kemnal Trust currently manages 34 Academies across the South East, schools like Orchards Academy in Kent. And they’re seeing brilliant results. In 2009, when it joined the Trust, only 22% of pupils at Orchards achieved 5 or more GCSEs at A* to C including English and maths. Today, more than twice as many pupils do – 55% and climbing.

In Birmingham another wonderful teacher, Liam Nolan, has established the Perry Beeches chain of schools, with superbly talented lieutenants such as Jackie Powell (headteacher of Perry Beeches II The Free School) and Stuart Turnbull (associate headteacher of Perry Beeches Academy). The achievements of Liam and his team have transformed the life chances of thousands of children across the Birmingham area. When Perry Beeches Academy received an ‘outstanding’ rating last month, Ofsted paid tribute to Liam’s leadership – under which, in their words, ‘the academy has become a beacon of outstanding practice’.

And the same level of creativity, innovation and ambition is also on show in Mike Wilkins’ schools in the Outwood Grange Trust, Sir Paul Edwards’ schools in the School Partnership Trust, or Sir Dan Moynihan’s schools in the Harris Federation.

All great teachers. All transforming schools in communities which had been poorly served for years.

And our free schools policy is giving even more teachers the chance to make a difference where it matters. Whether it’s an established head like Patricia Sowter in Enfield, a classroom teacher stepping up to leadership like Mark Lehain in Bedford or a group of teachers determined to prove that every child can succeed if given a classical liberal education – like the team behind Greenwich Free School – increasingly when it comes to providing parents with choice teachers are doing it for themselves.

Many of the best free schools are those where the idea comes from teachers and many of the best bids to open new schools every year are coming from teachers.

And free schools have, at last, allowed teachers to do what other professionals have always been able to do. Build an institution which they run themselves for those most in need.

GPs who want to help those most in need have always been able to set up a practice in a most disadvantaged area. Solicitors who want to offer support to the marginalised and overlooked have always been able to open up practices and law centres in areas of disadvantage. But until now no teacher could do as Peter Hyman has done, as Patricia Sowter has done and as Mark Lehain has done and open their own school to help poor children succeed. I think the establishment of the free school movement is a huge step forward in enhancing the prestige and supporting the innate idealism of the teaching profession.

Teachers in charge of the curriculum

And the academies and free school movement hasn’t just provided a better platform than ever before for teachers’ ambitions, it has also given teachers the opportunity to become curriculum innovators to a greater, and more exciting, extent than at any point during the last quarter of a century.

Whether it was the pioneering work done by David Benson at the Ark Academy in Wembley which he will now have the chance to extend to more students as the new principal of the Aldridge Academy in North Kensington – or the innovative approaches to liberal learning being developed by Daisy Christodolou in the Curriculum Centre at Pimlico Academy – or the more stretching approach to mathematics I saw being adopted at Nunthorpe Academy in Middlesbrough just last week – teachers are taking increasing control of what and how children learn.

We’re in the middle of reflecting on the consultation responses to our draft national curriculum.

And the responses which weigh most with me are from teachers.

It’s important to get the national curriculum right – it serves as a benchmark and embodies a level of ambition which affirms our desire to raise standards for all children.

But no national curriculum can ever, or will ever, be right in every circumstance for every school.

That is why all schools can ask to disapply any aspect of the national curriculum if they feel they can do something better and more appropriate for their children, whether that means tailoring it for pupils with particular needs or experimenting with a different approach to drive up outcomes.

And the existence of a majority of secondary schools, and a growing army of primary schools, which enjoy academy freedoms means this new national curriculum will be more insulated from ministerial error than any before.

Because there are now thousands of schools empowered – every day – to find even better ways of teaching individual subjects, or areas within subjects, than any single time bound document can encapsulate.

The new national curriculum is being shaped to provide a level of challenge – and ambition – explicitly sharper than exists in the current national curriculum.

But the most ambitious people in our education system are not ministers but teachers – and I see that every week in the innovations of teachers like Daisy Christodolou or Peter Hyman in School 21 or Lee Faith at the Greenwich Free School.

So I predict that in the months and years to come the best curriculums will be developed – and refined – in schools across the country by teachers for teachers.

And that is why I think this national curriculum may well be the last national curriculum. Because in future teachers will be doing it for themselves.

You can see already in the resources teachers share through the TES website, or the eagerness they have in so many good schools to observe and be observed, or in the syllabus developed by Brighton College to integrate the history, geography and cultural achievements of these islands, that new technology and academic freedom are combining to provide an environment in which the best minds can collaborate to improve what our children learn.

Teachers in charge of technological change

And technology provides increasing opportunities. The advent of MOOCS – massive open online courses – in higher education is transforming our idea of a university.

When the Stanford scientist Sebastian Thrun can put his entire artificial intelligence course online so anyone anywhere in the world can watch him teach, take his papers and earn accreditation direct from him, then we are witnessing a revolution in learning to rank with Gutenberg’s printing press.

And it is an opportunity designed to empower teachers. Because great teaching will become more visible as the system becomes more open.

Teachers in charge of the debate on education

And just as the impact of great teaching is becoming more visible so the voices of great teachers are becoming more audible in the education debate.

Voices across the political spectrum are talking honestly about the profession’s strengths and weaknesses; successes, failures and priorities for the future.

I’m a great fan of Andrew Old, whose brilliant blog Scenes from the Battleground provides one of the most insightful commentaries on the current and future curriculum that I’ve ever read; but I’m also an admirer of John Blake of Labour Teachers, who has transcended party politics to praise all schools which succeed for their pupils, even if they are academies or free schools…

I also hugely enjoy the always provocative work of Tom Bennett, the Behaviour Guru, who champions teachers at every turn while challenging them to up their game. And one of the brightest young voices in the education debate is the Birmingham teacher Matthew Hunter, whose work online and in Standpoint magazine reinforces my view that those who are have entered the profession in the last few years – and are entering now – are hugely ambitious for the children in their care.

I’m also indebted to David Weston, Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust – who is a principled and non-partisan voice for reform and to the school leaders who have set up the Headteachers’ Roundtable – an initiative which, I admit, may be further from my personal viewpoint than some of the others I’ve mentioned – but which represents a brilliant forum for progress and debate within the education world.

And at the level of national policy direction it’s teachers who are not just leading the debate but implementing change – Liz Sidwell as Schools Commissioner, Charlie Taylor at the Teaching Agency, Sir Michael Wilshaw at Ofsted.

It’s teachers – at every level – who are shaping the future

Teachers in charge of school improvement

Not least in developing a new culture of ambition and collaboration.

As so many of you can prove.

As brand new NLEs, teaching schools or (for around 70 of you, very impressively), both – heads and teachers are taking the lead in school improvement and driving up standards right across the system.

You’re in good company.

1 in 3 secondary heads and almost 1 in 5 primary heads is now either an NLE, an LLE or a member of a teaching school alliance – using their position and powers in a restless, relentless quest for improvement.

And there are a growing number of organisations led by teachers – not directed by Whitehall – driving faster change.

Excellent organisations like Challenge Partners are proving that it’s teachers who are both the sharpest critics and the most effective reformers of our schools.

And that is why I am so delighted by the launch of Aspire – a school improvement pilot developed and run by the NAHT.

Teachers in charge of training and leadership

As well as taking charge of schools and school improvement, teachers are also taking charge of their own profession – from training and recruitment to professional development.

School Direct – our new programme for ITT – has been shaped in the image of outstanding schools, like yours, the type of schools which already grow their own teachers and groom them for greatness; encouraging heads and teachers all over the country to follow your lead, and to emulate your success.

I’m delighted that the programme has been met with such enthusiasm so far – and I very much hope that even more of you will be encouraged to sign up for next year, and the years after that.

But I’d like to take a moment to pay particular tribute to the work of teaching schools in making this programme a success.

Some teaching schools and alliances are already training 50 or more teachers a year – schools like Bishop Rawstorne Church of England Academy, working with Cumbria University, which is offering 100 School Direct places for the academic year 2013 to 14; or South Farnham SCITT, which is offering 50 School Direct places for the academic year 2013 to 14.

In total, last year, the first 100 teaching school alliances delivered over 10,000 ITT placements – and well over a third of all School Direct places are on track to be delivered by teaching school alliances next year. Our goal is for half of all teacher training places to be led by schools by 2015 – and we will welcome your help in making that happen.

Teaching schools and alliances are also, of course, the centres of high quality professional and leadership development – working hard, right across the country, to ensure that teachers get the best possible opportunities for development.

And Teaching Schools of course reflect the personal commitment to excellence over the years of the National College’s leadership – especially under Steve Munby and Toby Salt.

They championed not just Teaching Schools but brilliant programmes like Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders – which, I’m delighted to say, are now growing further and faster than ever before and helping to grow and develop the next generation of inspirational leaders.

And I am particularly pleased that both Steve and Toby are showing leadership on the ground as chief executives of the CfBT Education Trust and Ormiston Academies Trust respectively – again, teachers leading change.

Teachers in charge of research

And increasingly the changes which are being made in teaching are changes which are rooted rigorously in evidence from the chalkface.

The Education Endowment Fund is trialling and rigorously evaluating which approaches are most likely to drive up standards for the poorest children, and it is teachers who are bidding for its support and establishing a new research base to inform education policy.

Alongside the work of the EEF the Department for Education has also been working with the author of Bad Science – Dr Ben Goldacre – to ensure we all have access to better science about how children learn. Ben has issued an invitation – and set a challenge – to the profession to help establish randomised control trials so we can test as rigorously as possible what works in schools.

This is a great opportunity for teachers to take control of the education debate – the profession is now being empowered to demonstrate what genuinely gets results and generate the data which will determine what evidence-based policy really looks like.

The future of education is being written, right now, by teachers – and we would like all of you to be a part of it.

Teachers in charge of their reputation – professionals not labourers

Putting teachers in charge of the future of their profession also means that they are increasingly in control of their own reputation.

Because public perceptions of the teaching profession rest, not on what politicians or Ofsted inspectors or the media say, but on what teachers do.

Andreas Schleicher, the man who knows more about education than anyone on the globe, nails it:

The general perception is that the social status of teachers is determined by how much society respects the teaching profession. The OECD data, however, suggests the reverse: it is the nature of the profession that is creating the teachers’ image.

In other words, public perceptions of teachers are shaped every day by parents’ respect for the hundreds and thousands of dedicated, hard-working professionals in classrooms across the country – by the school leaders driving up standards, and the schools where a culture of fatalism and failure has been replaced by an aspiration to excellence for all.

That’s why the tiny, but vocal, group of militant activists in the teaching unions we hear so much from every Easter are increasingly out of touch with the profession as a whole.

The leadership teams of the NUT and NASUWT have demanded their members take industrial action – a work-to-rule – for reasons which are obscure to me but seem to amount to ‘we don’t like the last 25 years of education reform, why can’t we party like it’s 1968?’.

But the overwhelming majority of teachers aren’t interested in turning back the clock, working to rule or engaging in a political showdown.

According to a survey in November last year, only 9% of teachers in state-funded schools said that the NUT/NASUWT work to rule action is having an impact in their school.

Which means that despite all the media grandstanding by union leaders – despite a few striking teachers being paraded on stage at their conferences for cheers and praise – the facts show that the vast majority of teachers on the ground are ignoring this irresponsible campaign and putting the interests of their pupils first.

That same survey found that only 6% of teachers joined a teaching union because ‘it campaigns about issues that matter to me’. Just 11% claimed that they ‘believe in trade unions’. An overwhelming majority, on the other hand – 72% – joined for ‘support if I had a problem with work’. For legal, logistical advice; not for ideological passion.

And there are now alternative sources of that legal and logistical advice.

One teacher – John Roberts – unhappy with the way the unions were spending his money has set up an organisation edapt – to provide independent support for teaching professionals.

Now there is no need for teachers to feel they have to join a union if they want full employment protection – they can get impartial legal and employment advice from an organisation without a political agenda. And it is great that this organisation is teacher-created, teacher-designed and teacher-led.

And if the employment protection role offered by the unions is now done better by an alternative organisation, so then the role they’ve played as a voice for the profession can also now be done better by an alternative organisation.

Progressives within teaching, like Russell Hobby, Sir Tim Brighouse, members of the Academies Commission (Christine Gilbert, Brett Wigdortz, and Chris Husbands) and the leadership of the Prince’s Teaching Institute, have suggested that the time is right for a new body to act as a voice for the whole teaching profession.

There is a growing consensus that teachers should emulate other professions, and set up a new Royal College – like the Royal College of Surgeons or Paediatricians – identifying, exemplifying and defining best practice in the teaching profession.

The creation of a Royal College is not DfE policy – on the contrary, I’ve had nothing whatever to do with it – which is why it’s such a good idea.

Now, I realise that any endorsement from me might blight its chances before it even gets off the ground.

But the great thing about this idea is that it’s about teachers taking responsibility for ensuring the profession is seen to be serious about standards. It sends a hugely important signal about the aims and aspirations of the teaching profession – and I wish those working on it every possible success.

Teachers changing facts on the ground

All of you here today are outstanding heads and leaders, already driving up standards and already achieving impressive success. So I know that to some extent I’m preaching to the choir.

But I hope you’ll agree that the greater autonomy, greater freedom, greater powers to lead the system and greater prestige for the profession as a whole, add up to this one, self-evident truth.

In classrooms, staff rooms and playgrounds, whether new recruits or wise elder statesmen, in every type of school and in every type of community: there’s never been a better time to be a teacher. Thank you.