Oral statement to Parliament

2012 OECD PISA results

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove's statement in the House on the OECD’s 2012 PISA results.

(Draft text, check against delivery)

Mr Speaker, with your permission I would like to make a statement about the PISA league tables of educational performance published today by the OECD.

Before I go into the detail of what the league tables show about the common features of high-performing systems can I take a moment - as I try to in every public statement I make - to thank our teachers for their hard work, dedication and idealism.

Whatever conclusions we draw about what needs to change, I hope we in this house can agree that we are fortunate to have the best generation of young teachers ever in our schools.

The data shows that the new recruits now entering the classroom are better qualified than ever before. I would like in particular to thank those headteachers who are - through the new School Direct programme of teacher training - recruiting more superb new graduates to teach in our state schools.

But while the quality of our teachers is improving today’s league tables show that is not enough.

When people ask why - if teachers are better than ever - we need to press ahead with further reform to the system then today’s results make the case more eloquently than any number of speeches.

Since the 1990s our performance in these league tables has been at best, stagnant, at worst declining.

In the latest results we are 21st amongst 65 participants in the world for science, 23rd for reading and 26th for mathematics.

For all the well-intentioned efforts of past governments we are still falling further behind the best-performing school systems in the world. In Shanghai and Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong - indeed even in Taiwan and Vietnam - children are learning more and performing better with every year that passes - leaving our children behind in the global race.

That matters because business is more mobile than ever, and employers are more determined than ever to seek out the best-qualified workers. Global economic pressures, far from leading to a race to the bottom, are driving all nations to pursue educational excellence more energetically than ever before.

And today’s league tables show that nations which have had the courage radically to reform their education systems - like Germany and Poland - have significantly improved their performance and their children’s opportunities.

There is no single intervention - or single nation - which has all the answers to our education challenges. But if we look at many of the high-performing and fast-improving education systems certain common features recur:

  • there is an emphasis on social justice and helping every child to succeed
  • there is a commitment to an aspirational academic core curriculum for all students to the age of 16
  • there is a high level of autonomy from bureaucracy for headteachers
  • there is a rigorous system of accountability for performance
  • headteachers have the critical power to hire who they want, remove underperformers and reward the best with the recognition they deserve

Those principles have driven this coalition’s education reforms since 2010.

The first reform imperative is securing greater social justice.

It is notable that many of the high-performing jurisdictions set demanding standards for every child - whatever their background - and Germany in particular has improved its standing globally by doing more to promote greater equity - and ensure more children from poorer backgrounds catch up with their peers.

The good news from the PISA research is that in England we have one of the most progressive and socially just systems of education funding in the world.

But we in the coalition government believe we must go further to help the most disadvantaged. Which is why we have made funding even more progressive with the pupil premium, extended free pre-school education to the most disadvantaged 2-year-olds and changed how we hold schools accountable so they have to give greater attention to the performance of poor children.

I hope that today the opposition will acknowledge these steps forward and give their support to our reforms.

The second reform imperative is a more aspirational curriculum.

In successful Asian nations all students are introduced to more stretching mathematical content at an earlier age than has been the case here.

Our new national curriculum is explicitly more demanding - especially in mathematics - it’s modelled on the approach of high-performing Asian nations such as Singapore. The mathematical content is matched by a new level of ambition in technology - with the introduction of programming and coding on the national curriculum for the first time.

In our drive to eliminate illiteracy we have introduced a screening check at age 6 to make sure every child is reading fluently.

And our introduction of the English Baccalaureate - awarded to students who secure GCSEs in English, maths, the sciences, languages and history or geography - matches Poland by embedding an expectation of academic excellence for every 16-year-old.

I hope today the Labour front bench will confirm their support for our new curriculum, the phonics screening check and the English Baccalaureate. Our children deserve to have these higher standards adopted universally.

The third reform imperative is greater autonomy for headteachers. There is a strong correlation in these league tables between freedom for heads - in systems like Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong - and improved results.

That is why we have dramatically increased the number of academies and free schools - and given heads more control over teacher training, continuous professional development and the improvement of underperforming schools.

The School Direct programme - by giving heads control of teacher recruitment - has improved the quality of new teachers.

The creation of more than 300 teaching schools has put our most outstanding heads in charge of helping existing teachers to do even better.

And the academies programme has allowed great heads - like those in the Harris and Ark chains - to take over underperforming schools like the Downhills Primary in Tottenham.

I hope today the front bench will signal their support for these reforms and show they trust our outstanding heads.

The fourth pillar of reform is accountability.

Those systems which have autonomy without accountability often underperform.

But accountability has to be intelligent.

We’ve sharpened Ofsted inspections, recruited more outstanding serving teachers to inspect schools, and demanded underperforming schools improve far faster.

The old league table system relied too much on a narrow measurement of C passes at GCSE, which generated the wrong incentives and wrote too many children off.

We’ve changed league tables to ensure every child’s progress is rewarded and also ensured children are not entered early, or multiple times, for GCSEs simply to influence league tables.

I hope today they will join us in demanding greater rigour and higher standards from all schools.

The fifth pillar of reform is freedom for heads to recruit and reward the best.

Shanghai, the world’s best-performing education system, has a rigorous system of performance-related pay.

We’ve given headteachers the same freedoms here.

I hope today we can have a clear commitment from all sides of the House to support those brave and principled heads who want to pay the best teachers more.

The programme of reform we have set out draws on what happens in the best school systems because we want nothing but the best for our children

Unless we can provide them with a school system which is one of the best in the world we will not give them the opportunities they need to flourish and succeed.

That is why it is so important that we have a unified national commitment to excellence in all our schools and I commend this statement to the House.