Speech

David Laws speaks at the Teaching Leaders graduation ceremony

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

Schools Minister congratulates the fifth graduating cohort of middle leaders from the Teaching Leaders Fellows programme.

I am extremely pleased to be here this evening to congratulate the fifth graduating cohort of middle leaders from the Teaching Leaders Fellows programme.

My most important objective in government has been to work to close the shameful gap in performance between disadvantaged pupils and their peers and create a society in which all children can reach their full potential. It is people like you who are making this a reality. I want to thank you for your hard work, dedication and commitment to such an important cause.

Politicians are forever arguing about structures, but we know that it is the quality of teaching and leadership in a school that really matters. We know too that it matters most for disadvantaged pupils. As teaching leaders graduates, you will be part of the solution to some of the biggest challenges currently faced by the education system.

Importance of middle leaders

Four years ago in ‘The Importance of Teaching white paper’, we set out our ambition to move to a school-led education system with greater autonomy and freedom for schools. Where the teaching profession would be in the driving seat for school improvement and professional development. Where schools would work together to spread best practice, knowledge and experience to the benefit of all. Where more decisions would be made by the real experts - teachers and leaders - not politicians.

We don’t under-estimate the scale of this ambition. It challenges us all to think and act differently. It requires teachers and leaders to step forward and take more control. It requires politicians to step back and trust in the skills of the profession.

We are making great strides towards meeting this ambition. Over the past 4 years we have seen the growth of a network of teaching schools across the country. Many school leaders are stepping up to the challenge presented by the school-led system. They are:

  • becoming national leaders of education
  • forming multi-academy trusts
  • carrying out pupil premium reviews
  • getting involved in School Direct partnerships

But there is further to go. Not everyone is capitalising on the opportunities.

And the school-led system itself is developing at different rates in different parts of the country. One of the biggest risks is that the capacity for ‘self-improvement’ is often weakest in areas where it is most needed. One of our biggest challenges is therefore to make sure leadership and expertise reaches the parts of the system where it can make the biggest difference. I want to make sure that children in all areas of the country - and particularly those in disadvantaged areas - are able to reap the rewards of the school-led system.

That is why Teaching Leaders is so important. It is why every single participant in the Teaching Leaders programme is so important. The Teaching Leaders mission is to address educational disadvantage by growing a movement of outstanding middle leaders in schools in challenging contexts, including schools serving disadvantaged communities.

This matches up directly with the challenge I have identified. As graduates of the Teaching Leaders programme you have a key role to play in helping to make the school-led system work for all and not just some.

Excellent school leadership is essential to improving pupil outcomes: its impact is second only to the quality of teaching. Middle leaders have a key role to play in both leadership and teaching. They hold a unique position between the classroom and senior leadership. They play a direct role in improving teaching and learning, and supporting their teaching colleagues to develop and ensure consistency of standards.

Headteachers rely on strong leadership in their schools to help them develop and implement their vision for change. With the growth of the school-led system, and with more heads taking on system leadership roles, the role of middle leaders becomes ever more important as they support their headteachers. And of course, as well as supporting their headteachers to work across the school system, more and more middle leaders are doing fantastic work themselves in this arena.

Having outstanding middle leaders also helps to ensure a supply of future outstanding senior leaders and headteachers - and I know that more than half of you have been promoted while on the programme, with more than a quarter of you being promoted into senior leadership positions.

All of this and more is reflected in the inspiring work of Teaching Leaders, and goes to show why the work of Teaching Leaders in developing outstanding middle leaders, such as the cohort graduating here tonight, to address educational disadvantage, is so valuable.

Growing geographical reach of Teaching Leaders

As I’m sure you all know, pupils in London from all backgrounds achieve some of the highest results, with 85% of schools judged by Ofsted to be good or outstanding in how well their pupils achieved as of 31 March this year. We have also seen major improvements in the overall quality of schools in many other areas. Unfortunately though, this is not the case everywhere.

Like many of you in this room, I have long been concerned about the variability of the quality of education that children receive in different parts of the country. As we look at the picture for children in many areas, it is clear that there is much more to be done, and this is particularly true of the country’s most deprived areas, where pupils routinely underachieve. This is why I am so pleased that Teaching Leaders is spreading out to some of these areas where there are poorer outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, compounded by a lack of great leadership.

At this event last year, I announced an increase in government funding to Teaching Leaders of £9.9 million. And Teaching Leaders has made great use of this funding. They have now recruited the just over 400 more middle leaders in challenging schools across the country and are seeking 510 for the 2015 cohort. The majority of growth in the last 2 cohorts has been into disadvantaged rural and coastal areas.

I’m also delighted the programme is now expanding into primary schools. Teaching Leaders Primary will see primary middle leaders, already working in challenging schools and with the potential to become outstanding leaders, undertaking a rigorous training programme to develop their skills and help them get the most for pupils. A total of 160,000 children aged from 5 to 11 from disadvantaged backgrounds will benefit over the next 4 years. In its first year the programme is open to 1,200 primary teachers in London, Manchester and Birmingham, and also in specific areas of need - like Hull, Norfolk and Blackpool.

It is impressive how much Teaching Leaders has done to support the development of outstanding middle leaders across the country, something which is crucial to the success of a self-improving school-led system. The impact of Teaching Leaders like those of you here tonight is remarkable. GCSEs at grade A* to C in Teaching Leaders departments have increased by 4.2 percentage points this year, outstripping performance at a national level. These are fantastic results, and especially notable given the challenging circumstances Teaching Leader fellows all work in.

Case studies

I’d like to share a couple of specific examples I have heard about this year’s cohort of Teaching Leaders. Russell Harris is an assistant senior leader for key stage 4 English at Westminster Academy in London.

Through his work with both students and teachers in the department - and of course their own hard work - 77% of students achieved A* to C in English. This is a significant increase upon the percentage of the cohort predicted to achieve this level by the school in 2013 and more than 15 percentage points above the national average. Free school meals pupils performed particularly well, with 81% achieving A* to C - nearly 20 percentage points above the national average.

Fiona Whitney is the curriculum leader for Humanities at Sarah Bonnell School in Newham in London. As a result of the initiatives she put into place throughout her time on the programme, 86% of pupils achieved A* to C grades at GCSE - 17 percentage points above the national average and 14 percentage points higher than the 2012 results. The percentage of A* and A grades was 8 points higher for those eligible for the pupil premium compared with their peers. The department also moved from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘outstanding’ across the 2 years and is now used as an example of good practice across the borough.

These are just 2 examples - I know that every single one of you here tonight will have had your own successes throughout the last 2 years, and I am sure you will all continue to have a real impact.

Conclusion

I wish all members of this graduation cohort well through the exciting times you have ahead of you. It’s up to you to continue the important work of Teaching Leaders. The 2 years of hard work and training you have done has set you all up to be outstanding middle leaders, giving you the opportunity to make a real difference to raising the quality of teaching and ensuring great outcomes for all pupils.

You also have the chance - and I challenge you to do this - to take the impact you will have even further by playing your part in the school-led system. You can share the knowledge and skills you have developed with colleagues in your own schools and from other schools. You could even become a specialist leader of education and have an impact on leadership capacity across the school system in a more formal way. You could work within and alongside teaching schools to recruit and train the next generation of outstanding teachers. By contributing even further to the school-led system, the impact you’ve had on your own pupils can spread further and faster, to the benefit of us all.