David Laws speech at the Teaching Leaders graduation ceremony

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

Schools Minister David Laws spoke at the Teaching Leaders graduation ceremony.

I am delighted to be here tonight to celebrate the achievement of the fourth graduating cohort of middle leaders from the Teaching Leaders Fellows Programme.

And thank you all for the hard work you are doing in your schools to improve the standards of education available to the children who are most in need of additional help. Your dedication to getting the most for your pupils is inspiring.

The importance of high-quality leadership in schools cannot be overstated.

Analysis of Ofsted inspection reports by McKinsey has shown that the overall performance of a school rarely exceeds the quality of its leadership and management.

For every 100 schools that have good leadership and management, 93 will have good standards of pupil achievement. For every 100 schools that do not have good leadership and management, only one will have good standards of pupil achievement. [i]

The support of great leadership and management helps all teachers to improve the quality of their teaching. And recruiting and training high-quality teachers for leadership positions amplifies their impact.

One great leader can build a team of great leaders. A team of great leaders can build a school of great teachers. And a school of great teachers can support thousands of children to achieve to their full potential.

It has long been held that having an outstanding headteacher can make a significant difference to the performance of a whole school. But it is not headteachers alone that make this difference. We need strong leaders at all levels within a school, working together as a team.

Middle leaders are able to take a direct role in improving teaching and learning. First and foremost they can act as models of great teaching. But they can also contribute to improving standards by helping other teachers to develop and by challenging under-performance. And they are at the forefront of developing curricula, and establishing systems to track and improve pupil progress.

Senior leaders benefit from distributing leadership to a strong group of middle-leaders because it frees up their time to focus on whole school improvement. Schools are stronger with great middle leaders because they are less reliant on a small group of senior leaders, and therefore more resilient to changes in the senior leadership team.

And by identifying and developing outstanding middle leaders today, we are able to help ensure that we will have a sufficient supply of outstanding headteachers in the future.

We need great school leaders because the challenges are great. Around 40% of young people still fail to secure 5 GCSEs at grade C and above, including English and maths, rising to above 60% when we look only at children from poorer families. These figures remain completely unacceptable for an advanced society such as England. We cannot accept these levels of educational failure, and there is nothing inevitable about this.

Excellent practice does of course already exist, and some schools are closing the gap between poorer children and their better off peers. But the attainment of pupils who are eligible for free school meals varies greatly between schools in different regions. There are too few secondary schools outside London where large numbers of pupils from poorer backgrounds are matching the attainment of their peers.

A recent report from Ofsted found that attainment at GCSE varies across the regions of England by 23 percentage points for pupils eligible for free school meals. But attainment varies by only 6 percentage points for pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.

In 2012, there were only 97 secondary schools in England with over 14% of pupils eligible for free school meals where these pupils attained above the national average at GCSE. Sixty-four of these 97 schools were in London. Well done London. But we have to be concerned that there were none in the South West or South East of England. [ii]

So schools with a strong record of attainment amongst all of their pupils are heavily concentrated in London. The weakest performing schools are spread across the country, and often in smaller towns rather than large urban areas.

And the greatest challenge is that within schools the quality of teaching varies too much. The Sutton Trust estimate that having a very effective rather than an average teacher raises each pupil’s attainment by a third of a GCSE grade. [iii]

This is both a striking finding and a great opportunity. It makes clear the consequences for individual children of ending up in the wrong class at school. But it also gives us a clear indication of what we need to do.

The quality of teaching is absolutely critical. And middle leaders like you can make improvements across a department so that all of the pupils benefit from the same high standards of teaching.

We look to you to help us meet these challenges. Teaching Leaders identifies and develops middle leaders to improve teaching in the most challenging schools, and for the pupils who will benefit most from it.

In 5 years, Teaching Leaders has grown from a pilot of 25 middle leaders to over 776 fellows in 365 schools. The vast majority of alumni stay in education. Of those from the 2011 cohort staying in education in the UK:

  • 97% are still working in challenging schools
  • 56% have been promoted within challenging schools
  • 25% have been promoted to the senior leadership team

You and your cohort are improving teaching for around 15,000 pupils in 81 schools. The pupils for whom you are responsible are making more progress and achieving better GCSE results than the national average. And this is especially impressive given they come from groups that are too often expected to fail.

These pupils are being helped by outstanding teaching leaders such as Shamim Hussain. Shamim is Head of Maths at Lilian Baylis Technology School in Lambeth, where 76% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.

He has introduced systems to monitor and support teachers in the maths department. This has led to the majority of the team being rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, and the rest as ‘good’. Shamim also introduced systems to track student progress against challenging targets, giving pupils a clear picture of the learning gaps that they needed to address. Seventy-nine per cent of Shamim’s pupils made 3 or more levels of progress, significantly higher than the national average.

Jackie Bowen started the Teaching Leaders programme as Head of English and is now Assistant Vice Principal for Achievement at Cedar Mount Academy in Gorton, Manchester. Jackie worked with her team to move each member of staff up at least one Ofsted grade. Having been judged ‘inadequate’ when she arrived, 80% of Jackie’s team now secure ‘good’ or better in lesson observations.

Jackie’s work has helped achieve big increases in the proportion of pupils making expected progress and the proportion achieving a grade from A* to C. And this has been a success for pupils of all backgrounds. Amongst Jackie’s pupils there was no gap between the attainment of those eligible for the pupil premium and the rest of the cohort. If ever you needed proof that the gap between the achievement of poorer and better off pupils is not inevitable, Jackie has provided it.

This demonstrates what can be achieved. But we want to do more, especially in those areas that have not benefitted from the programme so far.

So I am pleased to announce that the Department for Education is investing an additional £9.9 million in Teaching Leaders from 2014 to 2016.

This funding will more than double the number of Teaching Leaders fellows and alumni from 776 to 1,706. This means over 900 new fellows, working with 3,000 classroom teachers, to improve teaching for 150,000 pupils.

And as well as creating more fellows we want to expand their reach. We want Teaching Leaders to work with schools outside of the urban areas that already benefit from the programme. This will include schools in the East Midlands, Humberside, West Yorkshire, the North East and Merseyside.

The new fellows in these areas will benefit from the same intensive programme that you all received. They will receive face-to-face coaching, and there will also be local evening training and more geographically-focused networks, providing opportunities to share with other middle leaders from their area.

But, of course, we must continue to improve the impact of the programme. Teaching Leaders has already found ways to enable more middle leaders to benefit from the programme within the funding that is available. Getting more from the money we spend is essential given the financial constraints that we face. I would like to thank you for this achievement.

My challenge to Teaching Leaders, and to you, is that whilst the programme grows in terms of the numbers of pupils it benefits, it also continues to grow in terms of the impact it has.

I want you to be at the heart of a self-improving school system:

  • by working within and alongside teaching schools to recruit and train the next generation of outstanding teachers
  • by growing the evidence base in education and leading on the development of evidence-based practice in schools
  • and by using effectively the new freedoms that we are making available to schools

We look to you to provide the proof that by putting the teaching profession in charge of school improvement we can ensure that all children have the opportunity to succeed.

Thank you for everything you have achieved and will achieve. I wish all of you the very best for your future careers.


[i] Barber et al. Capturing the leadership premium: How the world’s top school systems are building leadership capacity for the future (2008). A similar piece of analysis was included in Ofsted’s annual report for 2009 to 2010: “In 96% of the primary schools and 95% of the secondary schools inspected this year, where the teaching was good or outstanding, the leadership and management of teaching and learning were also judged to be good or outstanding.”

[ii] Unseen children: access and achievement 20 years on - Evidence report, Ofsted, June 2013

[iii] Improving the impact of teacher on pupil achievement in the UK – Interim findings, Sutton Trust, September 2011