David Laws speech to the North of England Education Conference

Schools Minister David Laws sets out more detail on the Talented Leaders programme.

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

The Rt Hon David Laws

The coalition government’s biggest immediate challenge on coming to office was to sort out the government’s finances and restore sustainable growth.

But our biggest long-term challenge has been to improve the quality of education for all children.

Improving education is the most important investment our nation can make. That is why even in these tough times we have protected the schools budget in real terms.

Our economy won’t thrive unless we have a nation in which all are skilled, flexible and creative.

Good education is not just an investment. It is also a key ingredient of a liberal society in which every citizen is empowered and can realise their full potential.

There is much to welcome in England’s education system.

We have some of the best schools in the world - in both the state and private sectors.

But there are challenges.

It is frankly appalling that almost 4 in 10 young people do not attain the modest standard of 5 good GCSEs, including English and maths.

It is particularly shameful that so many disadvantaged children do so badly. This is a comment on our society as well as on our schools, but it is no more acceptable for that. We must not tolerate over 6 in 10 children from low-income backgrounds failing to achieve 5 good Cs at age 16.

Yesterday, you heard from Sir Michael Wilshaw, the best leader Ofsted has ever had. As a head, he, and now many, many others have shown that there is no inevitable link between poverty and educational performance.

Since this coalition came to power, we have taken many steps that I am very proud of, and which I believe will help to improve standards and narrow the gap.

Firstly, in April 2011, we introduced a pupil premium to give schools with disadvantaged pupils the resources to deliver. Next year the pupil premium rises to £935 for every secondary pupil, £1,300 for every primary pupil, and £1,900 for every child in care. At those rates, this means that schools will attract almost £14,000 of extra funding over a pupil’s school career to help them to keep up or catch up.

We have spent £3.75 billion on the pupil premium so far, and will spend another £2.5 billion next year. We are giving schools the resources to do the job, and we now expect schools to deliver. Many schools are already doing just that: in your hands, this money can transform the life chances of the poorest children.

Secondly, we are overhauling the entire accountability system to raise aspirations, evaluate schools more fairly and drive the right teaching incentives.

I am particularly pleased that we are raising the bar significantly at the end of primary school, so that we prepare pupils to succeed rather than struggle at secondary school.

We have also seen the abolition of the ‘satisfactory’ label for schools and said what all know to be true - that a ‘satisfactory’ education isn’t good enough. I am pleased that Ofsted has sharpened inspections since September so that schools need to demonstrate the impact of the pupil premium on their disadvantaged pupils.

I am delighted that we are focusing more on progress, so that we judge all schools fairly, and do not penalise the teachers and headteachers who work in our most challenging schools.

We are moving from the flawed 5 A* to C measure, ensuring that schools focus on all their pupils and not just those on the C/D borderline.

There is much else that the coalition government can be proud of in English education.

Michael Gove has been right to lead the debate about the whether the rise in exam performance is real.

Past politicians enjoyed pointing to ever rising performance, but the international evidence suggests that standards have not risen in line with exam results.

The coalition government is also addressing a new challenge - we are creating hundreds of thousands of extra school places to educate meet the biggest rise in the number of children since the postwar baby boom.

Government and councils can be proud of providing 260,000 extra school places, with another 240,000 on the way, and funding for a further 500,000 by 2021.

Improving teaching and leadership

The quality of our education system is determined by the quality of our teachers.

Good teachers motivate and inspire. We can all remember those who helped us and were important to our progress or direction. Across the country there are thousands upon thousands of incredible teachers who work hard, day in, day out, to make sure that their pupils can reach their potential.

This government has done much to improve the quality of teaching and leadership, and I will reflect on that in a moment.

It is crucial we get the policy interventions right, and do not go back to the types of top-down, bureaucratic, impositions seen under past governments.

Education is an area of political contention and debate.

The Secretary of State isn’t afraid to engage in lively debate and use direct language.

The teaching unions express their views strongly and without fear.

Healthy debate is a good thing.

But we must also find common ground on teaching and leadership.

We all want the best graduates to become teachers.

We all want teachers to be well qualified and to do their job well.

We all want a system where poorly performing teachers are supported to improve, or required to move out of teaching if they cannot deliver for our children.

We all want a system where being qualified to teach is not a one-off event, but where teachers develop their skills, knowledge and practices over time.

We want teaching to be a proud profession, which our best young people aspire to join.

We must all tell the world what a wonderful, rewarding job teaching can be.

Politicians have a responsibility to do better.

And - bluntly - I think the unions do too. If all people hear about teaching is how awful it is, they will not sign up to be teachers.

As Sir Michael Wilshaw said yesterday, “We should do more to celebrate our profession and be great cheerleaders of it.”

I could cite a lot of evidence about why teaching and leadership matters.

But I won’t because I am sure we all agree about this.

Instead, let me speak about what we are doing, and what we will do.

Firstly, we are recruiting the best graduates into teaching and raising the quality of teacher training.

Recruiting the best people into teaching

I am delighted that the proportion of teacher trainees with first class or 2:1 degrees is now at record levels. The current proportion - 74% - is far above the 61% that prevailed at the end of the previous government’s time in office.

Expansion of Teach First

The Teach First programme is an important part of teacher recruitment. It helps us attract the very best graduates and raise the status of teaching.

Ofsted has rated Teach First as outstanding in all 44 areas that it assessed. That is why we have announced our support for Teach First’s goal to train 1,500 participants in 2014 to 2015; tripling the number who took part in the programme in 2010.

Teach First not only attracts highly able graduates, but it gets them into our most challenging schools. And I am delighted that, as of 2014 to 2015, Teach First will be placing teachers in every region of England. These important initiatives must reach way beyond inner London and our major cities.

Initial teacher training and School Direct

We are also reforming initial teacher training so that schools play a greater role in the selection and training of teachers. The introduction of School Direct has marked a sea-change in the way in which schools take responsibility for recruiting, selecting and training the next generation of teachers.

The programme is popular with applicants: there are 3 applicants for every place compared with fewer than 2 for traditional PGCE courses. As Sir Michael said yesterday, I would like to see higher ratios in the future. Those applicants are also more likely to have achieved a 2:1 or better in their degree.

We know that universities have a crucial role to play in the delivery of high-quality ITT. That is why we expect higher education institutions to be involved in over 80% of all teacher training for 2014 to 2015.


As the economy recovers, we will have to do more to attract the best teachers, particularly in traditional ‘shortage’ subjects.

That is why we have announced more scholarships and larger bursaries to help recruit the most talented graduates in key subjects in 2014 to 2015. These scholarships will now be worth as much as £25,000.

Promoting evidence-based teaching

It is also essential that we do more to promote evidence-based teaching.

For that reason, I can announce today that we have invested an additional £1 million in the Education Endowment Foundation to fund pilot projects to test out the most effective ways of translating research findings into changes in the classroom. From Monday [20 January 2014] schools, providers and researchers will be able to bid to test:

  • ways to increase teachers’ and school leaders’ engagement in evidence
  • the most effective ways to communicate research
  • how links between schools and researchers can improve the practical application of research in classrooms

At the same time, we are providing additional support for 20 teaching schools to develop their expertise to support evidence-based teaching across their alliances.

As a result, teachers and school leaders will get a much better idea of how to put discoveries from research into practice.

Pay flexibility

Just as we support teachers to improve, we want schools to be able to reward good performance.

Our new pay arrangements are designed to create a high-quality, effective and motivated teaching profession and ensure that teaching should be a rewarding career.

Schools can reward those who strive for better teaching, for more responsibility, for sharing good practice and coaching others. We must encourage aspiring, ambitious people to enter the profession and high-quality staff to remain and continue to develop.

Ofsted and lesson plans

And teachers must be able to exercise their own judgement in determining how to teach.

The Chief Inspector was absolutely clear yesterday that there is no “Ofsted-approved” lesson plan. The guidance for school inspectors is unequivocal on this point. Teachers should determine how to teach. Inspectors will judge teaching by the quality of learning, not by teaching style.

The new Ofsted framework also, quite rightly, places particular emphasis on the performance of pupil premium children. A school with great performance for the majority cannot expect to be graded outstanding if its pupil premium pupils are lagging behind.

Looking ahead

I would like now to look ahead.

We need to ensure that we have more outstanding school leaders and that we get these outstanding leaders into the schools which need them most.

We need to recognise school leaders who take on wider responsibilities in more than one school.

We need to ensure that we spread best practice from school to school.

And we need to do more to support the development of our most crucial resource, our teaching workforce. This is not just about brilliant schemes such as Teach First, which develop a minority of our teaching talent. It is about the mass of 440,000 teachers in our schools who all have crucial part to play.

School-to-school support

We are helping schools form partnerships with each another. We want outstanding schools to take a leading role in the training and professional development of teachers, support staff and school leaders, and to help to raise standards through school-to-school support.

In addition to almost 350 teaching schools working with more than 4,700 schools in their alliances, we also have over 850 national leaders of education. This programme enables outstanding headteachers and their schools to provide bespoke support to improve the teaching and leadership in schools in challenging circumstances. NLE designation has a positive impact not only on the schools supported but in the schools providing the support, who benefit from excellent staff development opportunities and better staff retention. We will work hard to ensure that all areas have a good stock of NLEs.

A school-led system requires good information. Last summer we introduced new tables showing the performance of schools compared to others with pupils of similar prior ability. Parents can see whether a school is doing well or badly given its intake. We want struggling schools to identify those nearby who are doing well in similar circumstances, and learn from them.

Geographical distribution

We also need a better distribution of high-quality teachers and leaders, and support systems across the country. If not, we risk solidifying social divisions, rather than breaking them down.

That is why last autumn the Deputy Prime Minister announced the establishment of a new programme that will match excellent leaders with schools facing difficult challenges in parts of the country that struggle to attract top leadership talent. Schools in such areas will be able to request a high-performing school leader from a pool of some of our brightest talents.

Today we are taking the first major step in delivering on the Deputy Prime Minister’s pledge, by commencing a tender exercise to identify the delivery partner to run our Talented Leaders programme.

We will formally launch the programme in the spring, but I can announce here today that, within its first 2 years, it will match 100 high-quality school leaders to schools which need to improve.

We will work with our delivery partner to agree the areas of the country on which the programme will focus, and we expect that the school leaders will then go into those areas in small groups to lead challenging schools.

This is not about parachuting in ‘hero heads’. The objective will be to ensure sustainable school improvement. We expect these headteachers to work with school staff to strengthen succession planning within their schools and to support the development of a long-term strategy to improve standards.

This programme has the potential to make a powerful contribution to educating some of our most disadvantaged children. It is about helping schools who want a new outstanding head to find one. It is about providing support to ambitious and aspiring leaders who want to make a real difference by taking on a new challenge. And it is about getting outstanding leadership talent to the areas of the country where that talent can have the biggest impact. I believe that in time its impact could be on a scale to compare with programmes such as Teach First.

Leadership pay reform

As I said earlier, the government acted to introduce greater flexibility in terms of teacher pay. In January last year we asked the School Teachers’ Review Body to make recommendations for reforms to ensure that school leaders’ pay reflects the challenges they face and the contribution they make.

We have argued in favour of greater financial incentives for leaders to take on the most challenging schools in the areas of greatest educational disadvantage. We have made the case that there should be greater scope for leaders to be rewarded when they achieve outstanding results with the most disadvantaged pupils.

The STRB has now submitted its report. We are considering their recommendations and will respond in due course.

Continuing professional development

We want a world-class school system where teachers are respected professionals - members of a profession which people aspire to join. We want teachers to have the autonomy they need to focus on their pupils and to be part of a peer-led, self-improving, evidence-driven system.

This calls for a strong focus on the professional development of teachers throughout their careers. This in turn requires the whole profession to embrace the benefits of professional development; and for teachers to use evidence and research as a matter of course, in their own practice, and when they share knowledge of ‘what works’ across the system.

Teachers, and of course, governments too!

We need to effectively link together the systems of professional recognition, performance, and CPD to provide a world-class system of professional development which raises the status and quality of the teaching profession. And we need to look at how we can do more to support professional development and improvement in teaching practice over a career which could last for 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years.


Thank you for your inviting me here to speak to you today.

I hope that I have been able to set out where the government is going and give some indication of our future direction.

This coalition still has almost a year and a half to run, and I am determined that we will remain focused on our task of improving schools right up to the very end of our period in office.

There is much to welcome in what has been achieved by schools over the last few years but there is still a long way to go if we are to deliver on our shared ambition to make our education system one of the best in the world, for all our pupils.

The subject of teaching and leadership is hugely important, but is too often neglected in favour of more ideological debates about structural reform.

We need to spend more time thinking about improving teaching and leadership. And I want to hear your views on how we take this common agenda forward.

Thank you.

Published 16 January 2014