Michael Gove speaks about the future of education reform

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, speaks to the first Education Reform Summit in London.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Michael Gove speaking at the Education Reform Summit

It’s an enormous pleasure to join the Education Foundation in welcoming everyone today to the first ever global Education Reform Summit held here in London.

Everyone here has a story to tell about the changes that idealistic teachers are making to improve the lives of the next generation.

Everyone here will also have experiences to share about the specific challenges they face in helping children to succeed.

And all of us will be able to learn from each other - about those successes and challenges - in order to ensure that we can all make a difference for good to the lives of young people.

A shared moral purpose

Because everyone here is united by more than just a professional commitment to improving education. We all share a moral purpose - liberating individuals from ignorance, democratising access to knowledge, making opportunity more equal, giving every child an equal chance to succeed.

And nowhere has the case for reform to drive that moral mission been clearer than in England.

As part of our long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain, we want to deliver the best schools and skills for our young people. We want young people and their parents to have the peace of mind that they’ll gain the skills they need to get a good job, no matter where they live or how well off they are.

When this government was formed in 2010 we inherited one of the most segregated and stratified education systems in the developed world.

More than a fifth of children left primary school without reaching a basic level of literacy and numeracy; two-fifths finished full-time education without even the bare minimum qualifications that most employers and universities demand.

And what made this scandal more shameful was the inequality it entrenched. The poorest students overwhelmingly attended the weakest schools. And as children made their way through the education system in England, the gap between rich and poor widened.

Closing that gap is a personal crusade for me.

But it’s also an economic imperative for every developed nation.

Because the twin forces of economic globalisation and technological advance are transforming the world we live in.

Our jobs, our lives, our economies and our societies are going through dramatic and irreversible change.

For the next generation to flourish, education systems must equip every child with the knowledge and skills, the qualifications and confidence they need to succeed.

Children who leave school with no skills or low skills will find their employment opportunities limited and their horizons narrowed.

If we are to defeat the evil of youth unemployment and give the next generation economic security then many more children need to be educated to a far higher level than we now accept.

We need not just to close the gap, but to raise the bar.

Based on rigorous evidence

And while globalisation and technology make reform imperative, they also allow it to be more collaborative.

We have to achieve both much greater equity and much higher standards than our predecessors - but we also have access to much richer data and much deeper knowledge about what works.

We now have the networks and mechanisms to assess policies more rigorously than ever before, compare innovations and learn from each other.

In the past, great teachers - and indeed education ministers - have operated in isolation from any systematic and rigorous analysis of which of their interventions worked. Views on pedagogy or funding had to be taken on trust.

But in the last decade there has been a much more rigorous and scientific approach to learning. Instead of a faddish adherence to quack theories about multiple intelligences or kinaesthetic learners, we have had the solidly grounded research into how children actually learn of leading academics such as E.D. Hirsch or Daniel T. Willingham.

And when it comes to analysing which interventions, approaches and techniques help children to learn more quickly, more deeply and more sustainably we have also had access to a better bank of data than ever before,

The OECD’s PISA study, alongside the data from PIRLS, TIMSS and other studies, have transformed our understanding of what works.

And that data and the data of what happens in individual classrooms with individual practitioners has been analysed by reformers from John Hattie to Sir Michael Barber, so the lessons of what works can be shared more effectively than ever before.

One of the most encouraging trends in English education - which helps the cause of reform worldwide - is the way in which those leading the debate and driving evidence-based change in our schools are teachers.

We commissioned Dr Ben Goldacre - the author of ‘Bad Science’, a brilliant debunking of pseudo-scientific myths and fallacies - to help improve the use of evidence in English education.

And the biggest enthusiasts for his work have been teachers.

Teachers such as Andrew Old, Daisy Christodoulou, Robert Peal, Joe Kirby, Kris Boulton and Tom Bennett have used social media and professional networks to drive this move towards a more rigorous and evidence-based approach to helping children learn.

We in the UK government want to do everything to support this move. We believe the evidence base we build here can help children worldwide. We set up a new charity, the Education Endowment Foundation, to trial and evaluate the most effective techniques to narrow the gap in attainment between children from rich and poor backgrounds.

We have also set up a network of teaching schools to act as generators of evidence and excellent practice in education in the same way as teaching hospitals generate medical innovation.

These are schools rated outstanding by independent inspectors - and they are pioneering breakthroughs in learning and building evidence from which all professionals can benefit.

As are similar organisations across the globe, from the What Works Clearinghouse, Uncommon Schools and the Knowledge is Power Programme.

Improvements so far

We have built our reform programme in this country on the evidence we have gathered so far of what works in those countries where the gap has been narrowed and the bar has been raised.

We have studied what works in the highest performing and most improved education systems - from Poland and the Netherlands to Singapore and Shanghai - and we have sought to implement the essence of those policies here.

That has meant:

  • setting the highest standards nationally
  • ensuring every child can follow a stretching academic curriculum to the age of 16
  • giving principals more autonomy to hire and fire, set curricular policy and shape the school day
  • sharpening accountability through more rigorous, externally set tests and more intelligent inspection
  • devoting extra money to helping the poorest students
  • celebrating success wherever it’s found

We’ve done all we can to ensure the authority, respect and prestige of teachers is enhanced in and beyond the classroom. We’ve scrapped absurd ‘no touch’ policies which prevented teachers from keeping control in the classroom as well as keeping children safe; and given teachers back powers to manage pupil behaviour.

By following the evidence - by adhering to the principle that what’s right is what works - there has been a renaissance in English state education.

The benefits of our long-term plan are already starting to show:

  • more great schools
  • more great teachers
  • more pupils studying the subjects they need to get a good job
  • record numbers of apprenticeships

Since 2010, the number of children in failing secondary schools has fallen by almost a quarter of a million.

Eight hundred thousand more pupils are now being taught in schools ranked good or outstanding by independent inspectors compared to 2010 - and around 50 of those schools didn’t even exist 4 years ago.

In the same period, around 600 of the worst-performing primary schools have been taken over by expert sponsors or headteachers - the majority of which are already leading other schools with a proven track record of success.

This has been an explicit continuation of a policy set in train by 2 of my predecessors, Andrew Adonis and Tony Blair: the academies programme.

Progress on this policy stalled under Gordon Brown but has been massively accelerated under this government.

It is giving the very best heads control over many more schools, and thousands of children a better start in life.

Underperforming schools taken into the academies programme and placed under the leadership of great heads are improving more rapidly than those schools which remain in the hands of local politicians.

A stunning example of what’s happened under this programme is the progress made by a school in London which used to be called Downhills Primary and which has been reborn as Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane.

When Downhills was under the control of local politicians, it failed its pupils year after year. For almost a decade it drifted in and out of the very lowest category of performance: ‘special measures’.

Pupils failed to meet minimum standards in maths and English for 5 years in succession - provoking repeated demands for significant improvement.

When it was proposed that Downhills should become an academy and benefit from the leadership of great headteachers who had brought success elsewhere, local politicians and trade unions fought reform every step of the way.

But 2 years later the evidence is clear. As Ofsted’s first inspection of the new Harris Academy Philip Lane reported:

Pupils’ progress has improved rapidly since the academy opened in 2012 […]. Leadership and management, including governance, are outstanding. Leaders have brought about considerable improvements in teaching, behaviour and achievement because of very high expectations [and] worked very closely with parents, who are supportive of the academy.

This transformation is a credit to the hard work and dedication of the school’s teachers and leaders - and of the Harris Federation’s expert, experienced team.

Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane is now giving hundreds of pupils and parents a better, brighter chance in life. Like all the Harris academies - and particularly through the 2 Harris teaching schools - spreading their best practice and outstanding teaching techniques to many more schools than ever before.

And it’s not alone. All over the country, failing schools are being taken over and transformed - and brand new schools are being set up, bringing new choice and high standards.

And this renaissance is being driven by teachers

Look at the Greenwood Dale trust, led by the recently and deservedly knighted Sir Barry Day.

As a teacher, Barry worked in some of the most deprived schools in the country, helping children from the poorest backgrounds. As head of Greenwood Dale School, a secondary in an extremely deprived area of Nottingham, he transformed a failing school into one of the most successful schools in the country - and one of the first to become an academy sponsor in its own right.

Today - overseeing 22 academies and 2 free schools - he’s using that proven track record to reach exponentially more children than ever before.

Right across the East Midlands, working in the most disadvantaged communities, Greenwood Dale Trust academies are achieving fantastic results. Last year, on average, the proportion of pupils achieving 5 or more good GCSEs including English and maths rose more than twice as fast in Greenwood Dale Trust academies as in local authority schools across the country.

And there are many, many more examples. Look at Reach Academy in Feltham, a new, innovative, all-through free school founded by dedicated teachers.

Look at the London Academy of Excellence, a fantastic new sixth-form free school, drawing its students from some of the most deprived areas of London and aiming to send them to the top universities in the world.

Look at Sir Michael Wilkins’ schools - including a teaching school - in the Outwood Grange Trust. More others than I can mention - teachers leading change in a self-improving system.

Further to go

But that doesn’t mean ‘job done’. There’s still much further to go.

In 10 years’ time, children who started school back in September 2010 will be finishing compulsory education at the age of 18 – the first cohort since our reforms began.

So today I’d like to set out what the self-improving system should achieve by that time.

What a world-class education, and education system, will look like - not just today and tomorrow, but next year, and in 2024 and beyond.

More and more schools run - and more and more decisions made - by teachers, not politicians.

Higher standards and higher expectations from every school and every pupil at every stage and every age.

More children from all backgrounds taking core academic subjects at GCSE - the best possible preparation for apprenticeships, places at top universities, and good jobs.

A drastic reduction in levels of illiteracy and innumeracy in our country and in our schools.

A marked and sustained rise in school quality, driven by every school being part of a supportive, collaborative chain or network - because when you give schools more autonomy, they collaborate more, not less.

Calm, orderly classrooms, and stretching, challenging curricula. Exams that command respect among universities and employers alike.

Basically, it means this.

Every child in the country, no matter where they live, what their background, or whatever type of school they attend, gets the sort of education which introduces them to the best that has been thought and said.

The sort of education which equips them to do whatever they want in life - and leaves no opportunity out of reach.


That is the mission which drives me and unites all of us.

This is the goal we are all striving to achieve.

Of course, any change to the status quo is difficult. Of course, people can be more frightened of what might be lost than inspired by what might be gained.

But for years, for decades, our status quo has simply not been good enough. We can’t and we mustn’t keep going backwards - and failing the poorest above all.

So to those striking today - to those walking out of classrooms to take to the streets - I urge them to reconsider.

The unions, in the past, have claimed to ‘stand up for education’. Today they’re standing up for their own pay and pensions.

I urge them to join all of us in this hall, all of us who are really standing up for education - putting education first and foremost - and the education of our most deprived children most of all.

So thank you again for coming here today.

For your commitment to the future of education - and the futures of every individual child in your care, today, tomorrow and in the years to come.

Thank you, above all, to the Education Foundation for all their hard work to create this event today.

May it be a celebratory, ambitious, inspiring day for all of us - and a turning point in the global movement of education reform.

Thank you.

Published 10 July 2014