Speech

Nick Gibb at the Voice conference

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

The Schools Minister addresses the Voice conference in Manchester to outline the government's programme of education reform to raise standards and reduce bureaucracy.

Thank you for those kind words Philip.

Today’s teachers operate under great scrutiny, in conditions that require significant reserves of professional and intellectual skill.

On a day-to-day basis, they are expected to stretch gifted students and engage troubled teenagers; to inspire children discovering new subjects and to ensure that every pupil gets a firm grasp of the basics.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Voice members, both teachers and support staff, for all their hard work and professionalism.

And thank you to Voice itself for engaging with Government and putting forward the views of its members so effectively.

In particular, I’d like to mention Voice’s approach to reform of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, and the industrial action earlier this year and last year. Voice negotiated just as strongly as the other teaching unions - but Voice members also did everything in their power to ensure that children did not miss out on their education.

Government objectives

This Government’s programme of education reform is driven by three overarching objectives:

  • to close the attainment gap between children from richer and poorer backgrounds;
  • to ensure that our education system is on a par with the best in the world; and
  • to raise the professional status of teachers; trusting professionals and increasing autonomy.

At the heart of this programme is a move away from a top-down, prescriptive model of education - with lever arch files full of guidance and painstakingly specific schemes of work - to a system that enhances and increases the independence of teachers.

That’s why our White Paper setting out the Government’s education reform agenda was called The Importance of Teaching.

And that’s why our whole approach is built on an inherent trust in the professionalism of teachers - removing the barriers preventing teachers from doing what they came into the profession to do.

Importance of teaching

International research shows that teacher quality is the single most important factor in pupil progress. As a 2007 report from McKinsey stated, “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”.

Another McKinsey report, published last year, analysed Ofsted inspection reports and concluded:

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

Studies in the United States have shown that a pupil taught for three consecutive years by a top 10 per cent performing teacher can make as much as two years more progress than a pupil taught for the same period by a teacher in the bottom 10 per cent of performance.

For poorer children, the transformative effect of a good education can be even more marked.

In June last year, PISA reported on how the education systems in different OECD countries helped children to overcome their social and economic background.

In Shanghai three-quarters of students from poor backgrounds achieved more in their education than expected. In Singapore, nearly half did.

In the UK, only a quarter of poor children managed to exceed expectations. Overall, this country ranked 39th out of 65 in terms of children’s ability to overcome their social and economic background..

Autonomy

I have long believed - perhaps because my mother was a very dedicated teacher herself - that education is the only route out of poverty. To this day, we know that there is no more effective means of helping people to get on in life.

Over the years politicians of all hues, determined to create a more level playing field, have brought in various well-meaning, heavy-handed interventions.

Yet the gap between children from the richest and poorest backgrounds has remained persistent, stubborn and entrenched.

Last year, 58 per cent of pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at A* to C including English and maths - but for children on free school meals, that figure was a disappointing 34 per cent.

Our most pressing priority in government is to support the profession in reducing the gap between richer and poorer pupils.

And I am acutely aware that overweening government intervention can be counter-productive.

Over and over again, international evidence shows that professional autonomy is an essential feature of every high performing state education system.

To quote from the OECD: “In countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.”

This does not, of course, mean that the Government should beat a full retreat: quite rightly, the public expects Government to take action where it identifies weakness.

And we do need to set a clear direction in areas like phonics, where the evidence of its effectiveness is so overwhelming.

Teachers already making a difference

But in schools all over the country, teachers are already using our reforms to make a real difference.

Over the last year we have seen an increase in the number of students taking maths and physics A levels, rising from 97,600 to 104,700.

The number of students studying foreign languages has risen dramatically: 51 per cent of state secondary schools now have a majority of their pupils taking a language in Year 10, up from 36 per cent in 2010.

And pupil absenteeism has fallen, with persistent absence dropping from 6.8 per cent last year to 6.1 per cent in 2012.

In my view this is one of the most significant statistics of the year.

Of those who miss between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of school, only 35 per cent manage to achieve five or more GCSEs at grade C or above including English and maths.

And more than one in ten children who qualify for free school meals are persistently absent from school, compared to less than one in 20 of those who do not.

These statistics show the great results which teachers are already achieving in schools. Today, I want to run through four key areas where we are working hard to give teachers even greater flexibility and freedom.

Curriculum

As many here will know, we are currently reforming the curriculum (with Voice’s help). We want to make it more stable and less cluttered; focused more tightly on the essential core of knowledge that every pupil should be taught.

The new curriculum will set out the fixed reference points that are absolutely essential to a child’s education: allowing children to navigate their way from discipline to discipline, and to think critically and independently.

As far as teachers are concerned, the great benefit of the new curriculum will be its permanence.

Many teachers have told me how frustrating and stressful it is to work in an environment of constant change - and I know that this sense of powerlessness and uncertainty has a major impact on workforce wellbeing.

Indeed, one of my greatest concerns about the QCDA’s 2007 reforms was that they actively promoted a state of perpetual revolution, encouraging constant change by contextualising concepts against current events - which then become obsolete almost immediately.

This will not be true for the new curriculum.

Core knowledge, by its very definition, does not need to be repeatedly revised to reflect changing fashions, or new current affairs.

Instead, the new curriculum will focus on the fundamentals that will give children today (and tomorrow) the best possible start to their future.

And I will count it as a success when teachers are able actually to laminate their lesson plans and recycle them from September to September.

Of course, a leaner curriculum will also allow teachers far greater professional flexibility over how and what to teach.

It will not specify how teachers should contextualise these concepts and subjects for their students. No longer will we create a whole host of hostages to fortune, doomed to become out-of-date before the ink is even dry on the page.

Rather, we will leave it to teachers to decide how to bring these subjects and topics to life.

Unleashing entrepreneurial spirit - Free and teaching schools

Autonomy also gives teachers the opportunity to lead educational reform.

In every area of the country, hundreds of outstanding schools have already been selected as Teaching Schools: leading peer- to-peer school improvement, delivering exemplary CPD, designating and brokering specialist leaders of education, carrying out valuable research and giving new and experienced teachers an opportunity to develop their professional skills throughout their careers.

We’re also giving schools a stronger influence over the content of initial teacher training as well as the recruitment and selection of trainees, and continuing to ensure that ITT provision focuses on the quality of placements and selection.

And, of course, perhaps the most potent symbol of teachers’ entrepreneurial spirit can be found in the very visible expansion of the academy and free school programmes.

As we move into summer, over half (51%) of all secondary schools are now open or in the process of opening as academies, teaching over one and a quarter million children.

There now are 1776 academies, of which over 1400 have opened since May 2010.

The Free School programme is up and running in tandem and I am particularly keen to see teachers with entrepreneurial spirit and flair exploring its potential.

Some of the most exciting free schools, like Bradford Science Academy, Canary Wharf College and Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy, are led by teachers - and these schools are going from strength to strength. Woodpecker has already applied to open another Free School in 2013, while the Confederation of British Teachers (which opened a free school in 2011) will open two more schools this September.

It has always surprised me, having come from an accountancy background myself, that teachers haven’t been given the opportunity to establish practices in the same way as doctors, lawyers or accountants.

We have now put a mechanism in place by which teachers can lead reform and I am delighted to see so many already taking advantage of it.

Reducing bureaucracy

As teachers step forward, using their knowledge and expertise to drive improvements, Government must step back.

This brings me on to the third area I wanted to mention today: the reduction of red tape and paperwork.

Two years ago, teachers in all types of schools told us that one of the biggest drains on their time was the burden of government bureaucracy, consuming far too much energy and time and sapping morale.

That’s why the Department has removed 75 per cent of centrally-issued guidance over the last two years - some 20,000 pages.

Behaviour and bullying guidance has been slimmed from 600 pages to 50; admissions guidance down from 160 pages to 50; health and safety guidance from 150 pages to just six.

On top of this, we have scrapped the requirements on schools to set annual absence and performance targets; to consult on changes to the school day; and to publish school profiles.

And we have removed a host of non-statutory requirements like the self evaluation form, replaced the bureaucratic financial management standard, stopped 10 data collections and clarified that neither the Department, nor Ofsted, require written lesson plans to be in place for every lesson.

From September, we will be introducing further measures to remove or reduce some of the bureaucracy around teacher standards, admissions and school governance.

I hope that these important modifications will go a long way to reducing those bureaucratic pressures on teachers that were highlighted as a major concern in the NFER report.

Behaviour

If we are to retain and attract the calibre of teaching talent that we need, then there is one issue in particular that I am keen to address.

Some 52 per cent of teachers state that they have considered leaving the profession because of poor behaviour. 59 per cent believe that the standard of pupil behaviour has got worse during their careers.

The OECD has estimated that 30 per cent of effective teaching time in schools is lost because of poor pupil behaviour.

What is clear, I’m afraid, is that increasing numbers of children have not been set proper boundaries at home. They turn up at school aggressive, disruptive and unwilling to work; they disturb lessons for their peers, and make their teachers’ lives more difficult.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of the work that Philip and Voice are doing to equip teachers to handle this behaviour.

And I am grateful for the opportunity to restate, in the strongest possible terms, my support for the profession in dealing with unruly pupils. No teacher, nursery worker or member of support staff should have to put up with aggressive, confrontational or abusive behaviour from the children in their care.

Over the last two years, we have introduced a series of measures to support heads and teachers in managing poor behaviour; and I expect headteachers, in turn, to support their staff.

Since the start of last month, schools have had increased search powers for items which they believe will lead to poor behaviour or disruption. We have clarified head teachers’ authority to discipline pupils for misbehaviour beyond the school gates, including bullying outside school. And we have given teachers the ability to issue no notice detentions after school.

The new, simplified Ofsted inspection framework focuses on just four key areas of inspection - one of which is behaviour and safety.

And in light of research showing that nearly half of serious allegations against school teachers are unsubstantiated, malicious or unfounded, we’ve given teachers faced with an accusation, a legal right to anonymity, until the point when or if they are charged with an offence.

Finally, we have revised guidance to local authorities and schools to speed up the investigation process when a teacher or a member of staff is the subject of an allegation by a pupil.

Conclusion

I hope members of Voice will welcome our reforms to give teachers greater autonomy, flexibility and freedom.

I also hope that members will take this as a sign of the exceptionally high regard in which government holds the teaching profession.

My final words go to Philip, who has been such a great representative for Voice over these last six years, and for the profession as a whole; for the children he taught, and for the teachers he led, whilst deputy head at Old Clee Junior School.

Philip, I know that you will be very sorely missed. It has been a great personal pleasure to work with you and I wish you all the best in your retirement.

You campaigned hard and articulately over the years about the dangers to the teaching profession of the over-zealous attentions of government.

And I hope you’ll agree that the move towards much greater professional autonomy for teachers is a worthy tribute to your work and campaigning during your distinguished tenure at Voice.

Thank you.