Thanks Brett [Wigdortz, founder and CEO, Teach First] I’m absolutely delighted to be here today.
Because I am in awe of the work that Teach First do and in awe of the contribution that all of you are going to make to transform the life chances of young people right across our country.
Young people, who if they aren’t inspired, motivated and pushed, risk being turned off by education, of falling behind with potentially devastating consequences for the rest of their lives.
That is why the commitment that all of you are about to make is so important and why the work of Teach First is so central to our shared goal of making sure that every young person, regardless of birth or background, receives an education that allows them to realise every ounce of their potential.
Because every time we fail to do that, every time we leave a child behind, we don’t just fail them, we also lose the contribution that child was capable of going on to make. We risk losing the next Alexander McQueen, Michelle Mone or Mo Farah, because we never gave a young person a chance to demonstrate their best or discover their own unique talent.
The Prime Minister made clear on the steps of Downing Street on May 8th that this new administration would govern as one nation, driven by a commitment to real social justice.
Nowhere is that more true than in education.
There are many things that I can point to when I’m asked what that commitment means - our determination to ensure that every young person studies the core academic subjects they need to get on in life, our refusal to let any pupil spend a day more than necessary in a failing or coasting school, or our drive to improve the adoption process so that more children have the promise of a loving home.
But perhaps nothing sums up that commitment more than the Teach First programme, which takes some of our brightest and best graduates, who have benefited from the opportunities offered by our greatest universities and places them, often far outside of their comfort zone, in some of our most deprived communities with the task of engaging and inspiring young people.
When people ask me what social justice looks like, I only have to point them to the work that you do.
And the impact of Teach First goes far beyond the individual classrooms in which you’re working, or soon will be working in.
Teach First has led to a sea change in how the whole of the teaching profession is regarded and driven up standards across the education sector.
Perhaps most importantly Teach First isn’t just a 2-year programme, it’s a way of life.
I know that over half of trainees are still in the classroom after 5 years, some like Max Haimendorf and Carly Mitchell have gone on to become inspirational heads, many more are in middle leadership positions or leading new free schools.
But even those of you who leave after 2 or 3 years will always remain connected to our education system - perhaps to become the academy sponsors of the future or set up a free school, perhaps to work with education charities, perhaps to return to the classroom at another point.
And Teach First’s influence doesn’t even stop there - it goes beyond the school system. It is of course the inspiration for programmes like Frontline which are now helping to do for social work what Teach First has done for education, bringing in more of the brightest and the best, challenging outdated orthodoxies and unlocking innovation.
So I am hugely grateful for what you’re all about to do, and hugely grateful to Teach First for giving you that opportunity to do it.
Now, the next few years aren’t going to be easy. Those of you already in the classroom already know that, and others of you will already be wondering whether really you ought to have signed up to that training contract or accepted that place on the grad scheme.
But I know that another one of the fantastic things about Teach First is that you’ll have experienced mentors to help you every step of the way and that if you stick at it, as I know most of you will, the rewards will be truly great.
And in exchange for your commitment, I promise that I and this government will do everything we can to make sure you can excel.
To make sure that you can focus on what you do best - inspiring and engaging young minds and not on the bureaucracy and paperwork that I know can make teachers’, and in particular young teachers’, working lives miserable.
As many of you will know, since I became Education Secretary I’ve prioritised tackling unnecessary teacher workload. More than 44,000 teachers responded to my ‘workload challenge’ last year and from that I was able to introduce a range of measures designed to ensure that we as government played our part in limiting unnecessary workload.
These measures included:
- moves to give schools more time to prepare for significant changes to accountability, the curriculum and qualifications
- publishing useful case studies, written by serving teachers, showing what’s working well in other schools
- a commitment from Ofsted not to change their handbook or framework during the school year, except when absolutely necessary
- and a commitment to continue tracking teacher workload by carrying out a large scale survey next spring and every 2 years from that point onwards
But I was always clear that those initial measures were only the start of the process. Equally, I was also clear that there’s only so much that government can do to reduce workload and that the real battle is about changing behaviour, albeit sometimes influenced by us in DfE, on the ground.
Teachers and leaders told us that much of the work they do every day - such as marking, planning and tracking pupil progress - is essential, but that it’s the volume, duplication, bureaucracy or detail that can prove unnecessary or unproductive.
So that’s why I’m delighted to announce today that we’ll be setting up new working groups to address the 3 biggest concerns that teachers raised in the workload challenge - marking, planning and resources, and data management.
The marking group will look at marking and feedback in schools which are successfully raising standards without generating unnecessary workload, with a focus on the implications of certain practices such as ‘deep marking’
The planning and resources group will consider the impact of lesson planning and use of resources in schools to see how effective practice can improve attainment and reduce workload.
The data management group - announced in February - will develop principles for good in-school data management, including how pupil progress is monitored.
We’ll publish further details of how these groups will work next term, including membership and terms of reference. But I can say that they will be made of up frontline professionals who will be able to look at these 3 key areas and produce real and concrete recommendations for the department, for schools and for heads on how to minimise unnecessary workload.
Continuous professional development
I want my commitment to go beyond simply tackling workload. I want government to play its part in ensuring that we give you the support you need throughout your career, to ensure that you are the most highly skilled teaching workforce in the world.
It’s absolutely vital, for the quality and status of teaching and for pupils’ prospects, that teachers have access to on-going, high-quality opportunities to improve their practice in line with the very latest evidence.
Fundamentally, teaching must be seen as a ‘learning profession’. Which is why I’ve asked David Weston, CEO of the Teacher Development Trust, to lead an independent group to develop a new standard for teachers’ professional development - a clear statement about what kinds of professional development make a real difference and a mythbuster to challenge some of the misconceptions that are still widespread in some schools.
There are schools all over the country that are already taking action that we know has strong evidence behind it - such as sustained collaboration between teachers and a focus on professional development, not just for a day or week, but over time, as seen at Highbury Grove School in London and Huntington School in York.
And there are other ambitious approaches, for example, linking professional development to pupil outcomes, that are being developed by schools like Cramlington Learning Village in Northumberland and Sidney Stringer Academy in Coventry.
We will also continue to make robust evidence available to teachers and schools to inform decisions about professional development and, crucially, support schools sharing what works with each other through our growing network of teaching schools.
And this last point about the profession taking ownership of this issue is critical - because we in DfE can never know what works to make great teachers as well as you do on the ground.
Which is the thinking behind our support for the development of an independent College of Teaching - a professional body promoting the highest standards of practice and professional development.
My hope is that this body will take us even further towards ensuring teaching receives the parity of esteem it deserves alongside other professions such as medicine and law.
Call to others
I hope that this government’s commitment to the teaching profession is clear, and that you know your efforts are held in the highest regard at the very heart of this administration.
My hope is that your example will inspire others to see teaching as one of the noblest forms of public service, of their way of giving back - not just at the very start of their career, but at any point in their lives.
I attracted some criticism recently for suggesting that those at the end of their career should consider going into teaching. Some sought to caricature this as me forcing octogenarians to lead PE lessons.
But I stand by that statement - because just as I want dynamic young graduates to bring their energy and wanderlust in the classroom, so too I want those with years of experience in a range of careers to bring their wealth of knowledge into the classroom as well.
I want lifelong teachers to have their work complemented by lessons from former civil engineers, stage managers, barristers and meteorologists. I believe that those at the end of their careers have a huge amount to offer our classrooms.
But this isn’t just about the beginning and the end of someone’s career. People should feel able to take up teaching at any time. As many of you know, for your generation, the age of the career for life is no more - the average person changes careers 5 to 7 times during their life. I want more people to consider teaching as 1 of those changes and the truth is lots of people are already doing it.
On a recent visit to Ark Wembley, I had the privilege of meeting a group of their newest trainees - almost all of whom were career changers and came from professions as diverse as marine biology, publishing, translation and the civil service.
So, I now intend to do more to encourage and facilitate those at any stage of their career to get into teaching; to realise the rewards it has to offer and to be able to play their part in engaging the next generation. And above all I want to make it easier for them to do it right across our country, because governing as one nation means making sure that every young person, wherever they live, has access to the best our teaching profession has to offer.
All that remains for me to do here is to thank you once again. To wish those of you heading to the classroom for the first time the best of luck and to those of you heading back to school every success for the year ahead.
Thank you so very much.