Education Secretary Nicky Morgan discusses changes to the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) at King Solomon Academy, London.
Thank you so much for the invite and thank you to year 7 for that great performance.
One of the best things about my job is meeting pupils and teachers from across the country.
To see what’s working, to find out what’s not, and to learn what more I can do to help make our schools and classrooms truly exceptional.
Because what I want from education, what I passionately believe our education system should do, is give every single young person the chance to make the most of their talent.
And from everything I’ve seen and heard about this wonderful school, that’s exactly what you do, and it’s why I’m so delighted to be here today.
Every student at this school has the chance to go to a school totally and utterly focused on helping every single young person that walks through its doors, regardless of their background, to achieve whatever they want in life.
Because as the Prime Minister said on 8 May after he was re-elected, we are committed to governing as one nation. Nowhere is that more important than in education, where that commitment means giving every young person whatever background, wherever they’re from, the same opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Best possible start in life
I know how hard all of you in this school work, from teachers and support staff, to you, the pupils.
And the reason that is so important, is as I so often say, we know that a great education really sets you up for the future.
What you’ve learnt here so far - what you’ve achieved here - will stay with you for the rest of your lives. Which is why it’s so important that you learn the right things and learn them well.
It’s why at this school, almost all of you study the core academic subjects at GCSE, the subjects that keep your options open, and allow you to enter the widest ranges of careers and university courses.
We call it the English Baccalaureate, or EBacc.
Which means getting good passes in English, maths, sciences, history or geography and a language at GCSE.
And let me be crystal clear, this isn’t because I think that the arts subjects are in any way less good or in any way less valuable.
On the contrary, our country would be much the poorer if we were to fail to inspire the next generation of Henry Hollands, Olivia Colemans or Tinie Tempahs, or the next great orchestra.
What good schools like King Solomon Academy show is that there doesn’t need to be a false choice between an academic or an arts-based curriculum. You can do them both and you can do them both well.
As Max has said, here:
a fully rounded curriculum includes participating in a full string orchestra like I just heard, residential trips, quality work placements and performing unabridged Shakespeare plays.
Our pupils’ achievements in these activities, alongside the core academic subjects, allow them to study from the full range of subjects at A level and keep open as many options as possible for university and beyond.
And increasingly in the careers of the future - many of which don’t yet exist - that’s exactly what you’ll need to succeed. Just look at one of the fastest growing industries in this country, ‘app design’, which requires both knowledge and creativity in abundance. You might be surprised to know that when I was at school we had no mobile phones or apps. The only apple you had was the one you ate.
To me it seems obvious, that as many young people who are able should be studying these subjects up until 16. Not because we think that they’re the only subjects you should study but because they give you that flexibility and choice, down the line.
But the truth is, not all young people get the opportunities you do. Across the country, thousands of students are missing out.
Because they were told that academic subjects weren’t for them, because it was easier to pass a less demanding course, because young people were never told which doors would close by not studying these subjects. All making it harder for them to get a good job, an apprenticeship or a university place.
And the worst thing of all is that it’s the poorest young people who are most likely to miss out, with disadvantaged pupils only half as likely to be entered for the EBacc as their classmates.
And as research published last week by the Sutton Trust showed this has absolutely nothing to do with ability.
The brightest pupils at primary school - those in the top 10% nationally - were still less likely to take history, geography, a language or triple science at GCSE than their peers, if they are eligible for free school meals.
For every young person, no matter what their background, we don’t think that’s fair and neither does this school.
Every single one of you - every single person in this country - deserves the chance to get these qualifications at school.
No matter where you come from or what you want to do in life, no doors should be closed to you.
Because the world is now smaller than ever before. When your generation applies for university places, apprenticeships or jobs, you won’t just be competing against someone from down the road. You’ll be competing against young people across the world - so you’ll need the sort of qualifications, skills and experience that will help you to stand out.
So we are determined to make sure that the sort of excellence and high aspirations I’ve seen here this afternoon at King Solomon Academy are spread right across the country.
That’s why we promised in our manifesto that we’d work closely with teachers and heads to work out how we make sure that every child has the chance to study these crucial subjects. And that is what I’m committing to delivering today.
I know this will be a big change. There may be a small group of pupils for whom this won’t be appropriate. But our goal is for pupils starting year 7 this September to study the EBacc subjects when they reach their GCSEs.
It’s an ambitious goal and it’s the right thing to do.
To give every single young person in this country the very best start in life.
That’s what we mean when we talk about social justice, recognising the power of education to transform lives, break down barriers and open up a world of opportunities.
The other big change that I’m announcing today is about the grading system we’ll use for the new GCSEs that start being taught this September.
As some of you might know, we’re already replacing the old system of A* to U with a new scale of 9 to 1.
And today I’ve confirmed that the ‘good pass’ will be set at a grade 5. That’s at the top of the current grade C and the bottom of the current grade B.
To be sure, it’s a step up from where we are now and really does raise the bar. It brings us in line with the expectations that top performing countries like Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland have for their students.
And as I said earlier, for your generation it isn’t good enough for you just to be top of your class, or the best in your neighbourhood. You need to be able to show that the qualifications you’ve earned and worked hard for can go toe-to-toe with your peers from across the globe.
In calmer classrooms
We also know that you can only do your best and reach these new higher standards, if you’re able to learn in an environment which is calm, supportive and well-behaved as I’ve seen here myself this afternoon.
That’s why it’s so important that alongside setting higher standards, we do more to tackle bad behaviour.
The good news is that our schools and classrooms are actually better behaved than they’ve been at almost any point in history.
In fact we’ve done a lot over the past 5 years to help teachers tackle bad behaviour by giving them better guidance, protection and support.
We’ve scrapped the rules stopping teachers from taking control of the classroom and ensured that heads’ decisions on expulsions can no longer be overruled.
But as every teacher knows, it’s not just serious behaviour issues that can get in the way of teaching and learning.
Low-level disruption, especially when it’s happening daily, can be just as damaging.
I’m sure you all know what I mean by low-level disruption, and just how distracting it can be.
I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard, perhaps from other schools, someone talking at the back of the class or someone’s mobile phone going off in the middle of a lesson.
And it’s not always easy for teachers to challenge something like that. Especially when they’re new to the classroom.
So this government is going to do everything we can to support teachers to manage this low-level disruption.
And in particular I am delighted to announce that Tom Bennett, a renowned behaviour expert, has agreed to chair a working group to look at behaviour content in training for new teachers building on the best evidence about what works to help them manage classrooms and manage behaviour.
I hope he’ll take a visit here to King Solomon Academy to find out how you do it.
In a couple of years’ time, school will be just a memory for all of you, although I hope some of you do decide to become teachers. And judging by the conversations I’ve had, it’ll be a very happy one.
As you make your way through life, you’ll be surprised how often you think back to what you learnt here at King Solomon Academy both in and out of lessons.
And just as important as your grades, your hard work and determination, the dedication and support of your teachers, will help you make the best possible start to your future.
That’s what we want for every single young person in this school and right across the country.
That’s why we want all of them, like all of you, to aim high, and to study the subjects that will unlock doors in the future to get a world-class education that sets them up for life.
Thank you again to all of you and your teachers for hosting us here today.
And I wish you all the very best of luck with your studies.
Like your teachers and parents, your friends and families, the government is standing right behind you. Supporting you, and young people like you all over the country, to truly be the best that you can be.