The power of teachers to change lives

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

Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan addresses The Education World Forum.

Thanks, Dominic [Savage, Director-General, British Educational Suppliers Association] and for the wonderful performance we’ve just enjoyed.

A very warm welcome to you all for what promises to be an incredibly exciting and inspiring week, both here and at the BETT conference.

I know that many of you have travelled a long way to be here - some for the very first time - and I’m delighted you can be with us.

It’s a huge privilege to be hosting this, the biggest global gathering of education ministers. Dominic deserves great credit for bringing us together.

Now it feels impossible for me to begin without remembering that just over a month ago we celebrated as Malala Yousafzai became the youngest ever Nobel Prize winner - and then, just a week later, mourned the terrible school massacre in Peshawar.

When I saw photos of the victims taken before the attack - the children, smart and hopeful in their school uniforms, and their proud, devoted teachers - what was striking and so poignant was that they could have been children and teachers from any country.

Because whether you’re in a border region of Pakistan, in a fast-developing African city or in a leafy English village, this is what schools everywhere come down to - children who are hungry for knowledge, teachers who want to help them and families who want schools to give their child the best possible start in life and equip them for the modern world.

The power of education to change lives is something that unites us all.

And we need to do all we can to harness this power; not just to improve standards in education, but to unlock the potential of all young people - girls and boys. And by doing that, to narrow inequalities, reduce poverty and achieve our wider development goals.

As both Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, this is a personal priority for me - as I know it is for so many of you too.

That’s why I hope we can really seize this opportunity to learn from each other and transform our children’s futures - and those too of our countries.

This is very much the spirit in which we’ve been reforming our education system in England - making changes inspired by the world’s best systems and, in turn, hopefully inspiring others.

We’re fortunate in this country to have some of the most outstanding teachers, schools, colleges and universities in the world, with many of our institutions proving a beacon for large numbers of students, researchers and academics from overseas.

And there’s our world-beating flair for innovation and enterprise that I’m sure will be showcased to great effect at BETT this week.

School reform

But, in 2010, we knew that our education system needed to raise its game.

For years, too many of our children - particularly those from the poorest backgrounds - had been falling behind.

At the same time as exam results in England soared ever higher, our international performance was stagnating, with other countries overtaking us in rankings like the PISA survey.

We knew we needed to make urgent changes and looked to the world’s leading education systems for inspiration.

We saw that they shared some key features: high levels of autonomy, accountability and aspiration, as well as a strong focus on teacher quality.

We saw that the results of countries like Germany and Poland had improved massively following moves to ensure that all their pupils studied core academic subjects, regardless of whether they went on to an academic or vocational path.

We saw that high performers like Singapore and Massachusetts had developed world-class curricula that were leaving our pupils in England trailing as their peers abroad raced ahead.

And we saw, crucially, that the some of the most successful systems, like South Korea, promoted the highest-quality teaching, with their brightest and best graduates flocking to join the profession.

So in developing our plan for education in England, we were keen to learn these lessons and ensure that our reforms were based on what was proven to work.

Hence our push to give teachers in England more autonomy - balanced by robust accountability - through our highly successful academies programme.

And our focus on raising aspirations and standards through a new, more ambitious national curriculum and the English Baccalaureate, so that all children leave school with the knowledge, skills and values to compete in the global economy.

In particular, we’re encouraging more young people - especially girls - to study science, technology, engineering and maths through the Your Life campaign with business, so the next generation can benefit from the endless career opportunities these subjects offer.

But at the heart of our reforms - at the heart of all great education systems - are great teachers and great teaching.

Empowering teachers

I’m delighted to see that this is a major theme here this year because the international evidence is clear - nothing is more vital to how well children do at school.

Championing these gifted, dedicated professionals who regularly go the extra mile for our children is an absolute priority for me.

Which is why we, in England, are doing much more to trust and empower our teachers.

We’re changing the way we recruit and train teachers, to attract top talent into the profession via initiatives like Teach First - which was, of course, inspired by Teach for America. And, through our new School Direct programme, giving schools more responsibility for training the next generation of teachers.

We’re supporting high-quality professional development through projects like our exchange with Shanghai, which has seen teachers from this education powerhouse teaching maths in primary schools across England.

And we’re encouraging schools to work together more closely to share expertise and help others improve through, for example, our growing network of over 600 teaching schools.

Because this is surely, ultimately, what we’re all trying to achieve; not systems driven by diktat, but systems that are self-improving, with schools learning from schools and countries learning from countries.

But let’s not forget that it’s teachers - who shape what happens every day in classrooms from Lagos to Los Angeles - who are the forefront of all progress.

And I’m in no doubt that it’s largely thanks to them:

  • that our plan for education in England is working
  • that 1 million more children in this country are now in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools
  • that more of our new teachers than ever before have top degrees, with Teach First now Britain’s biggest graduate recruiter
  • that more of our young people are studying the core academic subjects they need to get on in life

And it’s good to see that just as we’ve made strides inspired by the world’s best, we too are blazing a trail for others.

Inspiring others

Over 40 countries have visited my department over the past 2 years to learn about our reforms and exchange ideas on the challenges we all face.

So just as we visited Finland to find out how they approach initial teacher education, they too will visit us later this year to find out more about our teaching schools.

Just as we went to France to learn about early years provision, they too have shown an interest in our approaches to keeping young people for longer in education, and to promoting the STEM subjects.

And then there’s our teacher exchange with Shanghai, which is proving rewarding for all concerned: for English teachers and pupils who are experiencing the Shanghai teachers’ more in-depth and imaginative approaches to maths teaching, and for the Shanghai teachers, who are seeing what works well here.

Teacher quality

But we’re not complacent. We know there’s much more to do, particularly on teacher quality, both here in the UK and abroad.

Key to this is a profession that’s more confident and held in the highest public regard - and that has a strong voice to promote the highest professional standards.

That’s why we’re supporting teachers who want to set up a new, independent college of teaching in England.

And it’s why I’m delighted to announce today [19 January 2015] that we’re launching new, more ambitious standards for headteachers that better support a self-improving system.

Drawn up by the profession, these standards go further than the minimum we expect, spurring our headteachers to really strive for excellence, and also inspiring greater public confidence in their work.

Today I’m also pleased to welcome the publication of a review carried out by Sir Andrew Carter into what makes for effective initial teacher training and how our system in England could be improved.

There’s a lot to consider in this report, particularly the critical link between initial teacher training and further professional development. But it’s good to see that, overall, our system is found to be performing well; although more needs to be done to ensure all trainees receive some core grounding in the basics of classroom management and subject knowledge.

We are also today setting out plans to address Sir Andrew’s recommendations, including commissioning an independent group of experts to develop a framework of content for initial teacher training, as well as commissioning the Teaching Schools Council to develop a set of national standards for mentors. I look forward to responding more fully in due course.

And these efforts to help our teachers continuously improve come on top of our commitment to reduce unnecessary teacher workload, following a consultation to find out what it is that’s forcing teachers in England to spend more time working outside the classroom than their peers abroad.

I know that these issues - around workload, training and standards - are not unique to the UK.

I’m hopeful that by continuing to work together we can all make headway in these areas, and not only improve teacher quality, but - as I said at the beginning - really harness the power of education as an engine for wider change.

Post-2015 sustainable development goals

This is especially important as we take forward the unfinished millennium development goals and set the post-2015 sustainable development goals.

There was much to welcome in the UN Secretary-General’s recent synthesis report, especially the recognition that progress won’t be possible without strong, peaceful societies and inclusive, effective institutions.

On education specifically, there’s some good progress to build on.

The focus in the millennium development goals on universal education provision for all primary school children has really helped mobilise international efforts.

But we need to widen this focus beyond access, to ensure that the post-2015 agenda also captures the quality of education, and also do more to ensure that everyone, at all levels - including our brilliant, committed teachers - is on board.


I’m proud of the way we in England have taken the lead from the world’s best systems to deliver for our young people. And, drawing on our own strengths, are also shining a light for others.

Because it’s only by coming together as we have today - to celebrate, support and learn from each other’s efforts - that we can make the difference we all want to see in education and, indeed, in all our endeavours to build a better world.

To echo the extraordinary young woman who lit up last month’s Nobel Prize ceremony: ‘Let us become the first generation to decide to be the last that sees empty classrooms, lost childhoods, and wasted potential.’

Thank you.