Culture of education
Poverty of aspiration. That, Gordon Brown will argue today, lies at the heart of the failure of the British education system to be world beating. The prime minister has, once again, put on his thinking hat for what promises to be another densely argued speech. He believes that the educational debate in this country since the war has been damaged by an obsession either with state-only solutions or market-only solutions. In fact, he will argue neither can provide the complete answer when the real problem lies with the culture of education in this country.
Poverty of aspiration has been driven, he argues, by an elitist equation that more education must equal less quality and that there is limited room at the top. This pessimistic view is, in any event, outdated, he will argue, by globalisation. The competition is, in other words, no longer to be in the elite with A grades or places at Oxbridge but for a place in highly skilled, highly paid workforce of the global economy.
What does this mean in practice? There he is somewhat more vague.
He's setting a new target to eliminate within the next five years what are now dubbed failing schools. All schools, he'll say, should meet the target of getting at least 30% of their pupils achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Maths. To achieve this he'll urge councils to use both market and state solutions - turning failing schools into academies or bringing in private sector support or simply closing them down.
He will pledge to do more to recruit the brightest and the best to be teachers and to increase the level of parental engagement and interest in a child’s learning.
Whilst pledging to raise the aspiration of the school system Mr Brown will argue that every child should aspire to an apprenticeship if not to higher education. There will, he will promise, be up to £15,000 to compensate employers for the costs of that training.
UPDATE, 01:00PM: Some are concerned about my reference to the "British education system". Britain, of course, has three education systems and the UK has four. Whilst the specific policy of closing failing schools or turning them into city academies does not apply outside England, the Brown critique about "poverty of aspiration" clearly does apply to all.
Brown's speech (which you can read here) makes an interesting contrast to Michael Gove - the Tory education spokesman's article in today's Telegraph. The Tories are manning the barricades in defence of the A-level "gold standard" as once they did over the dilution of excellence in our universities. Labour is claiming that this is an old fashioned and elitist defence of educational privilege for a few.
My school motto was ‘I will try my utmost’. The motto of the school in the next-door town was ‘rise to the light’. And as I have travelled around the country I have seen just how aspirational and inspirational school mottos can be:
‘No goal is beyond our reach’ is the motto of the Business Academy Bexley.
‘The best in everyone’ of Paddington Academy.
‘Achievement beyond expectation’ of Banksome School in Darlington.
‘Excellence through endeavour’ of the Kennet School Newbury.
‘To strive and achieve is to succeed’ of the Howard School Medway.
And all these mottos - though they tell us something profound about the spirit of the age in which they were written - are not simply mementos of the past... And they are not just enduring statements of shared beliefs across our communities about the possibilities of progress…They are a declaration of faith in the future - that education makes it possible for young people to bridge the gap between what they are and what they have it in themselves to become.
So these mottos are a promise and a summons; they embody ideals and aspiration; they speak to a guiding belief that every child has talent, every child can learn, and so we must nurture and fulfil the potential of all.
I was fortunate. I went to a school that aimed high. A school that had an ethos of striving, hard work and achievement. And that is what I want for every child in this country.
Education is my passion. Britain is full of talented people.
I believe that each young person has talent and potential. Each some gift to develop. Each something to give to the good of the community.
And the Britain I strive for is a Britain with no cap on ambition, no ceiling on hope, no limit to where your potential will take you and how far you can rise: a Britain where the talents of each contribute to the well being and prosperity of all.
The excellence in education that we need for this is not just a noble ideal - the search for knowledge, the pursuit of wisdom and the fulfilment of human potential - but an economic imperative too.
In the past those who had the raw material - the coal, the oil and the basic commodities, or the infrastructure - the ports and communications - were the ones that had competitive advantage.
Today what matters is who has the ideas, the insights, the skills and the creativity.
The countries that will succeed are those who do more than unlock some of the talents of some of their young people: they will strive to unlock all the talents of all of their people.
And in the last ten years we have moved our education system from below average to above average.
But we have to do more than that.
Our ambition must be nothing less than to be world class in education and to move to the top of the global education league.
And so it is time to say: not just that we will aim high, but that we can no longer tolerate failure, that no longer will it be acceptable for any child to fall behind, no longer acceptable for any school to fail its pupils, no longer acceptable for young people to drop out of education without good qualifications without us acting.
No more toleration of second best for Britain.
And to achieve this we must confront and defeat three assertions that have held our country back for too long.
The first is that there is only limited room at the top: that there is no point in educating everyone as far as their talents will take them because the economy needs only a few trained for the top.
The fast-changing world economy has decisively defeated that argument.
Even if in the past there may have been limited ‘national room at the top’, now there is clearly ‘global room at the top’.
Indeed, today there are millions more skilled jobs and opportunities in our country and all over the world for people with skills and qualifications.
The young people we educate can, and often do, work anywhere in any part of the world. There is a virtually unlimited global demand for new talent.
And the real challenge we face is not ‘no room at the top’, but ‘no room at the bottom.’
Unskilled jobs are disappearing. We have 6 million unskilled workers today. We will need only half a million in 2020 - five and a half million fewer.
And this disappearing demand for low skills and rising demand for high skills explains why no young person can now afford to leave school without skills.
Britain is also held back by a second often-heard assertion that ‘more means worse’: that to educate more and more young people is wasteful because they do not have the talent.
Instead of talking of a ‘pool of untapped talent’ some even talk of a ‘pool of tapped untalent’.
And each year, even as more young people achieve GCSEs and A-levels, and as university and college opportunities are expanded, we hear echoes of this ‘more means worse’ dogma: that only some can achieve high standards and that high achievement in education is by definition limited and exclusive.
This self imposed limit on the development of talent has been the historic curse of the British education system and goes a long way to explain where too often we fall short of other countries.
Take university access. Other countries are already above 50 per cent for young people going into higher education - indeed Australia has a graduation rate of 59 per cent. Yet many in Britain say that to even consider going up to 50 per cent is a recipe for ‘dumbing down’.
And the result is that while we have some of the best world-class schools and world-class universities, still too many people still do not get an excellent education.
And in Britain just 10 per cent of unskilled workers’ sons and daughters reach university, an attainment gap that has to be bridged.
If these notions that ‘more means worse’ are wrong, so too is the related view - a fatalist one that springs from the denial of aspiration - that there will always be schools that do badly and pupils who will never do well, or even adequately.
When combined with an equally defeatist left-of-centre assertion that poor children can never overcome their disadvantage at school, it acquiesces in low expectations and it puts up with coasting and failing schools.
So my argument today is that it is time for Britain to leave behind, once and for all, this culture of pessimism, any acquiescence in defeatism, the acceptance of low aspirations that holds us back.
The poverty of aspiration is as damaging as the poverty of opportunity and it is time to replace a culture of low expectations for too many with a culture of high standards for all.
Now in the summer, we created a new Department for Children, Schools and Families because we wanted for the first time to be able to support children in the round. Because we all know that there are many other influences on our children’s development beyond their school - and that our education strategy must look at the whole picture.
And since then, the Secretary of State has been laying the foundations for the next stage in the transformation of education: how we will focus on classroom standards and ensure that we monitor exam standards rigorously, reform the qualifications system, and mobilise universities and businesses behind school improvement.
Building on these changes, I want today to spell out what world-class education means in the 21st century for Britain.
And I also want to show something more: that only by tackling old prejudices and engrained cultures of low expectations, and by raising our sights, can we make a reality of equality of opportunity for all children in our country.
In other words we need not just education reform but culture change.
Equality and a culture of aspiration
Why do I say this?
For most of the 20th century, the fundamental political divide was between a Left that believed that the extension of state action, and its command and control structures, could solve social problems and reduce inequality - and a
Right that believed the state had to be rolled back for market forces, and market incentives and rewards, to be unleashed.
In the social democratic tradition, the state simply supplied services to people. It built schools, hospitals and houses, and provided the funding to run services.
But it paid less attention to how people used those services, and the capabilities people need to make the most of the opportunities available to them. It trusted professionals to deliver services and the public to accept them. People were treated more as passive subjects than as participants in change. And the system was content to limit participation in the shaping and direction of public services to voting at election times.
In the words of the historian Peter Clarke, it was about mechanical reform - social change from above, not below.
For its part, the Conservative tradition viewed government as an obstacle to market forces. Indeed, it still does. It reduces human motivation to self-seeking calculations in the market place and relies on civic virtue for charity in areas from where the state is withdrawn.
But today we can see that both of these positions are inadequate. We need both strong public services and a dynamic market economy in order to be a fair and prosperous society.
Of course arguments about the size of the state and the funding of public services mark important political dividing lines. And investment in public services is critical. But we no longer believe in a zero sum game in which there is only one winner between the state and market forces. In advanced economies, each has its place and prosperity results from drawing upon the best strengths in each of them.
But that is not the end of the matter. For what those who placed their faith in either state or market too often ignored is culture: the motivations, values and habits that influence us all in our daily lives, in our families and communities.
The values we share, the aspirations we have, the boundaries we set between what is acceptable and unacceptable.
We can now see that culture change is critical to achieving success in reforming public services.
And this is true in almost every area of public policy - from preventive public health to social care, from community policing to tackling climate change - where we can see that equality of opportunity can work to best effect when people want to, and believe they can, improve things for themselves and are aspirational about what they want to achieve.
And services can no longer simply be delivered to people, without their engagement. Whether we aim to reduce carbon emissions, or to tackle obesity, or empower people receiving social care, change will be most effective if people participate and play their part.
So the bad news for old thinking on both Left and Right is that culture matters. The good news is that culture can change.
And it is by promoting this cultural change that we will ensure the values we share come alive in the 21st century.
So our goal must be simultaneously:
· to expand opportunity - not one chance but second, third, fourth and lifelong chances;
· to raise the aspirations people have to grasp those opportunities - the key to unlocking talents;
· and to develop people’s capabilities to participate in shaping the future, so that services are personal to each and shaped by all.
On its own equality of opportunity can never be enough.
Opportunities are only meaningful if people have the capabilities, resources and the aspirations to make the most of them. So inequalities in aspiration and capability must be tackled.
Without doing so, fairer outcomes - the fairness which will shape the opportunities of the generations to come - will never be achieved.
If we can expand opportunity, aspiration and participation together, then the outcomes for pupils, patients, parents and citizens will be fair - the result of the choices we make, the hard work and effort we put in - not imposed by the accident of birth or the brute luck of circumstance.
And in this way we will create a stronger, fairer society, with excellence within the reach of everyone, not just the few. Talent nurtured, effort rewarded. The merit of each in the service of all.
Aspirations and participation in education
So what does this mean for our schools and for education?
Aspirations matter in every aspect of education:
· the aspirations of parents, for their children, from the very earliest years onwards;
· of young people, seizing the opportunities available to them;
· of teachers, schools and local government setting high expectations for achievement;
· of society, placing the highest possible cultural value upon learning;
· and of government, setting long term ambitions and matching those with the investment necessary to realise them.
Just consider the evidence.
We know the level of parental engagement in learning is more important in determining a child’s educational achievement than their social class background, size of family or the parent’s own educational attainment.
And a child with a stimulating home environment does better on all the scores of early childhood development.
Conversely, we know that teenage pregnancy is significantly more likely amongst girls whose mothers have low expectations for their education, even after controlling for socio-economic factors.
So aspirations matter.
But we have barely set out on the journey of involving parents in the education of their children and encouraging high aspirations as an explicit, central goal of policy.
And let me say that I know parents are worried about discipline and bullying, about schools where their children’s lessons are disrupted, and where there is not enough of a school ethos for learning to flourish and all children to succeed.
I share all of these concerns. And if we ask parents to get more involved in the education of their children, and in the lives of their schools, we have to respond to these concerns - just as parents for their part need to reinforce the expectations for good discipline and the boundaries of acceptable behaviour set by head-teachers for their schools.
So let us now involve and engage parents at every stage of the journey of their children’s education, spreading the best practice of the best schools.
More regular, ‘real time’ feedback about their children’s progress; regular emails, regular meetings.
And more parents sessions at schools - to share information and set goals - at key transition points for their children.
It is not just parental involvement that matters. Young people’s aspirations matter too.
The great failure is not the child who doesn’t reach the stars, but the child who has no stars to reach for.
And as every teacher knows, you cannot educate those who you cannot motivate.
But we know sometimes that helping boys in particular to aspire and aim higher comes up against boredom, distraction and disaffection. A sense that the classroom isn’t for them. And the downward pull of peer pressure.
So we have also to raise boys’ aspirations: provide education that can enthuse and engage; provide different opportunities for vocational learning as young people prepare for the transition to the world of work.
And the very idea of personalising learning is about helping children become more aspirational: that we identify talent, we shape education around the unique needs and aspirations of the child, and we engage pupils in their own learning - giving them a thirst for education and knowledge that will stay with them long after they have left school.
We will be expanding our Gifted & Talented Programme - giving 1 million of our most talented children the opportunity to benefit from special, stretching tuition.
We are boosting activity in those areas which can unlock so many different forms of talent: sports, music, the arts and culture, and enterprise.
We will continue to increase the number of student ambassadors from universities working in schools from 4,500 in 2003 to 7,200 now - helping promote the benefits of higher education to younger pupils.
And we will build on our ‘Aim Higher’ programme so that we increase the aspiration to go to university --- just as universities themselves reach down into schools and colleges and hold summer schools to help lift young people’s sights towards higher education.
And because raising aspirations is at the heart of raising standards, I can today announce that we will ask the National Council for Educational Excellence - working with schools and universities, the Sutton Trust and other organisations - to report to us on how we can increase applications to universities from comprehensives in disadvantaged areas.
World class standards in education
So raising both aspiration and participation is at the heart of our approach. But direct action to raise standards - and to address failure - is fundamental.
We have come a long way in the last decade.
Ten years ago, there were no Sure Start Children’s Centres or nursery places for three year olds. No literacy hour in our primary schools. No guaranteed sports, arts and modern languages. No extended schools. No trust or specialist or academy schools in every area.
No Education Maintenance Allowances so that young people could stay on in education beyond 16.
And few new school buildings - which now stand as beacons of aspiration in deprived communities.
All of this and more has been achieved.
But now, as we develop our 10 year Children’s Plan, we need to move to the next stage in the transformation of education in Britain: rising to the challenge of world class excellence.
Across the globe, education standards are rising. Other countries aren't standing still - instead they are pushing forward the frontiers, showing what a 21st century education system can offer:
· in Canada, Finland and Hong Kong, almost all children achieve the required standard of literacy by age 11;
· in Finland, every teacher has a Masters degree and 10 people apply for each place on a teacher training course;
- in South Korea only the very brightest and the best are selected to enter the teaching profession;
· in Chicago, Boston and New York, education leaders take a systematic and relentless approach to tackling failing schools.
So the world is moving at a restless and rapid pace to transform education. Indeed, what appears world class now will be second class in ten or twenty years time. And that means that the strategic choices we make today are critical to our future prosperity.
So I want us to learn all the lessons of excellence from around the world:
· that the very best education systems start with high quality, affordable day care and early learning. In Scandinavia, children start school ready to learn because they have had excellent and highly professional pre-school care and development;
· that, as Sir Michael Barber has shown, the best education systems recruit the best people into teaching - the top 5 per cent in South Korea, the top 10 per cent in Finland, the top 30 per cent in Singapore and Hong Kong;
· that in excellent schools, the teachers receive continuous training and professional development which updates their skills and expertise - and there is strong leadership from good head-teachers who have autonomy to lead their schools;
· that world class education services achieve high standards for 100 per cent of the children, with systems of accountability, funding and pupil tracking that leave no child behind; personalised learning tailored to the unique potential of every child; and one to one tutoring and support;
· that world class excellence depends on a systematic intolerance of failure and a preparedness of public authorities both to intervene and to innovate to eradicate it;
· and that in leading economies, participation in training or education is near universal up to age 18, skills investment is high and rising, and entry to universities rapidly increasing.
So we must renew our ambitions.
First, we will build on the improvements we have made in the early years by extending entitlements to free nursery education and improving the quality of childcare and early learning. In the long term, we should aspire to match the excellence of the Scandinavian countries in early learning and day care.
Second, we will raise still further the status and standards of teaching.
Everybody remembers an inspirational teacher. And everybody knows that a good teacher makes all the difference.
And that’s just personal experience. Research is absolutely conclusive about teaching standards. If you take a group of fifty teachers, a child taught by one of the best ten will learn at twice the speed of the child taught by one of the worst ten. Teaching quality is that important.
OFSTED say we now have the best teachers ever in our schools today. They should be valued and applauded for their work.
Now our goal should be even bolder: to have a world-class teaching profession for all our pupils within a generation.
We will do more to raise the quality of recruits into teaching training, and expand routes into teaching for talented people in mid and late career, with ‘Teach First’ and now ‘Teach Next’.
We will build on these reforms with the aim of raising still further the status of teaching in Britain and matching the rigorous selection of the brightest and best into teacher training that other countries have achieved.
And we will promote greater opportunities for teachers to undertake professional training and development, linked to performance assessment.
This is my belief: that world-class performance comes from consistent brilliance from teachers in every classroom; professionals who seek continuous improvement, who teach better lessons tomorrow than they did yesterday because they are learning all the time; who when a pupil falls behind don't assume it is a lack of ability but instead ask - “how could I teach that material better to enable my pupil to master it?”
This is the challenge for teachers. We will assist them in rising to it.
Third, our guiding principle - social justice for all - means that no child should be left out or should lose out; that as we raise standards we also narrow social class achievement gaps in education, and that every child should progress as far and as fast as they can.
We have improved standards in schools in disadvantaged areas. But we have not made enough progress in closing the gaps between individual pupils from different backgrounds.
A ‘no child left out’ education system must work for 100 per cent of the pupils, 100 per cent of the time: a major undertaking for this generation.
So accountability frameworks and progress targets must prioritise success for all.
In primary education, every child should reach the expected level in literacy and numeracy. If the best in the world can do it, so can we.
To those who say this is not possible, I say visit West Dunbartonshire, one of the most disadvantaged parts of Scotland.
Ten years ago it took the decision to eradicate illiteracy in primary schools. In 2001 almost 1 in 3 left primary school functionally illiterate. Last year only 6 per cent did so. Through sustained ambition and intensive interventions at every level, it is on track to wipe out pupil illiteracy this year. A decade of raising standards for children.
If West Dunbartonshire can do it, so can the rest of the country.
It means one to one catch up in the ‘3 Rs’ as of right to every pupil who needs it, with early intervention through ‘Every Child a Reader’, ‘Every Child Counts’ and the new programme, ‘Every Child a Writer’.
And it means better school-based social and behavioural support for children with extra needs - building on our ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda.
For secondary education, it means all pupils making good progress with setting by ability and stronger classroom discipline.
And it means real commitment to personalised learning, with more one to one tuition, small group teaching, a personal studies tutor for secondary school pupils, and more support for innovative teaching and learning strategies.
We know that the best schools already achieve superb results with personalisation. The best schools are well led, with innovative ideas, and they increasingly operate in networks that link schools together, spreading best practice from school to school.
Our goal must be an education service that has the capacity and the space to innovate and to personalise learning.
And as we start to move to personalised testing, we must keep assessment under review to ensure that it supports learning and achievement and does not dominate teaching.
Every child is entitled to a decent school and a good education.
So, fourth, we will put an end to failure.
We’ve cut the number of failing schools dramatically in the last decade.
In 1997, over 600 secondary schools had less than 25 per cent of children getting 5 or more good GCSEs.
Now only 26 do.
But the latest figures show that there are still 670 schools where less than 30 per cent of pupils get 5 ‘A star’ to ‘C’ grades at GCSE including English and Maths - down from 1600 in 1997, but still much to do.
So we must go further to end failure. The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has challenged local authorities to use their new powers. This is a critical strategic role and challenge for local government.
In the next five years, we will work to get all schools above 30 per cent ‘A star’ to ‘C’ grades at GCSE, including in English and Maths.
Let me be clear. Many of the schools below this threshold are improving, with strong and determined leadership. Many face the toughest challenges in our education system.
So we will use the right mix of intervention and support to raise standards.
We will put in place a systematic plan of ever tougher measures for eradicating failure starting with:
· annual improvement targets for all schools that fall below the threshold;
· new incentives for the best teachers to teach in toughest schools - including expanding ‘Teach First’ and ‘Teach
Next’ to have the best possible teacher intake;
· good schools brought in to help poorer schools under improvement networks run ‘by schools, for schools’, as the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust motto puts it;
· warning notices to trigger intervention powers, including new interim executive boards to take over the school management;
· complete closure or takeover by a successful neighbouring school in a trust or federation, or transfer to academy status, including the option of take over by an independent school.
There will be 150 more academies in the next three years, on route to our target of 400. More universities working with us to set up academies. More local authorities doing what Manchester, Birmingham, Oldham and others are doing - putting academies at the heart of their local school improvement plans. And more independent schools setting up academies to take over failing schools.
This is a determined and systematic agenda to end failure. We will see it through. We will not flinch from the task.
Our final goal for world-class education will be 100 per cent success for young people making the transition from school to college, university and skilled work.
Every young person should know that they have something to aim for in their education. So at age 18 or 19, each should graduate from school, college or an apprenticeship with good qualifications or an apprenticeship certificate.
We have set out a new vision for diplomas, designed with universities and businesses to meet the needs of the new century. And alongside the diplomas, we plan a radical overhaul of apprenticeships with:
· a new UCAS-style matching service, so that young people in any area can be matched up with businesses offering apprenticeships in every area;
· a widening of the numbers of employers who join the apprenticeship programme, building on the 130,000 signed up today;
· making the public sector a better partner in apprenticeships including in Whitehall itself;
· a legal duty on the learning and skills council to provide sufficient apprenticeship places in every area, so that we end the situation in which there can be only 95 apprenticeship completions in Hackney but over 2500 in Hampshire.
And to drive aspirations up, we will ensure that all those reaching 18 or 19 who want to go onto an advanced apprenticeship or further education and training have the resources they need.
So just as two thirds of university students will be able to apply for grants of up to £3,000, so advanced apprentices will have a credit of at least £3,000 though a Skills Account to pay towards their costs.
And from this year, we are paying the college fees of young people up to the age of 25 studying the equivalent of A-levels, and giving access to an adult learning grant of £30 a week.
All of this is possible against the backdrop of the legislation to extend training or education to the age 18 by 2015, to bring us in line with the best in the world. We will offer financial support those who could not otherwise afford to stay in education. But we will not insist that young people stay in the classroom. They will be able to choose from clear pathways into the future: further study at school or college, an apprenticeship or work with time off for training.
And in the coming weeks, the Secretary for Children, Schools and Families will bring forward an action plan to ensure that all young people are in education, jobs or training. We will offer new rights matched by new duties.
Because we cannot afford to leave any young person behind outside work or study. Because we owe it to our young people to equip them for the world they are growing up into.
I make no apology for saying that education is the best economic policy.
And I make no apology for wanting every child to be able to read, write and add up.
But education has always been about more than exams, more than the basics, vital as they are.
To educate is to form character, to shape values, and to liberate the imagination. It is to pass human wisdom,
knowledge and ingenuity from one generation to the next. It is a duty and a calling.
As Plutarch said, the mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.
And that is why we have such high ambitions. Not just because education is a matter of national prosperity, although it is certainly that.
It is because education is the greatest liberator mankind has ever known, the greatest force for social progress.
And that is why it is my passion.
So I want to see a Britain where every child can go to a world class school, supported by high aspirations, surrounded by excellent opportunities.
Where every family has the right to participate in the education of their child, and every chance to do so.
Where every young person can see ahead of them a goal in life, and the support they need to get there.
A Britain where effort is rewarded, ambition fulfilled, potential realised.
A Britain of high aspirations.
A Britain of all the talents.
And I ask all of you to enlist in this cause.