Unleashing innovation in schools

Speech by Stephen Twigg MP, shadow education secretary, to the Foundation, Aided Schools and Academies National Association

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning and for the excellent work that you are doing to promote innovation and energy in our schools.

I was delighted to have been appointed as Labour’s Education spokesman under the leadership of Ed Miliband.

I have visited over thirty schools since my appointment in October. And one thing that has struck me is the excellent practice- in innovation and creativity- in operation in many of our schools. Fostering collaboration and sharing best practice between schools are hugely important themes and ones that I will pick up on in my remarks this morning.

I recently met with Sir Tim Brighouse, who many of you will know. I had the pleasure of working with Tim when I was a minister on the London Challenge to address underperformance in some of London’s most deprived schools.

I want to pick up on a concept that Tim has used – what he calls ‘energy creators’. Leaders in our schools, at all levels, who use the creative space at their disposal to advance school improvement and ultimately, the educational advancement of our children and young people. I have seen so many ‘energy creators’ taking advantage of the creative space offered to the by

•    the leadership ethos of a school,

•    the flexibility afforded in the curriculum,

•    and the shared sense of purpose in delivering a rigorous education

that equips children and young people with the capacities and capital that will enable them to choose their path in life and to live as rounded citizens.

In Manchester, at Barlow Hall Primary School, the Head, Jayne Kennedy, is pioneering a Reading Recovery centre. The innovative facilities that Jayne has chosen to invest in mean that the children at Barlow Hall are getting the targeted intervention that they need to make sure that they do not leave primary school without the capabilities to begin the secondary curriculum. Barlow Hall has a huge intake on Free School Meals, many of the children have English as a second language and there are particularly high levels of SEN children.

Jayne’s vision and foresight are remarkable. Firstly, in utilising the limited resource at her disposal in Barlow Hall to invest in a programme that is delivering real results. And second, in seeing the potential to create a facility that can be outsourced to others schools and teachers in the area.

I visited the centre whilst a ‘live lesson’ observation was taking place. With the use of a two way mirror, teachers observe and evaluate peers conducting Reading Recovery. And it was a teacher in this session who revealed that she had been teaching in primary schools for 18 years and had just come to the realisation that she had never received any personal development like this to improve her ability to teach children how to read.

This agenda that Jayne is leading is innovation in practice.

Every Child a Reader was innovative and it saved money. The impetus came from the private sector, with KPMG Foundation supporting its establishment. It also was a sensible investment in our future.

An analysis by KPMG showed that Reading Recovery intervention lifted 79% of children who receive it out of literacy failure, which made the return on investment for every pound spent on the Every Child A Reader programme in the range of 14 to 17 pounds.

Sadly, the government has removed the funding ringfence for Reading Recovery, meaning 9,000 children will miss out on this opportunity.

There are, when we scratch beneath the surface, energy creators at all levels in our school system, using the creative space that they have.

This week I heard from TSL, the company behind the Times Education Supplement, on their online peer-led professional development community. The 1.8 million online community, which many of you will no doubt be a part of, provides an excellent resource for teachers to share lesson plans and resources.

Bev Evans, who was a special needs teaching assistant in Wales, was recognised at the TES awards this year for the 450 resources she shared, which have been viewed 3.6 million times by users in over 186 countries. There are some excellent examples of peer-to-peer learning in practice in our schools. Likewise, there is much we can learn from other countries. In Japan for example where there is a much greater emphasis on peers working together on lesson design, delivery and evaluation.

And we see innovation being pioneered across the sector by school leaders, like Peter Hyman, who is setting up School21 in Newham, in an area of disadvantage where there is a great need for places. School21 is promising to deliver a rigorous focus on core subject knowledge- developing an education grounded in Literacy, Numeracy and Oracy – combining this with the teaching and learning of skills that will prepare children and young people for the increasingly fluid world of tomorrow, today.

I pick these three examples because they reflect innovation and creativity to advance standards and performance, at different levels and in different types of schools. They are all brilliant examples of how leaders in education, at all levels, can do more in times of less. In tough times, more than ever, we have to demonstrate fairness as well as value for money.

Innovation is the key to fairness, value and driving up standards.

I want every school in Britain to be a cradle for innovation, not just a learning factory.

This applies to pedagogy and practice too – education is not just about learning by rote or sitting in rows, but about interaction and generating excitement in children and young people.

I have said that Labour will establish an independent body to advise ministers – the Office for Educational Improvement to ensure that all teachers are aware of the best available research in raising attainment.

So Labour will help the best schools become hubs for innovation, which can be shared with other schools.

And it is the job of politicians to ensure we talk up success, and don’t just talk down to teachers.

I believe there is huge scope for schools to do more in collaboration, both to ensure that resources are not directed at ineffective approaches, but also because schools have so much to learn from each other. In one area in particular where I believe there is massive potential and that is in raising the quality of teaching.

Whilst it is widely accepted that we have the best ever generation of teachers, we know that further advancing teacher quality will advance the educational achievements of our children.

The evidence shows that the quality of teaching and learning is what makes the biggest difference and is the key to unleashing potential in schools. And it is evidence that we must be guided by in devising education policy, not dogma or political ideology.

The Sutton Trust is adding to a growing body of data on the impact of teacher quality. Last year it published a compelling report, which I’m sure some of you will be familiar with.

The report found that pupils taught by a very effective maths teacher gain in one year 40% more than if they were taught by a poorly performing maths teacher. Especially significant was the impact of high quality teaching on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Over a school year, these pupils gain one and a half years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with half a years’ with poorly performing teachers. In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is like being left a year behind.

These findings demonstrate my core belief in education that improving the quality of teaching is key to systematic improvements in our school system. According to the Sutton Trust, bringing the lowest-performing 10% of teachers in the UK up to the average would greatly boost attainment and lead to a sharp improvement in the UK’s international ranking.

This week is Teach First week. Teach First is a fantastic organisation, attracting bright and talented young people into teaching. In government, Labour made great strides to improve the status and quality of the teaching profession, by setting up Teach First, investing in record numbers of teachers and teaching assistants. Whilst there is less money to spend, we need to be creative in our thinking, as practitioners and as policy makers, as to how we can drive this agenda forward.

I referred earlier to the London Challenge, a programme I led as Schools Minister between 2002 and 2005.

The programme set about strengthening the support systems for underperforming schools, delivering strong results.

Ofsted reported in 2010 that the London Challenge has continued to improve outcomes for pupils in London’s primary and secondary schools at a faster rate than nationally.

And whilst we should be cautious about applying lessons from London as a model for all, there are things that we can learn from that programme. Partnerships with business and external organisations offer real opportunities for school improvement. Both schools and the business community need a renewed focus on taking the agenda forward. That is why I have asked Barry Sheerman MP, former chair of the Education Select Committee to chair a commission entitled School to Work to report back to me in the summer.

I want to touch now on school the issue of school autonomy.

Under the current Government we have seen a huge shift in approach in this area. Labour set up around 200 Academies, giving schools more choice to address underperformance, targeting areas of deprivation. Academies were required to have an external partner, to assist with school improvement. The benefits of this model are clear and the results speak for themselves.

Whether it was educational organisations like the University of the West of England, faith groups like the United Learning Trust and the Oasis Trust, or businesses leaders like Lord Harris and Sir David Garrard, they all combined a passion for education, with outside expertise and funding. Many academies also developed relationship with other educational providers, such as independent schools, FE colleges and universities. I have seen this work effectively at the City Academy Norwich.

There is a growing body of evidence that shows this Academy model has made a real difference in improving attainment as well as narrowing the attainment gap between rich and the poor children.

Academies set up under Labour took an average intake of around 30% of pupils on free school meals, more than 10% higher than the national average.

If we look at the most recent set of GCSE and A-level results, for the 166 academies with results in both 2010 and 2011, the percentage of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs including English and maths rose from around 40  to  46 per cent. This means Academies’ GCSE results improved by nearly twice the level seen across all maintained schools. There are now around 1,600 Academies directly accountable to the Secretary of State. Michael Gove has made it much easier for existing schools to convert to become academies. I welcome the extension of autonomy to more schools but I worry about direct accountability to the Department for Education.  This level of centralisation within the office of the Education Secretary is not sustainable, nor is it desirable. The Government talks on the one hand about devolving power to parents and schools and on the other is undertaking the biggest centralisation of power that the education system has ever seen.

It is right that we celebrate the great things that have happened in Academies.

Better results, greater freedom, new leadership and exciting innovation.

Academies developed creativity in terms of their curriculum, and other innovations such as a longer school day, or three year GCSEs, to allow a mix of practical and academic subjects.

But we also have to accept that like any other school, some academies will fail. Sir Michael Wilshaw has acknowledged as much.  So as the number of academies and free schools increases, we need a process of local accountability to ensure academies continue to excel and we improve standards across the board. As part of Labour’s policy review process, I will shortly be launching a consultation on the future role of what has come to be referred to as the ‘middle tier’ in the school system. This is not about creating additional layers of bureaucracy, or removing autonomy from schools. Labour does not want to turn back the clock to schools being controlled by town halls. It is about options for greater devolution of powers from central government and I would very much welcome submissions from those involved with FASNA.

If we believe academies and free schools need freedoms to raise standards, I want to look at more opportunities for earned autonomy so that more of the best performing schools have more freedoms to innovate.

Leadership in schools, like quality of teaching, is one of the most powerful levers for school improvement and educational advancement of our children. And where that leadership takes a school forward, we must seek to learn how other schools can learn from it. And where that leadership is lacking and performance is not good enough, we need to know that there are mechanisms in place to spot underperformance before failure is able to take hold.

That is what this consultation will be about. It cannot be right that schools are left to fail before action is taken. A number of options have been suggested, including the creation of Local School Commissioners.

I look forward to considering the submissions when the consultation ends in June.

I have seen so much positive energy in our schools since my appointment. Yes we must be tough on schools that are underperforming but we must celebrate the excellent work that is being done in so many schools. I have said before that the biggest critics of bad teachers are good teachers. And I have also said that where headteachers identify underperforming teachers, they will always have my support in addressing this head on.

Addressing underperformance is the bottom line if we are to maximise life chances for the many, not just the few. We know there is a double disadvantage, as research from the RSA has shown, for children from deprived backgrounds; both in the life chances afforded to them by their social background and in the concentration of underperforming schools in areas where they go to school.

It is our collective mission to right this wrong. Looking around the room, I see people who I know are committed to addressing this and have shown leadership and vision to unleash energy and innovation in their schools and others.

I am concerned however that in framing the discourse in the way that it has, and in centralising power not with schools but in the office of the education secretary, the government is too focused on talking down the school system.

And so whilst some continue to pour scorn on the teaching profession, we must redouble our efforts to celebrate the success in the system and to promote greater innovation and collaboration. There are thousands more examples of the ‘energy creators’ I talked about earlier. The answer lies in promoting and sharing how they support others in the system to drive up performance, promote innovation and therefore deliver high quality education for all.

Thank you.

Thursday March 15, 2012

Photo: Athena

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Comments: 2...

  1. On March 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm Peter Baldrey responded with... #

    As a teacher in a successful large secondary school I am very encouraged by reading Stephen’s speech. He has struck a very supportive tone, unlike Michael Gove, who seems determined to rubbish the achievements made in education since 1997. I am also excited by the proposal to create a Office for Educational Improvement, again this seems supportive, rather than a chance to label teachers. In addition, I completely disagree with the current changes which put too much power in the hands of the Secretary of State, so much for localism! Indeed, the cases of the primary schools in David Lammy’s seat prove that Gove relishes using his centralising ministerial powers.

  2. On March 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm Politique responded with... #

    Stephen Twigg is carrying on the New Labour directive of fragmenting communities and ignoring local accountabilty in our communities. He is proving to be a lap dog of Andrew Adonis. It is interesting to note that the real architects behind Academies were the Conservatives during the 1980’s with Sir Cyril Taylor and Kenneth Baker. The CTC project failed miserably due to lack of private investment or rather lack of interest from sponsors, even with the intervention by Thatcher. Whilst I recognise that the REAL reason for that lay behind the New Labour Educational Agenda was Blairs hidden belief and hidden agenda that diversity and choice produced excellence in education, Stephen Twigg has fallen for the biggest trick in book agreeing with a policy that has its roots in conservatism. This website is a fest of right wing labour wannabees who class themselves as Labour. A recent article by the great Michael Meacher has identified what is wrong with this websites ties to the Labour Party. MPs who are attached to the ideology of Progress are not social democrats. They are Blairite sympathesisers who have no place in todays Labour Party. Neither do ex Brownites attached to the previous cabinet. The Labour party has been taken over by Oxbridge aliens who have no REAL links to community, particularly those that they represent and includes Stephen Twigg. Just another parachuted MP of London origin. It is time real and genuine members took back the party.
    Nobody doubts that some Academies have made small gains with the increased investmant of approximately £1600 per pupil more but lets go back to the original aims and objectives of the Academy. Break the cycle of failing schools. Some academies has raised some standads on attainment by concentrating more GNVQ than GCSEs and then conning the public through the media, with a little from previous Education Secretaries. GNVQ are GCSE equivalents, they are NOT GCSES. Neighbourhood schools become sink schools and produce more failling schools. David Blunkett was the fall guy for the real conductors Adonis and Blair.

    Now lets look at Andrew Adonis. This individual was a Liberal Democrat and was about to join the Tory party in 1996. He wrote an article which caught the eye of the devine Mr Blair. He made him a Education advisor, unelected, unaccountable, and he joined the Labour Party (Please refer to the back of your membership card). He failed to get sponsors like Cyril Taylor so Blairites expanded it without any research on whether they were successful. In the process they destroyed local authorities (although not perfect) to ram through privatisation, centralisation and marketisation of our education system. A real Clause four moment. Power in the hands of the few and not the many.

    I could write a chapter on the rights and wrongs of the education system. I may be right. I may be wrong. What I am 100% right about is that Stephen Twigg is not fit to be an MP, an Education Secretary, he has no connection to the constituency he represents, he has no idea on education other than what his speechwriters tell him and he is a closet tory in a labour suit. Make your own mind up readers

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