"Education for the Modern World"
David Miliband MP - Minister of State for School Standards
Agency for Jewish Education: Celebrity Lecture 2004
Tuesday 19 October 2004
Thank you for the invitation to speak to you tonight. The Agency plays a critical role in supporting and promoting high quality education in Jewish state schools - primary and secondary - and, as such, is an important partner for local and central government. It is an honour to be giving this Annual Lecture.
I believe we have a shared goal: schools teaching the right things in the right way with the right values. I, therefore, want to use this occasion to advance the following argument:
- that education, and in particular schools, are in the modern world more not less important, not just for individual economic life-chances, but increasingly for the health of our society; the utilitarian argument for education should be social as well as economic;
- that in thinking about education of the next generation we need to address issues of curriculum, pedagogy and values;
- that English education is in all these three dimensions in a position to make major strides forward in the next few years;
- that faith communities are often at ease addressing issues of moral purpose and social justice in education because they are built upon a foundation of values that are embraced as part and parcel of everyday life; and that the unique partnership of government and faith communities established over the last 100 years has a major contribution to make to that progress.
I speak to you this evening as an optimist. As the Prime Minister said at the party conference, the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is not that the optimist thinks that all the world's problems have been solved, but instead that he or she thinks that we do have the capacity to address them.
The reasons for optimism are that over the last few years many problems that seemed intractable are being solved:
- 10 years ago one was dismissed as na´ve if one suggested that three quarters of 11 year olds could leave primary school with high standards in the basics; now it is happening;
- 10 years ago it seemed pie-in-the-sky to think that teaching could become a career of choice for mid-career job switchers; now 7000 a year are making the change;
- 10 years ago it seemed unrealistic to believe that we could ever address the backlog of many billions of pounds in school facilities; now we are on course to put in place the biggest investment in schools buildings since the Victorians;
- 10 years ago it would have seemed ridiculous to predict that education in our toughest areas would rise faster than the national average; now that is happening;
- and 10 years ago it seemed unbelievable to propose that we reform the 14-19 system in a way that gave incentives for all young people to pursue studies appropriate to their aptitude and interest; as of yesterday the Tomlinson report has put that prospect on the map.
The significance of these changes lies in the difference they are making to the lives of young people. But they teach a wider lesson. The sense of progress and momentum in English education is bridging the gap of belief as well as the gaps in provision. The achievements of our schools are showing what can be done, and shaming those pessimists who talk only of what cannot be done.
The modern world presents huge opportunities, but it also reveals enormous challenges:
- More international trade than ever before, but climate change that threatens our way of life.
- More travel around the globe, but more drug trafficking too.
- More information and ideas flowing more easily via the internet, but the same means used to plot serious crimes.
Perhaps this is why the Chief Rabbi has famously said that if you want to defend a country, you need an army, but if you want to advance a civilisation you need schools.
For me, there are three functions of education in the modern world. First, the development and transmission of knowledge and culture from generation to generation. Second, the broadening of horizons, especially in a country scarred by disadvantage. Third, the development of skills for life.
As I saw when I opened the exhibition celebrating the 300th birthday of JFS, wherever Jews have gone, from expulsion to emigration, the first thing they did was build schools. The Jewish people understood that schools are not - or not only - functional vehicles for the inculcation of skills. My sense is that for such communities down the ages, schools were and still are nothing less than the heartbeat of identity - the thread along which sense of self, belief and behaviour is passed from one generation to the next.
Of course the exam results are good! But your schools do much more than that.
Jewish schools and all associated with them are dramatically responsible for perpetuating a chain which started with Moses - the first teacher. It is a chain which teaches many things, but one is poignant and perhaps unique: through Jewish history, the true heroes were not the Generals, millionaires or even sportsmen, but were and are its teachers. There is much to admire in that.
The American educationalist Lawrence Downey has captured the challenge for today's schools in delivering on these goals extremely well. He says: "A school teaches in three ways; by what it teaches, by how it teaches, and by the kind of place it is."
I want to address each aspect of school life in turn, and argue that to address one without addressing the other delivers only incremental change; it is when curriculum, pedagogy and values come together that we make real progress.
What We Teach: The Curriculum
For many years, the curriculum was an area of education policy where national politicians feared to tread. In our education system, it was local not central government that governed the curriculum. Only with the Education Reform Act of 1988 did the Secretary of State have the power to set a common curriculum. Prior to that, religious education was the only part of the curriculum prescribed by law, and that was only established in 1944.
Yet since the 1880s national politicians have worried about curriculum content, notably in relation to the weakness of vocational education. It is a pity that it took 100 years to grasp the nettle of a national curriculum.
As a country, we have made real progress in the last ten years in giving life and meaning to the commitment to a broad and balanced curriculum at primary level. Primary schools have shown how creativity and high standards go together. Standards of achievement have risen dramatically. Our reforms are now recognised as embodying some of the most outstanding educational practice.
The early years of secondary education have been given more stretch; I will expand on this point later.
The publication of the Tomlinson report yesterday is in this context of critical importance. It offers us the opportunity to establish for the first time a capstone on the national curricular edifice. Instead of education tailing off into a misunderstood and misrepresented set of confusing options for young people, Tomlinson proposes a clear entitlement for young people, and a well-signposted set of high status routes through the system.
Reform of 14-19 curriculum content demands that we ask and answer hard questions. First, if 14 is to be the launching pad into a phase of learning that is increasingly led by the interest and ambitions of the learner, then we need to be clear what all learners should have studied by age 14. Second, if there are to be diverse routes through the 14-19 phase then we need to be clear about the balance of compulsion and choice that exists in the system.
Mike Tomlinson's report looks to address the second challenge. He addresses head-on the great weaknesses of our system: weak vocational provision, lack of stretch in the academic track, high drop-out rates from those disengaged from education. His report discusses the best of international practice; it seeks to address the concerns of employers and higher education; it recognises that different students will want a different curriculum menu; he suggests incentives for participation and progression. His proposals seek to build on strengths in the current system. GCSEs and A levels, rigorous external examinations and a clear system of accountability are the building blocks of his vision. His proposals for a common core at each level of achievement and then a series of options are designed to meet the needs of all young people.
That is why the Government is committed to assessing the report thoroughly against the five tests set out by Charles Clarke, to consulting the wide range of stakeholders in the education community and then to responding in a positive way to the proposals in a White Paper in the new year.
How We Teach: Pedagogy
But the curriculum by itself is only the start. The second vital question for our education system is how we teach. The demands on learners throughout their lives are greater than ever. Effective teachers make a difference every day by using a range of teaching styles to extend the knowledge and skills of their students.
The key is that teaching strategies are built around the needs of students. That is what is meant by 'personalised learning' - teaching tailored to the needs, talents and aspirations of each pupil through clear diagnosis of each pupil's strengths and weaknesses, high aspirations for every pupil in every lesson, and clear recognition that engaging pupils in their own learning is critical to their progress.
Personalised learning occurs best under three conditions. First, when curriculum content promotes active engagement rather than passive reception; for example in English, when students are encouraged to enquire into the meaning of a poem and relate it to themselves, as well as simply being able to recite it.
Second, when students are taught learning skills alongside curriculum content; for example, when across the curriculum higher order questioning develops problem-solving skills. The Tomlinson proposal for an extended essay or project is another example.
Third, when the school ethos promotes group and peer learning rather than solely working alone; for example, in primary literacy when pupils mark each others work according to explicit criteria and then explain why they gave each other the marks they did. All this involves teachers creating for, and with, their pupils opportunities to explore important areas of knowledge, a focus on developing tools for learning, and the chance to learn in environments that foster their mutual respect and collaboration.
This is the shift that our National Strategies for Primary Education and Key Stage 3 are designed to achieve. Both are supporting teachers in moving away either from a model which says all teaching approaches are equally valid, or one which focuses on the mechanistic implementation of good practice, to one where teachers see their task as daily engagement with understanding and improving pupil performance, regular assessment of appropriate teaching approaches, and the use of nationally developed materials to meet pupil needs.
Five years ago, students in years 7, 8 and 9 were subject to a lack of pace, variety and differentiation in their curriculum offering. Now they are in classrooms where they enjoy a curriculum that is tailored to their needs, aptitudes and aspirations, where they are taught how to learn and where there is a strengthened expectation of progression for everyone. For example, the Key Stage 3 materials 'Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools' now have resources for designing lessons for all pupils, expanding the teaching repertoire, and creating effective learners.
This is now a big challenge for our systems of performance management and professional development. It means every teacher being an effective and self-critical student of their own and colleagues' performance.
What Kind of School
Changes in what we teach and how we teach it will not be sustainable unless the question of "what kind of school" is answered at the same time. Education for citizenship will never be complete if it only addresses the content and style of teaching. Schools are social institutions, and the values on which they are based are central to the 'education with character' that we seek. It is in the organisation of a school for teaching and learning that it reveals core beliefs about the kind of people we are, and want to be:
- how does it promote self-respect and respect for others, amongst pupils and staff?
- how does it encourage effort while also celebrating success?
- how does it enforce rules while also encouraging individuality?
- how does it promote service to others while also focussing on the development of individual personality?
- how does it build a culture of high expectations of every pupil?
This matters because it is often the kind of place a school was that lingers in the mind longer than what was taught.
The introduction of citizenship into the curriculum - important though it is - can only be effective when it is part of a wider commitment to citizenship in the life of the school.
I want to pick out three issues that are going to be essential for all of us in going forward.
First, how a school involves pupils - perhaps the most underused resource in the education system - in establishing acceptable norms of behaviour. Every school needs clear codes of discipline and clear ways on ensuring the code is followed. No school can succeed without clear standards of mutual respect.
When I visited the Ninestiles Federation of schools in Birmingham last month - one school that has built a culture of success, two seeking transformation through the federation - what struck me most forcibly was the premium that pupils put on consistent and rigorous application of policy on behaviour and discipline. Only on the basis of school-wide insistence and application of clear and simple rules could the teachers develop what one student called 'positive teaching'. Strong discipline is at the heart of the school. There are clear boundaries. If pupils go beyond them then there are clear consequences.
But pupils also know that the silent majority of well-behaved pupils need to take responsibility for good behaviour. The strong encouragement we give to school councils in every school is just the start. Responsibility needs to be taken by every pupil every day in every school.
In some schools, prefects help enforce clear rules of behaviour. This is positive - not as a replacement for clear leadership from teaching staff, because respect for adults is an important lesson for every pupil. But the role of well-behaved pupils in supporting teachers in ensuring good discipline is important.
There are more and more schemes that link older and younger pupils, for example through vertical tutor groups. Again, I welcome these.
An excellent role model for this is the Landau Forte College in Derby, which promotes a culture where achievement and the celebration of success are given high regard. Personal tutorial groups are vertically aged 11 -19 with 16 - 18 pupils per group. The vertically aged groups promote positive relationships across the year groups and provide natural opportunities for students to mentor, advise and support other students. The premise of this approach is that the learning, achievement and wider development of the students are the prime concern. Good behaviour is an important part of this relationship.
I am also delighted to see pupils themselves tackling bullying through mentoring and mediation.
I visited Newton Farm primary school in Harrow, where playground buddies wear green sashes and are trained to look for early warning signs of conflict and to help their peers. Drayton secondary school in Banbury uses restorative justice as the foundation for developing an ethos of engagement. When there is an issue, there is dialogue between pupils and staff to determine "what happened; what part did I play in this; what do I need to do to resolve this positively".
The second important area is how a school engages with the wider community during and after school hours. In many communities schools are the trusted and safe ground. But how can they fulfil their full potential if they are closed out of school hours or in the holidays?
I want every school to be an 'extended school' in the sense that it is providing opportunities for learning, sporting and social activity for its pupils and the wider community. I want to give just 2 examples:
- Galliard Primary School is a very large multicultural and multilingual primary school, situated in an area of deprivation, in Enfield. ICT classes run during the day and in the evening in term time to teach parents and members of the local community a large range of ICT skills so that they can better support their children in this essential area of the curriculum.
- Alder Grange Community and Technology School in Lancashire has four specific facets to its community programme, each supporting other local strategies in meeting well illustrated needs: Adult education and training; leisure; sport and physical health activity and support for community groups. The school is open from 6.30/7.00am with adults on site until 10.00pm.
This sort of provision, bringing together what has traditionally been seen as social service provision with education, is the future.
Third, if schools are to teach internationalism and sustainability, two key concepts in any modern notion of global citizenship, then they need to do more than have effective language or geography departments. That is why I welcome two developments:
- first, the development of the International Schools Award, which now links over 500 of our schools to schools around the world, and requires that they build an international dimension into the life of the school.
- second, the commitment to sustainable building in the new Building Schools for the Future programme, designed to rebuild the secondary estate across the country over the next 15 years. In these and other ways, schools are developing a distinctive ethos of their own. This ethos contributes to teaching and learning.
English Education on the Turn
I hope you feel, as I do, that in respect of what we teach, how we teach, and the kind of places our schools are, this is an exciting time for English education.
As an Arsenal fan, I struggle to say the word, but I believe we have the spurs in place for rapid progress, advancing excellence and equity at the same time:
- We have more teachers than at any time since 1981, and Ofsted say they are the best generation ever.
- We have over 100 000 more support staff than seven years ago, and the training and flexibility to put them to better use than ever before.
- We have investment in ICT hardware and software that puts us in the world's top rank, and increasingly the commitment from teachers and heads to make the most of it.
- We have in the specialist schools movement one of the most effective drivers of higher standards yet discovered, effecting change not just in the secondary sector but in primary schools too through the links that every specialist school has with its feeder primaries.
- And, of course, we have long term commitment to increased funding, and to more strategic use of that funding. I am proud to be part of a Government that for the first time in a generation has made the tax and spending commitments to put our educational investment above the European average for the first time.
Our challenge now is two fold: to continue to raise average standards of achievement, and to continue to raise standards of achievement in our least advantaged communities faster than the average. In both these missions our faith schools have a key role to play.
The reason is obvious: over 7000 state schools have a religious character and over one and a half million children are educated in these schools; in your own part of the sector there has been a 300% increase in enrolment over recent years; and faith communities bridge the gap between education and civil society, and that is to the benefit of both.
Our country is in many ways increasingly secular. It is certainly more pluralistic. But faith schools are an important part of what parents want for the future and not just the past.
If policy-makers sat down with a blank sheet of paper to design an education system, they would struggle to match the partnership of Government and faith communities that has developed over the last 100 years. They might even try to separate faith and education, but the dangers are clear: for example, in Australia, by separating faith and state, over a third of parents are opting to go private to get an education in a faith school.
That is why, in this country, we have tried to ensure that all faiths are included in the system on an equal basis, with rights and responsibilities established in return for Government funding and support:
- all faith schools teaching the national curriculum
- all faith schools making a financial contribution to the system
- all faith schools committing to partnership.
The result is that in terms of curriculum, pedagogy and values faith schools are making a major contribution to the drive for higher standards in our education system. That now needs to be taken forward.
For each school there are hard questions: about how to stretch each pupil, how to develop each member of staff, how to contribute to system change. From Government there is strong commitment to the partnership now established.
Many of our faith communities put education at the heart of their creed. That commitment to education needs to be allied to a wider set of values: to the equal worth of all pupils; to mutual respect as the basis of a strong community; and to the celebration of difference as strength in a multi-faith, multi-ethnic country.
The best schools attempt to give their students both roots and wings. The wings are self-evident, the capacity to fly elegantly and with success in the wider society, to eat from its fruits and to contribute where one can. But the roots are equally significant. The roots give you a sense of pride in your tradition, and in your culture and allow you to be a dynamic member of the Jewish community. It is when roots and wings come together that one sees a remarkable educational institution, a school that remains loyal to its faith and at the same time, equips its young people to participate fully in the wider society.
Those values are the key to a strong society as well as a good education system. I look forward to working with you to see the two advancing together.