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Speech by Andrew Adonis_ Parliamentary Under Secretary of State


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Speech by Andrew Adonis, Parliamentary Under Secretary of
                          State for Schools
Canterbury Christ Church University College, Wednesday 17
                            August 2005

Better schools, better results:
Why Our Teenagers are Making the Grade

It is a great pleasure to visit this gifted and talented summer
school, now an annual event here at Canterbury Christ Church
University College, and also to meet graduates on the outstanding
Teach First programme, who have now for the third year been
trained here at Christ Church over the summer. You both are a
testament to the transformation taking place in education today.

Let me begin with a prediction. I predict that the next fortnight
will see three things: the proper celebration of hundreds of
thousands of young people and parents at their success; the pause
for reflection for those who have done less well than they
expected; and intense interest in what these results tell us about
school standards.

It is on this last point particularly that I want to speak to you today.

But first of all, my warmest congratulations to all young people on
their achievements, and to their parents and teachers.

Improvements in school standards are not just a cause for
celebration, they are a national necessity. The modern global
economy with increasing competition and higher educational
standards being achieved across the world means that, as a nation,
we simply cannot afford to stand still.

Continued progress in exam performance is real – it is not the
result of dumbing down of standards – and the roots of this success
lie in a fundamental shift in the quality of teaching in our schools.
This fundamental shift, I believe, is due to three things: a sea-
change in the way we have approached recruitment and teacher
training; significant and continuing improvement in the quality of
leadership in our schools; and perhaps most importantly by
embedding higher expectations throughout the system: more and
more young people, believing they can succeed and are putting in
the work to make it happen. This we should celebrate.

The conclusion I draw is straightforward: teaching in schools
is significantly improving , so we should expect exam results to
improve too, and it would be a major cause of concern if they

Tests and exams

Let me deal first with this question of whether we can trust
examination results. We had the peculiar suggestion the other week
that we shouldn‟t have „failure‟ but „deferred success‟. Now we
have the equally ridiculous suggestion that those who have actually
succeeded in reality haven‟t done so – that their success is in fact
some kind of „deferred failure.‟

The independent exam and testing authorities which are charged
with maintaining standards have no interest whatever in handing
out devalued grades and certificates. Every effort is made to
safeguard standards. At the end of last year a panel of independent
experts – headed by the education director of the OECD –
concluded that “No examination system at the school or other level
is so tightly or carefully managed” as ours.

The current system for monitoring standards over time was agreed
by the previous administration in 1996. In that year the
qualifications authority and OfSTED reported that standards in
public examinations had not slipped in the previous 20 years. Since
then, QCA have carried out a rolling programme of reviews on a 5
year cycle to ensure examination demands and grade standards are
being maintained in all major subjects.

So why the persistent claims that standards have fallen? Some look
to the results of other ability tests which have remained unchanged,
whilst A level performance has improved. But A Levels are not –
and have never been – narrow IQ tests. They examine, within each
subject, the ability to recall and apply a broad range of knowledge.
Both the knowledge and its applications necessarily change over
time. For example over the last 10 years A level biology has
changed to include genetic engineering biology;
telecommunications as a new context for waves has been added to
A level physics; sustainable development is now covered in A
level geography.

But there is a deeper argument stuck in the mud here; the idea that
there should, as a matter of principle, be a quota on exam success.
It was Sir Keith Joseph, as Education Secretary back in the 1980s,
who decided that it was patently unfair to limit A grades to less
than 10% of A level entries, as a quota, and requiring exam boards
to fail 30% of students as another quota irrespective of the absolute
standard they achieved. Keith Joseph was right to reject that
regressive quota philosophy then and we reject it now.

In the modern world – with better teaching and steadily higher
aspirations – educational success isn‟t like tickets for the next Test
match, where there is a fixed supply of a precious commodity.
Rather it is like the marathon, where, with ability and proper
training, growing numbers can successfully complete the course in
faster times but nobody would suggest that this devalues the
achievements of Paula Radcliffe and the other elite athletes in
Helsinki last week.

Moving On

But we are not complacent. With success rates rising, and more
achieving to a high standard, it is essential that the most able
continue to be stretched to the full – and that leading universities,
whose places are limited, can differentiate properly in awarding
them on merit.

That is why we plan to strengthen A levels, not replace them. We
will make individual module grades available to universities as
well as the overall grade. We will increase stretch for the most able
by introducing Advanced Extension Award style questions into all
A levels. We will also introduce an Extended Project, as
recommended by Mike Tomlinson from the experience of the
International Baccalaureate, to test a wider range of skills.

However, on the basis of robust standards, I want to state
unequivocally our belief that we should welcome and strongly
encourage better school results. The days are long gone when as a
nation we could earn a living by means of an educated elite while
the majority left school with few if any qualifications, going
straight into manual and unskilled jobs.

This is no future in a world where there are 2 million
undergraduates in each of India and China alone.

The critics of higher school standards fail to grasp how fast the
world is changing. It is barely 30 years since we raised the school
leaving age to 16, and less than 20 years since we started seriously
to expect the majority of 16 year-olds even to sit – let alone
succeed in – O-levels and then GCSEs. In that short time, the
country hasn‟t suddenly become cleverer; but our young people as
a whole are being much better taught, their aspirations are much
higher, and their performance is improving accordingly.

This change is taking place across the developed world. In France,
the proportion gaining the baccalaureate – their main school
leaving exam – has risen from 24 per cent in 1977 to over 60 per
cent today. In Japan the number of senior high school pupils not
merely succeeding, but going on to university or junior college, has
risen from 30% twenty years ago to over 45% today. In these
countries, growing success is a cause for celebration rather than a
trigger for soul-searching. The challenge for Britain is to
accelerate, not to slow down, our rate of improvement in the
numbers achieving in tests and exams, while maintaining the
robustness of the system.

Let me put even our current level of success in perspective. In an
average primary school class of 30, only 14 even now make it
through to A-level, and only one achieves three grade As. Of the
22,000 who do achieve three grade As, only one in 16 gains an A
in each module – information that universities will soon have
available when offering places.

So let‟s lay to rest this bogus argument that exams are getting
easier, and that children are working less hard and achieving less
than they used to. Instead let‟s celebrate success with our young
people, and their parents and teachers, and do our utmost to
stimulate more achievement by more students.

Better teaching, better schools, better results

I want to focus now on a central but I think underappreciated factor
in the rise in school standards, namely, the substantial
improvement taking place in the quality of teaching and of the
teaching profession.

Most people accept that teaching has got better in recent years.
But I don‟t think it is widely understood how substantial the

improvement has been over time, and why, on this basis we should
expect school standards to be rising.

There are four striking aspects to this change:

First, Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, has found a very substantial
improvement in teaching quality in recent years:
   During the last eight years the proportion of good or
     excellent teaching in schools has risen in primary schools
     from 45% in 1997 to 72% last year, and from 59% to 72% in
     secondary schools.

   In the same period the proportion of badly taught lessons has
     fallen by more than half.

To appreciate the extent of the change, let me simply quote the
verdict of Chief Inspectors then and now. In the late 1980s, Eric
Bolton, then Chief Inspector, used to talk about the „stubborn
statistic' of 25% to 30% of lessons being consistently judged by
inspectors to be unsatisfactory year on year. Last year, on the basis
of more than 4,000 school inspections, the proportion of lessons
judged by Ofsted as unsatisfactory or poor was around 4%. David
Bell, the current Chief Inspector, describes the current generation
of newly qualified teachers as „the best trained ever‟.

    In his last annual report he related teaching improvement directly
to the wider point I have been making about educational change:
„we have moved from a system that educated a few superbly and
the rest indifferently to one that is attempting to educate everyone
very well.‟1

Why has teaching improved so markedly? The inspectorate
identifies a number of mutually reinforcing factors: higher
professional standards; better lesson planning and pupil target
setting; better teacher training and support, partly as a result of
national support programmes such as the national literacy and
numeracy strategies; much stronger accountability for results
through Ofsted and performance tables; higher pupil and parental
expectations; and all of this driven forward by steadily more
effective headteachers and management teams school by school.

Which takes me to the second key aspect of teaching improvement
– better school leadership:

       OfSTED reports that the proportion of schools with excellent
          or very good leadership and management has more than
          doubled over the last eight years, to 40%.

    HM Chief Inspector Annual Report 2003/04, p.11

       The proportion of leadership and management judged to be
          good or better has also increased sharply, from 50% in 1997
          to 72% last year in primary schools, and from 56% to 75% in
          secondary schools.

Nothing is more important in modern Britain than the outstanding
leadership of our headteachers and their success, with the teachers
they lead, in raising standards. Parents and the wider public
recognise this. Asked recently which professions provided
„particularly good examples of leadership‟, more than half said
headteachers, against 38% for the next highest scorer, officers in
the armed forces; other professions were far lower.2

One reason for improved school leadership is that we now train
heads for the job systematically. We no longer simply expect them
to pick it up as they go along. A formal headship training
qualification is now mandatory for all new headteachers, and the
new National College for School Leadership has been open for 5
years. The College is resolutely focused on practical school
improvement, not grand theory.

    MORI 2004 survey : 1,756 respondents.

Steve Munby, its Chief Executive, has set the college a specific
challenge: to take the 40% of very good or excellent heads, and
consider „how our school system would be if each of those school
leaders could exert some leadership influence over a school other
than their own‟.3 Exactly the right objective.

The third key aspect in the rise of the teaching profession is a
significant improvement in the supply and quality of new teachers:
       The number of honours graduates applying to train as
          teachers has risen by fully 70 per cent since 1997.

       This increase applies across the spectrum, including
          traditional shortage subjects: recruitment to maths training
          posts has risen from 1,300 to 2,000 in the last five years
          alone, and science applications are at their highest level for
          20 years.

Let me highlight two particularly significant new trends in teacher
recruitment. First, there is a new and large strand of career-
switchers coming into teaching, thanks to the Graduate Teacher
Programme, which represents a complete re-design of the PGCE
system for recruiting and training mature entrants to the profession.

3                                                          st
    Steve Munby :’The School Leadership Challenge for the 21 Century’, NCSL lecture 2005.

These career switchers can now train directly in schools and they
are paid a salary for their training year. There are now 5,000 such
mature recruits a year – 1 in 8 of all recruits to secondary teaching
– and partly as a result, the average age of teacher trainees has
risen to 30 for the first time. This welcome trend is likely to grow.
A survey published earlier this month revealed that two-thirds of
working graduates aged between 21 and 36 envisage having a
second career, one in five considering becoming a teacher, by far
the most popular option.4

The second significant trend in teacher supply is the rise in
applications among graduates from the leading research
universities, where there was little short of a collapse in numbers
wanting to go into teaching over the 1980s and 1990s. Since 1998
there has been a 54% increase in recruitment to teaching from the
Russell Group universities5, partly as a result of the path-breaking
Teach First programme which represents another radical re-writing
of the rules on teacher recruitment and training.

    TTA Press Release – Ref no. BB9/2005
    TTA Survey – 1998/99 – 1,544 entrants, 2003/04 – 2,864 entrants

Teach First is a wholly new approach to engaging high achieving
graduates in teaching, offering two-year fixed term – though very
much extendable – postgraduate teacher placements in place of the
traditional training and career route. Teach First is marketed and
managed independently, with the backing of many blue-chip and
City employers which have shrewdly realised that their
participation in this public service scheme is an investment in their
own longer-term recruitment. It is engaging a sense of challenge
and duty among the best graduates, and doing so by its practical
and attractive format, by for example training graduates over the
summer after graduation here in Canterbury rather than through a
traditional year-long PGCE; and by building a strong esprit de
corps among the participants, placing them in London
comprehensives in groups of between four and seven so that have
the mutual support and confidence needed to succeed. Teach First
focuses on the Russell Group universities, including a strong
showing in Oxford, Cambridge and the London colleges,
particularly in maths and sciences. Last year it had nearly 1,000
applications for 200 places, all with Firsts or 2:1s. It has the
capacity to expand significantly, and the government is providing
the necessary funding.

To quote Ian Jordan, a vice-president of Capgemini: „When you
look at Teach First participants they have a skill set that will be
more advanced than others – it‟s as if they‟ve done a business
fundamentals course ahead of joining their employer‟.

In short, a systematic improvement in teacher supply is taking
place, matching the improvement in school leadership and
classroom teaching. The impact is already considerable, and if we
sustain all three trends, there should be a good deal more
improvement in teaching and results to come in the years ahead.

The fourth aspect to highlight is investment. We in government
never tire of saying that money alone will not buy Britain a better
education system. But it is equally true that „nothing will come of
nothing‟, including many of the improvements in the teaching
profession. Here are the facts:

   Since 1997 the education budget has risen by almost 50% in
     real terms.

   This increase has made possible a 15% increase in average
     teacher‟s salaries since 1997, a 20% real increase in average
     salary for headteachers, the introduction of training bursaries
     for all PGCE students for the first time, the new training
     salaries for career switchers I mentioned earlier, together
     with 32,500 extra teachers and a more than doubling in size
     of the invaluable workforce of school assistants – 86,000
     extra assistants who are steadily converting teaching from an
     almost pre-modern profession with no support staff into a job
     with the kind of back-up which every other leading
     profession has long taken for granted.

As a result, we now have the largest ever school workforce in our
history and the best paid teaching profession ever – with
headteachers now earning up to £93,000 in the largest secondary

We have also, crucially, been able to increase the capital budget
for schools from £700m in 1997 to £5bn today – a sevenfold
increase – making possible the Building Schools for the Future
programme to rebuild or renew the entire secondary school estate
and half of primary schools over 15 years, a process of national
infrastructure renewal which is giving teachers the facilities to do
their job in buildings and classrooms every bit as modern and
purpose-built as the workplaces which most graduates in the
private sector take for granted.

To summarise, we are seeing large, quantifiable improvements in
classroom teaching and school leadership, backed by significant
extra national investment. Taking all these changes together, I
believe we are witnessing a new „age of the teacher‟, with teaching
once again becoming a foremost national profession, recruiting the
brightest and the best and providing them with inspirational jobs
and first-rate leadership. And it is not hard to see why this should
be so. Few jobs match teaching in terms of excitement and
personal fulfilment, in a society which increasingly values
education and the opportunities it offers.

All this is work in progress; it is emphatically not a task
completed. But it is nonetheless based on undeniable fact,
supported unequivocally by Ofsted and the views of parents. And
to repeat my central point again: if teaching and leadership in
schools are significantly improving, we should expect test and
exam results to rise too, and it would be a major cause of concern
if they weren‟t rising.

Education and our national future

Let me return finally to the wider theme of education and its place
in our national future.

Those who still claim that „more must mean worse‟ – that mass
education must by some force of nature dumb down standards –
are, I believe, looking to the past not the future. They are today‟s
equivalents of those who opposed the introduction of national
primary education in the 19th century, who were sceptical about
universal secondary education in the mid 20th century, and indeed
about higher and further education for girls until even more

The question, I believe, isn‟t whether it is possible to combine
excellence, equity and largescale achievement in secondary and
post-secondary education; the question, rather, is whether we in
Britain have the will and capacity to achieve what other countries
will certainly achieve and in some cases are already achieving – or
suffer if we do not match or exceed them.

Over the summer I read a striking book, published in 1967, by
David Hargreaves – then a young academic, now one of our most
eminent educationalists and the last chief executive of the
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority – based on his year as a
resident researcher at a secondary modern school in Salford
Docks.6 He describes the school as „not very exceptional‟ for a
working class community in the mid-sixties. The school itself was
a new school – but although new, it could only be described as

Most of the boys at the school took no external exams at all and
gained no qualifications whatsoever, with only a minority in top
streams even entered for a local school leaving certificate – for
which cheating was widespread among staff and pupils.

 David Hargreaves, Social Relations in a Secondary School (1967); the quotations are from
pages 86,87 & 184.

The new national CSE exam was coming in – below a much
inferior form of O-level – but there was no encouragement from
the headteacher or most of the teachers on even the brightest pupils
to stay at school beyond the school leaving age of 15 to take it. As
for O-levels, David Hargreaves wrote: „Only one member of staff
felt strongly that even the best boys, in the top stream, were of
sufficient ability to take O-level; most of the other teachers of the
higher streams took the view that … to enter them for O-level
would be to mislead the pupils with hopes of academic success
beyond their powers. There is also little doubt that some of these
teachers were reluctant to teach to O-level since they had never
done so and were uneasy about their competence to do so‟. As for
the wider ethos of the school: „Lessons and exams were treated
with contempt by most of the boys. … For many of the teachers
and most of the pupils life at the school was a necessary evil. Life
was directed towards a reduction of potential conflict by a minimal
imposition of demands one upon the other. If the upper streams
passed their [school leaving] exam and the lower streams did not
riot, the school was for most teachers succeeding.‟

The last 20 years have been a sustained revolt against such deep-
seated social and educational failure, and nowhere has the change
in assumptions been greater than in the teaching profession.
Teachers and headteachers today almost universally refuse to
subscribe to the old philosophy that educational outcomes are
socially determined – the view of so many of those teachers in
Salford Docks, which remained deeply entrenched for many years
after. It is this change, extending as it has from teaching to society
at large, which is generating so much of the improvement we are
seeing in our schools.

Why is the nature and extent of the change not better appreciated?
I think in part, at least, because there is such a large „perception
gap‟ in education between personal experience and impressions of
the education system at large. The same opinion formers who
claim there is dumbing down wouldn‟t dream of writing off their
own children, and their achievements, in the same way. It was
striking that in yesterday‟s ICM poll in the Guardian, people who
had experienced A-level study in the last ten years – either as a
student or as a parent or a relative – were reported as „generally
more positive about the system and its robustness‟- and that was
the case within a majority who believe that standards have risen,
that students do work harder, and that teaching is better.

A similar perception gap applies in attitudes to schools at large.
Survey evidence for DfES shows that the overwhelming majority
of parents now have a high opinion of the schools their own
children attend. However, the proportion holding a high opinion of
schools in their locality as a whole is much lower. Tellingly for
the national debate, given where most opinion formers live, this
contrast is greatest in London, where 85% of parents now believe
that the state school their own child attends is good or excellent,
but barely half that number consider this to be true of schools
generally in their London borough.7

High levels of personal satisfaction are based on solid personal
evidence that most state schools these days are good or improving
– including in London, where the rate of improvement in schools
has been much faster than the national average in recent years,
with London for the first time last year exceeding the national
average in test and exam performance. 8

  London Challenge: Second Survey of Parents and Carers 2004, DfES research report 624
  Exam results for London and England as a whole are as follows:
                                1997     1998    1999      2000   2001   2002     2003    2004
Greater London                 41.1    42.9     44.5     45.5    46.1  48.5     50.7     53.0
Inner London                   32.8    33.3     35.0     36.4    38.0  41.1     43.7     47.3
England                        42.5    43.6     45.7     47.0    47.9  49.5     51.1     52.0

There are many possible reasons for this perception gap. It is
partly, I suspect, because much of the improvement is recent; and,
partly, I frankly accept, because there is still far to go in
eradicating the tail of weak schools which dominate so much of the
media coverage of education, and indeed rightly command so
much of our attention in government. But it should not detract
from the real achievements which are being made in education
today – the better schools, better teaching and better results we
have seen in recent years, and of which we need much more, not
less in future. You represent the best of that future and I am proud
to be here today. Thank you.


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