Over the last two years, since the election, I have learnt many things. Nothing teaches you as much about your own priorities, your own values as governing at a time when money is tight and choices need to be made as well as governing in coalition where you have to make compromises too.
There are the things we have to do, like cutting the deficit to keep the economy safe. There are the opportunities we cannot miss, like cleaning up the relationship between politicians and the media; reforming party funding; modernising the House of Lords.
And then there are the goals that drive us; the actions we hope will define our time in office. I am in this government to play my part in rescuing and reforming the economy and creating sustainable growth for all. But we are not going to miss our chance to make Britain a better, fairer place too.
For me, nothing illustrates that better than our Pupil Premium: extra money for the most disadvantaged children in our schools. How can it be that in a modern, open society like ours a child’s destiny is still determined by their background? How can it be that, despite all the promise on a four or five year old’s first day at school, despite the passion and dedication of their teachers, too often you can plot that child’s path just by asking how much their parents earn?
If their parents are poor, by the time they start primary school they’re more likely to be behind the other children; they’re more likely to leave it unable to read and write properly; they’re much less likely to go on to get five good GSCEs; far less likely to take their A’ levels.
And, as for the top universities and the best jobs? Look in your average classroom and around one in five children are on free school meals. Look at your average Oxbridge lecture hall and that drops to 1 in 100. And we must never forget that this gap between poorer and richer children hurts everyone. Every parent knows that, when a handful of children can’t keep up, it holds back the whole class. And when they can’t fulfil their potential, it costs the whole country too. On one estimate, if these children could make the most of their abilities, if we brought the low performers just up to the average, by 2050 we could increase GDP by an estimated £140bn.
The odds can be beaten. It’s happening right here – New North Academy – where you’re working hard to close the gap and seeing real progress. It’s happening in great schools up and down the country. There are now 440 secondary schools – one in five - where disadvantaged pupils are doing better in their GCSEs than the national average for all children. A new generation of high poverty, high performance schools – with high expectations to match. Yes, they are in the minority, but a minority that proves the power of ambition, leadership, great teachers: a ‘sky’s the limit’ approach.
And that is what the Pupil Premium is for: to equip every school to support pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, to help us build a more socially mobile Britain where ability trumps privilege, where effort trumps connections, where sharp elbows don’t automatically get you to the front.
It’s not the only tool in the Coalition’s box. We’re intervening at every stage of a child’s educational journey, from when they’re very young - for example, increasing early years education for two year olds in households feeling the squeeze as well as increasing it for all 3 and 4 year olds – to when they make the transition to adulthood, opening up internships and work experience placements. Giving employers cash bonuses to take on the young and unemployed. Providing disadvantaged university students with more financial support than before. Ensuring – through our income tax changes – that when you start your working life you keep more of the money you earn.
But, for me, the Pupil Premium remains the most important lever we have - and it’s in your hands.
It’s an idea I first came across in the Netherlands ten years ago when I was working as an MEP looking into different education systems across Europe. And it has travelled with me ever since: from a modest think tank pamphlet, to the Coalition Agreement, to the funding statements of thousands of schools across the country.
And, now, extra help, directly delivered to that one child who deserves the best their future can offer and, for so long, could only expect the worst.
Last year the Pupil Premium was worth an extra £488 for pupils on Free School Meals and looked after children. This year it’s increased to £600 and been extended to children who have been eligible for Free School Meals at any time in the last six years. Despite an unprecedented squeeze on public spending this year the Pupil Premium will be worth £1.25bn in total, doubling to £2.5bn by the end of the Parliament.
So we’ve made the case for the Pupil Premium. We’ve won the battle to get it properly funded. Today I want to talk about how we make it a success. Because we now have a once in a generation chance: get this right and we make good on education’s progressive promise: to give every child the chance to go as far as their abilities and effort can carry them. And we’ll achieve something else of lasting importance: we’ll prove that teachers do best when Whitehall steps out of the way.
To that end, I want to strike a deal between the Coalition government and our schools and teachers: we’ll give you the cash; we’ll give you the freedom; we’ll reward and celebrate your success. But in return, we want you to redouble your efforts to close the gap between your poorer pupils and everyone else. We won’t be telling you what to do, but we will be watching what you achieve.
I’ve talked about the money so let me say a word about freedom and rewards. The Coalition has no desire to micromanage schools. We all remember the worst excesses of that approach: in the year before the election, just reading all of the email guidance from Whitehall would have taken teachers as long as working through The Complete Works of Shakespeare – twice.
This Government’s approach is different. We don’t want reams of Whitehall diktat to strangle creativity or kill innovation.
Since we announced the Pupil Premium, I’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm from the profession. Take Pupil Premium summer schools which, starting this year, will help disadvantaged pupils make the transition from primary to secondary. We were told teachers wouldn’t want to run them; pupils wouldn’t want to go. Yet we’ve been inundated with applications from schools – around 2100, and counting.
As many as 70,000 11 year olds could attend – 7 out of every eligible 10.
So there is a great deal of excitement out there. Before I come on to the ways different schools are embracing the Pupil Premium. I would just like to pause on this transition period, this critical, make-or-break jump from primary school to secondary school. Because what happens then matters massively.
One minute a child is taught in one classroom, by one teacher; a big fish in a little pond. The next they’re in a huge school, further from home full of children they don’t know; teachers they don’t recognise; subjects they’ve never done.
That upheaval can be extremely traumatic, not to mention the worry and guilt parents suffer. And poorer children can find it even harder: often they’re already low in confidence and struggling academically. American research actually shows that, during that crucial summer middle income pupils get a bit better at reading, while poorer pupils get worse.
How can a child start secondary school unable to read with confidence? That is a basic building block of a good education and no child should begin the race so far behind the starting line. We need to do everything we can to help these children through this transition to get them up to speed.
That is a responsibility the Government takes extremely seriously. And I can confirm today that the Education Endowment Foundation will shortly be inviting groups of local schools in the areas that suffer most with this problem to bid for extra funds for struggling Year 7s, from deprived homes to help them get their reading and writing up to scratch. Extra “catch up cash”, if you like.
The support will be for pupil premium pupils who leave primary school without Level 4 literacy – the expected level. And we envisage that schools will want to use it for small catch up classes, or one-to-one tuition, or vouchers for literacy tuition that parents can spend. We’ll run a proper evaluation, sharing what works with all schools not just those areas taking part in these pilots. It’s likely this kind of targeted support is the best way to crack this problem – next year we’ll know.
Of course, we hope as few pupils as possible need it, thanks to the Pupil Premium. And I know primary and secondary schools up and down the country are determined to make this work. Some are using the money for breakfast clubs; homework clubs; or to provide one-to-one-tuition. Some are funding counselling services, so troubled kids are in the right place, emotionally, to learn. Some are using it for educational visits to places like museums: the sort of experiences middle class children take for granted but poorer child might rarely enjoy – and I know that’s an approach you take here.
Others are paying for extra staff to take disengaged or disruptive children out of class when they switch off or play up or to work directly with children who don’t have English as a first language and need extra help with reading and writing. Some are consulting directly with parents on how to spend it. All the evidence shows that, when parents play a part in their children’s learning those children do better. When mothers and fathers understand how to support what happens in the classroom. When they can pass their insights onto the professionals too.
Many of the best schools already create this kind of partnership. But, where it doesn’t happen, the Pupil Premium creates a new way to bring parents in to start a meaningful conversation that can last for that child’s entire school life.
Of course, some approaches will be more effective than others and schools will want to learn from each other. That’s why we’ve created the Education Endowment Foundation: to fund research and collect the evidence of what works and to ensure it is spread through the system.
And we need teachers to help in this effort too – they’re the real experts. One idea I’m keen on, and I’m looking at, is giving more teachers the chance to do some proper research with universities. When an individual teacher excels at breaking this link between poverty and educational failure they’ll help maybe 5, 10, 15 pupils. But if we can turn their real life successes into hard research, into lessons that can be shared we can massively multiply the benefits – helping thousands of pupils. And, in the process, we can build new links between state schools and universities too.
And, wherever we see success, we’re going to celebrate it. Raising the status of helping the poorest children to lead a culture shift to get the best teachers into the most challenging schools.
We all know the difference great teachers make – from our own experiences and the evidence too. That’s why, over the weekend, I was extremely disturbed to hear that, according to one survey around a third of teachers said they don’t feel respected as professionals. Yet teachers make the most profoundly valuable contribution to our society. And I want to take this opportunity, on behalf of everyone, to thank them for the life changing job they do.
When all the odds are stacked against a child - hardship, low confidence, parents who can’t cope – its teachers who step in and make the difference, teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty, day in, day out to give those families hope, teachers who help these children unlock the doors that otherwise hold them back.
Our teachers are the key to an open and fair society; the key to the opportunity Britain I am determined we build.
I’m pleased to announce that the government, in partnership with the Times Educational Supplement will, from next year, be introducing awards for the top-50 schools who have done the most to boost the performance of their poorest pupils and to narrow the gap with their better off peers. That success will be up in lights in the performance tables. They’ll win publicity, acclaim and cash too – cash prizes of up to £10,000 for the best of the best. And this isn’t just about glitz and glamour.
We want every aspiring new teacher to see working with disadvantaged children as a crucial step to the top. An essential part of a successful and fulfilling career.
That’s why the revised professional qualification for headship will, from September Contain a module devoted to “closing the gap”. It’s why, under the Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders Programmes when teachers take up posts in disadvantaged schools, when they make a break through with their pupils, they don’t just get job satisfaction they have a better chance of fast-tracking through the ranks.
I’m delighted that some of our National Leaders of Education, some of our best heads, who themselves run outstanding schools and help others to improve, are looking specifically at expanding the role they play, and the role teaching schools play in narrowing the attainment gap in underperforming schools. And of course, pay matters here too. Academies already have the freedom to use pay to hold on to the best teachers - something they can use their Pupil Premium for. And we are asking the School Teachers Review Body to look at giving other schools the same flexibility, giving excellent teachers every reason to apply their talents in challenging schools.
So money, freedom, rewards. Take it; use it as you see fit. But know that you will be held accountable for what you achieve. Schools cannot just absorb this money and spend it on other things. And we are putting a lot of government muscle behind making sure this investment gets results. We’ve already introduced tougher standards for primary schools to ensure every child fulfils their potential and we have been clear that persistent failure will have consequences.
But schools need to know that, in assessing their performance OFSTED will be looking forensically at how well their Pupil Premium pupils do. Inspectors are already being instructed to look closely at how schools are spending the money and to what effect, with plans to publish a survey early next year. And, because OFSTED understands the priority I attach to this issue, it will be providing me with regular reports detailing the progress schools are making in closing the attainment gap.
The message should be clear: if a school’s Pupil Premium population are failing, more likely than not the whole school will be judged to be failing. At that point, the inspections will become more frequent and OFSTED will take a much closer interest in how that school’s Pupil Premium is spent.
There’s only one freedom we’re not giving schools: the freedom to fail. This is a major change. We are saying, unlike ever before, that school excellence is not simply about great overall results. The best schools must be engines of social mobility too.
That’s my vision for schools. I know that’s your vision too. And I know that, together, we can make this a success. I know that we can make Britain a place where, when a teacher looks out at their class on the first day of term when they look down the list of names and addresses it is impossible to guess how the different children will do.
Because each child will have every opportunity ahead of them. Each will fly as high as their talents can take them.