Nick Gibb: 'To raise school standards still further we must learn lessons from the success of the phonics check'

Teachers should be proud of their achievements, says schools minister Nick Gibb as he sets out how far the sector has come, and where we need to go next

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This week, the International Summit of Teaching Professionals will bring together governments, teaching unions and experts from around the world to share examples of brilliant teaching and ultimately, to celebrate our teachers.

And there is plenty to celebrate. On Sunday, we had the inspiring news that Andria Zafirakou, an art and textiles teacher, was awarded the Global Teacher Prize 2018 for her outstanding achievements at Alperton Community School in Brent, north-west London.

Andria is a testament to the thousands of hardworking teachers we have in our country. Thanks to their efforts, and the government’s bold reforms, academic standards are rising with 1.9 million more children now in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.

Crucially, the tide is also rising fastest for those who need it most and the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers has also narrowed since 2011 – by 10 per cent at secondary and more than 10.5 per cent at primary school. 

Working with teachers

Teachers should be proud of these achievements. We have a brilliant generation of teachers in our schools and we need to continue to attract the best and the brightest. The secretary of state has been very clear that his top priority is making sure teaching continues to be regarded as “one of the most rewarding jobs you can do”.

That’s why, at the Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) annual conference earlier this month, he announced a strategy to drive recruitment and boost retention of teachers, working with teaching unions and professional bodies. He also pledged to strip away workload that doesn’t add value in the classroom and give teachers the time to focus on what actually matters.

This will build on the work already underway to raise the status of the profession through our proposals to strengthen Qualified Teacher Status and improve the support for teachers at the beginning of their career. We are also helping to nurture the leaders of tomorrow, investing in thousands of new training opportunities for teachers through our £75 million Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund.

Ultimately, we want to empower teachers to raise standards in their own schools by pursuing evidence-based approaches. As Tom Bennett wrote recently, “teachers demanding better evidence is changing education”. This was a theme at the International Summit of Teaching Professionals last year, when it was hosted by the United Kingdom.

Phonics benefits

In fact, there is no better example than the introduction – by this government – of the phonics check. All the evidence pointed to its benefits and the Pirls international results showed that following the introduction of the check, standards in reading have risen significantly. Now there are 154,000 more 6-year-olds on track to be fluent readers than in 2011. And the Pirls data shows our nine-year-olds have achieved their highest ever result in the lifetime of the study. 

Using evidence from around the world and sharing and learning from best practice internationally has never been so important. We have already taken inspiration from Singapore to ensure our maths curriculum can compete with the best in the world. More than 2,500 primary schools in England are now benefitting from our £74 million investment in the Asian-style Teaching for Mastery programme.  

And this April, Britain will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting where leaders, business, civil society and young people from around the world will meet to discuss a common future. By working with our counterparts from across the Commonwealth to share best practice, we can tackle common challenges to help all young people to make the most of their lives.

To support this, we have produced an education resource pack for teachers to help them illustrate to their pupils the importance of our membership of the Commonwealth. I hope that teachers across the country will find it useful.  

Thanks to the hard work of teachers across the country we are striving to provide a world-class education for everyone, whatever their background. We are already among Europe’s best readers and we have reformed our GCSE and A levels to match the best education systems in the world. We must further raise our game so that Britain is fit for the future and I look forward to discussing how we can achieve this at this week’s Summit.

Nick Gibb is the schools minister

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