Teachers are doing it for themselves. Good

10th May 2013 at 01:00
A belief that educators should be in charge of schools lies behind our reforms, education secretary Michael Gove writes

Some people, on the Left and on the Right, deny the importance of teaching. On the Right are people - including in my political party - who think that intelligence is somehow a fixed commodity; that schools should identify children who are able, put them on one path, and find an alternative track or tracks for others who cannot benefit from a stretching curriculum. And on the Left are people - including leaders of teaching unions - who argue that children from poorer homes are so economically and socially disadvantaged that their fates are fixed before they even reach school.

To me, both positions seem sad because they deny the power of teaching to transform lives. The people who hold those positions seem to me the real enemies of promise.

I know - from my own childhood - that if teachers are given the opportunity they can transform lives immeasurably for the better. And I am convinced that the best people to be driving change in our education system, and setting higher standards than ever before, are teachers.

The belief that teachers should be in charge lies behind the UK government's reform programme in education. Our first legislative act as a government, the Academies Act, was designed to put teachers back in control - or more fully in charge - of their schools. The rapid growth in the number of academies (publicly funded but independently run schools), from just 203 when the coalition government was formed in 2010 to 2,924 at present, was driven not by ministerial fiat but by teachers taking control.

Amazing things have been - and are being - achieved by the academies movement. But all politicians and commentators should realise that those amazing things are being achieved by teachers in a teacher-led movement. The success of the Greenwood Academies Trust is down to the leadership of one teacher above all, Barry Day, and now he and his colleagues are helping to transform schools that had lost their way in some of the poorest areas of England's East Midlands; schools such as Nottingham Academy or Queensmead Primary Academy in Leicester.

In Birmingham, in the West Midlands, another wonderful teacher, Liam Nolan, has established the Perry Beeches chain of schools, with superbly talented lieutenants such as Jackie Powell (principal of Perry Beeches II The Free School) and Stuart Turnbull (associate principal of Perry Beeches Academy). The achievements of Nolan and his team have transformed the life chances of thousands of children across the Birmingham area. When Perry Beeches Academy received an "outstanding" rating from schools inspectorate Ofsted last month, the watchdog paid tribute to Nolan's leadership, under which, in its words, "the academy has become a beacon of outstanding practice".

Our free-schools policy, which enables groups to set up their own publicly funded schools, is giving even more teachers the chance to make a difference where it matters. When it comes to providing parents with choice, increasingly teachers are doing it for themselves - for example, established principals such as Patricia Sowter in Enfield, North London, classroom teachers stepping up to leadership such as Mark Lehain in Bedford, or groups of teachers determined to prove that every child can succeed, such as the team behind Greenwich Free School in southeast London.

Many of the best free schools are those where the idea has come from teachers, and many of the best bids to open new schools are coming from teachers. Free schools have, at last, allowed teachers to do what other professionals have always been able to do: build an institution that they run themselves for those most in need.

In the UK, general medical practitioners who want to help those most in need have always been able to set up a practice in a most disadvantaged area. Law firms have always been able to open practices in areas of disadvantage to offer support to the marginalised and overlooked. But, until now, no teacher could do as Sowter and Lehain have done and open their own school to help poor children to succeed. I think that the establishment of the free-school movement is a huge step forward in enhancing the prestige and supporting the innate idealism of the teaching profession.

Taking control

The academies and free-school movement hasn't just provided a better platform than ever before for teachers' ambitions. It has also given teachers the opportunity to become curriculum innovators to a greater and more exciting extent than at any point during the past quarter of a century.

Teachers are taking increasing control of what and how children learn, whether it is through the pioneering work of David Benson and Oliver Knight at the Ark Academy in northwest London, which Benson will now have the chance to extend to more students as the new principal of Kensington Aldridge Academy in West London; the innovative approaches to liberal learning being developed by Daisy Christodoulou in the Curriculum Centre at Pimlico Academy in central London; or the more stretching approach to mathematics that I saw being adopted at Nunthorpe School in Middlesbrough, northeast England, just last month.

The new national curriculum is being shaped to provide a level of challenge - and ambition - that is explicitly sharper than exists in the current national curriculum. But the most ambitious people in our education system are not ministers but teachers, and I see that every week in the innovations of teachers such as Christodoulou at Pimlico Academy, Peter Hyman at School 21 in East London, or Lee Faith at the Greenwich Free School. So I predict that in the months and years to come, the best curricula will be developed and refined in schools across the country by teachers, for teachers. This is why I believe that there has never been a better time to be a teacher.

Michael Gove is the secretary of state for education in the UK government.

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