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School standards minister David Miliband has paid tribute to teachers in difficult schools in a speech outlining go...
School standards minister David Miliband has paid tribute to teachers in difficult schools in a speech outlining government strategy to help teachers raise standards in demanding schools.

Addressing the Trainee Heads' Celebration Event in London Mr Milliband said:

'It is a pleasure to be here today to congratulate trainee heads on

their skill and hard work, and also thank the mentors, serving heads,

who have given time and energy to help teach them their craft. My

purpose in speaking to you is two-fold: first to honour and encourage

you, but secondly to use the opportunity of this conference to send a

wider message, not just to teachers and educationalists, but to

parents and commentators, about the potential that exists in our most

deprived communities, the possibility that we can achieve remarkable

school results in those communities, and our responsibility to do all

we can to use education to change the lives of these young people.

I've called my speech 'Changing Lives', because that is what you do.

It came home to me at the North West Teaching Awards, when one of the

nominees said a child had approached her the playground and said:

'Miss, I hope you win because you have helped change my life.' It's

as simple as that.

The facts

Let's start with the facts. The British Cohort Study showed that the

impact of deprivation on educational development is first evident at

22 months. By age 11, the average performance of the 2,153 schools

with more than 40% of children on Free School Meals is 18 points

below the national average. By GCSE, more than twice as many children

of unskilled workers, as opposed to professional and managerial

employees, fail to get five good GCSEs. The overall result is that

children born in the bottom social class are 32 times less likely to

make it to the top as children born there are to stay there.

There are two approaches. One is to explain underperformance by

disadvantage; the other is to take disadvantage as a spur to

excellence and aspiration. As I say to people in my own constituency,

an ex-mining community blighted by industrial change, we need to

aspire to above-average education to give children in disadvantaged

community average life-chances.

Let's understand the nature of the disadvantage. The Social Exclusion

Unit's statistics on the 10% most deprived wards give an idea of the

home background of children in schools facing challenging

circumstances: over 60% of children live in households that rely on

means tested benefits and 43% of the housing is not in a decent

state. Half the schools have more than a third of their pupils on

free school meals: this is twice the national average, and is

increasingly marked in some rural and coastal communities as well as

urban areas. Rates of lone parenthood are higher, and so is

population movement and immigration. Schools like South Camden

Community School, not far from here, which is working really hard to

make itself a beacon of good practice, have over 60% of children on

free school meals, 80% speak English as an additional language, and

over four out of ten of the year 11 group did not start secondary

education at the school but came from overseas.

Many of the children who attend the 650 or so secondary schools

facing challenging circumstances are from families where survival is

a daily grind. Children born in social class D & E are half as likely

to have a home computer as those born in classes A & B. In stark

terms, children from the lowest social classes are five times more

likely to die in road accidents as those from the highest social

class; how many times are they less likely to play the violin, go to

the theatre, or go on holiday abroad?

I am ambitious for children in deprived areas because I know they

have the brains, I know they have the potential, but they don't have

the chances. Only education can provide these opportunities for them.

Of course education cannot do it alone; but without education

investment in housing, regeneration, crime prevention, health

promotion will not work. Education at its best offers hope,

excitement, escape.

I am inspired by what education can do because you have shown what is


Loxford School, where over 40% of pupils are on free school meals,

has 50% of its pupils with at least 5 A*-C grades.

Big Wood School on Nottingham, with 36% on Free School Meals, now has

48% of pupils getting good GCSEs;

Or look at Deincourt School in Chesterfield which has shifted

attainment from 11% in 1998 to 26% last year.

We should always stretch the brightest children. But who is to say

the brightest children are not in these schools? The children do have

talent. Our job together is to build an education system that can

help find and develop it.

Special People

The professional skills you need to teach successfully in challenging

circumstances are special. I know it takes skills of the highest

order to set high expectations in a class where the majority of

pupils come with low aspirations. It takes extra energy and skill to

make up the deficits of children who have fallen behind or never

caught up at primary school, or in some cases not attended school. It

takes extra skill to secure high results in classes where many pupils

speak English as an additional language, many did not start their

secondary education at the school and most of the new arrivals came

from overseas.

We know we need the best heads for the toughest schools. So much in

any school depends on the quality of the head and the senior

management team. So much more depends on them in a school which

serves the poorest communities. That's why we are running this

programme for trainee heads. We want heads in challenging

circumstances to have access to experience of others who have already

demonstrated what it takes to transform their schools. That's why we

are working with the NCSL on consultant heads. And we want to

encourage many more partnerships between schools which allow them to

share staff recruitment, to pool their management expertise and to

bolster a weak department.

You and your staff are teacher, social worker, friend, sibling, role

model, even policeman, all rolled into one. Our job in the

department is to support you in those multiple tasks. That's why, for

instance, we've put over 100 advanced skills teachers into schools

that face challenging circumstances and will support even more of

these posts. It is tough in challenging schools, but we want to make

it as rewarding as possible. If we can get our best teachers into

challenging schools, we will add huge value to the nation: it can be

the difference between a life with a career, a family, prosperity,

and life on the margins.

Let me sum it up this way: we need the best to lead the rest - the

best not just according to raw test scores, but the best at helping

pupils make progress, the best at improving life- chances. The best

schools showing the way to the rest of schools, the best heads

showing the way to the rest, the best teachers showing the way to the


Government Strategy

The Government's strategy is to use a combination of general policies

to raise standards across the board with targeted policies to raise

achievement in some of our toughest areas. All schools benefit from

the average #670 per pupil per year extra that is being spent in

schools; all schools benefit from the #3bn a year capital programme;

all primary schools benefit from the literacy and numeracy

programmes, all secondary schools from the Key Stage 3 strategy.

Targeted policies are designed to help schools in challenging

circumstances overcome the special obstacles that stand in their way.

These include the extra resources for Excellence in Cities and

Excellence Clusters, the programme for schools in challenging

circumstances, targeted interventions for weak LEAs and schools, and

the focus on behaviour and youth crime that is being led by Estelle

Morris and Stephen Twigg.

We know from the recent review of the schools facing challenging

circumstances programme that the targeted funding has been crucial to

matching action to the different priorities in the schools. Over 70%

of low attaining secondary schools are already supported by the

department's area based initiatives, and those outside receive

additional funding through School Improvement Grant.

One size never fits all and this is especially true for schools in

challenging circumstances. But there is a clear menu of reforms from

which to choose: mixing teachers and non-teaching staff, offering

extra vocational options, re-organising the timetable, developing

specialisms and special partnerships with other schools, colleges or

businesses, and in some cases closing schools and re-opening them as

City Academies with wholly new estate.

The results are encouraging. Standards are rising generally, and they

are rising fastest in schools serving poorer children. The

improvement in attainment in English by the end of Key Stage 2 during

our first term of office was twice as fast in schools serving poor

children than in others. The improvement in attainment in English in

Key Stage 3 was four times faster last year in schools covered by the

Excellence in Cities programme than in others. And the improvement in

GCSE results in recent years has been markedly faster in EiC schools

than in others.

But we have a long way to go. The latest international comparisons

show that on average English schools are much closer to being world

class. But they also show that there is a yawning attainment gap

between top and bottom, a gap larger than in most developed

countries, and one which reflects our huge social divides. The

challenge is to all of us - central Government, local Government,

schools and parents - to close that gap.

Challenges Ahead

For us in central Government the challenge is to create a framework

of resources, support and accountability that enables schools to

focus on improving teaching and learning, with a curriculum that

excites and interests all children. I want to pick out five areas,

focussed on the secondary sector, where we need to make special

effort to support schools in challenging circumstances, learning all

the time from experience on the ground.

First, the school workforce and work load. Teachers in schools facing

challenging circumstances should have back up from other

professionals - technicians, classroom assistants and learning

mentors. Team teaching to me is about a team of teachers, assistants

and specialists helping to make the most of a child's potential. The

problem with workload is the result not of too much reform, but too

little. That is why we need to address the time teachers have for

preparation and for teaching, why we need to address the support they

get from other adults and from ICT, and why we need concerted action

to support Heads in leading local innovation in school organisation

and curricula.

On their own, reform to teachers' time, support and leadership bring

incremental reform; done together they amount to a remodelling of the

school workforce should be a watershed for teaching and learning.

Like any transformation it will be a lived experience over years, not

a one-off experience over weeks. Done right, it will help close

attainment gaps, stretch the gifted and talented and re-engage pupils

disconnected from traditional patterns of schooling.

Second, we need to ensure that every school is on a ladder or

opportunity - what the Prime Minister on Saturday called an

'escalator' - towards the development of its own distinctive

contribution to its own pupils and to education in an area. This can

be through specialist status, or reconstruction as a City Academy,

but the evidence is that the self-examination and self-criticism that

is the starting point for specialist status can be the spur to

continuous improvement that is so important in any organisation.

Specialist status is about educational improvement not school


Third, we know from HMI monitoring of the schools facing challenging

circumstances that while the majority of LEAs give positive support

to their schools around a quarter do not. We are challenging LEAs

now to face up to the tough decisions that may be needed for the

small number of schools that don't have the capacity to improve - to

transform them into City Academies or to close them or to federate

them with another school. They must not let them simply wither away

and ignore the pupils in those schools. Just under fifty of the worst

secondary schools have been closed by LEAs in the last 2 years. Most

schools in challenging circumstances don't need closure - but they do

need the support of the school system and their LEAs to carry through

the long, hard job of raising attainment for their pupils.

For example, the partnership of heads supporting Kingsdown School in

Wigan has enabled that school to improve rapidly and the model is

being successfully copied at Montgomery School in Kent. Lincolnshire

has some excellent examples of school partnerships, including their

Rural Academy. Every school should have the support from an LEA,

another school, or a group of schools, to support its improvement.

Fourth, children spend 9000 hours in school, but many more outside,

and provision outside school hours to develop a all-day, all-year

vision of communities where learning is exciting, relevant and

inclusive is both ambitious and daunting. It is, however, the obvious

link between the series of interventions by social services and

police as well as education in deprived areas. Our school estate can

be a natural basis for all-hours provision, if we can coordinate

local services to focus on children's life-chances.

Finally, we need to make better use of high status partners outside

education but with potential to raise expectations inside education.

Think of universities, many of them sitting side by side with

challenging schools. They can be expert partners in the process of

school improvement. And they can provide opportunities for pupils to

set their sights on higher education through student mentoring,

masterclasses and other chances for young people to realise that high

attainment is within their sights. We have to raise expectations if

we are to release the potential of all our young people. To do that

we must tackle low parental and peer expectations and challenge those

who think that children in some communities cannot achieve. And to do

that universities have an important role to play.


There are big challenges ahead for the Government. It is not enough

to raise average performance. We need to raise performance at the

bottom as well as in the middle and at the top. That is why the

Spending Review will include floor targets for performance in our

poorest communities.

But we need more than good policy. Part of my job is to pay tribute

to the special efforts of special people in places that are special

for the wrong reasons. All pupils need good teachers. But pupils

living in tough areas need the best. That is why the Government is

supporting the recruitment of and retention of outstanding teachers

in the toughest schools.

They are people like you doing jobs that not many of us could do, and

the payback to the country from your success more than outweighs the

extra investment these children need. Today we salute your

achievement, we urge you to keep it up, and we commit ourselves to

work with you to make a reality of the equal opportunity that can be

such a powerful force for progress in our society.

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