19 June 2015

  |  CBI Updates Team


John Cridland - Festival of Education speech

The full text of John's speech to the Sunday Times Festival of Education

John Cridland - Festival of Education speech

Two months ago, the ‘One Show’ invited me to meet some young people in a youth centre in my home county of Lincolnshire. 

Each one of them was great. But they had fallen through the cracks.  

They weren’t failing, they were being failed – by a system not fit for purpose.

They weren't in education, employment and training and didn't know how to progress their dreams and ambitions.

But they had ambition. What they lacked was information and opportunity.

Being here at Wellington College today – with the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo just yesterday - I’m struck by the symbolism of the moment. 

Because for too long the education debate has – in many ways – been a ‘battle’ between two opposing camps. Echoing the idea of ‘two cultures’ in education put forward by C P Snow in his famous lecture. 
Lined up on one side – those for whom rigour is all. Stretching curriculums driven by stretching exams and a strong - mainly data-driven - accountability framework.

On the other side – those who emphasise developing the attitudes and aptitudes which will set young people up for adult life. 

These two points of view are consistently presented in our political debate as an ‘either/or’ choice. But in reality – this is a false choice. 

A false choice that we – educationalists, businesspeople, politicians - have allowed to determine the course of the education debate.

Yes – thanks to the efforts of many great teachers, the average has risen. 

But we’ve also stuck with a system which tolerates underachievement. 

At one end, low attainment. 40% of young people failing to get at least a C in GCSE English and maths by age 16. 

And at the other, failure to stretch the best pupils. 65% of pupils who got Level 5 in both English and maths at the end of primary school aren’t achieving A* or A at GCSE in these subjects.

It’s a system where children from more disadvantaged backgrounds start school a year behind in vocabulary, but never catch up. 

A system where GCSE scores correlate almost perfectly with parents’ income. And where children from poorer backgrounds are disproportionately more likely to go to less good schools. 

The result?

Almost one million young people aren’t in education, employment and training. 

With many more falling short of their full potential. 

Yet the system just carries on. 

A change to exams here, a change in school structure there – but nothing more fundamental. And while public money is tight – we still have some of the best funded schools in the world. So that can’t be it.

So how can we get to a system which produces the right outcomes?

Now I’m not a teacher – and I haven’t come here with all the answers. 

But today – if I may – I’d like to share with you a vision for education. 

A vision for a system which serves the hopes and dreams of the individual – not the other way around – helping young people become rigorous, rounded and grounded.

A positive vision rooted in evidence – which sets out not only what’s wrong, but also how – with Government leadership – we can help put things right.    

1. Innovation – letting teachers innovate and personalise from day one

In many ways, we know what works.

Great teachers in classrooms with the freedom to deliver great, innovative teaching harnessing new approaches and technologies. 

At first glance, the Government’s instincts on this seem right. 

And, in part, they are.

They seek to deliver a clear idea of what they want from schools, and are trying to use the academy programme to move power closer to the professionals. Ministers are committed to rigour in our system and I support them on that. 

But ultimately success will mean two things.  

First – ensuring each young person gets the outcome which is right for them. Part of this is using the best of modern technology to offer more personalised education and thereby a wider range of learning options from 14. 

And second – that schools feel free to do what is necessary to deliver that long-term outcome, rather than meeting the short-term demands of the system – whether it’s hot-housing 11 year olds for SATs or cutting space for careers education for year 10 and 11 students.  

If we are honest, the system is not yet able to deliver that and the Government’s reform programme is unlikely to do it either. 

Of course, school structures matter. I am personally a big fan of how the middle school system in the county where I live – Bedfordshire – supports child development at that difficult boundary between Key Stages 2 and 3.
But debates about schools structure and exam reform are sterile if they aren’t linked to outcomes for young people. And that is a missing link in our system. 

Across the UK, we have too many ‘impoverished schools’ by which I mean schools which focus only on academic rigour.  

We need to help young people develop the attitudes and aptitudes they’ll hold onto long after the technical details of Hannah and her bag of sweets have been forgotten.

In Singapore, for example, they have a broader definition of success – a broader approach which is rigorous, rounded and grounded. 

They also hold schools to account on this broader approach – something which happens in Finland and the best US schools too. 

And in the UK - we need to assure quality throughout the process, rather than just inspecting it at the end of the production line. 

In business, we know that the staff are the ones who should ‘own’ quality.

Yet what do we see in the education system? 

In weaker schools, fear of Ofsted drives behaviours which lead to perverse outcomes, instead of better ones. All too often, it’s only the data which matters. 

And in stronger schools, rebel head teachers succeed in spite of the system, not because of it. All too often, innovation still means rebellion – and it shouldn’t! 

Devolving control to schools could drive innovation and personalised learning – but the inspection regime too often means that teachers and heads don’t believe in these freedoms. And politicians have a habit of talking the language of freedom while specifying things schools should to do in great detail. 

This week, we’ve seen Ofsted take the first step in the right direction, in terms of a new approach to inspection. And I was delighted to see the focus that Sir Michael put on developing leaders with the capacity to innovate and improve outcomes. But there is more to do.  

In this Parliament I want to see the Department of Education deliver their proposed devolved model. They should set out clear goals for the education system covering rigour, but also the attitudes and aptitudes necessary for work and life. Ironically, whilst Scotland already has this in its Curriculum for Excellence, schools there lack the freedom English schools would have to actually deliver it.

It’s time for Government to act. Reforms should go further and faster than some of the welcome steps thus far, transforming our approach to quality – and how to deliver it – by 2018. 

2. Information – giving young people the right information

And we also need to give every young person access to quality advice about the choices open to them. 

That’s advice – not a website. Young people can access all the information they need on their smart phones. It’s a steer they need.

93% of young people surveyed for the LifeSkills Youth Barometer didn’t feel they were provided with all the information they needed to make informed choices on their future career.  

Transferring the entire responsibility for careers to schools has not worked – as Ofsted set out in their review of the change. 

They found that – out of 60 schools - just 12 made sure all students got sufficient information to consider a wide breath of careers. 

Careers advice professionals should be part of this picture, supporting young people to find and interpret the right information for them. 

And – as ever – creating links between employers and schools will be vital. 

As a country, we’ve never been particularly good at this. 

But at least 40 years ago – when I was 14 – most people knew who the big, local employers were.  

In Germany, young people have multiple encounters with employers throughout their education, with even stronger links in vocational schools.  

And in Finland, yearly work experience from ages 13-16 comes ‘as standard’. 

Studies show children in UK schools are already thinking about what they want to do at primary school. They shouldn’t be short of inspiration. 

If you’re just the other side of Reading in Culham – for example – fusion energy, the fuel of the future, is being developed just around the corner by your friends’ mums and dads. I’m sure there are equally inspiring examples all over the UK!

Yet only about a third of firms we spoke to who engaged with schools have these links at primary level – that’s not good enough!

And at secondary school, young people need careers advice when they’re 12 and 13 – before they make life-changing choices about what to study. 

When it comes to school links, there are plenty of opportunities for employers to ‘muck in’ - from ‘Speakers 4 Schools’ to Young Enterprise. 

But the best information young people can get is ‘test driving’ things first-hand. Asda’s ‘adopt a school’ programme offers 15,000 work experience placements for 14-16 year-olds, whilst Whitbread’s programme aims to inspire over a million 15-16 year-olds about  hospitality. Both aim to show that these firms are about much more than stacking shelves and making mochas. 

So let’s make progress in the next two years. 

We can shine a light on ‘dark spots’ where careers education doesn’t exist, working with the new Careers and Enterprise Company. 

This doesn’t mean more programmes – there are many excellent ones – but it does mean better co-ordination. Government must help make this happen, with work experience back on the agenda for all young people before they reach 16 – delivered as part of my new, broader, accountability regime. 

3. Decisions – giving young people a real choice from 14

And once young people have the right information, we need to offer them a real choice of personalised, specialised paths from 14.  

There should be more options for vocational study – and greater employer involvement – from 14. 

For too long, we’ve just ‘pretended’ to have a multiple route education system. 

Yet in reality there has been only one path the system values - GCSEs, A-levels, University. 

For many – including me, and most Ministers – that path was the right one.

But for many others, it’s not. 

And expecting them to wait until 16 to make a choice and then offering a restricted, unloved range of options is a social and economic own goal.

Instead, we must offer all young people equal but different ‘routes to heaven’. Whatever path they want to follow – academic, vocational or a mixture of both. 

In some places just a picket fence separates a college where you can take great BTEC nationals – but not A-levels – and a Sixth Form where you can take great A-levels – but not BTEC nationals. 

You know what? I’d love to kick down that fence and give all young people the chance to study vocational and academic qualifications. Instead of forcing them to give up their future because the “system says no”. If that means radically changing how we fund schools and hold them accountable, so be it.

Northern Ireland’s Framework of Entitlement guarantees access to a number of vocational courses – regardless of what kind of school you’re at. And if children in Belfast get this choice, why not kids here in Berkshire too? Some UTCs and studio schools are showing signs of progress – but this must be about the majority of schools.

Non-academic routes should be rigorous and different to academic ones, but not second-best. And the Government can help change attitudes by extending the ‘gold standard’ A-level brand to the best vocational courses. 

These qualifications would be different under the bonnet – on curriculum and assessment – but they would all have the same logo on the wheel – A-levels. 

So let’s look at what we can learn from Northern Ireland’s Entitlement Framework and implement something similar in England. And - in this parliament – I want to see plans in place for a unitary gold-standard brand for level 3 qualifications at 18. So today I call on government to level the playing field and create vocational A-levels.

4. Ambition – assessment focused at 18

But the only way to create space for broader goals, better guidance and different ‘routes to heaven’ is to remove things that are no longer relevant. 

Today, the number of young people staying in education and training to 18 is rising – a trend set to continue as changes to the participation age take hold. 

On high-stakes exams at 16, we have to face the uncomfortable truth that – internationally – we’re the oddballs.

In France, Germany, Sweden or Japan, much of the assessment which takes place before 18 is school-based - whether exams set and administered by schools or marks based on continuous assessment. And where there is external national assessment, it tends to be for core maths and languages. 

Yet in the UK we have no debate at all about the 14-18 curriculum – only a debate about exams. We saw that in Nicky Morgan’s announcement earlier this week. Its goals are in many ways laudable, but it misses the point that we need curriculum reform, not just exam reform. We should stop using exams as a tool to influence education rather than accredit it. The Government must make a start on a full review of 14 to 18 education by the end of the summer.

GCSEs are past their ‘sell-by-date’ and should be retired. These are now exams that only serve to deliver school accountability measurement – which can be achieved in other ways.

Of course, there would be consequences – both for qualifications and school structures. But none are insurmountable. And – at last - we would be designing the system around the outcome we want – not the other way around.  

So let’s clear the way for a new 14-18 curriculum, based on personalisation. We need an Individualised Learning Plan for every young person, aiming at high quality outcomes at 18, whether academic, vocational or a mix, owned and managed by all the establishments they come into contact with in that period.  

By the end of this parliament, I want to see the date for the last GCSEs circled in the Secretary of State’s diary. 

5. Participation – a ‘whole’ approach to education involving everyone

Finally – I want education to be everyone’s business – involving parents, teachers, business and the whole community. Indeed, the great surprise since the CBI first came to Wellington three years ago has been how often businesses and teachers see things the same way. 

Here – businesses both big and small are taking the initiative. 

The Greggs Foundation oversees 320 breakfast clubs, providing breakfast for more than three million children every year. By using parent volunteers, they make sure that clubs are free of charge and that no child starts the day hungry.

But just as importantly, they’ve noticed that parents who would never dare venture beyond the school gates now come into school. 

As a result - many now have a better relationship with teachers at parents’ evening and are more interested in what their children are up to at school. 

All that from a bowl of cereal! 

And smaller businesses – like Marshfield Bakery – offer a range of outreach programmes to local communities. Sponsoring primary school cooking classes and supporting over 50s and the long-term unemployed to get back into work. 

I’d love to see more firms sparking those crucial conversations between the community, businesses and education. 

Schools shouldn’t be places where businesspeople drop their kids at the beginning of the day like they drop-off their dry-cleaning. 

Instead, businesses should lead by example.  

Sponsoring academies, engaging with curriculum design and supporting employees who act as school governors. 

So in this parliament, let’s see a step change on this. Let’s not rely on Government – we can make progress together. 


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Education is the most important thing. 

It defines not only our economic prosperity – but who we are as a society. 

Yet for decades – under Governments of both left and right – the “politics of false choices” have driven and defined our education system.

False choices between academic achievement or vocational skill, between the right marks or the right mentality, between assessment or development, between going to university or going into business. 

We need a system which replaces these “or’s” with “and’s” – giving everyone the best chance to succeed. 

Education reforms over the last parliament have only gone so far and the new Government must focus on the system as a whole, and not just exams and school structures. 

So by 2020, I want to see an education system that doesn’t just work for some young people but which works for all young people. 

An education system which frees teachers to innovate, giving every child the personalised, individual education they need.

An education system which provides every child with inspiration and guidance about the world of work. 

An education system which gives everyone a choice – between vocational or academic or both. 

An education system where outcomes are focused at 18. 

And a system where education is everyone’s business. 

Of course – this is an ambitious vision, and the Government – and all of us – will have to start today if we are to have any chance of achieving it. 

We’ll know we’ve succeeded when head teachers can follow the signposts within the system to reach their goal, rather than having to rebel against them. 

Business will put its shoulder to the wheel, but you are the experts. 

You’re the ones on the front line. And I hope you’ll join me in calling on the Government to make the change.