Reforming the education system

Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Reform at the Department of Education details the governments to drive to reform the education system

It is no secret that this government has carried out extensive reforms to the education system. The driving aim behind our plan for education is ensuring every child, whatever their background, leaves school with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in modern Britain.

Before 2010 thousands of young people were allowed to fall behind in reading. 15% of 7-year-olds weren’t reaching the expected level in reading by the end of Key Stage 1; and one in five 11-year-olds left primary school still struggling to read, after nearly seven years of primary education.

This government’s drive to tackle illiteracy is putting a stop to that. We introduced the Phonics Reading check at age 6 to assess whether children are on track with their reading and to identify from an early age those who needed extra help. When the check was piloted in 2011 just 32% passed. In 2012 that had risen to 58% and last year 74% passed. We also provided £20m of extra funding and advice to schools to help them choose and buy the best phonics programmes and strengthened the requirement in teacher training for new teachers to understand the theory and teaching of phonics.

I’m pleased to say it’s having a real impact, with schools increasingly using phonics. Three years on from the introduction of the check, 100,000 more children are on track to become confident, proficient readers.

We were equally concerned about the increasing drift away from core academic subjects in the choices pupils were making at GCSE. In 2000, for example, 80% of pupils were entered for a GCSE in a foreign language. By 2010 that had dropped to just 43%. That’s why we introduced the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) performance measure to help reverse the decline in the number of pupils taking rigorous academic qualifications. Pupils achieve the EBacc if they secure a C or better in English, maths, 2 sciences, history or geography, and a language – the subjects most valued by universities and employers.

Recent results show this is working, with schools shifting their focus to academic GCSEs almost overnight. Last month’s school-level performance table figures show that, since 2010, the number of pupils taking languages has risen by 21%, with 49,858 more pupils now entering language subjects. There are 90,000 more pupils taking the challenging EBacc subjects compared to 2010 – an increase of 71% in 4 years. The number achieving the EBacc has also significantly increased, rising from 15.1% of pupils in 2010 to 24.2% in 2013/14.

We have also removed from school performance tables all the poor-quality vocational qualifications being offered to 14 -16-year-olds that had no real value in the workplace. Now our young people are being taught vocational qualifications that are not only high-quality but are relevant to the world of work, ensuring pupils can compete in the global labour market.

Through our new knowledge-rich National Curriculum, introduced in September 2014, young people are now not only getting a solid grounding in the basics but are also being challenged to ensure they fulfil every ounce of their potential. We are sometimes criticised for our insistence on a higher level of subject knowledge in the new curriculum. What is the point of knowledge, I am often asked when in the 21st Century what pupils really need is creativity, imagination and critical thinking skills?

The point is that none of these skills can be acquired without a solid grounding in subject knowledge. A false dichotomy is too often made between knowledge and skills. Knowledge and skills are not enemies; they are partners. But they belong in a partnership where knowledge must be learnt first.

There are many who will argue that our reforms are too much and too soon.

In my view these reforms are vital. Why? Because the education system is fundamental to our country’s long term economic prosperity. Having a well-educated population is fundamental to the character of our country. Education is a top-five political issue for the electorate and has been for many years.

That’s why reform has been necessary, and why it’s been so extensive. I am confident that at the end of this journey we will have an education system that prepares all young people, whatever their background, for life in modern Britain.


Nick Gibb

Minister of State for School Reform

Department for Education


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