The experience of successful schools shows us how. Decisive progress in educational standards occurs where every child matters; careful attention is paid to their individual learning styles, motivations, and needs; there is rigorous use of pupil target setting linked to high quality assessment; lessons are well paced and enjoyable; and pupils are supported by partnership with others well beyond the classroom.
This is what I mean by “Personalised Learning”. High expectation of every child, given practical form by high quality teaching based on a sound knowledge and understanding of each child’s needs. It is not individualised learning where pupils sit alone at a computer. Nor is it pupils left to their own devices – which too often reinforces low aspirations. It can only be developed school by school. It cannot be imposed from above.
The question facing us today is simple: what do we need to do to make personalised learning the defining feature of our education system? I think it requires a new relationship between the Department, LEAs and schools, that brings a sharper focus to our work at national level, and strips out clutter and duplication through stronger alignment of all activity, in order to release greater local initiative and energy.
The aim is, and I am determined that the result will be, schools with more time to focus on what really matters, more help in identifying their weaknesses, and more tailored and coherent support in putting them right.
Some say that achieving excellence and equity is impossible. That ‘more will mean worse’. But excellence and fairness are not opposites that have to be traded. In fact, they are the twin engines of progress. Giving every single child the chance to be the best they can be, whatever their talent or background, is not the betrayal of excellence. It is the fulfilment of it. The challenge for education in the 21st century is to give the common basics of citizenship and working life to every pupil, while developing and nurturing the unique talents of each pupil.
There are five key processes that make this possible:
- Assessment for Learning that feeds into lesson planning and teaching strategies, sets clear targets, and clearly identifies what pupils need to do to get there;
- a wide range of teaching techniques to promote a broad range of learning strategies, facilitated by high quality ICT that promotes individual and group learning as well as teaching;
- curriculum choice, particularly from the age of 14, and the development of subject specialism;
- the organisation of the school, including the structure of the day and of lessons, using workforce reform to enhance teaching and learning and to ensure consistency;
- and links to services beyond the classroom, involving the wider community and families, parents providing strong support; and the engagement of LEAs in the agenda set out in the Every Child Matters Green Paper.
We want schools to challenge and support pupils, recognising that everybody has a different starting point and different aspirations. Yet to deliver personalised learning schools need challenge and support as well, tuned to the different needs of primary and secondary teachers, and the different needs of different schools.
The model of challenge and support, at the heart of the new relationship with schools, has to be built on solid foundations and clear principles:
- Nothing is possible without strong institutions that are the champions of high performance, and have the confidence to innovate and collaborate thus generating further momentum of reform;
- Progress depends on alignment of local and national priorities, programmes and activities, so that all parts of the system are working in common cause and with maximum effect;
- And we will really achieve take off when there is a maximum use of data and benchmarks by all those with an interest in pupils’ progress, combined with a minimum of clutter and noise so that people can get on with the main job of teaching children.
This requires a concerted approach to whole school improvement. Over the last six years excellent teaching has been supported by some outstandingly successful innovation in our system, forged by programmes such as Specialist Schools, Excellence in Cities, Gifted and Talented provision, extended schools, or the Key Stage 2 and 3 strategies. We should collectively be proud of these. But at the same time we should realise that the overwhelming evidence from Ofsted is that these programmes are most successful not as stand-alone initiatives, but as part of a coherent approach to whole school improvement. Building this coherence is at the centre of the new relationship with schools; it is fundamental to further advance.
The three key aspects to this are: first, an accountability framework, which puts a premium on ensuring effective and ongoing self-evaluation in every school combined with more focussed external inspection, linked closely to the improvement cycle of the school; second, a simplified school improvement process, where every school uses robust self evaluation to drive improvement, informed by a single annual conversation with the education system on targets, priorities and support; and third, improved data flows, including to parents.
BELFAST, 8TH JANUARY 2004