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Layla Moran launches independent education commission to build “education system of the future”

March 18, 2019 8:05 PM
By Rugby Lib Dems

Layla Moran MP and Cllr Tim Douglas May 2018Lib Dem Education Spokesperson Layla Moran MP launched a new independent Education Commission on 15 March 2019. The Commission, chaired by Teach First co-founder Jo Owen, will work with the teaching profession, researchers and wider industry to develop a more radical and pragmatic vision for a future-perfect education system. While Layla convened the Commission she does not sit on it, nor does any other elected politician.

Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders' Annual Conference in Birmingham at lunchtime, Layla said that "funding cuts have exposed the underbelly of the system" that has "a toxic culture of over-testing, over-burdensome inspections … and senseless numbers-based competition driven by league tables."

In response to the impact of recent education reforms on schools, she highlighted the "need to challenge the fundamentals of our education system", led by the Commission.

She has issued a call to arms to politicians of all parties to work together to build a common vision that they can all work towards.

Speech to ASCL Conference (check against delivery):

Good afternoon everyone,

I'm so happy to be here. I'm Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, and have been the Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon since 2017.

But I'm still a school governor and before that, for well over a decade, I was a maths and physics teacher and Head of Year.

And I miss it like hell.

Despite all its challenges, it was a job I loved.

I am sure I don't need to tell any of you in this room, just how fantastically rewarding it is. To see that spark when something clicks and they suddenly go AAHHH.

But also, when you can make a real difference in their lives that has nothing to do with what you've been technically hired to teach them.

While the rewards can be unparalleled - it is also no secret that in our state system a combination of real-terms budget cuts and excessive workloads has taken much of the joy out of teaching in recent years.

Nearly a quarter of teachers that have qualified since 2011 have now left the profession.

Add the impact of funding cuts to schools and local authorities including children's and youth services, and it means schools are picking up more and more of the pieces of our society - with no extra resource to do it. For many of our colleagues, these pressures have proved too much altogether. I am sure many of you will have found it harder and harder to hire and keep talented staff in your schools.

But looking deeper, the funding cuts have exposed the underbelly of the system. A system that, in so many ways, I believe has been fundamentally broken for a long time.

We have a toxic culture of over-testing, over-burdensome inspections that all too often miss what is fantastic about our schools, and senseless numbers-based competition driven by league tables.

My question has always been, surely the ONLY question must be: do any of these things actually help students learn?

Yet all too often in politics today, that's the last question that's asked. And the evidence doesn't support it either.

Which is why, since I was elected, I have made it Lib Dem policy to scrap SATs, replace Ofsted and ban league tables.

Let's talk about assessment. We are leaving children whose learning style is not best reflected by exams to sit in silence, making them feel like they are failures. I would like to thank ASCL for their campaign on the Forgotten Third of children who leave school with a grade 4 or less in their English and Maths GCSEs - denying them the dignity of a qualification.

In this country, rich as it is, to leave any pupil without the basic skills of reading and writing is nothing short of a burning injustice. I know you all know this. But here is something the Government will never admit: that the system itself is wrong if this is an acceptable outcome, and they are to blame. For this injustice and so many others.

This is what made me want to be an MP.

Let's start with what schools should be.

To my mind, schools should be supportive, liberating environments; where every child is empowered to grow into a happy, healthy and confident adult.

And that where they go shouldn't depend on where they come from.

But this ideal is feeling increasingly out of reach.

And that is why I'm determined to use the platform I have in Parliament to fight for the changes I believe are sorely needed. There must be a better way of doing things.

So in that spirit - I will give some credit, where I think it is due, to the Education Secretary. After all, everyone needs a bit of positive reinforcement once in a while.

I think the new sex, relationships and health curriculum guidance is a leap forward in terms of helping young people to be masters of their own minds when it comes to sensitive issues.

Giving them the chance to have open and informed discussions about sex, relationships, health, mental wellbeing and online content… just some of the minefields our students have to navigate these days, must be a good thing.

To carry on the theme of positive reinforcement, let's go back to Ofsted.

Since its beginning Ofsted has driven a culture of "teaching to the test", of off rolling, and of stifling any real creativity in the profession. There have been some welcome sentiments from the Education Secretary about fixing this through reforms to the Ofsted inspection framework. There is now a consultation - so I guess he at least admits there is maybe a problem. Let's see what they actually do.

Don't get me wrong, there should be inspections, but they have become the be-all-and-end-all for too many teachers and parents. Every school, every leader is different.

I welcome change, but it has to be right.

We all know how easily education reforms - the good and the bad - can come and go at the whims of a variably informed education secretary.

And that's why I think we need to challenge the fundamentals of our education system.

Whether we're talking about changes to inspections, to the curriculum, to exams or to grading structures… ultimately all of these changes cause massive disruption and increase the workload of teachers during any transition.

And that would be worth it, of course, if there was reason to believe any given set of changes would genuinely improve a child's education.

But instead, these disruptions are, more often than not, just driven by political dogma. By the government of the day, made up of ministers with usually no front-line experience, or heed to real evidence.

So that is what I think really needs to change.

We need to find a way to put people like you - the experts who know this profession better than anyone - in a position to lead future reforms, if and when they are needed.

And we need to find a way to put evidence, not political point scoring, at the heart of those reforms.

We need a system which enables all children to become fully engaged participants in an exciting but unknowable future. Many of the children being born now will live to see the 22nd century. We cannot drive to the future by looking to the past: we need a clear vision of the future perfect and then build a road map for how we get there. Parts of our system are already seen as world class: let's make sure the entire system is world class.

To achieve this, I am delighted to announce today the formation of an independent Education Commission to develop a vision for the education system of the future. My hope is that this Commission will change the debate about education.

Less party politics. Less tinkering. Less doing things to the profession. More consensus, more working with the profession and more radical, more pragmatic ideas.

And I practise what I preach about political interference. Though I have convened the Commission, I want to make sure it is not party political. So I have decided not to sit on it, nor does any other elected politician.

Instead, I have asked leading practitioners and thinkers to come up with these ideas, starting with ASCL's very own Geoff Barton. Chairing will be Jo Owen, co-founder of Teach First, we also have Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, Christine Gilbert, former Head of Ofsted, Neil Carmichael, former Conservative Chair of the Education Select Committee, Professor Deborah Eyre, an expert in high performance learning, John Cope Head of Skills at the CBI and Ed Vainker, head teacher from the Reach Academy in Feltham.

What a team. But if we want a future-perfect, world-class system we need evidence of best ideas and practices from around the world. So I am further delighted to announce that our research partner is Warwick University. They will provide global comparisons and ensure that the Commission's research and conclusions are based on evidence of what works. We want best practice, not best theory.

But, I also want you to be involved. None of this will work unless you can have your say too. So soon, the Commission will publish its major themes and then will put out a call for evidence. We hope to use the knowledge of the profession, research and wider industry to help us. I hope many of you will add in your ideas: look out for the formal announcement when it comes. I am sure Geoff will tell you how.

We've set no specific time limit, although we expect an interim report in a few months with the hope of having a final report in a bit over a year. But we intend to take our time so we can get it right. That report will articulate a vision of that future-perfect end product with first steps for how we get there.

And then, I want every political party to steal these ideas.

So my message to Damian Hinds of the Conservative Party, Angela Rayner of the Labour Party and anyone else listening, is that we need to work together to reset the education debate in this country. Our politics is broken; Brexit has shown that. It is not a cause, it is a symptom of a deeper rot.

There is no better place to start rebuilding our country, and start remodelling what a new politics could look like, than in the area of education, because after all, it will take governments of many colours to deliver the incremental and sustainable change that we want to see.

Imagine where would we be now if, over the last thirty years, we had slowly, slowly reformed towards a common, evidenced, goal? That's what I want to do.

I entered politics to improve the educational chances of every child in this country.

And I will measure myself by thinking that if I ever lost my seat, I'd want to know that I had left behind a legacy of building towards that aim.

So I fight for a system which is fairer, which is properly funded, and which gives people like you - the professionals who know better than anyone - more respect, more support and more freedom.

I hope you will join me in fighting for a different politics to help deliver just that.

Thank you

The Commission's goals:

  • We want to reset the education debate and create an exciting vision for education that transcends party political lines. It will not focus on the current policy debate or remediating current policy failures but will start with the future perfect education system, and then look at how we can get from here to there. In other words, we want to offer a radical but credible vision of how education should work in the future, and then identify practical steps to get from here to there.
  • We expect to publish two papers, the first will produce the radical but credible vision of what a future perfect system will look like. The second will them look at how to get from here to there, and will tackle some of the current challenges and priorities in the context of the future perfect vision.
  • Whilst we're yet to discover exactly what our future perfect will look like, we have some key themes that we're going to focus on:
    • Great teachers and school leaders - attracting, retaining and developing the best talent is vital
    • The system has to work for all children not just the more academic - for both children and society to flourish we need to develop the talents of all children.
    • It needs to work for children all over the country - may need to re-think how schools can locally support each other, and regional accountability.
    • Creating citizens of the future - school isn't just for gaining qualifications. Education has to equip children with values and capabilities to enable them to thrive.
    • We don't know what the future will look like, so these skills have to enable them to adapt to changing needs. Policy needs to be able to do the same.


  • We're a commission of leading practitioners and thinkers working independently of any political party to come up with radical and pragmatic ideas on the future of education. Layla asked for the commission to be formed because she wants to find genuine solutions to the challenge of the future of education, but in order to maintain the independence of the commission she plays no part in the meetings themselves.
  • Our members are: Jo Owen, co-founder of Teach First, chairing the commission; ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton; former Head of Ofsted Christine Gilbert; former Conservative Chair of the Education Select Committee Neil Carmichael; head teacher from the Reach Academy in Feltham Ed Vainker; Deborah Eyre, an expert in high performance learning; Kevin Courtney Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union; and John Cope, Head of Skills and the CBI.


  • Our research partner is Warwick University who will help us by providing global comparisons and ensuring that our conclusions are based on evidence of what actually works. Of course, what works in one country might not work here, but we will look at how best we could translate great policy into something that can work here. They will publish their research as they go along, with the first set due around the end of summer.