Coffee House

Michael Gove’s moral mission

7 June 2014

11:40 AM

7 June 2014

11:40 AM

Few modern-day political speeches need to be read in full, but Michael Gove’s today does. The speech to Policy Exchange’s Education Conference contains what must be the moral core of modern-day Conservatism, that disadvantage must not be destiny. Though, the speech does take a very Blairite approach to means. Gove declares that ‘what’s right is what works’.

The headlines have been grabbed by Gove’s argument that illiteracy can be ended in a generation. This is a noble aim and there’s no reason why this country should be so accepting of educational failure as it is. It is hard to dispute this part of Gove’s argument:

‘How can it be right that more than a fifth of children left primary school without having reached a basic level of literacy and numeracy?
We wouldn’t accept a fifth of hospital operations going wrong or a fifth of flights ending badly. So why should we accept a system in which school standards were still too low?’

[Alt-Text]


There are a few other clues to the next Tory manifesto in the speech. Gove seems to suggest that child benefit will be docked from parents whose children don’t attend school. He also implies that there will be further reforms to GCSEs if the Tories win the next election.

Gove has had a difficult few days; his spat with Theresa May over extremism in schools has irritated even some of his closest Cabinet allies. But today’s speech is a reminder that it is the Gove agenda that provides the Cameron project with its moral purpose.

Full speech below.

BETTER SONGS TO SING – THE MORAL PURPOSE OF OUR SCHOOL REFORMS
I’d like to begin by thanking Policy Exchange for this platform today. And I’d like also to thank Policy Exchange for the intellectual leadership it’s given to education reform.
Policy Exchange has been consistent in arguing for better schools, especially for the most disadvantaged children, in order to make opportunity more equal.
It has developed detailed policies to extend parental choice to all, get more great new schools in disadvantaged areas and re-distribute resources to help the poorest students. Those ideas have influenced the Conservative party’s policy in opposition and the Coalition’s programme in Government.
The expansion of the academy programme has ensured that communities denied a choice of good schools have at last been given the schools they deserve.
The introduction of free schools has set a new – and higher – bar for quality and innovation in state education. Already almost twice as likely as other schools to have been judged outstanding under the new, tougher Ofsted framework, they are proving an enormous success.
And the pupil premium – an idea I championed before entering politics and which I am delighted to have delivered in Government – has ensured £6.25 billion of additional money has been directed towards the poorest students in the country.
A relentless focus on closing the gap between the poorest students and their peers has been at the heart of everything we’ve done in Government.
Alongside the pupil premium, I have established the Education Endowment Foundation, an independent research body to champion the best ways of helping poorer students, changed the nature of league tables and inspection to place more emphasis on the achievement of the most disadvantaged and reformed children’s services to ensure the most vulnerable children are rescued from neglect and supported to succeed more effectively than ever before.
All of these reforms have been part of a long-term plan for our schools – shaped and supported by Policy Exchange’s work – and driven by a clear sense of moral purpose.
I want every child to go to be able to go to a state school which excels, which nurtures their talents, which introduces them to the best that has been thought and written, which prepares them for the world of work and adult responsibility, which imbues them with the strength of character to withstand life’s adversities and treat other humans with courtesy and dignity, which gives them the chance to appreciate art and culture, to enjoy music and drama, to participate in sport and games, which nurtures intellectual curiosity and which provides a secure grounding in the practical skills the modern world requires.
The reason I want that for every child is that I want that for my own. And I don’t see why as an Education Secretary I should settle for children going to a school I wouldn’t send my own children to. That would be morally indefensible.
THE HEARTS PREGNANT WITH CELESTIAL FIRE, THE FLOWERS THAT BLUSH UNSEEN
Which is why I find it hard to understand why anyone should wish to defend the state of the education system we inherited.
How can it be right that more than a fifth of children left primary school without having reached a basic level of literacy and numeracy?
We wouldn’t accept a fifth of hospital operations going wrong or a fifth of flights ending badly. So why should we accept a system in which school standards were still too low?
Is it right that two-fifths of students should have left school without a grade C in English and Maths GCSEs? These are the basic minimum level qualifications most employers or universities demand.
But almost 40% of children failed to secure them. And among the poorest children – those eligible for free school meals – a majority left school without these qualifications.
I don’t know anyone in this room – anyone in parliament – anyone leading a school or leading a teachers union who would accept their own child leaving school without this bare minimum. But we accepted this fate for hundreds of thousands of children every year.
Changing that – rescuing the next generation – giving them the foundation they need to succeed – that has been the driving moral purpose of our education reforms. And I challenge anyone to explain to me why that is wrong, indeed why we shouldn’t be more driven and more determined to end this waste of human potential.
And yet people do. People do still say we’re being too demanding and driving too hard.
We have university academics – indeed the chairs of organisations like the National Association for the Teaching of English – saying that we should not introduce 15 and 16 year old children to Charles Dickens because his work will put them off literature for life.
We have historians who will defend teaching World War one to secondary school children through the medium of Blackadder and providers of historical teaching materials who argue GCSE students should learn about Hitler through the medium of Mr Men books.
We have political opponents who argue that expecting 16 year olds to get GCSEs in English, Maths, Science, a language and one of the humanities is creating a barrier to success and setting up children to fail.
Believe me, I know what real barriers to success look like. I spent the first four months of my life in care. Both my parents had to leave school at 15. My sister spent all her school career set apart from other children who were just as bright as her in a school for children with special needs. And I know what setting children up to fail looks like.
It’s sending working class children to school without daring to think they might be intellectually curious and capable of greatness, denying them access to anything stretching or ambitious, setting expectations so low you can never be surprised by someone’s potential, giving children flimsy photocopied worksheets instead of proper rigorous textbooks, feeding them a diet of dumbed-down courses and easy to acquire qualifications, lowering pass marks and inflating grades to give the illusion of progress, shying away from anything which might require grit, application, hard work and perseverance and then sending these poor children into the adult world without the knowledge, skills, character and accomplishments they need, and deserve, to flourish.
That is setting children up to fail. And that is what I will not tolerate.
WHAT’S RIGHT IS WHAT WORKS
Now some might allow that while the driving moral purpose of our reforms is right, the guiding principles have been wrong.
But which principles to follow?
I have been conscious throughout my time in Opposition and Government that there has been no single unchallenged consensus on how to improve our schools.
Listen to conversations between teachers, as I have done, study the experience of different nations at different times, consider the theories of philosophers, reflect on the debate in the twitter sphere and between bloggers and you can see there is a wide spectrum of opinion.
There is no such thing as “the view of teachers” any more than there is “the view of politicians” as an unchallenged and unified Weltanschauung.
So instead of setting out to follow a consensus that doesn’t exist – and I suspect never will – I have set out to follow the evidence.
In Government we have applied a simple set of tests to help frame education policy. For us, what’s right is what works.
And we’ve been lucky that our time in office has coincided with an increasing – and increasingly robust – body of evidence of what works in education.
Two men, more than any others, have studied what works across nations and cultures. Andreas Schleicher of the OECD and Sir Michael Barber, formerly of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit and McKinsey and now with Pearson, have studied the common characteristics of high performing education systems.
The first is school autonomy and parental choice. The more autonomy enjoyed at the level of the school principal, the better. If head teachers, rather than bureaucrats, can spend the money allocated to education, if they can hire and fire the professionals they want, if they can vary the curriculum and the hours of study, if they can be captains of their ship, then standards rise. And that is what we have seen with our academy and free school programme.
The second driver of excellence – which must accompany autonomy – is proper accountability. Parents – and governments – must have accurate fair and timely information about performance. So choice can be informed and state intervention proportionate. The strongest form of accountability comes from the data generated by externally set and marked tests and the judgements made by expert inspectors.
We have altered the tests and league tables by which schools are judged to make them both more ambitious for all children and fairer to all schools, giving credit primarily for the progress students make, whatever their starting point. Ofsted have also improved their inspection regime, making it more proportionate and focused. We are now in a better position than ever before to identify what works, and seek to spread it, more quickly than ever before and identify failure, and deal with it, more quickly than ever before.
The third essential element in school success is the quality of teaching. The difference between the progress made by children in a class with an excellent teacher and those in a class with an under-performing teacher can be as much as a year’s worth of learning, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We are lucky to have the best generation of teachers ever in our schools. But we must continue to aim higher. That is why we have introduced a series of reforms to improve the quality of teaching. We have dramatically increased the number of Teach First trainees, put high-performing schools at the centre of initial teacher training, made it easier for teachers from independent schools and experts from the outside world to enter state education and our new Teachers’ Standards require a higher level of professionalism for all.
All of these principles – autonomy, accountability, teacher quality – are common across high-performing systems. And I think there’s growing acceptance of their centrality among policy-makers worldwide.
But there are two other factors which I’d like to stress today as critical.
One is behaviour. The other is the curriculum.
Unless classrooms are ordered and purposeful places, then teachers can’t teach and children can’t learn. One of the factors which deters otherwise gifted teachers from staying in the profession is the poor behaviour they observe in class, the backchat and disruption which impede study and the lack of support they as teachers experience from school leadership teams which are insufficiently rigorous in policing bad behaviour.
Policy Exchange’s own work showed that the biggest deterrent stopping talented graduates enter teaching was their fear of being unsafe in the classroom. And poor behaviour is the second biggest cause of teachers leaving the profession.
We have made a series of changes to help teachers ensure behaviour is better – in class and outside. From strengthening rules on what can be searched, to making exclusion of the most disruptive more straightforward, from abolishing ridiculous no-touch rules to improving alternative provision for those who are excluded. But we need to do more.
Critically, we need to tackle the root causes of truancy and misbehaviour.
Children only have one chance at education – we can’t let them miss out on its transformative effect. We need to ensure every child is in school, benefiting from great teaching in every classroom, every school day. That is why we’ve tightened the rules on attendance and absence figures are down.
But there’s more to do. We need to ensure that those parents who don’t play their part in ensuring their children attend school, ready to learn and showing respect for their teacher, face up to their responsibilities. We will, later this year, be outlining detailed proposals to ensure parents play their full part in guaranteeing good behaviour and outlining stronger sanctions for those who don’t.
And just as we need all parents to discharge their responsibilities so we need all schools to play their part.
Critically, we need to ensure that all children leave primary school fully literate and numerate.
It’s those children who arrive at secondary school incapable of reading properly, who find they can’t follow the curriculum, who cover up their ignorance with a mask of bravado, disrupting lessons, disobeying teachers, dropping out of school, drifting into gang culture and in the worst cases, ending up in the justice system.
That is one critical reason why I have said we need – as a nation – to commit to eliminating illiteracy and innumeracy – to save lives which are currently wasted.
The number of children who genuinely cannot ever read – whose learning difficulties are so severe they cannot decipher prose – is tiny. But the number of children who currently leave primary school unable to read is indefensibly high.
We’ve taken action to deal with this scandal. Not least by introducing a phonics screening check at the end of Year One to make sure every child is decoding fluently and identify those children who need extra help. But we need to do more.
A determined national commitment to ensuring children are properly literate and numerate is not in any way a narrowing of the curriculum, it is a precondition of enjoyment of a fully rounded curriculum. And this commitment is not one that can be delivered by schools or Government alone; it will require the backing of all those who want children in this country to reach their full potential.
Fluency in reading and writing and mastery of mathematics are the keys which secure access to a broad and enriching academic curriculum. There is growing evidence – both from this country’s best schools and from other nations – that access to a stretching academic curriculum to the age of 16 helps improve performance for all children, all round. The work of Dr Cristina Iannelli at Edinburgh University demonstrates that the type of curriculum you study – specifically enjoyment of core academic subjects – is more important than the type of school you attend, whether grammar, independent or comprehensive, in determining future success.
The more children who enjoy a stretching academic curriculum – for longer – the better for all children. And the experience of Poland – the fastest improving nation in Europe educationally – reinforces that. As does the example of Germany, which has also dramatically improved its ranking in international league tables with a stronger emphasis on an academic core for all. Following an academic curriculum to the age of 16 is not, in any way, a downplaying of the importance of vocational education and training. Academic study to 16 is a prelude to vocational training, not an alternative to it.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the emphasis on a knowledge-based curriculum improves standards for all – the very best cognitive science, analysed and shared by thinkers like Dan Willingham and Daisy Christodoulou reinforces the fact that a knowledge based academic curriculum can stimulate critical thinking and creativity.
And our curriculum and qualifications changes provide more scope than ever before for higher order thinking skills and genuine creativity. They demand the exercise of advanced problem-solving skills in maths and science. They require extended essay writing and the mounting of complex arguments. And, of course, our new national curriculum is one of the first among developed nations to include computing and coding. It amazes me that some try to caricature our curriculum as backward-looking when it reflects the insights of cutting edge cognitive science and has been singled out for praise as world-leading by Eric Schmidt of Google.
It is encouraging that the changes we’ve made to the national curriculum and accountability have been so widely welcomed. But it’s important that we maintain the highest possible level of ambition and I want to say more about that today as well.
I’ve outlined these five key characteristics of successful school systems – autonomy for the head, rigorous accountability, high quality teaching, strict behaviour policies and an ambitious curriculum.
These qualities – of course – don’t just define high performing education jurisdictions – they also characterise high performing schools in this country.
THE INTERESTS OF ADULTS AND THE NEEDS OF CHILDREN
Take one of my favourite schools – Burlington Danes Academy. If you want to see a model of autonomy and strong leadership in operation observe the head teacher Dame Sally Coates in action.
Every half term children are assessed across subject areas and also graded for their level of application, social contribution and sporting performance. They are told how well they’ve done. And they know that their performance at the end of the term will be re-assessed and published for every student and every parent to see. This rank order system is hugely popular with parents – and also with students. Both are given objective measures of performance – and clear goals to aim for. Parents who were in the past assured in vague airy and amiable terms that their child was a nice lad and doing perfectly well now have hard data to help them support their child’s performance. They know if their child is under-performing expectations, and in what way. Students also know which teachers are most likely to help them climb the rank order system and clamour to be taught by the most gifted professionals.
What Sally Coates has done is replace the harmful competitiveness of street culture – the contest over who is coolest, whose trainers are smartest, whose attitude is hardest, whose backchat is the most fly, with the competitiveness of academic culture – the competitiveness which will help these children win out in later life – who is hardest working, who is the most community-minded, who is most eager to learn, who is most determined to improve.
What Sally has done in Burlington Danes is not unique and incapable of replication – indeed she’s written a brilliant guide which outlines how to match her performance – and she has protégés across the school system like David Benson at Kensington Aldridge Academy who will emulate her great work – but it is still striking that her school is significantly more successful than most even as it has a much tougher and more challenging intake.
The same holds with other schools I hugely admire – from Barry Day’s Nottingham Academy to Liam Nolan’s Perry Beeches in Birmingham – all have challenging intakes – all dramatically outperform other schools.
And at primary level – Durand Primary in Stockwell, Thomas Jones in North Kensington and Wyndham Primary Academy in Derby. All again have challenging intakes which dramatically outperform most other schools.
The fact that I single out these schools sometimes generates criticism. Not of those schools which are under-performing. But of me for pointing out that these schools are excelling and asking why more don’t match them.
But I’m not in the least apologetic for asking why more schools aren’t as good as these. It was the question that Barack Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan put to me after we both visited Mossbourne Community Academy. Always ask why every school isn’t as good as this, he told me. And don’t worry if the adults complain and say the question’s unfair. What’s fair is giving every child the same chance.
Arne was right – what matters in our school system is not what adults want but what children need.
MYTHS AND BOLD UNTRUTHFULNESS – THE WEAKNESS OF OPPOSITION CRITICISM
This determined focus on helping children, on refusing to excuse under-performance, on demanding better for the next generation, has generated opposition.
I certainly don’t seek out that opposition. But nor am I going to be deflected by it.
Because when I ask for the specifics behind criticism of our policies I don’t see, or hear, evidence, that stands up to scrutiny.
It’s been argued that schools are under-funded. But school spending overall has been protected in real terms at a time when significant savings have had to be found elsewhere in the public sector.
It’s been argued that teachers are under-valued. Well, I don’t think we can ever value teachers highly enough. Which is why I always take every opportunity I can – at every party conference, in speeches public and private, through the honours system – to emphasise how fortunate we are to have the best generation of heads and teachers ever.
It’s why I’ve appointed teachers to run Ofsted and the National College for Teaching and Leadership. It’s why I’ve asked teachers to review teaching standards and initial teacher training. It’s also why I’ve ensured good teachers can be paid more and ensured that teachers have been invited to take up residencies in the Department of Education advising on the development and implementation of policy.
It’s been argued that our drive towards autonomy means more schools can go wrong more quickly without adequate action being taken. That is the opposite of the truth. Academies and Free Schools are more accountable than local authority maintained schools. The system of independent audit and publication of academies’ and free schools’ accounts, backed up by regulation by the Education Funding Agency, is more stringent than the rules for charities, limited companies, and local authority maintained schools. Indeed when the Audit Commission took a look at local authority schools last year, they encountered at least 191 cases of fraud – a figure they acknowledged was almost certainly an underestimate.
All Free Schools are scrutinised by Ofsted prior to opening, supported by independent education advisers in the months after they’re set up and inspected by Ofsted in the second year of opening. When performance is too poor – as it was with two schools – Al Madinah and the Discovery Free School – radical action is taken, and taken quickly. To put this in context: two state schools go into special measures every school day – not every year, month or week, but every school day – and 73 local authority maintained schools have gone into special measures so far this year alone.
And the speed of improvement in local authority schools is often far, far too slow. There are 35 local authority schools which have been in special measures for 18 months or more. Where action has been taken it has often been because the Department for Education has been more determined to ensure schools improve than local authorities. We have already taken more than 900 schools that were struggling under council control and given them the support of an academy sponsor – and many are already seeing significant improvements.
It’s been argued that our reforms place insufficient emphasis on culture and creativity. Again, the facts don’t even begin to bear this out.
On the contrary – we’ve set up new programmes from the BFI Film Academy to help train the next generation of talented film-makers to the new National Youth Dance Company, which works with Arts Council England, and the Sadler’s Wells Trust to bring together talented young dancers.
We’ve placed a particular emphasis on encouraging drama. We are funding the Shakespeare School Festival to give thousands of children the chance to stage an abridged version of a Shakespeare play in a local theatre – with over 1,000 schools and 62,000 students benefiting so far. We’re also funding the Royal Shakespeare Company to help actors get into the classroom and all state schools now receive a free copy of the RSC Shakespeare Toolkit for Teachers, offering over 60 hours of teaching resources on Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
And building on Darren Henley’s independent review into music education, 123 new music education hubs have been set up across the country, ensuring that every child aged five to 18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and to sing, as well as to perform as part of an ensemble or choir.
It’s also been argued that we’ve neglected vocational and technical education. Again, that’s the opposite of the truth. We’ve introduced the biggest reforms to vocational education since 1944.
We’ve stripped out poor-value, meaningless qualifications and are replacing them with new qualifications giving 14-16 year olds real-life skills in practical subjects. After 16, we’ve introduced the new, rigorous Tech Levels – every single one endorsed by employers, trade or professional bodies as leading to a skilled occupation.
Because maths and English are essential in every job, we’re reforming GCSEs so that all students master the basics necessary for employment and ensuring that all young people who don’t secure a good grade by 16 carry on studying these vital subjects afterwards. And we’ve put employers in the driving seat of new apprenticeships – more than 400 employers across 37 sectors are now helping to design and deliver new apprenticeships. As a result there is – at last – the prospect of a genuine equality of worth and parity of esteem between all qualifications.
It’s been argued by some that our reforms lead to an atomised system which works against collaboration. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Academy chains, teaching school alliances, professional development partnerships, all show how open collaboration can improve standards.
Right across the country, 548 new Teaching Schools have formed 450 alliances with schools and partners – meaning that one fifth of schools around England are now working in collaboration with a Teaching School, with numbers rising all the time.
And this collaboration achieves real results. Look at Harrison Primary in Hampshire, for example. They work with over 30 schools, using experienced teachers, Specialist Leaders of Education or SLEs, to improve standards – and over the past two years, 70% of schools supported by SLEs in their alliance have improved their Ofsted ratings from ‘Requires Improvement’ to ‘Good’.
THE BEST LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN
Of course I accept there have been mistakes and missteps along the way.
Trying to reform GCSE content and structure and the GCSE market at the same time was a bridge too far.
But then who can doubt, given the tendency of some exam boards to try to compete on the ease of their course rather than the quality of their service, that further reform may be necessary?
Some academy chains expanded too fast, and some schools did not get the support they needed as a result.
But then – in many more local authority areas poor schools have been left in the wrong hands for far too long.
Take Knowsley. If you want a case study in a policy that has really scarred the lives of thousands and deserves to be recorded as a scandal consider what happened with this local authority.
Back in 2010, it proudly proclaimed that it was the first local authority to have all its secondary schools rebuilt under the Building Schools for the Future programme. One of them – a national flagship – cost the taxpayer £24million.
But that wasn’t Knowsley’s only educational claim to fame. It was also one of the worst performing councils in England – and had been for almost ten years.
As the TES said, “flush with Building Schools for the Future money, [the local authority] frequently opted for unconventional methods in a bid to boost performance…schools were rebranded “centres for learning”, teachers renamed “progress leaders” and Knowsley itself became an “innovation zone” …[after] an audit into students’ “learning styles”, it concluded the majority were “kinaesthetic learners” who learned best through physical activity. Teaching methods and school buildings were changed accordingly.”
But improvements came there none. That flagship £24 million school closed after just two years. And last year, again, the local authority was the worst performing in the country – with the smallest percentage of pupils attaining five A*-C grades, including English and maths, in England.
GCSE results for 2013 showed that 43.7% of pupils in Knowsley gained 5 A*-C, including English and mathematics, compared to 59.6% in the North West region and 60.6% nationally.
Just 10% of the pupils in Knowsley took the EBacc, our roster of the rigorous academic subjects valued by universities and employers – 10% compared to 23% nationally.
And if you think Knowsley is atypical, consider the entrenched failures of so many other local authorities where standards have continued to be far too low for far too long.
Take Nottingham – last year, the poorest performing local authority in the East Midlands. Just half of young people achieved 5 A* to C grades at GCSE including English and Maths.
After Ofsted carried out urgent inspections in the area, Nottingham local authority set up a dedicated challenge board aiming to improve standards. But five months on, the area is no further forward – and Nottingham schools are still under-performing.
Or take Derby – another local authority vehemently opposed to academies – where our efforts to tackle chronic underperformance have met resistance at every turn.
Yet it’s one of the worst performing local authorities in the country – at the end of primary, at GCSE, throughout their school system – and has been for many years. Last year, Ofsted even took the step of carrying out a focused week of inspections in the area – and warned the local authority that “there is still much work to do in establishing and embedding a clear, strategic vision for school improvement that will lead to sustained and demonstrable impact across the city’s schools.”
I would rather we sought to intervene quickly in the case of failure, and sought also to learn just as quickly from our mistakes, than assume the defensive and defeatist posture of the past.
FACTS ARE CHIELS THAT WINNA DING
Indeed it’s important in reviewing what’s been achieved so far to bear in mind the facts on the ground.
We have fewer 16-18 year olds who are NEET – not in employment, education or training than at any time since consistent records began. Their number is down by more than a third under this Government.
Fewer children are in failing schools than ever before – even as the bar on what counts as failure has been raised. There are 250,000 fewer children in under-performing secondary schools now than in 2010.
More children are studying the subjects that secure good jobs and great college places than ever before.
At A-level the numbers studying Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry are all up by between 15 and 19% since 2009/10.
Teachers are better qualified than ever before.
More schools are good or outstanding than ever before.
Ofsted record that last year saw the biggest single improvement in school performance since records began.
More students are graduating into higher education and more disadvantaged students are making it into higher education.
At primary school the gap between the poorest and the rest has narrowed.
And the impact of many of our reforms has still to be felt – the oldest free schools have barely been in operation for three years, most have been open for less than eighteen months. Many of our weakest schools have only been in the hands of strong sponsors for a year or two, after years of poor leadership. Our new national curriculum only takes effect this September.
So I expect there to be significant further improvements in our school system in the years to come – provided we do not put at risk the gains we have made by retreating on reform.
Indeed, far from retreating, we have to ask how we can accelerate improvement in our schools.
As Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait make clear in their fascinating new book, The Fourth Revolution, other nations – especially but not exclusively in Asia – are accelerating reform of their public services, making imaginative use of technology, introducing more new providers, deploying performance data in a more sophisticated way, empowering citizens to hold institutions to account more effectively, stripping out bureaucracy, ensuring the gains secured by innovation are spread more quickly.
So we have to ask ourselves – do we want to go backwards, opt out of the future, ask our children to accept this nation’s inevitable decline?
Or will we take advantage of the opportunities the future brings, ensure our public institutions serve every citizen fairly and equip our children for success?
I believe we have to embrace reform, lean in to the future, set standards higher than ever before.
We need to ensure that more schools enjoy greater autonomy than ever before and more parents have a wider choice than ever before.
We need to ensure that accountability is sharper, more nuanced and effective than ever before. That is why I welcome Sir Michael Wilshaw’s leadership in saying more inspections have to be conducted by serving school leaders and inspection has to be more focused on under-performing schools and lighter touch for high-performing schools.
We also need to ensure all relevant bodies, including Ofsted, are in a position to do everything necessary to deal with those schools where student or adult behaviour is unacceptable and where children are not being kept safe. Some of those changes will be difficult for both the DFE and Ofsted – but we must not shy away from doing what’s right.
We need to do even more to secure the very best people in teaching. Andrew Carter’s review into Initial Teacher Training will help us shape a better landscape for trainee teachers. But there are clearly areas on which we can already build.
The Maths and Physics Chair programme provides additional funding for postgraduates in these subjects to teach in our schools and help mentor other teachers.
We must explore how to introduce more, and more powerful, incentives for mathematicians and scientists to stay in education and commit to the classroom. We need to bridge the gap between high performing secondaries and under-performing primaries by getting specialist mathematicians and scientists teaching students from the end of Key Stage One. We also need to bridge the gap between our best universities and schools by getting more higher education institutions like King’s College London and Exeter University to set up specialist schools like their Maths free schools and, of course, University Technical Colleges.
As I said, right at the beginning of my remarks, there is a moral purpose to our schools policy. We want to ensure disadvantage is not destiny. We want liberate children from any accidents of birth or background to determine their own fate.
And that means making sure every child gets to attend a school which is a place of order, calm, learning and purpose.
Great schools are where children, in Willy Russell’s words, learn to sing better songs, they’re the places where children can acquire the skills to become authors of their own life story. Ensuring every child has that chance is my mission. And there is so much more to do….

More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 6 issues delivered for just £6, with full web and app access. Join us.




Show comments
  • john johnpaulprice71@hotmail.c

    A fine speech,but the proof is in the pudding as they say as for mr gove is he the man that can deliver,the recent scandal of so called Trojan horses in Muslim schools and how he deals with it will be his test bed

  • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    It’s wrong to assume members of the general public and our children generally, need rescuing from our own futures. The sun will rise and shine on all our futures in the same way.

    If being poor and being seen to be poor ( ie by everyone who gets a work/life balance out of it) is the latest ruse/key to govt/formal education delivering something that particularly works and is seen to work particularly..we are on a fast track to an evermore divisive and divided public sphere.

    – Thus said; the language of liberating children from any “accidents of birth or background” comes across as surprisingly evil – even from somebody as thick as Mr.Gove.

  • David B

    The contrast to Hunt today is stark.

    Hunt has spent the day looking to increase political and union control over the schools while Gove is focused on the pupils and improving educational outcomes.

  • victor67

    So the benevolent Tories want to help poor children. What great humanitarians they are. They feed joe public the bullshit that if you just try harder you will get on and its a level playing field when in reality if you are working class in the UK the deck is stacked against you. Just look at the social make up of the cabinet millionaires and old Etonians.
    All the school reform in the world will be offset by the attacks on the poor by arbitrary benefit cuts. Many families are struggling to afford to adequately feed their children and many rarely see their parents as they work in multiple jobs for minimum wages on zero hours contracts. Child poverty has risen in the UK under successive governments.
    All Gove and his cronies do is blame the poor and want to punish them for their own predicament while they serve their masters in the city of London. Neo-Liberalism has never helped the poor and it never will.

    • itdoesntaddup

      The consequence of failing to educate is an ever expanding welfare bill funded out of the taxes of the rest of us. There is a point beyond which it should be obvious even to a socialist or Tory of very little brain that better education pays for itself through avoiding the need for lifetimes on benefits.

      But it does have to be real education, not sham exams.

      • victor67

        I am not arguing about the benefits of education, it is self evident. My point was Tory policies are attacking the poor and most vulnerable. If children are mal-nourished or living in bedsits, damp houses they are not going to be in a good state when their bum hits the seat in the classroom.
        Has that cleared things up for you tory boy.

        • itdoesntaddup

          BTL tenure doubled under Labour, who also managed to let the numbers in temporary housing/statutorily homeless soar to a level twice what they are today. Diet fed to children is a choice of parents: our problems are not starvation (except in rare cases of cruelty), but rather obesity. Underheated houses are a consequence of the expensive energy policy set in train by one Ed Miliband and pursued by Mr Huhne and Mr Davey. I think that’s a full house of socialist irresponsibility.

          • victor67

            Ah yes personal responsibility and choice. But your food choices are somewhat limited when your on the minimum wage or had your benefit cuts. Contrary to IDS food banks are not just political.
            You are also bombarded by multi-national companies trying to get you to eat their high fat, sugar and salt mush. But hey these companies are donating to the Tories so there is little regulation and we can continue to blame the poor for their plight.
            I suggest you remove yourself from your sanctimonious bubble, stopping reading the daily mail and nurture some compassion for those who are not as privileged as your good self.
            High energy prices are the result of privatisation, the creating of an illusion of competition (Crony capitalism) and a fleecing of their customers. Hope that’s cleared things up for you.

            • itdoesntaddup

              Food regulation is run from Brussels. Perhaps you should eat more sprouts?

              Like all lefties, you love trying to re-write history – but the plain fact is that following privatisation real energy prices fell. They only rose again after Labour created the Big 6 oligopoly to replace the competitive market and insisted on expensive energy as a matter of policy – shutting down cheap coal, undermining gas, and subsidising wind and solar.

        • samhol

          What major benefit cuts are you referring to?

          Here’s a question to consider: what benefit do the Left and the Labour Party derive from an upwardly mobile, financially independent Working Class? The answer is no benefit. The appeal of State munificence and benefit bribes diminishes and the desire for less State interference and tax cuts rises.

          The Left and the Labour Party, more than anyone, have a vested interest in maintaining a compliant, ill-informed, under-educated and poor underclass. It guarantees their survival.

          • samhol

            And I say this as someone from a former northern mining town, raised by a single parent.

    • Nick

      Look at the millionaires in the Shadow Cabinet!

  • GraveDave

    Christ, this blog rolls down like Andrex. So why didn’t these ‘moral crusading’ Tories tackle illiteracy and all the other short comings back in the 80s and 90s, when they had the chance. They were in long enough. At least as long as New Labour. Because the truth is much of the neglect of education and grade deflation and its fall out actually started under the Tories. Not Labour – old or new – but the Tories.
    The truth is the Tories never gave a stuff for the lower orders before now.
    As for this moral crusading thing – it’d sound creepy wherever it came from.
    But coming from this lot…

    • samhol

      CORRECTION: Grade inflation is the issue, brother.

  • you_kid

    With a weak UKIP as we have seen this week I would not be surprised if Gove now ruined this nation properly at the earliest opportunity that presented itself.

  • paulus

    Conservatism at its very best.

    I remember my wife taught my son to read in three weeks at the age of five. I thought she was a bit brutal about it at the time, saying… your forcing him. But its stood him in good stead and he has a love of books.

    I havn’t got the patience to teach him maths, but i play mathematical games with him, and my neice who is a maths teacher tutors him. so he has an inbuilt advantage over everyone.
    But that is what for schools are for, to try and correct the disadvantages children are born with. Not to act as a social selection process where children are written off.

  • DaveTheRave

    As a direct result of years of league tables, the pressure for schools to succeed, the kids are trained to take tests but not use language.
    Many kids are going to secondary school with results which show them to be significantly better than they are. They are good at taking tests, in other words but not using language on an everyday basis.

    To my mind the only answer is to abolish the league table culture and make each school as good as it can be. Standards could be judged on a county wide basis, without the need of destructive visits of ofsted.

  • Kitty MLB

    Removing child benefit from those who do not make sure their
    children attend school is a excellent idea. But in theory are their
    children the same children that the pupil premium will
    douptless be aimed at. Which proves its quite pointless in the
    bigger picture and a waste of money if childrens parents
    Care very little about the education of their young and
    unfortunately most of these children follow similar paths to
    their patents….Maybe the excellent Michael Gove needs to
    educate parents as well as his opposite number Tristram Hunt,
    Some teachers and all unions…

    • GraveDave

      Kitty, we know you think the sun shines out of his ear holes but do you really have to keep addressing him as ‘The excellent Michal Gove’ every time you mention him -lol.

    • victor67

      Yes indeed more punishment for the poor, while we reward failure whether its the Bankers , Energy Companies or G4S

  • roger

    The whole education thing is about funding. In the sixties the best schools were ‘direct grant’ but the country could never have afforded to make comprehensives direct grant ( what a ‘modern’ academy is), destroying the DGs was a pure monetary measure.
    The answer was always the ‘education voucher’ but governments always shied away from the cost.

    • itdoesntaddup

      There is very little correlation between spending and school attainment. It’s much more about ethos and teaching quality.

  • jameslc

    Gove’s last stand before he is moved to a lower profile position.

  • Kitty MLB

    The truly excellent and unique Michael Gove is very much on
    a moral mission, a honourable one that demands respect.
    Labour failed generations of our young. Its a duty to give children
    the opportunity and ability to achieve the very best and if teachers
    cannot do that its a national disgrace.
    Well done Mr Gove at last we have a secretary of state for
    education who puts children first.

    • victor67

      Are you his mother?

  • southerner

    It is hilarious how the MSM select an individual for especial praise and stick with them no matter what.

    Gove is hugely over-rated. Like all politicians he is a hypocrite (witness putting his children in a “better” state school when an academy he has praised so often is much nearer his home).

    The fact that he is against grammars and selective schools tells you all you need to know. Nothing will change significantly without them. The rest is all pretend fights with teachers and unions and meaningless noise.

    • jameslc

      Govey is a huge liability for the Tories, and his days are numbered. He has only survived because he is Dave’s friend.

  • Ron Todd

    Isn’t children leaving school able to read and write already policy? Isn’t that such a basic part of what education is for that it would be done without being part of a formal governmental policy?

    • JoeDM

      That’s why Labour introduced Comprehensive Schools !!!

      • Inverted Meniscus

        They introduced comprehensive schools as part of a political ideology which hates success and wants everybody to fail equally. Labour cares nothing for the education of children. It cares only about correct ideology.

        • roger

          Comprehensives could have been good, but it was always done on the cheap, closing a Grammar saved money. You note the minister never said “i want to close every f***ing secondary modern in the country”. As for techs., we never could seem to afford them.

          • HookesLaw

            As you imply it was the way many comprehensives were introduced and the philosophy behind them which was wrong. Many were as I recal huge.
            The problem now is that the technical schools (which never got properly going anyway) and the secondary moderns which were both intended to be complimentary to grammars, they are now no more, it makes a return to the old system impracticable even if it was a good idea. The whole education infrastructure has changed. There is no reason why a comprehensive should not be a good school, it is the ethos behind them.

            • vieuxceps2

              The reason comprehensive schools cannot be good schools is that they try to teach children of different ability at the same time and pace. Can’t be done.They’re not much good at social engineering either as thickies and smarties tend not to mix.

        • Ron Todd

          Almost they wanted everybody to fail equally except their own children.

          • Inverted Meniscus

            Good caveat Ron.

  • alabenn

    It is alright saying we have wonderful teachers and you want to give them the tools to do the job.
    First these wonderful teachers are going to have to recognise their failings.
    That they like their fellow wonderful workers in the NHS promote failures to ever higher jobs because they have not the stomach to cut them adrift.
    The idea that pupils like patients, when they leave school/hospital are, out of sight out, of mind, is not an acceptable policy, especially given the failure rate of both professions.

  • roger

    Excellent speech. How can anybody criticize his analysis and objectives.
    You only need to see this countries current numeracy and literacy ratings to
    realise what an utter mess this government inherited in our education system.
    Yet another reason why Labour must never be trusted in power again.

    • GraveDave

      I was at school under the Tories -and the standards were just as bad then.

      • Mike Barnes

        Nothing has ever gone wrong or failed under a Conservative government I think you’ll find.

        It’s a wonder why the nation ever got rid of them so emphatically in 1997.

        • balance_and_reason

          National campaign of vilification, smears and lies from the left…which would be normal, but unfortunately the ‘neutral’ national broadcaster, and most of its political, comedic, and discussion output was focussed on said campaign as well…the rest is history……Blair inherited balanced books, and proceeded to hose the cash up the wall.

    • telemachus

      It is precisely because of the difficulties in equality in education that you would want the responsible Minister to come up with a policy to improve rather than a policy to increase the Societal divide

      • saffrin

        Which is why you introduced tuition fees I suppose.
        Make the poor pay.

        • telemachus

          At an affordable level
          *
          Just look how Gove hiked them up

    • timbazo

      ‘this country’s current numeracy and literacy ratings’, you numbskull. It’s difficult to tell whether your own illiteracy is proof or refutation of your argument. Either way, it’s pretty depressing.

      • roger

        Apparently my post was illiterate. Thank you for proving my point.
        Now go away and think of a sensible response to the governments excellent policies.

  • MirthaTidville

    Love him or loath him, Michael Gove is the only one with any sort of a philosophy or game plan for his party. Having taken over after all those years of socialist misrule, where lowest common denominator was the gold standard in education as everything else, he has a tough job. He is also acutely aware thats Dave`s head will be on the stick all too soon and he will be up against, probably only the useless and idea less May, so its all to play for. I wish him well

    • JoeDM

      He has been the star performer in this Government and should replace Cameron as soon as possible.

      By the way, notice how the BBC etc have almost totally ignored it !!!

      • Kitty MLB

        Can anyone at the BBC actually read, considering
        they are politically and morally illiterate.
        Michael Gove is sublime but alas, to eccentric
        to be Prime Minister.
        I predict the next Conservative Leader will be a
        woman, one who is determined, strong, graceful,
        feminine and who wears kitten heels- oh
        I wonder who she is..

        • The Masked Marvel

          We know they can read at the BBC, hence all those copies of the Grauniad around the office. It’s just that they hate Gove. Not only does he endanger the Progressive indoctrination currently endemic in the education system, but he usually stands up to BBC bullying on Today, calmly batting away their poisoned barbs and even occasionally calling them out.

          There are most likely other, more personal reasons the superficial and shallow BBC so dislike him, aside from their twisted moral values making them see him as evil.

          As for your prediction about the next Conservative Leader, is there another woman who wears those shoes in the Party of whom one is currently unaware? The only prominent woman who wears such things is even less competent than Cameron.

        • MirthaTidville

          Oh Kitty if only she was..She lacks any sort of political mantra, other than handing on Dave`s coat tails and being aggressive. Gove I agree is eccentric but wasnt Winston?..Anyway May`s doctors will strongly advise against such a run, I think she is type 1 and the stresses and strains and travels simply make that job impossible..Trust me I know Kitty..I would probably return to the fold if Gove were to take over…

        • JoeDM

          Ms “Nasty Party”.

          No thanks. She is simply a female version of Cameron – Tory lite.

      • GraveDave

        Where’s the sick bucket. He’s really got you all fooled eh.

    • DaveTheRave

      Then I hope the Tories win well next year and Dave is safe.

    • timbazo

      Gove is part of Team Osborne. He’s not running.

  • DaveTheRave

    Oh, I cringe! How have we ended up with ministers who are not qualified to do their jobs?
    Words simply fail me… there you go, I’m illiterate!
    Mind you, judging by the ofsted criteria, I probably would be considered illiterate.
    And bigger academies simply encourage the wrong sort of management, leaving teachers to be persecuted by principals and parents alike.

    • telemachus

      In short
      Abolish Gove

      • Inverted Meniscus

        Alternatively, we could allow Gove to carry on scouring the rancid filth of socialism and its creed of mediocrity and failure from British schools.

      • Colonel Mustard

        I’d much rather someone abolished you.

        • Kitty MLB

          I just knew you were going to say that colonel
          I just knew it. Wish we could abolish Tristram
          Hunt. Who had his recent historical book
          corrected by Michael Gove. It was hilerious.

          • Andy

            Well that’s what you get when things are not properly copy edited.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Ah, Tristram Hunt who is old and boring even before he is old and a lot more stupid than he looks.

          • GraveDave

            No he didn’t. That was Toby Young and his usual misreporting of the facts.

          • telemachus

            Besotted
            *
            Just a short fortnight ago you were telling us just how gorgeous Patrician Tristram was

            • Kitty MLB

              I said no such thing, well I said he was beautiful as a Greek statue…and with the same intelligence.Maybe Mr Gove might
              give him some homework.

              • telemachus

                I detected that you might be besotted
                *
                In a physical rather than the intellectual way you are with the High Sheriff

  • telemachus

    “Which is why I find it hard to understand why anyone should wish to defend the state of the education system we inherited.
    How can it be right that more than a fifth of children left primary school without having reached a basic level of literacy and numeracy?”
    *
    He misunderstands
    I know not a person who defends the indefensible
    It is the doctrinaire solutions I abhor
    *
    If you have a failing system you take the workforce and praise and motivate them while easing out the bad apples and changing the system
    The way to change the system is to identify the failing parts and imbue them with excellence
    *
    What you do not do is divert resources to new untried projects and let failing institutions fail more rather than shut and replace
    This policy named Educational Social Darwinism is morally wrong

    • Inverted Meniscus

      No it is morally correct. He is scouring the rancid filth of socialism from British Schools.

      • Andy

        Quite so. It is the rancid filth of the Fascist Labour Party who are quite happy that so many children leave school unable to read or write.

        • Inverted Meniscus

          Labour likes to keep people poor and ignorant in order that they will vote Labour, the party of lies, lying and liars.

  • John Steed

    All a bit feeble. Why does it take a generation to end illiteracy? Isn’t 5 years enough? Why is anyone a NEET?

    • telemachus

      It should not take a generation
      The last Education Secretary was beginning to bring the system up to speed before Gove brought in his doctrinaire notions

      • Colonel Mustard

        “…beginning to bring the system up to speed”?

        Beginning? Oh, the weasel words of LIEbore.

        13 years (3 terms in government) + “Education, education, education” = epic LIEbore fail by any measure.

        • jack mustard

          But why did he have to even consider beginning such a task given the 18 years of glorious rule that had come before?

          • vieuxceps2

            For the same reason that Gove’s got such a task now.Teachers’ unions. S-o-o progressive.

            • jack mustard

              Feeble.

      • Inverted Meniscus

        Alternatively, let’s let Gove scour the rancid filth of socialism and the epic failure of the last Labour regime ( it was never a government) from British schools.

Close
Can't find your Web ID? Click here