By Joseph Willits
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In a speech today at the Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College in New Cross, south-east London, Education Secretary Michael Gove accused critics of the Academies programme as being "enemies of promise".
Gove said that whilst most councils had been supportive of the Government's Academies programme, those local education authorities who have attacked it are "happy with failure":
"The same ideologues who are happy with failure – the enemies of promise – also say you can't get the same results in the inner cities as the leafy suburbs so it's wrong to stigmatise these schools."
Criticism of the programme, Gove said, had been of the Government "underpinning motives" and that "the talk was of an 'ideologically-driven Academies programme’ and ‘ideologically-motivated school reforms". It was "ironic" he said, that those who brandished the Government as ideologues, could now be labelled as such themselves.
Their prejudices, Gove said, should be held "up to the light", and that the underlying message behind their sentiment suggesting there is little hope for inner city schools achieving as well as those in the suburbs, is something sinister. Their message was, he said:
'If you're poor, if you're Turkish, if you're Somali, then we don't expect you to succeed. You will always be second class and it's no surprise your schools are second class'.
This was an example, Gove said of "the bigoted backward bankrupt ideology of a left wing establishment that perpetuates division and denies opportunity … an ideology that’s been proven wrong time and time again".
In response to criticism that Academies "are experimental, untested and untried", Gove highlighted the fact that "the seeds of our reforms go back decades … the first City Technology Colleges (CTCs) were set up in 1988". Despite the CTCs "being overwhelmingly located in poorer areas", Gove hailed their success to date.
Gove said that Academy Schools were "an evidence-based, practical solution built on by successive governments – both Labour and Conservative". The state of the Academy today built upon the "genuinely transformative" programme started by the Labour party, proving "a solid basis for our reforms", but also that "the principle of autonomy-driven improvement is solidly backed by rigorous international evidence". The Education Secretary quoted Tony Blair in his memoirs, who said:
"[An Academy] belongs not to some remote bureaucracy, not to the rulers of government, local or national, but to itself, for itself. The school is in charge of its own destiny. This gives it pride and purpose. And most of all, freed from the extraordinarily debilitating and often, in the worst sense, politically correct interference from state or municipality, academies have just one thing in mind, something shaped not by political prejudice but by common sense: what will make the school excellent."
Examples from abroad, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) "found that ‘in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better'", he said.
So far, addressing another criticism about a lack of interest in schools becoming academies, Gove said the outlook was promising:
- "As of today, there are 1,529 Academies open in England. 1,194 are converters and 335 are sponsored."
- "45% of all maintained secondary schools are either open or in the pipeline to become Academies."
- "There are 37 local authority areas where over half of secondary schools are already Academies, and 64 LAs where more than half of secondaries are either open Academies or in the process of becoming Academies."
- "3 in 5 outstanding secondaries – and nearly 1 in 10 outstanding primaries – has applied to convert to an Academy."
- "Over 1,250,000 pupils now attend Academies."
Gove also spoke of the academic success of Academies, and chains of Academies. He said:
"In the 166 sponsored Academies with results in both 2010 and 2011, the percentage point increase in pupils achieving 5+ A*-C including English and Maths was double that of maintained schools."
Gove's speech comes the day after a Conservative party survey released findings which stated that in certain areas of the country, only an incredibly low percentage of students obtained a C grade or above at GCSE level in the core, tradtional subjects. In Knowsley in Merseyside, only 3% of GCSE students were awarded a high grade.
This was further evidence, Gove said, of "Labour's educational betrayal of the poorest children", which is "the unwritten scandal of the last 13 years". He continued:
"While children in wealthier areas sat the exams which guaranteed entry to the best universities, pupils in deprived areas were steered away from the qualifications which could have transformed their opportunities. If we are to ensure our young people get the college places and jobs they deserve we must stop students being diverted towards soft subjects and give them the qualifications employers respect."
You can read Gove's Academies speech in full here.