By Matthew Barrett
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Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, gave a speech at Cambridge University yesterday. The Daily Mail were very impressed with Mr Gove's speech, calling it a "passionate rallying cry for a return to traditional teaching values". I've highlighted below a few passages readers will be interested in.
Mr Gove first heralded the work of Conservative peer Lord Harris of Peckham, who has set up twelve academy schools in South London, and explained why parents want to send their children to Harris' schools: "They know that mathematics, English, the sciences, foreign languages, history and geography are rigorous intellectual disciplines tested over time and want those subjects prominent in the curriculum. They know that ordered classrooms with strict discipline are a precondition for effective teaching and a sanctuary from the dangers of the street. They know that respect for teachers as guardians of knowledge and figures of authority is the beginning of wisdom. And as a result we now have a situation where parents don’t just flock to these schools, they actively petition local authorities to allow Lord Harris to take over their schools. The Harris academies, like those of ARK, E-ACT, ULT and others are providing children with the opportunity to transcend the circumstances of their birth, just as the grammar schools of the past gave an, admittedly smaller, proportion of their predecessors similar opportunities."
Mr Gove then argued that less well paid jobs are moving overseas, and so British workers need to be better-educated for companies to employ them: "Those countries with the best educated workforces will be the most attractive to investors, particularly if those workforces are mathematically and scientifically literate and have displayed a talent for hard work and application throughout their student days. … Countries which award soft qualifications to students, which are not comparable to those in the most rigorous jurisdictions, suffer just as surely as a country which issues money too promiscuously to pay its debts suffers. Grade inflation, like currency inflation, costs us all in the long run."
Mr Gove hinted that Universities should be under the control of his Department for Education, rather than the responsibility of Vince Cable's Business department. He said: "…it is important that while we acknowledge the critical role that higher educational standards can play in generating wealth and spreading opportunity more evenly, it’s really important that we do not subordinate education to purely economic ends. That is a mistake the last Government made. It made it in its approach to rating research at university on its economic impact which undermined the humanities. It did so in its decision to make university policy a matter for a business department. And it did so in the casual dismissal of subjects such as classics or medieval history by different Education Secretaries."
Finally, Mr Gove signalled his intention to carry on opening new academies – and said he wanted the help of more "unashamedly elitist" bodies in doing so: "Overall there are now more than 1,400 academies and free schools in England – a 700% increase in the numbers we inherited – all of them are schools free from local authority control and focused entirely on raising standards. They have all the freedoms of independent schools over curriculum, staffing, timetabling and ethos. And I expect great things of them. But 1,400 is not enough. And to take reform to the next stage I want to enlist more unashamedly elitist institutions in helping to entrench independence and extend excellence in our state sector. I want universities like Cambridge, and more of our great public schools, to help run state schools. They will be free of any government interference, free to hire whoever they want, pay them whatever they want, teach whatever they want, and as a result we can demand higher standards."