By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
Yesterday in Parliament – the first time the House has sat for a few weeks – Michael Gove answered Education Questions. These are probably the most enjoyable questions session in Parliament at the moment – as one would expect, given the wit Mr Gove brings to the Chamber. The first question of note concerned the serious business of the role of the Church of England in academy schools:
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to read the report, chaired by Priscilla Chadwick, on the future of Church of England schools? Does he agree that the recent changes in education introduced by the Government provide opportunities for the continuing involvement of the Church of England in education, particularly in delivering distinctive and inclusive new academies?
Michael Gove: I absolutely agree. Education on both sides of the border was driven in the first instance by the vigorous missionary activity of Churches, and we praise and cherish the role of the Church of England in making sure that children have an outstanding and inclusive education. I welcome the report, and I look forward to working with Bishop John Pritchard to extend the role of the Church in the provision of schools.
There was also some not-so-serious business of whether the Department of Education should relocate to Wellingborough:
The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): As yet, my Department has no plans to relocate to Wellingborough, but we are anxious to make economies, so I am intrigued to hear more.
Mr Bone: The Department for Education employs more than 1,500 people in London and occupies five buildings worth more than £33 million. If the Secretary of State relocated most of the work to Wellingborough, he would work in a friendly and pleasant town, save a small fortune in accommodation costs, yet would be only 50 minutes away from London. Why not take it up?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a compelling case, and I will recommend that the permanent secretary investigates it closely.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Earlier, I just failed to seduce the Secretary of State to come to Wellingborough, but may I tempt him a little more? He would escape from the Westminster bubble and would be in the heart of England, surrounded by Conservative councils and best of all—or nearly best of all—there would be no Liberals; but the real bonus would be that daily he would get the advice of Mrs Bone. Surely there could not be a better opportunity.
Michael Gove: It is one of the many causes of envy in my breast when I contemplate my hon. Friend to know that he has the benefit of Mrs Bone’s advice at the breakfast table every day. All I can say is that Northamptonshire has many, many attractions—chief among them, of course, Mrs Bone—but the matter of whether the Department should relocate is properly one for the permanent secretary.
Mr Gove also poked fun at the private school-educated Londoner Luciana Berger – who sits for the constituency of Liverpool Wavertree – during the following exchange:
Luciana Berger: Labour’s education maintenance allowance helped thousands of students to meet the costs of further education but this Government have scrapped EMA, abandoning young people who are desperate to fulfil their potential. In Liverpool, Labour’s mayoral candidate Joe Anderson has pledged to work with local schools and colleges to introduce a city-wide EMA scheme. Will the Secretary of State back Labour’s plan and admit that his Government were wrong to scrap EMA?
Michael Gove: It is always a pleasure to hear from the voice of the Mersey. I am delighted that the Labour candidate for the Liverpool mayoralty, Mr Anderson, has endorsed the extension of academy schools in Liverpool and I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in working to ensure that those schools transform outcomes for young people. Education maintenance allowance has been reformed by this Government and as a result of those reforms we have seen—[Hon. Members: “Scrapped!”] I am so sorry that Members take such a negative and cynical view; it does not suit them. Education maintenance allowance has been replaced by a form of support for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds that is more effectively targeted and has seen them achieve even better.
When a Labour Member got her facts wrong, Mr Gove did not hold back:
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State think that granting a licence to one of the Chuckle Brothers to set up a free school was one of his better ideas, and now that it has been rescinded how much did it actually cost to progress the project?
Michael Gove: I am surprised that the hon. Lady is so opposed to northern comedians, given that her party has been such a fantastic platform for so many of them. It was not one of the Chuckle Brothers whom we invited to open a free school in Rotherham, but the vice-principal of a very successful school in the north-east. In the end, that lady decided to withdraw her application, but the fact that someone who is strong in the variety world wanted to back it is, to my mind, proof that increasingly, when people from whatever background look at the Government, there is a smile on their face as they contemplate our achievements.
Finally, Mr Gove had kind words for Philip Davies:
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): One in a Million free school in Bradford is due to open in September and I know that the people involved would very much like the Secretary of State to come and open it, but before he does that, would he agree to meet me so that we can discuss the capital allocation to that school and make sure that when it opens in September in a part of Bradford where it is much needed, it opens with a chance of giving the students there the best possible opportunities?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend is one in a million and I look forward to meeting him. I think there is an opportunity in the diary at 11 o’clock this Wednesday for us to have a cup of tea. I am committed to doing everything I can to improve education in Bradford. It is a great city and it has some great representatives.
The full session can be read on Hansard here.