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Speech

Michael Gove: All pupils will learn our island story

Rt Hon Michael Gove, Tuesday, October 5 2010

Michael Gove

There is a special beauty in a life well-lived. And listening to Geoffrey Canada you realise that no life can be better spent than teaching.

Teachers transform lives as very few others can. They are there at the moments in all our childhoods when new horizons beckon.

The moment mere shapes on a page suddenly become living words, with a gripping story to tell.

The moment a child who has struggled to make sense of a jumble of figures suddenly grasps the mystery, and beauty, of maths.
 
The moment a pupil who says she's never seen the point of books -- or, for that matter, school -- sits enraptured by a performance of Hamlet.
 
These moments are the gifts that teachers give and I believe no gifts are more precious.
 
So, let everyone watching this conference know - we honour the work our teachers do, we salute the sacrifices they make, we applaud their commitment to our children.
 
Under David Cameron's leadership the Conservative party is now the party of the teacher, the party of higher standards, the party that is driving the reforms which will make our education system a world-beater once again.
 
 THE TRAGIC INEQUALITY WE INHERITED.
 
Because one of the tragedies of the last ten years has been our failure to keep pace with the world's best education systems.
 
We've fallen behind
 
From 4th to 14th for science
 
From 7th to 17th for literacy
 
From 8th to 24th for mathematics
 
and at the same time the gap between rich and poor in our schools has widened ever further.
 
In every school year there are 600,000 children.
 
The very poorest are those eligible for free school meals - 80,000 in every year.
 
And out of those 80,000 how many do you think make it to the best universities?
 
Just 45.
 
More children from one public school - Westminster - make it to the top universities than the entire population of poor boys and girls on this benefit.
 
This waste of talent, this squandering of human potential, this grotesque failure to give all our fellow citizens an equal chance is a reproach to our conscience.
 
It can't be allowed to continue.
 
And under this Government the injustice will end.
 
People sometimes ask me why I'm in such a hurry to change our education system.
 
Slow down, they say. Opt for a gentler pace. You've got five years. Your reforms can be introduced all in good time.
 
But children only have one chance. Five years for them is their entire life at secondary school. And I don't want to see another generation of poor children travel through school only to leave at the end without qualifications, without a place at college, without hope.
 
I couldn't live with myself, if, having been given the chance to serve I put the enjoyment of office before the power to do good - so that is why every moment I have in this job - every day I do it, I won't stop pressing, pushing, fighting to give every child the chance to succeed.
 
I can't rest when more than 800 primary schools can't even get half their children reading, writing and adding up properly.
 
I can't rest when nearly 600 secondary schools can't get more than 35% of their pupils to secure decent passes in GCSE Maths and English.
 
And I won't rest when the learning of thousands of children who're desperate to do well and get on is disrupted in classrooms where discipline has broken down.
 
That is why we have to act.
 
That is why we have already passed legislation - the Academies Act - in our first 100 days, which allows under-performing schools to be taken over and turned round without delay.
 
That is why, in particular, we will target those schools where discipline is unacceptably poor and get heads in place who have the authority to make a difference,
 
And that is why we are going to devote more money, the best teachers and all the energy we possess to transforming all our poorest schools.
 
Because this radical, reforming, coalition Government has declared war on educational inequality and we won't stop until every child is taught in a school driven by a culture of ambition, aspiration and achievement.
 
We will take radical action to deal with those schools with the worst discipline problems. And we have already taken action to give every head and every teacher new powers to ensure better behaviour in all our schools.
 
Because we need to be clear - teachers have to be respected again.
 
Which is why we will give heads a new power to punish school students who misbehave when they're on their way to, or from school.
 
At the moment heads are prevented from dealing with their pupils if they run wild in a shopping mall or behave anti-socially in town centres. So we will change the rules to send one clear - and consistent - message. Heads will have the freedom they need to keep pupils in line - any time, any place, anywhere.
 
Under the last Government's approach to discipline, heads and teachers lived in fear of breaking the rules while troublemaking students felt the law was on their side. That is completely the wrong way round.
 
We have to stop treating adults like children and children like adults. Under this Government we will ensure that the balance of power in the classroom changes - and teachers are back in charge.
 
A NEW DEAL FOR TEACHERS ON STANDARDS
 
Teachers shouldn't just be in charge when it comes to discipline and behaviour - they should also be in charge when it comes to teaching and learning.
 
For far too long, the authority of teachers has been undermined by an unhealthy ideological pincer movement.
 
On the one hand were the bureaucrats - those in the political class who have said the answer to educational failure has been more and more central control from Whitehall, more regulation, inspection and bureaucracy.
 
They may have been inspired by noble motives but they have crushed the spirit of the best in the profession.
 
And on the other hand have been the ideologues - those educational theorists who have argued that teachers shouldn't think they have the authority to instruct - they shouldn't be doing anything so old-fashioned as passing on knowledge, requiring children to work hard, or immersing them in anything like dates in history or times tables in mathematics. Children should be freed from the tyranny of old-fashioned subject disciplines and liberated from the requirement to pay attention in class.
 
These ideologues may too have been inspired by generous ideals - but the result of their approach has been countless children condemned to a prison house of ignorance.
 
But despite their failures both these forces - the bureaucrats and the ideologues - have held sway over key areas of education policy.
 
They have progressively chipped away at the ability of teachers to communicate with passion, freedom and authority.
 
A national curriculum designed by ideologues and policed by bureaucrats has demoralised and demotivated our teachers and downplayed the vital place of knowledge.
 
Which is why we need radical change.
 
We need to be unambiguously on the side of the teacher as guardian of the best that has been thought and written - introducing each new generation into our precious intellectual heritage.
 
A NEW DEAL FOR TEACHERS ON THE CURRICULUM
 
And in order to help them we will reform our curriculum and exam system.
 
We need to reform English.
 
 - the great tradition of our literature - Dryden, Pope, Swift, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Austen, Dickens and Hardy - should be at the heart of school life.
 
Our literature is the best in the world - it is every child's birthright and we should be proud to teach it in every school.
 
And, more than that, it is every child's right to be taught how to communicate clearly.
 
Thousands of children - including some of our very brightest - leave school unable to compose a proper sentence, ignorant of basic grammar, incapable of writing a clear and accurate letter.
 
And it's not surprising when the last Government explicitly removed the requirement to award a set number of marks for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar in examinations.
 
The basic building blocks of English were demolished by those who should have been giving our children a solid foundation in learning.
 
Well - let me be clear. Under this Government we will insist that our exams, once more, take proper account of the need to spell, punctuate and write a grammatical sentence.
 
And as well as reforming our teaching of English, we also need to make sure our children are fluent in the most important languages of the twenty-first century - maths and science.
 
We urgently need to ensure our children study rigorous disciplines instead of pseudo-subjects. Otherwise we will be left behind.
 
In Massachusetts in the USA 16 year-olds are asked in their science exams to identify the shape of a carbon tetrabromide  molecule as predicted by the valence-shell repulsion theory.
 
In England sixteen year olds are asked in their science exams whether we sweat through our lungs or our skin.
 
Our children will never outstrip the global competition unless we know our exams can compete with the best in the world.
 
Which is why I have insisted that the maths exams and science exams our 16-year-olds sit will, in the future, be every bit as tough as those they sit in Massachussetts, South Korea or Singapore.
 
We should not settle for second best.
 
We should be asking more of our education system at every point - because every other leading nation is reforming fast and the lesson of history is that a failure to reform doesn't lead to stasis - it hastens decline...
 
But then, how many of our students are learning the lessons of history?
 
One of the under-appreciated tragedies of our time has been the sundering of our society from its past.
 
Children are growing up ignorant of one of the most inspiring stories I know - the history of our United Kingdom.
 
Our history has moments of pride, and shame, but unless we fully understand the struggles of the past we will not properly value the liberties of the present.
 
The current approach we have to history denies children the opportunity to hear our island story. Children are given a mix of topics at primary, a cursory run through Henry the Eighth and Hitler at secondary and many give up the subject at 14, without knowing how the vivid episodes of our past become a connected narrative. Well, this trashing of our past has to stop.
 
I am delighted to announce today that Professor Simon Schama has agreed to advise us on how we can put British history at the heart of a revived national curriculum.
 
A NEW DEAL FOR TEACHERS - IN CHARGE
 
Of course, no matter what we put in the curriculum, inspiring the next generation to learn depends on great teachers.
 
Like those we heard from earlier, heads such as Dan and Patricia, young teachers like Katharine and Mark.
 
These people are my heroes, and heroines
 
And we are on their side.
 
All of them want to work in schools where teachers are in charge, traditional subjects are valued and there are high expectations of every child.
 
Its because teachers like these want more freedom to shape schools in that way that we passed the Academies Act - a revolutionary piece of education legislation which takes power away from politicians and bureaucrats and gives it to teachers.
 
That law was passed just two months ago.
 
In the weeks that followed the passing of that Act hundreds of teachers worked through their holidays to secure the benefits of academy status for their students.
 
More than 50 schools have now converted to academy status and more than a 100 are ready to follow them in the months ahead.
 
And, in addition, since the act became we have received more than 100 applications from teachers groups, charities, and others desperate to start new schools, often in our most deprived areas, all of which will use academy freedoms to help raise standards.
 
Sixteen of those applications are already on course to open and more are poised to follow.
 
No school reform programme in England has ever proceeded at such a pace before.
 
In the 1980s when the first academy-style schools were created - the CTCs - it took five years to create 15. They were fought tooth and nail by the Labour party but they are now overwhelmingly brilliant schools.
 
When Tony Blair tried to replicate their success with his own Academies programme, he too was attacked. By the Labour party. In one term he only managed to create 17 academies. And yet they are now recognised as his principal achievement in education.
 
We are now on course to dramatically increase the number of great state schools enjoying academy status - doubling in a year what we inherited after thirteen years - with thousands more students attending world-class schools.
 
But across the globe the pace of reform is accelerating. Barack Obama is pressing ahead with a rapid expansion of charter schools like those Geoff Canada has built - the US version of our academies.
 
So we will use every lever at our disposal to go further, faster.
 
The Department for Education owns or has a lease on more than 100 buildings - it has an even bigger property portfolio than Tony Blair.
 
At the moment there is floor space in those buildings lying empty or under-used - when every resource we have should be put at the service of children. And from now on it will be.
 
We will open new academies in the Department for Education's buildings. We will, literally, put great new schools at the heart of everything we do.
 
The new schools we will help create will join a growing army making a dramatic difference already.
 
Across England, as we speak, newly-liberated heads and teachers are using academy freedoms to reduce class sizes, get every child learning a musical instrument, improve the take-up of modern languages, target resources on the poorest and pioneer new discipline techniques.
 
For Labour this freedom is a threat to their way of doing things.
 
But for thousands of children it's a liberation from a culture of limited horizons, levelling down and low expectations.
 
And be in no doubt - this Government will fight, fight and fight again, to give those children the chance they deserve.
 
For me this is a very personal crusade.
 
I do not believe that who you are born to should determine who you become and I hate the idea that an accident of birth should limit any child's opportunities.
 
Whatever hand fate deals you, schools should give every child an opportunity to make their life anew.
 
I am uniquely fortunate. I was given a second chance.
 
I was adopted as a child.
 
My adoptive parents - my mother and father - are very special people.
 
Both left school at 16, my father to work in the fish trade, my mother as an assistant in a jeweller's shop.
 
But while nobody in my family had gone to university they both knew the real value of learning. My parents made huge sacrifices, running down their savings, foregoing new cars and foreign holidays, so that I could go to a great school. Without their love and sacrifice I would never have had the opportunities I enjoyed.
 
I will never forget, and can never adequately repay, their generosity.
 
But what I can do is reflect.
 
What if I'd grown up with different parents.
 
In a different part of this country.
 
Perhaps going to one of the primaries where half the children leave unable to read and write properly. Perhaps going onto a secondary where nine out of ten leave without decent GCSEs.
 
My life would have been blighted, my future limited, my chance to make a difference gone.
 
Its because my parents and my teachers did so much for me, as a child who came into this world with nothing, that I am determined to do everything I can for the parents and teachers who give everything they have for our children.
 
So when we face criticism, when we come under attack, when the vested interests who have been complicit in the failures of the past line up to denounce our reforms, smear our motives and organise against change I know we should not, must not, cannot give in.
 
Every time reformers have asked why our education system does not do better, why the poor fall behind, why we are declining relative to others, they have encountered ferocious, entrenched, opposition.
 
But nothing worth doing in politics comes without a fight
 
No fight worth winning is ever won easily
 
And no enemies are more worth overcoming than those who have betrayed a generation.
 
This Government, at this time, has been called to restore hope to our nation
 
This, Government, at this time, can at last ensure we have world class schools for the next generation.
 
This Government, at this time, has the chance to liberate our poorest children from the shadow of ignorance and the chains of dependency
 
It is a fight I feel privileged to be part of - it is a fight, with your help, we will win.

Rt Hon Michael Gove

Michael is the Secretary of State for Education. He believes in helping children maximise their potential.

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