Listening to Michael Gove’s speech to Tory Party Conference today, you might be led to believe that he was responsible for the investment and educational achievements of the 13 years Labour was in Government.
In his speech to the Conservative Party conference this afternoon, he claimed that Labour had failed children. Labour ‘had failed those they were elected to serve’ he said. My question to him is: which of the following strategies failed to focus the previous Labour Government’s attention on improving standards in education?
Excellence in Cities, Specialist Schools, Teach First, the Academies programme- that Gove seeks to take credit for- Building Schools for the Future or, the two strategies I led as Minister for Schools, the London Challenge and the Excellence and Enjoyment Strategy for primary schools.
Labour prioritised high standards and we are proud of what we achieved. That the Tories seek to claim the achievements of the best aspects of our record in Government is a testament to our successes.
It was interesting that he chose to showcase Burlington Danes School, a school that benefited from a Labour Government, becoming an academy in 2006. I congratulate Sally Coates, the Head, for the remarkable progress the school has made. It was also interesting that he chose to praise Teach First, the programme training some of the most talented young people of their generation to be the future leaders in education; a programme I supported from the outset in 2002.
As the recently published analysis from the Financial Times shows, the attainment gap between the rich and the poor narrowed significantly as a result of Labour’s strategy for targeting educational underachievement in deprived areas. This is evidence that directly contradicts the Tories’ claim that the divide between the rich and the poor was enhanced under Labour.
Simon Burgess, professor of economics at the University of Bristol and director of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, said: “We may have here the first evidence of a turning of the tide.” He said that the results suggest that “declining social mobility is not an immutable force, but can be changed. Indeed, it seems that it was changed by the education policies of the previous government.”
Friday’s FT coverage of the research concluded : ‘Looking at results across all of these core subjects, a 16-year-old attending a state school in 2006 from a neighbourhood which was ten percentiles more deprived than another would expect to achieve academic results 3.2 percentiles lower. By 2010, this gap had closed to 2.9 percentiles. These margins are statistically significant. If vocational subjects are included, the fall is more pronounced. On that measure, the expected gap between two children from neighbourhoods ten deprivation percentiles apart closed from 2.8 to only 1.8 percentiles.’
Yet, as Andy Burnham pointed out last week, there is much more to do. In his speech to the Labour Party conference, he said that ‘aspiration, aspiration, aspiration’ should be the guiding vision for education policy. This is a positive direction for policy. We must retain the focus that we had in Government on the importance of driving up educational standards and closing the attainment gap between the rich and the poor.