Michael Gove on Wales: "a country going backwards"


To no-one's great surprise, Conservatives at Westminster have lost little time in trying to make political capital out of the PISA results.

Michael Gove delivered his statement to MPs at lunchtime. Here's what he said about Wales: "I'm afraid it's the case that in Wales, a country for which I have an enormous amount of affection, the Welsh Labour government chose to abandon league tables and abandon external accountability, and the current Welsh administration is unfortunately not matching our commitment to spending in schools.

"And the conclusion we can draw from this is if you want to know what our education system would be like if this country were foolishly to vote Labour at the next election, you need only look over the Severn to see a country going backwards."

Tory MPs queued up to bowl the education secretary a free toss, among them Alun Cairns:

"Do you agree that the outcomes in Wales are nothing short of a scandal, and that they are the ultimate demonstration of Labour's education policy in action. There are parents across Wales, and even some in this house, who are genuinely worried about the future of their children's education. Will he encourage the Welsh government to follow the robust reforms that he's introducing?"

Michael Gove: "Wales acts almost as a controlled sample. Welsh children are as intelligent and as motivated as children in England, but unfortunately in Wales there are no academies, no free schools, no league tables, no chief inspector like Sir Michael Wilshaw, no determination to reform like this coalition shows. It is an object lesson in what happens when you abandon reform and succumb to the NUT orthodoxy which I'm afraid has suffocated aspiration for far too many children."

Then there was this response to a question from Northern Ireland: "It is striking actually that Northern Ireland is broadly at the same level as England in these results but Wales, Labour run Wales, is significantly behind and I think we can draw appropriate conclusions about that."

Labour's Huw Irranca-Davies didn't appreciate the Gove approach: "These are disappointing results in Wales but they are also disappointing in other parts of the UK so to make political capital, I would urge, is the wrong approach.

"Would you agree with me, however, that a common lesson is the need to focus relentlessly on under-performance and this is a job not just for governors and head teachers and school teachers but also for parents and communities and for political leaders not least those in areas of deprivation and disadvantage?"

Mr Gove agreed with his conclusion. One of the challenges facing schools in Wales was highlighted by Alan Milburn's recent social mobility report - poorer children in Wales underperform children from similar backgrounds in England, under-achievement that can't be solely explained away by poverty.

Away from the chamber, Welsh Secretary David Jones issued a statement giving his verdict, including a reference to the Downing Street-approved phrase "global race".

Mr Jones said: "Today's figures are extremely disappointing, and highlight the important challenge that Wales - and the UK as a whole - faces to ensure our young people are equipped with the tools they need to shine in the competitive employment market.

"We are living in an increasingly competitive world and if Wales is to succeed in the global race, we will need more scientists, engineers, and young people who are equipped with the skills to put them at the front of the queue. Most importantly, we need to inspire them to pursue their ambitions. Today's worrying figures do very little to help us achieve that aim.

"It is vitally important that the Welsh Government now seeks to address these serious educational deficiencies and give the young aspirational people of Wales the skills they need to succeed."

His Labour shadow Owen Smith said: "The PISA results for Wales are disappointing, but parents, teachers and pupils in Wales should rest assured that the Welsh Labour government has already recognised the scale of the challenge we face and has put in place the measures required to turn things around.

"Two years ago, the Welsh government announced vital reforms to in increase transparency in our school system, making it easier to identify underperformance and to challenge schools to improve their standards. They also introduced measures to increase intellectual rigour, concentrating on core skills in maths and English with new benchmark tests and enhanced GCSEs.

"Most importantly, perhaps, they recognised the need to place teaching excellence and commitment at the heart of our system and became the first part of the UK to ask teachers to continue their training through an MA or other professional qualifications. This is an approach shown by today's PISA report to have led to significant improvements in other parts of the world. Shanghai, which tops the list, requires all teachers to be qualified and to undertake 240 hours of professional development in the first five years, whereas in England, Michael Gove is watering down standards and allowing unqualified teachers to teach in academies and free schools.

"The response of the Welsh government to today's results has been honest, serious and long-sighted, in contrast to the short term, party-political points which Conservative UK cabinet ministers have sought to make today. Using the education of Welsh pupils, striving for attainment in some of the most challenged and deprived communities of Britain, as a means to score points off the Labour Party, is a cheap trick which will be seen for what it is by the Welsh people."

David Cornock Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    100 thank you for that explanation. I must be getting old or dull or both. Is there no end to this tomfoolery? City region my ar#* .m

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and fact-based insights on this thread, SedWot. Unfortunately you seem to have totally demoralised the usual opposition. It's like cricket. Nice as a three-Day win is, what do you do on the Saturday when the opposition has gone ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    @102 There is another version of this attitude: "Here in Newport we Welsh speakers are a minority therefore we must have Welsh medium schools as a minority right".
    "Here in Gwynedd we Welsh speakers are a majority. Non Welsh speakers have no right to English Medium schools contrary to the wishes of the majority."

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    #104 Purely for clarity, Chris. Are we talking about your 15yr-old in school in Wales or Ireland ? So, which language are we talking about ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I actually live in Ireland, although travel for work. I have a fifteen year old going through the education system and live with the pretentiousness, condescension, elitism, snobbishness, arrogance, haughtiness, exclusiveness on a day to day basis. I am all for keeping the language alive but not at the detriment to a significant number of the population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Wow, this David Cornock blog, seems to be sectarianism free? Free from Celtic elitism! Maybe? It's bye bye Rhodri and Carwyn?

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    You have to admire the cheek of politicians.
    'Over 50% of people in Gwynedd speak fluent Welsh' Response: Welsh heartland, Welsh culture: spend more on Welsh language.

    'Less than 10% of people in Monmouth speak fluent Welsh' Response: Disgraceful: spend more on Welsh language.

    I suppose we could call it Carwyn's Fork.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    On one occasion when David Davies asked the assembly could Monmouthshire pupils be excused complusory Welsh lessons. John Griffiths, Welsh Labour for Newport east, responded----

    'It's because of the fact that the standard of Welsh is so dreadful in Monmouthshire schools, and, considering the growing importance of the language, these lessons must not be dropped but intensified.'

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    I suppose it is just possible that the good professor is translating back badly from the original Welsh text, and rather than 'city region' which is frankly hysterical but not funny, he is thinking of County Borough - somewhere like Southend was before further reshuffle, where a town [never a city] was autonomus from the surrounding county and ran its own schools, police and social services.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Re M93: A city region for these areas is a nonsense, the only possibly city regions are Swansea/Neath Port Talbot/Bridgend and Cardiff/Newport/SE Valleys. North Wales could have Wrexham/Chester , the Cardiff city region could be modeled on the lines of Greater Manchester but smaller, unfortunately all these city regions will have the dead-hand of the asembly on them, so don't expect too much !

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Like all Welsh Conservative David Davies was against devolution and creeping bilingualism. When he was AM for Monmouthshire he requested on numerous occasions that Monmouthshire pupils be excused Welsh lessons as it was for them a completely alien tongue.

    Language fanatics hate him, here's one of them!!


  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Enough already! Where are the Nats. My old friends Mab and Woodsey to tell us all how well devolution is going? Come on, lets hear it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    #93 "What is a city region" I suppose you could define it as a sprawl of buildings, with little industry other than political and 'educational' - where the education has a clear political direction and dissent is discouraged. Senior members will have a history of imprisonment for anti-government protest. All ambitious students will seek a career in politics or the media.
    The Gaza strip maybe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    The Paper would have delighted Prof Parkinson (he of Parkinson's Law). Or even George Orwell. He who picks the Committee picks the Outcome.
    And the Chairman is: Dr Rhodri Llwyd Morgan, Pro ViceChancellor for the Welsh Language and Culture and External Engagement at
    Aberystwyth University.
    Why not have a dispute between Man U & Man City chaired by Mr Ferguson ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I ask the question because city region makes no sense. The article highlights how money should be spent promoting the Welsh language, given the news of recent days and the state of the economy, obviously we'll thought out proposals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    What's a city region?

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Re M88, Indeed no mention of parental choice in education, simply it should be bi-lingual for all children. So sacrifice childrens education and parental choice, just to "preserve" an ancient monument. Luckily its only in north-west and west wales that are being dragged down..at the moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Re 78.
    Boxer, when the Conservatives made the 1993 Welsh language Act, they made Welsh a compulsory subject in areas where Welsh was widely spoken.

    They found it caused deep resentment and was counter productive it was quietly dropped. In the assembly vote on the langage the Conservative group voted against Welsh compulsion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The percentage of PISA papers answered in Welsh in 2012 was 11.5%....381 pupils. 15 schools filled in the general questionnaire in Welsh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    #88 Given several of these regions have less than 50% of parents that can speak Welsh, what democratic justification is there for decreeing that they must educate their children in Welsh ?
    Some bigot will argue that it is part of their cultural heritage, but it is for the citizen in a democracy to decide on his heritage. The language will be 'protected' by ending immigration of skilled workers


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