Education & Family

Gove calls for state schools to be more like private

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Media captionMichael Gove outlines his aim to break down the "Berlin Wall" between state and private schools

State schools in England should be more like private schools, says Education Secretary Michael Gove.

In a speech in east London, he said he wanted to break down the "Berlin Wall" between state and independent sectors.

This could see state pupils taking the private school common entrance exam and state schools staying open longer.

Mr Gove has been embroiled in a row over the replacement of the Ofsted chair and has been warned against surrounding himself with "yes men".

The education secretary, speaking at the London Academy of Excellence, said that for decades "the dominant consensus has been that state education in England was barely satisfactory".

Global tests

But now he said the state system was improving, with better results, more pupils taking tougher subjects and fewer weak schools.

Mr Gove said that commentators had associated state schools with "poor discipline, low standards, entrenched illiteracy, widespread innumeracy", but he said that this "pessimistic view is no longer tenable".

Mr Gove said that he wanted to push state schools further so that they would become indistinguishable from private schools.

He said he wanted schools to be able to stay open longer for nine or 10 hour days. This would allow more time for after-school activities or to provide a place for children to do their homework.

Academies, which are now the majority of secondary schools, can already set their own hours.

He called for more testing, including taking the common entrance exam taken by 13 year olds in some private schools.

Mr Gove backed plans for individual secondary schools to be able to take the OECD's international Pisa tests.

"Our heads and teachers can, if they choose, check how well their pupils are performing compared to their peers - not just down the road - but on the other side of the globe, in Shanghai or Singapore," says Mr Gove.

Inspection rows

The "superb leadership" of Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted's chief inspector, was also praised by the education secretary.

Sir Michael last week issued an angry warning, saying that he was "spitting blood" that he was being undermined by briefings which he linked to the Department for Education.

Mr Gove denied claims his team had briefed against the inspectorate, which in turn had been welcomed by Sir Michael who said he would defend his team against "unfair criticism".

A previous Ofsted chief inspector, Sir David Bell, also issued a warning to Mr Gove not "to believe his own hype".

Writing for website The Conversation, Sir David Bell said Mr Gove should not surround himself with "yes men".

Image copyright Stephen Shepherd
Image caption Former Ofsted chief Sir David Bell warned Mr Gove "not to believe his own hype"

It followed a dispute over the replacement of the chair of Ofsted, Baroness Morgan.

Mr Gove said he wanted to "refresh" the leadership of the schools' watchdog and denied his intention to remove the Labour peer was politically motivated.

Speaking on Monday, he said the decision had been entirely his own and that a replacement would be appointed on merit, regardless of political affiliation.

But the row over the change at the top of England's schools watchdog intensified further with the intervention of Sir David, who as well as having served as Ofsted's chief inspector later worked alongside Mr Gove as his most senior civil servant at the Department for Education.

'Cut off'

Sir David warned the education secretary of the risk of becoming isolated by listening only to supporters.

"The day-to-day grind of policy battles, firefighting and political ding-dong can start to cut you off from outside ideas and thinking.

"The row over Ofsted's leadership shows the importance of retaining and being seen to retain independent voices near the top - not simply 'yes men'," said Sir David, who is now the vice chancellor of the University of Reading.

Sir David said Mr Gove should not dismiss all critics of his education policy but should engage with those offering an "intelligent critique".

On Sunday, Mr Gove said he had appointed Baroness Morgan, and despite the fact he felt she had done a "fantastic job" the position needed a "fresh perspective".

Baroness Morgan, who has not had her term in office renewed, told the BBC she was the victim of a "determined effort from Number 10" to appoint more Tories.

Unions criticised

The decision was criticised by the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

The director of the Institute for Government, Peter Riddell, said the decision not to reappoint Baroness Morgan had "raised some eyebrows" but there was nothing new about ministerial involvement.

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Media captionBaroness Morgan on not being reappointed to head Ofsted

Another former Ofsted chairwoman, Zenna Atkins, has backed Mr Gove over Baroness Morgan's departure, saying she has "seen nothing that suggest it's a political move".

Sir David also had tough words about teachers' unions, saying their "political naivety has been astonishing".

"Their barrage of industrial action and knee-jerk opposition to any change has allowed the education secretary and his supporters to characterise them as cartoon-like bogeymen," he writes.

Sir David was part of a group of business leaders and academics who published a report last week calling for a more independent, non-political approach to education policy.

Responding to Mr Gove's speech on Monday, Labour's shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, said: "Improving school standards starts with a qualified teacher in every classroom. Until Michael Gove commits to this, he is ruling himself out of any serious debate about how we raise standards in our schools.

"Whether on discipline, delivering extra-curricular activities or on improving learning outcomes: it all hinges on the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Raising the quality of teaching - that is where the focus needs to be and that is what Labour is concerned with. The Tories have lost sight of this and are undermining school standards as a result."

Christine Blower, leader of the National Union of Teachers, challenged the idea of state schools using the common entrance exam.

"Why would we imagine that that is an appropriate examination? He's not discussed that with anybody, he's not discussed it with any of the exam boards, he's certainly not discussed it with the representatives of teachers," said Ms Blower.

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