UK Politics

Nicky Morgan rejects claim Gove still driving education

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSpeaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Nicky Morgan said that Mr Gove had been "nothing but supportive"

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has ridiculed claims that her predecessor Michael Gove is interfering with her department.

Mrs Morgan told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "It is a complete load of old nonsense... I am in charge of the Department for Education."

The Independent on Sunday claims Mr Gove is still regularly getting copies of the education secretary's paperwork.

But Mrs Morgan said Chief Whip Mr Gove had been "nothing but supportive".

Mr Gove, seen as a radical - if somewhat divisive - education secretary with initiatives such as free schools and exam and curriculum changes, was the surprise change in last July's reshuffle.

He was moved from education after four years to become Chief Whip, a role - to maintain discipline and ensure the government gets its business through Parliament - which has a lower public profile, but which is based in Downing Street and according to David Cameron at the time is "one of the most important jobs" in government.

Since taking on the education role Mrs Morgan has had a much less confrontational style than Mr Gove.

Programme host Andrew Marr said that he had been told ahead of the interview that Mrs Morgan was keen to talk about Mr Gove.

He then asked her about the Independent on Sunday's claims that Mr Gove was secretly still getting copies of all her ministerial paperwork.

She said: "I think this is a complete load of nonsense. Michael has been nothing but supportive, as have been other former education secretaries from different political perspectives.

"I think education is one of those things that... everybody has got an opinion on."

She said she talked to Mr Gove regularly and he was "incredibly helpful whenever I've asked him a question".

She said she had spoken to former education secretaries Gillian Shephard, David Blunkett and Kenneth Baker as well as Mr Gove.

She said she had "no reason to suspect" that that Mr Gove was seeing her papers: "No conversation I have had has given me any indication that that is the case. I am in charge of the Department for Education and we are all united."

But what, she was asked, if he was seeing the paperwork?

"Well, the chief whip is of course going to see paperwork that goes for a number of departments... I know the chief whip has to be across all portfolio areas. But I am very much in charge of the education department," she said.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman also rejected the Independent on Sunday's story, calling it "totally untrue... the chief whip's office has not received, handled or put into the red box any of the education secretary's paperwork."

The main thrust of the interview was about plans to ensure all pupils take a times table test at the end of primary schools - and an indication, by nodding when it was suggested, that the Conservatives would pledge to protect the schools budget - from age five to 16 - if the party wins the next election.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Schools funding has been protected from cuts during the current government

Mrs Morgan has set a new target for England to be the best in Europe, and among the top five countries in the world, for English and maths by 2020.

"We have to be ambitious for our young people. If you don't get it right at primary, then it becomes much harder for children to catch up at secondary school," she told the BBC's Andrew Marr show.

In an article fleshing out the plans in the Sunday Times, she wrote: "This aim is unapologetically ambitious. The speed with which we slid down international league tables under the previous government is one of the starkest examples of their failure.

"Returning us to our rightful place will be a symbol of our success. To achieve this, we will launch a war on illiteracy and innumeracy."

Analysis: By Robin Brant, political correspondent

Promising to protect spending on schools in England is not a big surprise. The Conservatives have already pledged to increase it to £53bn this year and the Lib Dems have gone further, saying they would extend it to include education of children from three to 19 years old.

But Nicky Morgan's nod on TV this morning leads to the inevitable question of where will the next round of cuts come then? If school spending in England is protected, and the NHS and international aid, what will the Conservatives cut more to hit their deficit target?

The generals at the MoD will fear it's them again although the evidence on welfare suggests they may want to go further there too. For the record Labour has said it plans to get the deficit down "as soon as possible" in the next five years, but it is yet to lay out its specific plans for education spending.

For Labour, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: "The surest way to raise standards in every lesson, in every school, is to improve the quality of teaching in the classroom.

"That begins with an end to Cameron's unqualified teachers policy. Labour will ensure that all teachers are qualified and continue to train to improve their teaching as a condition to remaining in the classroom.

"This is how we improve the learning and life chances for all children and raise our international position in reading, writing and maths."

For the Lib Dems, schools minister David Laws said: "More children are now doing well in school because, in this parliament, Liberal Democrats forced the Tories to protect the schools budget.

"But in the next parliament we will need to go further and protect the whole education budget - including early years and 16-19 education."

More on this story