THE Schools Minister today backed Education Secretary Michael Gove’s robust language about local authorities who resist Government plans to deal with the 200 worst performing primary schools in England as he offered a strong defence of the academies programme.
Nick Gibb was asked by delegates at the north of England education conference in Leeds about his views on Mr Gove’s comments earlier this week in which he talked about “ideologues” and “enemies of promise” who were “happy with failure”.
Mr Gibb said: “It’s reflecting the problems we’ve encountered with some local authorities who have not been as determined and ambitious for pupils in their area that we think they should have been.
“It’s a minority but we think it’s reprehensible that they’re not taking action to tackle schools that for year after year have been letting down children in their school.”
He said: “The overriding aim of this Government is to close that attainment gap between rich and poor and that will mean using harsh language, taking difficult decisions and challenging some of the vested interests that lie in some parts of the country that are not tackling some of these underperforming schools.”
The minister told the conference that the Government was right to challenge “vested interests” and said the autonomy offered by academy status was the best way to raise standards.
He said: “The whole drive behind the academy programme which we inherited from the previous administration but which we have expedited and accelerated, is based on the evidence from around the world that it is the most effective way of achieving high standards in schools - to deliver autonomy and to give professionals that autonomy to run schools as they see fit.”
In his speech to the conference, Mr Gibb stressed the importance of the Government’s plan to convert the weakest 200 primary schools into academies.
He said: “If schools aren’t making the right progress, and local authorities don’t have a grip on the issue, we will be able to intervene to secure the best possible result for the children in those schools.
“So, by expanding the academies programme, increasing autonomy at school level and improving teacher training we want to drive up standards in schools right across the country.”
One executive headteacher was applauded by the audience of teachers, heads and education professionals when he said some of the 200 under-performing primary schools could not hope to exceed the criteria set out by the Government.
David Kirk, who is a head in charge of two schools in Halifax, West Yorkshire, said a third school he is supporting has 70% of pupils without English as a first language and a range of problems.
He said: “We will never beat these floor targets, ever.”
Mr Gibb replied: “The trouble is, one hears reasons why schools can’t achieve.
“I do understand there are challenges that are faced - areas of deprivation, children from very dysfunctional backgrounds and some schools clearly have high proportions of children who come from very difficult backgrounds.
“These schools face bigger challenges.
“But we are absolutely determined that the background of a child should not affect the ultimate education they receive or the achievement they make.
“Now we know this is difficult. We know it requires resources and that’s what the pupil premium is about.
“We are giving schools the resources to tackle these underlying problems.
“But we can’t allow these underlying problems to affect that child’s education throughout their lives.”
Mr Gibb also used his speech to emphasise how much of a priority reading is to the Government.
He pointed to international tables which have seen reading levels in England fall in comparison with other countries around the world.
“The Government is determined to help all children to read widely and well and develop a lifelong love of reading,” he said.
The minister said: “We all need to face up to an uncomfortable fact.
“Despite the hard work of teachers all over the country, too few children are able to read to a high enough standard.”