Channel 4 documentary Educating Yorkshire , in which viewers witnessed a pupil overcome his stammer, shows teaching at its best, says education secretary Michael Gove.
Mr Gove was addressing more than 200 delegates at the Cheshire and Wirral Conservative Conference at The Holiday Inn in Ellesmere Port which had been protested by activists proclaiming the town “a Tory-free zone”.
Speaking in front of a more friendly audience, the minister said: “When I was growing up the image of state education was Grange Hill or Waterloo Road . Now Channel 4 produce inspirational documentaries about what’s going on in comprehensive schools and academies – Educating Essex and Educating Yorkshire show us that teachers are doing a brilliant job.”
But Mr Gove, who had earlier held a breakfast meeting with headteachers including Dave Williams from Dee Point Primary and Tony Lamberton from Christleton High, said educational standards had failed to keep pace with other countries.
“We were in the premier league educationally and now we are struggling to stay in the championship. That was the legacy that we were left.
“But the good news, and I think the under-appreciated news, is that in the last three years we have seen an amazing improvement in state education as a result of the hard work from what I think is the best generation of teachers that we’ve ever had, free from some of the bureaucracy and political correctness that held them back in the past.”
He said the number of lessons now rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ was higher than ever. More pupils were studying the sciences and foreign languages.
And Mr Gove said headteachers had greater freedom to reward good teachers with better pay and to support struggling teachers or invite them to “consider another profession”.
He added: “It’s also the case that heads and teachers now enjoy tougher powers over discipline and behaviour than ever before. We all know that unless you’ve got good order in the classroom, that teachers can’t teach and children can’t learn.
“We all know that a tiny minority of disruptive children can ensure that those who really want to achieve don’t achieve their full potential and that’s why we’ve changed the rules so that materials that children used to be able to bring into class, things like mobile phones that can disrupt learning, can now be banned.
“Children who misbehave and were excluded by the headteacher can’t walk back into that school, as used to be the case in the past. We’ve also ensured that the absurd doctrine that said in the past that if you were imposing detention on a particular child you went away for 24 hours and gave them notice has ended. On the same day that a child breaks the rules, they face the consequences.”
One audience member said teacher friends told her they would “love the opportunity to educate their pupils instead of merely teaching them to pass exams” but she accepted the National Curriculum had raised standards.
Mr Gove responded: “The new national curriculum that we are bringing in is there to make sure that students have a grasp of the core knowledge but we have stripped away quite a lot of stuff in some subject areas to give greater flexibility for teachers to do exactly as you say.”
Mr Gove said it had always been his dream that state education would be so good nobody would ever feel they had “to pay” or “move to the right catchment area”. “We’re getting there,” he added.
“One of the most generous accolades of all is that Tatler , the magazine of the toffs, recently produced its first ever guide to state schools, saying state schools were now in many cases better than private schools and that it’s well heeled readers had better take note of this transformation in state education.”