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Tories set out schools objectives

6 November 09 08:54 GMT

A Tory government would close the educational achievement gap between rich and poor, the party's education spokesman has pledged.

Setting out the party's priorities for schools in England, Michael Gove pledged to make exams and the curriculum more robust and rigorous.

He vowed to raise teaching standards and refuse to fund teacher training for students without at least a 2:2 degree.

Ministers say the achievement gap between rich and poor is narrowing.

'Equal opportunity'

Ahead of the speech, Mr Gove said: "A Conservative government will give every child the kind of education that is currently only available to the well-off: safe classrooms, talented and specialist teachers, access to the best curriculum and exams, and smaller schools where teachers know the children's names."

In his speech, he said education, together with welfare and the family, would be key domestic priorities if the Conservatives were to win the next general election.

The aim would be to make opportunity more equal in society, he said.

"The central mission of the next Conservative government is the alleviation of poverty and the extension of opportunity. And nowhere is action required more than in our schools. Schools should be engines of social mobility.

"But the sad truth about our schools today is that, far from making opportunity more equal, they only deepen the divide between the rich and poor, the fortunate and the forgotten. It is a profoundly dispiriting story."

He said the achievement gap between rich and poor children - defined as those receiving free school meals - widened all the way through school.

Freeing schools

Mr Gove repeated that the Conservatives believed the key to driving up standards and achievement was to give schools freedom - and have more independent state-funded schools, such as those in the Academies programme or those created as city technology colleges.

He said such schools were successful because they were independent from local and central bureaucracy, controlled their curriculum, were free to pay good staff more and to shape rigorous discipline policies, to organise extra-curricular activities and to spend money on pupils which would otherwise be spent by the local authority.

He also said the Conservatives would do more to attract the best graduates into teaching and would refuse to fund any graduates for teacher training if they did not have at least a 2:2 at degree level.

On discipline, he said schools should have greater powers to search for and confiscate any items they think might cause violence or disruption.

And teachers should have greater authority to remove violent and disruptive pupils from class "without fear of legal action", he said.

"We will replace the current "Use of Force Guidance" which imposes many restrictions on teachers and discourages them from removing disruptive children from the classroom."

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: "Sadly the rhetoric of Michael Gove's speech does not match the reality of the Conservative Party's policies which would take us back to a two-tier education system.

"While the Tories try to do down the state education system, the truth is that the gap between the poorest children and the rest is narrowing year on year and schools in the poorest areas have seen the biggest rises in results over the last decade. But all this progress would be set back by Tory plans to cut spending on schools.

"This would mean fewer teachers and teaching assistants and bigger class sizes, making it more difficult to keep good order and discipline in the classroom."

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