Education Secretary Michael Gove stepped up the pace of his revolution in schools today - pledging a boost to Greek and Latin in state secondary schools and urging all schools to stay open for up to 10 hours a day so pupils could do “prep” on the premises.
In addition, he is asking all secondary schools to consider getting their 13-year-olds to sit the Common Entrance - taken in independent schools to select pupils and check on their progress.
He said it would give them a valuable insight into how their pupils were progressing following Labour’s decision to scrap national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds.
Mr Gove outlined the measures in a speech at the London Academy of Excellence, a free school operating as a sixth-form college in Stratford, east London, and supported by several leading independent schools including Eton and Brighton College.
Central to his theme was breaking down the “Berlin Wall” between state and private schools so a visitor could not tell the difference between them.
In pictures: Michael Gove's most controversial policies
In pictures: Michael Gove's most controversial policies
1/5 Free Schools
Free schools, which operate independently from their local authority but receive state funding, continue to fuel controversy. Alongside the closure of a flagship free school amid quality of teaching concerns, critics have said that free schools are not being set up in areas where there is a demand for school places
2/5 GCSEs and A Levels Reform
In a move away from coursework, schoolchildren will no longer take AS levels but sit their A Level exams at the end of the two year course. For GCSE students meanwhile, only their first attempt at an examination will count towards a school's performance table after Mr Gove said that schools putting pupils forward early for their exams was a 'damaging trend'
3/5 Teachers' working conditions
At the heart of the ongoing dispute about pay and working conditions lies the policy of 'performance related pay', where teachers get paid more if they meet certain standards
4/5 Phonics Check
The Phonics Screening Test is a compulsory assessment for children in year one where children are asked to decode a mixture of real and made-up words. The government sees the test as a way for schools to spot slow readers, while teachers say that even the brightest fail it
Sweeping changes to the national curriculum are to be introduced in September 2014. Among the changes, multiplication tables will be at the centre of the curriculum for six- to seven-year-olds while history will be taught chronologically. Mr Gove says that he wants to have the 'sort of curriculum that children in other countries have, which are doing better than our own'
He announced the setting up of a new project under Oxford don Professor Christopher Pelling to train non-specialist teachers in how to deliver Greek and Latin in state secondary schools.
Mr Gove said afterwards: “Classics is one of those subjects where most university places are taken up by independent school students and I think that’s wrong. We should be giving state school pupils the chance to compete on a level playing field.”
Mr Gove is also urging all state secondary schools to get their pupils to sit Common Entrance tests, adding: “Since the last Labour government abolished key stage three tests for 14-year-olds, we have had no rigorous externally-set and marked measures of progress for students in the first five years of secondary school.
“It is often during this period that performance dips and students suffer. So I want state schools to try out Common Entrance exams - giving them a chance to check how well they and their pupils are performing against some of the top schools around the world.”
He announced he was also giving all state schools the freedom to lengthen their school day and term. At present, only free schools and academies can do this.
“I would like to see state schools - just like independent schools - offer a school day nine or 10 hours long,” he added. “This would allow “time for structured homework sessions, prep, which will be particularly helpful for those children who come from homes where it’s difficult to secure the peace and quiet necessary for hard study”.
“A longer school day will also make time for after-school sports matches, orchestra rehearsals, debating competitions, coding clubs, cadet training, Duke of Edinburgh award schemes and inspirational careers talks from outside visitors - just like in independent schools,” he added.
His plans received a mixed reception, with Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers saying: “We have no problem with schools staying open for longer provided most of those additional hours are used for extracurricular activities.
“We need to be clear on where the money will come from to fund the extra staffing required, given that teachers are already working a 48-hour week on average under the current arrangements.”
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “The push for longer school days of up to 10 hours will be counterproductive for many children and young people. Primary school pupils in particular will find it very difficult to concentrate or even stay awake for such long periods.”
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges association, which, the Independent revealed today, had suffered more that £100 million worth of cuts in the past three years, said: “It is difficult to square Mr Gove’s view with his decision to cut the funding for extra-curriculum activities by 10 per cent in 2011.”
In his speech, Mr Gove warned the belief every child could succeed was “not yet the dominant consensus: not yet uncontroversial”.
“Some still argue that children in poor areas shouldn’t be expected to do well: shouldn’t be encouraged to aim high,” he added.
Quango heads: political ties
Chair of Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty Appointed: 2013 by the Coalition Political sympathies: Labour. Former Cabinet minister, close ally of Tony Blair
Lord (Chris) Smith of Finsbury
Chair of the Environment Agency Appointed: 2008 by Labour; reappointed in 2011 by the Coalition. Political sympathies: Labour. Former Cabinet minister
Chair of the BBC Trust Appointed: 2011 by the Coalition Political sympathies: Conservative. Former Tory chairman and Cabinet minister
Chair of Natural England Appointed: Last month by the Coalition Political sympathies: Conservative. Major party donor
Chair of the Care Quality Commission Appointed: Last year by the Coalition Political sympathies: Conservative. Former chief executive of the party and ex-MP
Interim chair of Monitor (health sector regulator) Appointed: Last month by the Coalition Political sympathies: Conservative. Tory peer
Chair of the Charity Commission Appointed: Last year by the Coalition Political sympathies: Thought to be a Conservative supporter
Chair of Ofcom Appointed: Took up post this week Political sympathies: Tory activist and candidate in the 1970s