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UK Politics

We'll speed up the rate of change in schools, says Gove

Education Secretary dismisses heads' concerns that faster reform will undermine teaching

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, gave a warning yesterday that the pace of his school reforms would accelerate despite claims from headteachers that they will provoke a "climate of fear" in classrooms. Mr Gove told the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in Birmingham: "Lest anyone think we should slacken the pace of reform, let me reassure them: we have to accelerate."

Mr Gove added that he believed it would be a "sin not to do everything in your power to help every child transcend the circumstances of their birth to achieve everything of which they're capable."

"It's personal," Mr Gove, who was adopted as a baby, went on. "When you spend the first four months of your life in care ... you know that education liberated you to enjoy opportunities your parents could scarcely have dreamt of."

His comments drew a sharp response from Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the ASCL, who was enthusiastically cheered by members when he replied: "By accelerating the pace of reform you actually prevent us from doing it properly. We urge you to listen to us about the pace you can take."

Mr Lightman singled out two reforms that concerned headteachers: a review of the national curriculum and plans to scrap national pay scales for heads and teachers which could lead to those working in poorer areas receiving less pay.

Earlier, on a show of hands, headteachers declared they saw no need for more national curriculum reforms. Mr Gove wants to bring in a slimmed-down national curriculum concentrating on core academic subjects such as English, maths and science.

On the pay proposals, Mr Lightman said: "The introduction of local pay will only make it more difficult to recruit the people we need to address the challenges in our more deprived areas. Recruiting talent-ed teachers in a climate of fear is very, very difficult."

The ASCL is also concerned about the Government's flagship "free" school proposals which, Mr Lightman said, has led to taxpayers' money being "shamelessly" wasted in areas where there is no need for extra school places. Mr Lightman also attacked what he called the "toxic" barrage of criticism of education standards from ministers.

Mr Gove did appear to offer one compromise to headteachers, though, over plans for "no-notice" inspections of schools. He said he recognised arguments made to him that heads needed to be present when inspections took place – as a result schools could be informed the afternoon or night before. However, he said this would have to be agreed by the new chief schools inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw.

He outlined plans for radical changes to the funding of schools – due to be announced this week – which would give schools a set amount for each child related to their age – instead of introducing differential levels of funding in different parts of the country.

In outlining the case for reform Mr Gove said there were politicians on both the right and left who had "succumbed to the terrible temptation of fatalism". "For some – usually on the right – there can only ever be a small percentage of children who either can – or even desrve – to make it to the top ... For others – usually but not exclusively on the left – the existence of inequality determines everything, and as long as there are differentials of wealth and background you can never expect real progress to be made," he said.

He declared himself to be an "enemy of social stagnation" and urged headteachers to join forces with ministers "to defeat the forces of fatalism".

Nursery staff and childminders are allowed to work at pre-school groups without displaying basic literacy or numeracy skills, according to a government-commissioned review. Colleges demand more qualifications for students training to look after animals than for those who will care for babies, the interim report by Professor Cathy Nutbrown, of the University of Sheffield, found.