Simon Carr:

The Sketch: Michael Gove muscles in with a daring ambition

 

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He's looking bigger these days, Michael Gove. Deeper chest, broader shoulders. Maybe he's been through a Charles Atlas course in muscular Conservatism.

You can tell that he actually believes what he is saying. Perhaps even at a deeper level than Tony Blair. As long as he doesn't get hold of an army, we may be all right.

Announcing the return of O-levels, he told the House that the current education system has been one large crime against social justice. And he declared one daring ambition – possibly insane – that our children should compete with Singaporean children. Do the exams they do and be measured against them.

Nothing would show more clearly the true condition of our educational achievement. Kevin Brennan suggested the inevitable collapse in results was a conspiracy to "disguise a fall in attainment" following Tory education cuts. That may be too clever even for Gove.

The behaviour of the exam boards was denounced. True, it's a rare sighting of the beast called "market failure".

Brennan spoke derisively of "rote learning" (or "learning" as we used to call it) and an exam system which "divides children into winners and losers". As exams tend to do, when they are marked.

Gove tested opposition figures. They said 25 per cent would be left behind? Currently 40 per cent are left behind.

And as to Peter Lilley's call to build "esteem" in vocational qualifications – just publish what plumbers and electricians take home in cash and wages – the middle classes will go for the money and leave the esteem for those who need it.

NB: The demeanour of the Speaker must be recorded. There is an Early Day Motion deprecating Chris Bryant's use of the word "lied" last week, and how Speaker Bercow allowed it. There are 13 signatures on the EDM, at the time of writing and the total is climbing. Bercow was therefore calling his right-wing critics with warm, indulgent geniality in his voice. He should be told: it nauseates them.

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