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Michael Gove deserves high marks for his big decisions

By Tim Montgomerie

It's too late now but I wish David Cameron had gone ahead with the rumoured plan to produce a '21st Century Domesday Book' that would have recorded the weaknesses in Britain's international position at the end of the Labour years. Perhaps as significant as Labour's economic legacy was and is its education legacy. I reproduce the table published just before Christmas on international education standards:

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Have you seen many other tables that are quite so frightening?

Michael Gove hasn't had a smooth start as Education Secretary. He's fumbled a few tricky issues including the school buildings programme and sport in schools. He's not entirely to blame for those fumbles but they've not helped his image in the press or with voters.

But has he got the big decisions right? Is he developing the kind of policy response that the above rankings demand?

This week Michael Gove announced plans to "shine a light" - as he put it - on the extent to which different schools are giving pupils a grounding in the five essential baccalaureate subjects of English, maths, science, a language and either geography or history at GCSE. At the moment only 15% of pupils are achieving a 'C' grade in these core subjects. The decline in core academic skills has been disguised by a 3,800% explosion in pupils studying easier subjects including "salon services" and "personal effectiveness".

By publishing schools' success rates in bringing children up to the "English Bac" standard the education Secretary will force schools to stop gaming the league table system by shunting pupils onto easier GCSE courses.

Critics complain that not every child is academic but there's already plenty of recognition of that in the Coalition's programme. 75,000 extra apprenticeships, for example, and Kenneth Baker's new generation pf up to seventy technical schools.

A massive increase in Academy schools, free from local government bureaucracy. The freedom for parents to set up new schools if they are failed by existing provision. A restoration of traditional A-levels. A reading test for all six-year-olds and remedial attention for those who fail it. A 5% penalty for examination candidates who consistently fail to produce reasonably-written English.  Proper teaching of "narrative British history" to be restored. New powers for headteachers to guarantee school discipline. Protection (with a lot of help from Nick Clegg) for the schools budget and focusing of that money on teachers rather than buildings.     

Has Gove got every big thing right? No. But is he doing a good job overall? Absolutely.

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