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While Lansley's bill is stalled, Gove's reforms carry on

by Paul Goodman

GOVE MICHAEL NW Michael Gove responded in the Commons yesterday this to Alison Wolf's review of vocational qualifications.  The Guardian has some of the details -

"Thousands of pupils who fail to achieve a good GCSE in English and maths will be made to study the subjects for another two years or take high-quality alternative qualifications until they leave school at 18, the education secretary has said.

Gove was responding to a government-commissioned review of vocational qualifications, published in March, which criticised the number of pupils leaving school without a basic grasp of English or maths.

Last summer, 45% of 16-year-olds missed a C grade in the subjects.

From 2015, teenagers will have to stay in education or training until they reach 18."

The paper quotes the Education Secretary as telling MPs that a host of vocational courses would no longer count in league tables in order to dissuade schools from entering pupils for courses that were not of a high quality.  Gove said that he would "reform league tables, the funding system and regulation so children are given honest information and take the right courses. We will make sure that employers are more involved in the system. We will encourage them to offer more high-quality apprenticeships.

The Daily Telegraph also reports this morning that Oqual w ill announce an investigation into claims that the tests taken by hundreds of thousands of youngsters every year are too easy.  "The inquiry, the largest the education watchdog  has carried out, is expected to cover annual rises in grades, the perceived difficulty of qualifications, the range of courses and commercial competition between exam boards."  It is expected to take place after the summer exam season.

Since "schools-and-hospitals" are the two most electorally sensitive public services, it's worth considering how Gove's reforms seem to be making quiet progress while some of Lansley's are bogged down.  The Education Secretary is keen to stress that establishing more academies is no less important to him than creating free schools.  658 academies are now open - nearly one in five secondary schools.  Over 450 of these have opened since September 2010 - more than two every working day.

Six months or so ago, most observers thought the Education Secretary had more troubles than his counterpart at Health: remember the row over school sports and the rumpus over the Building Schools for the Future programme.  But local authority oversight seems about to return to the NHS at the same time that it's departing from many schools.  If enough schools gain academy status, the system will reach a "tipping point" whereby a future Labour Government wouldn't be able to reverse the move.

Perhaps the reason for Gove's success in this field is that he hasn't planned a "big bang" equivalent of the scrapping of PCTs - the outright abolition of LEAs.  Perhaps it's because while Labour are opposed to Lansley's scheme they can't convincingly oppose academies, a Blair creation.  Perhaps it's because he's a remarkable ability to dust himself down and keep pressing on, oblivious to the twin terror of Andy Burnham's attempts to overturn his policies in the Commons and his wife's efforts to conceal his underpants at home.*

*The details are concealed behind the Times paywall - but were repeated, needless to say, by our friends at the Daily Mirror.

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