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While striking teaching unions want to take Britain back to the 1970s, Gove plots a path to 21st century survival

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Prime Minister set out the need for public sector pensions reform yesterday but many teachers will still strike tomorrow, putting their "right" to an unaffordable pension before the needs of their pupils. If teachers want Britain to return to the strife of the 1970s Michael Gove is more worried about Britain's survival in the global economy of the 21st century. He has just addressed the Royal Society and set out the daunting economic reality that Britain faces:

"The nations of East Asia, large and small, are now in the position the Islamic world was a millennium ago or Europe enjoyed during the Renaissance. Individually, they now increasingly resemble the England of the eighteenth century, the Germany of the nineteenth or the USA in the twentieth. They are growing rapidly industrially and technologically; integrating more and more of their people into the global economy; investing more and more in maths and science; producing the engineers, technicians, scientists and inventors who will shape tomorrow’s world. While Europe is chronically indebted, its currency under strain, its growth anaemic, and Continental universities in relative decline, Asia has a massive trade surplus, holds the fate of the dollar in its hands, enjoys surging growth and is developing schools, technical colleges and universities which are dramatically outpacing our own."

He then lists some killer facts about the widening gap between UK skills and the skills of our competitors in the Far East:
  • "At school, British 15-year-olds’ maths skills are now more than two whole academic years behind 15-year-olds in China.
  • In the last decade, we have plummeted down the international league tables: from 4th to 16th place in science; and from 8th to 28th in maths.
  • At undergraduate level, over half of degrees in China, Singapore and Japan are awarded in science and engineering subjects – compared to around a third in the UK, EU and US.
  • The number of science and engineering degrees awarded in China more than trebled between 1998 and 2006. By comparison, those awarded in the United Kingdom and the United States remained relatively flat.
  • At postgraduate level, Asia now awards 1 in 4 of all engineering PhDs – almost as many as the EU and the USA combined.
  • In the last 10 years for which we have figures, the number of scientific and technical journal articles published by Chinese researchers has almost quadrupled. In the UK, the increase has been just 3%.
  • Between 1999 and 2009, the number of patent applications by Chinese residents increased by over 1,000%. In the UK, it fell by a quarter."   

Gove then announces "a new goal for the education system so that within a decade the vast majority of pupils are studying maths right through to the age of 18." He sets out some of the measures that will help Britain achieve this goal:

  • "We have allocated £135 million over the spending review period to support sustainable improvement in science and maths education in schools.
  • We’ll offer high-achieving graduates, especially those in shortage subjects like science and maths, significantly better financial incentives to train as teachers – up to £20,000 for graduates with first class honours degree. Trainees will receive the bursary in monthly instalments in their training year, as currently happens.
  • We’ll also introduce Teaching Schools – modelled on teaching hospitals - to spread outstanding practice across the education system. Brilliant Maths teachers in our best schools will be able to work across their school’s partnership mentoring and supporting those in weaker departments."

This speech confirms Gove's position as one of the Coalition's pace-setters. After a tricky start - caused by a hostile Departmental bureaucracy - he's motoring. The Academies programme will revolutionise secondary education. The English Bac will force pupils to focus on 'real' subjects. New measures on discipline, under-performing schools and early intervention will reduce disadvantage.

> City AM has today launched a campaign to double the budget of Mathematics in Education and Industry. Find out more here.


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