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Michael Gove warns of an "educational underclass" of "lost souls", ill-prepared for school, and lacking discipline and male role models

By Matthew Barrett
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Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, gave a speech at the Durand Academy in Stockwell, South London, earlier this week. We're covering it a couple of days late, but it was an important speech, and I've highlighted below some sections that readers will be interested in: 

Mr Gove warns of an "educational underclass" - those youngsters, "lost souls", churned out by the education system, suffering from a lack of ambition and discipline: "For all the advances we have made, and are making in education, we still, every year allow thousands more children to join an educational underclass – they are the lost souls our school system has failed. It is from that underclass that gangs draw their recruits, young offenders institutions find their inmates and prisons replenish their cells. These are young people who, whatever the material circumstances which surround them, grow up in the direst poverty - with a poverty of ambition, a poverty of discipline, a poverty of soul. I recognise that using a word like underclass has potentially controversial connotations. It can seem to divide society into them and us. But I believe there’s a merit in plain speaking."

The government has a duty to intervene in the early lives of those children who are not ready for school: "Teachers report to me that a growing number of children cannot form letters or even hold a pencil. Many cannot sit and listen. Many can scarcely communicate orally, let alone frame a question. Many cannot use a knife and fork. Many cannot even go to the lavatory properly. Some express their frustration through displays of inarticulate rage. More than 1,200 children aged seven or under have been permanently excluded from their primary schools for violence or other disruptive activity in the last five years. A further 53,000 children aged seven or under were suspended for similar behaviour. Which is why we are intervening. ... The number of families where we need to intervene is small. I do not support an extension of the state’s reach into the lives of every parent. That will only undermine the virtues – of self-discipline, responsibility and aspiration – which we need to encourage."

Adult authority must be restored to help tackle illiteracy and disruption, which often lead to truancy, exclusion and then crime: "Over the years there has been a slow, and sustained, erosion of legitimate adult authority in this country. It has been subverted by a culture of dutiless rights which empowers the violent young to ignore civilised boundaries which exist to protect the weak and vulnerable. I am a strong supporter of defending children’s rights. The right to learn in safety. The right to have their talents nurtured in an ordered environment. The right to express themselves, and their differences, in a culture of respect. But these rights are everyday undermined by our failure to deal with the ignorance, insolence and violence of a minority. The only way to reverse this dissolution of legitimate authority is step-by-step to move the ratchet back in favour of teachers."

More male teachers are required - because male teachers help compensate for a lack of role models at home: "One of the principal concerns that men considering teaching feel is the worry that they will fall foul of rules which make normal contact between adults and children a legal minefield. By changing the rules to make it clear that adults can exercise their own authority and judgement in every aspect of classroom management we can help reverse the flight of men from primary education and bolster still further the strength of the workforce. And specifically in order to ensure that there are many more male role models entering teaching we will be launching our troops to teachers programme later this autumn, so that we can draft gifted individuals from the armed services into the classroom."

The full scale of truancy was hidden by the statistical manipulation of the last government: "Under the last Government the critical measure of truancy was persistent absence. For a child to count as persistently absent they had to miss at least 20% of sessions. We have just published the data the last Government kept secret. There are currently 175,718 children who are absent for this length of time. But if you look at the number of children who are absent for 15% of school time – at least a whole month of education - then the total is 433,129. And the number of children who are absent for 10% of the school year – around 30 sessions – is over a million. A missing million of young people – missing out on school, missing out on learning, missing out on the opportunity to succeed." 


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