LABOUR leaders are “outraged” at a Government minister’s “insult” that brands local schools as having low expectations and a lack of ambition.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has sparked anger after he said you can walk into an East Durham school and “smell the sense of defeatism”.
Mr Gove (pictured above) said a culture of low expectations still exists in some communities – and specifically named the former mining district of East Durham as one of them.
He blamed the long-established ruling Labour Party for contributing towards there being “no choice” in aspirations.
But Labour leaders have hit back, saying the area’s schools are high achievers and that millions of pounds have been invested in education, despite the Coalition government withdrawing the Building Schools for the Future scheme.
Mr Gove, speaking at the Central London launch of a book on school under-achievement, said: “There is a real problem of ambition in certain traditional communities, like East Durham, which needs to change.”
He said parents from working class homes want their children to have the chance to go to university.
But he added: “It is the case that there’s no choice, the local council has been one party for many years and when you go into those schools you can smell the sense of defeatism.”
But Easington MP Grahame Morris and his Sedgefield counterpart Phil Wilson, both East Durham lads and Labour representatives, say they are “absolutely outraged” by Mr Gove’s controversial comments.
Mr Morris said: “Michael Gove’s comments are outrageous and an insult to every parent, teacher and child in East Durham who are striving to improve standards and grades.
“The only culture of low expectation that exists is within this Government.
“He has never been to a school in East Durham and all he can smell is his own prejudice against children from working class families.”
Mr Morris said there has been “immense improvements” since 1997 in the number of pupils achieving five A*-C grades in schools across East Durham, with schools such as Easington Academy, having a 99 per cent pass rate of students achieving five or more A*-C grade, and 68 per cent of students achieving five or more A*-C grades including English and maths.
Mr Morris said it was Mr Gove’s Government that had shelved planned improvements at Seaham College of Technology, also in his constituency.
Mr Wilson, who raised the issue in the House of Commons yesterday, said: “There is plenty of aspiration and ambition in this area, but we have always had to fight high levels of unemployment over the years and the schools in this area are going from strength to strength thanks to 13 years of investment by the Labour government.”
He said he was going to write to Mr Gove asking him to explain his remarks and urged him to apologise.
“If he believes in aspiration and he wants people to get on, the last thing they need is someone talking down their skills,” added Mr Wilson.
Mr Gove added that there needs to be “a challenge back to some communities and leaders in those communities to say what are they doing to challenge under-performance”.
But Claire Vasey, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “To say that these kids have got low aspirations as a result of the Labour council is horrendous.
“Just remember it was the Labour Government which invested £500m in new facilities and extended the post-16 offering in County Durham.
“It’s absolutely disgusting.
“Our standards have gone up year on year, faster than any other local authority, not only in this area, but throughout the country.”
She added that the council had put £2m aside to specifically invest in school improvements.
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