The new education secretary has pledged to “reinvigorate” the schools “revolution” started by Michael Gove, as he vowed to intervene “firmly” in underperforming schools to “push” them into academy trusts.
Kit Malthouse told a Centre for Policy Studies fringe event at the Conservative Party conference that the Covid-19 pandemic had “stalled” the movement started when the party came to power in 2010, and said he had told his team to “put some more momentum behind us”.
The future of flagship schools reforms put forward under Boris Johnson remains uncertain amid a review of policies by new prime minister Liz Truss.
The passage of the schools bill, which was supposed to help deliver a target of all schools being in or in the process of joining a multi-academy trust by 2030, has been delayed.
But Malthouse’s emphasis on using academy trusts to improve schools in one of his first speeches in the role suggests the government will pursue the same aims, even if the proposed method is changed.
The education secretary, an ally of both Johnson and Truss who previously served as policing and housing minister and a deputy mayor of London, also made light of recent churn in the education secretary role.
When he was appointed, Malthouse was the fifth person to hold the role in just a year.
He said he was “thrilled to get the job” in “by far and away the most important department in Whitehall”.
“And so my job, I think, over the next…few weeks, given I’m the fifth in a year, hopefully longer, is to reinvigorate that revolution, that mission that was started at the beginning of the Conservative era, back in in 2010.”
Education the Tories’ ‘big success story’
He claimed education had been the “big success story of the last decade or so”.
“The revolution started by Michael Gove and built on by others, Justine Greening, Nicky Morgan, others who followed, has really seen a transformation in our schools. And I think frankly, we don’t talk about it enough. The numbers are extraordinary.”
He pointed to the fact 87 per cent of schools are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, and the fact 82 per cent of six-year-olds meet the “expected standard” in phonics, as well as the country’s standing in the PISA and PIRLS international studies.
“When Michael Gove said all those years ago, that he wanted every child to be the author of their own life story, we’ve delivered that for millions and millions of children over the last decade or so. We shouldn’t be shy about shouting about our success.”
His praise for Gove comes despite a series of interventions from the former cabinet minister, who has become one of the most critical backbench voicesagainst the government’s recent mini-budget.
He also reportedly told another fringe event he was against Truss’s plans to expand selective education.
Pandemic has ‘stalled’ momentum
Malthouse admitted there was “still a hell of a lot more to do, and the pandemic has meant that the mission, the revolution, the movement that was started has stalled.”
He said he had tasked his staff with putting “some more momentum behind us”.
“That means getting into those schools that are not performing hard, really intervening firmly and swiftly, turning them around, pushing them into multi-academy trusts, not being shy to amalgamate trusts, to expand the good ones, backing quality where we can, being honest with the sector about what is needed.”
He added that ministers “don’t have time to muck about”.
“We have to put some energy into this, spread, consolidate, back quality, really give some push to the revolution. And I hope that over the next 18 months, by the time we get to the election, whenever it may be, we are able to really shout proud about what we’ve done on education.”