Don’t be fooled by Education Secretary Michael Gove’s academic demeanour. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, as demonstrated in his interview with our correspondent.
Mr Gove believes that youth unemployment in Birmingham is partly a reflection of the failure of city schools.
It’s an opinion that’s likely to spark some controversy, and with good cause.
There’s no doubt that Birmingham suffers from a low skills base, which is damaging to the economy.
Too many people leave the education system with no qualifications at all.
And it comes as no surprise that local authority and business leaders have made measures to improve skills a key part of the “city deal”, which has been presented to Ministers.
The deal sets out the powers that Birmingham City Council and its partners want Whitehall to relinquish, and the ability to take responsibility for skills and training is top of the list.
A poor skills base is bad for business and bad for the economy. It undoubtedly contributes to unemployment. And city schools are partly responsible for ensuring residents have the skills they and employers need.
But Mr Gove’s assertion that Birmingham schools are not good enough is simplistic and misleading.
The fact is that the city’s exam results are better than those in other comparable cities.
Amazing success stories come out of Birmingham schools, including some in extremely deprived areas which are succeeding in raising aspiration and attainment for children growing up with few advantages in life.
The city’s grammar schools play an important role in raising standards. And yes, they do serve pupils from all walks of life, not just the middle classes as critics might claim – although providing Birmingham’s middle class children with an excellent education is an achievement worth celebrating too.
Birmingham is also lucky to have world-class independent schools. They are ready to work with the government to share the advantages they offer with many more pupils, given half a chance, as we have also reported.
Mr Gove would no doubt argue that he is aware of the achievements of many Birmingham schools, but that these should not be used as excuses for those schools which are letting down pupils.
However, there is a suspicion that Birmingham’s schools are being used as political footballs by politicians seeking to make a point. First, it was Labour peer Lord Adonis, who used apparent failings in the city’s education system to back up his call for reform of the city council. Now, Mr Gove is criticising city schools to highlight the virtues of the Government’s reforms to the education system.
Where he is not wrong is in insisting that schools which fail must accept change – for the sake of their pupils.