Interview: A glance at a Tory future - Michael Gove, shadow secretary for children, schools and families

Sarah Cooper
Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sitting in the foyer of Blackpool's Hilton Hotel, the shadow secretary for children, schools and families, Michael Gove is full of enthusiasm for the plans the Conservative Party has for young people.

Even though he has to squeeze CYP Now into a short gap between two fringe events he is still keen to discuss the importance of children's education.

"The most important thing to ensure is that schools equip children and young people with the skills they need to write their own life stories, to have the job they want to live in modern Britain," he says

Gove knows if a general election is announced and the Conservatives come into power, his department would have a strong focus on schools. "The Department for Children, Schools and Families has a huge area to focus on. The principal focus has to be on schools because that's the area the government must have the direct responsibility for."

Preoccupied by the prospect of a snap election at last week's conference, the party announced a number of key policies when it comes to children and young people, including the launch of the Comprehensively Excellent campaign.

"We have an idea of the 50 best comprehensives in Britain, also an idea of 20 of the best community schools and 20 of the best state schools when it comes to the value they add. We have identified that there are common traits," Gove says.

He adds there is no one element that defines a good school, but that they all equip young people well in how to deal with life. "There's a tremendous co-ordination between schools that are good at exams and ones that turn out good people. The reason people want their children to get good exam results is because it's the key that unlocks so many doors."

Gove believes the campaign will provide the opportunity to celebrate some of the good work carried out by state schools and give them the chance to share their good practice. Pioneer schools are another idea.

"If people want to set up schools they should be given freedom. We want to make it as easy as possible. It's fantastic, there's more choice for parents over their children's futures."

But at a fringe event he attended one delegate did point out concerns about faith schools and their possible links with extremism. "There's particular challenges when it comes to some new schools from ethnic minority faith groups in ensuring that community cohesion is achieved," he says. "The best thing to do is to bring them into the state sector and give Ofsted the power to check up on standards."

Moving away from education, Gove discusses plans to change the regulations surrounding the organisation of sporting and outdoor events for young people. "We're going to increase the threshold so if someone shows reckless disregard they can be sued," he says.

But when pressed on what they will do when an accident happens, he says: "There are accidents everywhere in life. The only way we can get people to cope with dangers thrown at them is to let them learn from risk. If you have organised trips with teachers then children are able to enjoy risk."

Looking ahead, Gove recognises the scale of the challenge: there is still lots to be done: "Over the next five years we need to recognise that we're living in an educated, competitive world more challenging than at any other time over the last 100 years. We need real concentration on maths and science and raising the standards nationally in those areas. We need to concentrate on dealing with the way poorer children fall back in school for a variety of reasons."

He also wants to see teachers who really love their subject communicating their enthusiasm for what they teach in the classroom. "That's the most important thing," he says.

BACKGROUND: MICHAEL GOVE

- Michael Gove was previously a journalist, working for local and national newspapers, radio and television

- He was elected a member of Parliament in May 2005, was appointed shadow minister for housing in December 2005 and given the role of shadow secretary for children, schools and families in June 2007

- Gove is also chairman of Policy Exchange, a centre-right think tank.

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