By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
In the House earlier today, Michael Gove defended himself from Labour attacks against his plan to scrap GCSEs and return to the O-Level system.
As Labour MPs criticised the Secretary of State for Education for wanting to return to "1950s qualifications", and mocked him for "ditching his Thatcherite credentials" (GCSEs were introduced by Keith Joseph in the mid-1980s)*, Mr Gove calmly set out the need for Britain to have "world-class qualifications" if we are to satisfy the concerns of parents – and compete economically with other world powers:
"We want a curriculum which prepares all children for success, at 16 and beyond, by broadening what is taught in our schools and improving how it is assessed … A state school system in which every child is challenged to do much better, where there are no excuses for failure, where every child is introduced to the best… and given every opportunity to achieve their utmost."
A dramatic improvement in schools is necessary, Mr Gove argued because…
"The sad truth is that if we look at the objective measure of how we did over the last 10 or 15 years, in reading our score in international league tables fell from 523 to 494; in maths from 529 to 492; and in science from 528 to 514. Every objective academic study of what has happened in our education system has drawn attention to the weakness of our qualifications."
Mr Gove also directly answered his Labour critics:
"What we want to do is not to look backwards, but outwards. We want to ask ourselves why is it that there are other countries that have stronger exam systems and that also make opportunity more equal. Why is it the case that in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, in Canada, Australia and New Zealand that they both manage to have a higher level of absolute attainment and a more equal society and a more equal education system. That is what we want to achieve."
Mr Gove concluded:
"These are inevitably challenging ambitions which will require careful implementation. That is why we wish the conversation about how we raise standards to be broad and inclusive."
* Labour MP David Wright (Telford) called GCSEs a "progressive, Thatcherite policy" – presumably he will get a ticking off from Labour HQ for suggesting Thatcherism could be "progressive".