Gove said that the predominant theme in conversations he has had with primary school teachers is the difficulty of dealing with children who arrive in reception class ‘totally unprepared to learn’, with teachers reporting of children that ‘many cannot sit and listen…many can scarcely communicate orally, let alone frame a question. Many cannot use a knife and fork. Many cannot even go to the lavatory properly.’
‘If children arrive in school unable to sit, listen and learn and then disrupt the learning of others, then lives begin already blighted,’ he added.
Although the scope of early intervention would be extended, Gove said that ‘the number of families where we need to intervene is small. I do not support an extension of the state’s reach into the lives of every parent.’ But, he added, ‘Children should not be brought up in conditions of squalor, should not have to endure abuse, should not have to witness domestic violence, should not be left to vegetate in front of the television while alcoholic or drug-addicted parents ignore their needs.’
Calling the level of illiteracy in England ‘shocking’, Gove again praised the use of systematic synthetic phonics to help ‘almost any child save the most severely disabled to read English’.
He confirmed that there would be a new reading check for every child after two years at primary school ‘to ensure they are decoding fluently’. He slammed the claims of critics of the phonics test that the additional check would be unfair, generate more work and narrow the purpose of education as ‘nonsense’.
‘What really narrows the purpose of education is a failure to give children the key to understanding the full richness of human achievement, instead of leaving them frustrated, disruptive and branded too difficult to teach.’
Gove also spoke of Government moves to improve discipline in schools, saying that ‘the rules of the game have changed’. ‘We have overhauled the rules on physical contact to make clear that school should not have a no-touch policy and it is right to intervene physically to maintain order – or indeed to comfort a child in distress.’
Such moves would help in the drive to recruit more male teachers, especially in primary schools, Gove claimed. He confirmed the launch of the ‘troops to teachers’ programme later this autumn, adding that ‘the right sort of military training can have a fantastically beneficial impact on young people with a history of poor behaviour.'