Since then his advances have been impressive. What was at the time of the election supposed to be his flagship policy — free schools — has subsequently been rather eclipsed by a plethora of other initiatives. Free schools are new institutions opened by parents or teachers, free of local education authority control. Best known is the writer Toby Young's free school in Hammersmith, offering a classical education; it is nine times oversubscribed. There are 23 others up and running and more are on the way, including one in Wandsworth under Gove's protégé (and Standpoint columnist) Katharine Birbalsingh; but although they are very worthwhile the expansion of academies is much the bigger deal.
The academy programme, begun under New Labour, removes schools from local authority control and gives heads much greater autonomy. Breaking the grip of local authorities has long been one of the aims of reformers who want to dismantle the post-1960s consensus of the education establishment by liberating schools from that mindset and creating an explosion in the diversity of supply. The government thinks that it is on target for more than 70 per cent of the country's 3,100 secondary schools to have academy status by 2015. This policy looks like a reform that will be irreversible by the time of the next election.
The academies run by the charity ARK produced an extraordinary set of results in January. Take Walworth Academy in South London: in 2009 only 45 per cent of pupils achieved five GSCEs at Grade A to C. By last year it was 69 per cent.
The launch of the English Baccalaureate — which was derided by the Left on its launch — is also having an impact, say Gove's advisers. It is designed to ensure children take a solid clutch of at least five traditional subjects at GCSE: English, maths, a foreign language, history or geography, and a science. This is forcing schools to shift resources towards proper academic subjects and away from less rigorous fields of study to ensure their pupils attain the new award.
The education secretary has also appointed the inspirational inner-city headmaster Sir Michael Wilshaw to run the schools inspectorate Ofsted, where he has set about redefining the rules of engagement. Too many schools labelled "outstanding" are not, he says. And the designation "satisfactory" has been given to many institutions that, sadly, are anything but. For the first time since Chris Woodhead in the 1990s, we have a chief inspector who is putting the fear of God into the education establishment.
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