Reporting by David Harrison
Michael Gove claimed today that the Conservatives were now “the real party of social justice” driven by a “moral purpose”.
The education secretary added that his party's ambition was to "eradicate" innumeracy and illiteracy in England, just as the country's "forefathers" had to "eradicate polio and TB".
In a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce’s annual conference in London, Mr Gove hailed his Cabinet colleague chancellor George Osborne for his performance in the economy, adding that it was being mirrored in his changes to education.
“The economic plans we’re implementing mean the Conservatives are now the real party of labour. And the education reforms we're making mean we're also the real party of social justice," he said.
And he added: “We’re implementing a long-term plan for schools - rooted in evidence - driven by moral purpose. We want every child to have a chance to flourish,” he added.
Mr Gove said the coalition had inherited one of the developed world’s “most stratified and segregated” education systems, with thousands of children, mostly from poorer backgrounds, receiving an inadequate education.
In order to change the fortunes of Britain's poorest, the Conservative MP added, it was necessary to eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy “in the same way as developing nations know they need to secure clean drinking water and eliminate malaria if their children are to flourish.
“And in the same way as our forefathers more than a hundred years ago knew they had to eradicate polio and TB if children were to flourish.”
His policies to achieve that ambition included checking every child at the end of Year 1 “to make sure they are decoding words fluently – helping teachers to make sure pupils are making progress in reading and to identify any child who might need extra help”.
Teachers would also be expected to assess pupils at the end of Key Stage 1 to ensure they are making appropriate progress in literacy and numeracy, Mr Gove added.
The comments are likely to provoke disbelief from teachers' leaders, not least the NUT, which staged a national strike last week over the reforms being introduced by the Department for Education.
Labour's shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Ashworth rubbished the claims, stating is was just another attempt by the Conservatives to rebrand themselves.
"After complaining about the 'preposterous' number of Etonians in David Cameron's inner circle, Michael Gove is in no position to claim that the Tories are the party of social justice," Mr Ashworth said.
"This latest attempted rebrand of the Conservative Party is as superficial as David Cameron's husky-hugging."