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'Why Michael Gove's remarks about east Durham schools made me see red'
WHEN sixteen-year-old Paul Willis saw Michael Gove's comments about east Durham schools reported in The Northern Echo, he saw red.
The student, who has his sights on qualifying as a doctor, sat down and penned a long and heart-felt response to the Education Secretary's assertion that east Durham was a "prime example" of schools being "dogged by a problem of ambition in certain traditional communities".
In his letter Paul, who is planning to take a dozen GCSEs at St Bede's Catholic Comprehensive School in Peterlee, said he found Mr Gove's comments "abhorrent" and an insult to teachers, students and parents in the area.
Paul, from Wheatley Hill, County Durham, plans to hand the letter in to Government officials when he visits the Houses of Parliament on a school trip in May.
His comments echo criticism made by Julie Craggs, head teacher of Acre Rigg Academy, a junior school in Peterlee, who condemned Mr Gove's "sweeping generalisation" about East Durham schools.
She said her school had worked "really hard" to raise standards and aspirations, and revealed that her year six pupils will also be writing to Mr Gove about his comments.
The Education Secretary, who claimed he could "smell the sense of defeatism" in some North-East schools, stressed that his target was not local parents.
But when the Conservative minister was challenged by North-East Labour MPs to show what evidence he has for his remarks it was discovered that they were based on comments made ten years ago by a teacher at a now closed comprehensive school in Sunderland to the former Labour Education Secretary Lord Adonis.
The teacher had told Lord Adonis that his pupils "might as well walk into the sea" because they would not get a job, now that the pits and shipyards had closed.
Paul told The Northern Echo: "It is really unfair of Mr Gove. He hasn't asked students for their views and his comments do not reflect well on a hard-working school."
Paul, who particularly likes English, biology, history and French, added: "I would appreciate an apology from Mr Gove and I think he should come to our school and see what is really happening in east Durham."
In 2011 his school, St Bede's was described by Ofsted inspectors as "a good school which has improved rapidly since its last inspection".
So far Mr Gove has stuck by his comments.
A source close to him said: "Last year just 80 pupils in east Durham out of more than 1,000 got good grades in the subjects valued by universities and employers.
"Durham County Council have themselves identified educational failure in East Durham. This failure puts a cap on young people's aspirations and just isn't good enough.
"The Education Secretary stands by his comments and is determined to do better for the children of East Durham."
Read Paul Willis' letter to Michael Gove