Universities are guilty of ‘mis-selling hope and opportunity’, the Education Secretary declares today.
Gavin Williamson accuses vice chancellors of promoting degrees lacking in ‘academic rigour’.
Vowing to stamp the practice out, he promises a ‘Singapore-style revolution’ in technical and vocational courses to help the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’.
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Mail, Mr Williamson insists: ‘We will not continue to tolerate poor levels of teaching. Young people are investing money but they are also investing hope and their aspirations and ambitions.
I’m back! Gavin Williams at his old school yesterday. The Education Secretary declares universities are guilty of ‘mis-selling hope and opportunity’
‘It’s children like those who went to school and college with me, they are the ones who are often most vulnerable to being mis-sold courses and mis-sold hope. And there is a number of universities that are just not delivering for them. We can stop it and we will stop it.’
Mr Williamson, who attended a further education college, also:
- Condemns the ‘sharp practice’ of universities making unconditional offers to get students on their rolls;
- Backs teachers who expel unruly pupils, saying one disruptive child can stop another 29 learning;
- Rounds on Labour for putting its ‘warped political ideology’ into children’s education;
- Accuses protesters trying to stop sex education lessons in Birmingham of ‘disgusting’ behaviour;
- Says a £14billion funding boost means schools need not close early on Friday;
- Reveals that he has not spoken to Theresa May since she accused him of leaking secrets.
Mr Williamson was a close ally of the former PM but he was sacked at the start of May after a newspaper reported details of high level discussions about Chinese firm Huawei.
He complained of a ‘kangaroo court’ and being the victim of a vendetta. After taking a senior role in Boris Johnson’s successful leadership campaign he made a sensational return to Cabinet.
Setting out his approach to his new job, Mr Williamson says he wants to challenge poverty of aspiration.
‘The most important thing is giving people the confidence and belief in themselves,’ he says. ‘Sometimes in the state sector we don’t believe enough in ourselves. We shouldn’t forget that talent and ability is evenly spread but opportunity isn’t and it’s giving people that boost to say ‘you can do it’.
THE LIFE OF GAVIN
Political hero: Rab Butler
Favourite film: The Italian Job (original)
Favourite book: All Quiet on the Western Front
Favourite quote: ‘With self-discipline, almost anything is possible.’ Theodore Roosevelt
Favourite TV show: Friends
Worst habit: Bluntness
Holiday destination: Scarborough, of course
Most treasured possession: Tabitha (the family cat)
Favourite cricketer: Fred Truman
‘Some people don’t believe in children from some of those more deprived backgrounds, not going that extra mile to make sure those extra opportunities are created.’
Mr Williamson says children from less privileged backgrounds are the most likely to take degrees that lack intellectual rigour.
He has asked a watchdog, the Office for Students, to crack down on bad-value courses. The worst offending universities could be fined, or even deregistered.
He says the use of unconditional offers, which grant places regardless of grades, is a ‘very commercial approach’ designed to drive up student numbers.
Mr Williamson wants to focus on the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ of children who attend further education colleges with increased funding and the launch of new T-level qualifications next year.
He also hopes to change attitudes to technical courses and apprenticeships.
‘I want to create a whole set of new opportunities and that isn’t always going to be through a university,’ he says. ‘As often as not that is going to be through a further education college. Rather tragically the whole emphasis has been on universities, there has been an obsession with university education, and not really putting that true value on technical and vocational education.
‘Sometimes it is far, far cleverer to go down this route – earning and learning – than going to Oxford and Cambridge.’
He wants to use the projected extra £14billion in education spending to help left-behind areas around the country.
Pointing to his family’s home town, he says: ‘Scarborough is not a well-off place. It has the lowest average income of any town in Great Britain and in the past it’s had historically some of the very lowest funded schools.’
Mr Williamson went to East Ayton primary in the town and the Mail joined him there yesterday for his return to the school.
Mr Williamson (pictured aged aged seven) went to East Ayton primary in the town and the Mail joined him there yesterday for his return to the school
Seen as ‘not very academic’ he did his A-levels at the town’s further education college before studying social science at Bradford University.
On behaviour in schools, Mr Williamson says: ‘If you do not have discipline in the classroom you do not have the ability to teach. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with heads and teachers who have every power to expel and suspend pupils if that is what is needed.’
On his sacking, he admits: ‘It’s fair to say I’ve had a bit of a rough year.’ But he says he has no regrets about what happened at the Ministry of Defence.
Seen as ‘not very academic’ Mr Williamson (pictured aged 17) did his A-levels at the town’s further education college before studying social science at Bradford University
He says he became a Tory to defy his parents: ‘Believe me there is nothing that can upset a Labour family more than one of their children becoming a Tory. There is no greater teenage rebellion.’
As for his reputation among some MPs as Machiavellian, he says: ‘I don’t think that’s a fair representation. I’m a fighter. I fight for what I believe in.
‘I fight for people who need someone to fight on their behalf. And I will always do that.
‘So often in this country – you see it time and again – there are people who are vulnerable, who feel they have been left behind.
‘I will always be the person who is that voice for them.’