Teachers are guilty of “soft bigotry” by giving children from ethnic minorities lower marks than white pupils, according to Michael Gove.
The Education Secretary will argue that externally-marked exams are “fairer” than coursework because pupils are not blighted by the “low expectations” of teachers who know them.
He will mount a staunch defence of the role of “proper tests”, which are set and marked externally, and the results of which are recorded in league tables ranking schools in order of their achievements.
Mr Gove’s speech follows a report from the examinations regulator, Ofqual, which found that teachers, under pressure to achieve targets, were too generous in marking GCSE English papers.
In a speech to the Independent Academies Association, Mr Gove will dismiss claims from unions that pressure to achieve exam grades stifles creativity and undermines the chances of the most deprived pupils.
Evidence showed that teachers had “under-marked” children from ethnic minority backgrounds in assessments of their own pupils’ work, while white pupils were “more generously” graded, he said.
“External tests are fairer,” he will say. “With external testing there is no opportunity for such bias—the soft bigotry of low expectations—and tests show ethnic minority students performing better.
“So external tests are not only a way of levelling the playing field for children of all backgrounds they are a solvent of prejudice.”
Success in exams also gives pupils a sense of achievement and “happiness” that motivates them to work harder and achieve more in the future, he will say.
Mr Gove will argue that memorising facts, times-tables and lines of poetry is the “precise opposite” of “dull” and is an essential “precondition” for genuine creativity and understanding.
“Only when facts and concepts are committed securely to the working memory—so that it is no effort to recall them and no effort is required to work things out from first principles—do we really have a secure hold on knowledge,” he will say.
The government has announced plans to scrap GCSEs due to concerns of grade inflation and the “dumbing down” of the exams. Plans to reform A-levels are also being considered.
Under the current system, schools are ranked in league tables on how many of their pupils score at least five C grades in GCSE subjects including English and maths.
Teachers’ unions have complained that pressure to perform in tables and to meet government targets is narrowing the curriculum and denying children a rounded education.
However, Mr Gove praised “the clarifying honesty” of league tables.
He insisted that ranking schools on their results meant that those in deprived areas were no longer unfairly “written off” while schools in more affluent neighbourhoods could not get away with “coasting”.
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, will warn that schools in seaside towns and parts of the north are failing their “white working class” communities.
In a speech, he will suggest that the decline of domestic tourism due to the increasing availability of cheap overseas flights has damaged coastal towns, while schools in “isolated” areas struggle to recruit teachers.
He will identify an “arc of underachievement” running through “many of our seaside towns and coastal cities”.
“There are too many schools which are not allowing pupils to make the most of their potential. Many schools in these communities are below the national average for GCSE results,” he will say.
“In many areas, it is white working class children who are being held back.” He will propose that successful schools should be encouraged to collaborate with weaker neighbours in the same region.