Michael Gove has rejected suggestions the government is letting down poorer students, saying it is "unacceptable we should write children off at any age."
The education secretary denied that through focusing on borderline students he was neglecting the poorest. "Show me these children [who cannot get 5 GCSEs A* to C]."
Gove has received criticism his ministry is not doing enough for disadvantaged students, particularly in the wake of the school league tables published on Thursday, which showed a mere third (33.9%) of teenagers from disadvantaged homes gained at least five Cs in their GCSEs last summer, compared to 58.2% of all pupils attending state schools.
In an appearance in front of the education select committee on Tuesday, he acknowledged "we don't have a magic wand" to tackle underperformance.
Gove added previous policy had "acquiesed in failure and we have let down children".
"It is unacceptable we should write children off at any age and say they cannot get a C-pass in English or Maths." He continued to say the UK was "almost uniquely scarred by the fact that children from poorer backgrounds do less well."
He told MPs that the government's English baccalaureate could help poorer children: "The assumption that disadvantaged children won't do well... Is basically saying 'you're poor, don't think you can aspire to do well in these areas. Know your place.'"
Gove's appearance before MPs came after the government announced plans to strip back the number of vocational qualifications in so-called 'soft' subjects that would count towards schools GCSE performances.
"I think it will add value to vocational education," Gove said. ""It will add value overall. No one is served if you encourage students to take subjects which do not further advance them. There were changes made to performance tables in 2004 which led to a massive increase to the number of subjects being pursued. That was wrong and a misalignment of resources. Nothing is more likely to harm vocational education than pupils taking a course and then realising that course doesn’t provide them with the qualifications they need."
Gove clashed with committee member Pat Glass over a school in her constituency in North Durham, and said an ongoing battle he is having with a school in Haringey, North London, which claims Gove is trying to force the primary to convert to academy status was a "trot" campaign.
The education secretary labelled the campaign in Haringey was as "anti-academy", "socialist workers' party backed" and led by the "enemies of promise," adding: "I think it's a great pity the Labour party hasn't spoken out against the trot campaign."
Gove also admitted that the government did not have any evidence on the success of the pupil premium yet, telling the committee:
We have put in a significant sum of public money. It has been welcomed by the majority of head teachers, and there are new accountability measures that show how it is performing in every school. We haven’t had enough time yet because it has only just started arriving in schools. There are many things that head teachers draw to my attention. It is not possible to have a debate without taking into the account the devastating economic inheritance left by the last government.
Education select committee chair Graham Stuart said 5,000 people tweeted questions for the committee to ask education secretary Michael Gove, in a sign of "huge public engagement."
The second part of the session was led by the inquiries sent in via twitter, with Gove answering quick-fire questions submitted by the public, where he answered if he could be any Bond villain he would be Hugo Drax, and it was time to think about "longer school days" and "longer school terms".
He also said there was "possibly" a need to create consultant teachers, in the same way there are consultant doctors, and the "racous and rambunctious" atmosphere in the House of Commons was a good thing: "I think sometimes we try to emulsify public discourse instead of saying it's a good thing when ideas clash."
Pressed repeatedly on his alleged use of private emails Gove said he was waiting for "updated guidance" and stressed he had always acted within the law and advice of officials.