Speaking at a book launch on school under-achievement, Michael Gove said: “There is a real problem of ambition in certain traditional communities, like East Durham, which needs to change.”
He blamed the long-established ruling Labour Party for contributing towards there being “no choice” in aspirations.
Labour leaders hit back, saying the area’s schools are high achievers and that millions of pounds have been invested in education, despite the Coalition government withdrawing the Building Schools for the Future scheme.
More top news
Police are increasingly concerned for the welfare of Katie Free, a missing York teenager, due to a life threatening medical condition.
Jonás Gutiérrez plays in an Under-21 fixture having returned to training following his battle with testicular cancer.
The six start/finishes for the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire are Bridlington, Leeds, Scarborough, Selby, Wakefield and York.