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
Icy first thing and windy, with wintry showers lingering further south, especially at the coast. Brighter elsehwere
Emma brings you Saturday's forecast
Longest spell of winter so far. Bitterly cold with further wintry showers