The Schools White Paper 2010
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
THE SCHOOLS WHITE PAPER 2010
TUESDAY 14 DECEMBER 2010
MICHAEL GOVE MP and DAVID BELL
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Education Committee
on Tuesday 14 December 2010
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, and David Bell, Permanent Secretary, Department for Education, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: We move on to the White paper, which I welcome with its emphasis on the importance of teaching, not only in its title, but in its content. First, as the quality of teaching is so critical to education outcomes in this country, what is your analysis of why the quality of graduates entering the teaching profession in recent years has risen?
Michael Gove: In two words, Andrew Adonis, who recognised before any other Minister that, exactly as you say, and as the Select Committee argued, the quality of teaching is important. Andrew, in particular, thought that you needed to increase the proportion of graduates from top universities who were coming into teaching. He set out enthusiastically to support Teach First, which, as a charity, has changed the perception of teaching among many graduates from our top universities. I can’t remember the exact stats or the exact year, but the number of people from Oxbridge and Russell group universities who were entering teaching was tiny before the advent of Teach First. Teach First became an elite route into teaching, and people now compete to get on the course and to become teachers in some of our most challenging state schools. That has had a beneficial halo effect on teaching overall.
Q2 Chair: Despite the low numbers, you think Teach First really has had a system-wide effect.
Michael Gove: It has had a halo effect. There are people who recognise that this is an elite route into teaching. Although they think that they might not be able to get on to Teach First, they have been turned on to teaching.
There are other things that Andrew did. In particular, I think he had an influence on Tony Blair when it came to some of the advertising that attempted to draw people into teaching. I don’t want to get drawn into too many of the initiatives that he and others introduced, but things like the knighthoods conferred on outstanding head teachers like Michael Wilshaw and Kevin Satchwell reinforced how important they were. Things like the teaching awards, which David Puttnam and David Blunkett helped establish, were also influential.
Q3 Chair: They are now being cut, are they not?
Michael Gove: No, we’re in negotiation with the teaching awards. If you want me to say a little more about that, I can.
Q4 Chair: No, if you’re in negotiation, and they’re not being cut back definitively, that’ll do for now. Do you have a measure of the quality of graduates? We talk about certain systems in the world getting their teaching from the top deciles. Do we have agreed measures of what these deciles are? If so, is it possible for you to publish an annual score on that year’s entrants into the profession so that we can monitor over time whether you are successful in promoting teaching and attracting graduates to it in the way Andrew Adonis did?
Michael Gove: Yes, we’ve got quite a lot of data on people who are entering teaching. I’ll happily discuss with the Committee, and have the Department discuss with the Committee, what the best and most effective way of publishing information would be so that I can be held to account.
Chair: Thank you very much.
Chair: If we can have short questions and answers for this session, that would be tremendous.
Q5 Pat Glass: There are lots of international comparators in the White Paper, and a number of places stand out. You talk a lot about Singapore, South Korea, Finland, Alberta and Hong Kong, but there are not many comparisons with countries that we would see as closer in terms of education, like France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Ireland. Do you think these comparators are fair? There is a particular focus on Finland, but there were 600 vacancies for teaching there last year, with 6,000 applications. It will be hard not to get the top 10% there. Should we not have had better comparisons with similar countries with similar education systems?
Michael Gove: I think we’ve got to compare ourselves against the world’s best. In fact, the PISA figures for 2000 showed that, at that point, we were doing relatively well in comparison with some of these countries. Some of them were education back-markers five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago, but they have dramatically improved their performance. I have to say that one of the biggest influences on me as I’ve been thinking about education policy has been the work of those people who have been making international comparisons and who have drawn lessons. Folk like Michael Barber have shown us that countries like Poland can turn around their education systems by making radical reforms. Places very similar to us, like Ontario, by having the right sorts of reforms, can really drive up attainment. I have been to Singapore and Hong Kong, and what is striking is that many of the lessons that apply there are lessons that we can apply here.
The point about some of the European countries is that they now are looking to find out what they can adapt from the highest-performing countries in education. In Germany, when the last set of PISA results came out and showed that it was falling behind, there was what they called PISA shock, which was just that sense of the whole education system being convulsed by a recognition that they were not the high performers they imagined they had been. You now find that Education Ministers and Departments are looking abroad. What’s been really interesting and flattering is the way in which Barack Obama’s Education Secretary came over here to find out what we were doing, and was struck by some of the things that we were saying in the White Paper, and said that these are the things they want to implement there. You get cross-fertilisation across the world.
Q6 Pat Glass: I agree that we should always learn from the best, but these are pretty niche markets, aren’t they? We’re not really comparing like with like.
Michael Gove: I think we are. I think one of the striking things about the recent PISA figures is that countries like Canada and New Zealand, which are very similar to us culturally, are forging ahead. The other thing is that I urge the Select Committee to visit Singapore, Hong Kong and China. [Laughter.] I passionately urge you to do so, and you’ll see what we can learn.
Q7 Lisa Nandy: The PISA report makes really interesting reading, but it suggests very strongly that increasing competition between schools doesn’t raise standards, and in fact where it does have a positive impact it has a positive impact for middle class students at the expense of the disadvantaged. So given that you’re so keen on relying on the PISA evidence, will you rethink your free schools policy?
Michael Gove: No, because that is a superficial reading of the evidence.
Q8 Bill Esterson: By who?
Michael Gove: By the people who passed Lisa that assertion.
Q9 Lisa Nandy: Well, it was the PISA report that passed me that evidence, and it is quite striking actually. It states boldly that competition between schools does not increase performance.
Michael Gove: Volume 4 of the PISA evidence looks particularly at the systems that will drive improvement, and I think on page 90 it runs through some of the arguments on competition. It makes the point that if there is a barrier to school choice as a result of people not having enough resources-in other words, if you have a school choice system where you have to buy your way into a school-then for people from poorer homes that is a problem. That issue doesn’t apply here because by definition we do not have any form of even minimal fee for entry to schools.
The report also points out that in some of the highest performing education systems, like Hong Kong and Singapore, there’s a high level of school choice and more than 90% of families exercise choice of one school over another. Finland, which is another high-performing country, is another country that, even though people praise it for its comprehensive state system, does have a high element of school choice. In the Sir John Cass lecture that Andrew Adonis gave just a couple of years ago, he pointed out that more than half of Helsinki parents opt to send their child to a secondary school different from the one the local authority allocated to them; so school choice is operating in Finland to drive up standards.
When Andreas Schleicher, the author of the PISA report, gave a presentation to education journalists and others, he explicitly pointed out that competition could be a very powerful tool in helping to drive up school standards, but there are two very important things that you need to bear in mind if competition is to work. The first is that you need autonomy at school level. There’s no point having competition if the school principal or head teacher can’t actually influence what happens in their own environment. The second thing that you need is reliable data about how schools perform.
Let me take an issue head on. Some people have said, "Look, you’re very fond of Sweden, but Sweden doesn’t seem to be doing as well in PISA as it used to do." It’s still doing better than England in some respects. The truth about Sweden-Andreas Schleicher made this explicit-is that you need not only autonomy, but reliable data as well. One of the problems that they have in Sweden is that they have not had enough externally set and marked tests and they have not had a rigorous enough inspection system. There has been autonomy without proper accountability. Even within the Swedish system, the schools that have been outperforming the rest have been those free schools where there is a great degree of autonomy and where they have competed. The evidence from a range of academic studies shows that there has been no increased segregation as a result of the establishment of these schools, but that they have raised attainment.
Q10 Lisa Nandy: Just to be clear, you do not accept that there is a risk that disadvantaged students will lose out under this system, as PISA suggests.
Michael Gove: Explicitly, what PISA points out is that disadvantaged parents in countries where you have to pay to exercise school choice are more reluctant to exercise choice than wealthier parents. Wealthier parents, when asked how they rate the importance of various things, put quality of education ahead of cost of education, because as a proportion of their marginal income it matters less. That is a precise point.
As for poorer children losing out, the evidence that I have seen from the increased degree of autonomy and choice in places such as Singapore and in chartered schools in America shows that they have been able to address these problems. One of the striking things about visiting Singapore is that it inherited a situation where Malay children did much worse than Indian children, who did slightly worse than Chinese children, but all those have converged over time. Part of the reason for that is that Singapore has a strong school choice system.
Q11 Neil Carmichael: Michael, thinking of past points on the interesting jobs in Finland-you said that there were 6,000 applicants for 600 jobs-what do you think are the main drivers that encourage people to want to be teachers in Finland?
Michael Gove: It is simply the most prestigious thing that you can do. There is a strong social consensus in Finland that education matters. Therefore, teachers enjoy a very high level of prestige. Of course, if you confer prestige on a job and ensure that there is a basically decent salary, people are drawn towards it. One of the prime reasons why people pursue a job is not only the material reward-although that is important-but how they are seen by others. In Finland, to be a teacher is to be seen to be a success. They occupy a very privileged place in the life of the nation. They are the guardians of the intellectual life of the country.
I mentioned Teach First earlier. It succeeds because it sends out a signal that it will not accept just anyone. You have to have a very good degree and then-just because you’re smart does not mean that you will get on it-you have to show that you have the emotional intelligence and the character to be a good teacher. Because it is a highly competitive entry process, lots of people apply. It is the same thing with fast-track entry to the civil service-because they do not accept just anyone to become an administrative or executive-level entrant to the civil service, there is competition for those places. The civil service can afford to say, "Okay, we will take these high fliers. Thank you very much for your kind offer, but we shan’t take you." The initially perverse truth is that the harder you make it to get into a job, the more people will want to do it, because if you make it, people know that you are special. That is what they have done in Finland.
Q12 Neil Carmichael: Do you think that Teach First is the key, or do you think more needs to be done to increase that sense of prestige?
Michael Gove: More needs to be done.
Q13 Neil Carmichael: What?
Michael Gove: As well as raising the bar on entry into the profession, there are a number of things that we can do to reaffirm the fact that teachers, lecturers and academics are all part of a group of education professionals who are responsible for the most important thing in our country, which is safeguarding its intellectual life. Therefore, we should encourage teachers to spend time deepening their subject knowledge and, if they want to, acquiring masters qualifications. Certainly, they should be encouraged to attend things such as the Prince’s Teaching Institute summer schools or to develop professionally. The teaching unions can help us to do that. I have been struck by the fact that people like Mary Bousted at the ATL have been very keen to do it.
The other thing that we can do is to make teachers feel safe in the classroom. One of the reasons why many people who would otherwise think of going into teaching-who are academically gifted and enjoy being with young people-resist going into it is the feeling that they will not be safe. There was a striking article in The Mail on Sunday at the weekend by a modern languages teacher who ran through many of the problems with behaviour that lead teachers to question whether or not they want to continue. That is one of the reasons why we are seeking in the White Paper to tackle some of the obstacles that prevent people going in.
Q14 Neil Carmichael: In an answer to an earlier question, you talked about the autonomy of schools. Obviously, implicit in that is the role of head teachers. We would have to accept that one or two teachers are not up to standard through poor degrees, poor outcomes and so forth. We have admitted that. How far do you think head teachers should be able to go in deciding who does the teaching and where?
Michael Gove: I’d like to see heads exercise progressively greater autonomy over this. It is important that we concentrate on those people who are doing their jobs well. It is important that we accentuate the positive and that when looking at everything in education, we try as much as possible, particularly at an individual school level, to take the glass half-full view. That is why we have tried to make it easier for Ofsted and others to celebrate great practice. There will be some teachers who are not performing as well as they should. In the White Paper, we have said several things about that. The first is that we want more observation by heads and others of teachers, so that those teachers who are weaker can observe good teachers, and learn from them and, in turn, be observed and receive advice on how they can improve. I actually think that, for many teachers who are going through difficult periods and who are underperforming, we can get them back on track through the right, focused intervention. I have been very struck by the fact that some of the most successful head teachers who have been helping in the weaker schools have done just that.
Let us take a head teacher like Sue John at Lambton whom the Permanent Secretary was kind enough to point me towards. Through the London Challenge, she was helping weaker schools. It has often been the case that she and her team identified poorer performers and put in place the intervention to get those people teaching in a great way. George Berwick and other great head teachers in London have done the same. Certain people will have gone into teaching, sometimes with high ideals, but are not in the right job and, in those circumstances, we need to support head teachers to help those individuals move into another area.
Q15 Chair: What will that look like? How will that change? At the moment, it is going to take years. Unless there is enormous willpower on the part of both governors and head, it is easier to leave someone be.
Michael Gove: We’re working with heads and with lawyers to simplify the process. There is a balance to be struck. The first thing is to make sure that people are supported to improve what they are doing. The second thing is to make sure that people’s employment rights are properly protected, but ultimately the most important thing is to ensure that children have the best possible teachers in the class. That means that some people in the profession do need to be moved on.
Q16 Chair: The previous Secretary of State would have said exactly the same. Why should we believe that you will be any more successful in creating a streamline system that is quicker and still fair to the profession?
Michael Gove: You would be absolutely right to be terribly sceptical until we come forward with the changes that we want to make.
Q17 Neil Carmichael: That has answered the question for me. Well done. How do we measure the performance of teachers? It is clearly something that we need to be good at, if we are to start making decisions that are implicit in the answer to the last question.
Michael Gove: The most important measure is how the children progressed in your care. Whatever the level of prior attainment, are they doing better now? Are you succeeding in beating whatever the average was in the level of improvement that you generate for children? That is the most important thing.
Q18 Neil Carmichael: So what sort of incentives do you envisage being at the disposal of a head teacher to encourage teachers to teach better and teach well?
Michael Gove: It is a bit like the conversation we had earlier about local authorities. It is ultimately for heads to decide. If you have someone who is a strong leader, they will know best how to motivate people in their care. Sometimes that will be a bonus arrangement, and sometimes it will be a recognition of other factors that can enhance their enjoyment of the job. I have been struck by the fact that in academies that have been most successful in attracting and retaining great staff and generating real benefits for children, the principals have taken advantage of the greater degree of freedom in unique ways in particular circumstances. By definition, they have done the sorts of things that no Minister could ever have thought of, because they have a better understanding of the individuals. But yes, sometimes, a straightforward bonus payment helps.
Often it is the case that bonuses are better allocated to groups rather than individuals. So if everyone working within, for the sake of the argument, the maths department can raise attainment for all children, then every member of the maths department can get a bonus, rather than saying, "Neil has done better than Tessa, so Neil gets the cash." Ultimately, it is best for each school to decide what the arrangement should be.
Q19 Neil Carmichael: Since you mention maths, that is obviously one area-physics being another-where we need to improve interest in becoming a teacher in. Have you any plans to deal with the immediate shortfall that we have?
Michael Gove: Yes. What I’d like to do is say to teachers with mathematics and science degrees that we will help to pay off any student debts that they have for as long as they are in teaching. Again, we will come forward with some proposals in the new year. We’ve obviously been having a debate recently about student funding. Because the Department for Education supports teacher training through the TDA, it gives us an opportunity to support those people who embrace the sorts of degrees and qualifications that we need in the classroom.
Q20 Neil Carmichael: Do you think a teacher’s first job is to improve academic standards?
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q21 Neil Carmichael: Does that in some way contradict our objective of also encouraging vocational training, or is it the first stage towards vocational training? Is there some sort of signposting system that we are going to introduce in schools?
Michael Gove: The important thing is that we shouldn’t regard someone who decides to pursue a vocational course as someone who has cut themselves off from academic learning too early. There is a debate about what stage that should be. Following on from Pat’s point, if you look at continental European countries, they expect children to the age of 16 to have a broad base of academic knowledge, whether they are going to do an academic course or vocational study. I think that in order to succeed in vocational study, you should expect children to be able to use their own language fluently, understand basic scientific concepts with confidence and certainly have a level of mathematical knowledge. My own view is that I would like children by the age of 16 also, increasingly, to have mastery of a foreign language and to have acquired that little bit of extra knowledge that comes from studying one of the humanities.
Q22 Neil Carmichael: There’s a serious shortage of engineers and so forth in this country. We have some sectors, for example, auto-electronics, where there is virtually nothing at all. How do we start filling those gaps?
Michael Gove: A number of ways. First, we can change some of the institutional arrangements. We are equalising funding between FE colleges and schools in order to recognise FE colleges’ long-standing concern that they have been seen as the poor relation. Secondly, we are setting up a new generation of schools-university technical colleges, which will be among the most prestigious schools in state education, and are explicitly designed to attract people to engineering. Thirdly, we are, as we discussed earlier, attempting to get more science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates into teaching. The final thing-it is a tiny thing, but I hope it will have an effect-is that the Department for Education will be sponsoring prizes in engineering for school students in state schools, one for male students and one for female students.
Q23 Neil Carmichael: Finally, I want to touch upon the question of service leavers coming into the teaching profession. What are they going to bring?
Michael Gove: I’ve been struck by the fact that the No. 1 preferred outlet that people leaving the services have for their sense of public service is education and training. People who leave the services, if they’re asked what they would like to do, overwhelmingly say, "I want to teach or to work in training." Almost by definition, people who leave the services are leaving mid-career, so you will have people leaving in their 30s or 40s who, whether they’re officers or NCOs, will have spent their time instilling in young people a sense of pride, self-discipline and commitment and often training them to do enormously difficult tasks in stressful circumstances for life-and-death matters. They can bring to the classroom an air of authority that means that some more challenging students, particularly male students, will instantly recognise them as role models. They can bring the knowledge that comes from having dealt with children and young people, often in very challenging circumstances, who have been put on the straight and narrow. They’ll bring a sense of public service, because that’s what has characterised their career, and they will also help to reinforce a broader lesson that we want to give, which is that whatever you’ve been doing, if, in mid-career, you feel that teaching is drawing you in and that it’s a vocation that you wish to pursue, we will welcome you. I’ve been struck by the fact that at a number of schools that I’ve visited, there have been former service personnel who are now in teaching, or one or two in pastoral support, who are doing a brilliant job.
Q24 Chair: Secretary of State, it costs £38,500 to produce a Teach First teacher, £25,000 for an employment-based training place and £12,500 for a PGCE place. What are the cost implications of putting more initial teacher training in schools-in the new teaching schools-and increasing the number of Teach First places?
Michael Gove: Those costs reflect, broadly, economies of scale, because the smaller the scheme, the more it costs. The cheaper cost of higher education institution-based initial teacher training reflects the fact that more people are going through that route. School-based initial teacher training costs more at the moment because it occupies such a small part. We believe in making better use of those outstanding schools that have already done a superb job in helping to prepare people for a career in teaching.
Q25 Chair: You think you can do it cost-effectively?
Michael Gove: Yes. I think the critical point is that the money is there. Schools need to respond by saying, "Yes, we would like the opportunity to become a teaching school," and we want to make sure that funding across the piece is as fair as possible.
Q26 Nic Dakin: In reality, Secretary of State, the vast majority of the time of somebody on an HEI-led course is spent in school-it’s a school-based scheme. The Ofsted report that was published recently said that the quality of training led by HE institutions was higher than the quality of school-based training. I’m really adding to Graham’s question about whether you can do it cost-effectively. It’s also a value-for-money issue, isn’t it?
Michael Gove: Yes, and the NFER, I think, also said that some of the existing teaching schools, which we would like to expand, were producing amazing, outstanding results, so there’s definitely scope to expand there. Again, other countries, such as Finland and the United States, have an approach to school-based initial teacher training through their teaching or lab schools that is a model that we want to build on because they are centres of excellence. We have to balance cost, a drive towards innovation, and rewarding those schools that do it well, but I’ve been struck by the fact that a couple of schools that I visited, including Durand primary school in Lambeth, do their own teacher training all through and do it superbly. It’s also the case that a number of higher education institutions-the university of Cumbria, Roehampton and others-are doing a great job, and one of the things that we want to do is to encourage them to set up their own schools as exemplars.
Q27 Chair: What assessment have you made of the impact of raising the bar to a 2:2 degree before you’ll fund initial teacher training on the shortage subjects, such as maths and physics, where quite a large percentage of teachers have poor degrees? Will that just exacerbate the shortage of people?
Michael Gove: We anticipate that creating new incentives for graduates with good degrees in those subjects to enter teaching will deal with any problems that might arise by raising the bar, but the evidence shows that raising the bar overall, as part of a programme of enhancing the prestige and esteem of the profession, means that you get more good people.
Q28 Tessa Munt: I would like to make three quick points. The first goes back to something you were saying to Lisa earlier, which is that there are no costs to choice in this country. I would observe that if you are in a rural area and you are from a family that is disadvantaged financially, there is a very large cost, in that school transport costs kill choice stone dead. It is prohibitive for anyone to select anything other than their local school. We shouldn’t think that we have a completely free education system in terms of choice.
Michael Gove: It is a fair point, and it is one that was made very effectively to me by Sir Alan Beith when we were visiting Alnwick on Friday. He pointed out that if you live in Alnwick, the two nearest schools are, in one direction, in Berwick, which is 30 miles away, and the other, I think, is in Morpeth-I can’t be certain, but anyway, it is 25 miles away.
Tessa Munt: You don’t even have to go that far north. We can go south-west and find that sort of thing.
Neil Carmichael: We can go north. I’m from Northumberland.
Q29 Tessa Munt: I’m not interested in there. It’s all me, me, me.
I’d like to look at the behaviour aspects in relation to the White Paper, and make an observation-I’m sorry, but it’s back on transport again. You might consider qualifying the idea of issuing same-day detentions, because again, it wouldn’t matter if you were to give my son six weeks’ notice of an after-school detention; he wouldn’t be able to get home because he has one bus on which he can travel. I have concerns about that. In my view it conflicts with the suggestion that we should have respect in the relationship between pupils, parents and schools. It completely conflicts with the idea of respecting parents.
Michael Gove: I remember having this conversation with Nic in the slightly more confrontational and robust atmosphere of the House of Commons Chamber. Ultimately, what we are talking about is a permissive power. At the moment, teachers can’t issue same-day detentions. We are saying that, if they think it appropriate, they should. The reasons why I say that are, first, because I trust teachers to make that judgment. I do not believe that teachers will use that power-in the same way as I do not believe they will use any power-arbitrarily or foolishly. Secondly, it is part of an overall package, whereby we say that teachers have to exercise authority. It is really important that we send a clear signal that teachers’ views have to be respected.
As you know, following on from the conversation that I had with Lisa, I am very keen on parental choice. It is absolutely right. Once they have made the choice of school, however, parents have to respect teachers’ authority. One problem that we have in schools at the moment is that parents think that they can second-guess teachers on all sorts of questions to do with the discipline of their children. That is corrosive of adult authority overall, so I think it’s really important that we send a message from the Department for Education that, in schools, teachers are in charge. There are all sorts of other things that we have been doing, over time, to make sure that children’s rights are protected and that a clear framework is there, but ultimately, I think it is really important that parents know that it is their job to support teachers in maintaining authority, and not their job to unnecessarily challenge it.
Q30 Nic Dakin: On the curriculum, you spoke earlier about the importance of more students taking foreign languages and humanities, and putting English back. Why have you not decided to include some sort of creative or performing art activity in that envelope of courses?
Q31 Bill Esterson: Or RE?
Michael Gove: Bill makes the point about RE. To my mind, the most important thing to do was to say that this is a minimum curriculum entitlement. Theoretically, you can expand for ever. One of the things about the curriculum is that there are lots and lots of desirable things within it. My judgment, however, was that we would say that these are five basic areas of learning that constitute the sort of core academic knowledge, or the boundaries of the core academic knowledge, that 16-year-olds should have. I accept that there is a debate going on, and as Bill points out, there are some people who argue that when we talk about the humanities, restricting it to history and geography and not including RE is too narrow. I don’t want to prejudge the way in which aspects of that debate on the national curriculum will go. I have put out there what my view is at the moment. There is now a debate, and we’ll see.
Q32 Nic Dakin: The other thing I was interested in was the graph published in the White Paper showing the uptake in vocational subjects. It seems to me that the thrust of policy may make that go backwards, when the rhetoric is that we ought to develop a much stronger vocational pathway.
Michael Gove: You’re absolutely right that we need to improve vocational education. The increase in vocational qualifications has been something like 3,000% since 2004, but I don’t think anyone would say that our vocational education is 3,000 times better than it was six years ago. The reason why the number of those qualifications has increased is the tariff that they’ve been given in the performance tables. I’d like to move us back to a situation in which a more rational choice is made both by schools and by individual students. Some of the vocational qualifications offered in schools are hugely valuable; they don’t just help some students who might otherwise become disengaged to remain engaged, but they confer real benefits on students. There are other qualifications, however, which are, frankly, overvalued in the league table. They are worth more than one GCSE and are taken by students because the school thinks that it will inflate its position in the league table. We’ve asked Alison Wolf to help us to recalibrate that, so that vocational qualifications bear an appropriate value. I asked Alison because everyone knows that she is a champion of vocational education-Britain’s leading expert in the area-and therefore won’t allow vocational education to be squeezed out by any other consideration.
Q33 Nic Dakin: Isn’t there a conflict between trusting head teachers to develop a curriculum that suits their young people and being rather centrist in what you’re saying there?
Michael Gove: I think the problem has been that the existing league tables have encouraged and created perverse incentives, and I think any head in a moment of candour would tell you that. The same head would also point out that vocational qualifications perform a number of useful functions. The important thing to do is move from the current situation to a better balance.
Q34 Nic Dakin: But in an area like north Lincolnshire, where I live, we have seen a significant increase in the performance of students in getting five A* to Cs, but that has also pulled up behind it the performance of those with five A* to Cs plus maths and English. Some of the criticisms round the edges are correct, but I think that the relevance of the vocational curriculum has helped to drive that performance. I hope that within what you’re doing, you will continue to trust head teachers to develop the curriculum within the framework that best suits their young people.
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q35 Damian Hinds: Following on from that, Secretary of State, it strikes me that we always talk about the division between academic and vocational, but in the new economy, particularly in the service age, there is a whole slew of jobs that are neither academic nor vocational, but require certain interpersonal skills, and basic literacy and numeracy. How, in this schools system, do we ensure that employers, who can train staff in the specific skills required for their line of work, receive the raw material, as it were, with the interpersonal and communication skills, which are becoming increasingly important?
Michael Gove: You’re absolutely right, because one of the points made by Michael Barber and others is that-it stands to reason really-we are training people for jobs that we can’t anticipate. I was in three schools in the north-east last Friday, and I was asking children in a school in Stanley what they wanted to do when they were older. Two of them said that they wanted to be computer games designers and another one said that he wanted to be a web designer. Those jobs did not exist when we were at school-certainly not in a form that we would recognise.
By definition, what you want to do is train the mind, and without wanting to get into brain science, different intellectual disciplines train the mind differently. The connections in your brain-the neural pathways-are stimulated by science differently from the way they are stimulated by English or learning a modern foreign language. That mix of subjects, together, helps develop the mind-analytical skills and different types of intelligence-effectively. The parallel to that is, how do you make sure people do the sorts of things that employers increasingly say they want? These are things which I do not believe you can codify in terms of subject knowledge. They are there in good schools. Employers say to me, as I imagine they do to you in your constituency, that they want young people to turn up on time, write a proper business letter, wear a tie-
Damian Hinds: Smile.
Michael Gove: Smile. Articulate things properly-all the rest of it. Without wanting to be too fogeyish about it, these are things that the best schools instil in their children whether or not it is an academic, vocational or whatever curriculum, because they are led by a strong head who has a clear sense of the ethos of the school. If I invented a readiness for work GCSE, in a top school that would be delivered brilliantly. In a weak school with a head teacher, it would be like RE in a weak school with a head teacher. It would be an opportunity for people to doze for an hour on Friday afternoon. Those sorts of things, classically-the readiness for work that you described-are delivered across the school, through every subject, in the way in which the head leads his or her school.
Q36 Bill Esterson: That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
Michael Gove: It absolutely means that you should do it, but it also means that, going back to the argument that Nic pointed out about local and central, there are some things that a Department for Education can provide. There are some things that a national curriculum can provide, but my view is that the national curriculum should only be there for a proportion of what happens in schools and that heads should have control over a lot of what happens in schools. Many of the activities that individual heads will choose will instil that. Some heads may say that their school is brilliant for music. The skills that are learnt by being part of an orchestra or a choir prepare you for work. Other schools may say, actually, we are really good at our competitive team sports or the Duke of Edinburgh’s award, or we have a commitment to serve our community through practical citizenship-all of which instil these things.
Q37 Damian Hinds: Secretary of State, speaking of skills and disciplines that cross-cut different subjects-and you talk about readiness for work-can we also talk a little bit about readiness for life? In the Frank Field reports, on foundation years one of the things he recommends is not having a GCSE in parenting, but having parenting skills-bringing up children, as we used to call it-interspersed into various different subjects in the curriculum. A specialist subject of mine is debt. I would be much happier if, in the foundation level GCSE maths, as children learn the applied part of maths, why not learn about APRs and interest rates, and how not to get into crazy levels of debt? Is it possible to have that and what is the mechanism for making sure that these kinds of key life skills, which I think pretty much everybody agrees would be a good thing to have children learning in an active and creative way, are really a core part of what is happening in schools?
Michael Gove: When we launch the national curriculum review, there will be an opportunity to have a debate about what should and shouldn’t be included. Without wanting to get into almost the most controversial area that any Education Minister can get into, it includes things like sex and relationships education as well. We will have a proper debate about what should be in the national curriculum and what we can leave to school discretion.
Q38 Lisa Nandy: How do you respond to the accusation that charter schools, which you cite heavily in the education White Paper, are only successful because of redistribution of pupils-the more motivated parents seek them out and leave others to sink behind?
Michael Gove: I respond to the criticism in two ways. I would invite people to look at the evidence of those charter schools that have been successful and it is almost overwhelmingly dependent on the jurisdiction in which they sit. So if you have states that allow any old soul to set up a charter school, then performance is much more patchy. If you have a fairly rigorous process of certification beforehand, then overall charter schools do much better.
Your second point, of course, is about the motivation of parents. I take the view that the overwhelming majority of parents are totally committed to their children’s education. If you watch a film like "Waiting for Superman", you will see that there are children, from homes that are desperately poorer, whose parents desperately want them to go to a charter school because that means that their lives will be transformed. That poses questions about why the other schools aren’t so strong. The other thing that we do know is that in the same way as Teach First has a halo effect, charter schools have a halo effect. If you create, within a system, exemplar performers, that encourages innovation that others can emulate and helps standards improve in other areas as well. The research from people such as Caroline Hoxby certainly suggests that allowing innovation through charter schools is good for those at the schools and more broadly.
Q39 Lisa Nandy: I notice that the case for change relies heavily on Hoxby’s research. Have you considered any evidence that is not put forward by an advocate of the movement? If so, what is it?
Michael Gove: I suppose the question is, did Caroline Hoxby become an advocate through looking at the research, or was she an advocate beforehand? I have had an opportunity to look at a range of research and have been struck by the fact that overall, those people who are most closely identified with the cause of raising attainment for children in disadvantaged circumstances have become converts to charter schools. Michelle Reid in Washington-there was a huge battle. No one can doubt that she was on the side of raising standards. There was Joel Klein in New York and Arne Duncan in Chicago.
Another example I would use is what happened in New Orleans. There was a good article in the Sunday Telegraph by Iain Burrell, making the point that, after hurricane Katrina, the administration that deals with schools in New Orleans had for the worst of reasons a clean slate. However, by reconstructing their education system and giving a prominent role to charter schools, they helped raise standards. The highest performing schools being charter schools, more schools became charter schools as a result. Again, Michael Barber was involved in that work. When Michael first worked in the Education Department and for No. 10, he was pictured as the arch-centraliser. The fact that he has now become a strong supporter of a greater degree of decentralisation makes that point, as does the work of McKinsey and others.
Q40 Nic Dakin: We’ve been looking at Ofsted, as you might have noticed, Secretary of State. Most of the evidence that we’ve had suggests that Ofsted has grown too big. Would you agree, and will you be looking at separate inspection services for children, adult skills, child care and so on?
Michael Gove: Because you’ve taken so much evidence and because the publication of the report is imminent, I am going to wait and read the report before replying. It seems to me that you have done a lot of work that it would be foolish of me to pre-empt.
Chair: We appreciate that, Secretary of State.
Q41 Neil Carmichael: We have done a lot of work. I want to press the point of accountability because it is very important. Throughout the last hour we have been talking about the enhanced role of the head teacher, the need for him or her to give leadership to the school. That is obviously quite right. Mindful that we are always talking about early intervention to solve the problems of children’s education, the same applies to schools. The question is, how do we hold head teachers accountable? What mechanisms are we going to have to ensure that schools are going well, and that we know they are going well, rather than being disasters unfolding while nobody does anything about them? What do you envisage?
Michael Gove: At secondary level, we are going to revise performance tables. To my mind, the most important measure at the moment is five A to C, including English and maths. No measure is perfect but it has the merit of being relatively well understood. We are going to refine that. All schools that fall below a standard-which means that 35% of children at least get that; and that children are making the appropriate number of levels of progress-will be eligible for interventions. That will tackle the schools that are doing worst. It is also the case that Ofsted is to have a more focused inspection system, but I don’t want to say more before I’ve had a chance to see the report. That can help identify under-performance.
The other thing is that vigilant local authorities can do that as well. One thing we have not had time to discuss so far is the way in which in more schools are choosing to become autonomous by embracing academy status. As they do so, I envisage local authorities being less the managers of chains of schools and more the commissioners and champions of quality. In those circumstances, local authorities will be even more assertive in challenging those schools that are under-performing.
Q42 Neil Carmichael: That would be very good. Obviously, local authorities need a role and that should be testing and probing schools to ensure they are meeting high standards. What role do you see for governors in academies in this context?
Michael Gove: I am keen that we learn from some of the benefits that academies have secured in terms of governance. Governing bodies could be smaller, tighter and more focused. My preference is for governing bodies to be composed of a set number of parent representatives, with others who bring specific skills to ensure that the school can be governed as effectively as possible. That means that governors will have the strength and confidence to be able to hold the head effectively to account for delivering on their vision. At the moment, governing bodies are too big, and governing body meetings take too long. Governors have responsibility for updating far too many policies, which my Department sadly still requires of them. We are trying to deal with that.
Neil Carmichael: Great. Thank you.
Q43 Tessa Munt: One last question. If it costs £4,000 a year to educate a mainstream pupil, and it costs £15,000 to pop a pupil into a pupil referral unit, is there not an incentive for head teachers to exclude pupils? With money following the pupil, it will increase the budget of a head teacher if the school excludes pupils. How will you deal with that tension?
Michael Gove: We propose a pilot scheme in the White Paper. I stress that it is a pilot scheme, but there has been some interest and enthusiasm for it. Take a specific local authority area-perhaps Somerset. All the schools agree that any single one of them can exclude a child if they wish to do so without an appeals panel forming a judgment. However, that school is then responsible for securing a place for the child in alternative provision, and it is responsible for the attainment of the child thereafter. That would mean that the school would have to think, "Where are we going to put this child so that we can continue to prosper?" If I wilfully and arbitrarily excluded children in order, for example, to massage my league table rating it would come back to haunt me. I cannot simply send the children to a PRU, which is expensive, because I will continue to have to pay the bill. You have to balance the costs and benefits. It is a big step, which is why I think we should pilot it in particular areas.
Overall, one of the things that I have been struck by is that most heads do not want to exclude children. Sometimes, when you have a new, strong head arriving in a school that has been weak, there need to be several exclusions as you tackle an entrenched behaviour problem, but most heads, after they have been in place for a year or two or three, regard exclusions as a failure. They want to do everything possible to avoid that. I believe that, of course, they have to retain the right-it is the ultimate sanction-but there is a lot more that we can do in order to prevent that happening by putting the discipline policies in place that nip the problem in the bud.
Chair: Thank you very much, Secretary of State and Permanent Secretary. I am sure that we can put you more through your paces next time. Thank you both for coming.
Michael Gove: Thank you very much.
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