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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1786-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
The responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Education
TUESDAY 31 January 2012
RT HON Michael Gove MP
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 195
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Taken before the Education Committee
on Tuesday 31 January 2012
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Examination of Witness
Witness: Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Secretary of State, good morning. Thank you very much for appearing before the Select Committee today. We have a number of areas we would like to probe with you. We have had huge public engagement and an awful lot of questions on a whole variety of issues, and we have been inspired by the 5,000 tweets following #askgove-so thank you, Twitter.
Throughout the session, I would appeal to my colleagues here particularly, and also to you, Secretary of State, to try to keep questions and answers short and pithy. We may not always manage the 140 characters of Twitter, but if we can try to follow that to an extent, we can cover more ground and hear from you on a whole variety of subjects.
If I may, Secretary of State, I would like to begin with the accountability system in schools. Of course, we have got news this morning about changes in the equivalents, so an awful lot of vocational qualifications are no longer going to count towards GCSEs. Can you tell us your vision for the accountability system in schools going forward? Is it fit for purpose now? If not, how would you like it to change?
Michael Gove: It is better than it was, but we have to keep it constantly under review. We all know that whenever you have any measurement that is then used as an accountability measurement-in effect, a target-there is always a temptation to game the system. We know that has happened in all areas of public sector reform. So, what we have sought to do is to try to balance a variety of things. On the one hand, we have tried to have an element of consistency in the most important measure, the anchor measure-five A* to Cs, including English and maths. Because schools know that is the measure against which they will be measured and they will be held directly accountable if they fall below it, that acts as a spur to overall improvement for every student.
We have also sought more recently to try to add some additional nuances to that, partly influenced by the work of this Committee and by you, Mr Chairman. In this year’s league tables, published just the other week, we have included, for example, data on the performance of children who had low prior attainment, broadly average or on-track prior attainment, and high prior attainment. There is more as well that we can do as we look at achievement in particular areas and, again, as we adopt one of the arguments that you have made about making sure that there is a measure that looks at the performance across the best eight GCSEs.
Q2 Chair: Thank you for that. You have described the current situation. Going forward, do you think we need a more balanced scorecard? When the Minister for Schools came here talking about the English Baccalaureate, he was keen to emphasise it was not an accountability measure.
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q3 Chair: So, in truth the additional information, which is extremely welcome, does not really count towards accountability, and we still have-I would suggest, and I am interested to hear your response-that single anchor measure, that one metric, driving behaviour in secondary schools. The Committee view, broadly I think, is that having that one metric leads to a non-balanced scorecard and therefore has perverse outcomes, and we need a more balanced scorecard. We wonder if you could agree with that and, if so, could point us to where you might go in future.
Michael Gove: Up to a point. I think it is important to recognise that we have refined the "five A* to C" measure so that, when it comes to accountability to the Department for Education, it is not only the case that you have got to clear that hurdle; it is also the case that we take into account whether or not pupils are making the expected level of progress. If it is the case that your students are exceeding the expected levels of progress-in other words, you are above average for getting children to do better than might otherwise have been anticipated-you will evade being below the floor. In that sense, I think that we have already refined that measure.
Q4 Chair: Would you accept that that is a very small refinement?
Michael Gove: I would not say very small. I think it is significant, because it sends a very powerful signal that we expect schools not only to be judged on the level of raw attainment but also in terms of making sure that children are on track and are not falling back-and, indeed, do better than the average.
Q5 Chair: How many schools are below the floor? How many failed to get 35% five good GCSEs this year?
Michael Gove: It was just over 100. I think I have got the figures here, but I think it was down from over 200 to just over 100, so more or less half.
Q6 Chair: It was 111, I think.
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q7 Chair: How many schools that failed to get 35% good GCSEs did not trigger potential intervention because of the progression of their pupils?
Michael Gove: I do not know.
Q8 Chair: It was four, Secretary of State, so I would suggest it was not significant. It is pretty small and, in truth, if you have a low-performing cohort from Key Stage 2-primary-then, on average, low performing pupils do not make the same progression as middle and higher attaining pupils, so you are actually setting an amelioration, if that is the right word, that does not have much effect in reality.
Michael Gove: That is one point of view. What it does is suggest that the original measure reinforces a point that I would argue, which is that schools that are not generating high levels of attainment are generally schools that are not doing well. There will always be exceptions to every rule, and the fact that four out of 111, or just over 3%, of schools are in that category shows that it does add value for individual schools. For any individual school, falling below the floor is a very serious point. But what it reinforces is that this measure is catching not only those schools that are underperforming in terms of attainment but also the schools that are failing to meet the expected level of progress.
I would add something else as well. Under the last Government, accountability was all about accountability upwards, either to the local authority or to the Department. We believe that accountability should also be downwards to the community and to individual parents, and that is why we have published far more data than ever before about the performance of schools-and that allows you, Mr Chairman, to make that particular comparison. But there are an infinite number of ways in which the data can be sliced and diced that would allow people to make judgments about which schools are performing well or badly. They can then ask why we are not ensuring that those schools that are performing well have their performance emulated elsewhere, and we can focus our attention on those schools that are performing badly and help them to do better.
Q9 Chair: Thank you. The Minister for Schools has said that closing the attainment gap between rich and poor is "a key objective of the Government". Where does closing the gap rate in your list of priorities?
Michael Gove: There are two things that we need to do in education: the first is to raise standards overall for all children, and the second is to close the gap between those children who come from poorer backgrounds and those who are fortunate enough to grow up in more comfortable backgrounds. The two are the two principal drivers of education reform.
Q10 Chair: The central accountability driver is the five good GCSEs, as you have just laid out for us. How does the focus on the five-good-GCSEs measure contribute to closing the gap between rich and poor students?
Michael Gove: Every child should expect that they should leave school with at least a C pass in English and mathematics. I think that, more than that, we should be significantly more ambitious in making sure that more and more children, for example, get the qualifications in the English Baccalaureate that enable them to go on to the college or university course of their choice or the job or apprenticeship that will be satisfying.
You are quite right to say that there is one central accountability measure and, as we have already discussed, that central accountability measure helps identify those schools in the most difficult circumstances. Overall, when it comes to improving attainment for children who come from poorer backgrounds, as well as that accountability measure and as well as the European Baccalaureate, we are also publishing the performance both of children who have low prior attainment, as we have discussed, and children who are eligible for the Pupil Premium. We are asking schools to report on how they use the Pupil Premium.
We are also going to ask Ofsted to investigate how the Pupil Premium is being used to drive up standards, and we have asked the Education Endowment Foundation that we set up to pilot and to let us know ways in which individual schools or groups of schools are helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Q11 Chair: I totally appreciate that and I appreciate, as the Committee does I am sure, that your aim is to close the gap. The thing we are interested in particularly this morning is whether the drivers within the system actually align with that. If there is an overriding focus on getting the percentage of children with five good GCSEs up above a floor, then that incentivises schools, as I think the Government has admitted, to focus resources on those students on the border line. That means, necessarily, that you are ignoring those with the lowest prior attainment and those who have little or no likelihood of getting the five good GCSEs. That, all too often, means neglecting the poorest, the people whom you have said it is a top priority of the Government to help. Do we not have an incoherence between the goals of the system, which is to close the gap, and the drivers of the system, which are to focus on the borderline and, for the most part, better off students, to get them over the line so that they get five good GCSEs?
Michael Gove: No. Your question begs a variety of other questions-or provokes them, perhaps. Central to your question is an unexamined hypothesis that I would contest, which is that there are children who cannot get five A to Cs including English and maths. Show me those children. There are schools that are capable of getting nearly every child to that level.
It is unacceptable that we should write children off at any stage and say that they cannot secure a C pass in English or maths or other GCSEs. Are we saying that after 11 years in compulsory state education we should accept, as we are unfortunately having to live with at the moment, a situation where there are children leaving illiterate and innumerate? Of course, if a school cannot get the majority of its children to that point, that school is not doing well enough. We have acquiesced in failure and we have let down the children who are, quite rightly, your first concern by saying that it is okay to judge a school as decent if it is not getting that level of attainment.
The other thing is that the majority of schools that are below the floor, and the majority of schools that are underperforming, are in areas of deprivation. It is also the case that this Government has extended the use of floor standards and floor targets to primary schools, which the last Government did not do, and as a result we are tackling underperformance earlier. We have already got a significant number of primary schools that are below the floor target, which have been converted to academies. There are others, including some in some London suburbs, that we are choosing to tackle. We are accused of having, on the one hand, a strong-arm approach towards these schools, and on the other hand a neglectful approach towards those children who are disadvantaged. Our critics can have it both ways-they always do-but they cannot maintain intellectual consistency in that regard.
Q12 Chair: By the end of this Parliament, are you going to transform the number of children who get five good GCSEs having not got to level 4 at primary school? At the moment, from the tables you produced a couple of days ago, those children who do not get to level 4 have a very small chance of getting five good GCSEs. Do you have the magic wand that is going to lift those children up? Simply demanding it from schools is going to do it, is it?
Michael Gove: We do not have a magic wand, but what we do have is a range of policies working in partnership with teachers and other professionals in the education system. I alluded to some of them earlier: a sharper focus on underperformance at primary level; an extension of the academies programme; the establishment of teaching schools; investment in extending the number of national leaders of education; an expansion in Teach First nationwide; driving up the standards of entry into the teaching profession; paying bursaries to get high-performing mathematics and physics and other science graduates into teaching; making sure that there are maths specialists in primary schools to ensure, in particular, that performance in that critical subject improves for children up to the age of 11; and the accountability measures that we have at primary and secondary, the publication of additional data and the light that we are shining on underperformance are also part of it.
It is also the case that we are making it clear that the National Curriculum has to be focused on the acquisition of core knowledge and appropriate skills. We are also reforming the examination system, and we have already reformed Key Stage 2 tests to make sure that there is a sharper focus on raising standards.
Q13 Chair: We had a Twitter question that I thought came to the heart of this very well. Is there any evidence that it is possible to overcome normal distribution in educational attainment?
Michael Gove: Because the normal distribution curve, the bell curve, has described educational attainment in the past, there is a tendency for people to believe that those who fall on either part of the bell curve are those who are always destined to stay there. I do not know whether or not you can shift normal distribution, but I do know two things. I know that the Flynn effect shows that children are becoming cleverer over time, and therefore we should continue to expect more of them. I also know that international evidence shows that in other countries you do not have the same relationship between deprivation and educational destiny that we do in this country. This country is-not quite uniquely, but almost uniquely-scarred by the fact that children from poorer backgrounds do less well.
Q14 Chair: Could it be the drivers in the system that are doing it? The last Government had the floor; the last Government put in five good GCSEs, and the last Government saw us drop down PISA comparison tables, which is the most frequently cited fact that you use. Yet your response is to reinforce the focus on that anchor measure. In fact, to show additional machismo and commitment, it is to raise the floor higher at the same time as making it harder to get there, thus pressuring schools even more to game the system rather than focus on the poorest and weakest, who are likely never to count.
Michael Gove: Again, I would challenge three of the assertions that you have made there. Firstly, have floor standards played no part in school improvement? I think they have been integral to school improvement. I am happy to criticise the last Government, but I am also delighted to be able to praise them. Floor standards were right. They were an integral part of the success of the various Challenge programmes.
As well as concentrating on our weaknesses, let us acknowledge our strengths. We are unique amongst advanced industrial nations in having a capital city that outperforms the national average in terms of educational attainment. London schools are better. One of the reasons for that is that floor standards were an integral part of the London Challenge right from the beginning. So let’s not diss floor standards; they are integral to raising expectations.
The second point is, if we look precisely internationally, we can see that it is a mixture of autonomy at the level of principal or headteacher plus rigorous external accountability that are the best drivers of raising standards.
The third point was deprivation and children being neglected, the system being gamed: everything that we have done has been to ensure that the system is not gamed. The announcement that you very kindly alluded to earlier today, which follows on from Professor Alison Wolf’s report, is precisely about tackling one of the things that the last Government did wrongly, which was allowing qualifications to be taken that inflated league table rankings, and allowed students, therefore, to leave school with qualifications that would not allow them to progress into good jobs or satisfying courses. My approach is to be led by the evidence, and the evidence tells me that there are some things the last Government did right and we will continue, and some things that they did wrong, which we will ditch.
Q15 Chair: One last question from me, Secretary of State. You are disapplying the ICT curriculum, leaving schools free to choose whether to teach it as a discrete subject at all. How will you incentivise schools to offer the rigorous computer science that I know you wish to see, when league tables may incentivise them not to?
Michael Gove: Two things: firstly, it will be the case that ICT remains part of the National Curriculum. Schools cannot say, "We are not offering the subject." But everyone told us that the existing ICT curriculum was demotivating. I think an incentive anyway will be to ensure that children are motivated by a subject that is part of the National Curriculum, so schools will want to adopt courses and good teachers will adopt courses that are better equipped to give children the satisfying and stimulating diet that they yearn for.
I would add one other thing. I am in favour of floor standards and I am in favour of intervening where schools are underperforming, but I also think it is right to say that, while we want to tackle gaming and make sure that we tackle perverse incentives in the system, let us not assume that the behaviour of all teachers and all headteachers is driven only by external accountability factors. Good and great teachers and headteachers are driven by a sense of moral purpose, and that applies to the majority of teachers and headteachers. They would no more drive students into the wrong course or deliberately drop a subject because it was no longer counted than they would turn a blind eye to the emotional neglect of a child.
I think it is important that I take this opportunity, which you have very kindly given me, to underline the fact that I believe, like Tony Blair, in intervention in inverse proportion to success. Where schools and teachers are flourishing, as they are in the vast majority of areas, let us celebrate that, but where there are problems and children are losing out, let us tackle it.
Q16 Chair: Thank you, Secretary of State. I have to say that I think that is a little naïve. If you create the framework, you create the incentives; do not blame the people within the system if they follow the incentives you have created. When the English Baccalaureate was brought in, we heard from a headteacher who did half courses in history and geography. They were a tremendous success in his school, with people going on to A level and doing well. He came here, sat there and told us he was dismantling it because his parents were not going to put up with him having 0% of children getting the English Baccalaureate. People will follow the incentives you create and you should not be naïve or try to suggest those people have moral failings if they deliver what you say you want. If you say you want something and the system says it wants something, that is what you will get. I will move on.
Damian Hinds: Discuss.
Michael Gove: I respectfully disagree, but you have put your case with characteristic panache.
Q17 Tessa Munt: You have listed the various things that you are going to do. I just wondered whether you could spend a few moments explaining to the Committee how you will measure the progress of pupils throughout their school career as part of the floor standards.
Michael Gove: As I was just discussing with the Chairman, we are making sure that schools that are subject to floor standards at primary not only have to ensure that a certain percentage of children get to level 4 at Key Stage 2-i.e. reach the expected level of literacy and numeracy-but also that they are making two levels of progress from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2. When it applies to secondary schools, we are also making sure that children meet the expected level of progress there as well.
By subdividing students into those who have low, average or high prior attainment, we are making sure that schools have to have a care towards those children who have not done well either earlier in primary school or at primary school before they go to secondary school, and that schools are incentivised to stretch the more able students to get the most out of them as well.
Q18 Tessa Munt: I am interested to know what happens when you find variations in performance. Where does that lead us?
Michael Gove: It depends to an extent on how variable the performance is. If schools are doing brilliantly well and are outstanding, one of the things that I want to do, and I know that the new Chief Inspector also wants to do, is to shine a light on their superb performance and to draw attention to it. The best Ofsted reports I have read have not been those on individual schools; they have been those that have highlighted those schools that have been successful: one under the last Administration, which looked at 12 high-performing comprehensives in difficult circumstances, and one when this Government has been in power, which has looked at schools that are superb when it comes to teaching reading and English at primary level. The data can lead us towards schools that are outperforming the average and achieving amazing things.
When schools are performing less well, there are a variety of interventions that we can put in place. Some of those interventions will be driven by the community or others noticing that schools are underperforming, but if schools fall below the floor standard or are near to falling below the floor standard, we can have conversations with the individual schools and with the local authorities about which of the tools at our collective disposal nationally are best to help them raise standards.
Q19 Tessa Munt: How do you expect headteachers of individual schools to deal with underperformance or a lack of significant progression in particular classes? How quickly will that happen?
Michael Gove: Again, with a good leader using data wisely, it can be addressed quickly. The most important thing is to ensure that, if children are not meeting expected levels of progress, you analyse what is happening in the classroom. Do you have the right teacher? Does that teacher have the right support? Is the material that they are using appropriate? Headteachers are being held increasingly accountable as a result of the range of tools that we use, and good headteachers will tackle underperformance on the part of any particular member of staff. They can do everything from ensuring that the teacher’s practice is observed, the teacher can observe other good practice and the teacher is supported, to working with other schools that have a track record in success and nipping problems in the bud to raise their own standards. The 100 new teaching schools that we have established are explicitly designed to spread examples of outstanding teaching into schools where performance has not been as good as it should be.
Q20 Tessa Munt: I want to go back to the business of performance measures like the English Baccalaureate, which might encourage schools to divert their resources away from the most disadvantaged. Would you like to comment on that?
Michael Gove: Again, that reflects an attitude in this country that we have got to tackle. The assumption that disadvantaged children will not do well in English, mathematics, history or geography, sciences or foreign languages is basically saying, "You are poor. Well, do not imagine that you can aspire to do well in these areas. Know your place." I think that attitude is wrong. It does not occur in other advanced nations; it should not happen here.
The assumption that the English Baccalaureate is somehow a choice for posh kids is actually the sort of attitude that, for example, drove Tony Crosland wild in the 1960s. The assumption is that background will automatically dictate opportunity. I have seen enough amazing schools educating children from really tough backgrounds, giving them stretching and satisfying subjects, to know that is wrong. To say that your expectations should automatically be lowered because a child comes from a particular background is, to my mind, to write children off before their lives have even properly begun, and that is wrong. The purpose of education is the precise opposite: it is to say that every individual soul is precious, every child is capable of achieving excellence, and to make sure that child is stretched and that no excuses are made.
Q21 Tessa Munt: Alison Wolf was on the radio this morning talking about gaming and the use of single measures being dominant, and there was a particular focus on GCSEs, of course, and the value of one subject or another. If we are going to say that there is academic prowess in a certain set of subjects at a particular standard, others will naturally fall away, will they not? Yet actually people are matched to all sorts of different talents and skills. We are in danger, are we not, of dismantling the structure that has given some value to vocational subjects?
Michael Gove: I know exactly the danger to which you allude, and if I thought that we were in danger of collectively undermining technical and vocational education, I would be worried. But as Alison pointed out, it will still be the case after the reforms announced today that English 16-year-olds will be the world leaders amongst 16-year-olds internationally in the number and scale of vocational qualifications that they take.
All other countries, including countries that have much better records in vocational and technical education, like Germany, expect children to follow a general curriculum until the age of 16. Those countries that do superbly in vocational and technical education, like Singapore, expect children to have English, mathematics, sciences and a foreign language at 16. After that, the institutions to which young people will go vary, and it is important that children up to the age of 16 are introduced to a wide range of options, which can help motivate and excite them. That will include space in the curriculum for anything from the various different types of design and technology to other courses that can be developed in the future.
However, it is important to make sure that we do not limit children’s choices before the age of 16 and that we give them the chance to fulfil their potential subsequently. That means not arbitrarily saying that they should pursue courses that limit, rather than enhance, their capacity to progress afterwards.
Q22 Tessa Munt: I just recognise that there are young people-in my county, certainly-who possibly need to change what they are doing before the age of 16. At 14 it might not be appropriate for them to change their educational setting or whatever, but they might need to change what it is that they are learning because they might be particularly interested in something less academic.
Michael Gove: All children have-I will start again, because I was going to utter something that was, even for a politician, banal to the point of irrelevance, which is that all children have lots of different interests. There will be children who will be more effectively motivated by some subjects that are vocational and technical, absolutely, and it is important that schools take account of that. The development of university technical colleges is part of that. Our changing of some of the rules about further education, lecturers and their ability to teach in schools is intended to ensure that schools can provide for that, but it is important that we do not fall into an either/or trap of wanting to motivate children and inspire them with vocational and technical education before 16, and in doing so limit the range of subjects that they study up to the age of 16 so that they have made irreversible and possibly limiting decisions.
Q23 Charlotte Leslie: Do you think the Government’s response to Alison Wolf’s report, in stripping the status of equivalence from so many vocational qualifications, is going to add value to the concept of vocational educational overall, or do you think it is going to strip value from the concept of vocational education?
Michael Gove: I think it will add value to vocational education and to education overall, because no one is served if you encourage students to pursue qualifications that do not allow them to make progress subsequently. As David Blunkett pointed out on the radio this morning, he wanted between 1997 and 2001 to stress the importance of vocational and technical education: quite right too-one of many good things he did.
However, there were changes made to performance tables subsequently in 2004 that led to a massive increase in the number of these qualifications being pursued. As David Blunkett himself said, that was wrong. It was a misalignment of resources, and it meant that there were students, as Alison’s report pointed out, who were doing qualifications that they thought would lead to a job and then found that employers and further education colleges did not value them. Nothing is more likely to harm vocational education than people being tempted to follow a course and then discovering that course does not provide them with the employment opportunities that they had yearned for.
Q24 Charlotte Leslie: The argument often made for qualifications having equivalent status is that there is a balance needed for a child who finds more traditional academic qualifications harder to grasp and who needs some kind of confidence building and encouragement in order to feel that they are part of the educational establishment. The argument of those who say that the equivalents should not have had that status stripped is that those equivalents provided those children, who found the academic world slightly less accessible than others, some kind of sense of status. Do you think that status is worth the consequence of job finding afterwards?
Michael Gove: I understand the argument, and it is motivated by good intentions. Ultimately, if you say to a student, "We, the state, are going to value this qualification as an equivalent," but then the colleges to which they apply subsequently and the employers with whom they are seeking a job say, "No," then that child will understandably feel betrayed and let down.
I think it is right to say that there are a range of activities beyond those that count on GCSE performance tables that can help motivate children to learn, and I also think it is right that there are a significant number of qualifications that should count in those tables. It is still the case that there are 125 qualifications that will count in performance tables and there are around 50-odd qualifications that will count in the GCSE performance tables alongside GCSEs.
It is also the case that awarding bodies can develop new qualifications and, provided that there is external testing, those qualifications allow a child to make progress thereafter. They are graded. They are not simply pass/fail; you can go from A to F or whatever it might be. Then they can count. So, what we have done is got rid of the tendency to game, which the Committee is quite rightly worried about, but at the same time provided the opportunity for balance in the construction of a curriculum up to the age of 16 and in performance tables by which schools are judged.
Q25 Charlotte Leslie: While the English Baccalaureate is taking place, while many qualifications have their equivalency status stripped, there is also the rise of studio schools and university technical colleges. Do you think that is going to increase the status of vocational education or do you think you are creating a two-tier system?
Michael Gove: I do not think we are creating a two-tier system, because in a way we already have, or we have inherited, a multi-tier system. In our education system at the moment there are high-performing schools, which people will spend money to move their families closer to, and other schools that are viewed-in some cases fairly, in some cases unfairly-as underperforming, which people will shun.
The point about university technical colleges is that you could argue they are in the first tier of schools. They are well-funded, élite establishments that are built around vocational and technical education. Now, I would stress that many of these university technical colleges will offer academic GCSEs in English, mathematics, sciences, modern foreign languages, and they will do well. Some of them-and this, I think is a striking thing-will say, "We are strong enough to say everything that we offer is brilliant, so we do not need to be judged by the English Baccalaureate."
The English Baccalaureate is a very useful measure. It exposes a variety of things that have gone wrong in our education system, but schools that feel it is not necessarily right for them, their ethos or their pupils, should feel strong enough to say, "We are taking a different approach." They will have to justify, quite rightly, that decision to parents, but there is no penalty from the Government in saying that you have got a 0% score in the English Baccalaureate if you are doing well in other measures.
Q26 Chair: Secretary of State, in the White Paper in 2010 you said you were going to bring in a destination measure, which certainly, again, I would like to see developed as part of a balanced scorecard. Where children ultimately end up seems to me a pretty fundamental measure of whether it is successful or not. How are you getting on in developing that measure?
Michael Gove: I agree with you, and we hope to have one as part of performance tables before the end of this Parliament.
Q27 Pat Glass: Secretary of State, you said that you believe in floor targets and will intervene where schools do not reach those floor targets. Can I ask you about the infrastructure around school improvement? The Committee has heard much evidence, and certainly my experience tells me, that most local authorities are really good at school improvement where a school fails-that they get in quickly and they are able to support schools where they fail. But the scaffolding around school improvement appears to be being dismantled at the moment.
So we have got school improvement services that are losing very experienced staff through cuts in public expenditure and school improvement partners disappearing-national strategies have gone, the National and London Challenges. When I asked Michael Barber about this, he said, "There is a gap in the system." Yes, we have got increasing numbers of schools who are becoming academies; there is nothing between the academies and the Secretary of State, and he agreed that, yes, this could possibly be a vacuum in the system. I think his words were that "this is where Mr Gove’s educational experiment may have problems". What is going to happen when schools start to fail? Are you personally going to intervene? Is there a system in place for intervention when schools fail?
Michael Gove: Again, some of the assumptions contained within the question I agree with; some I would contest. The quality of local authority intervention in underperforming schools has been variable. There are some local authorities that have been strong and assertive, and there are other local authorities that have done a poor job in particular areas. We would not have so many schools below the floor if every local authority were doing its job as it should.
Q28 Pat Glass: You said earlier that there are very few schools below floor now.
Michael Gove: In primary, there are more than 1,000 schools below the floor. We are increasing the floor because we expect, quite rightly, that schools should continue to do better and better. One of the reasons why there are fewer schools below the floor is because of the work that has been undertaken by academy chains and others to turn around the performance of those schools that have been underperforming.
Q29 Pat Glass: Can I just bring you back to what we are going to do if schools fail?
Michael Gove: That is what we are doing now. You make the point about School Improvement Services: in your own county in Durham, I think, there is a staff of something around 50 working in school improvement.
Q30 Pat Glass: There are a lot less than there were.
Michael Gove: There are fewer than there were-
Q31 Pat Glass: There are a lot less than there were.
Michael Gove: But 50 people working in school improvement in a county the size of Durham is a formidable team when you think about it-formidable in terms of numbers.
Q32 Pat Glass: And we also have some incredibly high-achieving schools.
Michael Gove: And some very low-achieving schools as well.
Q33 Pat Glass: And very few below floor, Secretary of State.
Michael Gove: There are some that are teetering just on the edge of it.
Q34 Pat Glass: I think, actually, one below floor, but let us not fall out over that.
Michael Gove: No, indeed.
Q35 Pat Glass: What are we going to do about this vacuum in school improvement?
Michael Gove: I do not believe there is a vacuum. I think what we have moved to is a different model, and that model builds on precisely what you drew attention to, which is the success of things like the London Challenge. Why was there a need for the London Challenge? Because not every local authority in London was doing its job. What does the London Challenge involve? Specifically teaming high-performing schools with low-performing schools.
Q36 Pat Glass: Within the new world, where London Challenge will not be there, what will be there to support schools that fail?
Michael Gove: We are doing nationwide what the London Challenge succeeded in doing. Our network of 100 teaching schools-due to be 500, we hope, by the end of this Parliament-will empower those schools that are already high-performing in terms of teaching and learning. A critical problem with the old model of school improvement is that you often had people who were ex-teachers and ex-headteachers who were promoted up and out of the education front line and who became enmeshed in a bureaucracy.
What we now have are people who are currently superb headteachers and teachers helping those at the front line because they are wrestling with the same problems. It is through school-to-school relationships that we can drive improvement. That can be done through academy chains; it can also be done through the superb work that national leaders of education are doing.
Q37 Pat Glass: How many schools now are receiving funding under the Education Endowment Fund? If schools are going to support schools, just how many are there?
Michael Gove: The Education Endowment Fund is explicitly designed not to be responsible for that system level school improvement. It is supposed to invest in specific programmes that will pioneer or pilot ways of raising attainment amongst poorer children. It is the job of the National College, which is the organisation responsible for accrediting teaching schools, to drive the progress that you quite rightly want to see. We have, as I mentioned earlier, 100 teaching schools that have been accredited and given resources. We also have a growing number of academy chains, which are taking more and more sponsored academies, i.e. underperforming schools, under their wing.
Q38 Pat Glass: You said growing numbers of chains of academies are going to take this job on. How many? We have got 100 accredited schools.
Michael Gove: Yes, going on to become 500 in due course, and in terms of sponsored academies we have had more than 200 new sponsored academies created since the last election, and there are many more coming. We have academy chains that are growing at a faster rate.
Q39 Pat Glass: Secretary of State, with respect, how many of these schools are supporting other failing schools?
Michael Gove: Every school that becomes an academy-and these are the new academies that convert-has to be in a relationship with another school that it is committed to help. Now, some of those schools will be-how can I put this fairly?-very poorly performing, and other schools will be on a route to improvement, and each individual teaching school will be helping a network of other schools as well.
Q40 Pat Glass: Is it part of the funding agreement that as soon as you become an academy you get a named school that you are supporting? I have academies in my constituency, outstanding schools, that are not supporting failing schools.
Michael Gove: I would be very interested in the details of the individual academies that are not living up to that, but it is done before the funding agreement stage.
Q41 Pat Glass: Alright. So you do not accept that, with the whole of the scaffolding around school improvement being dismantled, we will have a vacuum in the system?
Michael Gove: I do not believe that the whole scaffolding around school improvement is being dismantled. I think we are putting in place a new and improved school improvement approach. That is why we are fighting a battle in north London at the moment: because there is a local authority that has not been capable of generating improvement in its schools. It is why we are having a struggle with your own local authority at the moment, because Durham refuses to acknowledge the level of underperformance it has in many parts of its county. I am very happy to go to Durham and explain to them precisely why their schools should be doing better and why it is wrong for them to employ 50 people who have not done a good enough job in the past.
Q42 Pat Glass: I will move on, because you have mentioned a school in north London. You said in the White Paper, "We will make clear that schools-governors, headteachers and teachers-have responsibility for improvement". Do you think that your intervention in Downhills Primary epitomises that?
Michael Gove: I believe it epitomises what I said earlier, which is the Blairite approach-intervention in inverse proportion to success.
Q43 Pat Glass: This is a school that is doing well-
Michael Gove: No, it is not.
Q44 Pat Glass: This is a school that has got a new headteacher. It may not be doing well enough, but it is doing well and it is improving. Do you really think that your intervention epitomises "We will make clear that schools-governors, headteachers and teachers-have responsibility for improvement"?
Michael Gove: In the best circumstances, that is what should happen, but sometimes there is a need to intervene. My job is to make sure that standards rise in the education system. Standards are not good enough in that school, and they have not been good enough for years. There are children leaving that school who are not reaching accepted levels in literacy and in numeracy. Their life chances are blighted and we are taking action. There are other primaries in Haringey where the head and the governors acknowledge that performance has been poor. They are grateful for the offer of help from the Department for Education. They are exploring relationships with other academy sponsors, and I think that is the right approach to take.
What we have seen in Haringey around this particular school is a campaign led by the Anti Academies Alliance, which is a Socialist Workers Party-backed campaign. We have had an NUT official, who operates at taxpayers’ expense, leading that campaign, and we have had a reprise of all the enemies of promise who fought against what Andrew Adonis and Tony Blair were trying to do reconstituting themselves. I think it is a great pity that the Labour Party has not spoken out against this Trot campaign.
Q45 Pat Glass: Secretary of State, you are nothing if not controversial, you really are. What we see is a school that we accept has not done well enough, but it has a new headteacher; it has a new governing body. It is making improvements. Do you really think that your interference sits well with a Government that says, "We believe that headteachers should lead"?
Michael Gove: Yes, because it will be a headteacher who will turn that school round. It goes back to one of the points that I made earlier to the Chairman. On the one hand, there is a criticism made of us that we are laissez faire, couldn’t care less, and it only matters to us what happens to grammar schools in rich areas. Then on the other hand we are accused of being heavy-handed ogres and intervening in these areas. We cannot simultaneously be couldn’t-care-less figures and wild interventionists.
The truth is that our policy reflects what happens in all high-performing organisations. If people are doing a brilliant job, applaud them, but get out of their way. Occasionally ask them why they do so well and see if you can apply those lessons more broadly. If things are not working, then get stuck in. Indeed, in those local authorities that were and are performing well, the same thing applies. So in a good local authority they will applaud the great schools.
Q46 Pat Glass: So a selective approach?
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q47 Pat Glass: Secretary of State, I have worked over many years with young people for whom even getting to school on a morning is a major achievement. Their lives are incredibly difficult and chaotic so actually getting to school is a big issue. For many years people like me have had a real push on attendance and on creating a curriculum that would keep those young people interested and in school.
Do you not feel that some of the way in which equivalents have been rubbished recently in the press and some of the announcements today, and the announcements about things like the English Baccalaureate, is pushing those young people down a sausage factory of curriculum that has things like classical Judaism and Latin, and they are simply going to vote with their feet?
Michael Gove: No. I agree with you about attendance. I think it is too low, and I think we need to change the culture. We have got a fantastic headteacher, Charlie Taylor, who has joined the Department. He will be publishing a report shortly on some of the things that we can do to improve attendance, and it is implicit in your question and I think it is absolutely right: we should shift from truancy to attendance, and there are a number of things that parents and schools can do.
But I do not agree with you that we should not be more demanding of young people. The whole point is that school is not like the movies or a club: "Please come along and we hope that you will find it exciting, and if you do not then that is fine." It is the responsibility of parents to ensure that children attend school. It is the responsibility of schools to ensure that children are ready to progress afterwards.
I do not think in most cases that classical Hebrew or Latin will be the courses that most schools will choose to motivate and prepare their students for the future, but I think it is unacceptable that people are bristling at the requirement that we have children who are doing English, mathematics and science to an acceptable level. If we say that we will-what is the word?-tolerate or accept non-attendance on the basis that school is too hard, then I think that we are condemning children to a future where, at every stage when they face a challenge, we will make excuses rather than encourage them to do better. That way lies perdition.
Q48 Neil Carmichael: There is a general trend developing here. Michael, you have said that local authorities have an indispensable role to play as champions of children and parents, and that is certainly welcome, but if we have a lot more academies, what kind of role is that going to be? What sort of tools are those local authorities going to have?
Michael Gove: I think Pat alluded to it as well; this is precisely the debate that people like Michael Barber and Michael Wilshaw have raised. I do not ask myself what is the right role for local authorities but what do we need to do to ensure that our education system is performing to the best of all our collective abilities? Within that there will be certain roles that will naturally settle on local authorities. This is my attempt to answer a question, which I think should not be taken as a final answer. By definition, there needs to be a broader conversation involving local authorities, teachers, elected politicians at every level-everyone. But my first attempt to answer it is to say that local authorities have a role in making sure that admissions are fair-co-ordinating them and making sure that you do not have any gaming of the admissions system.
Chair: Short answers, please.
Q49 Neil Carmichael: It is a complicated question.
Michael Gove: I will try to answer. Local authorities have a role in: admissions; support for high-need pupils, particularly in terms of SEN; issues like transport; and, if you move to a local authority area where the majority of schools, or indeed all schools, have become academies, I think they can take on a different role as commissioner of services. That is something that we need to explore.
Q50 Neil Carmichael: In terms of admissions, one of the issues about academies is, of course, that they might want to grow and expand, and you are going to, by definition, get some form of competition between certain schools. How will local authorities manage that, and what kind of policy drivers should be applied by local authorities to make sure that parents can exercise choice?
Michael Gove: I think it is a good thing if schools feel a sense of friendly rivalry towards one another, and I have noticed that in areas like Hackney, where you have had academies seeking to compete against one another in order to perform well, that has driven standards up and meant that you have had schools that were previously underperforming and losing pupils become high-performing and oversubscribed.
I think the local authority’s role is explicitly to ensure that, when you come to co-ordinate admissions, you do not have any attempt to use some of the dodges that may have existed in the past. I believe that the changes we have made to the admissions code help empower anyone who is concerned about problems that exist.
Q51 Neil Carmichael: If we continue having more and more schools turning into academies, the local authority will be effectively further diminished in its capacity to intervene. What kind of solution would you have for the remaining schools that perhaps might need intervention or assistance from local authorities?
Michael Gove: I do not think the local authority need necessarily be diminished. The prospect of a school becoming an academy can often raise the performance of a local authority, because previously, when it came to everything from school improvement to the provision of SEN services, it was, "Take it or leave it. You have got to rely on us."
Now you move to a situation where a school can become an academy and decide to buy into the services from its own council or from another local authority. It is striking that local authorities that I think are doing a good job, like Manchester, are moving towards a traded approach towards school improvement services. We are moving towards a situation where local authorities, if they are enterprising and imaginative, have new opportunities. Local authorities say that they can provide services more effectively because of economies of scale and inbuilt expertise. Well, now there is an opportunity for the best local authorities to paint on a broader canvas.
Q52 Neil Carmichael: Do you imagine a world where all schools are actually academies?
Michael Gove: I think more and more schools are going to be autonomous, yes, and I anticipate that before the end of this Parliament more than half of secondary schools will become academies. But there will be some schools that say, "Not for us."
Q53 Neil Carmichael: Are you happy for that to be the case in the long term?
Michael Gove: Yes. It is important that headteachers should make a decision that is right for them, and there are some who will say, "Despite the attractions, it is not going to be right for us," but at the moment the evidence suggests to me that there has been significant enthusiasm on the part of headteachers for it.
Q54 Neil Carmichael: What do you think of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s plans or ideas, at least, for an intervening person or structure, commission and so forth, between the school and you, as the Department for Education?
Michael Gove: I think it goes back to the point that Pat raised earlier, which is that there is a debate about what should exist between the Department and individual schools. In some ways, many of the functions that Sir Michael identified were provided by his old employer, ARK. ARK had ways of ensuring that you teamed high-performing heads with those who were doing less well. You had very rigorous monitoring of how every school was doing. You had shared services and, indeed, they are even moving towards having their own pupil referral units and their own approach towards children who are at risk of exclusion. So ARK in that respect provides as effectively as any local authority, as far as I can see, many of the services that local authorities used to provide in a geographically dispersed network of schools.
I think that Sir Michael is asking, "Who is going to provide that in the future?" Academy chains may provide it in certain circumstances. Local authorities might provide it in certain circumstances. His argument is that we may well need school commissioners, perhaps working out of the Office of the Schools Commissioner in the Department, operating on a regional level. It is important that, having stripped back bureaucracy at the centre and locally, we do not re-impose it, but I think he is right and Pat is right to say that we need to think hard as structures evolve about what the best way is of supporting the beneficial changes that have occurred.
Q55 Neil Carmichael: I will move on to the question of school governance, because that is quite a thing with an autonomous school. I believe that it is important that we think in terms of the skills and responsibilities governors have. There is the question of whether or not they are stakeholder representatives and so forth. How far is the Department going to move in a way that might actually free up schools to think more about the kind of governing body that they might want?
Michael Gove: It is a very good point. Sometimes clichés embody truths, and one cliché that embodies a big truth is that governors are the unsung heroes and heroines of the school education system. Indeed, they embody what Conservatives and Liberal Democrats mean by the Big Society. We believe that we should provide more support for chairs of governing bodies, and the National College is there to help provide them with the support and training that they need to do their job even better. Some schools have too many governors, and some governing body meetings are too long and spend too much time dealing with marginal issues rather than core issues.
We should encourage schools to have a tighter group of governing bodies. Governors should be chosen on the basis of their skills rather than the organisation or interest that they represent, and we can learn a lot from shining a light on the practice of the best schools. I have been really encouraged by the response of the business community, who are trying to encourage more and more people with a background in business to use some of their skills to enhance what governing bodies provide. But, as ever, I am interested in those schools that feel they have cracked this, have got it right, and would like to use the Department for Education as a platform for explaining to other schools how they can benefit from the progress they have made.
Q56 Neil Carmichael: In terms of accountability of governors, who do you think they should be accountable to and how would that work in an autonomous school?
Michael Gove: Ultimately, everybody in a school-head and governing body-is accountable to the broader community of parents that they serve, and they can be held accountable through published data, Ofsted inspections and through the contribution that school makes to children’s opportunities and the health of the community overall. Again, it goes back to the debate that we have been wrestling with this morning, which is that there are some accountability levers that can bear more weight than others, but there is no single and there should be no single measure by which you judge the performance of a school. There are some that are significantly more important than others, but you have to make a judgement in the round.
Q57 Lisa Nandy: Do you accept that communities have a right to know where resources for education are being allocated?
Michael Gove: Broadly, yes.
Q58 Lisa Nandy: In November I asked the Schools Minister when he would publish the funding agreements for the first round of free schools, and I was told, "In due course." This month I asked him again when they would be published, and I was told, "In due course." Given that the first free schools are now up and running, can you explain to the Committee what the delay is in publishing those agreements?
Michael Gove: I think we have published the funding agreements for the first 24 free schools. I think they are available on the DfE website, aren’t they? Yes.
Q59 Lisa Nandy: Could you point us to those funding agreements, because the Schools Minister is still telling me that they will be published in due course?
Michael Gove: I am sorry. I will have a word with the Schools Minister, but I think we published them a fortnight ago or thereabouts.
Q60 Chair: No conferring, I think, is the way this challenge works.
Michael Gove: I wanted to make sure that I did not mislead the Committee, and as Lisa was affirming something so strongly, I doubted my own recollection.
Q61 Alex Cunningham: First of all, one of the tweets from the public: what evidence do you have that the Pupil Premium is working?
Michael Gove: I do not have all the evidence yet. Point one: we have put in a significant sum of public money. Point two: it has been welcomed by the majority of headteachers. Point three: there are new accountability measures that will let us know how those students who are in receipt of it perform in every school. Point four: we wanted to have Ofsted-
Q62 Chair: Sorry to interrupt you, Secretary of State, but the linguistics around this have a great history in this Committee. Are they a performance measure rather than an accountability measure?
Michael Gove: Are which?
Q63 Chair: You have just said that there are accountability measures around the Pupil Premium. I do not believe under the definitions used by your Department that there are. I think they are performance measures, not accountability measures, and the Minister of Schools thinks that is very important. We thought the distinctions amusing, but we want you to stick with your Minister of Schools’s line.
Michael Gove: I love my Minister of Schools and I will stick with him to the last.
Q64 Alex Cunningham: It is okay. Let me save you; clearly you do not know yet, so we need to leave it till the future.
Michael Gove: Do not know what?
Q65 Alex Cunningham: You do not know if the premium is actually working currently because there has not been sufficient time.
Michael Gove: What would you consider to be sufficient time?
Alex Cunningham: Some schools with relatively high numbers of children on free school meals have had little or no extra cash. They say that you have given with one hand and taken away with the other. What evidence do you have that such schools have had real budget increases that reflect the full pupil premium so they have got real cash to do real things with these children?
Michael Gove: To go back to the first question, which you chose to answer yourself, we have not had enough time yet because the Pupil Premium has only just started arriving in schools.
Q66 Alex Cunningham: That is right, but what about the cash? What about real cash in schools?
Michael Gove: Yes. We have maintained spending at flat cash across the education system. We have removed ring-fencing-
Q67 Alex Cunningham: So you have given with one hand and taken it back with the other in some cases?
Michael Gove: No, we have not.
Q68 Alex Cunningham: Yes, you have.
Michael Gove: That is your view, Alex, and one to which you are well entitled.
Q69 Alex Cunningham: With respect, it is the view of many headteachers.
Michael Gove: There are many things that headteachers, quite rightly, draw to my attention and complain about. You asked a question about funding. I do not think it is possible to have a debate about funding of any public service without taking account of the devastating economic inheritance that this Government-
Q70 Alex Cunningham: Let us assume that the schools have got the cash. You have referred to-
Michael Gove: No, let me make this point. You argue that, at the very least, in the worst cases, schools have just as much money as they have ever had before. What does it say about this Government and its commitment to progressive values that, at a time when we inherited a huge level of debt left by the Government-of which you were not part, but for which you voted-we are still able to prioritise education?
Q71 Alex Cunningham: We are here to ask the questions; you are here to give the answers.
Michael Gove: Yes, and I am giving the answer, and the answer is that relative to the blight-
Q72 Alex Cunningham: It is absolutely wonderful that the Tory Government have maintained spending on education. There are no two ways about it.
Michael Gove: Yes, increased it.
Q73 Alex Cunningham: Well, I have yet to be convinced of that.
Michael Gove: "Facts are chiels that winna ding."
Q74 Alex Cunningham: You have referred to monitoring the success of children who attract the Pupil Premium. Can you tell us how that will work and how you ensure that cash is targeted at the individuals and not just swallowed up in the overall budget? I recollect times when additional money was going in for the kids who were looked after and nobody could actually tell me what was happening to that money. So how do we make sure that the individuals who attract the Pupil Premium are targeted with that cash?
Michael Gove: It is a fair point. The problem has often arisen with children who have special educational needs and have attracted specific funding as well. You can choose, from the centre or from anywhere, to micromanage how every penny is spent in the school, or you can trust professionals, give them autonomy and then hold them accountable. That is what I believe is right. We give significant sums and they will rise and they will become even more significant sums, because we have only seen a quarter of what will eventually be the entire Pupil Premium going to schools. As more money goes in, I expect that we will see real gains in the measures of the performance of children who received the Pupil Premium.
Q75 Alex Cunningham: But we have seen the additional support grants from local authorities have been cut to support the Pupil Premium: do you still hold with the additional funding thing? If the local authorities are not putting the money in and you are putting it in instead, is that just an even-stevens figure and they are not actually seeing extra cash?
Michael Gove: I had a look at some of the statistics on local authority spending between 2010 and 2011.
Q76 Alex Cunningham: Could you publish them for us?
Michael Gove: They were published last week. I saw that in many areas local authorities’ spending in a variety of things, like child protection and other areas, had increased. There is a view, a widespread one, sedulously promoted by critics of this Government, that spending in many of these areas has been crudely slashed. Not at all. Spending in a variety of areas for children at local authority level in 2010 and 2011 increased.
Q77 Alex Cunningham: Can I ask you about how we make sure that the schools get the money that they need? Whether it is for stigma reasons or whatever, there are a lot of people who do not claim nor do the children take the free school meals, so they do not actually attract the Pupil Premium. What are you actually going to do about that to make sure that where we have the neediest kids, whether they accept free school meals or not, they are still getting the Pupil Premium?
Michael Gove: We are doing everything possible to encourage schools to persuade parents that it is in their children’s interests to register them for meals.
Q78 Alex Cunningham: We have done that for generations, even if it was just for the case of the person having a good school meal once a day. What else can we do? We have not managed over the years to attract the people who are probably most in need, who need to attract that extra cash.
Michael Gove: You are absolutely right that there are some parents whose children would benefit from free school meals who will not have registered. One of the things that many schools are doing is making it easier, when children themselves get their dinners, to avoid any of the stigma that might have attached to a child being in receipt of free school meals: you will have a swipe card system, where it is not clear who is paying and who is not paying, and schools are becoming more and more sophisticated.
We are doing everything we can. My colleague, Sarah Teather, who leads on the Pupil Premium in my Department, has, through all the skills that a superb Lib Dem campaigner has at her disposal, brought to the attention of schools everywhere what they should do. I was going to say, if you are going to have one politician in the House of Commons draw to people’s attention the importance of a new Government initiative, there are few people better than Sarah with her campaigning skills.
Q79 Alex Cunningham: So you are not going to have a more sophisticated matrix for determining which schools should get the Pupil Premium?
Michael Gove: Other than eligibility for free school meals?
Alex Cunningham: Yes.
Michael Gove: I think it is the best, but no method is ever going to be perfect when it comes to identifying deprivation. Free school meals were used by the last Government, is used by this Government, as a proxy for it.
Q80 Alex Cunningham: How can we extend it to get more of the Pupil Premium into the schools where the kids are not-
Michael Gove: We are extending it so that it no longer applies only to children who are eligible for the free school meals in that year, but to children who may have been eligible for free school meals in previous years. We are getting over one of the problems, which was quite rightly identified by this Committee amongst others, which is that if you have a family that moves from being eligible for free school meals out of it, as quite rightly they get jobs and do better, then the school may lose out. Not any more; if you have been eligible for free school meals previously, your school is eligible for the Pupil Premium now and in the future.
Q81 Alex Cunningham: Finally, do you think the Premium is a sufficient incentive for schools to prioritise children from poorer backgrounds when it comes to admissions?
Michael Gove: It is an incentive, but I would like there to be even more incentives for schools to prioritise children from poorer backgrounds. So it helps.
Q82 Chair: Do you accept it is possible that a school that is struggling to get to the floor, when there is no ring fencing on the Pupil Premium, might dedicate its best resources, human and otherwise, to the borderline, and that will predominantly mean that they are not focusing their attention and their best people on the poorest? Is that possible, and if that proves to be the case, would you consider having an accountability rather than a performance measure so that it would trigger intervention if schools failed to deliver on an improvement for the poorest children in our schools?
Michael Gove: Anything is possible. You can never devise any system of performance or accountability that will mean that someone, somewhere, if they are determined to game it, will not find a way of doing so. All you can do is try to minimise the chance of that happening. That is what we have sought to do. As for the distinction between performance and accountability, obviously rather than no conferring I should have Bertrand Russell or maybe Freddie Ayer with me to attempt to analyse what these two different approaches towards language, truth and logic might mean.
Q83 Chair: Or perhaps, Secretary of State, we should have people more experienced in running organisations and businesses, who understand the power of incentives to drive behaviour, because if you do not understand the power of incentives, you will not understand the behaviour in the system that you are responsible for. You do not need a philosopher to tell you that; you need someone who has run organisations to tell you that.
Michael Gove: You have run many organisations, not least in the world of printing, very successfully.
Q84 Chair: I was not bidding for your job.
Michael Gove: I know that you would do many jobs that are available to Parliamentarians supremely well and, no doubt, better than many other competitors. Of course, we are aware that there are a variety of factors that drive behaviour, but I have been struck by the fact that this Government, and in particular this Department, has sought to use many of them. We know that, for example, when it comes to attracting teachers, raising the bar on entry has changed the profile of people who have applied to become teachers. We know that placing an emphasis through the English Baccalaureate on a wider range of subjects has had an influence as well. The point that you make about drivers of behaviour is correct. The analysis that we have made of what some of those drivers of behaviour are has seen beneficial results happening in the school system.
Now, Alex said, "Can we know if the Pupil Premium is having an effect?" There are some areas where we can see an effect of what we have done. We can see more students doing rigorous subjects. We can see more highly qualified people becoming teachers. We can see more schools choosing to become academies and using academy freedoms. So are things happening that we want to happen and that are good? Yes. Are there other things occurring where it will take longer for the benefits of our policies to be seen? Absolutely. But rather than looking into the crystal ball, or indeed scrutinising the CVs of individuals who may or may not hold posts in the Department for Education, if you merely look at the record so far, what in the record of the Department for Education so far strikes you, or indeed, anyone in the Committee, that we are moving in the wrong direction?
Q85 Chair: It is important, Secretary of State, that you are still listening and prepared to improve the drivers within the system in order better to align them with the goals. I think there is cross-party consensus on the goals; the question is whether we have the right mechanics in the system to drive those goals. Would you accept that?
Michael Gove: We will see-and if they are not, we will change them.
Q86 Lisa Nandy: The President of the ADCS paints a compelling picture of rising demand for children’s services and a very distressing decrease in resources. I have since discovered that there are three times as many staff working on academy conversions and free schools in your Department as there are in the safeguarding division. Given your aim of closing the gap between the most disadvantaged and the better off, how do you justify those priorities?
Michael Gove: Because academy converters and free schools are helping to drive up standards for all children, particularly the most disadvantaged. I do not think anyone can accuse us of neglecting safeguarding as an issue.
Pat Glass: I think you’ll find they can.
Michael Gove: We commissioned a report from Professor Eileen Munro, which was, I think, very well received, both amongst professional social workers and amongst directors of children’s services and which is a framework for reform. We have taken a whole new approach towards the publication of serious case reviews. We have provided a number of additional mechanisms of support for looked after children.
Most critically, the role that Martin Narey has played as a ministerial adviser on adoption has helped focus attention, not just on the importance of increasing the number of children who are adopted but on making sure that children who are at risk are taken into care and then found a secure placement, whether it is with foster carers or adoptive parents. Nationally, you have high quality staff in the Department for Education who are concentrating on a new programme that is achieving results, but you also have some superb staff, including Dr Jeanette Pugh, who is the official who deals with safeguarding, who have been doing a fantastic job of presiding over a reform programme there.
Q87 Lisa Nandy: At the same time, Secretary of State, referrals to children’s services jumped by 40,000 in one year. Action for Children say there are 5,000 vulnerable children who are without services. In the autumn statement, your Chancellor allocated £100 million for the free schools initiative, and you recently made a statement that you know that the money that is available through the Early Intervention Grant is not as generous as any of us would like to see. If you do not put in those resources at crisis point to deal with rising demand in children’s services when children are at crisis point, how do you expect them to achieve at school?
Michael Gove: Firstly-and this goes back to Alex’s point-I do not think any of us would say that we have all the money that we would like to have, whether it is for free schools, academies, the Early Intervention Grant that we give to local authorities or in many other areas. The second thing that I would say is that the figures that were published last week showed that, in 2010-11, while there were one or two areas of local government spending where there was retrenchment, there was an increase in the amount that was being made available, in particular when it came to child protection, and entirely understandably so.
With the vulnerable children that you refer to, it is important we also acknowledge some of the other changes that are happening across Government. The work that Louise Casey is leading in order to deal with the 120,000 most troubled families is critical in helping to deal with that issue. The expansion of the number of health visitors and the support that we are giving-and the particular incentives that we hope to be able to better develop to ensure that Sure Start Children’s Centres target the families most in need, who perhaps have not had a chance to benefit from those services-are helping to move things in the right direction.
Q88 Lisa Nandy: Do I understand correctly that you think the resources available for children’s services at the current time are sufficient?
Michael Gove: I think that the Government does everything that it can within a very tight envelope to make sure that the vulnerable are protected, but I think all of us in the Department for Education would love to be able to devote more resources to a set of priorities. But for the reasons that I rehearsed with Alex, and I will not bore the Committee by mentioning them again, we do not quite have all the money at our disposal that we would like.
Q89 Lisa Nandy: What about the £100 million in the autumn statement for free schools? Could that not be better spent on ensuring that children are helped at crisis point before it is too late?
Michael Gove: There is nothing more important than making sure that all children benefit from an improved education system. Of course, different Governments might have different priorities about spending within different areas, but when you have had an increase in spending on child protection at local authority level and an emphasis overall on our part in making sure that money spent on the front line is more efficient, I think that is an indication that professionals, whether directors of children’s services or headteachers, are using the resources we give them to best effect.
Q90 Damian Hinds: Secretary of State, one of the most refreshing things about the coalition Government’s approach in education is that every policy discussion starts with the question: "Where does this work best in the world?" When you look at those international comparisons, one of the recurring standout themes is that the number one driver of educational excellence is the quality of the teachers-trumping, for example, class size and other measures, apparently every time. That is reflected in the title of the White Paper: The Importance of Teaching.
It seems that actually hits both of your goals: it is the most important thing in terms of raising overall attainment, but apparently also in terms of narrowing the gap, and there are a lot of things the Government is doing. There are very encouraging numbers coming through Teach First, now the minimum entry standards-as you were mentioning a moment ago-raise the status of the profession, and also you are supporting teachers in matters of discipline and so on. Do you feel these things are enough to get us to something like a top-third-plus strategy, as happens in the leading countries in the world?
Michael Gove: I am always asking myself what more can or should we do. No one could say that the Department for Education and its officials have been torpid or inactive over the last 20 months. I demand of myself, of the Department, and of the entire school system a better and better performance with every year that passes, and I am looking constantly at the fact that other jurisdictions are innovating as well. So, it is not enough to say, "This is currently what they do in Finland, Singapore, South Korea, Massachusetts or wherever. Let us get to there."
What we want to do is create a system where improvement is driven by what happens on the ground in our country and we learn from the best there as well as learning from the best abroad, and constantly adapt. This is a particular point that bears on one of the things that Pat said, as well, and it also refers to Lisa’s interest in free schools. We want to have innovation in this country that becomes an object of admiration elsewhere, and we want to do that by making sure that schools can continue to attract high-quality teachers and then provide them with an environment in which they can do amazing things.
Q91 Damian Hinds: Of course, people coming into the profession are only one part of the equation, as an awful lot of people are already in the profession.
Michael Gove: Absolutely.
Q92 Damian Hinds: In our current Inquiry on attracting, developing and retaining the best teachers, we have focused a great deal also on continuing professional development and performance management. There is a constant complaint that you can go into teaching and effectively be there for decades without any effective personal development, and there also seems to be something of a lack of a culture of performance management, in that people leave who ultimately, after all the development they can have, are not perhaps suited to teaching. What more can be done in terms of development and performance management?
Michael Gove: A huge amount. I have said before, and I am happy to underline, that I think we have got the best generation of young people coming into teaching ever, and that is driving up the standard overall, but I think there are some people who went into teaching with high ideals who may have become stuck or demotivated. That is partly due to poor leadership from their senior leadership team, and partly due to other factors.
One of the things that we need to think hard about is how we improve performance management. Some of the changes that were made by Sally Coates in her Review of Teacher’s Standards and some of the things that we talked about when we were reviewing performance management and the capability procedures a couple of weeks ago, are helping to drive a culture change, but I also referred earlier to the work of high-performing schools, teaching schools and others. Part of the change is making sure that the classroom becomes a more open environment.
You referred to other nations earlier. One of the striking things I found when I visited the Far East is that the classroom is an open environment in which teachers learn from the leaders of their profession, who welcome observation, and then those who are either starting out or who feel that their practice has become becalmed also benefit from having other high-performing colleagues come in, observe and then offer advice. It is through that process of collaboration that we can drive improvement.
One thing I should say is that there are a number of partners with whom we should work in helping to improve professional development. The unions have a very strong role to play here. I am very grateful, for example, for the leadership shown by the ATL’s General Secretary, Mary Bousted, who has been a champion of improved professional development. There are also organisations like the Prince’s Teaching Institute, which has done a great deal in particular to help deepen teachers’ engagement with their subject. There is more that can be done, including thinking about how we can offer sabbaticals and offer opportunities for teachers to refresh their subject knowledge so that, as Michael Wilshaw has pointed out, we do not get burnout, but increased passion and reengagement.
Q93 Ian Mearns: Why did you decide to allow only academies to prioritise children eligible for Pupil Premium in their admissions policies? Why not all maintained schools? Could this not limit improvements in social mobility?
Michael Gove: Yes, is the short answer. It was a case of saying, "We’ll see if the benefits that can be brought by having free schools and academies do this work before going further," but my own personal preference is that one area where the admissions system could change is in making it easier and more attractive for all schools to prioritise them. But we were encouraged to ca’ canny to begin with, so that is what we will do. But I share I think the view behind your question. Yes, it might be worth extending.
Q94 Ian Mearns: Allowing schools to prioritise the children of staff in admissions will largely only impact on oversubscribed schools and will probably mean that some local children will miss out. How can you justify that?
Michael Gove: Because we want to make sure that you keep good staff in schools where they can make a difference, and it seemed to us that if you have got someone who is a great teacher or a critical member of staff and they cannot have their own child in that school, that may lead them to leave or to move, and it would be a tragedy if you had an integral member of the staff team going. Every child benefits if you have got someone who is critical to the success of the school there, whether they are a member of the support staff or a teacher.
Again, it goes back to one of the Chairman’s points: can you ever devise a perfect system in which everyone is happy? Apart from the way in which he allocates questions around the Select Committee, no, there will always be conflict and tough choices, but here we think that if you err on the side of making sure that top-quality staff can stay there, then overall more people benefit.
Q95 Ian Mearns: Overall more people benefit, but to me it sounds like we are all in this together but some of us are more in it than others, from that perspective. It really does, and some of the poorest kids with parents with less sharp elbows might be exactly the ones that would miss out in that context.
Michael Gove: I hope that poorer children would not. Behind the question there are two points. Firstly, is it the case that parents of poorer children are less anxious to get their children into good schools? I do not believe that. Is it the case that wealthier parents may have access to informal networks that enable them to know quite how to play the system? I think that was the case in the past; we are changing that now. You are right that we need to be vigilant that the admissions system is fair, but the change for staff is a small beneficial change that will not adversely affect poorer children.
Q96 Ian Mearns: With respect, Secretary of State, I have got parents of poorer children who-you are exactly right-will fight, scrap and do the best for their kids, but I have got a lot of parents in my constituency who, frankly, do not know what day it is. From that perspective, there is a real danger that more youngsters could miss out in that context. Some grammar schools are seeking to expand, and there is talk of opening satellite schools. Would you welcome this and what would the impact be on the children in those localities who do not gain admission to those satellites?
Michael Gove: We have allowed all schools that wish to and that are successful to expand. The particular case that has come to people’s attention is in West Kent. In Kent, you are having a significant increase in population overall. I think it was accepted by the last Government, as it has been by this one, that if you have population growth in an area where there is selective provision, you should allow schools in that area to expand to take account of it.
The number of children educated in grammar schools rose under the Labour Government because of population growth, and because of population growth the number of children overall who are going to be educated in every sort of school will rise. In a selective area, if provision needs to grow in order to take account of that, that is absolutely fine, but it is not our intention to extend selection beyond those areas where it currently exists.
Q97 Chair: Secretary of State, we are moving to a novel, new section: quick fire questions and answers, inspired by the Twitter feed #askgove-5,000-plus wanting to interact with you. So we are going to go round each of us in fairly strict timing. If you could give us quick answers, that would be great.
Michael Gove: I will try my best.
Q98 Chair: One is: if "good" requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?
Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.
Q99 Chair: So it is possible, is it?
Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.
Q100 Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: I cannot remember.
Q101 Chair: Can you please set out the chain of accountability for academies when things go wrong?
Michael Gove: It depends who the sponsor is.
Q102 Chair: What evidence have you to indicate that the Pupil Premium is working? We have done that already.
Michael Gove: We are gathering evidence on the ground now and, as Alex pointed out, given that the Pupil Premium is a relatively new addition, we will come back to the Committee and present all the evidence that we have in due course.
Q103 Chair: Why is there not the flexibility in the school admission code to allow summer-born pre-term children to delay their entry to school by a year?
Michael Gove: That requires a long answer.
Q104 Chair: You can have a little bit longer.
Michael Gove: We want children to be in school, learning, as quickly as possible.
Q105 Chair: Therefore you rule that out, do you?
Michael Gove: I am more than happy to look at the arguments, but we spent quite a lot of time looking at them and decided that the most appropriate thing to do was to have as many children as possible benefiting from being in school as early as possible.
Q106 Chair: You are very keen on international evidence. Another tweet is: why do we start schooling by four to five when evidence from Europe suggests that seven is a more appropriate age and the end result is better?
Michael Gove: Evidence from some countries suggests that it might be appropriate, evidence from other countries not, so you can have a situation in many Scandinavian nations where they do not have compulsory school attendance but what they do have is a kindergarten system, which is near universal, for all intents and purposes. Engagement with education at the earliest possible stage, whether it is a pre-school setting, a kindergarten setting or whatever, drives improvement later on. My own view is that one of the good things the coalition Government has done is extend the entitlement to pre-school education to more children.
Q107 Chair: For Ofsted to give accurate judgments, should inspectors have had recent, regular classroom experience as an outstanding teacher?
Michael Gove: It helps. One of the things that I know the Chief Inspector is anxious to do is to ensure that more outstanding heads qualify and serve as inspectors-a good thing, too.
Q108 Chair: What is being done to ensure that schools and colleges are providing positive advice about apprenticeship routes?
Michael Gove: All schools are under an obligation to provide high-quality and impartial careers advice, and the destination data, which you have championed and which we hope to implement, will show those schools that are doing well in getting their students into apprenticeships and those schools that, perhaps, could do better.
Q109 Chair: It is not a tweet but following up on that: are you happy with the way that careers advice is developing in schools? Do you see a danger in schools serving institutional interests rather than the interests of the child-for instance, by trying to get them to stay on till sixth form even if some alternative provision might be better for them?
Michael Gove: I keep a watching brief on careers advice, and there is always a danger, as you have pointed out, that in any system there may be different incentives. But one of the most important things about advice and guidance is that it is impossible for any individual or any single institution to have at their fingertips the range of information required in order to offer the students access to what they need to know about the opportunities available to them. That is why I think that technology in this area, as in teaching, has an enormous amount to offer in enhancing student choice.
Q110 Chair: What will you be doing to ensure local authorities stick to the law when producing policies regarding home education?
Michael Gove: Everything I possibly can.
Alex Cunningham: Pass.
Q111 Chair: Another one on home education: when is the Government going to realise that home education is a viable option that produces good results and is not a welfare issue?
Michael Gove: I have always maintained that home education can be a viable option and, in fact, I have often praised those who do educate their children at home for making a sacrifice in their children’s interest, which is admirable. Manifestly, it is not for everyone. But you are absolutely right: you should not conflate the two, and I think this was a mistake that some-not all-in the last Government made.
Q112 Damian Hinds: The gap between rich and poor that we talked about earlier is apparent before age three. Now, as Frank Field says, what your parents do is more important than who they are, but it just so happens there is a relationship between socioeconomic group and, on average, things like reading daily to children, having set bedtimes and so on-all of which go on to impact school readiness. Given that the gaps do not seem to close later in life, that suggests that the most important place for public policy might be the very hardest place for public policy to affect, which is in the home. What can Government and society do to improve the life chances of the poorest from those very early stages?
Michael Gove: Firstly, make it clear that there is an uncompromising expectation that children from every background can succeed. A lot of what we have done in challenging institutions-universities and schools-that are not doing enough to encourage children to do well is part of an overall cultural drive to make our society more open and more socially mobile.
There are specific things that we can do in terms of encouraging better parenting. There are three pilots in Camden and in two other local authority areas-I think Liverpool and Middlesbrough, but I will get back to the Committee-where we are piloting universal access to parenting classes. It is also the case that schools themselves can help inculcate the right attitudes in parents, and the very best schools take that very seriously.
Q113 Damian Hinds: For decades, education economists have said the smart thing to do is take money out of tertiary education and put it into early years because that is where you get the best return and so on. That is exactly what has happened over the last 15 years, but the millennium cohort of children have grown up throughout the Sure Start era, and there is no particular evidence of a narrowing gap between rich and poor in that cohort. What do you think has gone wrong with Sure Start and how will that be improved in future?
Michael Gove: I think it is too soon to say that things have gone wrong with Sure Start. There are things that we can improve about early interventions, particularly making sure that they reach families and individuals who in the past have not been effectively engaged with children’s services and what they have to offer. There has been a problem with some people who think that any involvement with the state or any of its agencies will mean that they will be judged, and they see it as a threat rather than a promise of support. We need to engage with that.
All the evidence-Heckman and others-reinforces the fact that effective early years education can yield benefits later, but I think it is important that we recognise that Sure Start and early years provision should be about child development primarily. There may have been a tendency among some to see it basically as a way of helping adults back into the workforce-fine-but the most important thing is to make sure that children have structured activities, whether it is structured play or an introduction to learning in an appropriate environment, that get those neural connections firing and get them curious about the world and ready to learn.
Q114 Damian Hinds: Clearly, there is brilliant parenting and bad parenting in all groups of society, but there is also, of course, the question of access to opportunities. It seems that one of the big things driving social mobility is the difference in opportunities after the school bell rings: in the evenings, at weekends, and in holidays. We have got the learning loss issue, which is being addressed partly by the Year 6 to Year 7 summer school pilot. What else can be done to equalise the opportunities between the rich and the poor out of school?
Michael Gove: We have given some thought and are giving some thought to what schools do in terms of extra and co-curricular activities and what the best schools offer: everything from chess to hockey, from drama to debating. It is important that we encourage those schools that have a commitment to extracurricular activities, but I think this comes back to a question about the burden that we place on teachers.
If we are going to ensure that our education system serves children well, we are going inevitably to have to demand more of our school system, and that means looking at teacher workload to make sure that we support teachers in the right way. It also means that we need to think about longer school days, longer school terms and, within those longer school days and longer school terms, the sorts of activities that I have just mentioned, which help build up a rounded young person who is confident and capable of taking their place as a successful citizen.
Q115 Alex Cunningham: Do you really believe that academies and free schools should go it alone or do you favour multi-academy and umbrella trusts, which effectively control things, perhaps in much the same way as local authorities, depending on the level of delegation?
Michael Gove: Both.
Q116 Alex Cunningham: Both, right. What options are open to failing academies and free schools?
Michael Gove: If the sponsor is wrong, we will remove them, and there is an opportunity to intervene, as there was, I think, with one particular academy in Southwark, where the local diocese was the sponsor and the diocese was not doing a good job. ARK has stepped in to take it over. There are one or two other academies whose sponsors we think are not up to scratch. In one or two cases, the sponsors have taken ameliorative steps to deal with the problems; in one or two cases those sponsors will lose the academies.
Q117 Alex Cunningham: Would you force a failing academy or free school into one of these multi-academy trusts?
Michael Gove: Or whatever was the appropriate measure, yes.
Q118 Alex Cunningham: You would do that?
Michael Gove: Yes. We have in one case already.
Q119 Alex Cunningham: I believe very much that children should be able to go to school as near to home as possible, and some groups have promoted free schools on that basis. I am keen to understand how the Department is ensuring that successful schools near to proposed free schools are protected and sustained in places where there are sufficient secondary places in high-performing schools. If there are enough spaces in high-performing schools, why a free school?
Michael Gove: If parents want it and if there is a demand, then that school, albeit high-performing, may not be high-performing enough.
Q120 Alex Cunningham: You have made it clear in the past that free schools could open up in all manner of premises: industrial units, redundant offices and things. What protections are there in place to ensure that we do not rush in order to open a free school and that our children are properly protected?
Michael Gove: If only we were rushing to open them at the rate that I would like to see. The truth is that we had 24 free schools open last September. They have opened in a variety of buildings. Perhaps, Alex, you and I can visit them. They are all very handsome buildings, fit for purpose. There are more than enough rules and regulations about what you can and cannot do in the nation’s buildings to ensure that the children are being educated well.
One of the striking examples, though, is Norwich free school. I think it cost only about £1 million to convert an already existing office into a really handsome school, and that school has built relationships with other institutions that mean that the children play football at Carrow Road and are educated in a handsome Victorian-it may even be Georgian-building, and all for far cheaper than a new school would have cost under the last Government. My only regret about the whole thing is that the children, by playing football at Carrow Road, may grow up supporting Ed Balls’s favourite team, but we cannot have everything in this world.
Q121 Alex Cunningham: Free-school teachers, you have said, will not need to have teaching qualifications. Are people without proper training really the right people to be teaching our children? Do you not think this undermines the importance of what teachers do?
Michael Gove: No. Again, there is a new free school, Langley Hall, I think, which has two people who are not qualified as teachers but who bring creative and practical skills to bear in the education of those children, and the parents and the headteacher absolutely believe that has augmented what that school can offer. Richard Garner, a brilliant journalist in the Independent, wrote a feature outlining the benefits of that flexibility. I will send a copy to the Committee.
We know that independent fee-paying schools often take people who are not qualified teachers but have specific skills in specific areas. In my own constituency, the CCF and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and a brilliant pipe band are all supported by someone who was not a qualified teacher when he joined. It is important to recognise that the education workforce can draw people from a variety of different backgrounds, but I also agree with you that it is really important that we stress the vital role that strong qualifications play in making sure that the best quality teaching can be provided.
Q122 Alex Cunningham: What is a reasonable proportion of teachers as opposed to non-qualified teachers?
Michael Gove: It is for the head to decide, not me.
Q123 Alex Cunningham: Free schools and academies take on nearly half the national average of pupils and children with free school meals or from the most deprived backgrounds. The number of children in academies opened by the Government has slumped from 30% under Labour to 5%-that is the children with special educational needs or on free school meals. Does that not demonstrate your policy is more about creating schools independent to local authorities, rather than driving up standards and tackling underperformance?
Michael Gove: No.
Q124 Alex Cunningham: Why not?
Michael Gove: Because all those schools that have taken on academy freedoms are engaged in working with or collaborating with other schools to help them to raise standards more broadly. One of the criticisms that had been directed at academies is that over time the number of children in them eligible for free school meals or with special educational needs has diminished. That was often the case; schools that had previously been viewed as sink schools had become highly successful. So, the diminution of children who were on free school meals or had special educational needs was a consequence of the school’s success, not a cause of the school’s success.
Q125 Alex Cunningham: Finally, I very much treasure the King James Bible that my gran gave me when I was six years of age. Has your project to put a King James Bible in every school been funded now, and don’t you think the Bible can speak for itself and does not really need a foreword from you?
Michael Gove: Yes, and yes. But I will say a wee bit more. Firstly, The Guardian, which I would never compare with the King James Bible, had an article the other day that said we had lots of bibles in a warehouse in Holland or wherever. The King James Bible facsimiles have not yet been printed, so by definition they cannot be in a warehouse. As readers of the King James Bible, both you and I will know that miracles can occur, but how can you have a warehouse full of things that have not been created yet? The other thing is that the authors of the King James Bible were a committee of learned divines. I am neither learned nor divine, and therefore I have decided that there should not be any words in the King James Bible other than those that the original authors penned.
Q126 Charlotte Leslie: In engaging pupils, is excellent teaching or nature of the subject the primary factor?
Michael Gove: Excellent teaching.
Q127 Charlotte Leslie: We have teacher training schools: do we need the teacher equivalent of a consultant doctor-teacher teacher status?
Michael Gove: Possibly.
Q128 Charlotte Leslie: Are excluded kids naughty or needy?
Michael Gove: Both.
Q129 Charlotte Leslie: Two-thirds of rioters had SEN. What are we doing about it and what should we be doing about it?
Michael Gove: It is important, when we are talking about special educational needs, to disaggregate the different types of challenges that children and young people face. We should be clear that many of those were children who had behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, and that those were often a consequence of problems very early in their lives, as Damian was talking about earlier. So these are children who do have needs that affect their education: their lives have been blighted, but it will often be as a result of poor parenting, being born in poverty, and poor education earlier in their life, so we need to tackle all of those problems together.
Q130 Charlotte Leslie: What is the Government doing to recognise the role of sport in behaviour improvement and behavioural management?
Michael Gove: We need to do more to encourage competitive sport, and I am very glad that more than 50% of schools are taking part in the School Games, which my colleague, Jeremy Hunt, has played a visionary role in championing. One of the most important things about sport is that in the past people have stressed the benefits that participation in sport brings in helping to reduce obesity-very important.
But sport is critical in terms of building character, and in particular team sport and competitive sport encourage children to collaborate with one another and then to deal with adversity and loss and defeat. As a parent myself, I appreciate that it is children learning how to cope with defeat that helps build their character. Given that my son has become a fan of Queens Park Rangers, he has learnt how to cope with defeat manfully over the course of the last few months.
Q131 Ian Mearns: You talked about the importance of working across Government, particularly when it comes to the welfare of children. Will your Department conduct an impact assessment on the implications for children, their welfare and their education of proposed changes to the benefits system?
Michael Gove: I do not know who should conduct that impact assessment. It is a very fair point. I will come back to the Committee and I will let you know where we think that work best be done-whether by us, DWP or whoever.
Q132 Ian Mearns: You also mentioned that local authority spending on children’s services had grown. Would you accept that there has been a significant increase in referrals and demand for services in many areas?
Michael Gove: Yes. It is important to stress that it has grown in some local authority areas and in some subdivisions of local authority budgets. There are other local authorities that face real challenges, but I absolutely acknowledge that referrals have gone up and there are a variety of factors behind that.
Q133 Ian Mearns: How many primary academies will there be by the end of this Parliament?
Michael Gove: I do not know how many there will be. At the moment in terms of primary academies we have some figures here, which I will give to the Committee.
Q134 Ian Mearns: You can tell us later.
Michael Gove: I will tell you later. I do not know the exact figure, by definition because it is a demand-led programme.
Q135 Chair: So what do you expect it to be?
Michael Gove: We do not have a target. The more who want to, the better. What we do have is an expectation that 200 underperforming primaries will become sponsored academies by the end of this calendar year.
Q136 Ian Mearns: Last week, an Ofsted inspector told me that, on a recent inspection of a particular school, she observed a very poor lesson. She reported this to the lead inspector, who told her categorically that "in this school there are no poor lessons". What will you do to stop this lack of challenge for supposedly good schools?
Michael Gove: The new Chief Inspector has made it clear that he expects the bar to raise at every level. He expects there to be more observation of teaching and learning and he wants to improve and strengthen the cadre of inspectors. If you wanted to pass on whatever information you felt appropriate to the Chief Inspector, I know that he would be determined to deal with that problem.
Q137 Ian Mearns: Do you regret using private emails to discuss ministerial business?
Michael Gove: This relates to a broader issue about Freedom of Information. The approach that I have taken towards Freedom of Information and the use of email has been governed by two things: the advice that the Permanent Secretary gave to Ministers and to advisers, and the advice that the Cabinet Office has given to Ministers and advisers. We have striven at all times to follow that advice.
Q138 Ian Mearns: Did you ever discuss Building Schools for the Future using a private email address?
Michael Gove: My recollection is that there will have been times when I will have sent from my home email to my private secretary emails covering a huge variety of issues, but one of the things that, understandably, people misunderstand about Government is that you cannot achieve anything in Government unless it goes through your private office. Whether or not I had sent it from a Government email or my home email, in order for it to become operational it will have had to have touched down in my private secretary’s or in the private office’s email account, when it instantly becomes part of the Government process. Everything that relates to decisions about Building Schools for the Future, or any other material decision that had the effect of becoming Government policy, will have gone through those channels.
Q139 Ian Mearns: One of the big challenges with particularly some youngsters from deprived backgrounds is getting them into school, keeping them there and educating them. Have you got any thoughts about how we can continue to improve the process of doing that?
Michael Gove: Yes. Has the Committee had an opportunity to talk to Charlie Taylor, the Government’s behaviour adviser?
Chair: We took evidence from him, but some time ago, before he was in that position.
Michael Gove: He will shortly be publishing a report that deals with attendance and alternative provision, and his report will deal extensively with two of the three areas that you mentioned. I would encourage you to invite him to come along and then talk to Ministers about it afterwards.
There is always more that we can do, and one of the concerns that I have is that, as we raise the participation age, there are children at 16 and 17 who have previously disengaged from school earlier on, and we need to nip that problem of attendance and engagement in the bud earlier if we are to make sure that raising the participation age helps all the children who it is intended to help. So we do need to look at a variety of levers, and perhaps that means additional powers for schools and local authorities.
Q140 Ian Mearns: Lastly from me, would you welcome an interface between this Committee and the ministerial advisory group to oversee the work that they are doing in looking at the future role for local authorities in school improvement?
Michael Gove: Totally. This is a great Committee and it does a brilliant job, and the more you can engage with the Department and its advisory groups, the better.
Q141 Tessa Munt: How many children would you like to see in each class-the size of class?
Michael Gove: I do not have a view.
Q142 Tessa Munt: I bet you do.
Michael Gove: I have got views on so many things. It depends. It touches on something that Damian said: the critical thing is the quality of the teacher. Obviously, at infant level there are laws, quite rightly, that stress that class sizes should not-except in exceptional circumstances, siblings and so on-go above a particular level. Quite right, too. Later on in school the critical test for me is: are children in a class with a superb teacher? I would rather, for the sake of argument, that you had one teacher who was brilliant teaching 16 children, than two groups of eight with indifferent teaching for those two groups. So the critical question is the quality of teaching.
Q143 Tessa Munt: Does that mean we can aim for 16 in a class?
Michael Gove: It is constrained, inevitably, by the resources that we have. All other things being equal, the more individual attention or small group attention that students can have, the better. One of the striking things about what has happened in academies and in free schools is that you have often seen a move towards better adult:child and teacher:pupil ratios as resources have been used more effectively. I am conscious of the fact that I do not want to fashion a new stick with which to beat teachers or headteachers, so I do not want to say that I am going to prescribe something. Teachers themselves will want to teach smaller classes, if at all possible, but it is important that we do not make that the be all and end all when teacher quality is so important.
Q144 Tessa Munt: The comparison is made on the outcome of the pupil. How do you compare somebody who has been taught in a class of 16 with a class of 30? Do we record that information?
Michael Gove: We have information on class sizes overall. There is academic research that shows the impact of class size on pupil attainment. I do not think that we can monitor that-though the more data, the better, as far as I am concerned-and I will come back to the Committee with how granular our information can be.
Q145 Tessa Munt: Why should there be fewer parent governors on an academy governing body?
Michael Gove: I just think that there should be fewer governors overall who are doing a tighter job.
Q146 Tessa Munt: Have you considered policies that make pupils rather than teachers responsible for their own learning?
Michael Gove: We are considering at every stage how we can encourage a greater sense of responsibility on the part of pupils for their learning, yes. One of the things that technology provides is an opportunity for children to work more effectively at their own pace and to be stretched in a way that perhaps the teacher may not have anticipated. It comes back to the question about class size in a way, and it also reflects on one of the points that Alex made. I would not want to do anything that undermined the critical role that teachers can play. They are the most important people in the system, and nothing matters more than the quality of teaching in raising a child’s attainment and getting them to succeed later in life.
Q147 Tessa Munt: When are you going to sort out the problem of student transport and free transport for those who are in compulsory education or training, or whatever it is, up to the age of 18, please?
Michael Gove: Local authorities are under a statutory obligation to make sure that young people can get to the educational institution that they should.
Q148 Tessa Munt: Sure, they can, but in my area it is 795 quid or something if you happen to be in a peculiar catchment area.
Michael Gove: It is one of those areas, and it goes back to Ian’s point, where the Department and local government have to work together.
Q149 Tessa Munt: Yes, and when are they going to do that?
Michael Gove: We are seeking to work together at the moment. I do not think there has ever been a perfect answer to the problem of school transport.
Q150 Tessa Munt: "Free" is a good answer if you are trying to go to school.
Michael Gove: Costs.
Q151 Tessa Munt: Okay, fine. How many apprentices does DfE employ?
Michael Gove: Do we employ?
Q152 Tessa Munt: Yes.
Michael Gove: I do not know.
Q153 Tessa Munt: Could you come back to me on that?
Michael Gove: I will.
Q154 Tessa Munt: Could you also tell me, please, about how many interns you have and how many extended work experience students you have?
Michael Gove: Yes, I will.
Q155 Tessa Munt: Thank you very much indeed. Will financial education become a key part of the modern curriculum?
Michael Gove: We are conducting a review. There are two aspects to financial education, I would say. One of them is the application of some basic numeracy skills, and we are considering how, in our revised programmes of study for mathematics, we can include some of those skills that are necessary. The other thing is just common sense, what you might call resilience, and we are looking at the best examples of PSHE across the board to try to isolate those schools that do it best and learn lessons from them.
Q156 Tessa Munt: How many hours a week do you think a teacher should work?
Michael Gove: At the moment they are required to work 32 and a half hours, of which 10% of time is planning, preparation and assessment time, i.e. not in the classroom. That is what it says in law. I think the question is that teachers should work as long as is required to do the job.
There is a cultural thing here, if you can excuse my taking slightly longer to answer the question. I do not want, any more than anyone does, to have teachers who are demotivated, exhausted, strung out or burnt out, and I recognise that standing in front of a class, particularly if you are a primary school teacher, throughout the day takes a lot out of you. Absolutely. But at the same time I think it is important that we do not have a culture of clock watching. It is important that we have a culture of collaborative engagement and team working, where, for example, if you need to cover for an absent colleague who is dealing with family crises, you have a greater degree of flexibility.
There are some in the unions-not all-who see advocacy of greater flexibility as an attempt to essentially make teaching a less attractive destination. I absolutely disagree with that. A greater degree of flexibility, collaboration and team working is about making sure that the burden is shared.
Q157 Tessa Munt: How would you feel if children in your children’s class behaved like MPs do at PMQs?
Michael Gove: That is a very good question.
Tessa Munt: Be quick, because I am running out of time.
Michael Gove: Two things: I think you are absolutely right. People in public positions-MPs, everyone-have to think, "How does our behaviour reflect on us and, therefore, what is the impact on young people?" However, one thing I would say-and this will sound even more pompous than anything I have said so far-
Alex Cunningham: I do not know about that.
Michael Gove: It is a high bar I am setting, I know. I think there is a slight namby-pamby, PC tendency to try to anaesthetise public debate. I think that public debate should be engaged and passionate and raucous. It is quite right at Prime Minister’s Question Time that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition should feel determined to put across their point of view. Sometimes we try to emulsify public discourse, instead of saying, "It is a good thing when ideas clash."
One of the best safeguards of liberty in this country is the fact that, if you are an accused and you are in court, your defending brief tries everything possible to knock down the prosecuting arguments. Over time this place and this Chamber has succeeded because, just when the Executive thinks it has got a good idea, there have been people who have been prepared to stand out against it and to say no and to use every device and every argument at their disposal. So I think when people say, "Can’t we have a hemicycle-style arrangement in the House of Commons," like in Strasbourg, my view is absolutely not. That would be the anaesthetisation of democracy. So I like a raucous and rambunctious House of Commons, and if that puts me at odds with the Speaker, there you go.
Q158 Pat Glass: Thank you, Secretary of State. I think you would find that many men would agree with you, but I think you will find most women do not. Some of the most popular tweets that we received were from teachers who asked if the Secretary of State would shadow a teacher for a day or perhaps longer. One tweeter, I think a woman, suggested you might wish to stay with her from five o’clock in the morning, when she gets up, until the evening, when she finishes her day’s work, and that would put you in a better position to formulate policy. Would you commit to doing that?
Michael Gove: It depends who the teacher is, but yes.
Q159 Pat Glass: Higher education and further education applications have collapsed in this country, and before you tell me that they have not collapsed across the board, I accept that. I think they have gone up at Oxford and Cambridge, and certainly in my region the number of applications for Durham has increased, but the universities that young people from the region go to have collapsed. In education, one of the ways in which we check whether a child is learning by rote or understands is to say to them, "So what do you think would happen next?" When you trebled tuition fees and when you abolished EMA, what did you think would happen next?
Michael Gove: There is a distinction between FE and HE. If you look at what happens for people who are staying on after the age of 16 and making choices on further education colleges, the number staying on has gone very slightly up. The feared drop-off as a consequence of reforming Educational Maintenance Allowance does not appear to have happened. There are some FE colleges that have recorded drops in enrolment and other FE colleges that have recorded increases, but broadly in FE it has risen.
In HE it is a different picture. I want to have a look at the figures that came out yesterday to analyse them in detail. I have not had a chance to do so. The evidence suggests that there has been a bigger drop off amongst mature students, and that it depends partly on the quality of institutions and what they offer. One of the things that the higher education reforms were supposed to do is make students think hard about whether or not it was in their interests to pursue a degree, or an apprenticeship or to pursue a career in the world of work rather than going on to university.
But I agree with you that it is important, once you have introduced a policy, to assess how it is operating on the ground. I also, I think, agree with a number of other people who have expressed a desire to ensure that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds go on to top-performing universities-and by top-performing universities, I do not just mean Durham and Oxbridge, I also mean universities like Newcastle, which has a fantastic record, and other major regional city universities and also some of the newer universities that used to be polytechnics and have strengths in particular areas. It is a complex picture. I want to look at all the evidence there, but in FE it is better than you might think.
Q160 Pat Glass: So Newcastle University, where HE applications have dropped by 7% this year.
Michael Gove: That worries me.
Q161 Pat Glass: Moving on to the Pupil Premium, all the evidence that we have seen and certainly my experience tell me that early intervention is where we make a real difference, so why are we not paying the Pupil Premium at three? Why are we waiting until children are in compulsory education, when we know that it is almost too late?
Michael Gove: It comes back to the question of wanting to do more. One of the things that we have done is increase the number of two-year-olds who have access to pre-school learning. I would like to think, to be fair, that if Labour had won the election, this is something that they would have wanted to do. I cannot know, but I think and I hope it is an area where there will be bipartisan support. We have moved from a situation where up to 120,000 or 140,000 two-year-olds benefit from it to 240,000. It is targeted at the poorest. As we were discussing earlier, the Pupil Premium is a new policy, which I hope will bring benefits. The anecdotal feedback on the ground reinforces that it is. Let us see, but I would not rule anything out.
Q162 Pat Glass: So a possibility for the future?
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q163 Pat Glass: Moving on to home-to-school transport. Some of us met with the Prime Minister recently to talk about rural bus cuts. Most authorities have cut back significantly on home-to-school/college transport. Some have almost abolished it. What that means is that pupils, parents, students are making decisions on what they can afford, and not what they need and what they want, in terms of courses. What are you going to do about this?
Michael Gove: It worries me. As I said earlier in response to Tessa, there is a statutory obligation on local authorities to make sure that they have an appropriate plan to ensure that young people after the age of 16 can exercise those choices. What you are saying to me and what others have said is that not every local authority is necessarily doing that. Now, I do not want to bash local authorities on this occasion. It may well be that there are specific circumstances, particularly in a big and diverse local authority like Durham or Somerset, so what I am going to do is work with those local authorities, and talk to them about the budgetary pressures that they are under and how we can make sure that more efficiency ensures that choices can be honoured.
Q164 Pat Glass: One of the surprising subjects on which we got loads of tweets was school libraries. Why are libraries compulsory in prison but not in schools, and what are you going to do about it?
Michael Gove: It is a very good question. I am a great fan of school libraries, and I think that we should encourage reading. On the whole, I think we should have less compulsion when it comes to school buildings, because in the past we have had compulsion about all sorts of stuff. One of the areas where there is a case for us intervening-I do not think necessarily in compulsion, but I will think about how we can intervene-is to encourage schools to have libraries, and by libraries I mean proper libraries with proper books that encourage wider reading.
Q165 Neil Carmichael: How do we make the teaching profession more attractive to increase people’s interest in becoming teachers?
Michael Gove: You make it harder to become a teacher.
Neil Carmichael: Fair enough.
Michael Gove: The reason for that is that the countries with the best teachers are those countries where teaching is the most prestigious profession, and it is the most prestigious profession because it is the most difficult to get into. In that sense, raising the bar on entry is one of the ways in which we reinforce it. Concomitant with that, we need to ensure that, whether it is through bursaries for high achievers or greater flexibilities over salaries and accelerated promotion for people who are doing well, those who are achieving-and Charlotte alluded to this earlier-can get more money.
Q166 Neil Carmichael: So moving towards a professional body for teachers might be a way forward-to encourage them to take charge of their own destiny?
Michael Gove: It is important that teachers should think about aligning themselves with or benefiting from professional associations. There are several things I would say. Firstly, the best people in the trade unions already aspire to do that. You have got organisations like ATL or ASCL; it is quite right they should campaign for improved pensions and all the rest of it, as that is part of their job, but they also produce material on the curriculum and professional development. The NUT has an educational journal it publishes with some fascinating stuff in it. That is exactly what they should be doing to help raise the prestige of what they do.
Also, when we are thinking about teachers, we should end the division between people who work in nurseries, people who work in primary and secondary, people who work in FE and people who work in higher education. Whether you are a Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church or you are working with two-year-olds in Aberdeen, you should be part of one fused profession that sees its job as safeguarding the intellectual life of the nation. It is important that we uphold and support that. Within that, there may be different professional associations that suit the needs of teachers depending on the areas in which they work, but trying to say that you are just as important a professional if you are working in a pre-school setting as you are if you are working in a Russell Group university is important.
Q167 Neil Carmichael: Does that logic apply to the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills?
Michael Gove: I think it was wrong to split universities and science away from the Department for Education, but one must not make the best the enemy of the good, and at the moment we have a superb team of Ministers in BIS, who are doing a brilliant job, so I have enough to get on with at the moment.
Q168 Neil Carmichael: Absolutely. How are we going to encourage federalism between schools, academies and so forth, and do you wish to do that anyway?
Michael Gove: Yes, I think collaboration is absolutely a good thing, and we have been discussing how we might further incentivise collaboration: the existence of teaching schools, the role the National College plays, the growth of academy sponsorship and networks is all part of that.
One of my favourite schools, Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, is playing a part in East Manchester in helping to raise attainment there by creating a federation of primary and secondary schools. You have got the perfect model there of a school that is outstanding, that could merely keep to itself if it wanted to-and look after the children who go to school past the well-tended lawns of the most salubrious part of Greater Manchester-but that school’s headteacher is determined to extend her mission beyond simply Altrincham. That is a great model. It is striking that there are more and more headteachers who are doing that from high-performing state schools.
My concern is that that sort of fantastic leadership that we are seeing from the best teachers in the state sector we are not seeing from some independent fee-paying schools. It is a shame that schools that are the envy of the world in the fee-paying, independent sector are not doing enough to extend their mission beyond their well-tended lawns.
Q169 Neil Carmichael: What are you going to do to simplify Section 251 for the conversion of academies, which is causing difficulties in Gloucestershire?
Michael Gove: It is causing difficulties everywhere, and we are talking to local government at the moment about simplifying the whole process of working out how local authorities and schools should have money fairly divided between them.
Neil Carmichael: Excellent.
Q170 Lisa Nandy: Have you or your advisers ever used private email accounts in order to conceal information from civil servants or the public?
Michael Gove: We have always followed the advice that the Cabinet Office have laid down on Freedom of Information.
Q171 Lisa Nandy: Have you or your advisers ever used private email accounts in order to conceal information from civil servants or the public?
Michael Gove: Sometimes I have sent emails on my private account to my wife, for example, about whether or not we might go to the theatre, and on the whole I would have thought that would have been something that, while the civil servants or the public might have been interested in it, would not necessarily have been an appropriate matter to share.
Q172 Lisa Nandy: Have you or your advisers ever used private email accounts in order to conceal information from civil servants or the public that relates to departmental business and is covered by the Freedom of Information Act?
Michael Gove: There are many different interpretations of how the Freedom of Information Act might apply, and I have always followed the advice that I have received from the Cabinet Office.
Q173 Lisa Nandy: Can I understand that the answer to that, then, Secretary of State, is yes?
Michael Gove: No. The answer is the answer that I gave.
Q174 Lisa Nandy: So the answer is not no and not yes?
Michael Gove: The answer is the answer I gave. I think it is important, when we are looking at Freedom of Information, to appreciate a variety of things. Firstly, as I said in response to Ian’s question, if you are talking about departmental business, then departmental business can only be conducted by engaging with departmental officials and by asking them to perform departmental functions. It can be the case that I, as an individual, can have all sorts of conversations with all sorts of people. Those conversations can be private; they can be political. It is incumbent on me to follow the advice that I receive from the Cabinet Office and from the Permanent Secretary about what to do.
Q175 Lisa Nandy: In May last year, the Chief Freedom of Information Officer for the Department for Education confirmed to the Permanent Secretary that the Act covered private email accounts. Why was information that was subsequently circulated on private email accounts and covered by the Freedom of Information Act not kept?
Michael Gove: We followed the advice that we received from the Cabinet Office about what was and what was not in scope. The Department asked explicitly for advice from the Cabinet Office, and that was the advice that we followed.
Q176 Lisa Nandy: Why did the Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer provide advice that was contrary to the advice provided by the Cabinet Office?
Michael Gove: I do not know. One of the things that I have found in Government is that you will often find that there are different people who will have different interpretations of how things should be followed.
Q177 Lisa Nandy: Did you receive that advice and choose to ignore it?
Michael Gove: I never ignore any advice that I receive from officials. I might disagree with aspects of that advice and challenge it.
Q178 Lisa Nandy: So you subsequently chose to go to the Cabinet Office for further advice after receiving advice from your own Department’s Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer?
Michael Gove: I do not recall seeing that advice from the Chief Freedom of Information Officer myself. Others in the Department undoubtedly would have done. It was subsequently made available to all of us.
Q179 Lisa Nandy: Have you asked the Permanent Secretary why he did not pass on that advice to you?
Michael Gove: I have asked the Permanent Secretary, both the immediately departed Permanent Secretary and our new one, all sorts of questions about this matter. One thing I would say, though, is that the details of an email appeared in one newspaper. That email was a political conversation. More than that, my understanding is that it is the job of the Information Commissioner to protect individual data. The Department has been on the receiving end of leaked stories that rely on information that would appear to me to have been obtained in a way that was-how can I put this-not consistent with respect for individuals’ privacy or individuals’ data. It is part of life and Government that leaks occur, but it is also appropriate that the Department does its best to ensure that there is a confidential space for policy discussion.
It is also worth recording that the Department for Education has published more data about school performance, more data about expenditure, more data about decisions taken in the last two years than it had hitherto. On that basis we have-and I applaud civil servants for doing so-shown a commitment to making sure that the public and others have as much information as possible about how we act in their name.
Q180 Lisa Nandy: In the name of more information, have you ever directed your civil servants not to respond to FOI requests on specific issues? A simple yes or no would be fine.
Michael Gove: I have always argued that we should respond to Freedom of Information requests in an appropriate fashion.
Q181 Lisa Nandy: So you have never directed your civil servants not to respond to FOI requests on specific issues?
Michael Gove: I may have said that something would not have been within the scope of a Freedom of Information request.
Q182 Lisa Nandy: But you have never told a civil servant not to respond to an FOI request where that request was within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act?
Michael Gove: I will have said at certain times that I did not believe that a Freedom of Information request was within scope, and I would have subsequently taken advice. I will have said at certain points that I thought that certain inquiries might have been vexatious, irresponsible, or whatever, but there are protocols that ensure that, if it is appropriate and if an inquiry is in scope, the rules are followed.
At every time the rule would have been followed. I will have expressed an opinion. If that opinion had to be reviewed subsequently because of advice that I was given by civil servants, it will have been. There will have been a number of conversations in which I will have said, "I do not believe that should be in scope," or "I do not believe this should be in scope." I will have expressed an opinion about the operation of the law, but the law is the law, and in the end we, like everyone else, have to respect it, whether or not it is applied in a way that I would think was wrong.
Q183 Lisa Nandy: When the Financial Times requested documents circulated on private email accounts under the FOI Act, they were told that those documents did not exist. They have since obtained those documents. Following this, I asked a parliamentary question to discover what actions had been taken to prevent the deletion of information circulated on private email accounts that may be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. I am afraid I did not get an answer. Could you tell us that answer today?
Michael Gove: You might not have had an answer that you deemed to be satisfactory, but I am sure you would have received an answer. There are two points I would make: the first is that you say that the Financial Times asked for information and then they subsequently received that information. I suspect, actually, that the Financial Times already had that information, and we were in the curious position of the Financial Times making a Freedom of Information request to see something that it already had. Why would they do that?
Q184 Lisa Nandy: Secretary of State, could you answer my question?
Michael Gove: I am.
Q185 Lisa Nandy: What steps have you taken to prevent the deletion of information held or circulated on private email accounts that is subject to the Freedom of Information Act?
Michael Gove: The advice that we had received from the Cabinet Office was that anything that was held on private email accounts was not subject to Freedom of Information requests.
Q186 Lisa Nandy: You have since received differing advice from the Information Commissioner.
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q187 Lisa Nandy: So, can you tell me what steps you have taken to prevent information being deleted that is covered by the Freedom of Information Act?
Michael Gove: We have received a view from the Information Commissioner. I am waiting for the Cabinet Office to give us updated guidance in the light of what the Information Commissioner says. In the meantime, we have chosen to act in accordance with the guidance that we received from the Cabinet Office.
Q188 Craig Whittaker: Calder High School and Todmorden High School are both schools in the Calder Valley that have incredibly poor fabric buildings and both are waiting on tenterhooks for an announcement on the Priority School Building Programme. As asked in a tweet, can you afford to delay the Priority School Building Programme announcement considering the urgent need for more places, and when are you going to announce?
Michael Gove: We hope to announce, after the February constituency recess, which schools will benefit from the Priority School Building Programme, and at the moment we are making sure that the significant number of schools that have applied are judged against each other so that we can, if not guarantee, at least do everything in our power to ensure that those schools that benefit are the most deserving.
Q189 Craig Whittaker: F1 in Schools is a not-for-profit organisation operating in over 30 other countries, raising educational attainment, particularly in the STEM area, and its world headquarters are in the Calder Valley. The MD cannot get past your gatekeepers to have a meeting with you to explain the many benefits of it. Will you see them?
Michael Gove: You have got past those gatekeepers brilliantly, Craig. Of course I shall.
Q190 Craig Whittaker: When?
Michael Gove: I hope that we can fix up later today a firm date at the earliest possible opportunity, but I suspect it may not be until after the constituency recess as well, so it will be a busy week for news in Calder Valley later in February or early in March.
Q191 Craig Whittaker: The Minister for Schools spoke recently about researching a mastery level, but he said, "This would require a huge change of culture." Does this put you off implementing the mastery level?
Michael Gove: No, it does not. I think it is a challenge, because-again, for the benefit of the Committee, all of whom I am sure are familiar with the arguments, but just to restate-at the moment the system that we have of reaching an expected level acknowledges that there will be children who will leave school below that level. Moving towards a mastery model means that you do not accept that there will be children who can leave primary school without having reached an accepted level of literacy and numeracy. I think that is the right approach to take, but, as we all know, given the statistical gap between what is expected and what is achieved at the moment, it is a big request of the school system.
We need to ask, even as we move towards that goal-and we should be determined to move towards that goal-are we doing so in a way that is making more demands of the school system but demands that are capable of being met realistically? Therefore, it is about timing and it is also about support for schools as we move towards a different approach towards judging how well people have grasped the curriculum’s essentials.
Q192 Craig Whittaker: The Green Paper on SEN talks about steps to improve initial teacher training for teachers in special schools. The headteacher at Ravenscliffe, which is in Calderdale, has grave concerns about the recruitment of specialist teachers in this area because of a lack of focus on special training for those teachers in initial teacher training. Will that change?
Michael Gove: I hope so, yes, and I will report back to you, Craig, and the Committee, on how we intend to do that.
Q193 Chair: Thank you very much, Secretary of State. I will end with a final tweet. If you could be any James Bond villain, which one would you be?
Michael Gove: Gosh.
Ian Mearns: All of them.
Michael Gove: I think I would be Hugo Drax, and the reason I would choose him is my enormous admiration for the Member of Parliament for South Dorset, who has got the same surname. But also, wasn’t it Hugo Drax who was responsible for the rocket in Moonraker? Is that right? The Parliamentary Clerk is nodding.
Q194 Chair: Despite reading the question, I have no idea.
Michael Gove: Scaramanga had an interest in ballistics, but having an interest in rocket science is probably more appropriate. I would say that if the Committee has any other suggestions about which-
Q195 Lisa Nandy: Your advisers seem to want you to stop speaking.
Michael Gove: I am sure they do. Some things never change. No, I would hate to be Scaramanga; I would hate to be Dr No, so I think I will probably settle for Hugo Drax.
One final thing I should say, Mr Chairman, is thank you very much for this session and I am very happy to come back at any point. There are a number of areas where you asked questions and I promised to come back to the Committee. For example, there were some questions around local authority funding and I talked then about general trends. What I may do, with your permission, is write back to the Committee about any areas where any of the answers that I gave could be better elucidated by correspondence, data and further information. If, after having been sent that information, you would like me to come back to expound on any of those points, I would of course be absolutely delighted to, at your disposal.
Chair: Thank you, Secretary of State. I noticed a tweet during the session that said, "Whatever you think of his policies, you have got to say he does get his message over well articulated and with wit." Thank you very much for appearing before us today.
Michael Gove: Not at all, thank you.