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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 808-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
reforming key stage 4 qualifications
Wednesday 5 December 2012
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 118
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Taken before the Education Committee
on Wednesday 5 December 2012
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Mr David Ward
Examination of Witness
Witness: Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning, Secretary of State. Thank you for joining us today. Could you set out for us the rationale for the effective abolition of GCSEs in the core English Baccalaureate subjects, and why you do not think it is possible to fix the GCSEs, as you originally laid out in your White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, a couple of years ago?
Michael Gove: I do not think that anything is impossible. All reforms have to be a balance between competing goods. It will always be the case-the consultation we are undertaking at the moment brings this out-that if you put forward a set of propositions, and you believe that they are the right answer, then as part of the conversation that follows, people will find ways of refining the propositions you have put out. That will cause you to reflect on what you have done. At the Department for Education, we take consultation seriously, and we think it is important to lay out what we believe is an appropriate way forward, but to weigh the evidence that comes in, in order to ensure that we take the maximum number of people with us. We thought that it was appropriate to have a clean break with the system.
Q2 Chair: So you are trying to take the maximum number of people with you? A lot of people would find that surprising to hear.
Michael Gove: We are trying. As in so many things, either missteps in how things are calibrated or actual policy disagreements may mean that some people who might otherwise be convinced decide not to be, but we try. With respect to the reason why we felt it was better to have a clean break rather than simply to continue, we wanted to ensure, first, that there was an element of innovation. We wanted to say that GCSEs, having been designed for a different world, had now had a period of time during which certain deleterious consequences had flowed from the way in which they had been designed and implemented, and we wanted to move to a new system.
We felt it would be better, if we were making the series of changes that we were making, to signal that clean break, not least the clean break between competing exam boards and a franchise system, by saying that it was a new qualification. We also felt that that new qualification would signal a higher degree of ambition overall for our education system. We can run through-as I am sure we will-the component parts of the case we are making for change.
Q3 Chair: Following up on your point about component parts, do you agree that curriculum assessment, school accountability and learning resources have to form a coherent whole if education is to be successful?
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q4 Chair: We do not seem to have had a conclusion to the National Curriculum review for secondary. We have not yet had the consultation on the changes to school accountability, and learning resources will have to follow on from a fairly rapid change to assessment that you have laid out. It does not feel as if there is that recognition of that coherence. It feels as though you have gone in very narrowly and said, "We are doing these new qualifications, and we are doing it to a tight timetable." The consultation asks for pretty narrow feedback on how you will bring that about, rather than a discussion about how those various elements can be brought together to improve educational standards.
Michael Gove: I think we are having a broad discussion now. I am certainly impressed by the quality and quantity of feedback that we have had. I think coherence comes at the end of the process. Of course it will be the case, as you quite rightly point out, that there is a relationship between each of the individual parts. One criticism that was levelled at us, and I can understand exactly why it was levelled, is that we had already made our minds up about the answer to every question. That is not true. We had a strong presumption that the proposals we were putting forward would help meet many of the problems we had identified.
We wanted, as I think most Governments would want, to lay out the rationale for change, explain what it is that we proposed, and then listen to people of goodwill who were seeking to change that. I think that the sequencing of these things can always be reordered, depending on the importance people attach to them. Certainly, however, the debate about both the shape of the curriculum and what should be in the English Baccalaureate overall, as a definition of how English Baccalaureate Certificates should look, has been pretty wideranging. Even the Turner Prize winner, and the actor awarding the Turner Prize this week, joined in that debate. I do not think there has been any sense of it being a closed conversation.
Q5 Chair: Given that a further four cohorts of children will be taking GCSEs before the introduction of EBCs, what steps will the Government be taking in the meantime to improve or possibly restore the credibility of GCSEs?
Michael Gove: As you know, this year’s students taking GCSEs will be the last to take them in a unitised format. Even within that, Ofqual have made recommendations that, for example, the amount of information that was released about the January units in the past academic year will not be repeated. That is an attempt, obviously, to reduce the amount of gaming that we have. We know that the exam boards themselves are aware of a lot of the issues that have been raised, and they will be seeking themselves to increase and augment their marker pool and the way in which grade boundaries are set.
There will be improvements to GCSEs. One inevitable concern or tension is between a desire to ensure that we identify the weaknesses that exist and a desire also to ensure that people can make broadly comparable judgments between GCSEs. Of course, if-as I hope is the case-we have made GCSEs more rigorous even before the advent of EBCs or whatever they might be called, some people might argue, "This year were favoured more because of a laxity in how assessment was designed, and this year have suffered," as we know from our previous hearings, when we were discussing how comparable outcomes work and how standards are maintained over time. There will always be people who will want to interpret one particular year as tougher or softer than another. One reason why we want to reform things is because there are so many moving parts in the examination system at the moment; we want as much as possible to simplify the process of measurement.
Q6 Chair: Do you expect a lower or higher percentage of children taking the first EBCs in 2017-English and maths-to gain a grade C in the new EBC, or whatever it is called, than will have done so in the prior year, in the last GCSE?
Michael Gove: I do not know, is the only honest answer. I was in America last week, talking to education reformers there. One point they made, with which I agree, is that when you raise the level of expectation, we are often pleasantly surprised by the capacity of students, the school system, and teachers to meet it. We want these examinations, explicitly, to be more rigorous, and the assessment methods in some respects to be more demanding. However, there is evidence that that may lead to an overall improvement in performance, because as you raise the bar, so people dedicate themselves to improving their own personal best.
Of course there will be some people who will argue that the pass rate at C, or whatever a successor cut point to C might be, will fall. I do not think that our aim should be to ensure that we have a consistently rising number and to pat ourselves on the back simply because the number is consistently rising. We want higher standards, and we want a system that tells the truth about standards.
Q7 Chair: Still, you will choose the specification, and it will have to be designed. One might raise standards over time by setting a higher expectation over time, but between 2016 and 2017, if you bring in a harder exam, the number of people who get the C grade, or however it is measured, will fall, will it not? Is that not a logical consequence, unless there is a oneyear transformation purely by changing the metric?
Michael Gove: It would not be purely by changing the metric, and of course there is plenty of time in the runup for people to appreciate how important it is to change the way in which they approach the examination. I imagine we will move on to this, but one thing I would say is that, for example, if you remove controlled assessment, then you free up a significant additional amount of time for teaching and learning, which I think will improve performance in any subsequent examination. I do not think it is automatic.
Of course there is the prospect-some would say the risk-of the scenario that you have outlined. When I was in the United States last week, I was struck by the fact they are implementing a common core curriculum among more than 40 states-by agreement rather than federal fiat. One of the first states to have a system of assessment aligned with that common core curriculum has been Kentucky, where the percentage passing at what we would think of as GCSE age has fallen, broadly along the lines you anticipate. However, the reaction in Kentucky has not been horror but gratitude that students are being told the truth now about how well they are performing relative to a reliable benchmark. It is also the case that it is acting as a driver to improvement across the school system in that state and in other states.
I will not shy away from the fact that if you have a higher bar, then inevitably people will have to work harder to clear it, and some may not, but I am convinced that it is only by increasing the bar-along with all the other changes we are making-that we will continue the drive to improve performance.
Q8 Mr Ward: Could this not be achieved by preparing league tables based on five A to Bs?
Michael Gove: There are a number of different ways in which you could change the accountability system in order to incentivise a higher level of performance as well, and going back to what the Chairman said earlier, improving the way in which exams are delivered and the style of assessment is only one way of improving things. Indeed the Chairman has made the point, with which I have a lot of sympathy, that having a cutoff point where there is a borderline between C and B, or between C and D, can sometimes lead, over time, to perverse behaviour, and there may be other ways in which we can look, for example, at a capped points score for a number of examinations as an appropriate benchmark. We want to have that conversation.
Q9 Chair: The Committee has decided to focus on the long tail of underachievement as a theme across our inquiries, and the Department likewise has "Closing the Gap between Rich and Poor" as one of its two key overarching educational objectives. How will the new EBCs contribute to that? How will the EBCs help, say, the lowest quartile of performers?
Michael Gove: There is some evidence from Ofqual that linear rather than modular assessment helps those students either from poorer socio-economic backgrounds or who have been poorer performers beforehand. There has been an assumption amongst some, and the argument has been put forward, that modular assessment helps students from more challenging backgrounds. Ofqual’s research contests that. More than that, the experience I have had in talking to headteachers in the state system who have, for example, moved to the IGCSE is that it is often students who come from challenging homes who do better because of the linear form of assessment in that examination.
Q10 Chair: The reduction of modularity is happening anyway, within the GCSEs.
Michael Gove: Yes.
Chair: It may be a feature of EBCs but it is not a differentiator from GCSEs. We have an entirely new qualification for the reasons you have given, which will be more rigorous, more difficult. As near enough 50% of children right now do not get five good GCSEs including English and maths, I am trying to work out how the children in the lowestperforming quartile, who very often are also from the poorest homes, will be helped by a new qualification that is more difficult to achieve and that they are already a long way from achieving on the current metric.
Michael Gove: Your question contains within it a number of assumptions. All our positions have assumptions and prejudices inherent within them. I will unpack one or two of mine: my assumption is that the current system builds in a cap on achievement at certain points, through tiering. It is another difference between the IGCSE and the GCSE. There are some GCSEs that are not tiered, but overall the principle of tiering has an implicit cap on achievement. It can sometimes be the case that the very existence of tiering means that some teachers are encouraged to think of students as foundation students or higher tier students, and to track people at an earlier stage than I think is wise.
More broadly, I think all the changes we are bringing about will ensure that there is more time for teaching and learning, and that there is a style of assessment that helps students who come from more challenging backgrounds. Of course we could make all of these changes and still call the examination a GCSE if one wanted to, or anything else. The judgment that we make is that it is better, given the scale of change that we envisage, to make it clear that this is a new examination. I think that is broadly understood. You can disagree with it, but it does not seem, given the scale of change, an unrespectable argument to say that this scale of change should be accompanied by a change in terminology.
Q11 Chair: Does Ofqual think the timetable for the introduction of EBCs is realistic?
Michael Gove: Ofqual have some concerns, and one of the great things about having an independent regulator like Ofqual is that it is not only schools that sometimes think, "Hmm, well...". Ofqual do have concerns, yes. We will seek to meet them.
Q12 Chair: What concerns do they have, not only on the timetable but more broadly?
Michael Gove: To be fair to Glenys Stacey, I would hope that you would ask her. I will not attempt to put words into Glenys’s mouth. I know that if she were to come here, she would feel unfettered and would express better than I can any concerns she has. I would hate to think that I was putting words into her mouth, and either exaggerating or minimising those concerns that she has.
Q13 Chair: But part of having an independent regulator is that they make recommendations to you and express concerns to you, so your wording of your understanding of those concerns is quite important to understand how it will impact on your behaviour. It is Ofqual’s job to tell you their concerns; they have done so. You are, we think, more than capable of telling us your understanding of what they are.
Michael Gove: I am seeking to meet those concerns at the moment.
Q14 Chair: Can you tell us what they are?
Michael Gove: I will not put words into the mouth of the regulator.
Q15 Chair: I want to hear your words for your understanding of what their concerns are, and then when we get Glenys Stacey before us, we can check whether what you have understood to be Ofqual’s concerns is the same as Ofqual’s understanding of what those concerns are. That would be a very helpful dynamic in doing our job in holding you, and indeed Ofqual, to account.
Michael Gove: I think it would be better, in my judgment, to ask Ofqual-to get Ofqual, on the record, to state what they are-and then to put them to me, subsequently.
Q16 Chair: Secretary of State, as Chairman of the Committee whose job it is to hold you to account, my judgment is that I would like to hear from you what Ofqual’s concerns are, as expressed to you.
Michael Gove: I am not going to do that.
Q17 Chair: You are refusing?
Michael Gove: I will say that Ofqual should probably state what their concerns are. It is not my job to state what an independent regulator believes to be right or wrong about what we are doing. I will not put words into their mouth.
Q18 Alex Cunningham: Do you actually know? Do you know the answer to the question, or are you choosing not to tell us?
Michael Gove: I am choosing not to tell you. I have received a letter from Ofqual, and that letter from Ofqual has certain concerns. I will not release that letter. It should be Glenys Stacey’s decision to release the letter if she wishes to, or Glenys’s decision to share her views with you. I shall not.
Q19 Chair: You are coming here to discuss these reforms, Secretary of State, and you are the Secretary of State for the Department that we are supposed to scrutinise. You have had concerns expressed to you in a letter, it turns out, from Ofqual, and you are refusing to discuss those with us when we are trying, as a Committee in Parliament whose job it is to hold you to account, to find out what the concerns are. That is not reasonable. I would ask you again to reconsider and talk to us. You do not have to put words in their mouth, but however it is, we are here to engage with concerns about these changes. There are few people more informed than the regulator in understanding how the system works and what the issues might be, and if we cannot talk to you about what those concerns are, it makes this morning somewhat futile.
Michael Gove: You can ask all sorts of questions-
Q20 Chair: I can expect you to answer them as well, Secretary of State.
Michael Gove: I will, but the point is that-
Q21 Chair: Get on with it, then, please.
Michael Gove: You must ask Glenys Stacey, who of course is accountable to Parliament.
Q22 Chair: I am asking you the concerns raised with you by the regulator. The regulator raises concerns with you. We are here to discuss those concerns. It is not acceptable to me that you are not prepared to do so.
Michael Gove: I am prepared to discuss them, but only after you have had a chance to talk to the regulator.
Q23 Bill Esterson: Do you not accept that it is Parliament’s role to hold you to account, as the Government, and that when we ask you questions, you should answer them?
Michael Gove: Yes. I will, but I think-
Q24 Bill Esterson: Why are you refusing to answer them?
Michael Gove: There are a number of questions that you could ask me, and there are a number of things you could ask me to reveal that I would not, because they might, for example, relate to confidential advice that I had received from civil servants, or legal advice. As far as I am concerned, the thing you should do, if you want to know what Ofqual’s concerns are, is ask Ofqual.
Q25 Bill Esterson: This is a matter of public policy. This is not a confidential matter to do with individuals in individual schools.
Michael Gove: It is a letter from Ofqual to me, and if you want to ask the regulator about that letter, or about any other concerns that she has or may have, you should ask her, not me.
Q26 Alex Cunningham: Do you think, Secretary of State, that there are things she said in that letter that she would not necessarily want to make public and embarrass you?
Michael Gove: I do not know. I am not a mind reader.
Q27 Mr Ward: Could I ask if there are any other organisations that have expressed concerns about the reforms that you are not prepared to tell us about?
Michael Gove: If someone writes to me in confidence, I will respect that confidence. If someone submits a response to a public consultation, then of course you can ask me about what they have said in public.
Q28 Mr Ward: Was Ofqual’s letter to you in confidence?
Michael Gove: You will have to ask the regulator about the terms on which she is happy to release it. I am perfectly happy to see it released, but it is up to her to decide these matters.
Q29 Bill Esterson: Did she say in the letter, "This letter is in confidence; do not release it publicly"?
Michael Gove: I presume that any letter to me is in confidence unless someone says they are willing to have it released. That is the basis on which I have always operated.
Q30 Siobhain McDonagh: Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?
Michael Gove: It is a really simple process, which is that you can ask Glenys, who is accountable to Parliament, if she wants to release the letter. That is a matter for her, not for me.
Q31 Chair: These reforms are not the regulator’s. These reforms are yours.
Michael Gove: Yes, and you can ask me any question you like about them.
Q32 Chair: If somebody submits concerns to you and they do not say that they are confidential, I think the normal assumption is not that something is confidential. Normally somebody will tell you whether it is confidential and they would prefer it not to be released.
Michael Gove: Unless Glenys states otherwise, I will not release it. I would not release correspondence from the regulator or anyone else unless I had asked them beforehand. If you wanted me to release this letter, you could have written to me beforehand. If you had asked me prior to this meeting about any correspondence, then I could have asked the regulator. You asked me during the course of this Committee meeting; I am very happy to come back and answer any points that are made, but if you want a letter released from the regulator, then you have to ask her.
Q33 Chair: It was not the letter’s release. I wondered whether there had been concerns raised by the regulator, what they were, and what you thought about them.
Michael Gove: There are, but I am not going to reveal the nature of that letter, because I think it is a matter for the regulator to do so.
Q34 Chair: Can I ask how you have responded to that letter?
Michael Gove: I will be having a meeting with the regulator next week.
Q35 Pat Glass: Secretary of State, it is very difficult to follow that. I have to say I did not understand what the concerns were. We were only asking what Ofqual’s concerns were, not for any release of a letter. I simply do not understand why you are so reluctant to do that, but anyway, we will move on.
Michael Gove: Because I will not put words into someone else’s mouth, especially not the regulator’s.
Q36 Pat Glass: Right. Why the fundamental reform? Initially in the 2010 White Paper you talked about changes to the GCSE system. I think we could all understand that, but what I am concerned about is why there has been this change from changes to the GCSE system to a complete replacement.
Michael Gove: As I pointed out to the Chairman, there are a number of problems with the GCSE system that we have at the moment. The first problem referred to in the consultation is that the existence of competition between exam boards creates a temptation for schools and students to choose the exam board that offers, essentially, the smoothest and easiest path to the highest mark. In other words, competition works against the public interest within the examination system that we have at the moment.
There is no other country that has a system of competing exam boards quite like this. It is an historical feature-some would argue an anomaly. Competition can bring certain benefits, in that you can have boards that compete on the basis of the efficiency of the service they provide, but as The Daily Telegraph exposed, and as many of us had suspected, that competition also worked against the broader public interest, in effect by ensuring that we had competing systems of measurement, which is not ideal.
The second thing is that we know that our headline improvement in performance in GCSEs, and indeed in some other metrics, compared with our performance in international benchmarks suggests that the rate of improvement GCSEs were recording did not reflect the real rate of improvement that our students were enjoying. In other words, there was grade inflation, a point that has been accepted across parties. The first connects with the second.
The third point is that the style of assessment that GCSEs have embodied, particularly recently, works against a synoptic understanding of subjects, and it also works against effective teaching and learning, not least the unitisation or modularity of subjects, and first of all the adoption of coursework and then the move towards controlled assessments.
Q37 Pat Glass: All those things-competition in the exam system, grade inflation, and the style-could have been changed without replacing the GCSEs. It has been put to us, Secretary of State, that you have damaged the brand of GCSEs by design. Is that true?
Michael Gove: I think that attributes to me a hypnotic power that no politician has. It is often the case that people say things like, "Your words have trashed GCSEs."
Q38 Pat Glass: That is exactly what has been said to us.
Michael Gove: I think, with respect, that that argument is nonsensical. If the GCSE brand was strong, then no words uttered by me could undermine it. The argument is sometimes made that there are remarks made by politicians that depress morale in this or that profession, or depress the value of this or that element. I think that is wrong. I think it is the case that people are well able to make up their minds about the effectiveness of examinations, and it is interesting to track the impact on public opinion of what has been happening in our examination system over time.
We can see that from a high level there has been a decreasing lack of confidence in our examination system, and that the problem has been greater with GCSEs than with other exams. We are making some changes to A-levels, but there is a general view-although not everyone in the Committee may share it-that there is less that is wrong with the A-level than there has been with the GCSE and the style of assessment that it has embodied. My remarks cannot influence the settled opinions of people who, over time, have been losing confidence in the examination.
Q39 Pat Glass: When the GCSE was introduced by a previous Conservative Government, they built a real consensus around it. I was around at the time. They worked very hard with parents, with teachers’ organisations, with learned bodies, with universities, etc., so that when the GCSE was introduced it was generally welcomed and there was a real consensus built around it. We have spoken to teachers’ representatives, headteachers’ representatives and university representatives. We had an informal seminar a few weeks ago with Ofqual, learned bodies and exam bodies. The room was full of people with whom we would expect to build a consensus. You said you have not had a closed conversation, but what we got from that was that there is not this consensus around the change from GCSEs and their replacements. Apart from the winner of the Turner Prize, whom have you been talking to?
Michael Gove: I have not yet had a chance to talk to the winner of the Turner Prize. I do not know if she would be willing to talk to me, but I have been listening to representations from different parts of the educational landscape, as you have, and we have been conducting a consultation, and that consultation has had consensus support for many of the propositions we have been putting forward, and then question marks over others. There has been broadly consensual support for a move towards a franchise system. This Committee has put forward an alternative, and we might go into the strengths and weaknesses of that alternative in a moment, but there is more support for the Government’s position than for the Select Committee’s on that issue.
Q40 Pat Glass: More support from whom, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: From those who have responded to the consultation so far, and indeed from the Opposition Front Bench. Politically there has been support, and certainly there has not been a significant pushback that I have noted from any of the representatives of the teaching profession or the education world on the move towards a franchise system. I am sure they will correct me if I am wrong, but even the NASUWT, who do not always see eye to eye with us, recognise that the move towards a franchise system is appropriate.
Then there are other arguments. The question as to whether or not we should move away from controlled assessment divides opinion, certainly, and it is also the case that there are divisions of opinion over the whole question of tiering, and how you can make sure that one examination can cater for the overwhelming majority of abilities. I think the consensus that existed around the GCSE at the time was because consensus had formed before that about some of the weaknesses in the existing examination system.
I think there are still some areas where you have to choose. While there is consensus around some aspects of our reform, there is also a lively debate around other aspects of our reform. In those circumstances, if you side with one side of the debate, including sticking with some of the aspects of the current GCSE system, you would inevitably sacrifice the support of some people on the other side of the debate. It is not the case that one can create consensus where none exists previously. What you can do is listen to the serious concerns expressed by people who take a different view, seek to reassure and convince, but if they remain unconvinced, then that should not act as a veto.
Q41 Pat Glass: I agree that there is a consensus around some changes to the GCSE system, and also around things like franchising. We are not picking up a general consensus to replace GCSEs with something else, and certainly to replace them so quickly, given that there are lots of other changes happening at the same time.
Michael Gove: I understand that there are some people who do not like, as it were, a change of name or terminology. I can understand why there is an attachment, emotional or otherwise. However, I prefer to disaggregate the changes we are making, to acknowledge that there is support, and pretty solid support, for some and that there is a debate around others, and engage in a debate on each of those individual points. I cannot anticipate which parts of the reform people are necessarily going to agree or disagree with. We put forward a proposition, and then we listen to competing views.
Q42 Pat Glass: Can I ask you about the risks?
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q43 Chair: Pat, just before you move on: Secretary of State are you open to maintaining the GCSE brand, as opposed to coming out with a wholly new one? Are you open to being persuaded of that? The changes you made can be incorporated, it is clear from everything you have said, within the GCSE. There is nothing about the changes that could not be incorporated within that, if the balance of opinion was that would be a more effective reform than creating a new one at the same time as you have GCSEs. Are you open to that?
Michael Gove: We are consulting on what the new qualification should be called. I have to say that it is my strong view that attempting to breathe life into the GCSE brand would be in noone’s interest, but if I can develop a better and clearer understanding of why it is that people believe that maintaining that brand or name would be a good idea, then I would be in a better position to be able to weigh that view and decide whether or not it had merit. I have to say, it would have to be a very powerful and seductive argument of the kind that I have not yet encountered that would incline the Government to change its view on that question, but we are openminded about what the new set of qualifications could be called. We have put forward a proposition; if people have other ideas that better capture what it is we are trying to achieve, then I am open.
Q44 Pat Glass: Thank you. Can I ask you about the risks of doing this all at once? We have changes to the whole system, changes to the exam system, changes to the way in which the exam system is administered. Given what happened this year with changes to the administration of one subject, and putting aside who we think was responsible for that or otherwise, given that massive volatility in the system all at the same time, have you looked seriously at the risks around this? If Ofqual were to ask you to slow down on this, would you do that?
Michael Gove: There are significant risks with any reform. You always have to balance the risks of making changes against the risks of sticking with a status quo that is faltering. If I use an analogy very briefly, we are making changes to the funding system for schools. There are risks inherent in that, but the risks of sticking with an existing funding system that has all sorts of weaknesses, we calculated, were greater. Simply because there is risk, it does not mean that one should not move forward.
You are right that there are a number of people who are concerned about the pace. What I want to do is make sure-given not least what was implicit in the Chairman’s question about an erosion of confidence in the existing examination-that we move on to what I consider to be the safer ground of a new examination system as quickly as possible. I was struck when I was in America last week that the timetable they have for introducing annual assessments of the common core curriculum is similar to ours, if not more ambitious. I know that the states and the Federal Government there recognise that there is risk but believe that it is appropriate to move at that speed.
Of course we are keeping under review every aspect of this process, and if it is the case that for any reason there is any aspect of it where we need to amend our timetable in order to make sure that it is in students’ best interests, then we will do so. However, I think it is always important in Government to keep up the pace of reform. As I mentioned earlier in a different context, my very, very strong view is that we should stick to the timetable we have set, but of course if a red light flashes, we will take account of it.
Q45 Pat Glass: I suspect the regulator’s concerns in her letter to you are about the combination of risks and the massive volatility that has been created in the system. If she asks you to slow down, will you do that?
Michael Gove: We will talk, and are talking, to the regulator about concerns, and the regulator will form a judgment about whether or not our response to her concerns provides her with sufficient reassurance. At the risk of repeating what I said earlier-you might take a different view-but I think it would be wrong for me to say, "This is the concern the regulator set out, and I think this response is adequate." She will put forward her concerns; I will state how I respond. She can then let you know whether or not she thinks that is adequate, and you can form a judgment.
Q46 Chair: We were not going to revisit that. The point was more whether you feel it necessary to satisfy the regulator on the timetable, or would you feel confident to overrule the regulator if you saw fit?
Michael Gove: If it were the case that after a process of seeking to reassure, the regulator still had concerns but I believed that it was right to go ahead, then I would, and on my own head be it.
Q47 Mr Ward: You said earlier on, Secretary of State, that coherence comes at the end of a process. Without an attempt at a coherent plan at the beginning, however, is coherence at the end not just a question of luck?
Michael Gove: It can be. One thing we have sought to do is to put forward a strong set of what we believe are the right sorts of things, and then leave open some areas for legitimate debate. Of course there is always a danger that people can look at the areas where you are certain, or nearcertain, and say, "How dare you move to a premature conclusion on that?" Then they look at the areas where you are specifically inviting opinion and say, "Why are you not clearer about your own belief there?"
My view is that we have sought to meet the consensus about some of the things that were wrong with GCSEs. The question about accountability, which I know the Committee has taken very seriously, seems to be the one where the greatest room for openness and debate can exist. As for the curriculum, there needs to be a document on which people can have views. We issued preliminary drafts for the primary curriculum in core subjects. There has been feedback on that. We will issue formal drafts for public consultation in the new year, and we will also issue drafts of the secondary curriculum for consultation in the new year. It will be a consultation process, and we have taken account already of some of the very well intentioned and thoughtful suggestions there.
Q48 Mr Ward: You have mentioned the various moving parts, but the consultations on some of those parts are coming after other things will have been decided-accountability, for instance. There will be a review of the whole subject of accountability. Can anything be decided until the end of that review?
Michael Gove: No one has really argued against the idea that there should be subjectspecific qualifications at the age of 16. Some have argued that you should not have any qualifications at the age of 16, but there is a broad consensus that we should have some subjectspecific qualifications at the age of 16, and that there should be a uniform grading system for them. There appears to be consensus around that uniform grading system. If you have that, you can then have a debate around the different ways in which those qualifications can be weighed to get an accountability system.
You can compartmentalise things. You can say, "If we agree that the end point will be that you will have a suite of qualifications in which people can get a 1, or an A, or whatever it might be, and there is a grading system there, then we can get on with designing those qualifications, or agreeing how we design those qualifications, and we can then consider what the principles should be in an accountability system." We will carry on teaching English, mathematics and science, so we can consider whether or not an accountability system should be built around those, or be broader, and if it is broader, what other subjects or measures should be included. We can take them apart. There has not been anyone who has said that any of the decisions we have made about the design of qualifications on the basis of what we have outlined so far precludes any sensible reform to accountability. If someone did, then of course I would take that on board.
Q49 Mr Ward: If accountability is recognised as being a root cause of many of the problems we have, unless we deal first and foremost with the issue of accountability, how do we ensure that, whatever the new qualification is, it is not simply transferred to the new qualification?
Michael Gove: Repeat the question. I am being obtuse. Sorry.
Q50 Mr Ward: You end up with a new qualification, gaming takes place, people learn how to play the system, and simply we are back where we were in a few years’ time.
Michael Gove: I agree. We are trying to ensure that in the design of the qualifications we reduce, if not eliminate, the chance of gaming. Again, however, one thing is that you can have gaming within the qualification, so you work out how it is that you maximise the score without necessarily maximising the amount of learning and skill acquisition that has gone on. There is a separate amount of gaming, which is how we then allocate subjects in different ways. There are different forms of gaming, but there have been two forms of gaming that have been going on. Some schools have chosen particular exam boards in order to get an easier pass, and then other schools-sometimes the same schools-have chosen particular combinations of subjects.
You could choose, for the sake of argument, the Stuart Board. Let me change that.
Chair: Obviously a very rigorous one.
Michael Gove: A very rigorous one. You could choose the Gove Board, which is pretty sloppy, and so it is an easy pass, and then you decide to take the Gove Board BTEC in answering Select Committee questions, which is worth four GCSEs, and you slip that alongside English and maths, you get your five A to Cs more easily than if you choose the Stuart Board, and you had done English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology. There are different types of gaming, and if you reduce the chance of one in one area, then that hopefully means you can concentrate on reducing the chance in another area. However, with almost all accountability systems, there is always a danger over time that people learn how to play the system. We need to try to anticipate the ways in which they might do so.
Q51 Mr Ward: Would you see, as people learn how to play the system, it being a regular occurrence that we have to rejig the system somehow to combat that gaming?
Michael Gove: The best accountability system is one that does not need to be re-engineered time after time. You need to be aware of the fact that, if you design an accountability system, it could be susceptible to gaming later on. We would like to take the opportunity of a consultation to get the maximum amount of consensus possible around an accountability system that people think would be fair and less likely to be gamed.
One thing I would say about it is that the more balanced a scorecard can be, the more difficult it is to game, but the more balanced it is, often the less easy it is to understand. Having the English Baccalaureate as a measure alongside five A* to C GCSEs has helped balance things, and in particular the increasing focus on pupils making the expected level of progress at certain points has helped to balance the scorecard even further.
Q52 Mr Ward: Just a quick question. We mentioned the long tail of underachievement or underattainment. How will you ensure the appropriate focus on measuring the progress made by all pupils across the whole of the ability range? You mentioned tiering earlier on.
Michael Gove: Yes. I think one of the most important things we can do is ensure in any successor league table system the performance of students, based both on prior attainment and on their socio-economic background, is a feature. It is important that we recognise that sometimes you will have children who move from primary schools that have not been so good and where they have been underserved, and you want to make sure that value is added. You also want to make sure that, even if students have gone to a good primary school and are going to a good secondary, in particular that school does not just concentrate on getting people over a cut point or borderline but also ensures that every student makes progress, and in particular that students from poorer homes are making at the very least the progress that you expect of them, if not more.
Q53 Mr Ward: CVA?
Michael Gove: I agree it is a good thing to have a valueadded measure that takes account of socio-economic background. One problem that I felt with CVA is that it attributed to people a chance of succeeding on the basis of their ethnic background, which I thought worked against attainment for all.
Q54 Chair: Are you attracted at all to an average points score across, say, eight GCSEs, including English and maths, or EBCs?
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q55 Chair: If you have an average points score, it captures the progress of every child. You are tempted, or attracted by that?
Michael Gove: It is an attractive model. It is not the only attractive model, but it is definitely an attractive model, yes.
Q56 Chris Skidmore: It is a bit like what you have hinted at-a pointsbased system. Could we be seeing, eventually, with the introduction of the EBCs, the end of the five A* to C measure? We know the fault of the gaming of the system there, focusing around the C/D borderline. You might have a pointsbased system, with 10 points for an A*, eight points for an A, seven points for a B, five points for a C, etc. Is that tempting for you?
Michael Gove: It is tempting. Yes, it is. One thing one would want to do is to test, obviously, with school leaders and others, whether or not that might create new perverse incentives. Across how many qualifications would you want that to operate, and so on? But yes, it is tempting.
Q57 Chris Skidmore: You jokingly mentioned the Gove BTEC, the equivalent of four GCSEs. A lot of examining boards have said that, with the opportunity to reform the system, we should remove equivalences in their entirety. I know we have gone a long way down that road. Would you consider going further, so that the Gove BTEC would not be worth four separate EBCs?
Michael Gove: Yes. We have basically said that each qualification should only be worth one, as it were. We think that is the right way to go. There was a bump in the road, because the Engineering Diploma had to be disaggregated into its component parts. That has now happened, thanks to the good work of Matt Hancock and the Royal Academy of Engineering. I think the process that began under Professor Alison Wolf, of making sure that you could not have megaequivalencies, has been broadly welcomed.
Q58 Chair: Why have you decided that the Secretary of State should choose the winning EBC syllabus, and given that Ofqual will already have approved the qualifications, on what basis will you choose the winner for each subject, and will you be publishing your criteria?
Michael Gove: The ultimate responsibility will rest with the Government for this measurement, and there have been occasions in the past where people have said that the Secretary of State is responsible, when in fact it is Ofqual’s responsibility, and vice versa. On this occasion I think responsibility properly lies with the Government. It has sometimes been a responsibility that they have shirked. But yes, the criteria would absolutely be published. We would want the whole process of why a particular qualification was chosen to be rendered as transparent as possible, absolutely.
Q59 Chair: When would that be?
Michael Gove: I hope that after we have completed this stage in the consultation, we will say more about the exact process. We want to be clear. It is already implicit in the consultation that there are a variety of criteria, including taking account of the specification’s similarity to existing highquality qualifications that already operate in parallel jurisdictions.
Q60 Chair: So when is that? My understanding is that your consultation closes on 10 December.
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q61 Chair: Ofqual will do a consultation starting in January around these issues, and will not report until probably around Easter. We will have to wait until after that before we get the criteria on which the awarding bodies will have to base their design of the new qualifications. Is that right?
Michael Gove: I think that is broadly right in terms of chronology, yes.
Q62 Chair: They will not know the basis on which you will assess whether or not their qualification is a good bid or a bad bid. They will not have any idea what you are looking for, except in the broadest terms, until Easter at the earliest. These are new qualifications in the core subjects at the centre of our education system: when will they have to put their bids together by?
Michael Gove: They are already putting their bids together. It is already the case that the exam boards are working on what they believe to be the appropriate entries. We have not had any concerns expressed by the exam boards themselves that we have been unduly vague or imprecise about what it is that we expect.
Chair: Does it surprise you, when they are trying to win a bid and you will choose the winner, that they are not saying that they have been inadequately briefed, that they are having to design in the dark, and that the timetable is unrealistic? Are you surprised that they do not want to come out and voice that to you before you choose whether their bid is any good or not?
Mr Ward: And if they did, would you be able to tell us?
Michael Gove: If they wanted me to tell you, then I would, yes.
Q63 Chair: I would certainly not want to hurt any one of them, but I have not found anyone from any of the awarding bodies who does not think that they are trying to design in the dark at the moment, on the basis of inadequate briefing, to a timetable. They are having to design now without knowing what the criteria are or what the specification is that you will use to choose the winner. They will not know that until Easter, and yet they will have to submit their bids by June. Is that not true?
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q64 Chair: Does that not make you aware that there is something questionable about this timetable and indeed what is going on?
Michael Gove: No. I think it is always going to be the case that any organisation, if it is put under pressure to meet a deadline like that, will have the occasional moment when it thinks, "If only we could have more time." Wouldn’t we all like more time? I believe that the evidence I have seen of the work that is going on shows that they have a pretty clear sense of the demands we are likely to place on them. Until the consultation concludes, of course, and until we are clear, early in the New Year, about what we have taken from that consultation, I accept there will be doubts in the minds of some about some aspects of it. That is the tension that inevitably arises between openmindedness over strong arguments made by this Committee and others, and a desire to proceed as quickly as possible.
Q65 Chair: Secretary of State, you are very keen on international evidence, benchmarking and the like. Where else in the world does the Secretary of State, or equivalent position, choose the exam syllabus for specific subjects?
Michael Gove: In almost every jurisdiction apart from this one, there tends to be one exam board or one exam body, and the degree of control exercised by the Education Ministry varies across those different jurisdictions. For example, in Singapore, you have a situation where one assessment organisation, the Cambridge Assessment, has a contract-and has had for quite some time-with one particular Education Minister, and the Minister there has decided the criteria on which the O-level, in their case, will be deployed.
Q66 Chair: We have heard repeatedly that pricing in a franchise system is likely to rise, and that the incentive to innovate may be stifled. How do you intend to manage those potential downsides?
Michael Gove: I do not see inherently why pricing should rise as a result of a franchise system.
Q67 Chair: Will you ask them to say what price they will charge, and fix that for five years, or not?
Michael Gove: By definition in a franchise system one factor that will be not the determinant but a determinant is the cost of delivery of the examination system. At the moment we have a system that, because of the proliferation of papers and the time consumed by unitisation and controlled assessment, generates additional cost. It is not the only reason for moving, but we hope that cost overall will be less. Price is inevitably a factor, yes.
Q68 Chair: Will you be fixing it? If it is not fixed, and somebody has a monopoly-you are a Conservative-you should recognise that prices will rise. There is an indrawn breath, "There is noone else to do it. There is no other builder in the neighbourhood. I am sorry, my initial price has turned out not to be adequate." If you make the slightest change in requirement as the client, then whoosh-the price will go up immensely. There will be no one else you can turn to, because we have created a monopoly. That is what happens.
Michael Gove: That is a misunderstanding of what would happen. While it is the case within a franchise system that someone has the sole right to offer a paper in that subject for that period of five years, or whatever it might be, it will always be the case that there are, elsewhere internationally, competing bodies that can offer assessments, and it can also be the case that new competitors can emerge or new consortia could be created that could challenge the existing occupant.
Q69 Chair: Not in the fiveyear monopoly. I suppose I am trying to find out whether or not they will have to state precisely what they will charge for the five years up front, as part of this bid they have to put together between Easter and June of next year. If they do not, they can change their pricing, in which case, once they have secured a monopoly, my limited study of markets would tell me that the price would go up.
Michael Gove: Yes, but they would be varying the terms of the contract they had signed, or we had signed with them.
Q70 Chair: I thought you were not going to have a contract.
Michael Gove: If you are to have a relationship with an organisation over five years, then you will determine the basis on which they will receive money for it. That is in effect a contract, yes.
Q71 Chair: So there will be a contract signed between the two? This will be a contract between Government and the winning awarding body, is that right?
Michael Gove: There will be a relationship. I do not want to prejudge some of the things we will say early in the new year, or indeed some of the points that may be put to us by the regulator in order to ensure that things work in an appropriate way. We want to ensure that there is a relationship that means that you cannot have the unilateral hiking of price by someone who wants to take the system for a ride. It is also the case that the regulator, Ofqual, will have the power to fine or to intervene if it feels that the body concerned is not honouring its side of the deal.
Q72 Chair: So there will be a contract, or there will not be a contract?
Michael Gove: There will be a relationship between the State and the organisation responsible, which will safeguard the interests of the taxpayer.
Q73 Chair: Secretary of State, you have just slipped into the error that is terribly easy for anyone to make-to assume that there is a contractual relationship, in which case it will trigger things like European tendering requirements and the rest of it. My understanding is that the Department is hoping to avoid that through a sinuous emphasis on relationship rather than contract. In questioning you this morning, you have not been able to maintain that difference, so I wonder how sustainable that is.
Michael Gove: We shall see. One of the things you are absolutely right about is that European procurement law is an area that has caused us frustrations in the past, which is why I am trying to stress that the relationship we have is there to safeguard the taxpayer’s interest, and will be regulated by Ofqual in such a way as to make sure that we can determine that effectively.
Q74 Chair: Are you satisfied that the exam regulator has the statutory framework in place needed to regulate monopoly provision and pricing effectively?
Michael Gove: I believe it has, but I am open to any arguments about any augmentation of its powers that it may need.
Q75 Chair: Does the chief regulator share that view?
Michael Gove: I think you would have to ask her.
Q76 Chair: Do you know whether she shares that view?
Michael Gove: I think you would have to ask her.
Q77 Chair: Do you know whether she shares that view?
Michael Gove: At the risk of repeating myself, I think you would have to ask her.
Q78 Chair: My understanding is that the regulator does not think they have the statutory framework in place to allow them to regulate a monopoly situation effectively. If not, will you legislate to ensure that they do have the appropriate powers?
Michael Gove: I would seek to ensure that the regulator felt that they were in a position whereby the system that we adopted was one where they felt that they had sufficient powers. If they felt they needed additional powers, then every time the regulator has asked for them I have always been happy to grant them.
Q79 Chair: How do you plan to manage the risk of a oneway street, where all the expertise becomes embedded in one place? People have talked about a double whammy there: not only the idea that everyone will just move to the person who wins the English EBC contract, but that actually a lot of people will not. Then we will lose a huge amount of expertise and the system will lose out overall. Then those who do move, who are active on the scene, will all be embedded in that one place. Effectively you have created a oneway street to a monopoly provider, with all sorts of implications for A-levels and the rest of it, because of the commercial ramifications of being able to put together exams.
Michael Gove: One of the earlier points I made is that there are, I think, no other nations that have the system of competing exam boards that we have. In other countries you will have an effective monopoly, with one organisation, whether it is at one remove or two removes from the State, which is responsible for setting syllabi and for the control of assessments. In those countries you have an effective monopoly, and that works in a way that has not led to the erosion of standards. The other thing I would say is that, if you are going to have a competition not just for English and mathematics but also for the sciences, modern foreign languages, history and geography, there is every chance-I would not want to prejudge the process, and by definition I cannot-that you will have different bodies winning in different areas, and maintaining viability in those areas.
It is also the case that you will have people who will in due course want to bid for the contract in five years’ time. It is also the case that by definition the expertise that exists in the field of English literature, for example, is expertise that, if it is not deployed by an exam board, can find a happy home elsewhere in the educational landscape. More than that, by definition many of those who are examiners are people who have been involved in different parts of education before and will go on to be involved in different parts of education.
The final point I would make is that the most critical part of this is making sure that we improve the pool of people who are skilled in assessment, both those who understand what the new criteria will demand of their students, and those who are capable of marking other papers. I think the most important thing, therefore, is to ensure that we broaden the pool of assessors, however many exam boards one might have and however many subjects any particular exam board is responsible for taking.
Q80 Pat Glass: Thank you, Secretary of State. We have had described to us what we would see as perhaps the nightmare scenario that would come as an unintended consequence of this: that you have this oneway street-that one supplier dominates the market-and that expertise is no longer vested in Guildford, and in Oxford and Cambridge, but in Berlin or Paris or Singapore, just as has happened with our railways. All the expertise is abroad and it is controlled by a monopoly supplier, and in those situations, like the railways and energy, Governments may want to act on behalf of the consumer in this, but cannot. You said you will establish a relationship rather than a contract, to try to get around EU law, but what steps are you taking to try to prevent this happening? Because if that happens, the consumer and the young person loses out badly.
Michael Gove: At the moment the competition works against the interests of the consumer.
Q81 Pat Glass: This could be even worse, could it not, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: I do not believe it would be, but by definition you have two situations, one of which I can see the flaws in. You are pointing out some of the potential dangers in a change. We are seeking to mitigate those risks, because we believe that the existing dangers are greater than the potential dangers.
Q82 Pat Glass: What are you doing to mitigate those risks?
Michael Gove: The first thing I would say is, as I mentioned to the Chairman, no other country operates on the basis of competing exam boards. There may be some small nations I am not aware of, but no other successful, major, highperforming jurisdiction has this level of entrenched competition. The other thing is that within this current system, there is always the risk or the potential-which some would say exists at the moment-for cartelisation in some areas and competition in others, as we saw with AQA; its dominance in English led to problems this year, which were well advertised and still go on.
However, if you design a system that allows for someone to secure a franchise for a set period, then there is an incentive for others to develop a better, more competitive and more attractive offer, in order to take over that franchise. Given the range of subjects for which people can bid, my expectation is that you will see different bodies and perhaps new bodies emerging in the future that will be responsible for ensuring that you have a healthy potential for innovation.
Bill Esterson: How does that mitigate the risk during the period of the franchise? That is the point Pat is making-about the comparison with railways or energy or anything else.
Q83 Pat Glass: I would also make the point, Secretary of State, that Singapore is small beer in this, but if you monopolise the syllabi in English and maths in England, you will have some big educational publishers in America who will be looking at this, and looking at this hard with their lawyers.
Michael Gove: Quite, and in some respects competition from abroad is a good thing. I would not say that Singapore is small beer, in the sense that it is a highly, highly successful-if not the most successful-educational jurisdiction, and it has contracted out, or franchised out, its syllabi and its assessment to a company in Britain. I think there are companies in Britain that are more than capable of holding their own.
Q84 Pat Glass: But it is the size of a small county. If you talk about the whole English syllabus in this country, you are talking about a lot of money, a lot of schools.
Michael Gove: Yes, but one of the points I would make is that the organisation that is responsible for administering examinations in Singapore is also responsible for administering examinations in the UK and even in America-that same organisation is administering examinations in Florida and Arizona. If the argument is, "Can you have an organisation that is capable of working across boundaries and dealing with many, many scripts at different levels?" then those organisations already exist within the UK.
If the argument is Bill’s argument, which is, "If you have one organisation for a set period, what happens if something goes wrong?" we have already seen something go wrong when you have competing organisations. Things can go wrong anyway. You hope you could have a proper system of regulation and order to try to deal with that, and the Chairman makes a very good point about making sure that we can satisfy the regulator that he or she will have the powers necessary and the system will work in their interest.
The ubiquity, or nearubiquity, of one exam board for all the students within a particular jurisdiction reinforces the point that, because examination is measurement, you would not have, in an area like aviation, competing measurements. You would not say, "You can decide whether or not to choose feet and inches or metres and centimetres, depending on which airline you choose to fly," because you need to have that consistency of measurement. Therefore, having one organisation that can insulate you from the risks of competition and the race to the bottom is worthwhile.
One of the problems, I thought, with the proposition put forward by the Select Committee is that you would have the same problem with one syllabus, which you have alluded to, but you would also have competition between different boards, which might offer different types of assessment technique and different types of question setting, which would mean that people would quickly ferret out or divine which exam boards were capable of securing them higher marks.
Q85 Chris Skidmore: You talked about viability, and the bottom line is probably that the English, maths and science relationships are the most lucrative. Conveniently, we have the three major boards, Edexcel, Cambridge Assessment and AQA. It is likely that if each Board does not gain one of those contracts, then, so far as I understand it, having spoken to exam boards, it will not be financially viable for them to exist. In your own mind, is this a genuine competition or will the three relationships simply be parcelled out to each of the three major examining boards, in which case it is not really a competition?
If that does not take place, and one of the examination boards is not awarded one of the most viable relationships-English, maths and science-they are likely to mount a legal challenge. I wanted to ask whether you had received any legal advice, or whether the Department had sought any legal advice, about that prospect-an examination board failing to win a relationship and challenging the Department legally. First, would that lead to a delay in the process of getting the EBCs under way, and secondly do you think it is legally watertight if you face a challenge?
Michael Gove: The first thing is that you can never be certain that anything is legally watertight. However, my experience is that in Government, lawyers tend to be quite understandably and rightly inclined to err on the side of caution. It has sometimes been the case, however, that even when lawyers have erred on the side of caution, and said that the chance of a particular outcome is vanishingly small, it has happened. Without wanting to revisit in every detail all the legal challenges that the Department has faced, some of which we won and some of which we lost, I have sometimes been surprised. So for example-
Chair: Secretary of State, I am sorry; I am sure the example would be illuminating, but we have limited time left. Could you focus on the specifics of Chris’s question? We do not want some parallel example; we want to hear about this particular issue and the advice you have taken on this particular issue.
Michael Gove: As I am sure you are aware, legal advice is by its very nature doubly confidential, as distinct from just the ordinary rules that govern policy advice, but yes, we are aware of legal risk. It is certainly the case that we have to balance that with some policy judgments about the likelihood, going back to the Chairman’s point, of organisations that have an interest in maintaining a good relationship with Government seeking to pursue that.
But yes, it is undoubtedly the case that it is open to anyone to judicially review the decisions that the Government make, and it is certainly the case that you would have a judicial review on the basis of process, which is why it is important that we make sure that that process is clear and proper in every regard.
Q86 Chair: On Chris’s earlier point about the divvying out, is it a genuine competition based on the criteria that they will get at the last minute? They are designing in the dark at the moment, but they are scared to complain to you about it, because you might hold it against them. If it is divvied out, that would allow easier management of the marketplace. If it is done on the basis of criteria produced at the last minute and someone’s bid team gets it brilliantly right, they could find themselves multiplying in size massively overnight, while everyone else is sent either into closing their business or having a pretty fundamental redesign. What will your approach be? Will you be managing this market in any way, or will you just have an objective-criteria basis of assessment? I assume it is not just you personally; there will be some expertise in the Department advising you, but what will your approach be?
Michael Gove: The latter.
Q87 Chair: You will do it on an objective assessment?
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q88 Chair: So OCR could win everything if they get the right bid team and they meet the criteria?
Michael Gove: Yes.
Q89 Charlotte Leslie: On that related point, the history of Governments and franchising and contracting out have been marred by very good officials who do not have that area of expertise. I recall a horror story from health, where some clinicians were concerned about the decisions made in contracting out, and went to a Minister. It was not under this Government. The Minister came back to them and said, "It is okay; the officials have gone on a week’s course." With that week’s course, they were supposed to be able to negotiate with private-sector lawyers, who were paid an awful lot more and had a great deal more expertise. With this new franchising arrangement, will you be changing the profile of your departmental staff to enable them to have that expertise to ensure we do not have a repeat of Virgin-First Great Western in education?
Michael Gove: I will be looking very closely at the Laidlaw report into what happened in the Department for Transport, but as you know I am in the middle of restructuring the Department now. One of the things we are doing is making sure we have the expertise in place in order to deal with not just this challenge but some of the other challenges we have identified in terms of reform.
It is also the case that I have been fortunate in having a team of really superb legal advisers throughout the time I have been in the Department. In particular the principal legal adviser to the Department is, I think, one of the best lawyers in Whitehall. I do want to make sure that we learn from the successes and failures of other franchising or other arrangements with the private sector that the state has had. You are right that it will always be inherent in the case. You can see it in the planning applications as well; if you have an organisation that can afford a particular set of lawyers, then the state needs to be on its mettle.
Q90 Alex Cunningham: On raising standards, Secretary of State, how can anybody design an exam system or an exam that is simultaneously more difficult and has more children succeeding?
Michael Gove: Because they are taught better.
Alex Cunningham: That is very interesting, because as Pat said, we had a roundtable event a few weeks ago with the great, good and wise from the education world. They told us a change in the exam system will not actually raise standards at all, nor performance, and that your resources would be better deployed raising the standard of teaching. You have already said there will be more time because you are doing away with all these assessments and everything else in the classroom. There will be more time, but it is about the standard of teaching. Does that not make sense to you?
Michael Gove: I do not think it is either/or. Of course the standard of teaching needs to improve. It has been improving, consistently, over the last however many years.
Q91 Alex Cunningham: What else will you do now? You want to see raised standards; you want a new exam system. What will you actually do to help teachers in the classroom? Where is the development for teachers, who are going to drive these improvements you believe are possible?
Michael Gove: First of all, the quality of teacher recruitment is higher than ever before. We have a higher level of qualification on the part of new mathematics and science teachers entering the classroom.
Q92 Alex Cunningham: That is great, but most of the teachers are already in the system. What will you do for them to drive up standards?
Michael Gove: We are providing an opportunity for their managers, the headteachers, to ensure that the best teachers are appropriately rewarded and that weaker teachers are moved on, and that the performance management of all staff improves, and that teachers have the room and the freedom to enjoy a higher level of professional development, thanks to some of the changes we have made, both through the growth of academy chains that exemplify the best practice in contemporary teaching, and through Ofsted’s increasing preoccupation with identifying and spreading those techniques and strategies that help to foster a higher level of student achievement. Also it is the case that professional associations, including unions like the ATL, offer professional development opportunities to their members as well.
Q93 Alex Cunningham: This is all very grand. "We will have better qualified teachers, better equipped to teach, and children will learn more." What does your success look like in a few years’ time? Does it actually mean that more children will achieve higher qualifications in the next four or five years?
Michael Gove: I hope that more children will go on to higher education, and more children will go on to apprenticeships.
Q94 Alex Cunningham: But will they achieve more and have higher qualifications as a direct result of the changes you are introducing?
Michael Gove: They will achieve more, but one of the things I would say is that there has been a confusion sometimes between certification and achievement.
Q95 Alex Cunningham: I would certainly agree with that, but how do we make sure that employers, for example, recognise that these young people are making more achievements? Is the achievement that is made going to be real to employers?
Michael Gove: I believe so. That is the critical test. One of the things we have said is that the successors to GCSEs in English and mathematics must convey a sense of functional literacy and numeracy in a way that too many employers fear the current GCSEs do not sufficiently.
Q96 Alex Cunningham: One of the criticisms of Key Stage 4 exams, particularly GCSEs, is this increasing propensity for teachers to teach to the exam. Is there not a risk that relying almost exclusively on exams for assessment means that will become more, not less, of a problem and will not enhance standards?
Michael Gove: Properly designed, any examination-[Interruption.]
Chair: Secretary of State, if I may interrupt you, could we wait until the bell stops?
Alex Cunningham: The Speaker must know it is you in the chair.
Michael Gove: On this occasion. There is nothing wrong with teaching to the test per se, if the test is right. For example, no one says that the tests to which we submit pilots are inappropriately taught if people teach to those tests. No one says that we should cultivate the whole pilot rather than relying on this rigid measurement of their skill. No one says that we should go for "holistic airlines", in which the pilot, even though they may not have managed to clear the test, has nevertheless enjoyed discovering what it is like to fly a plane. With a test that is properly designed, passing it confers not just on the individual a sense of achievement but on the person who deploys their services the reassurance of knowing that they can perform a particular task, and flying a plane is a complex and demanding task. So is using mathematics in the modern world.
Chair: Secretary of State, due to poor chairmanship we have done horribly badly in terms of getting through all our issues. If I could ask for very short, sharp questions and short, sharp answers, we will get through as much as we can in the next 10 or 12 minutes before we call it a day.
Q97 Alex Cunningham: Maybe a little bit about grading then. We have seen a right mess over the summer as far as the English exam was concerned. What approach do you want taken to grading in the future for the new exams? Will they be norm-referenced or linked to standards of what is achieved?
Michael Gove: I am opposed to normreferencing.
Q98 Alex Cunningham: How will it actually be designed, then?
Michael Gove: Criterion referencing.
Q99 Alex Cunningham: The Government has suggested different exam boards could have different grading scales for each subject. Are there any other countries that adopt such a system? Where does the idea come from? Will it not make it more difficult to ensure comparability between subjects?
Michael Gove: At the moment I think something like only 16% of students in this country take pure GCSEs with a uniform grading system. It is the case that many students will, at the moment in the UK, for example take a BTEC or other qualification where there is a pass/fail. It is already the case that you have different qualifications with different grading systems. We asked an open question. My own assumption is, and the overwhelming response has been, that there should be a common grading system.
Q100 Alex Cunningham: Just as an aside, what consultation on your proposals have you undertaken with parents and pupils?
Michael Gove: It is an open consultation and I am looking forward to lots of responses. I generally find that students tend to be keener on tougher and more honest tests, whenever I have the chance to talk to them.
Q101 Alex Cunningham: Finally, I agree with you about the need to extend learning in English and mathematics into further education, but you have recognised that there are shortages in English and maths teachers able to teach even to GCSE level in the FE sector. Ofsted have found the existing work force lacks that expertise, so how is the Government planning to support post16 education, to make sure we can deliver what is your vision, which we share?
Michael Gove: Changes in funding to post16 education should mean that colleges get a fairer crack of the whip vis-à-vis school sixth forms than they have had in the past. Indeed, I hope the Chancellor will be suitably aware of the needs of FE and other colleges in the Autumn Statement, but you are right: there is more that we need to do.
Q102 Charlotte Leslie: On the content of the EBCs, can you give us a better idea of when you are planning to set out the content and how specific it will be in the absence of a revised National Curriculum for secondary?
Michael Gove: It should follow quickly upon the heels of publishing what the draft secondary curriculum will look like, early in the new year.
Q103 Charlotte Leslie: Brilliant. In terms of the move to 100% external assessment, how will it be, and is it, viable for external examining boards to assess oral exams in modern languages? We have had quite a few concerns raised about that.
Michael Gove: It is perfectly possible to do so using technology, but one of the points I should stress-and this Committee gives me an opportunity to do so-is that my assumption is that it is better generally to have 100% external assessment, but if people put a strong argument to me in any particular subject as to how that cannot be assessed, we will take that on board. However, it is certainly possible, through recording and other mechanisms, to have oral language skills tested independently.
Q104 Charlotte Leslie: Would ongoing practical assessments in science perhaps be one of those areas where you might be open to-
Michael Gove: Yes. Practical work in science is hugely important, but I think it is the case that you can have practical work observed by someone who is an appropriate assessor, independent of the school, and you can do that either, as it were, in person, or you can, again, use different means of doing so.
Q105 Charlotte Leslie: Briefly, going to the idea of removing examination aids, obviously whilst you do not want pupils relying completely on the aids they have, are you worried that the ability to memorise the periodic table might trump the understanding of what that periodic table actually does if you remove too many examination aids?
Michael Gove: I think you would have to be a remarkable person to memorise the periodic table without understanding the structure of it, and why it is the way it is. People who are teaching chemistry will have to make a judgment about how they embed knowledge in the minds of their students, but I think knowing why the periodic table is the way it is, is a core aspect of knowledge in chemistry.
Q106 Chair: You said the ideal is 100% external assessment. Can I challenge you on that?
Michael Gove: Of course.
Chair: Is the ideal in fact not to have more internal assessment but to have sufficient credibility for that-that you could rely on it? Would that not be the ideal? Do you support the embryonic Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors and the hope of building that so that there is the credibility and confidence that actual assessment can take place so that it is externally moderated?
Michael Gove: The Platonic ideal is a totally trustworthy form of assessment in which all teachers are empowered both to teach and to assess work in a way that we can all totally have confidence in. I take your point, yes, and the institute is a very good body and we want to support it; everything we can do, we will do.
Chair: Thank you.
Q107 Bill Esterson: Can I talk about the impact on other subjects? Is it not likely that other subjects will be regarded as of lesser importance and will be downgraded because of the way that schools have been measured on their EBacc success?
Michael Gove: No.
Q108 Bill Esterson: That is the evidence that has been coming to us. Why are these people wrong to assert this?
Michael Gove: I would have to look at which particular subjects people were concerned about, but I think that every high-performing jurisdiction has a sort of core curriculum, generally but not always, to the age of 16, which has the subjects that form the core of the English Baccalaureate. However, it is also the case that there will be plenty of time in the school curriculum for other subjects to flourish, and indeed we are putting in place support for music, art and design, physical education and sport, which would lead me to believe that these subjects will flourish more than ever before.
Q109 Bill Esterson: Schools tell me that exactly what I have described is what is already happening, and that less attention, less time, and fewer resources are being given to nonEBC subjects. How do you stop that becoming a real problem? The CBI also says we need this breadth and depth in study and qualification; otherwise we will not have the skills for the economy or for young people for the future.
Michael Gove: Yes. I think that the bodies of knowledge and skills required to succeed in the English Baccalaureate subjects are the core from which excellence in other areas springs. I do not think there is anything wrong with saying that it is a good thing for students to be literate, numerate, scientifically literate, fluent in a foreign language, and to have developed the skills that humanities subjects like history and geography bring. It is perfectly consistent with excellence in other areas.
Q110 Pat Glass: Secretary of State, are RE teachers being made redundant? That is what we are being told.
Michael Gove: I was asked about this in the House on Monday. The latest figures that I have are that the number of RE teachers teaching at Key Stage 4, which is the particular area here, has gone up from 10,400 to 10,700. I am sure it is the case that there are some RE teachers who are being made redundant, and there are some teachers in other subjects that are being made redundant in specific schools.
Q111 Pat Glass: But not in Key Stage 4?
Michael Gove: It may be that there are some, but the numbers have gone up. Some have been made redundant, perhaps, in some places, and others have grown elsewhere.
Chair: Thank you.
Q112 Bill Esterson: The point, again, is being put to us that we will have a twotier, if not a threetier, education system, for precisely the reasons that Pat has just given-not just in RE but in a whole range of technical subjects and music. You have described music. If it is not an EBacc subject, it will be looked on differently, and the qualification will be looked on differently, and then there will be another set of qualifications; there will be a certificate. Is it not unavoidable that the individuals themselves, and employers, will see it as three different tiers?
Michael Gove: No. Let us take something that is not in the EBacc.
Q113 Bill Esterson: Sorry, but that is exactly what used to happen. That is why GCSEs were brought in in the first place-to deal with the problems between O- levels and CSEs. Are we not just going back to exactly that same problem?
Michael Gove: It is an uncharacteristic lapse, because you are confusing apples and pears. The whole point about O-levels and CSEs was that you had differential tiering within a particular subject. Your concern, which is perfectly legitimate, is that there are some subjects that will be seen as better than others. Let us take music as an example, which is not in the EBacc. I think it is undeniably the case that if you had a Grade 8 in piano given by the Associated Boards, people would consider that to be a qualification, whether or not you were going on to a conservatoire, or whether or not you were being judged by anyone, which was every bit as demanding as any qualification taken at the age of 16 in the English Baccalaureate. Simply because a qualification is not in the English Baccalaureate does not mean that it is worth proportionately less.
Q114 Craig Whittaker: Secretary of State, you are of course conducting your own review of the 14 to 19 qualifications. The terms of reference in the document for Northern Ireland around GCSEs and A-levels notes that the DfE and Ofqual’s preference is for parallel decision making rather than joint decision making across the three nations. Is that your preferred option?
Michael Gove: The inevitable consequence of devolution-not necessarily inevitable, but nearinevitable-has been divergence. Yes, I think we are going to have to move away, so it will be parallel rather than joint.
Q115 Craig Whittaker: Do you think, therefore, it will make the current three jurisdictions’ arrangements untenable in the future?
Michael Gove: I think they are coming under increasing strain, yes. It is not something I welcome, but I think it is a consequence of the specific priorities that, understandably, Education Ministers have in those jurisdictions. It does raise concerns, and people like the CBI and others have articulated those concerns.
Q116 Craig Whittaker: Do you therefore think we are heading towards a fourth qualification system within the United Kingdom? Because of course the Welsh have decided to retain GCSEs within the Welsh Bacc. Do you think that will be the situation long term?
Michael Gove: Yes. I do not want it to be, but I cannot run away from the fact that that is the consequence. I have to make decisions on the basis of what I believe is best for English students overall. It will be open to other jurisdictions to decide what it is in our approach that they think is worth emulating or diverging from. As someone who went to a Scottish school and took Scottish qualifications and then went to an English university, I do not think there is any reason why, even if we do diverge, you cannot have people from across the United Kingdom changing job or pursuing higher or further education just as freely as they do at the moment.
Q117 Craig Whittaker: So you do not think it will be a problem long-term for the UK?
Michael Gove: It is a challenge. It can make things more difficult, but it need not.
Q118 Chair: Thank you very much, Secretary of State. The letter we mentioned earlier, from Ofqual to you, just so we are absolutely clear: you are happy for it to be released to us and made public if Ofqual is happy. Is that right?
Michael Gove: I am happy for any communications that Ofqual have addressed to me to be released on the terms with which they are happy, yes.
Chair: Thank you very much for giving evidence to us this morning.
Michael Gove: Thank you.