The responsibilities of the Secretary of State - Education Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 60-72)


28 JULY 2010

  Q60 Liz Kendall: I just want to finish this point. Obviously, if you are welcoming expressions of interest from parents and teachers, it is important that they know what money might be available to them, even if there are not any new builds. How much would it cost to refurbish a building such as an observatory—not that there are many observatories in some of the more deprived parts, certainly in my constituency? How many building conversions would you estimate could come out of that £50 million by the end of March 2011? You must have a rough idea, considering that, according to your spokesperson in the House of Lords, you have had 700 expressions of interest.

  Michael Gove: A great many expressions of interest have been received by both the Department and the New Schools Network. The striking thing is that in Harlem, which is an area of deprivation that I am sure ranks with Leicester, buildings that the local authority there would never have thought could become schools have become schools. There is probably a philosophical difference between us. The view that you developed and articulated so well during the course of the election campaign, in government and so on has been that the state should do more, prescribe and dictate. My view is that there is a huge amount of potential, creativity and inspiration out there. We have seen other countries that are committed to social cohesion and greater equality—countries such as Sweden, or countries where a President such as Barack Obama is committed to helping the very poorest—using this money to provide people with transformed educational opportunities. The striking thing about Sweden is that when it introduced the free school legislation, it did not have a separate pot of capital funding. In fact, it only had 85% of revenue funding, but even on that basis, a number of new schools were established. We have actually been more generous in our initial provision than governments have in other countries. I would advise you to stand back and watch inspirational teachers, whether in Leicester or elsewhere, who are committed to using new buildings in an imaginative way, help to lever up what I know you would acknowledge has been the poor level of educational performance in your otherwise beautiful city.

  Q61 Lisa Nandy: I shall be very quick, as the Chairman is glaring at me, and he is very close. I am interested in the advice that is provided to groups that are interested in setting up schools. I want to ask several questions. First, did you take the decision to award the contracts for that advice to the New Schools Network? Secondly, are you aware of who else provides funding to the New Schools Network? Thirdly, have you personally had any contact with any of the donors who provide funding to the New Schools Network?

  Michael Gove: The New Schools Network was the stand-out organisation. It had experience beforehand in providing support and advice to people, and it has organised a number of events to which a variety of teachers, many of whom I have already mentioned here, have come along.

  Q62 Lisa Nandy: Did you make that decision?

  Michael Gove: Yes, I did. There are other organisations that support school improvement. Some, like the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, receive significantly more than the New Schools Network, so I took the decision that it was an appropriate organisation to which to give a grant. Before a grant was given, I asked for a business plan to be produced so that we could know exactly how the money might be spent to ensure that the work was done. It is fair to say—the Permanent Secretary may say more—that the relationship between the New Schools Network and the Department has been fruitful and productive and that the Network has been able to do work that the Department would not have been able to do with the same degree of speed and depth. I do not know who all the other funders of the New Schools Network are, but I do know that it has among its patrons, governors and trustees Sir Geoffrey Owen, the former editor of the Financial Times; Professor Julian Le Grand, an adviser to the last Government; Sally Morgan, again, a political secretary to Tony Blair; and Paul Marshall, a leading donor to the Liberal Democrats. Because the network is all-party—indeed, non-party—and properly constituted as a charity, I presume that its funding is in accordance with charity law. There are people whom I have met who will have given money to the New Schools Network—I am sure of that. How much they have given, and under what circumstances, I don't know, but there are many people I've met who have given money to the academies network.

  Chair: I'm sorry, Lisa. I'd be pleased if you could find other avenues to follow this up.

  Q63 Lisa Nandy: Could I just say that I have 15 questions in on this that are overdue for answers, so if you could get answers for me that would be appreciated?

  Michael Gove: I certainly will.

  Q64 Conor Burns: Secretary of State, you said earlier that one of your core objectives was to bring the best qualified and most talented and motivated teachers into the classroom and that that would be the most transformational thing in education. With that in mind, what is your vision of the future of teacher training? Could more teacher training be done in the classroom in excellent schools? Local authorities such as Lambeth, for example, have 99% pass rate targets for newly qualified teachers coming into their schools; in fact, a few years ago, Lambeth actually exceeded its target and got 100%. Can you tell us a bit about your vision for the future of teacher training?

  Michael Gove: Yes. At the moment, there is an insufficient number of great schools that want to take on more teachers to train and that are able to do so. There is an arbitrary rule that says that 85% of the money that the Training and Development Agency for Schools provides for teacher training goes to teacher training colleges in effect, while only 15% goes to school-based teacher training. We want people who are as well qualified as possible contemplating going into teaching, which is why we back Teach First so generously. But I also believe that teaching is a craft—that some people who are academically gifted can be unsuitable to be teachers and that people with valuable experience outside academic success can go on to become, and are, brilliant teachers. But you learn how to be a great teacher by observing already existing great teachers and, in turn, by being observed yourself. It is that process of peer review that helps drive up the quality of teaching overall. For that reason, I have asked that existing regulations that restrict the number of hours that senior leaders—head teachers—can observe other teachers are removed, so that we have as much classroom observation as possible to encourage people. It is also why I have asked that the arbitrary limit on training be removed, so that we can have more teacher training in the classroom. Funnily enough, when I talked about teaching as a craft, The Times Educational Supplement—favourite reading in the Gove household every Friday morning—had a bit of a crack at me, saying, "Are you conflating teaching with carpet fitting?" In a way, I was struck by that, because it reflected one of the problems that we have as a society, which is that we think that craft is somehow less worthy of respect than academic excellence. The point I want to make is that teaching at its best actually combines both: a love of the life of the mind and an appreciation that teaching is, in the truest sense of the word, a vocation—something that you learn by doing and through practice.

  Q65 Conor Burns: Without setting arbitrary figures or targets, do you have a timeline in your mind for how the movement from teacher training in colleges to much more class-based training in centres of excellence in very good school and classroom environments will take place and how quickly?

  Michael Gove: The Permanent Secretary and I are working on that with officials. We're going to publish an education White Paper, God willing, in the autumn, and that will be followed—again, Deo volente—by the publication of some more legislation. What I would like to do is lay out the broad vision that we have for education reform in the autumn and to have a piece of legislation then, that deals with it; then subsequently to have legislation that deals with some of the specific concerns that I have about problems with special educational needs, and some of the specific reforms that we need to make to legislation on child protection as well; and then after that to try to legislate as little as possible. It is critically important that we make some big changes early on and then allow change to be driven from within the system rather than from Whitehall.

  Q66 Craig Whittaker: You've mentioned today the culture of collaboration with schools; you've talked about outstanding schools helping others. How does that fit in with the Government's announcements last week that you are looking at removing the duty on schools to co-operate through children's trusts, the requirement for the local authorities to set up the trusts and the requirement for trusts to produce the children's plan? How do the two match?

  Michael Gove: One of the things that I think is important is to recognise that you don't get effective collaboration through an over-bureaucratic and prescriptive method—saying, "This is exactly how you should engage with everyone else who cares about improving life for children". I think I am right in saying—I am sure I'll be corrected if I am wrong—that a children's trust was in place in Haringey at the time of Baby Peter Connelly's death; but anyone who read, as I have, the serious case reviews into his death will know that the existence of a children's trust didn't guarantee the level of collaboration between doctors, police, lawyers and others that you really needed in order to improve outcomes for children. That's why one of the other things that I've done—and have been anxious to do quickly—is to press ahead with the publication of serious case reviews. Yesterday, thanks to Birmingham's Conservative-Liberal Democrat council collaborating with us, we had the first publication of a full serious case review. The reason why I think it's so important is that, before the general election, we were told by the then Government, and by others, that this would be a disaster for child protection; but the truth is that yesterday we saw a sort of X-ray picture of what can go wrong. As a result, Birmingham City Council and others are committed to learning how to co-operate better. I think that rather than saying, "This is a prescribed method of co-operation that I will dictate from the centre," it is far better to say, "You're professionals; we trust you. These are some examples of what's gone wrong. You want to learn from these. You want to examine your own systems. We'll have Ofsted to inspect, in order to make sure that if there are things that you've put in place—and it's your decision—that aren't working, they can be held up to the light;" but as a general rule I think it's more appropriate to say to the professionals, "You work out your own arrangements." As the Permanent Secretary said earlier, head teachers, GPs and others are more often than not guided by a moral purpose. They don't need me or a bureaucrat to tell them exactly how they should discharge their responsibilities.

  Q67 Craig Whittaker: I completely understand what you are saying, but what process will be in place for the schools that don't get the collaboration? What about the support for those under-achieving schools? What mechanism are we going to put in place to make sure that they get swept up, and that they don't fail?

  Michael Gove: I am very concerned about those schools that are underachieving. There are two things that I would say. The first is, as I mentioned earlier, that we want to work with local authorities to work out the precise mechanisms that they need, to challenge underperforming schools in their areas. The second thing is—

  Q68 Craig Whittaker: I am not particularly talking about attainment at schools; I'm talking around some of the issues that would be discussed through the children's trust—safeguarding, for example.

  Michael Gove: Again, there are two things I'd say there. The first is that, when it comes to safeguarding, the health White Paper makes it clear that part of the responsibility for safeguarding will be part of the responsibilities of the new health and well-being boards that will be part of what county councils or unitary councils do. Improving safeguarding has been at the heart of what my colleague Tim Loughton has been doing, and one of the things that we wanted to make changes on quickly; but my argument is that I am not convinced that trust structures help with safeguarding most of all. In the Khyra Ishaq SCR it is clear that the problem arose because you had a children's services department that was repeatedly alerted by the school to what was going wrong—not because a trust told the school but because of a very good head and deputy head who rang the alarm bell. But the children's services department in particular—I don't want to demonise social workers, but it was particular people within it—didn't know what its full powers were and didn't exercise those powers responsibly. The head and the deputy head, as I said, rang the alarm bell repeatedly. There were a number of occasions when appointments were missed. I don't think there is any bureaucratic structure that could have ensured that people did their job, but now that we know what went wrong, rather than people saying, "I've ticked that box, had this trust meeting or whatever," people know that they're going to be judged on real outcomes for real children. I think that is a step forward. The other thing I was going to say in respect of schools that are underperforming—not just in terms of attainment but in terms of well-being—is that we're cracking on with getting more schools that are underperforming taken over by existing academy sponsors. On Tessa's earlier point, the original impetus for the academies programme is one that we want to add energy to. The final thing that I would say is that because I'm so worried about safeguarding—because one in three local authorities that have been inspected so far when it comes to safeguarding have been found to be inadequate—we asked Professor Eileen Munro to lead a review of safeguarding. She has a background in social work: a social worker herself, a professor of social work now and a backer of the publication of SCRs. The explicit aim of her review is to give social workers a greater degree of control, to trust them more and to trust their judgment more. One concern that I have had in the past is that social workers have been a wee bit reticent about exercising their judgment because they have valued the relationship with the parents over the interests of the child. Eileen is explicitly there in order to give social workers that support and the backing they need. The final thing I would say about the publication of serious case reviews is that when we have had child deaths in the past, the finger has often been pointed at social workers. I actually think once we publish serious case reviews—we're going to publish the Baby Peter ones in the autumn—we will see that there are some amazing and inspirational social workers whose efforts have been frustrated by other professionals who haven't done their jobs as they should have done. I hope that the Munro review and the publication of SCRs will help us understand the real difficulty that social workers face and give us a greater degree of respect and understanding for their job.

  Q69 Craig Whittaker: A final question about the five outcomes on the Every Child Matters agenda. How are we going to monitor those and drive those forward?

  Michael Gove: I think the important thing about the five outcomes—I was discussing this with some colleagues earlier today. I was going to say that I wonder, if you asked Members of Parliament, "Can you name the five outcomes for Every Child Matters?" how many Members of Parliament would be able to recite them in the same way that we recite the Lord's prayer at the beginning of the parliamentary session. I don't think many would. For the benefit of everyone here, they are: being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and securing economic well-being. As a statement of five things that we'd like for children—

  Ian Mearns: Amen.

  Michael Gove: Exactly. They are unimpeachable—gospel, even. But the point I would make is that in a way, they are what every teacher will want to do. I haven't met many teachers who say, "I want my children to be unhealthy," "I'm going to put my children at risk," "I'd like them to have a horrendous time and fail at school," or "I'd like them to be negative and unemployed." Teachers naturally reflect those priorities. As a list, as Ian says, amen to that, but I don't think you need a massive bureaucratic superstructure to police it. What I do think you need to do is give teachers a bit more freedom to make it live in their own environment. The final thing that I would say is that sometimes people say, "You really need to emphasise well-being, because there's too much emphasis sometimes on attainment." I know where folk are coming from when they say that, but my own view is that if you come from a working-class background, what you want is a school where you will be well taught and where you will receive the qualifications that allow you to decide whether or not you're going to get a good job, go on to college or pursue an apprenticeship. Actually, the single most important thing that a school can do is equip children with the qualifications and self-confidence to take control in the future. Those schools which have high academic attainment are always schools where you have great extra-curricular activities, strong pastoral care and teachers who take an individual interest in how children are doing. As I said, I've got no problems with Every Child Matters as a list, but I do think it's important that we recognise that it should be policed in a hands-off way.

  Chair: Last question to you, Pat.

  Q70 Pat Glass: I was struck, Secretary of State, by what you said right at the end—that high-achieving schools are always schools where children's well-being is taken into account. I have to say that in my experience that is not always the case, and that actually some of the most high-achieving schools are the schools where there are the widest gaps between those who are achieving well and those who are achieving not so well. So I think that I can take you around by the hand and show you many of those, if you would like to go around.

  Michael Gove: A school where there is a huge gap in achievement is not a high-achieving school, in my books.

  Q71 Pat Glass: Right. Finally, I wanted to ask you about ContactPoint. I understand that the grant has now been cut for ContactPoint—

  Michael Gove: Yes.

  Pat Glass: —but that the statutory duty on local authorities remains, and that redundancy notices are now going out for many of the staff who work in ContactPoint, many of whom are very highly trained and have been specifically trained by Mr Bell's department. How do you see that operating, if local authorities no longer have the money and if the trained staff who are paid by that funding are going? How are local authorities going to deliver on the statutory requirements around ContactPoint?

  Michael Gove: We've made it clear that we're going to move from a ContactPoint system, whereby every child is tagged and monitored, to a system that is much more proportionate and better targeted. It's my view that the investment that we make in information technology to ensure that children are safe and looked after should be targeted on those children who are at risk. I remember that, before the election, both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were committed, for very similar reasons, to moving away from the ContactPoint system. I had a conversation with Lord Laming, who is a great man; his contribution to child welfare is greater than any contribution that I will ever be able to make. But I disagreed with him on ContactPoint. When I asked him why he had proposed it, he said that he had been impressed by other countries where the state had details on every child, from birth all the way through to 16. I thought that that was disproportionate. I think that what we need, and Tim Loughton is working with local authorities on this, is an IT system that effectively flags those children who come to the attention of the authorities or services because there are particular needs, so that we can concentrate our efforts on them. I have been struck by the fact that many of the people who have been engaging with the Munro review and many people elsewhere agree with us that it is important that we have that focus. I do not think that any local authority will be judged adversely by us for wanting to move quickly towards that more proportionate scheme. Certainly, I know that Tim Loughton is very anxious to use the expertise that has been built up in the new and more targeted approach that we want to take, which I also have to say is more respectful of civil liberties.

  Q72 Pat Glass: May I add that I am not wedded to ContactPoint? I just wonder if it is not sensible at least to continue the grant for the staff, so that we do not lose that expertise as you move on to a better system.

  Michael Gove: I very much take your point. One of the conversations that I had with Tim was about ensuring that everything that we've learned, through the process of helping to set up ContactPoint, is used in the process of coming up with a better and more targeted scheme. So it's very important.

  Pat Glass: Redundancy notices are going out now. You need to act now.

  Michael Gove: I was going to say that with a more proportionate scheme fewer people will necessarily be employed, but we do want to make good use of the expertise of those people who've got the most to contribute.

  Chair: Thank you. Damian, are you happy to—?

  Damian Hinds: I can let it go.

  Chair: Excellent. That was the right answer. [Laughter.]

  Secretary of State and Permanent Secretary, thank you very much for coming and giving evidence to us this morning.

  Michael Gove: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman. If any Members had any points where I had promised to write and I or the Permanent Secretary have forgotten about them, if they would be kind enough to let me know I will seek to follow those points up. I am very grateful to you all for having this "after-school" lesson, which I've certainly benefited from.

  Ian Mearns: It's a club—an after-school club.

  Michael Gove: It's a club. I hope that you all have a wonderful summer holiday and I look forward to seeing you again in September. Thank you very much.

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