Education Committee - The Responsibilities of the Secretary of State

 

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Education Committee

 

on Wednesday 12 September 2012

Members present:

Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)

Neil Carmichael

Alex Cunningham

Bill Esterson

Pat Glass

Damian Hinds

Charlotte Leslie

Siobhain McDonagh

Ian Mearns

Mr David Ward

Craig Whittaker

________________

Examination of Witness

Witness: Right Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good morning, Secretary of State. Thank you for appearing before us today. It is a popular session; I am glad to see that we have sufficient seating for those who wanted to attend. Give us your take, please, on GCSE English this year. I do not know whether you had chance to look at the evidence we received yesterday from head teachers, professional associations and Ofqual.

Michael Gove: I have not had a chance to see all of the evidence and I did not have a chance to see all of the evidence session, so I am relying primarily on news reports, but I have a transcript of the evidence and I will look at it more closely. Obviously what has happened with GCSE English this year has caused understandable concern for parents, teachers and students, and I think it is appropriate that we examine what has happened in a sober fashion but also in a rigorously analytical one. I think there are certain lessons to be learned that encourage me to believe that we need to reform the qualifications that our students take at 16.

Q2 Chair: Can you explain why particular problems with this year’s GCSE English provide evidence for a wider reform of the qualifications?

Michael Gove: What has happened with this year’s GCSE English reinforces some of the conclusions, findings, that this Committee has already arrived at with respect to the qualifications that our children and young people sit at the age of 16. So I would not take what has happened with GCSE English in isolation, though obviously it is the focus of legitimate attention. I think it reinforces certain trends. The first thing that I would say is that, as this Committee has identified, we have a problem with competing exam boards all seeking to offer the same qualification. That creates an intrinsic problem for the regulator and, combined with our current accountability system, it creates a temptation for a race to the bottom.

Of course I want to ensure that we can do everything possible to safeguarded students from the deleterious effects of that and to ensure that head teachers are provided with the right incentives to offer the right qualifications for students. That is why I think that we need to move in order to limit some of the malign effects of that competition. Your Committee has put forward some recommendations; we will respond to that. I think there are some other issues, which you yourself have raised, in connection with modularisation and controlled assessment that count as well.

Q3 Chair: Give us your views on that, because in 2009 it was understood that moving to modular exams and increasing the controlled assessment-namely the percentage of marks given by teachers; in English it has gone up to 60% this year-and changing all the syllabuses all at the same time was likely to lead to grade inflation. It was nothing to do with awarding bodies competing with each other in a race to the bottom, and all about ill-thought through policy at governmental level. Can you tell us your thoughts on that? Surely one of the big lessons about this is about making sure that reform of exams with such huge implications for young people is carried out thoughtfully and on a sensible timescale by Government.

Michael Gove: I agree with 95% of what you have said. I think one of the issues, and, in fact, I think it was brought out yesterday in the examination of Ofqual’s interactions with Edexcel, is that different exam boards setting different grade boundaries at different points creates potential confusion and complication. But your broad point I think is absolutely right. The politician who was clearest in spelling out the problems with modularisation in GCSE was David Laws, who I am delighted to welcome as Schools Minister. But it was also the case that I believe you and others, at that time, made it clear that the modularisation of GCSEs was a retrograde step. One of the first acts that we took with respect to GCSE reform-and we had signalled it in Opposition and we followed through in Government-was to say that in future GCSEs should not be modularised and unitised. Now, at the time, we were criticised by Welsh and Ulster Education Ministers and by various figures from the education establishment, but I think, whatever other mistakes we may have made in office, that decision is vindicated by recent events and the new consensus that is emerging on how exams should be designed.

Q4 Pat Glass: Secretary of State, yesterday we heard evidence from head teachers that gave us a very different view of what had happened in the English language exams. I had understood that there had been some leniency in marking in January and that was brought back to the line in June, but they told us that was not the case. Because of the comparative outcomes framework that Ofqual work to, it had been much worse than that: there had been over-harsh marking to claw back from the over-gradings in January. Therefore, the cohort in June was doubly punished for the advantage of other children, which appears to go against natural justice. With what happened yesterday in Wales, what we are looking at now is a smaller than 10,000 group of English children who have been disadvantaged doubly in relation to the Welsh children, children who took the exam in June and children who took the exam in June 2011. Given that, is that your understanding of the situation-that there was a claw back and a compensation for what happened in January?

Michael Gove: There is a lot to your analysis that I agree with, but I look at it from a slightly different perspective. The first thing that I would say is that the comparable outcomes framework was something that was designed and adopted before this Government came to power. It was a previous Government that, under the QCA, as it then was, and then subsequently under the previous leadership of Ofqual, adopted comparable outcomes and outlined how it should work, first of all with respect to A levels and then with GCSEs. So the current team at Ofqual are dealing with tools that were designed by the last Government, rather than tools they have had a chance to fashion themselves.

The second thing I would say is that the comparable outcomes approach is designed to ensure consistency over time. Now, you or I might have quibbles about its application, and we might go into that later, but ultimately the overall aim is to ensure that a C in 2012 is consistent with one in 2011 and in previous years.

The other thing I would say with respect to Wales is that I believe that the children who have been disadvantaged are children in Wales. I think the decision by the Welsh Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, is irresponsible and mistaken. I think that he has undermined confidence in Welsh children’s GCSEs and I think that he should think again, after having made what I regard to be a regrettable political intervention in what should be a process free from political meddling.

Q5 Pat Glass: Secretary of State, can I press you on what happened in England? I am sure that this is an unintended consequence of the comparable outcomes methodology. Is your understanding that in June of this year not only were children brought up to the line in terms of marking but there was claw back from what happened in January, so those children were doubly disadvantaged?

Michael Gove: I think all children who sat GCSE English this year were disadvantaged, for the reasons that we have touched on already with the Chair and which we might revisit.

Pat Glass: So the answer is yes.

Michael Gove: But I think it is the case that children in January received grades that were generous, given what comparable outcomes was intended to achieve, and that Ofqual then faced a difficult choice: did they claw back the results of those students who had sat exams in January or did they allow the inflation of grades in June? They took that decision. It is for this Committee, because Ofqual is accountable to Parliament, to form its own view about that decision. But because Ofqual is an independent regulator and because the Chief Regulator explicitly said in her pre-appointment hearing to this Committee that it was her job to rein in grade inflation, and it was on that basis that she was approved by this Committee for appointment, I think that it would be quite wrong for me to second guess that decision.

Q6 Pat Glass: We had a very similar situation in 2002. I think it was, in terms of outcomes for the young people, much less serious, but at that time the Secretary of State took a very quick decision to get Mike Tomlinson to carry out a detailed investigation of what went wrong. She ensured that it had a very timely conclusion, so it was brought to a conclusion very quickly, and that at every stage those people who raised concerns were satisfied with the process. It ultimately resulted in 1,220 A level and 733 AS level students having their results improved. The Secretary of State apologised to Parliament for it and ultimately resigned. Have you considered a similar inquiry? I am not asking you to resign. Have you considered a similar timely inquiry, carried out by someone who has massive respect within the education sector, like Mike Tomlinson, to look at what can be done to put this right?

Michael Gove: With respect, I think the situation is different from the situation when Mike Tomlinson intervened. At that time, you had, in the QCA, a confusion of roles between the body that was responsible for generating the syllabus for qualifications and also regulating the qualifications. Thanks to my predecessor, Ed Balls, we have a situation now where an independent regulator, Ofqual, was set up. Having read Mike Tomlinson’s report, it is clear that there are inevitable difficulties that arise as a result of the complex way in which examinations are graded. That is why I think it is right that you have an independent regulator, accountable to Parliament, capable of drawing on technical expertise. I think it would be quite wrong for me to appoint over that regulator an outside body in order to second guess those decisions. What I do think is right, and I believe that this Committee has decided to do so, is for Parliament to ask the regulator, and all those who are regulated by her, the appropriate questions. I think it is absolutely right that you should question me and others about their roles and responsibilities, and I have every confidence that this Committee is better equipped to ask questions and secure answers than any other body.

Q7 Pat Glass: But with respect, Secretary of State, we cannot demand an independent inquiry.

Michael Gove: You are independent and you can conduct an inquiry.

Q8 Pat Glass: This is not going to go away. Children’s lives have been damaged by this. Are you prepared to have this mired in the courts for the years? It is not going away, Secretary of State

Michael Gove: I do recognise that there are people who are thinking about bringing a legal challenge.

Q9 Pat Glass: I think they would have very good grounds.

Michael Gove: That will be a judgment for the courts. But I do think the situation would only worsen if I were to do what, for example, the Welsh Education Minister has done and decide that I know better than exam boards how to mark the papers.

Q10 Pat Glass: He has taken decisive action.

Michael Gove: I think he has taken decisive action in the wrong way. Being decisive is one thing, being right is another, and I am afraid that he is in the wrong and that Welsh children are suffering. The difficulty, as was pointed out by Ofqual yesterday, is that the same exam by the same board was sat by children on either side of the English-Welsh border. Children in Wales did appreciably worse than children in England sitting the same exam. That reinforces what every international survey shows, which is that children in Wales have suffered as a result of education policies put forward by Labour politicians, which have abolished league tables, ended the objective assessment of children at the end of Key Stage 2 and ensured that there is less rigour in the approach towards education.

Now, finding himself in a fix and his education system in the dock, the Labour politician has attempted to shift blame. I think that is irresponsible, and the children who suffer are children from Wales who, when they apply for jobs in England, will hand over certificates that profess to be good passes, and English employers will now say, "I fear, through no fault of your own-I am sure you are the right person to be employed-that I cannot count your exam pass as equivalent to this other exam pass." I think that to have made the decision he did, with the speed that he did, without appropriate consultation with Ofqual, was irresponsible, and children in Wales will suffer not just this year but in the future.

Q11 Pat Glass: I suspect that parents and children in England will disagree with you.

Michael Gove: Of course.

Q12 Chair: Secretary of State, I think I agreed with 95% of what you just said.

Michael Gove: That might entitle me to an A, but perhaps not an A*.

Q13 Chair: If it is accepted, which it may not be by all, that the structure and architecture of GCSE that first started being examined last year and came to fruition properly in June this year for the first time was poorly done, aspects of which your Government, in my view, rightly has changed-modularity, review of controlled assessment, etc-it remains the case that those problems were highlighted as long ago as 2009 by the now Schools Minister, among others, and, given the role of Ofqual is to ensure standards, they maintain that they did everything they possibly could to anticipate and avert any problem. When questioned by me yesterday, the Chief Regulator said there was no technique that she or her colleagues could think of that they could have applied. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but nothing came to mind that they could have done differently. That is the question that we can ask about, but we have issues as to whether we have the technical or data-processing ability to find answers to. Are you satisfied, as Secretary of State, that the independent regulator in this case really did do everything they possibly could to anticipate and avert this situation and, therefore, there was nothing they could do about it and this is just one of those things that happen?

Michael Gove: The short answer is, on the basis of all the evidence I have seen, yes. I can give a longer answer if you would like me to.

Q14 Chair: That is clear, at least. I have one more question for you. That is the regulator. Given that your view three years ago was that this was a poorly constructed way to bring in a new qualification, albeit students started studying this course in September 2010, was there anything that the Government, which viewed this as, in some ways, a car crash waiting to happen, could have done to rectify or minimise any negative aspects of this?

Michael Gove: Unsurprisingly, I have asked myself that question. I asked it earlier and I asked it subsequently. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, it is entirely possible that there are things that we could have done. I am not clear what they would be, but I am not going to say that the decision making that I have been responsible for has been, at all times, perfect; that is manifestly not true. But I have not yet seen a plausible alternative scenario that outlines what we should have done, and certainly none was put forward at the time. As I am sure the Committee is aware, in 2009, the then chief executive of Ofqual outlined some of the interventions that one could make in the effect of modularisation, but many of them were regarded as unattractive and no one has subsequently said that we should have followed any of the paths that she outlined. She produced a menu and no one chose an alternative course to the one that was arrived at.

When the Coalition Government was formed, students were going to embark, in September, on the first teaching of this qualification. Everything had been changed, and it seemed to me that it would have been only likely to have made a potentially bad situation even worse if we had changed things at that time. As you yourself have said and as I agree, when we are introducing new syllabi and new qualifications we need to consult and we need to do things in as considered a way as possible consistent with fairness. It might have been possible to have made changes, but I think that would have caused more problems.

You used the phrase "car crash". I think it would be fairer to say we knew there would always be problems, but what we sought to do was to move as quickly as possible to a better system, and I believe what Ofqual has sought to do, on the basis of all the evidence I have seen, is to minimise the inevitably difficult impact of this new qualification.

Q15 Bill Esterson: You mentioned the point about students from Wales handing certificates to employers, but this is one of the key issues around the whole fiasco. The difference between getting a D and a C is the difference between getting a job and not, getting an apprenticeship and not and has long-term implications for life chances. We had teachers’ representatives and teachers here yesterday who made the point that they and their colleagues have a long-running proven track record of predicting grades very accurately. It has gone out of the window this year. Surely there must be some action that can be taken urgently to address this before it is too late for this year’s group of students.

Michael Gove: The first thing I would say is that Ofqual have made it clear that, if individual heads in individual schools have evidence, statistical or otherwise, that suggests injustices have been done, Ofqual will of course look at the individual cases and also want to study the school-level data. I think one of the things that Ofqual have been clear about is that, on the basis of the evidence they have seen so far, there is no reason for them to revisit their decisions, but they, like me, are open-minded about the importance of making sure that no evidence that comes to them is dismissed out of hand. That is the first thing that I would say.

Q16 Bill Esterson: So you are open to the suggestion of individuals appealing and being re-graded.

Michael Gove: I would of course encourage any individual student or any individual school that believes that there has been a specific unfairness to apply.

Q17 Bill Esterson: You could get large numbers of schools doing just that.

Michael Gove: I suspect that we will have a significant number.

Q18 Bill Esterson: Which could then really affect the overall figures.

Michael Gove: It might do, but one of the things I was going to say is that I want fairness, we all do, but I would not want to generate false hope, because this year is the year in which I believe we have had the second highest results in GCSEs overall since the start of the examination. So, of course, for individuals and for individual schools there will be heartbreak and disappointment, and many of those students will have worked exceptionally hard. But one of the problems that we have had is that the very design of this examination has encouraged some to believe that you can bank a particular set of results and you are en route for a C, and you can then take another section of the examination and only secure a particular amount of marks and then you are safe. This Committee itself has pointed out in the past the problems that the C/D borderline creates, in that it generates perverse incentives for teachers. It is not a criticism of teachers; they are under a lot of pressure. It is a criticism of a system that we have inherited and, indeed, I have overseen.

One of the things that I want to do when we introduce new qualifications, and I have been influenced by the Chair and members of this Committee, is to look into a way of ensuring that the accountability system for schools in the future is better. There are merits in continuity and in comparisons over time, but I think we have now reached the stage where a particular measurement has been a target for so long that it has become corroded.

Q19 Bill Esterson: You mentioned Ofqual. They have breached three, possibly four, of the five conditions for applying the comparable outcomes approach. That suggests regulatory failure of quite a scale.

Michael Gove: I would contest that.

Q20 Bill Esterson: Hang on, this is to do with the numbers of grammar school and independent school students being significantly lower than in previous years, so you do not have a like-for-like comparison, and that may well be at the heart of a lot of this. The point is, if Ofqual fails, who steps in?

Michael Gove: First of all, I have seen the assertion made that Ofqual have breached four or five principles; I think it was in the Times Educational Supplement. I am not convinced that analysis is correct.

The second thing I would say is, yes, there were a number of students in some high-performing schools who did not sit GCSE, and that is partly because they considered that the specification was inappropriate and they chose other examinations. That is another reason for us to consider why we need to reform these examinations. Ofqual, I think both in their evidence to you and in everything they have said, have said that they have taken account of the fact the cohort was slightly different this year from previous years, in that some high-performing schools chose not to sit GCSE.

Q21 Bill Esterson: In 2008, you said that Ministers should be held accountable if there are problems with the exam system. Do you still hold that view?

Michael Gove: Absolutely.

Q22 Bill Esterson: So at what point will you accept responsibility for this?

Michael Gove: I accept responsibility for all the decisions that I have taken. I accept responsibility for the speed or otherwise with which we have sought to deal with the initial problems that we inherited. I accept responsibility for the reforms that we are instituting. I also accept responsibility for my decision not to second-guess Ofqual. In that respect, I entirely agree with what my predecessor, Ed Balls, said. In the course of Ofqual being set up, both he and the Minister, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, said that it would be a matter for Ofqual to decide how they took account of modularisation and it would be quite wrong for Ministers to second-guess them. I have many criticisms of Ed, but he is an expert when it comes to understanding how regulatory structures should operate, and he was correct at that point.

Q23 Bill Esterson: Coming back to this year, do you accept responsibility for what went wrong between January and June?

Michael Gove: Firstly, I accept responsibility for everything that happens within the education system. Secondly, I feel, as I mentioned earlier and as I have said before and will happily say again, a sense of regret and sympathy for the students who have suffered. What I cannot take responsibility for are decisions that occurred before I became Secretary of State. The decision to adopt comparable outcomes and the decision to modularise GCSEs were decisions taken before we assumed office.

Q24 Bill Esterson: But you can accept responsibility for the application of them this year.

Michael Gove: I do accept responsibility for my role as Secretary of State, and my role as Secretary of State is not to interfere with what Ofqual does. If people judge that was an error, if people believe that I should have interfered in what Ofqual did, then they must make that judgment. But I think there will be others who will say, in the spirit of what the previous Secretary of State said, that this is a regrettable situation but the thing that would have made it worse is for Ministers in England to have done what Ministers in Wales did.

Q25 Mr Ward: I understand the importance of the independence of Ofqual, but they are acting within guidance-rules that are set for them-and particularly in terms of the acceptance of the January results, that is bound to have an impact on any subsequent decisions that they made to bring the figures into line. But I want to go back to the Welsh experience. You seem to regard it a reckless intervention in Wales and question it on the basis of the integrity and validity of the results in the eyes of employers with an application form before them. But isn’t that also going to happen not just to the 10,000 but to the whole cohort in England? When an application comes in before an employer, will that employer want to ask, "When were you assessed? Did you cash them in in January, in which case your C might have been D, or did you take the assessment in June, in which case your D may have been a C?"

Michael Gove: I take your point.

Q26 Mr Ward: How on earth can the integrity of the results in England be any better or worse than Wales?

Michael Gove: This is an inevitable consequence of a modularised or unitised approach towards assessment, but the one thing that we can be certain of is Ofqual have sought to ensure that the June results in this country are comparable with previous results.

Q27 Mr Ward: Including the January ones?

Michael Gove: I quite agree with you, and this is, as it were, a conundrum that Ofqual have been confronted with and that we have all been confronted with to which there is no perfect answer. That goes back to the point that Isabel Nisbet made when she was the chief executive of Ofqual in the report on what is called "the ping factor". They looked at how you might deal with this situation, and there are various questions that we have to raise: would it be appropriate to go back to those candidates who sat the examination and banked their marks in January and say, "You should have lower grades"? I think that would be exceptionally difficult. Should we have had a situation where those who sat the examination in January did not have the grades disclosed until a later date? I think that would have been particularly difficult. I am sure that in the course of this Committee’s inquiries you might make recommendations in the future, but I think the best thing that we can do is to acknowledge that this is a flawed system and that, within the context of the powers that they have, Ofqual have done, certainly on the basis of the information I have, the best to be fairest to the maximum number.

Q28 Ian Mearns: I am interested in pursuing the line that David started, because you said before that, basically, if a young person from Wales takes their certificate to an employer, it will be under question. Surely that is equally the case for a young person in England, and an employer will say, "You got your exam in 2012; was it January or was it June? If it was January, it is invalid, and if it was June, it has validity." That is exactly what you are saying.

Michael Gove: There is a risk that people will attempt to make that comparison, but I think the bigger problem that Wales has is that what we have now seen is the explicit political intervention by a Minister. You have a situation in Wales where the Education Minister has a regulatory role over exams different from that in England. We have a greater degree of independence, a greater degree of rigour and a greater degree of confidence in exams.

The situation also in Wales, laid bare, I think, by Ofqual’s evidence yesterday, is that students in Wales sitting the same paper have done significantly less well compared with English students. Now you have had a devaluation or an attempt at a devaluation by the Welsh Education Minister with respect to that exam, whereas in this country you have had an independent regulator that have sought to ensure-and people can criticise their methods-consistency over time. But you are right, and Ofqual have been clear, that what happened in January was, for many, unfortunate, but given the situation that we have, what no one has yet outlined is what the correct alternative course should have been.

Q29 Ian Mearns: The problem, as I see it, is that Ofqual and the exam bodies were aware that there was a problem going back to January, but did not let the schools know about it. Therefore, the schools, in terms of their anticipation of what the grading structures would be, did nothing about it. If they had known earlier on, they could have started preparing in some measure for that. To me, in retrospect, the fact that a number of months elapsed and nothing was done looks like a kind of negligent behaviour from that perspective. Do you not feel that children are now being treated as some sort of collateral damage in an exercise to correct grading structures in the face of your repeated expressed concerns over grade inflation?

Michael Gove: I think there are three very good points there. On the first one, as to whether Ofqual should have intervened earlier, again on the basis of the evidence that I have seen, it only became clear later on, when we had all of the papers that were sat later in the year, that the results and the grading in January had been, in retrospect, over-generous. I would be interested to see if there was evidence, and, if it came to me, obviously I would look at it seriously, but I have not yet seen any evidence that suggests Ofqual could have known earlier than when all the exams were being taken in June, because the sample in January was small. But of course if there is evidence that they should have acted earlier, we can look at it.

As to the second question, about collateral damage, the answer is no. I think students have suffered this year as a result of the introduction of examinations that were, as I have frankly said, not fit for purpose and that we are trying to change as quickly as possible.

Q30 Ian Mearns: The ones in January have not suffered because of that.

Michael Gove: I think everyone who sat modular GCSEs suffered, because I think they will not have had the benefit of being taught English language and English literature in the most effective way. I think the design of this qualification is not designed to ensure that students are as fluent and as literate as they should be in the use of the English language. I also think it is not designed in order to give people a proper love and appreciation for English literature. I think there is a fundamental flaw in that examination, and this is a situation that we have inherited, and it is a regulatory system that we have inherited, and we are seeking to change it as much as possible.

You mentioned my repeated warnings about grade inflation.

Q31 Ian Mearns: I think I said "expressed concerns".

Michael Gove: Concerns, absolutely, and I am not ashamed of the fact that in Opposition I made my concerns clear. I looked back at some of the things that I said in Opposition to make sure that those comments were appropriate, and I said, in 2008, "All great causes begin as a crusade," as one American writer said, "then they become a business and then they end as a racket." That writer was talking about Communism, and I said, "I fear the same thing now applies to our assessment and examination system." At that time, when I gave warning, the then Labour Government and a variety of others said, "How wrong, how wicked. You are denigrating children’s achievements." Well, now, that view has become the consensus.

So we have a Government that was serious about changing our examination system, has sought to ensure that we can restore confidence in it and wants to work with this Committee in order to do so. The children who have suffered are those children who, every year, have to endure a questioning of the credibility of their examinations, which is unfair on them and unfair on teachers, and we will only help students when we go back to having credible exams.

The final point you raised, Ian, or which I inferred, was whether there was any sort of political interference in Ofqual’s own decision on what exam boards did-absolutely not.

Q32 Ian Mearns: But I think if you, coming into the role of Secretary of State, did not like the way in which the exams that youngsters were going to have take were set up, you have a duty, as Secretary of State, to make sure that in the period before those exams are changed you make the best of a bad job. That may be unfortunate from your perspective, but you have to make the best of a bad job. Do you feel at all as though you and the people who work for you have, in any way, been making the best of a bad job or have let any children down?

Michael Gove: I have looked at every decision that has been taken by Ministers and by others in the Department for Education. With respect to examinations sat this year, I cannot see that any of the decisions that were taken by any of the officials who work for me were wrong. On the basis of the evidence that I have also seen about how Ofqual operated, I believe that Ofqual took all the right decisions. I would stress, however, that if people put to me evidence or people put to me specific points about how things have gone wrong, then I hope that this Committee will appreciate that I am always ready to acknowledge when the weight of evidence points to mistakes having been made.

Q33 Alex Cunningham: You have said that competition to attract customers has resulted in a skewed examination system, and I accept that you are working to try to correct that. Are you suggesting that Edexcel was guilty of giving students an easy ride with their English exam this year, because they were trying to continue to expand their business, and it is just tough on young people that they have had to pay the price when Ofqual had to step in and order them to lower their grades?

Michael Gove: The first thing I would say is the system that has been created generates perverse incentives for exam boards and for schools. The second thing I would say is Ofqual’s intervention was in order to ensure, to the best of their abilities, that standards were maintained over time. I cannot know if the decisions Edexcel made about grading were as a result of statistical errors or any other factor. That is a proper matter for investigation or elucidation by Ofqual and by Edexcel, but I presume that they, like everyone, were trying, to the best of their ability, to make sense of a new exam.

Q34 Alex Cunningham: Their structure and their outcomes are very different from what happened across other examination boards, so they got something terribly wrong. Are they the people who the children can blame for messing them up?

Michael Gove: I would not say so, no. It is understandable there is anger towards exam boards, and there has been anger towards AQA and towards Edexcel. I do not think it is right for me, on the basis of everything we have said, to point the finger. I think that we have a system that means that it is difficult for-

Q35 Alex Cunningham: So the system is to blame.

Michael Gove: Well, yes, is the short answer, but I would just say one more thing with respect to that. The first decision that Ofqual took about re-grading, which was under the last Government, was a decision to lower grade boundaries in order to make it easier to pass science exams. At that point, AQA deliberately set grade boundaries with respect to science in a way that made it more difficult to secure a pass than the two other exam boards. Ofqual intervened, in essence, to make it easier to get a pass. The question that I would ask, and it is ultimately for Ofqual to decide these things but it is for this Committee to reflect on, is which is more appropriate for a regulator to do: to allow people to pass an exam in a way that is easier and, therefore, to allow standards to be perceived and, indeed, to slip on their watch, or to be vigilant in order to ensure that standards remain consistent on their watch? I think this Committee would conclude that the latter was preferable, but of course it is always the case that we need to scrutinise how that decision is made, and I know this Committee will do that.

Q36 Chair: Just for the record, Secretary of State, I know you want to make it absolutely clear it was not the current Chief Regulator who was in charge when that decision was made.

Michael Gove: A very helpful point.

Q37 Chair: You are comparing and contrasting behaviour now with then.

Michael Gove: Absolutely, thank you.

Q38 Alex Cunningham: You do not think you or anybody else should do anything to restore or to change the grades achieved by the children in June in order to make it fair alongside the grades that they got in January-they should not have the same criteria applied and therefore get the same grade for the same standard of work.

Michael Gove: Firstly, if I were to instruct Ofqual or exam boards to re-grade, I would destroy the independence of the regulator, and we would have a situation-

Q39 Alex Cunningham: You must have an opinion, though.

Michael Gove: I do and I am explaining it. We would have a situation, as we do in Wales, where a politician would then be responsible for marking children’s papers and would have a politician as chief examiner in the country, and I think that is wrong.

The second thing I would say is that if we were, for whatever reason, to re-grade papers sat in June on the basis of papers sat in January, those papers would not be comparable with previous years, and so you would have a different sort of injustice. So, as Ian said earlier, the regulator was forced to try to make the best of a bad job.

Q40 Alex Cunningham: So all the more reason for an independent inquiry.

Michael Gove: As I said earlier, this Committee is equipped to conduct an inquiry. This Committee is independent of Government.

Q41 Alex Cunningham: So you would encourage us to do that.

Michael Gove: Well, I am stating facts.

Q42 Alex Cunningham: Do you think we should do that?

Michael Gove: I would no more give instructions or encouragement to the Chair of this Committee or attempt to interfere with how Parliament operates than I would the regulator. These are independent bodies. But I will tell you what I do think. At a time when the Chief Executive and the Chairman of Ofqual have come under criticism, I have so far seen no evidence that, confronted with difficult decisions, they have done anything other than the right thing.

Now, if new evidence emerges, of course I will look at it, and if new evidence emerges about things that my Department or I should have done, then of course I will look at that. One of the things I have always sought to do, if specific mistakes are pointed out and a specific alternative course is set forward, is I have tried to be as quick as possible to acknowledge where we have gone wrong and what we can do differently. But people who say, "Let’s have an independent inquiry," do not say, "because X result should come about." The only person who has said, "This is an alternative course that I favour," who is in an executive position of authority is Leighton Andrews, and he has made a terrible mistake.

Q43 Craig Whittaker: You are well known for your drive to push up standards in education. Glenys Stacey said to us yesterday that there had been absolutely no political interference at all. Is she right?

Michael Gove: Yes.

Q44 Craig Whittaker: Are you absolutely convinced that there has been no conversation between Ofqual and you or your Ministers that could be perceived as putting pressure on Ofqual to do what they have done?

Michael Gove: Absolutely.

Q45 Craig Whittaker: Can I just take you back to the January scenario? It has been said many times, both yesterday and you have said it yourself a couple of times today, that with hindsight the results in January were over-generous. What we have not seen, though, is any evidence to suggest why they were generous. Do you have any?

Michael Gove: I have looked at the preliminary report, as I think the Committee has, that Ofqual came forward with, and, on the basis of what they have said, I can at this stage only offer a thesis. This is not a definitive judgment. I think the thesis is that, as Ofqual themselves have said, with any new specification it is always more difficult to land exactly what grade it should be. There is an inherent additional complexity, which everyone is aware of, when it comes to grading examinations where you have a piece of continuous prose rather than necessarily a response to a multiple choice paper. As Mike Tomlinson pointed out in his 2002 report, what you need to do is to have examiners and others looking at a selection of scripts and deciding what counts as an A, what counts as a C and what counts as a lower grade. The more scripts you have and the more information you have about the cohort, the more reliable I believe that process can be, and because the numbers in January were less than the numbers in June, I think that created, for everyone involved, an inherent difficulty. I think it is appropriate and I believe it is the case that Ofqual is looking at what the lessons learned should be in order to ensure that we can more finely calibrate and more effectively guarantee reliability in marking.

But I think part of the problem, and I mentioned it earlier, is that, if you have a situation where you have papers that can be taken early and banked or re-sat, you have a situation where people can be tempted to game the system and you have an inherent instability. So I think that, as we explored earlier, you present Ofqual and the exam boards with an inherently difficult situation. They have sought to deal with it. There are clearly lessons to be learned in order to make sure that this is done far better next year, which is another year in which, for obvious reasons, because students have embarked on this course, modules and units will be taken.

Q46 Craig Whittaker: I hear what you say, but I still do not hear any evidence as to why January was over-generous. There were 54,000 pupils who took that exam in January. I think it was mentioned here yesterday that, in most polls, with a sample size of 2,000 you can get a fairly accurate figure. So why can’t we produce any evidence to say, "This is why January was over-generous," when we have had such a large cohort? I know it is small in comparison overall, but 54,000 is not a small cohort.

Michael Gove: I think the work is going on now with Ofqual and with the exam boards in order to produce that evidence. One of the other things that Ofqual are doing, which I think is right, concerns the individual schools that seem to be statistical outliers. One of the things that again gave me pause for thought is the fact there are some schools I have visited and know to be superb schools, and certain head teachers for whom I have an enormous amount of respect, and the results there seem perplexing at first blush. That is why I think Ofqual are right to say, on the basis of what they know at the moment, the right judgments were made. But it is their responsibility, quite rightly, to look at individual school results and to provide in their report a fuller account of why decisions were made in the way they were in January and why different decisions were made in June.

Q47 Neil Carmichael: Given that the cohort in January was a relatively small one, it seems, I think, to many and certainly to me that the impact of the claw back in June seems quite disproportionately significant. Why should that be?

Michael Gove: The gap between what happened in January and June?

Neil Carmichael: Yes.

Michael Gove: I think it is a variation of the point that Craig made. Funnily enough, I think it is the case that there were some who expressed the view that perhaps the marking this January was, at the time, too harsh. I think it comes back to the central point, which is that we all knew that the introduction of modular examinations would be likely to create problems. David Laws and others pointed out that, in every jurisdiction where modular qualifications have been introduced, there has been an increase or a potential increase in the pass rate. That is why I think, when the first results landed, you had the most difficult exercise of working out where grade boundaries should be set. That is an inevitable consequence, as I said earlier, of the introduction of these types of exams, and another reason why I think it is right to move away from them.

Q48 Neil Carmichael: I certainly agree that politicians should not be involved in exam grading and so forth-absolutely. I also welcome the changes that you are proposing to make in the system we are discussing. Nevertheless, the question in my mind about Ofqual is: is it adequately resourced to do the work it is doing, given that it seems to have worked out that there was a problem a little bit late and its reaction to that knowledge was a little bit close to June?

Michael Gove: The first thing that I would say is my understanding of the sequence of events is that, after exam papers are sat in June, there is an opportunity for them to be marked and there is an opportunity for examiners to look at those papers and then to set grade boundaries. Ofqual can then check to see that process is fair and consistent over time. That is the process that has been designed and that we have inherited. I cannot see how Ofqual could have intervened prior to those exams being set on a far bigger section of the cohort.

Q49 Damian Hinds: There are a number of matters arising that come with this discussion, some of which came up in our session yesterday and some of which you have, in fact, referred to already, like the multiple exam boards and the sheer complexity of that as well as the gradual erosion over time. Then there is controlled assessment and the in-built incentives that come with that, especially when coupled with expectations, we understand, among teachers that the results would be substantially better this year than last year. Then there is this whole business about banking C grades, which I think will come as something of a surprise, even a shock, to quite a lot of people. It was made quite explicit to us yesterday by the leader of one of the professional associations how that process works: that you put a C in the bag in one subject and then move on to focus on other subjects. I wonder if that, in turn, raises another question, which is whether foundation level and higher levels possibly exacerbate that issue of banking a C grade. Foundation and higher levels seem to be not very well known about, let alone understood. They apply to some subjects but not others, and even in some subjects they apply in Northern Ireland but not in others. There are all sorts of complexities but, crucially, in most subjects the grade being capped at a C means that perhaps there is no incentive to push further. Isn’t it time we got that sorted out?

Michael Gove: Yes, I totally agree. When there was a discussion a little while ago stimulated by commentary in the media about how our examinations might be reformed, the point was made forcefully and effectively by my Coalition colleagues that we should not have a two-tier qualification system. The truth, of course, is, as we know, that we already have a two-tier qualification system because of the distinction between foundation and higher tiers. I know that this Committee understands and appreciates the distinction. I am not sure that many people outside the education world do know that there are two different types of GCSE. One of them is the equivalent of the old CSE: you put people in for it and they cannot get better than a C, in the same way as the top grade in an old CSE entitled you to an old O level pass.

I think it is wrong, because it is an inherent cap on aspiration. One of the problems, I agree, with the way in which the system encourages gaming is that you say to Fred, "Okay, you have your C in English. Let’s bank that and then concentrate on getting you to a C pass in maths." Instead of saying, "We want to make sure that you can do the best you possibly can in English and in maths," it treats children as generators of statistical outcomes rather than as young people who deserve to be stretched in every subject.

Q50 Damian Hinds: We understand from media reports that one thing that might be being considered is to have different timeframes, potentially, different periods, to allow young people to reach the same standard. Is that one way of getting the best features of the current system while removing the sharp edges?

Michael Gove: I think it is another very good point. All of us are, I think, glad that the last Government introduced legislation to raise the participation age. However we might differ about its application, it was the right thing to do. The more advanced a country is, the more energy it should devote to educating people. That means that the notion of a school-leaving age of 16, and therefore terminal qualifications being taken at 16 and then that is it, is changing. So the purpose of the old GCSE, and the O level and CSE that precede it, is changing. Therefore, we should see qualifications that should be taken at 16, 17 or 18 as ways of certifying competence, fluency or excellence in English, mathematics or science.

So, for example, it may be the case that you have a student who gets close to but does not quite make the grade at the age of 16, who may go on to FE or a sixth form college or whatever. As they are then pursuing a vocational course or perhaps doing an apprenticeship, we should encourage them to carry on studying until they get the good pass that can reassure employers and others that they are fluent in English and mathematics. One of the things that I think has been good about what the Opposition have said is that they recognise the need to encourage maths to 18. That is something that Alison Wolf argued for and I think is absolutely right, and I think we need to change the way in which we see examinations at 16. Some people would say, "Why do we need to have accountability at 16 in the way that we do?" One of the situations that I have inherited is one where there are many parts of the country and many schools that do not have sixth forms. That means that accountability in those schools depends on what happens at the age of 16. One of the things that has had the biggest influence on me in the last couple of weeks is appreciating that we need particularly to hold those schools to account because, in many cases, they are former secondary moderns, and in Andrew Adonis’ new book, Education, Education, Education, he makes the point that many of those secondary moderns, post-comprehensivisation, carried on without having the additional level of aspiration that we would have wanted to have seen. Therefore, I think we need to keep accountability at 16, but we need to change qualifications on the basis that they may well be acquired later in people’s sixth forms en route to acquiring more.

Chair: I am going to have to cut you off and move on.

Q51 Damian Hinds: For the avoidance of doubt, I ought to point out that there are some absolutely fantastic secondary schools in Hampshire, where they are all 11 to 16, which stretch all pupils to their absolute ability. But what you said about carrying on with English and maths post-16 I think also raises the question of young people who do achieve grade C or above in GCSE or equivalent maths and English at 16 and what ways can be found to encourage them to carry on studying those subjects, which we know carries such a premium in the marketplace, according to the Wolf Report and others, even if they are not up for A level in one of those subjects.

Q52 Chair: Do you agree with that, yes or no, Secretary of State?

Michael Gove: Yes.

Q53 Chair: Excellent. I need to move on; we have other things to cover. Before we do, I just want to return to that media-stimulated discussion of the future of GCSEs. I wrote to you, on behalf of the Committee, on 6 July, asking a number of questions, to which your responses were inadequate.

Bill Esterson: Grade D.

Chair: Yes, grade D. The best answer I got was, "After two years in Government, I have come to the conclusion that leaks appear to be a part of political life." I will not bother reading out your second reply to the second letter I sent you, but you are accountable to Parliament and, partly, to this Committee for the behaviour of your Department. We asked you, "Do you share our view that leaks"-these were the leaks that appeared on GCSE in the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and, ultimately, elsewhere-"like these are unacceptable and every step should be taken to ensure they do not occur?" Perhaps you could say yes or no to that.

Alex Cunningham: This is your re-sit.

Michael Gove: I take a philosophical attitude towards leaks.

Q54 Chair: So you do not think they are unacceptable.

Michael Gove: I think that it is no use crying over spilt milk.

Q55 Chair: Well, as the Education Select Committee and part of the process by which Parliament holds those in power to account, this Committee does not share that view and feels that Parliament is the appropriate place through which Ministers should be accountable and should announce significant initiatives, rather than choosing selected media in order to give a particular spin or colouring to a view, if that, indeed, is what has happened. But you are telling us then, effectively, that you think that leaking things to the media is just to be expected in a modern democracy.

Michael Gove: If you will give me some space to say a little more, I am very happy to. The first thing that I should say is that during my time as Secretary of State for Education there have been many, many leaks from the Department for Education. In the run-up to announcements about Building Schools for the Future, information was leaked that created understandable sensitivities and also had false hares running about what was going to happen to school buildings. Subsequent to that, confidential legal advice was leaked and misinterpreted that created particular problems and challenges, not just for the Department and individuals working in it but others. Subsequent to that, private correspondence between me and colleagues and others was leaked and appeared selectively in newspapers. Subsequent to that, my wife’s private home email address was published on the front page of the Financial Times.

Q56 Chair: All of which I think we would deplore. What we would like to know from you is whether what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander, and whether you deplore inappropriate leaks regardless of where they come from, unless you do not think they are inappropriate.

Michael Gove: One of the things I would say is that the business of government involves recognising that. For example, I could speculate about where some of these leaks have come from, but I do not believe that it would be conducive to the effective despatch of government to look back in anger. I am intent on getting policy right.

Q57 Chair: We have lots more I want to cover. What sanctions exist for Ministers authorising a leak of information to the press and is this covered by the Ministerial Code?

Michael Gove: I have no idea.

Q58 Chair: So you are not aware of the Ministerial Code that governs your behaviour and how that relates to the issue of leaks.

Michael Gove: One of the things I would say is that, when it comes to communication within my Department, what I seek to do, at all times, is to make sure that there are a range of people who are brought into my confidence about all the matters that we discuss. But if I were to spend my entire time speculating on who might have talked to whom about matters that are being discussed in the Department, then that would divert me from my core mission, which is to improve standards for children.

Q59 Chair: Those outside and looking in might think that your argument now is that, when your opponents leak and use that to destabilise and undermine you, you would have one hand tied behind your back if you were not able, at times, to suit yourself, to make equal leaks in order to propagate the views of Government. Would they be entirely wrong to think that you thought there was an equalisation of firepower?

Michael Gove: Yes, because they would be attributing to me a Manichean view on the matter, and my view is you accept it as part of political life.

Q60 Chair: Would you leak? Would you take a major initiative in education that you were planning and authorise people to leak that to newspapers while denying provenance of that information? Would you do that? Would you think that was appropriate, given the realities of political life?

Michael Gove: I am not going to speculate on whether or not Ministers should or should not talk to particular individuals about particular initiatives in particular ways. I think the most appropriate thing to do is to say that it is an inevitable part of political life that Minsters will talk to people and take them into their confidence, and, if those people subsequently share that correspondence with others, that is one of those things. I think that a philosophical attitude on my part, knowing that there have been many, many occasions when material has leaked in a manner that I did not anticipate, in a way that I could not have foreseen, with consequences that I could not be aware of, means it is simply one of those things that I have to accept.

Q61 Chair: So you do not rule out major initiatives being leaked to the press if it suits the agenda of your Department?

Michael Gove: I think anything that I might say would be inferred as a criticism of other Government Departments, and that is not what I am going to do.

Q62 Chair: I am talking about your Department then. Would you think it appropriate to do that? You are not aware of what the Ministerial Code says about this subject, which fairly flabbergasts me, and you appear to be suggesting that, if it suited your purpose, rather than coming through Parliament, your Department, regardless of other Departments, might be prepared to leak something to the press. I am sure all the journalists in the room would hate any attack on leaks, because where else would they get their stories.

Michael Gove: I think the view you are taking of how Government operates is an attempt to categorise a complex range of behaviour in a particularly narrow fashion. What I would say is, firstly, if we are going to make major announcements about policy, we should make them to Parliament first. But the second thing I would say is that, by definition, when policy is being formulated there are frank discussions within the Department and with other stakeholders. I hope that I can hold people to a duty of confidence. I know on a number of occasions that confidence has been breached. As a result of that, inevitably, we have to deal with the political storms that follow. But what I will not do, because I know that if I made a particular response it could be inferred as a criticism of other Government Departments and other Government Ministers still serving, is attempt to criticise anyone in Government for the way in which they handle press relations. What I will do is affirm my consistent belief that you should share major announcements with Parliament first, and you should allow the proper debating in Parliament of those announcements. One of the things that I have found is that my ability to be able to communicate to Parliament in a considered fashion the policy changes that I want to make has been affected by leaks, but if I were to look back in anger then all I would do is corrode the trust on which Government depends.

Chair: Thank you. We will now move on to a number of issues around the children’s agenda as opposed to the educational agenda.

Q63 Bill Esterson: Can I ask you about children in care and particularly about children’s homes? The view of many children, young people and those caring for them is that there is a hierarchy of care in this country, with adoption seen as the pinnacle, followed by fostering, kinship care and other forms of care, with children’s homes very much being at the bottom. Do you accept that is the reality?

Michael Gove: I think it is wrong to say that.

Bill Esterson: This is a perception.

Michael Gove: I can understand the perception. I think it is wrong to say that there is a rigid pyramid. It is important to make sure the right solution is found for every child. I, myself, believe that for many children adoption is the most effective solution, because it is, in the words of Martin Narey, a commitment for good. So I do believe it is the case that, wherever possible, we should try to find children a secure and loving home. I think it is also the case that children recognise, they know instinctively, the difference between people who are caring for them because they wish to and because it is a relationship founded on love, and people who are caring for them because they are paid to. That relationship, while it may be one of responsibility and affection, is not built on the same basis.

Q64 Bill Esterson: If I can talk to you about children’s homes particularly for now, how do you explain the mismatch between the high numbers of children’s homes that are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted and the concerns that are being raised by your Department at the moment? Has Ofsted been getting things wrong?

Michael Gove: I think that it is undeniably the case that the situation in a minority of children’s homes is deeply disturbing. One of the conversations that I have had with the Chief Inspector, following on from the work that Ann Coffey and Sue Berelowitz have done, was about making sure that we are in a stronger position to ensure that they are more rigorously inspected. Again, I would not want to say that there has been any dereliction of duty on the part of Ofsted or its inspectors in the past, but I do think we need to be sharper in some of the questions we ask. Also, we need to be more rigorous in the way in which we look at how decisions are made by directors of children’s services about where children are put into care.

Q65 Bill Esterson: What improvements would you like to see within children’s homes?

Michael Gove: The first thing I would say is that the fewer children who are placed in children’s homes, as a general rule, the better. The second thing that I want to do is to look at why directors of children’s services place so many children out of area, far away from their home and, in many cases, in environments or neighbourhoods where they are likely to be exposed to greater risk. I can quite understand why, in certain circumstances, it would be appropriate to say to an individual child that, if they stay in, for example, a particular London borough, the nature of the temptations in their path or the dangers to which they are prey are such that they should be taken out of that area. I can quite understand that. But I do think that in some of the decisions that we see, whether they are towns in east Lancashire or on the east Kent coast, we see low-quality accommodation where children are often warehoused and some of the individuals responsible for looking after those children are people who see the relationship as primarily commercial, rather than one where the interest of the child comes first.

I do not think that any director of children’s services would wilfully make a decision they knew was going to be bad for that child, so we have to ask ourselves: how does this situation occur when you have people who manifestly care? Is it a matter of resources? Is it a matter of perverse incentives? Given the fact that we also have the private sector involved in this provision and, therefore, there are people who are making a profit, are we regulating the sector effectively in order to ensure that the money we spend on those children’s care goes on their care and not on generating excessive profits for companies?

Q66 Bill Esterson: Yes, I think it is a very important point. You said that ideally you would like to see fewer children in homes, and yet in some Scandinavian countries they take a completely opposite view. What do you think we can learn from their experience?

Michael Gove: I think all European countries have a lot to tell us in this respect. One thing I would say about homes is that it is sometimes appropriate that you have an environment that is run by professionals and that is secure. There can sometimes be children, particularly very challenging children in their teenage years, whom it would be exceptionally difficult to find adoptive or foster parents for. A skilled and trained professional who understands how to deal with children in those circumstances would be the right person.

The other thing that I would like to see is a growth in the number of foster parents who come from a wider range of backgrounds. One of the things that my new Minister, Edward Timpson, pointed out when he was on the Back Benches was that other European countries often tend to have a significantly wider range of families ready to foster. I think if we could extend the reach of that, we might have more people who were seen to be doing it and obviously seen to be doing it out of love and care. I would not want to criticise anyone who goes into fostering, but I think there is a perception that, for some, fostering is a means, first, of supplementing their income and, secondarily, of looking after the child. Some of the evidence that I have seen from serious case reviews and elsewhere leads me to believe that, if we can extend the pool of foster parents, we are more likely to get the right placement for children, depending on their individual circumstances.

Q67 Bill Esterson: I am sure that is right. I want to move on to some other lines of questioning, and I do not know if this is covered by the Bill that will be published in January, but perhaps if you are publishing things in future, I think it would be very interesting for this Committee to look at how you propose to make that happen. I think it is one of those very big challenges that has not been resolved. Perhaps you could make a commitment to provide evidence of how that will happen.

Michael Gove: Yes, absolutely.

Q68 Chair: I was about to say we have a lot more issues we want to cover. I was going to make a plea, Secretary of State, to be as succinct as you are fluent in future answers and for members of the Committee to keep it sharp, so we can cover as much as we can.

Michael Gove: A lot of good work was done by Tim Loughton. Let me take this opportunity to say he did a fantastic job as Children’s Minister. Committees set up under him will be reporting shortly. We will share that work with the Committee. I am very happy to come back to answer detailed questions about it once they have published.

Q69 Bill Esterson: That is a great answer, thank you. Coming on to the role of local authorities, what role do you think they should have in monitoring the quality of care in children’s homes in their area and do they have the levers to be able to do that?

Michael Gove: I think they should have a role, and one of the questions I am asking is whether they have sufficient levers.

Q70 Bill Esterson: How well do you think councillors are performing their duties as corporate parents?

Michael Gove: As is so often the case, there is a huge variability. One of the points made in the APPG report, which Edward Timpson and Lisa Nandy co-wrote, is that you can see some superb examples of local authorities who have done everything right and then others who have been less capable. I would not want to say that this local authority has done a bad job because of poor leadership. I would want to explore what the circumstances were that meant that local authority was not doing as good a job as it might.

Q71 Bill Esterson: There are many children’s home that are run by the independent sector. Does the Government have enough robust evidence to inform policy on independent homes, given that the majority of research has been carried out on local authority homes?

Michael Gove: I think you are absolutely right. As I mentioned earlier, we have seen not just small-scale businesses but also larger concerns, private equity firms, seeing an opportunity to move into this area. This is both an opportunity to hold those organisations to a higher standard and to ask some tough questions. I do not believe that we have a sufficiently sophisticated understanding of how this market operates, and one of the things that Tim and the various groups with which he was working were conducting, and Edward is now carrying on, was a detailed investigation into how the market works.

Q72 Bill Esterson: One of those issues would be the fact that you could set up a home in a local authority area and not inform the director of children’s services.

Michael Gove: Yes, and there are other matters about the way in which information is shared, which Tim put his finger on and which Ann’s report reinforced.

Q73 Bill Esterson: Okay. What can Government do to make sure that children’s homes are not opened in areas of high risk? You touched on a couple of areas where this is a potential problem now.

Michael Gove: I think part of it is sharing information. In the past, it was the case that there was a concern about sharing information between the police, Ofsted and local authorities about the location of children’s homes and the children within them. We had a situation-and I think Tim was powerful and eloquent about this-where, for example, in parts of Thanet you had children’s homes located close to areas where there was a high number of registered sex offenders, where there was evidence of prostitution, and where no child should be brought up-certainly not in those circumstances. One of the responsibilities of the task and finish group that he set up is not only to ensure that there is better information sharing but also to ask why it is that this situation occurs and why it is that an otherwise responsible director of children’s services in a London borough would think it appropriate to put a child there.

Q74 Bill Esterson: That sounds like a call for a national database of some kind.

Michael Gove: I do not rule anything out.

Q75 Bill Esterson: You have just got rid of one.

Michael Gove: The point about ContactPoint is that it was a national database for all children. We can have a debate about ContactPoint and what it was intended to achieve, but it was never intended to be a database simply of children at risk. It was intended to be a database of all children everywhere, and there were significant flaws, which related to the differential treatment of the children of MPs and celebrities, its cost and its reliability.

Q76 Alex Cunningham: Tim Loughton has said that he is determined to clamp down on local authorities that place children out of area without meeting the necessary criteria. Why are local authorities doing this, do you know, and what carrots or sticks will Ministers use to stop this practice?

Michael Gove: It is exactly the point that Bill raised. I do not know why local authorities should be tempted to do that. The first response would be cash is tight and they take decisions under pressure, partly, perhaps, driven by external timescales, perhaps driven by worries about resources. But we know that the cost of keeping a child in residential care is significant, so we know that there are large sums of money and we know that those sums of money are sufficient to allow the private sector to see an opportunity to make profit. That seems to me to require a proper analysis of the incentives that local authorities have to behave in particular ways, and that is exactly the work that Tim started and which Ed is continuing.

Q77 Alex Cunningham: What steps can Government take to encourage local authorities to make decisions specifically driven by the needs of the child rather than by this cost element and the availability of places?

Michael Gove: What I want to do is develop a better understanding of why people take the decisions that they do. One of the things I have discovered in the last two years is that almost everyone in public service wants to do the right thing and almost everyone in public service finds that there will be incentives, because of the way that systems were designed, that draw them away from necessarily making the right decisions in the interests of children. So we have perverse incentives in the examination system, and I want to understand why decisions are made in the way they are over the placement of children in care. I cannot say definitely yet what I think all the factors are. I can speculate, but it would be no more than that at this stage.

Q78 Alex Cunningham: So you are still waiting for the outcome of your task and finish group on this subject.

Michael Gove: Yes.

Q79 Chair: How radical are you prepared to be in terms of changing the incentives? If it is just that they have departmental silos and they have limited money, as you say, money drives some of the decision making. If they had a bigger incentive structure to change outcomes for young people and that drove their cash allocations, it might lead to entirely different decision-making processes in which the priority of getting children to a good place was more important than the immediate priority of fixing a particular budget at a particular time.

Michael Gove: It is a cliché, but to my mind nothing is ruled out. It is no criticism of anyone that this has been an area of relative neglect. We have been very lucky, in that, for the last two and a half years, we have had a Minister passionate about this, and his successor is equally committed to resolving this problem.

Q80 Alex Cunningham: Sometimes children appear in other local authority areas because they have been placed there by someone else. What do you think can be done to improve the consistency of practice across local authorities to make sure that the host knows that a child has ended up within their boundaries?

Michael Gove: I think the general rule is: find out what best practice is in the local authorities that do things in the most effective fashion, and ask yourself why others are not doing things that way and what we can do to ensure that others match the best. Also, look at what happens in other jurisdictions and say, "How do they manage to handle these things successfully and what answers can we learn from them?"

Q81 Alex Cunningham: Too often it does not work out, though. A young couple at my surgery on Friday were registered with a private fostering agency. They gave a home to a troubled 16-year-old but, sadly, that placement broke down. That private agency then failed to find a new placement for that young person, and he was dumped in a hostel to basically fend for himself. I know you have talked about regulation and the need for improvement there, but clearly it is not working at the moment. So what are you going to do to ensure that, first, children such as this 16-year-old are safe, and that these agencies do not just wash their hands and dump them somewhere in a hostel?

Michael Gove: I think you have exemplified a situation, which I think many of us will have found through constituency work, that is at the heart of what the task and finish groups are looking at. When we talk about task and finish groups, it seems drily bureaucratic. These are people who are passionate about improving the situation of the type of young person that you have mentioned and are working with the officials in my Department to try to make sure that agencies do not feel that they have to operate in the way that you have just described.

Q82 Alex Cunningham: Do you have any picture of how many young people are just being dumped in hostels across the country?

Michael Gove: I know that there are more than 60,000 children and young people in care, and I know that not all of them are getting the best care, manifestly, that they deserve, but I do not know the precise number of young people who are in the circumstances that you describe.

Q83 Alex Cunningham: Something about children who go missing from care now. What do you see as the key issues to resolve regarding the collection and sharing of data? It is suggested that police data is best. What are you doing to ensure that children’s services and police work together to maximise the benefit from the data that are available?

Michael Gove: Tim Loughton made it clear that this was a priority and, indeed, a specific task and finish group was set up to make sure that data were shared most effectively. I think it is right that, in these circumstances, there can sometimes be concerns about the rights of individuals and data sharing, which are legitimate from a philosophical point of view. But I share what I suspect is your attitude, pragmatically, which is you have to make sure that information is shared in order to ensure that people can do the right thing.

One thing I would also say is that my experience of reading serious case reviews is that everyone always says data should be better shared, and so they should, but simply sharing data without also making clear who is responsible for outcomes is only one step.

Q84 Alex Cunningham: I know in the past when I have tried to tie you down to timescales you have resisted the temptation, but do you know how long it is going to take to get to a position where there is a much higher quality of data sharing in this situation?

Michael Gove: Once again I am going to resist the temptation to come back with a specific timescale, but I think the next time that I appear before this Committee, or perhaps the first time that the new Minister appears before the Committee, we can give greater assurance about how quickly certain other steps will be taken. At the moment, we are, frankly, in the position of looking at the defects in the current system and working out fairly how we can make things better.

Q85 Alex Cunningham: Finally from me, will you be undertaking work with the Home Office to establish a national system of data collection on trafficked children, children who go missing, as recommended by the APPG inquiry?

Michael Gove: Yes, we are working with the Home Office on this particular area and it is deeply concerning and, at this stage, again, I would not want to rule out any particular approach. At the moment, I think the LGA are working to ensure that local authorities are in the best possible position to deal with these cases, but I would not want to be definitive about what the right answer is at this stage.

Q86 Alex Cunningham: You started your answer by saying "yes". Is that "yes" you understood the question, or "yes" you agree that there should be a national system of data collection?

Michael Gove: I would not rule that out at this stage. The work of Ann Coffey has been instrumental in shaping the thinking of people within the Department, but I do not want to go pat on something when you have a new Home Office ministerial team and a new ministerial team in DfE. One of the ways in which I try to work is to make sure that Ministers have authority over the areas for which they are responsible and that they have the opportunity to use a pair of fresh eyes to look at the evidence.

Q87 Chair: You agree that it is unsatisfactory, and a solution, whether it is that one or another, needs to be put in place to improve the current situation.

Michael Gove: Yes.

Chair: Excellent.

Q88 Craig Whittaker: Secretary of State, the Railway Children charity has done quite a lot of work in this field. Indeed, when I went to the Care Leavers’ Association in Manchester over the summer, I heard first-hand evidence of how local authorities are exploiting the rules in the system to get children out of care before their 16th birthday so they do not have to care for them until they are 21. Clearly, that is not the intention of primary legislation. How are we going to stop that happening?

Michael Gove: To stop children who are care leavers finding themselves in…?

Craig Whittaker: How are we going to stop local authorities from pushing children, young people in care, out before their 16th birthday so they do not have to provide for them and care for them until they are 21?

Michael Gove: Again, I think it goes back to the particular set of incentives that local authorities have to behave in particular ways. If it is appropriate to make an analogy with, for example, the responsibilities that local authorities have for children with special educational needs, local authorities are placed in a cleft stick. On the one hand, they have to fairly assess the needs of the child with special needs. On the other, they have to fund provision for that child. So there is an inherent conflict of interest between, for the sake of argument, the director of children’s services, who wants to do the right thing, and the director of finance, who says there is no money there. I want to develop a better understanding of what the pressures are on local authorities, financial, regulatory or otherwise, that prevent people who want to do the right thing from doing the right thing.

Q89 Craig Whittaker: How is that going to help those young people in the short term though, because this is a real issue happening now? They cannot wait until two or three years’ time, by the time we decide to get round to it. How are we going to physically give these young people hope that, as a Government, we are going to do things differently?

Michael Gove: I think unless I can understand exactly why local authorities behave in the way that they do and what we can do in order to help and support them to behave in a way that is better for those children, I am not clear what specific interventions we can make. My Department always looks alongside the DWP to make sure that the cracks that occur at different points in any young person’s journey are cracks that fewer and fewer young people are at risk of falling through. But I cannot say here that I have an instant solution. It would be tempting for me to issue guidance or regulation, but one of the things that I have discovered, particularly in this area, is that guidance and regulation in a local authority can sometimes be seen as a distant edict from Whitehall, which does not understand the reality on the ground. We need to understand the reality on the ground, but I am, I hope, not a stick in the mud: if there are specific recommendations that can be made where we can intervene, at speed, in the worst areas, then I will adopt them.

Q90 Craig Whittaker: Can I just take you back to a conversation that was started a while ago? We had a session here on young people in destitution caused by the immigration system. We had Damian Green, the then Immigration Minister, and, of course, Sarah Teather here. What was very clear was that there was a huge tension between the two Departments of trying to sort out the rights of the child from that point, and, of course, the needs of the immigration system. How are we going to make it work?

Michael Gove: If I may say so, there is sometimes a tendency to look for fissures in Government that do not really exist, whether they are between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, Blairites and Brownites, the Home Office and the Department for Education. I know Damian and have worked with him for years and, of course, it was his responsibility, as Immigration Minister, to make the system work. But the idea that Damian was operating as some sort of desiccated calculating machine, looking only at numbers, and that he was heedless of children’s welfare is not just a caricature but totally wrong.

One of the points I think Damian made in his evidence was that the state provides, for all asylum-seeking children and all asylum-seeking families, sufficient resources in order to ensure that they should not be destitute. Absolutely. But, at the same time, he has a responsibility to say to those who may be tempted to send unaccompanied children to this country, for whatever reason, "We will return those children," because what we cannot do is create a situation where there are temptations either for unscrupulous parents or for other exploiters to send children across the world to this country on the basis that there will be no means of allowing those children to return home.

Q91 Craig Whittaker: I hear what you are saying, but what do we do about the immigration system that presumes a child to be an adult rather than the other way around? So a child gets treated as an adult through the immigration system rather than, as they should rightly be, a child. Surely that is not looking at the rights of the child in that immigration system.

Michael Gove: I believe it is the case that in every area where the UK has a responsibility towards asylum-seekers, whether children or adults, we exercise those duties responsibly. So I think it will always be the case that medical care, education and benefits will be there in order to ensure a decent standard of living during that period.

Of course, local authorities are responsible for undertaking a human rights analysis/review for each asylum-seeking child and young person. I know that this Committee has pointed out that there is variability in the way in which that is done, and the LGA are attempting to ensure that is fairer. I am sure there is more that can be done there. But one of the things that I know that this Committee raised, for example, was the whole question of the way in which children might be discriminated against or, indeed, exposed to risk by having dental x-rays used as a way of determining their age. I took the opportunity, obviously, to study that in greater detail subsequently, and, while that proposition was raised, it was, thanks to the intervention of the Chief Medical Officer, in effect, put into abeyance. So the Government does take these responsibilities seriously.

There is a related issue, of course, with children who have come from difficult areas like Afghanistan or Vietnam who are 16-, 17-year-olds, as to whether or not we return them to their country. These are finely balanced decisions, but across Government people are attempting to balance two things: respect for those individual children and young people and their rights, but also a belief that we cannot have a situation where we send a signal to people in those nations that they can send children here, where they may be exposed en route to all sorts of risks of exploitation.

Q92 Chair: Getting them sent home, as appropriate, following the protocols of the immigration system-no one is disputing that. You said it is, of course, important that all those things-education, health care and benefits-should be in place while they are here. The point is that they are not, and it looked as if, and to an extent it seemed as if, the Minister was saying that destitution was almost an instrument of policy to send the signal back to people that they do not want to be sending their kids here, not only because we will send them back again but because we will not treat them properly when they are here. That is what I think we had qualms about.

Michael Gove: Firstly, I was not here at that session. Secondly, I have read the evidence, but obviously I cannot know. You can derive an inference from the tone of a response, but my reading of the evidence was that Damian absolutely was not saying that. It was put to him that another Minister had used that phrase as a tactic or as a warning in a different context. Again, I am not sure whether that is fair towards that other Minister; put that to one side. I think Damian was perfectly clear that, if children are in the system-if you have asylum-seeking children and they make themselves known to the authorities or are made known to the authorities-there will be proper care and support for them there. But there is a problem, undeniably, that there are children who enter or are brought into this country in a clandestine fashion, who do not, as it were, touch base with the authorities and who, therefore, face particular problems and difficulties. I think that from every point of view we would want to deal with that situation, because it is in no one’s interest that you have clandestine or illegal entry.

Q93 Chair: Obviously one is concerned about the ones who are hidden, but our particular concern, because of the point you make about the different applications for local authorities, was that the evidence was that children who were known to the authorities-who were children-were destitute. As the lead Minister for children, our question to you is: what can you do to make sure that does not occur, and that we do not get anybody anywhere making suggestions that somehow there are signals to be sent when they are asked about a destitute child? Whether they should be sent home or not is a different matter. Here, right now, they are destitute and that local authority has failed them.

Michael Gove: There are two things. Is forced destitution an instrument of policy? Absolutely not. Is it the case that there may be parts of the country where, for whatever reason, local authorities have not provided the support that ideally they should? Yes. Am I blaming the local authorities? No. It is the responsibility of all of us to work together in order to ensure that local authorities discharge those responsibilities, but I do not think that there is any wilful desire to inflict on any young person destitution as an instrument of policy. Where problems occur, it is as a result of failures that all of us would want to address.

Q94 Ian Mearns: I hear what you are saying very clearly, but if the Department for Education and central Government is aware that local authorities are not discharging their duties properly and are leaving some youngsters destitute, is it not the duty, therefore, of the Secretary of State to send in an intervention team to make sure that the local authority discharges its duties properly?

Michael Gove: The first thing to say is that I want as much as possible to work in co-operation and collaboration with local authorities on everything. One of the differences is a welcome reset in tone that was made by Tim Loughton when he was Children’s Minister, which is as much as possible to work behind the scenes and to say to a local authority, "Look, you have a problem here, address it," rather than dragging the situation out into the light and making things more difficult. Sometimes you do have to do that, and where specific abuses can be brought to light and brought to my Department then, of course, if that is necessary, we will do it. I think you made the point, Ian, as Vice Chairman of the LGA, that the LGA is not a regulatory body; it is there to provide advice. Again, I hope that advice can produce the right outcome, but if you bring evidence to bear, like I think the Children’s Society has, which shows specific examples that need to be addressed and the local authority is not responding, then of course we will act.

Q95 Ian Mearns: Moving on to troubled families, Secretary of State, we are aware that the Government has identified a figure of 120,000 of what are classified as troubled families. As I understand it, to be one of those 120,000, those families have to meet a range of criteria-maybe five out of seven of the criteria. That automatically begs, for me, a significant question inasmuch as there are many, many more families who might meet three or four of those criteria but are not part of the 120,000, and therefore would not be subject to any significant intervention. I am just wondering if you share Professor Monroe’s concern about using a payment-by-results model to work with families with complex needs, because outcomes are hard to measure, and what evidence does the DfE have to suggest that such an approach would work anyway?

Michael Gove: The first thing to say is that everything that Professor Monroe says I take very seriously. That is why she was invited by the previous Children’s Minister to review social work and child protection. She is an expert in her field and, therefore, whenever she raises a question I always pause for thought.

The second thing I would say is that, by definition, it is inherently difficult to know, when you are intervening, as this Government is seeking to and as the previous Government sought to do, with this group of families, if you have got things on the right track and permanently on the right track. I think inevitably what you have to do is to set out some policies, set to work with a will and then review, as progress is made, what the most effective levers, instruments or measures are. So I think it is right at the beginning for people like Professor Monroe and others to say, "We are not sure whether these are the right measures or these are the right mechanisms," but I think that what we should do is see how the interventions that we are bringing about do generate improvements. One of the areas that I know we want to secure improvements in is school attendance, and I think everyone would recognise that, if you can improve school attendance within a family, it is a vital sign that things are moving in the right way for the child and for the parents.

Q96 Ian Mearns: As an aside, if you improve attendance, you sometimes improve achievement, but some people view that as grade inflation.

Michael Gove: I certainly would not.

Q97 Ian Mearns: Results from the Family Pathfinder Programme showed significant improvement in outcomes for nearly half, about 46%, of families. What would you consider to be a satisfactory success rate for the Family Intervention Programme?

Michael Gove: Can I write back to you on that? I do not know what I think would be the best way of making a fair judgment, but I will write back with what I think would be appropriate. One of the things I want to stress about this-and it seems like a shuffling off of responsibility but, in fact, it is complex-is that this is an area where DWP and CLG have interests, and I would not want to make a commitment without checking with Eric or Iain.

Q98 Ian Mearns: I think also the Treasury, Secretary of State. One of the things that I think about this is some investment at an early stage can quite often save many, many tens of thousands of pounds for a whole range of services later on in people’s lives. I think we have to think about the way of investing in people in order to try to save money down the line but also improve life chances.

Michael Gove: I totally agree.

Q99 Damian Hinds: Back to payment by results and what Ian was just talking about, we struggled when we were looking at youth services, for example, on this Committee with the whole question of payment by results, social impact bonds and all the rest of it. We kind of came to the conclusion that it was all just too hard. At the end of the day, you had to take some punts and say, "Well, I believe in that, so that is where I am going to put some money." But looking at the Troubled Families initiative, it does seem to be quite a common-sense approach to pay by results. Rather than having to track through to exactly what savings are made and exactly what the measures are, it is based on common-sense things about school attendance, movement towards work, reducing antisocial behaviour. Do you think that could be a model for other programmes across Government?

Michael Gove: Yes, I hope so. There are some areas where you can be very precise about payment by results, and I think that the Work Programme seems to be one of those. Then I think there are other areas where it is more difficult. The principle is right and it is related to a point that Ian made: if you invest now, you can make savings for the Exchequer later, and if there is some way in which that can be measurable, then, for whatever reason, you can create a system that provides the right incentives for people to reap the benefits of that early intervention and early investment. But it is not easy and I think there has to be an element of trial and error, and if Government is honest enough to say, "We got some things wrong, certain points," then others should be honest enough to say, "We understand why. Persisting in error is a sin, but making an error is not." In that respect, I would say one thing, if I may, which is that there is an orthodoxy that prevails, not so much in the Treasury but in the Public Accounts Committee and in the National Audit Office, that if a single penny has been spent on a programme that has not succeeded, that is, in itself, a disaster. I think that is wrong because, by definition, you are going to have to, in the words of FDR, indulge in bold, restless experimentation if you are going to deal with deep social problems.

Q100 Damian Hinds: Yes. No, it would not work in research and development departments very well.

Michael Gove: Exactly.

Q101 Damian Hinds: It is clearly a devolved programme, and the 120,000 figure is a statistical construct; they are not 120,000 actual families, and the five out of seven that Ian was talking about is a guide that is used to give number indications to local authorities. But obviously it is local authorities themselves who identify the families and what sort of approach to take, which introduces a question. Obviously, your Department, between children’s services, Sure Start, schools and everything else, has a key role to play in a lot of these things. How do the Departments interact at central Government level in this programme?

Michael Gove: In my experience, very well. We touched on it earlier when we were talking about alleged tensions between DfE and the Home Office. There are natural instincts that Departments have, but they are shaped also by strong leaders, and Eric and Iain are very strong and clear Secretaries of State. Eric has a very strong belief that if you give local authorities responsibility, they will, more often than not, exercise it well, and that has shaped the delivery of the programme. Provided the incentives are clear and the accountability is transparent, I agree with that.

The other thing is that Iain Duncan Smith is clear that the interventions we make are not just about transferring cash from one account to a set of individuals. It is also about encouraging particular types of behaviour that are likely to help people escape from poverty, and I very powerfully agree with that as well. I think that the benefits system cannot be values neutral.

Of course, there are always moments where a very nice person from the Treasury comes along and wants to cast their eye over what we are spending, and it is always the case that there are technical experts who suck their teeth, but generally the working at ministerial level has been very good.

Q102 Damian Hinds: I think most of us welcome localism, innovation and things happening in different ways in different places. But ultimately in these devolved programmes you want to find the places where it is working really well and make sure that the places where it is not working so well at least have the opportunity to see what works well and to make an effort. So often in things this Committee looks at, we struggle to see exactly what the conduits and the repositories for making that happen are.

Michael Gove: I think you are absolutely right and it is one of the concerns that I have had overall. Because we are moving away from a system that tended to say, "Central guidance and you will comply," towards a system where we identify the people who are doing things very well, find out why and then encourage others to move along the same path, we need to produce more and better case studies of effective practice. This relates very much to Ofsted and other inspectorates and the Department itself. One thing Ofsted has been good at in the past is being critical of poor performance. What it has not been so good at is exemplifying what good performance looks like and how you can get there. One of the things I want to do in the Department, and we are trying very hard to do, is to produce more examples of things going right, so we can congratulate and celebrate the people who are doing it but also, at the same time, allow appropriate lessons to be learned.

Q103 Chair: I must just say for the record, Secretary of State, I am delighted to hear about this focus on understanding of incentives, because it is so often missing; it is easy just to issue guidance and intervene rather than understand the incentives that have led to the ill behaviour in the first place. Where is the balance struck? I do not think Ministers spend half enough time understanding the incentives in the framework that they themselves create within the system, but there will be a limit. However well designed, there will be times when it needs some external push as well. Do you have any feel as to what the right approach to that is? What is your philosophy of frameworks and incentives and then central intervention, if that is the right question?

Michael Gove: I think the first and most important thing is to understand why people behave in the way that they do; the second is to assume that most people in public service will want to do the right thing; and the third is to work out what the barriers are to them doing the right thing. The fourth thing is that, inescapably, there are certain principles that I think, as a general rule, make public services better, and the more that people have a belief and pride in their individual institution and take responsibility for their decisions and take pride in their success, the better. That is why I think, for example, the character, the individuality and the ethos of a school matters. It is also why I think, in terms of local government, the more a local government area or unit exemplifies a pride in the place, the better.

Q104 Bill Esterson: Just to come back to troubled families, I was a bit surprised to learn that councils on Merseyside had been told by the Home Office who their troubled families were. They felt they probably had a pretty fair idea themselves. So, hopefully, from your remarks earlier that is not a general situation.

The point I wanted to make is that there are many professionals in lots of different agencies who have relationships with what you are terming "troubled families". Surely the key is to identify those relationships and use those, where there is already a degree of trust, in trying to support particularly the children but also the families as well.

Michael Gove: I think you are absolutely right, but if I can share this with the Committee. Yes-elucidation: in the immediate aftermath of the urban troubles we had, the riots last summer, the Government set up an interdepartmental committee to look at gang violence. One of the questions that was put by officials was: should we create a new multiagency partnership at local government level to deal specifically with gang violence? The question in my mind was: what are youth offending teams already doing? What are Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships/Community Safety Partnerships already doing? What will health and wellbeing boards, once we set them up, do? It is already the case that there are a number of institutions where information is shared, and one of the problems is that sometimes responsibility is not clear.

If I can mention another area where incentives, to me, are not clear, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are inadequate in many parts of the country and it is very difficult to work out what the incentives are. Who is it who is responsible for deciding what the level of provision should be? What level of qualification should individuals have in order to be exercising authority and responsibility in this area?

Also, if I am, for the sake of argument, a teacher in a primary school who has concerns about a particular child, who are the other people whom I can or should contact in any particular case? Is it the education welfare officer first, because I have concerns about attendance? If the child is presenting with symptoms of depression or anxiety, should I contact CAMHS? How can I be certain that they will be there in time? Should I contact the social worker? Is the social worker bound by conditions of confidence? Is there a community police officer anymore? These are difficult issues and one of the things that I want to understand is what pulls people away from doing the job that they properly should do, and you are right that there will be a lot of tacit knowledge from people in a community. Those of us who have been councillors or those of us who have been involved in work at a local community level will know that if you spend time in a particular community you can pick up what some might call "soft intelligence". You will know which families are going to hit those five criteria without having to conduct a statistical inquiry, and you can know from the people who are working with those families all sorts of things that can happen.

Q105 Bill Esterson: You just mentioned teachers, and I think that is a crucial group because of the time that children who do attend school spend with them. There is a resistance, I think it is fair to say, to sharing of information, for very good reasons. How do you see that sort of issue being dealt with sensitively and yet addressed?

Michael Gove: The first thing overall is that I think most teachers have always been aware of the external factors that bear on how happy and successful children are likely to be, and, in a way, they do not need to be told. Of course, the difficulty for them is working out where you should go first, and, again, from reading serious case reviews and other things, I have found the frustration that many teachers or other professionals feel when they refer a problem to whoever should be the competent authority and find that it is not pursued. I have said in the past that teachers should not be social workers. They have to concentrate on education first and above all, but I do think that we should make it easier for teachers to draw on the expertise of other professionals.

Q106 Siobhain McDonagh: It is estimated that over half of irregular migrant children, about 65,000, are born in the UK and will therefore be entitled to apply for British citizenship, because they have been in the country for 10 years or more. These children can experience serious obstacles in accessing further and higher education because of their irregular status. What can the DfE do to remove the obstacles and increase their life chances?

Michael Gove: In the first place, I would say that there are some changes overall that we are making to help deal with children who are born in disadvantaged and difficult circumstances. I will not recite them all, but I think all of them can help. But what I would say is that the granular detail about the circumstances of those children’s birth, upbringing and background can help us and can help individual schools deal with challenges that those individual children present.

I will say one thing, which is that in the 1970s there was an influx, not massive but significant, of children and families from Vietnam, because of the problems in that country.

Siobhain McDonagh: They all lived on the North Peckham Estate.

Michael Gove: Many of those children have done amazingly well educationally. There will be other children who will have come from more recent war zones, including Somalia, who will come with particular problems. There are issues related to the cultures back home that affect how they interact with the people around them. Over time, I hope we can ensure that, where there are large numbers of children from particular communities, local authorities tailor services to them and schools also cope with them.

One thing I would say, though, and I know that you would not imply this but some people might, is that people often say, "Children who come from homes where English is not spoken as the first language are automatically destined to do less well academically." The evidence shows that is not true, but of course it is not automatic that they are likely to succeed. You need to be sensitive to the circumstances in which they are born and grow up.

Q107 Mr Ward: On the issue of unaccompanied or separated children due to trafficking or for other reasons, there has been a call for a system of guardianship for them. What steps are being taken to encourage the appointment of guardians?

Michael Gove: Part of the process is the successful identification of children who are in these circumstances, but the one thing that I would again seek to do, at the risk of repeating myself, is try better to understand those local authority areas that have been successful in dealing with children in those circumstances. I have no doubt that there will be some local authority areas that have had a significant number of children who have been in that situation and have been more effective in making sure they have the right sort of support and care.

Q108 Mr Ward: Having said that we are moving away from a system of guidance towards best practice, the Government has recently updated its guidance on safeguarding child victims of trafficking. How is the monitoring of that taking place?

Michael Gove: I think that it will be a collaboration between the DfE, local government and the Home Office, but I am happy to accept, from this Committee or from others, advice or pointers about how we can more effectively monitor numbers, look at how cultural and other factors are being taken into account, and ensure that the right sorts of people are being identified to take on that role.

Q109 Charlotte Leslie: I would just like to turn to the financial pressures. Have we got a slight perfect storm? We have the number of children protection plans rocketing quite substantially, the number of children in care rocketing quite substantially and, at the same time, increased pressure on local authorities and services because of the inevitable cuts. How on earth is the Department looking to deal with this perfect storm?

Michael Gove: You are absolutely right: these are all pressures. I will be making that point to the Chancellor in advance of the Autumn Statement and subsequently. I do not want to be blasé about it, but it is the case that we already spend a significant amount of money in this area and we are not always getting the best value for money and, as Ian has pointed out, sometimes it can be the case that effective spending early can yield savings later on. It is certainly the case, even though we are never going to ensure that every child in care is adopted, that the quicker the children are adopted, the greater the savings for local authorities and, obviously, for services later.

One of the things I have sought to encourage is a greater degree of assertiveness on the part of social workers in making sure that children are taken out of circumstances where they are at risk and, indeed, placed in care; if they then subsequently go on to be placed with the wider family great, but whatever, I think that all of us would acknowledge that it is quite right that you should have child protection plans in place and, if necessary, children taken into care, rather than deal with the horrific consequences.

Q110 Charlotte Leslie: Do I have one final shot?

Chair: You have one final shot.

Charlotte Leslie: Thank you very much, Chair; I have been very quiet all session. In terms of making sure that money is spent well, there is evidence that is increasing, especially postriots, that a lot of the interventions that work best, for example, amateur sports clubs, boxing clubs, are not those organisations that are best linked in to the kinds of metrics by which you can measure social intervention, and it is for that reason that they often work best with the most hard-to-reach communities. What can the Department do to make sure that problem families and problem children are channelled towards the interventions that work best and are not necessarily best linked in to that local authority matrix of social intervention?

Michael Gove: I would say two things. I was reading a book at the weekend by a chap called Daniel Willingham, which is an analysis of how you can monitor what genuinely works and what does not work in interventions in education and in other areas. I have passed that to colleagues in the Department so that they can take a more sophisticated approach.

The second thing I would say is, with respect to boxing clubs, I have made a commitment later this autumn to visit one with Boris Johnson, because both of us want to do everything we can to encourage exactly the sorts of initiatives that you have so effectively championed.

Q111 Chair: Secretary of State, thank you very much for giving evidence to us today. One last question, if I may. On a previous visit, you kindly agreed to shadow a teacher. Has that happened?

Michael Gove: It has not. I am due to go to South Hunsley, which I think is close to your constituency, to work with a teacher in a school there. One of the things I would say is that the date on which I had originally earmarked to go to East Yorkshire is, unfortunately, in half term. So even though I am going to be visiting your constituency on that day and much looking forward to it, I will have to return to the East Riding on another day to go to South Hunsley.

Chair: Excellent. Thank you very much for giving evidence to us today.

Prepared 16th January 2013