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Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Sunday, 26 June 2011 12:03 UK

Transcript of Michael Gove interview

PLEASE NOTE "THE ANDREW MARR SHOW" MUST BE CREDITED IF ANY PART OF THIS TRANSCRIPT IS USED

Andrew Marr interviewed Education Secretary Michael Gove on June 26th 2011.

ANDREW MARR:

Now it's a brave Education Secretary who describes the school exam as "discredited" just as tens of thousands of students are in the middle of their GCSEs and A levels. So, Michael Gove, is brave. He believes educational standards in England must be driven up, and more rigorous exams is one way to achieve that. Schools themselves are changing with new free schools, many more academies outside local authority control. There's not yet overwhelming public support for all of that according to one poll today, so let's hear from Michael Gove, the man himself. Good morning to you.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Hi, good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Before we turn to the exams and the structures, I must ask you about the strikes because that's coming up this week …

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

… and your letter to schools has been interpreted as saying you actually think that things should go as far as parents going in to take lessons.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well parents going in to help certainly. My concern about the strike is twofold. I think there are two areas which are particularly worrying. I think if schools aren't open on Thursday there'll be massive inconvenience for working parents, in particular single parents, who will have to rearrange childcare at very short notice. I think it's wrong for people who are working hard to have their lives disrupted in this way, so I think it is right that schools should stay open. Maybe they won't be offering the traditional menu, but I think they should be open so that children are doing something purposeful and people aren't inconvenienced. And there's another concern I have as well. I've been worried for some time now that the reputation of teachers in this country is not as high as it should be. They do an amazing job. In other countries teaching is a high prestige profession. I think over the last few years we've been moving in that direction. I think more and more respect has been accorded to teachers, and quite rightly so. But I do worry that taking industrial action, being on the picket line, being involved in this sort of militancy will actually mean that the respect in which teachers should be held is taken back a little bit, and I think that would be a shame really for all of us who want a better education system.

ANDREW MARR:

And yet clearly teachers are very angry. I mean it's been a very long time - I think since 1979 - that teachers in private schools are going on strike as well …

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

… and this is because they feel that there's nothing else that they can do. Nobody … You're not going to listen to them about their pensions unless they do something like this.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well I have enormous sympathy for the position that many teachers find themselves in because pensions are an integral part of making sure that teachers are well rewarded. But we've got negotiations at the moment. Peter Hain earlier said that the important thing to do was to carry on talking and that's what we're doing. There are proper negotiations involving the government, the TUC and a variety of unions in order to make sure that we can have pensions that are fair to teachers but fair to other taxpayers as well. And that's why I think this action is premature. I was a union member in my youth as well and I went on strike, and I don't think it solved anything. It only made the situation worse for everyone involved. When we've got this opportunity for open dialogue in order to make sure that teachers get the rewards they deserve and taxpayers are respected as well, let's stick to the talks and let's not have the sort of militancy that will disturb family life for hundreds of thousands of people across the country, and also I think will mark a retrograde step for the profession just a the moment when more and more people are realising how many great teachers we have in the classroom.

ANDREW MARR:

And of course the teachers are only one part of a much wider move for strikes, particularly on the pension issue, and we do seem to be heading to a confrontation between the government and many of the public sector unions. There has been talk of the possibility of further legislation.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

Do you think that we are approaching that sort of territory?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well I think legislation has to be kept under review, and I think the person who put it best was Vince Cable when he went to speak to the GMB. Now nobody could mistake Vince for being you know Norman Tebbit's younger brother, but Vince was perfectly clear: if the public are inconvenienced, then the demand from the public will be for some sort of change - whether in the law or whatever - in order to make sure that we do not have militancy which disrupts family life.

ANDREW MARR:

So you'd be talking about something like a requirement for an absolute majority of members to vote for a strike before it happened?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well there are different options, and the one thing that I don't want to do is to ratchet up the rhetoric because I think it's important that we get back to talking. And in particular I enjoy the conversations that I have with teaching union leaders. The individual leaders of the unions that are going out on strike this week - Christine Blower at the NUT, Mary Bousted at the ATL - are very committed people who want the best in the system. I think they've made a mistake; they sometimes think I've made a mistake. But I don't want to get into a pitched battle with them, but what I do want to emphasise is that the public I think have a very low tolerance for anything that disrupts their hardworking lifestyles.

ANDREW MARR:

And you think overall most schools can be kept open this week?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well I don't know what the numbers will be, but what we want to do is to do everything possible in order to ensure that schools stay open so that family life isn't disrupted.

ANDREW MARR:

Let me turn to exams. You were pretty scathing about the quality of GCSE and A levels at the moment and some people thought it was odd timing because kids were doing it at this time; certainly, as I said, brave. But what can you actually do to change these exams?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well I think the critical thing we have to do is to look at what's happening to exams and to curricular across the globe. And one of the things that's happened unfortunately over the last 10 years is that other countries have had more rigorous exams, they've had curricular which are more relevant to the 21st century, and we've got to catch up. In the last few weeks we've seen the exam boards make a number of mistakes, which I think are heartbreaking for those students who are sitting exams and who are given the wrong questions or the wrong facts, so we need change. And one particular change which we're going to implement this week, which will start in 2012, is we're going to change the way in which GCSEs operate. The last government introduced modularisation into GCSEs. In effect they took the straightforward examination with which people were familiar and they turned it into bite-sized chunks. That was bad for a couple of reasons.

ANDREW MARR:

Which you can do before you sit an exam?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Precisely. The problem that we had is that instead of sitting every part of a GCSE at the end of the course, bits of it were taken along the way. And those bits could be re-sat. That meant that instead of concentrating on teaching and learning, you had people who were being trained again and again to clear the hurdle of the examination along the way and that meant that, unfortunately, less time was being spent developing a deep and rounded knowledge of the subject.

ANDREW MARR:

Candidly do you think this system, the modular system of GCSEs, is stacking the cards in favour of ever higher grades at the end of the exams?

MICHAEL GOVE:

I think it's a mistake and I think that the culture of resits is wrong. I think that what we need to do is to make sure certainly at GCSE that you have a clear two year run. More broadly, I think if you're looking at the way in which grades are awarded, the real question for me is not are our exams tougher or easier than they were when you and I were boys. The real question is are our exams keeping pace with what's happening in other countries. Because ultimately the generation which is now arriving at university aren't competing with the likes of us for jobs. They're competing with children and young people in Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. In all of these nations, their education system is changing and we've got to keep pace.

ANDREW MARR:

And we've got to keep up. So in practical terms, Ofqual (I think is the body in charge of all of this) are going to get proposals from the government this week.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

What's the timetable after that? You said by next year there'll be different exams?

MICHAEL GOVE:

By 2012, yes.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) That's fast.

MICHAEL GOVE:

We asked Ofqual, the official regulator, to help us, and they recommended that what happens is that all the individual modules that can be taken before the end of the course are all taken together. It won't start in September of this year because obviously we don't want to disrupt things in mid-flow, but from September 2012 all new courses will be taught in a way which means that all the modules are taken at the end. The other good thing that Ofqual are going to do is they're going to make sure that there's an emphasis once more on spelling, punctuation and grammar. It was the case that marks for these used to be awarded. Then that was swept away in many subjects. Any subject which has got a sustained section of writing in it - history, geography and so on - will have spelling, punctuation and grammar once more in the mark scheme in order to ensure that we prepare people for real life and for university.

ANDREW MARR:

These are words and sentiments that a lot of people in your party will associate with the grammar schools, and your schools minister was very fulsome in his praise for grammar schools and what they've done to education and to social mobility in this country. Now we had understood that under this government grammar schools were going to be kept at their current level, there was going to be no chance of expansion, and that by and large you were pretty you know down on them. Is that changing?

MICHAEL GOVE:

We are not changing policy with regard to building new grammar schools, but what we are doing is allowing all good schools to admit more pupils. So if you've got a grammar school in those areas where there are selective schools like Kent or Lincolnshire, it can expand the number of pupils it admits. But it's also the case that high performing comprehensives in those parts of the country where there are no grammar schools - in my own county of Surrey or in Hertfordshire or Lancashire or wherever - those high performing comprehensives can admit more students as well. Because we both know that in areas like London, you've got great schools in places like Hackney and Hammersmith that have people desperate to get into. They could expand their numbers. The local authorities are a bit chary of that. We want to ensure that people get their first choice.

ANDREW MARR:

If selective grammar schools are a good thing, which have done a good job for parents around the country, isn't it unfair on those parts of the country which happen not to have them that they're not allowed … you're not allowed to open one; whereas the areas which do have them can expand?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well we've had a lot of conversations about grammar schools throughout the last 30 years, and in a way we've reached a very English compromise which is that there are some parts of the country where grammar schools have been kept; other parts of the country where the popular mood was to move against them. I don't think we should unstitch that position, but what I do think we should do is allow good schools wherever they are, whether selective or comprehensive, to expand. And I think one of the things that …

ANDREW MARR:

So no new grammar schools ever?

MICHAEL GOVE:

No new grammar schools. But a concentration on learning I think the most important lesson of the last 30 years, which is that the debate over selection is fascinating, but what's more important is the debate over what actually goes on in every classroom. And one of the things that we've done wrong in this country is we've automatically assumed in the past that only a small elite can succeed, only 25 or 30 per cent can ever for example go onto university or onto fruitful you know high earning jobs. I think that's quite wrong and the experience of other countries tells us that in fact we can have a comprehensive system which is comprehensively excellent.

ANDREW MARR:

What about teachers themselves because one of the criticisms has been made that frankly some people are coming through into the teaching profession without enough of an intellectual mental background themselves to be good teachers in the future?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well I think a) teachers are better than ever now; but b) we do need to ensure that that process of improvement accelerates. So one thing that we will be doing is changing the way in which we select and train teachers. It used to be the case that in order to be a teacher, you had to pass a maths or an English test, but only at the end of your year of teacher training, and there were an infinite number of opportunities to retake that exam. I think that's barmy. I think you need to raise the bar right at the beginning and to say we'll have a tough literacy and a tough numeracy test, and we'll also insist that those people who want to be teachers have got good degrees and that way we can reinforce the very welcome trend towards better teachers than ever before.

ANDREW MARR:

Isn't this quite a tough menu for would be teachers? We're going to make it harder to come into the profession, you're going to have to work longer for a smaller pension and your pay is not going up.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well …

ANDREW MARR:

Also you shouldn't go on strike or protest too much.

MICHAEL GOVE:

I think the very fact that you shouldn't go on strike is an indication that we're treating teachers as professionals. You know you don't see hospital consultants going on strike, and I don't believe that teachers and head teachers should. It's within their rights, it's a civil right, but I think it is wrong in terms of the reputation of the profession. But overall, I don't make any apology for saying that I expect that we should have the best qualified group of people in teaching; and because of the other changes that we're making, teachers in academies for example are better paid than ever before.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright. Michael Gove, thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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