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Page last updated at 15:19 GMT, Sunday, 28 February 2010

Balls and Gove on Education

On the Politics Show, Sunday 28 February 2010, the Schools Secretary Ed Balls MP and Shadow Education spokesman, Michael Gove MP were interviewed on their education policies.


Ed Balls
Ed Balls, Schools Secretary

JON SOPEL: So, first let's speak to the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, who is with me. Ed Balls, first of all, do you agree that if you're going to become Prime Minister, how you treat people is an important part of the job?

ED BALLS: I think it's vital, I think the way you treat people, the way you lead the country, the way you make decisions is very important and out there in the country, Gordon Brown is known as somebody who's tough, he makes the decisions, he sticks to his guns, he's a leader, and that's what people want to see.

And as you were saying in your intro, that rather compares with David Cameron, who's been swinging all over the place in the last few weeks and is panicking today because of the polls that you talked about.

JON SOPEL: Well let us just talk about, a bit more about the way Gordon Brown treats individuals. We've heard from a person that anyone outside of Westminster will never have heard of, a guy called Stuart Wood, who you know very well


JON SOPEL: Brown's closest confidant, he said, as a team, we too often say well that's just Gordon, we all try and apologize for it, but actually, it's important. Now this is a guy who was shoved aside, don't you need to be more honest about the fact that Gordon Brown does blow off, he gets very angry and he has got a terrible temper on him?

ED BALLS: Gordon said that he gets angry, he gets passionate, sometimes he has a temper, he wants to get things done, he's - to be honest John - harder on himself than anybody. But as you said, I've worked with him for twenty years, I've seen the drive, I've seen the toughness, I've seen the frustration, I've never seen him hit or shove anybody, what I've seen is a man who wants to change our country for the better…

JON SOPEL: Well, Stuart Wood... clearly was shoved by him.

ED BALLS: Well look, it's for Stuart to say what Stuart wants to say, I was there for twenty years, I know, and that's not the Gordon Brown I recognise at all.

JON SOPEL: But is, but you know then we hear about him shouting at James Purnell for twenty minutes after a political cabinet meeting for daring to raise the subject of cuts. If your personality…

ED BALLS: Hang on, hang on John, who have we heard that from?

JON SOPEL: We've heard it from…

ED BALLS: We've heard that from the Rawnsley book.

JON SOPEL: Yes and there are, I mean I've heard it from other sources which obviously I…

ED BALLS: … which as we know a week on is looking rather more tarnished, I'm in the Rawnsley book on the day before the election, which wasn't called, walking round the garden with Gordon Brown counselling him, I was in Castleford, two hundred miles away.


ED BALLS: That book is full of claims which are untrue, let's get to the big issues: the economy, jobs, public services, the choice for the country, what kind of future do we want. Let's do this trivial stuff again.

JON SOPEL: But isn't it, but you have sought to make it a matter of personality and character. Gordon Brown says 'I want this to be about character'. If the character of the man is that he loses his temper when put under pressure, shouts at people, we've heard it from Stuart Wood saying for too long, we've just let Gordon be Gordon and haven't challenged him, and clearly implying there that you should have done, maybe that is an important consideration for the electorate. I'm not seeking to trivialise tittle-tattle.

ED BALLS: John, Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock, John Major, Tony Blair all shouted under pressure. Character, though, is going to be absolutely central to this election. Gordon Brown's character, does he stick to his decisions, can he lead the country, contrasted with David Cameron who, on camera is smiling, and off camera he's changing his policies left right and centre. He doesn't know where he stands himself and that's why the country has no idea what he really stands for, although what's happening is, they're getting more and more worried that the actual, real Conservatives are being revealed week after week and that's why the polls are shifting.

JON SOPEL: Well let me ask you this then, when Alastair Darling talked about the forces of hell being unleashed, a serving chancellor talking about the forces of hell being unleashed from Downing Street, did Gordon Brown either not know what was going on by his henchmen, in which case he's not in control, or he did know, in which case he has sanctioned that sort of behaviour?

ED BALLS: Look John, I don't know, I'm trying to talk about the big issues, about the future of the country, you want to talk trivia, what Alastair Darling was there doing was responding to claims in Andrew Rawnsley's book; a commentator who now, a few weeks before an election, has now had to write two political columns in The Observer in two consecutive weeks, trying to justify and defend his own book. Let's get to the big issues, schools, hospitals, the economy, jobs and let's ask the question, why didn't David Cameron do the work, why aren't they ready for this election, why are their policies falling apart, why are the country saying, 'blimey, they're a scary prospect', why are the polls narrowing, those are the big issues we should be debating, that's what I want to talk about.

JON SOPEL: Okay, thirteen years in, you're talking about giving parents greater power over failing schools, isn't this you running scared of Tory proposals that are actually much more popular than yours and you're playing catch up?

ED BALLS: Look, if our policies were, were unpopular and Michael Gove's policies were more popular, he would have come on this programme and debated with me and, as you said in your intro, he refused to, he's also…

JON SOPEL: Answer that narrow point about giving parents more power, you said you want … you're seeking to score political points, I'm trying to ask you about policy, and you accuse me of trivialising?

ED BALLS: I'm responding to your intro in which you said Michael Gove wouldn't come and debate, he's refused to debate with me, with The Times Educational Supplement….

JON SOPEL: Look we're going to talk to him, what about parents' powers…

ED BALLS: Ok, let's get to the substance. Ok, substance, right. In 1997, half of our secondary schools weren't making the grade, 1 in 2. It's now down to 1 in 12 because of the way in which we've driven standards and invested. I've said this week, we're going to get our best schools in the state sector, colleges, universities, to take over schools which aren't doing well, I'm also saying to parents we will guarantee for you, if your school isn't doing well enough, you can make a change in your school, what you won't have to do…

JON SOPEL: But you've got to have a ballot though, haven't you?

ED BALLS: Well, well look, if parents want a change, parents can say we want a change but the diff…

JON SOPEL: So it's only when things get disastrously, go disastrously wrong that parents get the ballot to change it?

ED BALLS: No, you didn't listen, it was 1 in 2 schools in '97, it's now 1 in 12, we will deliver good schools in every area, we're saying to parents, 'If you want your school to change, you can say we want to change the leadership, we want a different direction, get in our best providers, that is the choice to change your school'. The alternative approach which you'll just debate with Michael Gove, as he's saying to parents, if you want to set up another school down the road, if you want to, kind of, put all your resources there, take money away from existing schools. The evidence round the world is that this reduces standards in Sweden, it leads to greater social division, it costs 1.8 billion pounds of un-costed promises he can't pay for. That is dangerous, it's scary, it's a free market nightmare, what we're doing is giving parents real choice in their local schools.

JON SOPEL: And we'll ask Mr Gove about that. Just this week Ofsted have reviewed your National Strategies and said that the progress in English and Maths has been too slow in the last four years, the things, I mean you've had years to get this sorted.

ED BALLS: No but … but that's why I've already changed the system. We came in in '97 and we, we set up National Strategies, we drove up results in Maths and English from the centre in all our primary schools. In the last two or three years, that central approach has worked less well, so we're now going to end National Strategies, give the money to schools, but the only reason we can give them the money John, and this is a really important point, is because we are going to raise the schools' budget this year, next year and the year after, Michael Gove refuses every time I ask him to make that pledge for the Conservatives, which is why he's desperate not to come on your programme, at least you're going to have the chance to ask him some questions, I wish I could but I think it's important to ask him how he's going to pay for his plans and how he's going to stop this being a really scary, dangerous prospect for parents round the country.

JON SOPEL: Ed Balls, thank you very much indeed. Well, let's turn to the Conservatives, now Michael Gove has been listening to Ed Balls from his party's Spring Conference in Brighton. Now one policy area that we do know a bit more about is education, in a moment I'll be asking Mr Gove about the details and some that Ed Balls would like me to ask about. What is the Tory Free Schools policy? Well, they only apply in England, and the Conservatives say that anyone will be able to set up a school, parents, charities, churches and private companies will come forward they say because the new schools will be independent and outside the control of local authorities. Now Free Schools can't be run for a profit, all money must stay within the school, the state will pay an estimated £5,000 per pupil per year at the new Free School. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, those entitled to free school meals, will carry with them additional funding, a so called Pupil Premium. Well, let's speak now to Michael Gove, who is in Brighton for us now. You believe in the market, you're a free marketeer, why shouldn't these schools be able to make a profit?

MICHAEL GOVE: What I believe in is social mobility, and in particular I believe in learning lessons from other countries, where they've allowed people to come into state education in order to help children from poorer backgrounds do better, and whether its in Canada, America or in Sweden, what I've particularly been impressed by is the way in which teachers and parents working together have helped set up new schools, and they've done so because they've been animated by idealism rather than anything else. I'm not ideological about schools, I am pragmatic.

Michael Gove
Michael Gove, Conservative Education spokesman

JON SOPEL: So if you're pragmatic, would you allow schools to make a profit?

MICHAEL GOVE: We believe that every penny that's spent on education should stay in education and when we have people who are already very, very keen to devote their own money out of charitable impulses to helping to improve state education, then we want to utilise their generosity and their idealism in order to improve state education.

JON SOPEL: Sorry, I just want to be absolutely clear… sorry I just want to be absolutely clear, are you ruling out that profit can play any part at any time in these schools, because I don't think you're quite saying that?

MICHAEL GOVE: Well, I don't believe that you should have companies which come in and take over the entire running of schools, which then have a profit which they pay to shareholders, no, but one of the things that we have to be clear about is that there are organisations, and they exist at the moment, actually, under Labour, that can help provide services for schools which are profit making, so there are organisations which those who run schools can use and bring in, in order to help them. But the critical thing is that the people who are running and managing schools should be people who are motivated by idealism and critically, one of the things about dispersing power, allowing more people to come into education is that you deal with one of the problems that, that Ed Balls himself acknowledged, which is that under Labour, you've had increasing centralisation of how education has been managed and not only have we had the national strategies, which as Ed has to acknowledge, haven't really raised standards in the last few years, Ed's latest legislation actually means that there's more centralisation in our schools, he's telling teachers how to teach, he's telling schools exactly how many hours they should devote to particular styles of teaching. Under Ed, we now have a greater degree of centralisation and central control and…

JON SOPEL: Mr Gove, I'm sorry you are talking about Ed Balls' policies, we offered you the chance to debate with Ed Balls about this, so why we don't we stick to your policies, not Labour policies on this. What about a management fee, what about if…

MICHAEL GOVE: Well… it's a philosophical difference Jon, because the philosophical difference is between those people who believe that you need to increasingly centralise control of education and have one individual, one politician taking control, and those people who believe, like we do, like they do in Sweden and in Canada and the United States, that the important thing is to hand more power to professionals and to give more choice to, to parents, that's a, it's a philosophical divide and is one that increasingly, people across the world are recognising, is at the heart of improving education.

JON SOPEL: I just don't understand why you wouldn't, if a company came in, they had a brilliant prospectus to run this school and if there was a profit made at the end of it, what's wrong with that? I can't understand why, from a Conservative viewpoint, a free market viewpoint, you wouldn't allow that. Or would you allow it?

ED BALLS: It's what they did in Sweden.

MICHAEL GOVE: Well I'm … as I mentioned earlier, I'm not particularly interested in markets, or non-markets or whatever, what I'm interested in is looking at other countries, and learning from what they…

JON SOPEL: But you're a Conservative, surely this is what you believe in?

ED BALLS: In Sweden, the school…

JON SOPEL: Mr Balls, please.

MICHAEL GOVE: What I believe in is making sure that education is reformed in order to kick-start social mobility in this country. What I believe in is ending the scandal that we have at the moment whereby nearly 40% of children who are eligible for free school meals, the very poorest of children in our society, nearly 40% of them leave school without a single C pass at GCSE. Now whatever it takes in order to ensure that those very poor children get a better start in life is what I'm interested in, and particularly because other countries, Scandinavian countries and other English speaking countries as well, have reformed their education system in order to have new people outside bureaucratic control pioneering new ways of teaching, that seems to me to be a lesson that we should learn.

JON SOPEL: Can we just go onto the setting up of these schools? There's going to be an average of £5000 per pupil. Aren't you just going to subsidise people who, articulate middle class, who may have been thinking about sending their children to private schools and they think well this is fantastic, we don't need to send our children to the private school, you're going to allow me to set up what is in effect a private school?

MICHAEL GOVE: Well it wouldn't be a private school, the schools that we're talking about setting up will be socially comprehensive, they will abide by the rules which mean that they can't cream, skim or select and critically, the parents who are most excited by our proposals are parents from working class areas who've been denied choice so far. Yes, if you are relatively wealthy you, you can have choice, you can move to a leafy suburb where the, the school has been able to, to do relatively well in the past. The critical thing is that the teachers who most want to take advantage of our proposals and the parents who are most eager for change, are those in those parts of the country who've been most let down by Labour and …

JON SOPEL: And can these schools be selective on ability?

MICHAEL GOVE: … areas of disadvantage… No.

JON SOPEL: No, on religion?


JON SOPEL: So you can't, you couldn't set up a Church of England free school?

MICHAEL GOVE: Well, it is the case that the Church of England, or the Roman Catholic Church or, for that matter, churches which are set up by the United Synagogues or churches which are set up by Islamic or Hindu or Sikh groups can be set up under existing rules within the state system, but the sort of thing that we're talking about is explicitly setting up schools which are non selective, which are comprehensive in intake. Now…

JON SOPEL: So when you say they're Free Schools, they're not that free, you're setting down their criteria, that they can't select, you're setting down that they can't be on religion, it just seems a bit of a misnomer as a title.

MICHAEL GOVE: Well there are many, many freedoms that they will have, they will have the freedoms that the very best comprehensives who are already academies, have in this country and those are the freedoms over the curriculum, those are the freedoms to pay good teachers more, those are freedoms over discipline policy, those are freedoms over how they teach and what they teach, those are freedoms which have helped drive up standards, not just in a small number of schools in this country, but a large number of schools in other countries and …

JON SOPEL: And finally, final very quick point on this Mr Gove, can you do this all within the existing schools budget?

MICHAEL GOVE: Yes I believe we can, one of the striking things about the, the budget that Ed Balls is responsible for, the Department of Children Schools and Families budget, is that it's about sort of sixty eight billion pounds, but the amount of money that is the dedicated schools grant is only about 32 billion pounds, so absolutely we can make the sorts of changes we need by prioritising front line spending on schools and not spending some of the money on things that, that Ed has spent money on like I think, you know, thousands of pounds on a contemplation suite in the Department of Children, Schools and Families. We don't need that, what we need is money in the classroom, on the front line.

JON SOPEL: Mr Gove, we've had a government that has taken us into the worst recession in sixty years, accusations, as you've heard that the Prime Minister is a bully, unfit for office, we've had his Chancellor saying about the forces of hell being unleashed, I could go on and on with the list of things that are going wrong for this government, and yet the latest polls show your lead is down by, to 2%... and that Labour would still be in Number 10, what's going wrong?

MICHAEL GOVE: Well I don't think there's anything that's going wrong, as you put it, I think we've always known that it's going to be a close election and it's going to be a tough fight, but it's also going to be a clear choice, and I think the critical thing is that we know the nature of the Brown government, we know that five more years of Gordon Brown really won't change anything for the better, and we also know that, under David Cameron, that we have specific plans to deal with the deficit, in order to make sure that we have a dynamic economy, which rewards enterprise and we also have specific proposals which we've been talking about this morning, to deal with the problems that we have with social mobility, the lack of opportunity that the very poorest enjoy, and we also have specific plans to deal with our broken political system. You're absolutely right to say that one of the things that's going wrong in our country is the way in which our political system is insufficiently responsive. I think after last year and after the expenses scandal, David Cameron's proposals to cut the number of MPs by 10% and to end ministerial perks goes to the heart of a broader sort of revolution that we need in handing power back to the people.

JON SOPEL: Ok, Michael Gove, thank you very much, perhaps next time we will persuade you to debate with Ed Balls, who you probably heard there during the interview trying to heckle at various points.

ED BALLS: Well, look John, you can see why Michael Gove doesn't want a debate with me, because he can't answer the questions. In Sweden, profit-making schools have seen standards go down, more … and more social segregation, it costs 1.8 billion pounds, which he can only pay for by taking money for existing schools… take money away from existing schools. The whole strategy for Michael Gove and David Cameron is to conceal the reality. The reason why the polls are narrowing is … people … are seeing the reality, cuts to schools, cuts to police, to pay for an inheritance tax cut for a few, cuts now which will put jobs at risk, that's why the polls are narrowing, this is a game on election, this is an election we can win.

JON SOPEL: Ed Balls, thank you very much, Michael Gove as well, both of you, thank you very much indeed.


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NB: These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 28 February 2010 at noon on BBC One.
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