Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Sunday, 14 February 2010

Michael Gove MP transcript

On Sunday 14 February Andrew Marr interviewed Shadow Schools Secretary, Michael Gove MP.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

ANDREW MARR:

Now when those grids are drawn up showing who's who in Team Cameron, the face of Michael Gove always features prominently. The Shadow Secretary for Children, Schools and Families is playing a key role in shaping Conservative election strategy. The party's already published its draft manifesto on education, which calls for more good school places, better discipline, higher standards. Which are all great ambitions, but, as ever, the questions are about how you achieve them. Michael Gove is with me now. Welcome.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Good morning, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Good morning. I suppose one of the first places to start is the money where your budget is not going to grow as the education system has grown, used to growing budgets over the past. And you've got some pretty expensive pledges. You want 220,000 new school places in the most deprived areas, and a lot of people say well these are great aspirations, lots of things you want to do, but actually you won't be able to do most of them because it does come down to money.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well we all know that the economic climate at the moment is pretty bleak, but one of the striking things is that the sorts of reforms that we want to introduce were introduced in Sweden in the 1990s after a recession and indeed in the aftermath of a banking crisis in Sweden, and yet they succeeded in making those reforms and I believe that we can here. And another critical thing about the sorts of reforms that we want to introduce is that by having new providers in state education, having a degree of choice and competition for parents, you actually drive costs down. Again one of the striking things that people have discovered in Sweden is that the new schools which have come in have been better able to buy IT, better able to transform buildings, better able to use existing resources, and as a result we've had reform driving down costs as well as increasing standards.

ANDREW MARR:

Absolutely at the heart, as I understand it, of the radical edge of what you propose are these free schools, which will be set up by parents or companies or voluntary organisations, and the government will help that to happen. And yet if you look at what they're going to be able to do at the moment, as I understand it, they won't be able to have control of their admissions policy, they won't really be able to have control over the curriculum because you're going to control that at the centre, and they're not going to be able to bust (unless you're going to help them do that) the national teaching salary scales and so forth. And I just wonder how much freedom they're really going to have to be different?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well in that question, I'd have to give you two out of three as it were.

ANDREW MARR:

Well?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well the critical thing is they will have freedom over the curriculum, and that's one of the most important freedoms that they can have. Of course these schools will probably want to enter students for some of the existing exams like the GCSE and the A Level, but critically what I want to do is to give schools the freedom in the state sector that schools in the private sector have at the moment. Fee paying schools have all sorts of exams like the International GCSE or the Pre-U or the International Baccalaureate, which are either banned or restricted in state schools. And as well as giving students in poorer areas the chance to do the sorts of prestige exams that currently only rich kids can do, we critically want to give schools the freedom for example to be able to vary the curriculum to help children who may have literacy or numeracy difficulties very early on in their school careers.

ANDREW MARR:

Let me just express a little bit of scepticism about this because there are lots of things that you think schools should be doing. I mean you've talked about the importance of teaching history …

MICHAEL GOVE:

Absolutely.

ANDREW MARR:

… up to the age of 16, and languages and so on. And yet if you give schools freedom, a lot of the schools will then go ahead and do things you don't want them to do.

MICHAEL GOVE:

They'll …

ANDREW MARR:

Can I just … I mean the classic case would be teaching foreign languages …

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

… up to GCSE. Estelle Morris as Education Secretary said you've got the freedom to choose, and huge numbers of schools and children simply stopped learning foreign languages.

MICHAEL GOVE:

The critical difference is the decline in history, the decline in foreign languages has happened under a centralised system where we've had league tables which have rewarded schools essentially for doing soft subjects and parents have been shut out. We know that when parents have the money, when they have the capacity to choose, they overwhelmingly choose a system which gives their children rigorous academic subjects. The problem that we have in state education at the moment, and the problem which our reformers will directly address, is the fact that parents aren't getting what they want. There's a very moving piece in the Sunday Telegraph today with a Labour Party member writing about the way in which her local school has simply been incapable because of local and central bureaucracy, incapable of offering the sorts of rigorous academic teaching that she wants. And what we plan to do is to allow, for example, organisations like a Swedish company, the International English School, the chance to come here and to teach the sort of rigorous academic curriculum which too many students, particularly students in poorer parts of the country, are denied.

ANDREW MARR:

So where are the limits in terms of curriculum freedom? I mean if a Muslim organisation sets up a Muslim school and says we're going to teach a very Muslim centred, caliphate centred view of world history …

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

… something that you as a Conservative cabinet minister (if that happens) might take a dim view of - will you simply let them go ahead and do it?

MICHAEL GOVE:

There'll be two critical barriers that any school has to clear. The first is that we'll make sure that there's an independent body that scrutinises anyone who wants to set up a school to make sure that extremist organisations or people who have a dark agenda are prevented from doing so. And the other thing that we will make sure is that schools are inspected rigorously. You make the point about religious extremism …

ANDREW MARR:

Just pushing a little bit on this …

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes, of course.

ANDREW MARR:

… what about creationism?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well to my mind, you cannot have a school which teaches creationism. And one thing that we will make absolutely clear is that you cannot have schools which are set up, which teach people things which are clearly at variance with what we know to be scientific fact. But critically inspection is key here. We do have some schools at the moment, independent schools which have been set up by religious groups. You mention Islamic groups. Let's be clear, there are other fundamentalist groups as well …

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

MICHAEL GOVE:

…. which have schools in the private sector. If those schools are properly regulated and inspected, then we can ensure that anyone who teaches in a way which undermines our democratic values can be brought to public light, challenged, and, if necessary, closed down.

ANDREW MARR:

To get these schools actually up and running, you have to enthuse groups of people.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

Are you not going to have to look at questions of allowing some schools to make a profit and/or allowing schools to make their own choices on admissions to get that kind of gusto and enthusiasm from groups of people?

MICHAEL GOVE:

No. I've been struck by the fact that we've had hundreds of parents who've got in touch with us, and indeed groups of teachers who've got in touch with us, who believe that the proposals that we're outlining are just what they need. I've been talking to parents in Kirklees, in County Durham, in Bristol and in London - all of whom are unhappy with the current state of provision. Many of these parents come from working class backgrounds. They feel unhappy about what's being offered. They don't want to set up selective schools. They don't want and they're not interested in working specifically with profit making organisations. What they want is the chance to work with teachers …

ANDREW MARR:

Right.

MICHAEL GOVE:

… who are idealistic about improving state education. And I've been struck by the fact that there are any number of teachers who've been in touch with us who see our proposals as a chance to set up the sorts of schools which allow them to inspire the next generation.

ANDREW MARR:

Well let's talk about the money because a new school is to be set up.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

It requires new building; science labs; it requires somewhere for the sports to take place. It's an expensive business. Now you may say in due course it will be run more efficiently …

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

… and it'll make more … you know its IT budgets and so on will be better. Nonetheless, the setting up, the initial cost is quite high, and I don't see how that can be got from schools which are closing down because you may have a school along the road which loses 400 pupils but still has 1200 pupils and still has all the costs originally associated with that school.

MICHAEL GOVE:

I take your point, but there are several things that we're doing to make the whole process easier, simpler, and for that matter more cost effective. We're going to change the planning laws. At the moment there's a very, very tight restriction on the type of building that you can turn into a school. There's only certain types of land. Now we know that there are some very handsome buildings which could easily become schools, and I've seen in Sweden how a more liberal planning regime has allowed fantastic buildings to become schools and the cost of land has lowered as a result. The other thing that we're going to do is to look at efficiencies in the current budget. The current budget for the next year, for the Department of Children, Schools and Families, is something like £68 billion. Now the amount …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But you're taking cuts on that already under Conservative plans.

MICHAEL GOVE:

But the critical thing is the amount that actually goes to local authorities to spend on schools, the dedicated schools grant, is only about 32 billion. Now bear in mind that local authorities cream off money from that 32 billion, and then you have a huge gulf between the £68 billion that we spend in this department that Ed Balls has and the 32 billion that actually goes to local authorities to spend on schools. Now anyone looking at that budget would say well clearly there's a mismatch here, and there is. If you look for example at the current quango that's responsible for new schools, Partnership for Schools and the Building Schools for the Future project, it is hugely wasteful in the way in which it's run. There are millions of pounds that are spent on consultants. And if you actually look at the cost per square foot of a new school under the government's current bureaucratic approach, it's vastly expensive. In America …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I mean you know I've been in this game for a long time …

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

… and I've heard lots and lots of politicians from different parties tell me that there's a lot of bureaucratic waste that can be saved. And no doubt there is, but certainly if you're going to get these free schools up and running early on …

MICHAEL GOVE:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

… you're going to have to find some money quite quickly. And I put it to you that there's no escape from stripping some of that money out of existing schools …

MICHAEL GOVE:

No.

ANDREW MARR:

… to let the free school come, and you're then going to sort of disadvantage schools which may be struggling already.

MICHAEL GOVE:

No, not at all. At the moment, you do have schools which are struggling and we do need to act. And one of the things that we will do is that we will take the 100 weakest schools, the 100 schools which are in the worst condition in this country, and take them out of the hands of the people who've been mismanaging them and place them into the hands of new organisations. One of the things that's been striking if you look globally at what's happening in education is that those countries or jurisdictions which are either forging ahead or which have become most improved recently have been doing precisely the sorts of things that we want. The place in the English speaking world with the best quality of education is Alberta in Canada. They've implemented reforms like we have. President Obama is deliberately ensuring that there can be more charter schools …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And you can do …

MICHAEL GOVE:

… schools like ours that are …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And you can do this in circumstances where your budget, your overall schools budget will be down by about 20% over three years?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well we don't know. Well, first of all, we don't …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) It's an educated guess?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well it's a guess. The critical thing is that yes there is pressure on budgets overall. But critically if you look at schools within the overall Department of Children, Schools and Families budget - as I say the dedicated schools grant only £32 billion, the total budget for the department £68 billion. But in countries like Canada, you had during the 1990s some very, very tight, very austere budget making there, and yet they were able to forge ahead with reforms. America at the moment going through a very difficult period. President Obama says we actually need these school reforms now. We need to make a difference.

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

MICHAEL GOVE:

And the reason that Obama wants to make a difference is the reason we want to make a difference. At the moment, if you look at educational inequality in this country, it's striking. We're really seeing an analysis today that shows that inequality is widening. In the last year for which we have figures, only 45 boys and girls eligible for free school meals got into Oxbridge even though in any given year there are 80,000 …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Fewer than most top private schools by themselves.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Oh completely. Half as many children eligible for free school meals going into Oxbridge as Westminster. It's a scandal!

ANDREW MARR:

It is a big issue. I can see that. Let me ask you a little bit more generally, however.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Of course.

ANDREW MARR:

Today's papers are full of accounts of meltdown problems, bickering etcetera in Team Cameron, and a lot of what we were told was going to happen - it was going to be a more high-minded and serious and sensible approach to politics - seems to be falling apart. These posters going that Labour's going to take £20,000 from you when you die and all the rest of it and the breakdown of what seems to have been a kind of private cross party attempt to get agreement on the elderly. That kind of thing isn't the sort of politics that you came into the game for, is it?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well there are two issues here. I mean the first thing is there are all sorts of accounts saying that the Tories are in turmoil and all the rest of it, but we're up in the polls. I certainly when I'm working with my shadow cabinet colleagues find it an immensely harmonious team. You don't get the sort of briefing about division that you had in the past. Yes, it is the case that there are one or two people who do have concerns, but those concerns are generally about the fact that we're actually pressing ahead with modernisation. David Cameron over the course of the last week and certainly next week will be stressing that our desire to be a one nation party, to appeal to people beyond traditional Tory boundaries is being redoubled. And of course when you have any modernisation of any party, you will always find that there are one or two backwardsmen who will grumble in the undergrowth.

ANDREW MARR:

Well it's a lot more than that, I would put to you. There's a lot of Conservative associations starting to come up saying we don't want the centralisation, we don't want things imposed on us from the centre. You're supposed to be the party of devolution and yet you're centralisers when it comes to your own people.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well not at all. We had an example just yesterday where in Surrey East, just down the road from me, we had a candidate selection. There was a fantastic local woman candidate, Sally Marks, who I hope gets selected sooner or later.

ANDREW MARR:

Westminster North?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well who's to say where she'll be selected, but not there. But the person that the Surrey Conservatives chose was a fantastic black entrepreneur called Sam Gyimah. Now he's the second black guy who's been selected in a Surrey seat recently. So when the grassroots actually choose, not one or two marginal figures, they are choosing candidates who reflect modern Britain. Just one thing though. Social care …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) What about the poster I asked you about?

MICHAEL GOVE:

… social care.

ANDREW MARR:

Yeah.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Now the striking thing there is I'm all for consensus in politics. I do believe in politicians working together. But the really striking thing is that it wasn't the Conservatives who broke that consensus. I've got some leaflets here, Andrew, which show that the Labour Party was criticising the Conservatives on the issue of social care just at the same time that Andy Burnham said that he wanted a consensus.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But it's your party, with respect, that I'm more interested in.

MICHAEL GOVE:

No, but the striking thing is Labour are making a charge critically here of hypocrisy. Well Andrew only criticised Labour's proposals after talks broke down because Andy Burnham wouldn't meet him.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Alright. Okay, okay. Okay …

MICHAEL GOVE:

(over) Here we have Labour spreading propaganda denouncing the Conservative position.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Dear me! Dear me! Well that's never happened on your side.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well no, it's …

ANDREW MARR:

But listen …

MICHAEL GOVE:

… people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, final question.

MICHAEL GOVE:

Andy Burnham, I'm afraid, you know he's a young politician …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, final question then.

MICHAEL GOVE:

… idealistic, but he's got a lot to learn.

ANDREW MARR:

You have got to raise your game as a party, nonetheless. I mean you are ahead in the polls, but you're nowhere near where Tony Blair was at this point in the game and you're nowhere near being sure of a majority that will allow you to do what you want to do in government. What's got to change in the next few months?

MICHAEL GOVE:

Well I believe that we're on course to do well in the General Election, but I take absolutely nothing for granted. And I think what we need to do is to ensure that people appreciate that this party has changed. Yes, there's rumbling and grumbling, but that's because we've modernised. This party is now the progressive force in British politics. We need to make sure that at every point between now and the General Election people recognise that our education policy is targeted on the very poorest, on helping them to achieve more and helping them to make our society more equal; and that we're the only party at this General Election which has an absolute pledge to protect NHS spending.

ANDREW MARR:

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

INTERVIEW ENDS



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