Highlights from today’s House of Commons Education Committee: Gove on Ofqual

12th September 2012

Compared to the tough questions given to Ofqual yesterday Gove got away lightly with most committee members convinced that nothing more could have been done to stop the problem or were possibly unable to ask follow-ups after being confused by Gove’s penchant for rhetorical answers. That said, all current evidence does show that Gove has followed the system exactly as set up under the previous Government and he is following the dictum that many have wished for so far that his politics should not be ‘intruded’ into education.

A summary is included below of questions and answers specifically around the GCSE issues:

Highlights of questions asked and their answers:

Is it true that because of oversights in January students had grades ‘clawed back’ in June to ensure comparable outcomes?  Gove argued that comparable outcomes was designed by the Labour government, it is a good thing, but due to modularisation and controlled assessments everyone has been disadvantaged this year.  He was non-committal on the ‘claw-back’ even when specifically asked about it twice.

During a similar scandal in 2002, there was a regrade, an apology to the House of Commons and a resignation. Do you think you should do something similar?  Gove was very clear that he did not think this fair. Lavishing praise on Ed Balls for setting up Ofqual as an independent regulator he argued that it was for Ofqual to make decisions, and they did. If anyone else is unhappy (especially Heads) they should show evidence to Ofqual about why they think their marks were unfair and Gove welcomed appeals and legal challenges if that’s what people felt was the necessary procedures. He was also happy for the Committee to order an independent investigation if they felt that was the correct course of action.

Do you take responsibility for what happened between January and June?  ““I take responsibility for everything in the Department and I feel a sense of sadness and regret for the children; what I cannot take responsibility for is the institution of comparable outcomes and modularisation…..  My role is NOT to interfere with Ofqual….this is a regrettable situation but the thing that would have made it worse would have been for Ministers in England to do what Wales did.”  I think this means: No.

What do you think about the Welsh situation?  Gove tiraded about how Labour have now ruined the future of Welsh children’s GCSE credibility with English employers. It’s worth watching: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19569429

You don’t think you, or anyone else, should do something that will ensure these marks are consistent and graded fairly? Gove argued that ordering a remark leads to the situation where politicians are marking exams and that it would be tantamount to imposing himself as Chief Examiner.

Yesterday, the Chair of Ofqual said there has been no political interference in the grade boundaries. Is that true? Yes.

Do you think you or Ofqual could have done any more to stop this issue? No. (This echoes Stacey’s view yesterday. In both cases they answered with a one word answer, and in both cases this wasn’t followed up by the committee).

Finally – at the very end of the session – Graham Stuart, the Chair of the Committee asked Gove about the leaks that had been happening over education reforms and reminded him that bypassing Parliament and going to the media is against the Ministerial Code. Gove failed to answer the question directly each time diverting attention to some other issue. Given Gove’s insistence throughout the session on following Parliamentary procedures to the letter and not interfering where he did not have the power to do so it was surprising to hear that he was “philosophical about leaks” and, apparently, did not know the Ministerial Code on the matter. Graham Stuart appeared to find this incredulous. (Quote 1, Quote 2, Quote 3 and it is at approximately 10:55 on the watch again)