Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
TOMLINSON, CBE, MRS
1. Could I welcome Her Majesty's Chief Inspector
of Schools, Mike Tomlinson; Judith Phillips, who is Director of
Policy, Planning and Resources; and Mrs Maggie Smith, Director
of Early Years. Welcome all of you. There is a rumour in the Committee,
Mr Tomlinson, that you are the most regular visitor to our Committee
across the piece, so welcome indeed, and may I congratulate you
on becoming the Chief Inspector. We do play this Committee reasonably
informally, so, if you would not object to first names, that would
add to the way in which we conduct these sessions. As you know,
we have two sessions with you a year. The one at this time of
year is on your annual report and the one in the autumn is about
the conduct of the office. This is the annual report session.
We have an awful lot to get through and so, I hope you do not
mind, I will be encouraging my colleagues to ask relatively short
questions and I would ask for reasonably succinct answers. I am
going to apologise in advance. Because Maggie Smith has only been
in her position for a short time, we will be asking just a couple
of preliminary questions and then we will switch the team. That
is no discourtesy to you, Maggie. Could we start then with early
years. We are pleased to see that there is a Government response
to our early years report, which we received last night. It is
in general, I think, a very positive reaction. But we were particularly
proud of that report. Although it did not get the most headlines
in the national press, in the specialist press it received extensive
coverage and we have had some very warm responses from across
the piece in terms of the people who make early years happen.
I am going to start off by saying that in terms of early years
you will know that we were particularly concernedand I
wonder if you share this concern. On the one hand we were very
welcoming to the Government's initiative that has put an awful
lot of money into early years. Now children are going to pre-school
at the age of four, and the intention is that that will come down
to threeand of course the Second Reading debate yesterday
on the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]
focused a great deal on the ability to identify a child with SEN
problems early on in their career. What do you think your role
is going to be in terms of helping to ensure this identification
of early years' needs in this pre-school sector? Is that going
to be a difficult territory for OFSTED to get into?
(Mrs Smith) I do not think so. I think
it is at two levels from my point of view. One is that one of
the National Standards is very specifically about special needs.
Quite often, in the very early years of a child's life it is an
indicator rather than an assessed issue, so using the standard
will help us in all settings assess how well providers understand
an emerging special need or are actually dealing with one. Of
course, with more defined needs there can be a statement of special
needs from two years of age. It is quite often the emotional behavioural
ones which are a bit more difficult. So the standards are there
but also corporately, with colleagues across the other divisions
of OFSTED, we will be looking in total about how we assist, through
evidence that is built over time, in terms of good practice in
this particular issue.
2. What about the change in culture? This is
a very different territory for inspection, now that we are moving
down the age range. Is there going to be difficulty for OFSTED
adapting itself? I have been told by all our special advisors
that we must never use the popular acronym "OFTOT".
(Mr Tomlinson) No.
3. If we slip into that, please forgive us,
but we have been warned.
(Mrs Smith) As a field, it has been regulated probably
far longer than any other, if you look at the 1948 Nurseries and
Childminders Act. It has just been regulated in a very different
way, in-house, in local governmentand that is very familiar
to me because I have worked in local government for quite a long
time in this field. I think the problem that was there before
about differentiation in standards, etcetera, will now be solved.
But, because we are bringing staff across with that expertise
already of the Children Act and we have a lot of training going
in and support, I am quite sure that it will help join everything
up for children.
(Mr Tomlinson) We already do have members of staff
within OFSTED who have experience of the early years. We have
other people, additional inspectors, brought in who have been
very much involved in the three- and four-year-old settings. The
important point is that we will be relying very heavily on the
expertise and experience of the staff currently within local authorities
who will be transferring across to us during the period July to
September. What we have to do is to build upon that, help them
to apply the new National Standards consistently, and we have
plans in hand to help them. But we acknowledge and always acknowledged
that we ourselves did not have within our present organisation
the numbers of people and the expertise needed, but we always
knew they were coming across from local authorities.
Mr St Aubyn
4. That rather neatly leads into the next question.
As you say, those doing the inspections in the early years have
been for a long time employed by the local authorities, whereas
for your school inspections you have teams with whom you contract.
(Mr Tomlinson) Yes.
5. One of the positive aspects of the contracting
system is, I suppose, that OFSTED has been able to develop very
much its own culture, for good or bad, towards the inspection
of schools. To what extent, therefore, is OFSTED going to add
anything to the style and manner in which these local authority
inspectors go round their role, if what you are doing is really
just keeping what appears to be a weather-eye on it.
(Mrs Smith) I am not sure we were just keeping a weather-eye
on them at all. The plans certainly are to ensure that they are
competent inspectors. There is a very strong competency-based
appraisal system in OFSTED. To go on the register, people will
have had to have been appraised as competent. We are certainly
looking at developing some accredited training for registration
and inspection personnel, and we may, of course, want to use the
market at seasonal high points. Local authorities have struggled
with Open Access Play and the huge seasonal surge in May/June
to register those facilities. We will work carefully over the
next few months to assess both the competence of inspectors and
also where we might have gaps and whether the market is a good
6. Presumably one of the advantages of the contracting
system is that if you are not satisfied with the quality of inspection
being carried out by a team, you simply do not renew their contract.
(Mrs Smith) Yes.
(Mr Tomlinson) Indeed.
7. How are you going to cope with the fact that,
quite rightly, those who work with local authorities have employment
rights and a track record with the authority? If you are not satisfied
with them, will it not take a great deal longer, if you cannot
improve their performance through training, to ensure that the
inspections that are carried out by that area are being carried
out by people who are fully up to your requirements?
(Mrs Smith) As Judith has been dealing with the transition,
I think she can give you more detail on that.
(Ms Phillips) Clearly people will come
across and they will be our employees and we would always offer
training before they were asked to do any particular type of inspection,
and, of course, with National Standards it is new for everyone.
If of course people are not able to do that, we may have other
work that they can do that is not inspection. If not, it would
be like any other member of staff whose standards do not reach
those which are required for the job.
8. So there is clearly going to be a different
level of flexibility, in dealing with this problem, amongst your
inspectors for the early years, to the level of flexibility you
have with inspectors dealing with the school system.
(Ms Phillips) One lets contracts for quite a period
of time and, equally, if you have already let a contract to someone,
you would only in extreme circumstances change it in the middle
of that, so I am not sure that the timescales might be quite as
different as it would appear.
(Mr Tomlinson) Plus the fact, of course, the contractor
is given information by us as well as any they might collect themselves
about the performance and individual inspectors. We expect them
to take necessary action in terms of retraining the inspector
or, indeed, discovering that they would no longer employ them.
So it is less a matter of cancelling the contracts as the contractor
taking action to ensure that the inspectors are further trained
as necessary or, in the extreme, not invited to join any teams
in the future.
9. You have taken a decision that many of your
inspectors will be home-based, as are your contracting teams now.
Do you not agree that that raises particular problems in the area
of child care? You are going to have to have very clear arrangements
for liaison with other child care professionals and, in some cases,
for the security of your inspectors. Could you tell us how you
intend to do that?
(Mrs Smith) I would like to say something and I am
sure Judith would too. Interestingly, most of these staff are
very rarely in an officethey are out doing what they should
be doing on the patch: visiting, liaising and inspectingat
the moment. I do believe it is crucial to have structured and
set spaces and times for people to meet as teams and to share
professionally, but also not to spend too much time in the office.
The structure on which Judith and colleagues had worked so hard
before I came, perhaps she would like to explain, as to how a
lot of the prior administrative burdens and things that took a
lot of time will be eased in the future with arrangements in regional
(Ms Phillips) The regional centres will provide much
more administration than perhaps the local authorities have been
able to do and, by concentrating it, we hope, perhaps of even
a higher quality. The inspectors themselves, as Maggie said, most
of the time are out of the office. There is provision for them
to work with their seniors and meet as regularly as, I think,
most of them would do now. We did look into this quite clearly
and really we have tried to put our emphasis on investment in
the people rather than in buildings which would be left empty.
There are some authorities which have already done this. We have
talked to them very much, we have talked at conferences, and I
am pleased to say that, whilst at the beginning this was a big
concern, it is much less so now and people understand it is a
way of working and it is not total isolation.
10. I understand what you are saying about inspectors
not being in the office much anyway. That is a given, because
we know they spend a lot of their time out looking at the provision.
What I would like to know from you in a little more detail is
what arrangements you are making to ensure that proper child protection
measures are followed when your inspectors are largely home-based
and do not have that day to day contact with the child care professionals
that they would if had been they operating on behalf of local
(Mrs Smith) There will be particular staff with the
lead on the child protection roles. All of them will have good
trainingmany of them have had it already but it would need
updating in child protection procedures. But there is a range
of guidance measures and, if you like, desk instructions to them
about how to deal with particular situations. One of the biggest
advantages of the new structure is that there will be specialist
teams working on investigation of allegations across the boardthat
includes child protection. There will be very clear and formal
links with area child protection committees. We have also been
very concerned about the personal safety of the inspectors themselves,
so they know clearly they must not give out home telephone numbers,
details of where they live. They are going to have some quite
intensive training in all those issues, including their own health
and safety. One of the very good things we have managed to do
is to secure space in Inland Revenue offices (of which I believe
there are over 600so there is almost one in every patch)
where there is space to meet for any purpose or reason for the
inspectors and people with whom they work. Clearly close contact
with social service colleagues with early years' partnerships
will be part and parcel of the teams' work. So I can see no particular
extra barriers to what were already there in prior local government
arrangements; in fact, I can see a great deal of enhancement in
the skills available in the teams.
11. I think we might want to see how that is
(Mrs Smith) Yes.
12. There is one concernone we very strongly
picked up when we did our early years inquiry. Out there people
want two things. One is that they always felt that they should
have one standard of inspection for everyone.
(Mrs Smith) Yes.
13. They did not like the fact that there was
a two-track system; they wanted a fair appraisal for everyone
on an equal basis. How do you react to that?
(Mrs Smith) I think that is absolutely correct and
appropriate. It is important to recognise that contexts are different,
but, apart from that, the real standards about the quality of
a child's experience need to be absolutely the same. People need
to know what is expected of them, how to achieve it, and they
are helped to do that through a good process.
14. Why is it, then, that out there there is
a kind of feelingand I do not know why it is, but some
of us are picking it up on this Committeea fear, that in
this particular area OFSTED coming in is going to lead to a dilution
of standards, a sort of dumbing down of pre-school standards.
Why do you think that is?
(Mrs Smith) I am not sure. I think there are many
reasons for people being anxious. In respect of someone who applied
the Children Act standards for the first timeand they were
not written as standards, it was a turgid, huge set of volumes
of guidance accompanying the Actall I can say is that they
should have no fear from applying consistent standards. There
is everything to gain and nothing to lose. At the moment, a childminder
registered with one local authority who moves across the border,
say from Manchester to Salford, has to go through the whole process
again and may receive very different expectations and instructions.
That has to be silly. Where the fear lies, I do not know. This
is the first time that real child-focused and parent-focused standards
have been applied with great clarity, or will be, and I think
that fear will dissipate. I think change always creates anxiety,
but in this case, having spent most of my life in this field,
I feel very, very sure that, within a year/18 months time, providers,
parents and children will be seeing the benefits.
(Mr Tomlinson) I think the other point is that the
standards, of course, are not those set down by OFSTED; the standards
are those determined by the Government and by the relevant ministers
after consultation, and, as you know, that consultation has raised
some issues about what is conceived to be dumbing down in certain
(Mr Tomlinson) Of course, we are awaiting ministerial
reaction to that consultation and to those concerns. I am led
to understand that the National Standards will finally be published
at the end of March and we shall see then how ministers have responded
to the concerns expressed. But the concerns about dumbing down
were related to the National Standards which are the departments
concern and not ours; we will simply use those standards as our
framework for regulating the system.
16. So it is the Secretary of State we should
be talking to about that.
(Mr Tomlinson) If you are wanting to discuss the question
of standards and whether the ones that are going to be adopted
are dumbing down, yes, you have to talk to the ministers because
they are the ones who are responsible for the standards.
Chairman: Unless any other member of the Committee
wishes to ask a question, I think we will move on to the next
section. I would thank you very much for joining us and ask Elizabeth
Passmore and David Taylor to join us.