Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
TOMLINSON, CBE, MR
40. Why do you think some of those people drop
out of teacher training?
(Mr Tomlinson) Some of them find it simply is the
wrong thing for them.
41. That will ever be the case. Why more recently
has this become a problem?
(Mr Tomlinson) The figure has always been quite high.
This 40 per cent is not a sea-change but it is an upward trend.
I think we have increased the threshold at the end of teacher
training. The standards you have to satisfy to become a teacher
are tough, therefore people who are pretty marginal, who might
have found their way into the profession in the old days, are
less likely to do so now. They are likely to be weaned off or
they will see the light themselves. Even so, it is a very worrying
number. There has always been a bit of a tradition for people
to decide that doing PGCE was a good way of extending their studenthood
for another year without serious ambitions to become a teacher.
That has to be looked at as well, at the screening end.
42. One of the problems that I see with the
commendable efforts that are being made by the Government to tackle
this, is that I do not think the advice from any source, but including
OFSTED, in terms of predictions has been very clear. Mr Tomlinson,
your predecessor, in an exchange with me this time last year,
was very laid back about the prospects of shortages. He said that,
yes, they exist in a few areas; he did not think it was really
going to get necessarily worse; and it was not really an issue
for his annual report. You have come a bit stronger, I think,
in your annual report. But, I think, in response to that advice
and others, there has been somewhat of a piecemeal approach: there
is a problem and there are "golden hellos" in certain
subjects; the problem gets worse, after that there is this training
salary. It always seems to be solutions chasing the problems rather
than predicting the problems. Can you advise whether there is
a role for you to be clearer, more explicit in your advice, even
at the risk of over-exaggerating, heaven forbid, in order that
we stop the problem getting worse?
(Mr Tomlinson) Yes.
43. If you could answer that, Mike, I am keen
after that to move on to another topic.
(Mr Tomlinson) We are looking very closely at all
the evidence we have about teacher supply, quality and the rest,
and putting it all together to see what it tells us and directing
our work in the coming year to revealing again as much evidence
that is useful as possible. I agree that we need to make sure
that our advice is soundly based and insightful. I think, though,
in saying that, we need to think about a holistic approach to
the supply side for the profession of teaching, and that has to
be something that both deals with the short-term issues as well
as the longer term issues, because, attracting, as we are doing,
more people into primary teacher training this year does not solve
the problem for at least 12 months, if not four years down the
track (depending upon the course they are following). There has
to be short and long term solutions found but we have to get a
real hold on the whole issue of the supply side of the profession.
Chairman: Have you finished, Evan?
Dr Harris: I wanted to ask if there is evidence
that the training salary, £6,000, is a good thing but not
quite doing the job?whether you would recommend more in
order to retain people and encourage people to train, particularly
with the increased debt one is seeing with new graduates.
44. The only thing I am worried about, Evan,
is that we are trying to push OFSTED here into exactly the territory
that we criticised Mr Tomlinson's predecessor for.
(Mr Tomlinson) I was about to say that.
Chairman: We have asked them to base their remarks
on evidence, and here we are, a long sessionand we are
Dr Harris: I think Mr Tomlinson is quite capable
of working out what he has evidence to back up and what he does
Chairman: We are getting very speculative.
45. I am keen to know whether he has evidence
(Mr Tomlinson) I do not have evidence of that. All
I can say to you is that as Chief Inspector my concern is to see
that at the end of the day, by whatever means the Government considers
appropriate, there are the necessary numbers of teachers in place
to do the job. If there are not, then I shall be reporting on
the impact without fear or favour. But at the moment I could not
tell you whether £6,000 is right or another figure is right.
It is beyond my scope: I do not have the evidence.
Chairman: Let us move on to teaching quality.
I think Helen wanted to start the questioning in that area.
46. Could I look at a specific area which you
highlight in your report. You say that there is concern about
the teaching of writing and that improvements in writing have
failed to keep pace with the improvements in reading and so on.
Could you tell us why you think that should be so, first of all,
before I go on to ask you some more questions.
(Mr Tomlinson) I think, first of all, as I said in
the report, the problems with writing are there in relation to
spelling and the capacity of pupils actually to write correct
sentences grammatically. It is a grammar/structure of the language
issue. Some of that can be traced back to the fact that many of
the teachers in our schools may well not have themselves been
taught the fundamental structure of our language and the way that
they then can go on to teach other people. So I think there is
an issue there. That has come through in our work and we advised
the department accordingly, and recently a document has been issued
by the Standards and Effectiveness Unit as part of the literacy
strategy to help teachers both with information and in-service
training to improve their knowledge of language. So it is partly
that and I think it is partly the fact that within the strategy
as a whole a great deal of attention initially was focused upon
readingand quite rightly so too, but it did mean that in
some instances that resulted in less attention being given to
writing than was perhaps necessaryand teachers are adjusting
that balance to get writing better. But it is a serious problem.
The figures there that we have quoted are really quite serious.
It is not just a boys:girls problem, it is a problem across the
47. I understand what you are saying and I agree
with you that there is a problem in the terms you have defined,
but would you agree that you cannot simply teach writing in the
abstract: you teach it by doing it. And, while there may well
be a problem with many teachers not having had the grounding in
grammar that some of us certainly did havebecause we are
olderis there not also a problem in people's inability
actually to focus on teaching creative writing? Because that is
how you learn how the language functions, is it not, by doing
different types of writing? Is that related to the fact that we
have a lot of people still teaching English in our schools or
teaching English in primary schools who are not themselves English
(Mr Tomlinson) This is part of the issue to which
I was alluding. Even if you are an English graduate, it does not
follow that your course as an undergraduate was concerned to any
great extent with the language. It could well have been a very
literature-based course. That is what we have had: there are a
few degrees which are language based as distinct from literature.
So, it comes down, at the end of the day, to the teacher's knowledge
and competence in terms of the structure of the language. I do
not think it is a case of teaching creative writing. It is a case
that there is an awful lot of writing required of children in
schools across the whole of the curriculum; therefore, the issue
of writing is a whole school issue, not an individual teacher
issue. It is also the case that the standards required across
the school should be consistent. It should not be the case that
in one class you are allowed to mis-spell, without any attempt
to correct, whereas in another class you are not. That inconsistency
is not only confusing for the child, it is equally confusing for
the parent, who, in general, at primary school level does tend
to look at a lot of their children's work. There are a whole set
of issues within the school. I know, David, you are very keen
on this issue of writing.
(Mr Taylor) Can I add a footnote on the specific thing
that Helen was asking, about the teaching of writing. My
perception is that that is where we really have to hammer the
issue. Initial teacher training has done a great deal to remedy
the long-standing deficiencies in understanding English structures
that we are aware of in the teaching profession. Now that those
standards are in place, I am hoping that we will see a big improvement;
that is to say that when you actually sit in a primary lesson
and it is focusing on grammatical structure, it does actually
help if the teacher knows the difference between adjectives and
adverbs if they are trying to teach them, and quite often they
do not. New teachers should not have that kind of problem. We
have now developed what is clearly seen as a very effective teaching
strategy for literacy, with the teaching hour segmented in particular
ways and so on. Good at doing a lot of things; not, in my view,
automatically good at improving the quality of pupils' writingand
by quality we mean both the things we have been talking about
and what we understand by the rather loose portmanteau word "creative"
writing; that is to say writing for a range of audiences and purposes
and stimulating people to want to write. That, to my mind, especially
in relation to the half of all boys who are falling below level
four at the age of 11which is what I have referred to elsewhere
as a national scandalwe have got to tackle by sitting down
and systematically thinking how you actually teach those pupils
both the craft of writing but actually, more importantly, the
will to write, the stimulus to write, the ability to relate what
they read and what they say to other people to how they write,
using all available technologies. Because, actually, I think imaginative
use of ICT will be one of the ways through this, especially for
the many boys who seem perfectly capable of sitting down at keyboards
and bashing away but when asked to use pen or pencil have a kind
48. Why are you picking on little boys?
(Mr Taylor) I am picking on little boys because the
standard of boys' writing is below
49. Some of us on this Committee want to stick
up for little boys!
(Mr Taylor) Yes, and some of us were small boys too.
50. Where is the hard evidence that boys are
under-performing rather than girls?
(Mr Taylor) The hard evidence is clear, running right
through from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2. The reason I talk about
it is that the gap between boys' and girls' achievement by the
age of 11 is something like 20-odd per cent in writing. Fewer
than half of all boys reach level 4 at the age of 11. That is
what I am calling a national scandal. It is not a generalisation:
half the boys do succeedand you are no doubt one of them.
51. I would not be too sure!
(Mr Taylor) I said no doubt.
52. Take no notice!
(Mr Taylor) But when we were discussing this previously
I issued a challenge to the male journalists in the audience,
because we actually need to learn what does turn boys on to writingbecause
it is such a gender-related split now, almost the biggest split
in the whole of education"How do we get boys involved
in writing?" I think it is about the nature of the task,
getting them involved in writing as something which relates to
their key interests.
Chairman: I was teasing you. I just wanted to
get that out, but I do understand the problem with boys.
53. I agree, it is part of the problem, you
have to tap into boys' particular interests, but you are also
in danger almost of running two parallel ways of doing things.
It is often the way in which things are presented rather than
the actual material which is important. Speaking as someone who
successfully taught Jane Austen to boys, I think you can easily
fall into a trap, can you not, of saying boys must do it this
way and girls that way? You can create some real stereotypes.
(Mr Tomlinson) Good teaching is good teaching whether
it is to boys or girls. Good teaching is choosing your content,
your material, your approaches to match your objectives for the
group that you have with you. You are absolutely right. Many years
ago, when looking at the question of girls and science, the conclusion
we came to very quickly was that good science teaching encouraged
girls to do science as much as it encouraged boys and what we
needed was much more of good science teaching.
54. Why are boys not reaching the standard?
What is the particular problem?
(Mr Tomlinson) I would admit I do not think we know.
There are a lot of hypotheses around that it is about the culture
that sometimes settles around boys. I am saddened by hearing too
often the phrase "It is not cool to learn," "It
is not cool to be clever," sort of thing. You hear this in
playgrounds and it is more commonly associated with boys. But
there are inevitably other factors as well, not least, as children
get older, the extent to which they are actually in school in
terms of their absence. If they are not there, it is not possible
for the school to do much with them.
55. What about male teachers?
(Mr Tomlinson) There is the role model point, yes.
We are adding fewer and fewer male teachers into the primary sector.
(Mr Taylor) I would say that clearly we need to start
from the premise that good teaching is good teachingbut
that is such a tautology it is hardly worth wasting time on. Therefore
the key thing is to do what Helen has asked us to do, to say,
"Look, here are data, there is this big gap, boys are not
achieving, therefore the key question is: `Why?'" We have
got to answer that question at all levels. It has got to do with
the differential quality of their motor skills in letter formation
at the very start, it has got to do with society's expectation,
it has got to do with teaching role models, how boys' writing
is perceived and received compared with girls', and it has got
to do with the intrinsic quality of the material that they are
receiving and its capacity to engage with their interests or potential
interestsbecause I agree entirely that Jane Austen is a
potential interest for boys as much as girls but you have to find
ways of tapping into it.
56. To finish with boys and girls, boys are
picked up from the earliest stage as being poorer learners in
terms of skills on the literacy side.
(Mr Tomlinson) That is what a lot of schools from
their own data know and that is why a lot of schools are putting
a great deal of effort into trying to narrow that gap.
57. That is right, but are we perceiving this
now because we have a better evaluation system through your OFSTED,
or has it always been the case? We on this Committee represent
the tax payer and the parents out there. We are trying to dig
a way through your report. Is this a problem that is new? Has
it always been the case? If you go back to 1930 or 1940 or 1960,
was it always so? Or is it a new problem?
(Mr Tomlinson) I do not think we had the data quite
in the way we have today. What we do have today, not only through
inspection but also from the national tests and data and the enormous
amount now of very carefully collected data which individual schools
and local authorities amass, is much more data from which we can
identify the issues, and that is something which is very important
in education at this point in time, to which inspection has added.
I think, if you look back, we had, even in the fifties and sixties,
an Adult Literacy Scheme, which was a tacit agreement that we
had a large number of adults coming from the system previously,
in the forties and fifties, who did not learn sufficiently well
to read and write to be functionally literate (as the term was
used). The Adult Basic Skills Unit had drawn attention to this.
It is not a new phenomenon. The problem today is that we know
more about it but also it is so important today that we crack
this problem because there are not the opportunities for young
people, in work and elsewhere, for them to be employed when they
do not have those basic skills. That is really the crucial thing.
It is hardly surprising that a high proportion of the young people
who turn to crime are ones whose literacy skills are poor. When
you go to the prison service, you find something like 90 per cent
of the people there detained are not functionally literate. Once
you have lost the capacity to access learning and progress, then
you turn to other activities, often those which are anti-social.
58. That does not explain, does it, why the
gap in reading is much less than in writing?
(Mr Tomlinson) No, it does not. It does not. And wenot
just we but OFSTED and othershave got to do much more about
understanding why and then finding out how quickly we can narrow
Mr St Aubyn
59. One of the ways in which particularly boys,
I think, can be energised to get those skills is to be offered
some form of work experience while they are in school. Perhaps
a day a week in a firm can teach them the need for these key skills,
as well as giving them some role models of people slightly older
than themselves outside the context of their own home background
which may otherwise be a deterrent to making that sort of effort.
Is there anything that OFSTED does to inspect work-based experiences?
Is there any evidence you are gathering on the effect of it?
(Mr Tomlinson) The first thing, of course, is those
are largely happening to young people at the age of 14 and onwards.
My argument is we should not be getting to the age of 14 when
pupils are not able to have command of the basics of reading and
writing and numeracy. Those should have been dealt with long before
that. But, in answer to your question, yes, we have just completed
the drafting of a report on work-related learning in Key Stage
4 and we shall be publishing that in due course. What it does
show is that for a significant number of pupils the opportunityinvolving
employers, further education, school and so onto embark
upon well-structured, well-organised work-related courses is motivating
and leads to levels of achievementnot for all, but for
some. But the report will raise issues about accreditation of
that provision and its account in terms of the school's performance.