Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  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 session—and we are all guilty—

  Dr Harris: I think Mr Tomlinson is quite capable of working out what he has evidence to back up and what he does not.

  Chairman: We are getting very speculative.

Dr Harris

  45. I am keen to know whether he has evidence or not.
  (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.

Helen Jones

  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 reading—and quite rightly so too, but it did mean that in some instances that resulted in less attention being given to writing than was perhaps necessary—and 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 whole piece.

  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 have—because we are older—is 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 graduates?
  (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' writing—and 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 11—which is what I have referred to elsewhere as a national scandal—we 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 of paralysis.


  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 succeed—and you are no doubt one of them.

Dr Harris

  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 writing—because 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.

Helen Jones

  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.

Dr Harris

  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 teaching—but 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 interests—because 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.

Helen Jones

  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 we—not just we but OFSTED and others—have got to do much more about understanding why and then finding out how quickly we can narrow the gap.

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 opportunity—involving employers, further education, school and so on—to embark upon well-structured, well-organised work-related courses is motivating and leads to levels of achievement—not 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.

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