Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. Are you advertising?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I am trying. This report made specific reference to the issues you raise. Putting it in context, local government reorganisation increased the number of Local Education Authorities by 50 in 1997-1998 to 150. That has meant that we have had to find chief education officers, second tier officers and chief inspectors, or whatever. There has been a tremendous demand for officers at all levels as a result of the expansion. What we say here is that we do believe there is a need for a national framework for the identification, training and career progression of officers and inspectors for local authority purposes. It is not there at the moment and we do believe if we want high quality we are going to have to look very seriously at some framework and their training and career progression. The performance management of such people in local authorities is not a strong feature.

  Chairman: I am going to move on to specialist schools.

Mr Foster

  81. What evidence do you have on the performance of specialist schools?
  (Mr Tomlinson) We have not done a great detailed analysis, we did produce a report on sports colleges, their first two years, which indicated the strengths and some of the weaknesses of those colleges. A great deal of analysis, which we just received and are looking at, has come from the Technology Trust, which has had external people analysing the data from the colleges to see how their performance compares. I received that last week and have asked my colleagues to look at that and what other information we have had. As soon as I have that data I will be happy to provide it to the Committee.
  (Mr Taylor) There is a report—as usual it is in preparation, but we cannot hold up our advertising—and we have done some further analysis which Mike referred to, which is going into a report which we hope to publish later this academic year looking at the variety of specialist schools. What that will be doing is confirming, obviously, a general picture about examination results which, as Mike said, is being made public. That analysis is out there for you to see. It is also looking at the quality of teaching and learning in different kinds of colleges. A number of positive features are coming through, but at the moment we are still preparing that report, so I would not want to go into any more detail.


  82. There is not enough evidence to form any views at all?
  (Mr Taylor) It is still in the process of being collated and examined. I am very cautious about making statements in advance of that. One area which is coming out as a general direction in relation to the previous point is that many of these colleges are doing rather better with a concerted policy for information and communication technology across the curriculum, using their specialist subject as the entry point. That is particularly true, for example, in the specialist language colleges, where good use of ICT is spreading out.

Mr Foster

  83. Is that as a result of the extra funding or as a result of the fact it has a label on the specialists?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Labels do not produce quality, but targeted resources can help.


  84. I want to move to Education Action Zones. These are areas that are close to my heart, because although I represent Huddersfield I actually live in Calderdale and not very far from Halifax. I believe Mr Tomlinson has had quite some experiences there in a certain school; is that right?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I am equally pleased to announce the very successful last inspection, it is a tremendous achievement by all at The Ridings, 100 per cent of their teaching was satisfactory or better. That is a fabulous and I congratulated the school.

  85. It is well done to all the people at The Ridings. I want to press you hard on that, it might sound a very soft question, give us your valuation across Education Action Zones? That is not your overall opinion, is it?
  (Mr Tomlinson) First of all, at the moment we have inspected six of the Education Action Zones. Those were the first ones to be put in place. The evidence we have at the moment is not drawn from all of the Action Zones, it is six. The ones we have information on are Blackburn with Darwen, Halifax, Kitts Green and Shard End in Birmingham, North Southwark, Salford and Trafford, which are working together, and Weston-super-Mare. Those are the six and they represent quite a diverse range. We produced a summary report a little while ago and drew attention to the fact that initially four out of the six experienced some significant difficulty in terms of getting set up and started in programmes, in terms of the programmes, personnel in place, and so on, but they have begun to be more effective. What we have identified are the features of effective liaison work, and we have set them out in the Report as a series of features. The first is that there needs to be good planning based on commitment to shared action by the school and other partners, alongside an understanding of individual needs. It is balancing the collective needs with the individual, good consultation and communication. Many of them are straight forward and you would not expect them to be there. Good links with other work. What has not happened, and maybe we should not be surprised, is those we may regard to be the hotbeds of innovative action have not materialised in practice.

  86. Is it that private sector partnership has not worked as well as it might have done?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not think we know why. In some parts there was an agreement beforehand that certain possibilities would not be undertaken, dropping the national curriculum, changing teachers or adopting different conditions for teacher. Those have simply not been taken up. It is possibly simply down to the fact that early energies have been directed at getting the things up and running, getting people in place, getting finance and support sorted out and getting everyone on side.

Mr Foster

  87. Is it fair to say that in too many EAZs they are inviting too many private sector players to come in to play in part or in whole. What is seen is that some private sector organisations feel they own the project and they have the responsibility to deliver its success.
  (Mr Tomlinson) We have no evidence that they have drawn in more businesses. What we have found is that in general all of those have established very useful partnerships.

  88. We went on a visit to an EAZ in South London where we could see that the head teacher was so involved in keeping all of the players involved in her school that the kids in the school were telling us they saw far less of this head teacher than they had of the predecessor under the old regime.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I suspect that is one of the ones we have not yet inspected. I am going to stick to my guns and say we have no evidence on that one at all.


  89. Excellence in Cities is another initiative of the Department of Education and Employment. You seem to be more firm on Excellence in Cities than you have been on EAZs.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I suspect a great deal has been learned from the Education Action Zones when they were set up, whereas Excellence in Cities followed some time later. There has been a great deal of learning from the early experiences of the EAZs. Secondly, they are slightly different in that there are different elements to be set out, as to what should be tackled within the EiC. What we are noticing is that certainly the learning mentors, where they are in place, are having a very positive effect through the EAZs. We are also learning to be positive about working in relation to a time period as well. They do seem to have attracted a great deal of teacher, governor and other support and very concerted action in areas which very much need this. No one would deny that there is a need to take concerted and targeted action to improve the opportunities of young people who are disadvantaged by where they are born or whatever. There is an absolute need to help them maintain the highest possible standard of which they are capable. I would be supportive of anything which seeks to achieve that ultimate goal.
  (Mr Taylor) Essentially what we are saying is that where EAZs were characterised by a thousand blooms blossoming EAZ has taken six prime species and bedded them in more defined borders. The ones which we are focusing on are clearly ones which schools are able to relate quite quickly to their current practice, where they can find an entry point, where sometimes with the EAZs initially the biggest trouble is to see how this desire for innovation is connected to their current planning, and so on. Can I make one point on the gifted and talented work, which we also hope to report on quite soon. Looking at it more broadly in Excellence in Cities, what is clearly happening is that the questions raised by focusing on this issue are still quite challenging ones, firstly in terms of identifying who this group are. We can use words like "gifted" and "talented" in a rather flip way, and the Government has tried to tone it down a bit more, through this initiative, but it is still quite a difficult area. Getting the identification process such that you can target the programme on their needs is the first stage. The second stage is that, whereas it has been relatively successful laying on special programmes, summer schools and after school initiatives, getting that into mainstream, everyday classes so that it is just part of good teaching, which is about recognising the needs of all individuals and providing for it in school, is not surprisingly a big challenge and not surprisingly has not yet been met successfully. It is one thing to lay on extra classes and say, "Come here and be given the chance to succeed at your giftedness", it is another thing to be day-in and day-out making sure you have highly challenging expectations in every lesson you teach that do not leave those very pupils unsatisfied.

Mr St Aubyn

  90. It seems to me what you are saying on Excellence in Cities slightly contradicts what you are saying about the lack of evidence as to what works and what does not work. You are saying in Excellence in Cities there is a clarity of purpose. If you think about the reports you have done on the city technology colleges, where the private sector is a clarity of purpose, that does seem to contrast what you were telling us about the Education Action Zones, where there was confusion. Part of this problem of setting them surely was related to the number of players?
  (Mr Taylor) I was saying that it has taken more effort to get that clarity of purpose, but the better users are beginning now to be able to do it and embed it in the same way, for example, in relation to primary literacy and numeracy. Using the EAZ as a mechanism they have successfully raised standards.

  91. Do you think in EAZ there is some body which needs to be identified as clearly leading this process?
  (Mr Taylor) There is certainly clear evidence that the stronger the management and the stronger the links with the private partners the better the quality of feed-through into the schools.

Charlotte Atkins

  92. I was interested in what David was saying about the gifted and talented. I was going to ask you, do you feel there is a role for the extension test, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, and Key Stage 4 for that matter as well, in terms of giving progress to the more talented pupils? Very often the concentration is on Level 4 at Key Stage 2, which, to be honest, for the more talented pupils is not a very demanding level to aspire to. Is your feeling that schools are using these extension tests in any sort of creative way or are they just being ignored?
  (Mr Taylor) I am sure we would say yes to the general principle, which is more thought to be looking at the higher levels of Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, and evidence about how successful it has been. It is increasing the numbers of pupils achieving Level 5, now some 30 per cent of 11 year-olds.

  93. What about Level 6?
  (Mr Taylor) And Level 6.

Dr Harris

  94. We discussed earlier this issue about teacher retention and recruitment and you said, which is fair enough, that until some of them are seen to fail one cannot make a judgment on the teaching salary, as to whether it is high or low, until the government, or someone else, comes up with a new scheme. In that sense, would you say that the bonuses for shortage subjects could be deemed to have failed, in terms of not being sufficient to do the job, because by definition a new scheme has been brought in on top of that?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I was a science teacher and I knew very well, way back in the 60s and 70s, that as a science teacher I was one of the relatively rarer species than say a geography or a history teacher. The possibilities of my salary being higher as a science teacher were real. It has always been there. There was always an incentive to pay differential salaries, and I was one of the beneficiaries as a science teacher. I think that that is much more open through the system that has been introduced. I do not know whether it is a failure or a success. I have no evidence to be able to say for sure that it is.

  95. If you have a shortage and you take an action to try to tackle that shortage and you still have a shortage and feel it necessary to bring in another scheme then, surely, one could make a judgment implicitly that what you did earlier was not sufficient?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think that is a reasonable conclusion to come to, yes. What I do not know are the exact reasons as to whether the salary point was the only factor which led to the failure of that particular initiative. I simply do not know, but it is not an unreasonable comment to make. It is a question of whether that was the factor.

  Chairman: We have two or three things we must cover very quickly.

Dr Harris

  96. Do you have anything you are keen to share with us on the subject of degree standards?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, degree standards are not within the remit of the Chief Inspector.

  97. Do you have anything you want to share with us on Section 28?
  (Mr Tomlinson) None whatsoever, it is outside of my area.

  98. Do you have anything you want to share with us on A-level standards, and whether they should be made more difficult?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, the QCA are responsible for improving standards.

  Dr Harris: Do you have any immediate plans for a career in journalism? May I wish you a long and successful tenure.

Charlotte Atkins

  99. Can I ask you about the schools with serious weaknesses, rather than those in special measures, your Report seems to define that those that have been identified as having serious weaknesses do not make the same progress as those in special measures. Is that largely saying that we should skip the middle ground and those relating to putting schools into special measures, or is there something that you have identified as the way schools or LEAs support the schools more effectively and would that include, for instance—I know many LEAs use this successfully—seconding teachers to go into those schools at that time? It seems to happen with schools in special measures, but not those with serious weaknesses. I wonder if you can comment?
  (Ms Passmore) The special measures arrangements work. Schools are very clear about them, local authorities are very clear and the effect is with monitoring from the time of six months those schools get better. What we are finding with serious weaknesses is that in some ways it can be regarded as a bit of the warning shot, I guess, but it is not being acted upon. We do comment on schools action plans now, which we did not. We do point out to schools and authorities where we feel there are problems. We only monitor a sample, we obviously monitor those where we might be more concerned than others. What comes through is that there is not the same level of rigor and vigour in getting on with making things better. There is an element with special measures, there is a very important monitoring that takes place six months after the judgment, by which time we expect things to be improving. There seems to be more of an attitude to serious weaknesses coming through that we do not have to be so quick about it. I think the answer to schools and authorities is that we do have to be so quick about it because those children are continuing, all of the time that things are not being improved, not to get the quality of education they should be. We have been obviously gathering together information from the schools. We inspected every single one of the serious weaknesses, for one year we followed them all up, and we have found that 20 per cent of them have either failed, continued to have serious weaknesses or have been under achieving when we go back. That information has only just become available to us because we are only just completing the next section 10 inspections.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 11 May 2001