Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the National Union of Teachers (SQE 01)

  I thought it would be helpful if I sent you a letter setting out some questions which arise from the HMCI report for 1999-2000. It is a detailed report and the questions set out below are not inclusive. There are other equally pertinent, questions that arise from the report.


  1.  The report comments that in primary schools "too often time for teaching other subjects is lost by devoting the whole morning to English and mathematics". It goes on to state "in some schools there are signs of a loss of depth and breadth of the curriculum, for example in design and technology and geography, in part as a result of a loss of time".

  How does the Chief Inspector think that primary schools should address the issue of breadth and balance for all pupils concerned, given the difficulties of managing the timetable?

  2.  The report is critical of the teaching of writing in primary schools (paragraphs 17 and 18).

  Does the Chief Inspector believe that this is a fault of the literacy strategy itself or the quality of the training offered to teachers?

  3.  The report is critical of the quality of ICT teaching and learning in both primary (paragraph 24) and secondary (paragraph 81).

  Would it be fair to say that the quality of information technology teaching is very much dependent on the level of ICT resourcing in schools and the levels of regular personal access to computers by teachers?


  4.  The HMCI's Annual Report states "[assessment] continues to be the worst aspect of teaching and was unsatisfactory in one in six schools receiving a full inspection. In the three in ten schools where this was good, teachers used well-constructed questions to assess pupils' understanding, particularly at the end of lessons. Marking was regular, focused, consistent and gave clear messages to pupils. The information was used to adjust appropriately the pace and context of lessons" (paragraph 78).

  Does he consider that his findings that assessment "continues to be the weakest aspect of teaching" provides a powerful indication that assessment policy at a national level must urgently restore the focus upon formative teacher assessment rather than summative assessment by prioritising guidance, funding and resources towards developing and supporting classroom based assessment which teachers can use diagnostically?

  5.  There is concern about the effects of pupil behaviour upon the effectiveness of schools and upon overall levels of attainment. The HMCI's findings that "the proportion of unsatisfactory behaviour . . . is slightly higher than in previous years" (paragraph 91) are alarming.

  Why does the HMCI think the proportion of unsatisfactory behaviour has risen?

  What does the HMCI believe to be the impact of Government requirements to set targets for reducing exclusions and truancy on pupil behaviour?

  Does the HMCI believe that the balance of sanctions and support available to schools is sufficient to tackle the effects of disruptive pupil behaviour on teaching and learning?


  6.  The HMCI report states "Attainment tends to be higher and progress greater in larger sixth forms. Smaller sixth forms often recruit students with relatively low prior attainment, often from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many of these students make satisfactory progress and achieve the results expected, given their relatively low starting point" (paragraph 112).

  Does the Chief Inspector agree that this statement supports the view that no school sixth form school be closed on the grounds of size alone?

  7.  The report says "teachers [do] not always succeed in the time available in developing the skills students [need]".

  Does HMCI think that this situation will be exacerbated by the fact that, within the new AS level structure, teachers will now normally need to prepare students for their first examinations within the third term of their studies at advanced level? In short, does HMCI think that the new AS/A level structure is right for all pupils?


  8.  The report states that "Many special schools are having to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse pupil population, often as a result of the re-organisation of provision by LEAs".

  Would the Chief Inspector agree that LEAs should provide enough diverse placements to meet the individual needs of pupils?

  9.  The report refers to the role of a named teacher for children in public care. The report states that, "The workload in monitoring the children is not excessive, but the named teacher ensures additional support where necessary, co-ordinates reports for reviews and acts as advocate when required".

  Does the Chief Inspector agree that the designated teacher will require adequate training, resources and time in order to carry out the identified responsibilities?


  10.  The section of Fresh Start (paragraphs 241-242) confirms that the initiative has largely been a failure. Paragraph 242 on the lessons learnt from the Fresh Start experience identifies the timescale and level of support that these schools need, much of which has been incorporated into DfEE guidance issued in the autumn term.

  What role does OFSTED have in preventing the DfEE being "wise after the event" with its initiatives in the future?


  11.  The statement with the Annual Report that "recruitment of suitably qualified staff is increasingly a problem for schools, particularly those in urban areas" (paragraph 108) should be viewed with considerable alarm. The findings that the use of non-specialist teachers is too widespread and that high levels of staff absence and turnover are causing severe disruption are of serious concern. In the commentary of the report the Chief Inspector states, "Urgent action is more than ever needed on the recruitment and retention of teachers, as the Government plainly acknowledges."

  While the teacher supply crisis may now be "acknowledged" by the Government does he believe that it is being "addressed"?

  Does HMCI believe that the present difficulties in the recruitment and retention of suitably qualified staff is a contributing factor to a number of those weaknesses in secondary education which were identified by his inspectors in some schools as outlined in his Annual Report?

  Does he further believe that teacher recruitment and retention is an issue to be urgently addressed in order to maintain and build on the many improvements in the standards of teaching, learning, and pupil attainment which he has been able to identify in his Annual Report for 1999-2000?

  12.  The report criticises the effective use of other adults by primary teachers (paragraph 21).

  Will the Chief Inspector comment about how the management of other adults by teachers should be addressed in terms of the parameters of teachers' roles, responsibilities and training provided?


  13.  This year's report is too early to make judgements about the effects of outsourcing of LEA functions.

  Would HMCI comment on paragraph 340 which states that of seven LEAs inspected, five improved without intervention (though in some cases with support from the DfEE)?

  Is there not an argument that LEAs should be given the opportunity to address the areas of weakness in their OFSTED reports, with support from the DfEE and from successful LEAs, before being required to outsource their services?

National Union of Teachers

February 2001

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