Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001
BICHARD, KCB AND
40. Will they identify colleges that do not
have a buddy system and take appropriate action?
(Sir Michael Bichard) The inspection system is identifying
areas of work which it would expect to find, for example monitoring
attendance, and our reporting on whether or not they are finding
evidence of that in college inspections, so the inspection system
does bring that out.
41. I must say I was surprised on Page 4, Paragraph
13 to see that "colleges should monitor student absence closely"
should have to be picked up and jointly signed off in a Report
like this. It would be trite to put it in if it were not happening.
(Professor Melville) Let me make the distinction.
All colleges are required to monitor student absence. The point
that the Report makes is that that is done immediately. In a sense
the step forward that the best colleges have taken is to do that
daily. A very good example is given of a college that is doing
this. In the morning a register is brought in and tutors who have
been appropriately trained phone their homes and ask where the
students are. That is the best practice that has been drawn out,
but colleges are not able to claim funding unless they keep appropriate
records of student absences.
42. What about the criticism that that sort
of absence data takes 14 months or so to publish?
(Professor Melville) The reference is to the overall
data, not just absence data. If we take the straightforward data,
which is A-level results, then it is published on exactly the
same timescale as with schools. At the moment because the funding
system relies on the audit of the completion data or achievement
data from the exam boards, then we publish it after it has been
audited. I think the criticism is quite a reasonable one. It would
be of value to publish data earlier, even if it were partial or
provisional, and the web site provides the means of doing this.
We have certainly been looking at that following this review to
look at ways in which we can get, albeit partial data, earlier
so that it is available for benchmarking comparisons.
43. What the Report implies, though, is that
for data that shows up some lack of performance, that is perhaps
continued into the next student year and, again, if it is 14 months,
into the student year after that before it is going to be picked
up by you.
(Professor Melville) Naturally it is going to continue
into the next student year because of the date the exam boards
produce their output. That is round about November.
44. Unlike A-levels where you could pick it
up and the Department could get into hyper mode to make any changes
(Professor Melville) I think the point is well taken
that the earlier the appropriate bodies can get the data out the
faster the turn around in terms of the action. I think what is
suggested here is something that could be taken on board in future.
(Sir Michael Bichard) There is an associated data
point which I think is important to a number of the questions
that have been asked already this evening and that is our inability
to track students from one college to another or from one course
to another. I was very pleased that the Report appeared to be
supporting our efforts to introduce a student tracking system.
We are currently pursuing that with the Office of the Information
Commissioner. I think if we can have support from this Committee
and from the National Audit Office in that task it would be very
helpful because the question about exit, where are people going
and why are they going, is very difficult if you cannot follow
them from college to college and course to course and track them
and report their progress.
45. The Report seems critical of "lax methods
used to identify and improve the weakest teaching in course delivery
and ensure consistency in the quality of courses."
(Professor Melville) I would not say it is critical
in general terms. What it is saying is that some colleges have
come much further than others. I do not think we have anything
that could remotely be described as a "lax" system of
inspection and audit within the system. This is being strengthened
in the new inspection and audit arrangements that are proposed
by the Learning and Skills Council.
46. If colleges need to "increase the rigour
of methods", which is the exact phrase agreed in this Report
by you, it seems to me there must be laxity there.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I was referring earlier to the
introduction of mandatory self-assessment, the local Learning
and Skills Councils' regular reviews which will take into account
the results of those self-assessments and all the performance
data and all the inspections that are available, the regular four
yearly inspections, the ability to intervene where we have got
particularly poor provision in a college or in a part of a college.
I think we are constantly improving both the monitoring and the
ability to apply pressure where necessary in the system.
47. I am against glib comparisons, but if you
take a fast wheel change operation like Kwik-Fit, with hundreds
of outlets and thousands of staff, I cannot see them accepting
as an excuse that a tyre might not match the car or there was
some weak training of their staff or course delivery, although
there may be different orders of complexity in this. That is the
approach that seems to have been taken today, that such things
are just not acceptable when it comes to cars but they are acceptable
when it comes to people.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I do not believe that they are
acceptable to young people and I believe that the quality system
that we have introduced gradually over the last few years, the
specialist system we have introduced is now pretty rigorous. We
have had a system where actually a large number of teachers have
not been qualified, we are introducing mandatory qualifications.
We have a system where we have not been rewarding the best teachers
in the way we are now in schools and we are changing that. We
have tightened the screws of poor performance increasingly in
recent years, and your experience of Kwik-Fit is clearly better
than mine over the years.
48. Just to outline, again, if I missed it,
what is being done to recruit more working class students and
(Professor David Melville) This was a very important
area. While we were doing the expansion in further education we
introduced a premium for colleges so there was an incentive to
recruit students. We used home address post codes as a proxy so
they attract a premium 10 per cent increase in the funding recognising
what is needed. The Kennedy Committee, chaired by Helena Kennedy,
highlighted the good practice in this area. We do have a significant
number of colleges where more than 70 per cent of students are
from deprived neighbourhoods. In the 1997-98 letter of guidance
from the Secretary of State he set the targets for the recruitment
of what we call high widening participation students, and those
targets have been met and specific funds were allocated for expansion
in those areas. Of course we monitor and benchmark not just against
students in general but also we pick out colleges that have what
we call high widening participation factors, a high proportion
of students from deprived areas. Interestingly, a number of the
colleges that perform well in these tables are precisely those
colleges and, therefore, as we indicated earlier, good practice
is being promulgated. Those colleges that do very well achieve
accredited status or are beacons and are given £50,000 to
disseminate good practice against an agreed programme.
(Sir Michael Bichard) It is worth pointing out, and
looking ahead, that one of the things we were very keen to do
is to place a responsibility on the Learning and Skills Council
to promote equality of opportunity, not just in ethnic minority
communities but right across the piece. They will have a statutory
responsibility which you will be able to monitor them on, which
I think no other statutory body has in quite those terms.
49. I took some reassurance from your last answer,
Sir Michael, on the quality of training teachers themselves and
the pay structure, which is enabling you to help overcome recruitment
problems. What is your prognosis about that now?
(Sir Michael Bichard) One of the things we tried to
do in schools, and we need to do it in colleges too, is to raise
the status of the profession. That is one of the reasons why we
want to ensure that everyone teaching in a college is qualified.
We are taking steps to ensure that that happens pretty quickly
with people coming into the system and we are looking to ensure
that people already in the system are supported in obtaining a
qualification. I am very confident we can make progress there.
We are also trying to provide more pay for the best teachers.
We are in discussions with unions at the moment as to how that
can best be done. We are introducing an additional grade or scale
to encourage the very best teachers to stay in the classroom or
the lecture theatre rather than moving on to administration or
management. We are trying to ensure that we have good teachers
who are well paid and who are encouraged to stay in the lecture
theatre. We also want to root out the teachers who are not good
Mr Griffiths: Thank you.
50. I want to progress along the same sort of
line of questioning, on page 26, paragraph 5.10, the Chairman
mentioned this, and when I read it I got exactly the same sort
of feeling as he did. The information here, if I have interpreted
it correctly, is quite worrying. You must read into it what is
not actually stated. If you read into it it says that something
like 90 per cent of teaching observed was at least satisfactory,
with only 50 per cent of that actually being good. My maths are
not very good, I scraped an O-level and it has not improved since,
so it could well be wrong. That means that 55 per cent of further
education teaching was only satisfactory or unsatisfactory; is
(Sir Michael Bichard) We did not spot there was an
error there and the 50 per cent is incorrect, it should be 62
per cent, and it has now gone up to 64 per cent. It is by no means
as bad as those figures are suggesting.
51. What does it make those figures now?
(Sir Michael Bichard) For the year in question it
should be 62 per cent and not 50 per cent, and it has now gone
up to 64 per cent. We are talking about 10 per cent of teaching
not being to a satisfactory level. We are talking about 36 per
cent of teaching not yet being good or outstanding. We should
not be complacent. I do not think that that is a bad base on which
we can build. It is certainly a huge improvement, I think, on
the position five or 10 years ago.
52. If that was a similar scenario in secondary
education would you be saying the same thing?
(Sir Michael Bichard) We are applying some of the
same approaches in the world of FE that we have applied in teaching.
If you read the most recent OFSTED report on schools you will
find that the number of unsatisfactory lessons has reduced dramatically.
Inevitably there will always be some unsatisfactory lessons. It
is already, in terms of unsatisfactory lessons, pretty low. What
we need to ensure is that the good and the outstanding increases
to nearer 100 per cent.
53. If you read on it says, "In general
staff on part-time contracts account for a significant proportion
of total teaching time and need to bring their work up to standard".
That is not a very good indictment on the standard of teaching
and further education if such a high proportion of part-time teachers
are not delivering the goods.
(Professor David Melville) I think it is important
to note that generally we have been reporting part-time teachers
separately for the last four years, and part-time teachers are
slightly worse in terms of teaching observations than full-time
teachers. That is why we have introduced specific programmes in
the Standards Fund relating to part-time teachers. We put something
like £2 million in last year to the Standards Fund specifically
for supporting improvements.
54. Why has the DfEE not made this a high priority
to ensure that there was a high quality staff regime because we
have all known this has been going on for years and years and
years. We have all known the standard or some teaching in further
education colleges has been pretty poor for years, and yet nothing
seems to have been done about it for years.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I do not accept that at all.
55. Have you been into many further education
(Sir Michael Bichard) Indeed, I have, and my son spent
some time in a further education college, which cannot be said
of every Permanent Secretary, so I have had first hand experience
of such colleges, and I know how important they are. I do not
accept that we have given this a low priority over the last five
years. We have invested very considerable sums of money.
56. I am going back further than five years.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think I can only be held responsible
for the last five years.
57. You are not here to be responsible, you
are hear to answer questions for the department over the last
(Sir Michael Bichard) I am here to be personally responsible
for the last five or six years, because I have been the Accounting
Officer. The whole point of this Committee is to hold the accounting
58. I am afraid, Sir Michael, you are not quite
right on that. The constitutional diction, or whatever that may
be, is that accounting officers are responsible for all preceding
accounting officers. Sometimes we have people here who were not
there at the time of the action we are discussing. Mr Steinberg
(Sir Michael Bichard) That was not, with respect,
the point that was being made. The point that was being made was
that I was not responsible for the last five or six years. The
point I am making is that I consider myself to be responsible
for the last five or six years and I am entirely aware of the
fact I am also held responsible for what went on in the period
before that. The point I want to make is that over the last five
or six years in particular we have taken a lot of action to improve
the quality of further education, and I believe that we have had
some success. If you look at the figures on retention and achievement
over that period of time you will see significant improvements.
59. I will move on to that. When I read the
Report, because of what I read in chapter five it appeared to
me it was no wonder that standards and achievements have not been
all that high if you have a situation where the standard of teaching
has been so low.
(Sir Michael Bichard) We have an independent inspection
process which concludes what 90 per cent of the teaching observed
is satisfactory and 64 per cent of it is now good or outstanding.
I do not think that suggests that we have a system here which
is in serious decline, it is improving.