Select Committee on Education and Skills Fourth Special Report




Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from

the Minister for School Standards

I am responding to the Committee's Second Report of Session 2001­02, Standards and Quality in Education: The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools for 2000­01, which was published on 30 April. I understand that HM Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, is responding on behalf of OFSTED.

The HMCI appointment process

The recent appointment of David Bell as HMCI followed a widely publicised open competition which, for reasons of transparency, was run in accordance with the guidance of the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The recruitment process was consistent with previous Government statements on this matter and fully reflected the principles of ministerial accountability and selection on merit, which were highlighted in the Government's response to the Education & Employment Select Committee's Fourth Report of 1998­99. We believe that those principles should remain the key elements of the appointment system for public bodies.

On the recommendation of the Secretary of State, David Bell was appointed as HMCI from 1 May 2002 to April 2007, by Order in Council. The details of future selection arrangements will be determined when the need next arises, but at this stage the Government has not seen the need for significant changes to the process.

Pupil behaviour and attendance

We are keen to support the many schools, LEAs and other agencies that are working hard to improve school attendance and, in particular, to encourage a multi­agency approach to addressing non­attendance. For example, we launched a pack of good practice case studies at the recent 'Tackling it together' conference, held in April, which includes examples of partnership working to increase attendance and reduce youth crime; guidelines on truancy sweeps; the protocol developed by the DfES in collaboration with Police representatives for developing relationships with the Police; and a summary of the Cabinet Office's recent report on privacy and data sharing.

We recognise that, as children's first educators and most enduring role models, it is important for parents to take a positive role in their children's education, acting in partnership with teachers and schools to give children the best possible chance of success. All schools are required to have a home­school agreement, which parents must be invited to sign. This should make clear that pupils are expected to follow the school's rules and that parents will support the school in maintaining good behaviour and discipline.

There are now 3,000 Learning Mentors working in schools as part of Excellence in Cities. They have an important role in securing good relations between school and home, fostering a positive attitude to learning on the part of parents and families, and helping them to support their children. Early feedback suggests that Learning Mentors are forging these productive relationships and we are encouraged by accounts of pro­active and innovative partnership work including attendance campaigns, and homework and breakfast clubs.

We plan to extend the availability of Parenting Orders to cases involving a pattern of exclusions for unruly behaviour. The Orders require the parents to attend counselling or guidance sessions on managing their child's challenging behaviour more effectively.

We are also currently reviewing the existing penalties for parents who collude in pupil non­attendance as part of the strategy to address street crime, and are considering a range of options including the removal of child benefit from parents who consistently fail in their responsibilities and the further development of existing sanctions such as Parenting Orders.

The DfES is represented on the steering group of a new research project that has been commissioned by the National Children's Bureau and the Local Government Association on the effectiveness of prosecution in cases of non­attendance. We look forward to reviewing the results in autumn 2003.

We recognise the importance of achieving a balance between sanctions for parents who ignore their responsibilities and support for those who are trying to improve their child's attendance and behaviour. We are offering £66 million of funding to targeted local education authorities to pilot our long­term strategy on improving behaviour and attendance. This will include Behaviour and Education Support Teams which will draw together under a clear management structure the full range of specialist support including key workers for vulnerable young people and their families.

Teacher recruitment and retention

We believe that our recruitment and retention incentives strike the right balance between providing incentives to enter the profession and the need to retain those already working as teachers. Our recruitment initiatives are both necessary and well targeted, and have contributed to the reversal of an eight­year decline in recruitment to initial teacher training. There are more teachers in schools today that at any time since 1982 and we want to do all we can to encourage good teachers to stay in the profession.

In March this year, we announced a £44 million recruitment and retention fund available to schools where the high cost of living can make it harder to attract and keep the best teachers. This fund, which comes on top of the £33 million made available for last year, can for example be used to help with travel, housing and childcare costs and retention awards.

We have also established a Teacher Retention Project which aims to encourage schools, LEAs and other key stakeholders such as the Teacher Training Agency, General Teaching Council and the National College for School Leadership to work in partnership to identify, develop and disseminate good practice in redressing retention difficulties. The Project has also funded, and is working closely with, a newly created Unit within the Government Office for London, which has a specific remit of looking at teacher recruitment and retention issues within London.

We recognise that teachers' pay is a key element in retaining those already in the profession and have accepted the recommendations of the independent School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) and implemented an above­inflation increase of 3.5 per cent on all teachers' pay scales and allowances. The STRB's recommendation of a shortened pay spine was a specific response to retention issues and the problem of teacher wastage in the early years of teaching. The number of spine points on the main scale will reduce from nine to six, from September. The effect of this will be larger annual increases for teachers on the main scale and a reduction in the time taken for many teachers to become eligible to apply for the threshold assessment.

As the Committee are aware, OFSTED published a report on the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) on 31 January 2002. The report, which was welcomed by the Government, contained many positive findings about the programme. However, it also suggested that training activities could add more value for trainees. The Government had reached a similar conclusion before the report was published and that is why the Secretary of State asked the Teacher Training Agency last summer to design a reformed GTP with additional measures to reduce bureaucracy and reinforce quality. A working party, which included OFSTED representation, was set up, and produced recommendations for new GTP arrangements to take effect from this September.

Teacher Workload

We remain committed to reducing bureaucratic burdens on the school workforce and would welcome OFSTED's evaluation of initiatives aimed at reducing teacher workload.

We welcome the recent report on teacher workload by the School Teachers' Review Body and recognise that it has important things to say about how we might raise standards whilst also taking firm action on workload. We are currently consulting on the principles contained in the recommendations and will issue a formal response later in the year.

A joint DfES / Cabinet Office project team is considering workload issues in secondary schools and has visited 40 schools and 15 LEAs as part of its investigations. We have been very encouraged by the comments and feedback freely given by teachers and support staff. The final report is due for publication in September.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, in their Teacher Workload Study, recommended that guidance for schools should be developed on "fit for purpose" planning. At present, the DfES is exploring possibilities for producing such guidance with OFSTED and the QCA.

We are currently seeking further ways to simplify education funding through the review of the local government finance system and the Education Bill currently being considered by Parliament.

From April 2003, each local education authority's education standard spending assessment will include a school funding assessment, which separately identifies the amount for spending on school children. There are also proposals in the Bill to give the Secretary of State a reserve power to set the level of the total schools' budget in an individual local education authority.

We are taking forward the commitment contained in the Local Government White Paper: Strong Local Leadership ­ Quality Public Services, to reduce the amount of ring­fenced funding for schools. In addition, there are provisions in the Bill for a new single grant­making power for the Secretary of State to enable us to bring together the existing grant funding streams into a simpler system.

Taken together, these changes will ensure that the money allocated to schools by the Government reaches them and that schools are better able to identify the total amount available to them.

Supply teachers

Supply agencies are regulated under the Employment Act 1973 and its associated Regulations, which require agencies to assure the personal and professional suitability of individuals before they are engaged as supply teachers. Compliance with the Regulations is overseen by a dedicated inspectorate and revised Regulations are proposed by the Department for Trade and Industry.

We have introduced a voluntary Quality Mark to be awarded to agencies that demonstrate good practice in the recruitment and development of supply teachers and in relations with schools. This will provide headteachers with an indicator by which to assess agencies. We intend to keep under review the potential involvement of OFSTED in respect of teacher supply agencies.

We recognise the importance of high quality supply teaching and there are a number of strands of work designed to support this. As well as publishing internet guidance for schools on making best use of supply teachers, including shared training, we plan to support agencies in addressing the continuing professional development requirements of supply teachers through a set of dedicated self­study materials and specific Key Stage 3 training materials. The Learning and Skills Council has also joined with Hays Education to develop a professional qualification for supply teachers, which will initially cover some 2,000 teachers.

Specialist Schools

We welcome OFSTED's report, Specialist Schools: An evaluation of progress, which was published in October 2001, and in particular, the illustrations of good practice in relation to the community programme which it provides. Copies of the report have been sent to existing specialist schools and are being sent to newly designated schools. They are also available for applicant schools.

We believe that our current assessment practice reflects the Committee's concern about the importance of the community element of the specialist schools programme.

There are four components in the assessment of an application for re­designation: progress in relation to the community plan; progress in relation to the school plan; a new four year community development plan; and a new four year school development plan.

Taken together, the two community elements in the assessment carry equal weight with the two school elements. Failure to meet the objectives and targets of the original community plan or to produce a new plan of sufficient scope or ambition may result in a school not being re­designated. However, if the deficiency is fairly modest, a school may be given the opportunity to strengthen the plans or may be set specific conditions for re­designation.

Many existing specialist schools are located in socially and economically deprived areas and serve such communities. Our arrangements for supporting schools in raising sponsorship are designed to help schools in such circumstances whenever possible. The Technology Colleges Trust (TCT) and Youth Sport Trust are grant­aided to help schools raise sponsorship. The TCT provides a booklet on the subject and itself raises substantial sums, on a national basis, for allocation to schools. These allocations must conform with any requirements set out by the sponsors, but such requirements may help schools in deprived areas e.g. by stating that the money is to be used in support of inner city schools. Where there is freedom to do so, the TCT keeps in mind local socio­economic conditions as well as the efforts made by the school to raise sponsorship, in making allocations.

This year's revised guidance for specialist school applicants reduces the sponsorship requirement for small schools, i.e. those with less than 500 pupils, with the requirement set at the equivalent of £100 per pupil, and a minimum of £20,000. More than 200 schools will be eligible to benefit from this change, many of them in rural or inner city locations. We shall continue to look more generally at the relative difficulty of raising sponsorship and will make further changes as appropriate.

Further Education

Inspection of education for 16 to 19 year olds in colleges has an important place in our strategy for improving quality, raising standards and increasing participation in post 16 learning.

Local Education Authority Inspections

We recognise the importance of effective partnership between council services and have ensured that the contractual arrangements for outsourced education services take this issue into account. We have also appointed consultants to undertake an independent evaluation of new organisational models in LEAs. This will include an examination of outsourced education services, including their relationships with other council services.

David Miliband

24 June 2002

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