Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 123)



Paul Holmes

  120. In the Education Journal, you wrote an article about `Transforming secondary education' and one of the things you were saying was that, because A-level results are going up, GCSE results are going up and our 15 year olds did very well in the PISA study, this shows that Government policy to transform education is working. Now I started teaching in 1979, and throughout the 20 years that I was involved A-level results were going up steadily; before 1988 O-level CSE results were going up, after 1988 GCSE results have been going up, so they have all been going up steadily for 20 years. The emphasis of Government policy up till now has been on infant and junior schools, and the Secretary of State has said that you have just started on secondary education, but the 15 year olds in the PISA study had left infant and junior school before the Government reforms really started, before the Numeracy and Literary Strategy, for example. So does not the success in the PISA study and the constant rise of A-level and GCSE results over the last 20 years show that schools have actually been doing pretty well, in improvement terms, despite various Governments, rather than because of various Governments?
  (Mr Normington) It is really important for me, as a civil servant, for you to understand precisely what I was doing in the Education Journal. What that is is a largely unedited version of the speech that I gave to the Secondary Heads Association, when I was saying to the heads, `look how good your performance has been.' I was not talking specifically about successes and failings of Government policy. It was actually a message to the schools about precisely the point you make, which is, "There is a lot of success here, why don't you recognise it, why doesn't this conference start cheering about that success and being a bit more positive?" That was one of the strong messages that I was putting over. I then went on to analyse some of the data, which showed where there were problems. And I never started my story in 1997.

  121. I would applaud that message, but you do say specifically, for example, that the results of PISA study research "provide the best evidence we have that investment in education is yielding excellent returns." But investment in education has only really started to increase in the last two to three years; the children in the PISA study obviously had their education very much prior to that?
  (Mr Normington) That is true, I did say that, I think that some of that is true, but I agree with you that the performance had started improving before that.


  122. Some experts argue that the independent sector makes a very big contribution to our PISA successes; is that right?
  (Mr Normington) I think the independent sector is in there, but I do not think that is the whole story, because I think you can see the improvement in the state sector.

  123. Mr Normington, Dr Thompson, it has been a pleasure having you in front of the Committee. You have had a long session; thank you for that. We have learned a lot, and I hope you have not found the experience too painful. We hope to have you back, with a shorter interval between than the last time we saw you. There are two or three specific things that we did not cover, which you may be amazed to hear; if we could write to you and get a reply, that would be most appreciated.
  (Mr Normington) I will happily do that, yes.

  Chairman: Thank you for your attendance.

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