Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Christopher Price (OFS 02)

  I understand from the LGA that you would be interested in issues to raise with OFSTED. I attach a letter I recently wrote on behalf of the Commission to the chief executive of OFSTED in the hope that he might collect information about the pattern of the school year in the OFSTED visits to gauge whether it has an influence on either standards of either pupils' attainment or school management generally.

  If there is an opportunity to do so, I hope the Committee might be able to raise this issue.

September 2002


Letter from Christopher Price to David Bell, HM Chief Inspector, OFSTED

  My Commission is about to issue its 2002 report on recommendations for term and holiday dates in 2004-05. I append a paragraph about our objectives and part of a later one on consultations. I also enclose a copy of our first report in September 2000.


  The objectives the Commission was seeking in making its recommendations are:

    —  Raising educational standards and assisting pupils and their teachers, through

    1.  The avoidance of stress. All those we consulted agreed that excessively long terms induced stress and absences from school among both teachers and pupils. Our proposals for a longer holiday in late October and for ensuring that no term lasts more than around seven weeks are designed to achieve a reduction in stress and are based on the experience of schools which have already adopted a similar pattern. We brought forward evidence about patterns of teacher stress in our September 2000 report. We are encouraged to note that the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) has set up a Teacher Data and Research Forum, whose primary purpose is to enable key stakeholder groups to share data on the teacher labour force and is convening a Retention Forum to explore what more can be done to help teachers fulfil their professional aspirations and remain in teaching; we hope that out of these initiatives research data on term time sensitive aspects of the incidence of teacher sickness, absence from school and stress may emerge so that the results can inform future reports.

    2.  A better environment for planning and managing the curriculum and assessment. All schools which have abandoned the three term framework and opted for more, shorter "terms" (whether five or six) testify to the benefits which this new pattern has brought to pupils' learning, teachers' planning and the school's ability to manage both the curriculum and assessment more successfully and coherently. It is significant that none of the new `academies' currently being launched have opted for a conventional three term year.

    —  Improving the transition between the stages of education, especially the transition from school to higher education (Post Qualification Application, PQA). The recent widespread debate about the future of A level has highlighted the recommendation of the Commission that PQA be implemented. This issue is currently with Universities UK (UUK). The Commission recommends that the Secretary of State indicates her intention as soon as possible to investigate in detail the feasibility of PQA and use her powers to fix the timing of public examinations to make PQA possible.

    —  An element of standardisation and predictability for parents as well as teachers. We are seeking to establish a framework within which differences in term dates between LEAs and schools are minimised and reasonable advance notice can be given to parents and teachers of both the beginning and end dates of each term and the incidence of any training days within them when pupils will not be attending school.

    —  The Commission, however, does not believe that `one size fits all'. It is seeking a national framework, not a straightjacket. It is aware that a pattern which applies to primary schools may not exactly suit secondary schools and that local traditions, social mix, practices about teachers' professional development and the demand for particular faith holidays will produce variations; it has offered flexibility guidelines to cover these factors."


  During 2001-02 the Commission and LGA officers have kept in contact with a number of national bodies with an interest in the school year, including:

    —  Ministers and officials in DfES. The Chair of the Commission has made representations about the legal environment in which LEAs operate and roles which DfES and OFSTED might play in any general move towards standardisation within a pattern of shorter `terms'. If progress is made with these representations, further reports will be issued."

  I had a discussion with David Miliband earlier this month about the possibility of OFSTED considering school term and holiday arangements in so far as they have an impact upon:

    —  Pupil and teacher stress and sickness

    —  Effective school management

  in its assessment of standards.

  I do not know whether or not you have had any contact with DfES on this. In 2000 when I talked to your research department, I was told that a search of OFSTED reports for "school terms and holidays" and "school year" produced no results whatsoever.

  What has struck me most about visits to schools over the past three years, is that those schools, like the original CTCs and a couple of foundation schools, which had the powers to reorganise the school year and use them, abandoned the traditional configuration of the school year by dividing it up into smaller, more manageable units and encountered often spectacular improvements in achievement, morale and attendance and a comparable decline in stress and sickness. The teachers I spoke to all attributed this to the structure of the five term year or six term year which they had adopted rather than any advantage in resources which they had received. But this is anecdotal. Some measured investigation of the phenomenon would be helpful to see whether anecdote is supported by harder evidence.

  I note that the LGA has been asked by the House of Commons Select Committee for ideas in advance of your appearance before it in October. (I chaired the Committee 20 years ago when it was concerned with surprisingly similar issues.) We will be asking the Select Committee to raise with you the pattern of the year in the context of standards, stress and management.

  Our report is due to be issued on 27 September. I hope you and your colleagues find this information helpful. If you or they would like to discuss it with me, I would be happy to find time to do so.

18 September 2002

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