Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 640-659)



Ms Munn

  640. Like the Chairman, I am also interested to know of the level of consistency there is between yourself and your predecessor on some issues. I am going to ask you the same question I asked your predecessor. To start off, you might find it interesting to note that your top four priorities more or less encompassed your predecessor's five priorities.
  (Mr Miliband) That is rationalisation for you!

  641. You got two into one or thereabouts, so not bad going so far.

  The issue I wanted to concentrate on was the area which has been identified in the Chief Inspector's Report about schools which have got serious weaknesses, and these are the schools which are not identified as failing schools but those which have serious weaknesses, and a concern that those schools were not doing as well as those which were seen as failing schools for whatever reason. I wanted to ask what was your view about that and what you think the Department should be doing to help those particular schools which now appear to be going down hill fast.
  (Mr Miliband) One has to be careful before saying in blanket terms that schools with serious weaknesses are all going downhill fast. I would not associate myself with that. There are three categories which were introduced to me and one obviously is failing schools, where the evidence of schools being brought out of failing status quickly is rather encouraging. You then have what happens to those schools, as you say, with serious weaknesses, which have less of a helping hand from the DfES. Then a third category is schools facing challenging circumstances. Those three categories often overlap and schools move between them. This is a good example where the LEA has an important role in the process of OFSTED examining and where each LEA has a lot to offer. It is clear to me that the LEA has a much bigger role in a school which is in serious weaknesses than one which is doing well. Is there a blanket answer? No. It is about dynamics of population often in relation to each school, it is about what is happening in the LEA. We have the Standards and Effectiveness Unit working on this but I cannot give you an easy answer on this. Sometimes it is about the head, sometimes it is a particular department in a school, et cetera, et cetera.

  642. Moving on from that, because I agree with you on the issue of LEAs taking that issue on, how do you see that interaction where perhaps LEAs are contracting out some of their services and how that happens? Because that is not just the balance of the funding, which Mark was dealing with earlier, between schools and the LEA but perhaps the level of responsibility which the LEAs themselves are retaining and schools are holding on to.
  (Mr Miliband) I am pretty pragmatic about this. It is only in the last ten years we have really had sufficient transparency and detailed data to know which are the schools which are in this twilight category, if you like, of serious weakness. We are learning what works and we have to take the practice that exists, whether it be from LEAs or from some of the companies they are contracted with, and try and spread it, but it is a devil's own job to spread good practice. Everyone talks about it but it is a very difficult thing to do, partly because people have their own way of working and partly because circumstances are different. I wish I could say I have a programme for schools with serious weaknesses but I think that would fall prey to the sort of initiative-itis which we are trying to avoid. We are trying to build systems which reinforce excellence and which tackle under-performance. Those systems are based on division of labour from the centre, intermediate tier and schools themselves. There is scope for more collaboration between schools but we have to keep working on the relatively small number of LEAs where there are a relatively high number of schools with serious weaknesses. I actually went to one which has just got out of serious weaknesses in Liverpool last week and when you look at it, it is not rocket science which is doing it, it is determined leadership, extra funding, high expectations, parental commitment and support. It is an easy recipe to say but it is hard to spread it.

  643. One of the other roles of OFSTED would be to try and look at how the LEAs themselves perform. I do not want to lead you down the road of saying, "Because there are concentrations of serious weaknesses therefore those LEAs are also in serious weakness", but how do you feel you are able to look at managing the process of looking at LEAs where there may be problems, because that in itself may be preventing those schools which have serious weaknesses getting the help and support they need?
  (Mr Miliband) We have now been through a full cycle of LEA inspections by OFSTED, and for the first time ever we have some grip on the situation. With each LEA there is a team from DfES which is working with them to tackle the problem. There are extreme cases which hit the headlines but there is a far wider span of LEAs where there is serious work going on to tackle the areas where there are problems. We have to stick at it, we have to be relentlessly up-beat about our expectations and our demands for what is tolerable in terms of level and support, and where LEAs have serious weaknesses we have to go in and sort it out, and that is increasingly recognised by LEAs. They do not want to defend under-performance, because it is in nobody's interest, because you cannot hide in this new world where data is available. One thing I would say, and it was covered in the last evidence with Stephen Timms, is about value added because that gives us extra texture to see what is happening at the school level, and that is an additional element in our armoury because, as you imply, raw data can mislead as well as inform.


  644. There is sufficient data to suggest that certain categories of pupils under achieve quite dramatically. Off the top of one's head, one thinks of girls from the Moslem community, working class white boys, Caribbean young men. Does it concern you that right across the piece there is this under-achievement? Are we doing enough in terms of research in the Department or research we are commissioning to identify good practice in these particularly difficult categories so we can spread good practice? How active is the Department in that sense?
  (Mr Miliband) The Department is pretty active but you will know better than I that one of the frustrations of academic research is it takes a long time to bear fruit and the lead times on some of the research which goes on make short-term or fast-track policy making difficult. The finely-grained texture of the analysis you have set out which is now possible does make it possible for us to begin to get into those issues in detail. Of course it should concern us if there are particular groups of the population who are under-performers, we then have to diagnose why they are under-performing, and then the even harder task is what we do about it. Of course it is a concern but we are at the stage of just getting the finely-grained analysis, we now have to move on to diagnosis. What is different about that? We know, for example, and we are having an Adjournment Debate on this tomorrow—a small plug if you want to participate—about education in cities and we know there are particular demands on educating pupils in cities. We now know there are particular issues relating to particular groups in the population and we have to get in and find out what are the drivers to under-performance there and if we can do something about it. I would say we are still at the stage of pinpointing what those drivers are.

Mr Chaytor

  645. Minister, four years ago the Government were arguing what mattered was standards and not structures, and this morning the Secretary of State has announced a programme of structural reform over the next ten years which completely reverses that. How do you explain that change?
  (Mr Miliband) I do not think it does reverse it. I think what she is saying, and she addressed this head on, is that there are structural issues as well as standards issues. She picked out literacy and numeracy as being the primary standards issue. No matter what school you are, you have to have a programme in there to give every child not just the basics, which is the rather derogatory way of saying what is happening in primary schools, but the tools so they can read and write and count well. On the big standards issue we did not think there was a structural answer to that. Now what we are seeing in the Department is the Department pursuing a standards track and a structural track, if you like, especially as we move on to the secondary level. I said at the beginning, we must not think "primary schools are done" because, just to take a small point, the performance of the 25 per cent of those children who are not reaching Level 4 at primary school is a big influence on what happens on the behaviour and motivation in secondary level.

  646. So the slogan is now standards and structures?
  (Mr Miliband) As you know, we are always wary about slogans, but we want to operate on both tracks, yes.

  647. Six months ago we were praising our teachers in schools for their achievement in the OECD PISA survey. Most of us were surprised at how well we did in comparison to some countries that we assumed were better. Again this morning, the Secretary of State said the whole system over the last 30 years has shown serious weaknesses. How can we move so quickly from praising our achievements six months ago in a professional context and again this morning saying the assumptions of the last 30 years must be changed?
  (Mr Miliband) There is only a problem if you caricature what we were saying six months ago as everything is good and caricature what we are saying today as everything is bad. What was actually said six months ago is let us be proud of what our teachers and the school workforce are doing and the pupils are doing relative to other countries but let us not be satisfied. Proud but not satisfied is not a bad approach. That is a reasonable thing to say. What the Secretary of State is saying today is that there has been enormous progress in 30 years but let us not hide ourselves from the fact that there is too much under achievement and we should be zealous in trying to tackle that. It is hard to get the message right but if anyone can, Estelle Morris can. She has got a way of communicating an authenticity and a commitment to the people that really matter—the teachers and head teachers and support staff in schools. They know where she is coming from which is high expectations and belief in those kids. That gives her a special place to be able to give messages that we all know are true but sometimes avoid saying as well as messages saying we are not all doing well.

  648. In terms of the future direction of policy, are we taking particular lessons from the countries that tended to do slightly better than we did in the PISA study?
  (Mr Miliband) I think that is a really good point. It is something I feel strongly, that government—and this is not a party political point, it is just a general point—


  649. Are all the other points party political points?
  (Mr Miliband) I just want to reinforce the point I am making.

  650. Carry on. We have to have some levity in this Committee.
  (Mr Miliband) I will try and provide some. We do not take foreign examples seriously enough. We do not take examples nearer to home seriously enough. Scotland has some different traditions and different ways of doing things and we should take some examples from them. We do not look down at our own feet, although we are better at this now because the literacy and numeracy strategy was based on what schools were doing and the key stage three strategy was based on what schools were doing. We have always got to do a better job of looking abroad, especially in an area like 14 to 19s for example. Having said that, the angst that has been created in other countries as a result of the PISA study means that they are not going to be standing still, they are going to be reforming like crazy to try and catch up with us. We have got to be conscious not to copy what they are doing now; we have got to think about where they are going to be heading.

  651. Is there another country that is going down the route of 100 per cent specialist schools for secondary education?
  (Mr Miliband) I trespass into territory where I am not an expert. I have seen some Dutch and some German schools that have really done a lot in this area. I was talking to the Swedish Education Minister (and the Social Democrats often gets things more right than wrong) and he was saying the Swedes want to push in this direction big time, more at 14-plus, if I remember. There is a growing recognition that a combination of breadth and depth can be achieved. If you give a school a clear sense of direction and commitment you can get a lot more out of both the teaching staff and the pupils.

Jeff Ennis

  652. Going back to the theme of raising attainment in deprived areas, the Government have introduced a number of very sensible initiatives like education action zones. I sit on the governing body of a secondary school in Barnsley which I have sat on for 20 years and the 5 GSCEs pass rate has gone up from 25 per cent to 35 per cent last year, which is one of the education action zone schools in Barnsley. We have also had the implementation of initiatives such as the education maintenance allowance in Barnsley and Doncaster which has increased the staying on rate by five or six per cent in both authorities. Is it the intention of the Department, for example, to roll out the EMAs not just to lucky areas such as Barnsley and Doncaster but to other deprived areas in the country as a whole?
  (Mr Miliband) We are looking at it. That is the official position. We are waiting for the data to come in. When one is spending a lot of money one has always got to look at cost and opportunity cost. We have got to do that on the basis of clear data about participation and attainment and how much bang for that particular buck versus the bang for another buck. I am impressed by what you say about how it has motivated young people in your constituency.

  653. Coming from a former coal mining area we inherited a legacy of children leaving school as early as possible in previous decades to work down the pits, etcetera, which is no longer applicable. I feel that one of the main problems in both increasing the staying on rates and, indeed, for children in areas moving on to university is peer pressure and the fact there is no history of students in some of the schools I am referring to in Barnsley and Doncaster going on into higher education. What can the Government do to break the peer pressure that is on kids that stops them moving up the educational ladder?


  654. That is an easy one for you, Minister!
  (Mr Miliband) You are very acute in pin-pointing a culture of dropping out rather than a culture of staying on and attaining.

Jeff Ennis

  655. This is exacerbated, of course, by the success of the New Deal for young people—
  (Mr Miliband) Although that is 18 to 25.

  656. Yes.
  (Mr Miliband) The dropping out culture, especially in my constituency where we have two or three generations unemployed, is caused because you do not have the role models at home in too many cases and you do not have the sense that education can make it for you. Of course it is hard. What can we do about it? The biggest predictor of staying on is how you do in secondary school. Kids who are doing well are more likely to stay on. That is why there is no substitute for higher standards in motivation and attainment at secondary school. Secondly, I think you are right, that out of school pressure and out of school provision is absolutely critical to what happens in school. There is this book Nine Thousand Hours which calculated how many hours kids spend in their school lives by age 16 but that is dwarfed by the number of hours they spend out of school. There are all sorts of things as to what provision is there and what pressure is on them, etcetera, that we cannot do anything about. We can do more on provision, as I indicated. There is one other thing I think is important. What is the answer to negative peer pressure? It is high expectations fundamentally. How do you start off a culture of high expectations? I think that universities have got a big role to play in this. We do not talk much about the role of universities in raising school standards. It is slightly to go off piste and I do not know if I am meant to be talking about this, but to me that seems like a big resource for us. Some of our lowest performing and some of our toughest areas for schooling with some of these entrenched cultures and low motivation sit side by side with some of our best higher education institutions and our finest research establishments. The question is how are we using the latter to help the former? It can work in many ways. It can work through mentoring by under-graduates of young people in schools. I gather that Teesside University are doing this for all Middlesbrough school children, which is a fantastic thing. I have to check the facts but they have certainly got a big mentoring programme. It is about using university facilities out of term. That is an exciting prospect. It is about summer schools for kids especially those from families who have never had any experience of university, to go and spend a week or two weeks at the age of 13 or 14 in an enjoyable and high prestige learning environment. That is a fantastic thing to do. In my own constituency we are trying to get higher education institutions to set up an annex in South Shields because we want to bring that culture of high expectations and all that university life means to places that too often write off the possibility of going to university. It is a bit early for me to pursue this, but this is something I want to come back to. I think it is really important.

  657. I am very encouraged by that reply. Changing the subject slightly, the Government has been very successful but we have got a big problem still in schools with recruitment and retention. In the first period of office we have been very successful in introducing a number of very successful recruitment campaigns like the "golden hello", but we have been less successful with the retention figures and I certainly feel the retention of teachers is one of the major problems we still have in the schools system in this country. Why have we not been as successful in retention problems as we have in recruitment problems and what do we need to do to redress the balance?
  (Mr Miliband) You basically are right. One reason is it is very competitive out there, we are living in a very, very competitive labour market where people are more willing to change careers regularly, and a taste of teaching for three, four, five, six years can seem a perfectly normal part of a graduate's life. So it is competitive. There is also no point in hiding it, in particular parts of the country there are cost pressures, and it is interesting in London and the South East we have made some of the greatest strides on the recruitment side, the biggest improvements have been on recruitment, and we now have to translate that into retention. On retention, I think this teacher reform, the reform of the workforce, is a big way to get into the retention issue. People develop a sense of vocation and they want to play to that and we have to make sure that their working lives are not cluttered up with all the things which they were not trained for. Estelle Morris calls it a remodelling of the school workforce, and if we can get that right we can end up tackling the retention issue by addressing the professionalism issue. Teachers' pay has now gone up by I think 30 per cent in the last five years. I think we have to have a relatively subtle analysis of this, it is not just pay, it is about status and time on task and what teachers are doing while at school which gives them reward and motivation. If more teachers have the experience of that teacher I mentioned in the North West—being told, "She helped change my life"—that is what makes people stay in teaching in the end, and that is why this remodelling process is very important for the retention issue.


  658. Minister, just to finish, you made a very good speech to the Secondary Heads' Association very shortly after your appointment. Under the "Investment for Reform" section, you talked about, "Reform is about finishing programmes not starting them, and piling in behind successful programmes so we get the full benefit of them." In response to Jeff Ennis's earlier question, and we all understand paying for your buck and bang which gives added value, but even governments are fashionable—
  (Mr Miliband) I hope so still!

  659.—and we look at programmes coming in and out of fashion and we maintain our loyalty to Sure Start, for example. We thought Sure Start when we looked at our Early Years Inquiry was making a very significant effort in breaking through that cycle of deprivation, poverty and low expectation, and one does have to ask you where you are with priorities. There is a lot of evidence in now that Sure Start is very good value for money, it is a good investment and ought to be rolled out. In the same sense I would also include the EMAs because there is growing evidence EMAs work. Indeed, some people gave evidence to our inquiry into Higher Education that something which sounds like a medical condition, HEMA—the Higher Education Maintenance Allowance—could be a seamless way of keeping those young people from poorer families in education and through into higher education. In a sense what I am saying to you and we are saying to you as a Committee is, part of our job is to maintain our loyalty to products through fashion, and what we will be asking you to come back to talk to us about is where is Sure Start.
  (Mr Miliband) Good, is basically what I say. My reading of Sure Start is that one of the reasons it has been successful in the areas it has been tried is that there has been real focus on the details of getting the partnerships right. It has been a quality not quantity approach. I would be wary of judging Sure Start by how much of the country it covers because my fear is that will set up all sorts of incentives which say, "The most important thing is how big is the red blanket across the country", not, "How much difference is it making". On Sure Start, for specialist schools, for other things, there are quite high hurdles which have to be passed before the money is released. On the one hand, that means some people are frustrated, on the other hand it means there is more chance of success when the roll out does happen. So I would say, keep up the focus on the programmes you know work but also keep up the insistence that we do not succumb to a short-term hit and say, "Everybody can have it", keep saying, "We are going to roll it out where we are convinced that conditions on the ground mean it will really deliver to the people we care about." That would be my answer to you.

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