Examination of Witness (Questions 640-659)|
MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002
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
(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
(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 tomorrowa small plug if you want to participateabout
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.
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 matterthe 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 governmentand this
is not a party political point, it is just a general point
649. Are all the other points party political
(Mr Miliband) I just want to reinforce the point I
650. Carry on. We have to have some levity in
(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
(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.
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
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
655. This is exacerbated, of course, by the
success of the New Deal for young people
(Mr Miliband) Although that is 18 to 25.
(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 Westbeing 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
(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, HEMAthe Higher Education Maintenance
Allowancecould 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.