Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. So the Tomlinson regime will be marked by a difference in tone and texture and style rather than fundamental content?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Certainly, the first part, I hope. The second part, I think it all depends upon what you regard as radical. I think that, as a result of the consultation and decisions made, we will bring changes to the system, which I believe will be welcomed by the profession at large, and will bring a different form of inspection regime than we have got now. Whether that is considered radical, I do not know.

  61. You know that, Chief Inspector, much of the change in tone and content this Committee rather welcomes, but we do want to make sure that you are still in there, fighting for what you believe in, vis-a"-vis the Department. Can you tell us of any major disagreement you have had with the Department in terms of what you have wanted to change?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I have not had any major disagreements with the Department in terms of what I wanted to achieve, not in terms of the inspection; there are things that I want to do that will have to wait for time and data. If you want an example, I am very frustrated by the fact that we do not have the data which allows us to move to value added information for schools, and notably to have that at a level which enables us to talk about the achievements of schools with different groups of pupils. It seems to me crucial that we have that, that we can celebrate, for example, through that information, the tremendous work that some schools do with pupils with special educational needs, as an example, or pupils from particular ethnic groups where they are successful; whereas aggregating it, at the moment, hides all of that and does not help. So I am frustrated, but that is not with the Department, it is frustration that we have not got the data yet. So there are things which I want to move forward on, and will.

  62. But, Chief Inspector, let us push you just on one particular thing. The Government has announced a large expansion, it has already given the resources, but a further, large expansion, in terms of the number of classroom assistants that can be available. Now, in terms of your inspection, do you look at the role of classroom assistant, do you evaluate it and see what kind of classroom assistant help most liberates the teacher to do the job that they should be doing?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes, we do, and we have a piece of work being done by HMI at the moment which is looking at the role of classroom assistants. I am hoping that we may, indeed, publish an interim report, early in the new year, on our findings. That will be continuing, as we follow through further work in the schools that we are visiting.

  63. But you have been inspecting schools for a long time; are classroom assistants a great benefit to schools, or not?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes, they are.

  64. And we need more of them?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes, they are, as long as they are well managed in the schools and used in an appropriate and proper way; that does not always happen in all our schools, unfortunately. But, yes, they are a valuable resource. It is also interesting that, wherever a classroom assistant is involved with a teacher, actually, the quality of teaching in that classroom, as a whole, is better than when there is not a classroom assistant.

  65. Have you seen any evidence of `pig ignorant' adults working in this role?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No. I have seen an awful lot of very skilled, very dedicated, very talented adults, who really do take their job very, very seriously and do make a significant contribution to the school, and within the community a significant contribution about the school and its work; it is a two-way process. And many heads say to me, `some of these people would make excellent teachers, if the opportunity were available to them to move through to become teachers.'

  66. So you would condemn any description of classroom assistants in those terms?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes, I would. I would not think that it is the appropriate language to describe any group of people

  Chairman: I think all the members of this Committee would agree with you. Shall we move on now, I think we have finished with school inspection for the moment, but we can come back, to having a look at 16-19 inspection, in particular, and I realise you have got a talented team here, and Judith Phillips and David Taylor have not said a word yet, so we hope you can bring them in as well, and I will ask John to open the batting on this one.

Mr Baron

  67. Just very quickly. The Association of Colleges stated that 6-12 weeks' notice of an inspection is a very difficult timescale for colleges to meet, in the light of the data demands that are made on them. Are you considering the introduction of short or light-touch inspections for further education colleges?
  (Mr Taylor) The two parts of the question do not seem to relate very closely to each other. The first part is about notice of inspection, the second is about the nature of inspection. On the notice of inspection, we have already, in the case of some very large colleges, and I will remind you that we have colleges with multimillion-pound budgets operating on as many as 90 different sites, that 12 weeks was imposing exactly the kind of pressure that you have described; the AoC have talked to us about it and we have agreed to an extension, where that is appropriate, to 16 weeks for those colleges. On the nature of the inspection, we were committed, when we took over the responsibility for college inspections, to introducing a new and rigorous and comprehensive system, and that is what we are doing. We are currently talking both to the AoC and other bodies about how, within that commitment, we can continue to work on reducing the burden of inspection, in the same ways that we are trying to do on the schools side. So I think both of those concerns are ones which we are trying to meet head on.

  68. Do you think the introduction of short or light-touch inspections will reduce, in many respects, the demands on further education colleges, in preparation for that inspection?
  (Mr Taylor) If, when we have completed the first round of the current full inspections, which we only began in the summer, we have evidence that enables us to move to a lighter regime, we will clearly want to do that, as soon as possible. But, having set up the system, which was that all inspections should be on a similar basis, so that we had, if you like, a fresh, Domesday survey of all colleges, through inspection, then we cannot really move to a different model within that first cycle, without changing the ground rules.

  69. So do a full-scale inspection first, to draw the map, so to speak, and then take it from there?
  (Mr Taylor) Yes.


  70. Did you call it a Domesday inspection?
  (Mr Taylor) Yes; the word Domesday has nothing to do with doom, in the sense of doom and gloom, it has to do with a comprehensive mapping.

  71. I think any of us who know a little bit about that period of history would recognise that, Mr Taylor, but I think it is really unfortunate to use it in the present context.
  (Mr Taylor) That is why I stressed that doom and gloom was not the nature of it at all.

Mr Shaw

  72. You are responsible for the overarching 14-19 year old area, the inspection, so if we take a particular community, and you have got FE colleges, and you have got sixth-form colleges, sixth-forms in schools, who is responsible, is it the Learning and Skills Council, is it the further education colleges themselves, is it the particular institutions; so where does the responsibility lie, where are the reporting lines? I can envisage some bureaucratic problems here; do you agree?
  (Mr Taylor) I think it needs very precise definition, which we have not yet arrived at. The introduction of the Learning and Skills Council brought a significant change in the funding arrangements for further education, and the creation of 47 local Learning and Skills Councils has meant that we need to work very closely with those Councils to define precisely the territory of inspectorates and of those local agencies which have a quality assurance as well as a funding responsibility. What we see is that inspection acts, if you like, as the trigger to the local Learning and Skills Council's follow-up action, based on the outcomes of inspection, and we are developing the kind of arrangements which we hope will make that work in as unbureaucratic a way as possible, though we recognise that there are a number of concerns around at the moment.

  73. Do you see yourselves inspecting the Learning and Skills Councils?
  (Mr Taylor) No, we do not have that remit.
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, we do not.

  74. Do you see yourselves commenting on what the Learning and Skills Council are commissioning?
  (Mr Taylor) Indirectly, we are bound to, obviously; if the LSC decides to fund certain courses—

  75. Because Mr Tomlinson was talking earlier about employers, in taking account of the wider stakeholders, it seems to me quite important; if the Learning and Skills Council are getting it completely wrong and asking the colleges to put on all these courses, for which there are no employment opportunities, the local employers are saying, `it's absolutely rubbish, we need plumbers, we don't need hairdressers,' etc., you would be commenting on that?
  (Mr Taylor) That is what I meant by indirect comment; we would comment not on the LSC policy but whether the courses which were being provided were good quality courses and were meeting the needs of the students. The focus of the college inspection is on the individual student and what is provided for that student; if the courses that are being funded are not meeting that student's needs, we shall say so, loud and clear.


  76. Chief Inspector, your predecessor once said that, when he heard me describe his style as that of a witch-finder general, he was so shocked he had to drive off the motorway onto the hard shoulder and think about life. What did you think when you heard John Harwood suggest that up to 40 per cent of FE provision was not very good; did you drive off the road and have to think about that?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I did not drive off the road, for the simple reason I was not on the road.

Mr Chaytor

  77. But would you have driven off the road, if you had been on it?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I try not to answer hypothetical questions.


  78. We try to have continuity in this Committee.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I realise you are, yes, I noticed it more than once today, yes. I think that, as far as I was concerned, the first question inevitably that comes to my mind is, well, we need to look at the evidence for that statement. I am firmly fixed to the view that, the role that I occupy, when I speak it should be capable of being backed up by clear and firm inspection evidence. John, of course, in fairness to him, did subsequently expand on that view, in an article, and laid out the data that he had inherited from the FEFC, which enabled him, he felt, to make those statements. And it was not that he thought that that was the proportion of colleges, but, indeed, those colleges which had at least one area within them which was regarded as less than satisfactory. But my first thought, when I hear anything like that, is, `well, I hope there's sound evidence for that,' and I would like to see it, and that was the only thought that I would put. But, in fairness to John, he has subsequently laid out the evidence, and indeed corrected the interpretation of what he said away from the concept of the college as a whole to the sum of the areas within a college which may be less than satisfactory.

  79. It is very refreshing for this Committee to hear you say that you are going to base things on the facts as you discover them, and that is very welcome.
  (Mr Taylor) May we clarify just one point. Two of the first five colleges inspected in the summer term were judged inadequate; that is 40 per cent of those five colleges. We made it clear, at the time and on several occasions subsequently, that we do not believe that is a representative figure, and the evidence we are collecting this term will show a much lower proportion of unsatisfactory colleges, but the kind of figure that Mike has just been talking about, for colleges where at least one curriculum area is judged less than satisfactory, is probably going to be not a million miles away from what we are finding through college inspections.

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