Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
80. Continuing that theme, Mr Smith, the former
Permanent Secretary at the education department said of the unions
that they had an unrelenting negative attitude and had failed
to provide leadership. What is your response to that?
(Mr Smith) I do not accept thatI do not accept
it remotely. I would say to that that many of the reforms led
by Secretaries of State of either government would have been less
glitch-free had the mood and temperament within the DfE, or DfES
as it now is, been to listen rather than to say, "We will
do this on one of two presuppositions: either that the logic is
so obvious that no sensible teacher could ignore it, or it is
so important that we will not bother their pretty little heads
with it", but I do not accept that the teacher organisations
have been lax in leading their membership: I would come back to
you very robustly and I would say that the reforms which have
been achieved have been achieved because of teachers and because
of the responsibility of teaching unions, not despite it.
81. So what would you say to a young graduate
who was considering a career in teaching, and you have to meet
them, saying "Mr Smith, potentially I am a new member of
your union. Why should I become a teacher?"
(Mr Smith) I have an application form in my pocket!
82. Before this person takes that form, they
obviously have to become a teacher. What words of encouragement
would you give them, because the government has a target of 10,000
extra teachers, and if we can recruit those that will go some
way towards resolving some of the problems your members are experiencingor
so you tell us. What words of encouragement would you give from
(Mr Smith) First of all, I would say that there has
never been a better time to enter the teaching profession. Going
back to something I said earlier, the demographics of the profession
for young graduatesand I think you are referring to thosehave
never been better. The sense I also get is a sense of generational
change which some of the reforms which have been introduced old
lags find difficult to accommodate to, but that is the nature
of human beings. I think there is a generational change going
on there and consequently, if the issue is, "How do we talk
up teaching as an important career and as a satisfying career?",
I would be wholly in favour of that. I think I would have to balance
that against saying that anybody who chooses teaching as a career
in order to be rich is not clever enough to be a teacher, but
that having been said, if the rewards do not compare with the
rewards for similar qualified professionals, then you will get
the fallout effect which we were talking about earlier, because
people will look at their contemporaries five years in and say
(1) I am not getting the job satisfaction I hoped for; and (2)
I could earn more money easily elsewhere.
83. In my constituency we cannot get any men
in our primary schoolsI think there is only one school.
Have you any views on how we might address that?
(Mrs Thompson) Obviously the Teacher Training Agency
has initiatives in order to increase the intake of men into the
profession. It is worth thinking about whether there are gender
issues in terms of whether staff rooms in the primary sector are
conducive to men working there, and I think that should be thought
about carefully, but I think many men seem to be reluctant to
join the primary teaching profession because of some of the issues
there have been over dealing with children, and that has been
of concern to some male entrants. It would be very good if we
could remove that completely but it does appear to be somewhat
inexorable because, of course, the gender balance in the secondary
sector is also changing and fewer men are being recruited into
the secondary sector. Above all, one of the emphases we ought
to have is that the teaching profession has to be conducive to
the female workforce because, if we deter women from entering
teaching, then we do have even more serious teacher supply problems.
84. We do not need super golden hellos for men
to come in?
(Mrs Thompson) With everything one puts into place
one has to think about the impact on the other group that are
not getting that. We are finding, for example, with the £6,000
award for graduates there is an impact on B.Ed. recruitment and
on primary teaching. You will see a perverse impact on other groups.
85. The unintended consequences?
(Mrs Thompson) Yes, indeed.
86. Mr Smith, can I take you back to comments
earlier when you talked about this fundamental tension between
schools wanting more autonomy and a basic sort of central control,
because as we all go round the classrooms we are finding more
and more that obviously the subject is of concern to teachers
about excessive workload, a micro management from Whitehall, the
number of initiatives that keep hitting head teachers and governors'
desks almost on a daily basis. What is the answer, do you think?
Most of us want schools to have greater autonomy and for teachers
to teach but how do you get that balance right? Government has
a certain responsibility at the end of the day and standards for
other functions, but it does seem as though the pendulum has swung
too far in the Government's favour at the moment and that we need
to redress that balance, surely?
(Mr Smith) I think you are right and I wish I knew
the answer to the question. It seems to me that from its inception
the national curriculum was over prescriptive and rolling that
back is difficult, particularly if the Government stands accused
of abandoning standards and resiling from that particular reform.
My own view is that we need to return to an atmosphere, if you
like, a climate, in which what I would describe as "permitted
eccentricity" of teachers is allowed. I do not think you
can legislate for that, incidentally. I can certainly recall the
slogan, "Everybody remembers a good teacher"equally
everybody remembers a bad teacher, but I can certainly remember
good teachers who had a powerful impact upon me who would probably
be disciplined now and probably would not come into the profession,
or, if they did, would be rebuked because they were not following,
jot and tittle, the national curriculum. I think the other thing
to be said is, and I know this is all a bit airy fairy and will
not lead you away, that it is cultural rather than legal. I think
you need to create an atmosphere in which experiment is not heresy
but is part of the business of educating children, young people,
and, indeed, adults for a very different society. If I can just
deal with an issue which you did not raise, one of the concerns
I have is that the present government is over-emphasising the
contribution which information and communications technology will
make to improving the education service. No doubt it will contribute
but, at the end of the day, it seems to me that the education
process is all about people interacting with people, teachers
with parents, teachers with pupils, head teachers with governors,
teachers' schools with the outside world, and if I had one top
prioritytop priorityit would be for there to be
a huge investment in ICT hardware and software but with continuing
ancillary support and trouble-shooting.
87. It is interesting to hear what you have
to say about basically creating more flexibility from the school's
point of view with regards to the national curriculum. As you
say, experimenting is not a heresy and I personally would agree
with that, but is another way of looking at it the recent initiative
introduced by the Government, and that is to help with the support
staff and more technical support like laptop computers? There
is an experiment going on there. What is your feeling about the
chances of success with regards to that?
(Mr Smith) I wholly support it, and for two reasons:
first of all, I think that there are a large number of things
that teachers are doing at the moment which routinely they should
not be expected to do and arguably are being overpaid to do, and
I think that contributes to the collapse of morale. Secondly,
if the Government's ambition is to have a cohort of adults, 50
per cent of whom will be graduates, then it seems to me the difference
between a qualified teacher and somebody who works and facilitates
young people's learning inevitably blurs. I have a third reason:
the teaching force is highly unrepresentative of the community
at large in ethnicity terms. It seems to me at least possible
that, if we increase the number of learning support assistants
or para professionalscall them whatever you willthat
will provide a very powerful pool from which the teachers of the
future can be trained.
(Mrs Thompson) The question was about innovation and
professional autonomy which is critical to the future. We have
made two points and one is that we would hope that the Department's
own innovation unit would involve more professionals in the process
of developing innovatory ideas, and also that it is wrong to believe
there is no innovatory practice in the schools. The other part
of the Department's strategy, of course, is the idea of professional
learning communities and networked learning communities and teachers
learning from each other, and that is another way in which the
availability of time becomes very important because you need that
time to work with your colleagues in schools internally and also
with other schools, so that what you are doing is spreading best
practice. Innovation in one school then becomes commonplace in
a wide range of schools.
88. But you need more time for that.
(Mrs Thompson) Yes.
Mr Baron: And if we had more time I would like
to explore this idea of a national curriculum.
89. Moving on to another area, what sort of
relationship do you have with the Department for Education and
(Mr Smith) I think that relationship has improved
enormously. Civil servants, of whose fan club I am not naturally
a member, are authentically listening more whereas previously
I sometimes felt it was like throwing grit to stop an armoured
tank. That was the level of consultation. First of all under Sir
Michael Bichard's leadership and, now, under David Normington's
leadership I think civil servants are listening more; I think
the relationship is good; and I think the relationship with ministers
is immeasurably better than at one point it was.
90. So are you saying that there is a recognition
in terms of your role representing teachers and school leaders,
and that you are properly involved in planning and consultation
(Mr Smith) I am not sure I would go that far.
91. How far would you go?
(Mr Smith) I think what I would say is that the DfES
apparatchiks need to be sufficiently confident to consult and
involve at a formative stage of creating policy, rather than saying,
"There it is, what do you think about it?", because
the history of the last 20 years whether it has been Conservative
government or Labour or whatever, has been that teachers retrospectively
have said, "We do not think this will work" but Government
has said "Get on with it".
92. So how would you suggest that was done?
If that is your one improvement that you wantand I am assuming
it is your top priority because it is the one you mentionedhow
would you suggest that the DfES practically do that?
(Mr Smith) A very good template for it is the work
which is currently being done which I hope will come to fruition
on reducing workload, where the Government commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers
to conduct a survey and established a working steering group to
be involved in the design and shape of our programme throughout,
and that seems to me to be an excellent model.
93. On that point of reducing workload, do you
think that the way the Government currently funds schools, using
different funding streams and ring-fenced money, adds to the workloads
of teachers who should be doing other things in an unnecessary
(Mr Smith) If you do not mind my saying so that is
possibly a question better posed to my head teacher colleagues.
94. In your view?
(Mr Smith) In my view, an enormous amount of time,
it seems to me, is sucked up in a bidding process.
95. And you would like to see that changed?
(Mr Smith) I would like to see it reduced.
96. Very often, when I go to a good school,
I find that they work innovatively and challengingly and do all
sorts of interesting things within the constraints. They understand
the bidding process and they are good at it, but you go down the
road to a school that is not so well led and managed and you find
people frightened to innovate and do things, and within the same
context there are very successful schools who do not seem to be
concerned and constrained and down the road there they are. That
must say something about the quality of leadership and the quality
of management, must it not?
(Mr Smith) I am sure that Mr Hart and Dr Dunford will
enlighten you on these issues, but I think you are quite rightthe
quality of leadership is important. The quality of followership
is important as well and one of the things that concerns me is
that far too many teachersand some head teachers; no doubt
very few and none of them represented by Mr Hart and Dr Dunfordhave
become risk averse: they are not willing to display the creativity
which, Mr Sheerman, you rightly say is at the heart of a good
school. Some experiments will work and some will not, and when
an experiment is not working you kill it, and when an experiment
is, you fertilise it and develop it.
97. The other body which the Government set
up to recognise the professionalism of teachers is, of course,
the GTC, which has not been going for long. What is your relationship
(Mr Smith) The GTC started its life against the background
of some controversy. I think there was a twin controversyfirst
of all, the level of the registration fee and, secondly, what
was it that the registration fee should be used for. I can give
you an example which I felt very strongly aboutthe GTC's
first annual planand, frankly, I felt it unacceptable that
I should have tabled an annual plan in front of me and to be asked
to comment upon it within half an hour. That is not acceptable
from a public body. One element in that plan which I objected
to was the suggestion that there should be a joint venture with
the BBC over educational broadcasting, and I objected to it for
this reason: that the BBC was one of only a number of bidders,
and that seemed to me to be improper. Having said that, I do believe
that there is a continuing lack of clarity about what should be
properly within the scope of the GTC and what the GTC should not
do, and this will sound a bit vagueforgive mebut
I think the GTC, certainly in its early days, got its body language
badly wrong and appeared to be moving into areas which it was
not necessary for it to move into.
98. Can you explain that?
(Mr Smith) It is entirely legitimate for the GTC to
represent teachers as a profession, and a profession crucially
which was self-policing rather than being policed by the DfES
or whoever. Once the GTC affects to represent the sole voice of
the teaching profession, you will not be surprised to learn that
I, and other teacher unions, feel disaffected by that because
we have spent an enormous amount of time attempting to do just
that. I am not a member of the NUT, but I will say this: the NUT
has a proud, honourable record
99. You are speaking to a member, which I perhaps
ought to have declared at the beginning. I apologise.
(Mr Smith) I did know that. I do not agree with the
NUT about everything otherwise I would not be general secretary
of the organisation I am, but what I am saying is that the NUT
and other teaching unions have a proud, honourable record in representing
not just the interests of teachers but the interests of children
and to suggest that that somehow never occurred or is not occurring
is something I find very difficult to live with.