Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Could I welcome Mike Tomlinson, Elizabeth Passmore and David Taylor to our deliberations again. This is a regular process, as, I think, most people in the education sector know. We meet the Chief Inspector and his team at least twice a year. It is very good to see you. There is a protocol that in a select committee you never mention anyone in the public gallery, but the word is that a large group of visiting Dutch inspectors might arrive later—they might even be here, but I would not know that. Can I get the questioning started by saying, Mr Tomlinson, we know it is your last performance in front of the Committee. I suspect you will find it very difficult to face life without us but, if that is the case, I know that the challenges you are going to find in Hackney might be some substitute and I do wish you extremely well in that venture. You and I first came across each other when you were doing a job in the Ridings School not far from where I live in Halifax. Good wishes to you in your next career. I just want to probe you on something before we get down to the main questioning, Mr Tomlinson, Elizabeth Passmore and David Taylor. This Committee sees itself as the conduit, if you like, between your role as Chief Inspector, the Chief Inspectorate and Parliament. This is the Committee to which you are answerable. There is a feeling that when a new chief inspector is appointed this Committee should have more of a role in assessing the candidates. Do you think it would have been better if the process for appointing the new inspector had been a bit more open, if we had known who was on the shortlist and had made some input? Do you think a greater openness is something we should have in appointing an inspector?
  (Mr Tomlinson) As you know, Chairman, the arrangements for the appointment of a chief inspector are a matter, of course, for the Secretary of State and the arrangements are laid down. The process is open in so far as it is an open competition: adverts are placed and people are entitled to apply. There is a usual procedure which surrounds any appointment of that nature within the civil service. I do not think I can give you a simple answer to your question about whether it would have been better. It would have been different, that is for sure; whether it would have led to a better process, a different outcome, I really cannot speculate.

  2. But this is a committee of public scrutiny and, indeed, the Clerk wrote to the DfES asking whether they would write and ask the permission of all those people shortlisted, so that we could know the quality and breadth of the shortlist, but we have not had a positive reply on that.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I equally cannot help you. I do not know who was on the shortlist.

  3. Can I ask David Taylor and Elizabeth Passmore, would they have welcomed a more open process.
  (Miss Passmore) The process was very clearly laid down with the application details and, as an appointment that stems from an Act of Parliament in the first place, it seemed reasonable to me. I feel that it is obviously a parliamentary matter, perhaps between this Committee and the Secretary of State rather than OFSTED, because we have no role at all in making the appointment.

  4. David Taylor?
  (Mr Taylor) I have nothing to add to that.

  5. I am not going to get anything out of you on this. Right, we will get on to the main questioning. A very interesting report, Mr Tomlinson—lights, shades, some continuing problems, a sense that the earlier, easier achievements—not so easy but the earlier achievements—now are going to get tougher as we get higher levels of numeracy and literacy. But there are some worryingly overall problems. One of the things one could not help picking out of your report was this view that comes through, rather in an explicit page, about student behaviour and also non-attendance at school. Here we are at the start of the second phase of the Education Bill going through the House of Lords. Is there anything in terms of new legislation and amendment to that Bill still going through Parliament which could improve on either of those fronts: student behaviour and attendance? Is there anything that you will suggest could be added to that Bill to do something about this large number of condoned absences by parents or about the misbehaviour of a small section of the school community?
  (Mr Tomlinson) If I may focus immediately on behaviour. As the report says, the position has not worsened in the last year but, importantly, it has not improved either, so we do have a situation where a relatively small minority of young people in schools are bringing about quite a lot of disruption, not only to their own education but, importantly, to those children in the same class as they are. I think the one thing in the Bill and amplified in the recent consultation document on 14-19, is what is proposed to be done around the 14-19, particularly 14-16, area. I think we have to accept that for some young people in school at 14 what is on offer to them simply does not motivate them, does not capture their imagination, does not draw them into wanting to be in school at all. I think the possibility of having more variety at 14-16, not least to having high quality, high esteem vocational qualifications, is a positive step. Our own work, published last year, looking at a small number of schools who had moved to offer vocational provision for two days a week during the ages of 14-16, showed clearly that where this provision was good and it was organised between the school the local further education college and employers as trainers then there was a notable increase in the motivation of the young people concerned and improvement in their attendance levels, not only during the two days but back at school for the other three, and an increased motivation to want to learn and be involved in the teaching back at school. Equally important, their attainment at the end of key stage 4 as a consequence was higher than would be predicted from their key stage 3 performance. Against a similar sample of young people, twice as many wished and did remain in the education and training post-16 than the comparable group that had not had the benefit of that provision. So it leads us to think that a major opportunity here exists within the 14-16 to offer young people opportunities for studying not only in subject or vocational areas, but the way that the courses are taught has a motivating factor. So I think there is something there.

  6. That is encouraging. All of us are in favour of making school more liberating of the talents of young people as well as more attractive for them to attend. But what I was really pushing to ask is: Here we have a system where a large number of parents—a small percentage but a large number of parents—keep their children out of the educational system, sometimes for long periods at a time, and some of them send their children abroad for months, if not years. Is there not some system that we could introduce in this country to put different penalties on parents who do not send their children to school and collude in their absence?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I touched upon behaviour. I do have to add, of course—and I said so in my report—that it is very difficult for schools to impose codes of behaviour if, indeed, those codes are not supported by the parents or if those codes are not part of the normal, expected behaviour of those families or those communities.

  7. But this is the last time we are going to be seeing you and I am asking you: Should there be a change in the law?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not know what you would change in the law. We already have, as far as attendance, the possibility of taking parents to court if they are not ensuring that their children get to school regularly and on time. There is also the idea of extending in behaviour terms some of the orders that are available at the moment. I cannot think of anything that the law might do to add to that in order to ensure the attendance or good behaviour of children. I cannot. I am not by profession a law maker at all. I mean, I leave that to people who are far more competent at that. Equally, what people tell me is that, even with the laws that we have got, when you do take people to court it does not result in the young people attending school again and you find the young people are not paying the fine or are unable to pay the fine. I do not know how you break into it, I must admit to you. What is, I think, clear is that in schools where these two issues are tackled with considerable consistency and vigour with the support of parents, they are not the same problems as in some schools where they are not tackled with the same vigour. So there is a role for school, but I think we have got to accept that at the end of the day we have got to seek to get more parents supportive of education and perceive its value and we have got to have better parenting.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Tomlinson. We are now going to move to more general questioning and Meg Munn will lead the questioning on this item.

Ms Munn

  8. I wanted to look at the overall purpose of the report and how useful it can be to government, policy makers, etc. We have had a number of pieces of evidence, or whatever you want to call it,. from organisations about the report. One criticism which comes from the Local Government Association is that the report gives insufficient attention to underlying causes of issues and possible solutions and hence is of limited value to policy makers. How would you respond to that?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I would respond by saying that I think it is a point worth looking at—and I am sure my successor will want to—but I think a second point is that the report is intended to be a summary for parliament of the work that has been carried out by OFSTED over the year and the major issues that that work brings forward. Underneath this, of course, are much more detailed reports. When the Local Government Association said what it says, I think it should also reflect that for each of the local education authorities inspected, for example, there is a very detailed report and a great deal more data supplied to the local education authority which is not within that report which does look, for those circumstances, at the underlying causes of whatever is happening there. I do think the criticism is somewhat unfair, in that there is the greater depth of information within the individual report. Looking across the report, for example, as a whole, none of it has the detail that the individual underpinning reports have. Whether they are school reports, local education authority reports, teacher training reports and the like, they have got the detail and, of course, importantly, at the local level. That is where it matters most because the problems are not the same in different contexts.

  9. Is there a role either within the report or within another report to try to pull that together? While individual circumstances may relate to one area, presumably there must be some common themes across.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes.

  10. Do you see that as part of OFSTED's role to try and pull that together and have influence on legislation and policy at government level?

   (Mr Tomlinson)Yes, I do. Again, you are sticking with the Local Government Association and their comments. We have published two reports and there is a third in the pipeline. The first was a summary of all the evidence of the inspection of the first 97 or thereabouts reports which drew out a lot of these issues. We published a separate one on just the London local education authorities and, of course, having finished the cycle of inspections of all authorities by December of last year, we are pulling together a report that looks at all 150. So we do. I always regard it as important that we share as much information with our partners and stakeholders as we can and, equally, we share information with the department itself and, indeed, with other departments about the implications for policy or practice or both.

  12. Moving that down to a lower level, asking a fundamental question about inspection looking at it from the school's perspective, is inspection in your view about maintaining the accountability of teachers and other staff involved in the school in terms of the national curriculum and the other policies that are around teacher training requirements, or is it more about supporting and enabling schools to help children achieve?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think it is both and I think the emphasis is moving. I think the proposals on which we have been consulting for inspection put somewhat greater emphasis on the use of the inspection as a tool for improving what is being done. But at the same time it also has to give to parents a clear picture of the state of the school either to which they have their children already or are thinking of sending their children. So it has to serve a number of purposes. But I think the balance has moved a little, and no doubt will move a little further with the new system, to a point of being more helpful in terms of improvement—but no less rigorous, because you cannot improve unless you know where you need to act to improve. So it has to be rigorous and analytical but it is more a matter of how you do it than what you do, and it is also a matter of how you then represent what you have found.

Mr Pollard

  13. I would like to talk about the LEA inspections very briefly. In my own LEA—and I am not sure if it has been inspected—we have a particular problem about secondary school transfer. Every single year the authority looks at it and bats a few schools places from one village to another. It happens each year. It causes great agitation in the villages that appear to me to have been disadvantages. Do you check LEAs for secondary school transfer rules and, further on from that, do you ever suggest that school places in total might be looked at for a particular LEA?
  (Mr Tomlinson) We do look at admissions policies and the way in which they operate and all our local education authority reports have reference to that. We are also at the moment bringing together a report across a sample of local authorities on admissions policies and the issues that they raise, which, of course, going back to what was raised previously, I hope will be an important document in terms of the thinking both at local and national level. So, yes, we do look at it, we do report on it at the individual LEA level, but I think there is an important job to be done by OFSTED looking across the piece at admissions policies and the way they operate.

  14. Turning to nursery education. I wrote a letter to you last Friday.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes, I have it with me.

  15. I am disappointed not to have had a reply!
  (Mr Tomlinson) I am still striving to be satisfactory.

  16. I jest about that, of course. I remember asking you the last time we met about nursery and OFSTED inspection and you said to me "a light touch". I had a group at my surgery last week and they said to me it was "Gestapo like"—not my words, their words. One lady whom I

  have known for donkey's years, who provides excellent service locally and is well regarded, she was in tears after eight hours of this. It seems to me that is not a light touch. I just wonder whether the light touch message has not got down from you, through the team, to the practitioners at grass roots level. I know that has not appeared in your report but it might appear in the next one.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Of course I shall respond fully to your letter in due course. On the issue of light touch, I do believe that that is understood by the senior managers and those who manage the programme of visits and so on. I will not go into detail here but the point is that there is a job to be done in terms of looking at how the operation is carried out. I think we know the case specifically that you are talking about. If I am correct—and I may well not be—that operation has a seven-hour day, which almost puts it, of course, akin to full-day care (though it does not say that about itself). In the local authority that it was in before, a full-day care inspection would be two inspectors for two days. A full-day care inspection from OFSTED is one inspector for one day. I think that is a somewhat lighter touch.

  Chairman: I want to move to teacher training, recruitment and retention.

Paul Holmes

  17. The 1999-2000 report highlighted concern about teacher recruitment and retention. Of course in the following year, last summer particularly, there was a lot of comment in the press that this was getting worse. From your observations from the new report, do you think teacher recruitment and retention and the problems therein have been tackled yet? Are there any signs of attempts to tackle it or to improve the situation?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think undoubtedly the Government has taken steps to try to improve recruitment into initial teacher training and the results last year indicated success in that direction. Equally, the early indications this year are also positive—though we continue, I think, in fairness, to have difficulties in attracting sufficient candidates into certain shortage subjects, but those have been shortage subjects for a long, long time. That does not make us complacent, it is merely putting the horizon a little further back. So I think we are improving that. The problem, of course, is much more about retaining teachers than in recruiting them into initial teacher training, important though that is. I continue to be concerned about the proportions which either do not finish the PGCE or do and then do not go into teaching or the proportion that does go into teaching but does not stay much beyond three/four years. Those proportions are high and worryingly high. In the report I have indicated the sorts of reasons that teachers have been giving me for why they think they would or are about to leave. I do not think there are any quick fixes. I do not think anyone should be under any illusion that there is some magic wand that can be immediately waved and we have got the number of teachers. I think our head teachers, in fairness, have done an incredible job over the last months in seeking to ensure that every one of their classes has a teacher. They, of course, say that in doing that they are concerned about the numbers of people who apply for particular posts; increasingly they are concerned about the number who will not apply for more senior management posts in schools.


  18. What is the reason for that?
  (Mr Tomlinson) At head of department level the common statement is that they do not really think they want to do the job with all the administrative burden and the demands that are being made upon them in various forms. They are also concerned that the number of applicants for posts is much reduced compared with the past. We hear that. The reality, of course, is that you only need one good one, in simple terms. But there is an increasing problem. Of course they are also relying quite heavily on supply teachers in a number of cases, which, if managed well, does not necessarily mean a big problem but, if not managed well, can mean quite severe problems for the pupils concerned and, indeed, for the school as a whole. David, would you like to add anything to the position as we see it?
  (Mr Taylor) No. You have said it.

  19. We are struggling to get David to speak this morning. We will find an area!
  (Mr Tomlinson) I will conspire with you, Chairman.

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