Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Paul Holmes

  20. If there is a large problem for retention (up to 50/60 per cent either do not complete teacher training or do not stay in teaching fore more than two or three years) what about the problem at the other end? We have got a teaching population with an aging profile, and certainly anecdotal evidence suggests that the number who are leaving early, even with loss of pension, is rising quite dramatically at that end of the scale as well.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I believe so. I do not have the exact figures for that, but we always have known that we have a demographic profile of teachers which means we are going to lose an awful lot of them if they all went to retirement—which, as you are quite rightly saying, they are not.

Mr Pollard

  21. Some become MPs!
  (Mr Tomlinson) An increasingly high proportion become MPs, I understand, yes. It is interesting that there are just as many qualified teachers or nearly the same number of qualified teachers not teaching as there are in fact teaching.

Valerie Davey

  22. That has been so for a long time.
  (Mr Tomlinson) It just shows how flexible and so on they are as a profession and how much they are wanted elsewhere.


  23. That goes across a large number of professions though, does it not?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Of course it does.

  24. The number of people who qualify and never practise is of great concern.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes.

Paul Holmes

  25. So the 1999-2000 report highlighted the concerns about teacher recruitment and retention. Moving on a year to this report, the concerns are still there about recruitment and retention at the younger end.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes.

  26. And concerns have emerged about the older end leaving early and not going through to retirement.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes. I think, if I am correct—and I would certainly want, if I am not correct, to give you the accurate figures—if you look at the age profile of teachers, the dip in terms of the smallest number we have is between the ages of 26 and 31—something like that. If that is correct, then, of course, longer term we do have a significant challenge awaiting us.

  27. Do you get the impression that, as a result of your research and your reports, the Government is taking those and acting on those?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I believe it is. I believe it has attempted to put in place a number of initiatives to improve recruitment of teachers and, indeed, to help with retention. There are further steps under way in relation to the workload study and the attempt to tackle that but of course some of the problems are about the fact that teachers cannot always afford housing in areas and therefore have to make some very difficult decisions about that. So there are a whole set of other factors which are not within the control of government to influence. One of the factors to which I have drawn attention many times over the last 12-15 months, is that we really do have to do something to make clear to teachers how much we value what they do and what many do in very difficult and challenging circumstances. We all have a desire to feel valued, whatever role we occupy in society, and I think it is important to make that clear to teachers. That is not to be complacent, that is not to be sentimental about it, but the fact is we do have an awful lot of dedicated teachers who actually do not feel the public at large values them in the way that they should.

Mr Baron

  28. If I may briefly touch upon teacher training, in particular the Graduate Teacher Programme. In your report you make the point that, although most of the trainees selected are of good quality, the teaching standards they have achieved by the end of their course are not as high as might have been expected. You go on to say, ". . . a substantially higher proportion than is usually the case were assessed as adequate, not good" and make the point that, broadly speaking, in more than half of those assessed you found significant weaknesses. You imply in the report that because it is school based there is a bit of variation there with regards to the way this initiative is applied. How can we tighten this up? Because it is an important initiative.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I am going to try to get David Taylor to come in here.
  (Mr Taylor) I do not think we have implied that it is because it is school based. So I knock that one on the head. It is direct employment based rather than a combination of school based and other provision, which, in the case of school centred initial teacher training is also often done in schools but in the case of higher education/institution based partnerships is often done off site. Those distinctions are still around within the Graduate Teacher Programme, so that some of the training which some of those trainees receive can be off site in higher education. This is not, therefore, a point essentially about where people are being trained or whether it is located in schools or elsewhere; it is very much a question about whether the kinds of infrastructure which have now been developed through the long-established HEI school partnerships or through the newer schemes are being replicated sufficiently where the lines of accountability have been less clear and where the processes of induction into the programme and monitoring through the programme have been less systematically carried out. We have been quite critical of those features of the programme because it is plain to us that, if you take somebody direct into employment, they will have a number of specific training needs which need to be identified quickly and then followed up systematically. If that does not happen, then the progress made will be manifestly less good than it ought to be. That has happened too often. We have made the point to the Teacher Training Agency. We have made it clear to them and to the Government that this is not to knock the scheme. It is a scheme that we believe has tremendous potential and we want to make sure it works properly and does not go off half-cocked, leaving people at the end of the process not able to demonstrate the standards comparable to those which are being achieved by conventional trainees. If at the end of that process, having taken such good, well-motivated people into the profession as graduates, we cannot turn out really good teachers—which, after all, is the aim of all teacher training—then the process will not have been as good as it should have been. The Teacher Training Agency is now working on the second stage of this programme to try to address some of those weaknesses. I think it does mean that a stronger structure is needed to ensure that the quality assurance of that programme is at least equivalent to that which is in place for the rest of teacher training.

  29. What you are saying is the initiative is being too loosely applied. We need stronger structures, we need better lines of accountability, to make sure there is an evenness of standards applying.
  (Mr Taylor) An admirable summary. Thank you.

  30. Can I move on, if I may, to the business about pupil behaviour which you identified in the report as being one of the major concerns or factors, if you like, with regard to teacher retention being so poor. An amazing statistic: 80 per cent of children stopped in shopping centres during school time by police or welfare services are accompanied by adults. This issue of authorised but inappropriate absences from schools, how can we correct it? It is getting the teaching profession as a whole and working with them at heightening people's consciences. How do we improve this?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Where schools have been successful in tackling this, they have done it by sitting down with parents and showing them by example the impact of this sporadic absence upon the achievement of children. In other words, being able to say, "Look, your son or daughter knew this person who left last year. They had a similar attendance pattern to yours and their performance at the end of the year was. . . This is what is happening. You may not think that the one day is significant but, if that one day is repeated over a long period of time, cumulatively it will have the impact of lowering the potential achievement of your son or your daughter and the consequences of that are in terms of their life chances" and so on. The schools that do this find that the parents are then much more engaged with the issue, much more engaged with the importance of what is happening, and are much more likely—not for sure, but much more likely—to take what we would, I think, all regard as the right action in future. There are overall four million days per year lost through what is described as authorised absence.


  31. I thought you said six million.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Four million. One million days lost through unauthorised absence.

  32. Are you sure you did not say six million last time.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I will go back and check, Chairman, and correct it if I am wrong.

Jeff Ennis

  33. Many schools now, particularly in the secondary sector are adopting home/school contracts to try to counter this problem about technically authorised absences by the parents or by adults. Do you have any evidence to show that where home/school contracts are signed between parents and the school they are actually having a success rate?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not, no. We do have evidence that other systems that schools and parents together have put in place—for example, some schools have an immediate telephone bleeper system with parents of children who have this pattern of poor attendance, so that almost within five minutes of school opening the parents get a bleeper saying: "He is not here again"—seem to be working as well, in order to work with the parents. The answer is working with the parents. You are not going to achieve anything by working against them. You have got to work with them, you have got to talk through the issues with them, you have got to seek to get their support for what you want to do. Different schools have adopted different approaches—and I think quite rightly so: they are the best judges of how their parents would respond to approach (a) as distinct from approach (b), and I think they have to be left to make that professional decision with their parents


  34. Mr Tomlinson, can I come back to teacher training, and perhaps David Taylor may want to come in on this. Can you dispel perhaps what may be a prejudice on my part? When I go round schools and I talk to people in the education sector, one of the common criticisms is that the teacher training institution is a bit of a soggy institution and that the quality of teacher training in this country still is not what it should be. One of the explanations why is that young people coming into teaching are not adequately prepared for the teaching job by the teacher training experience. Are you just being a little bit too comfortable with the Government and wanting to be popular with the Government by not coming out much more strongly and criticising the quality of teacher training in this country?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think we can both say something there.
  (Mr Taylor) Do you want to start?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, you go first.
  (Mr Taylor) No, we are not. We have had a tradition of knocking some very well-established, high-prestige teacher training courses for six, and "they did not like it up them" as the famous saying goes. The Universities of Warwick and Durham are two such and they have not forgiven us since for giving them very critical reports for the weakness of their training. We took the line that even to have one trainee coming out of the course who was not ready for the profession and allowing that person to go in without making it clear that that was the case, was not satisfactory. Therefore we failed a number of, as I say, very high-prestige courses and we continue to do so if the standards are not up to scratch. We believe that partly as a result of that and actually the very rigorous standards set up by the Government with the Teacher Training Agency, it has led to substantial improvements in teacher training. Initial teacher training now is normally of good quality and it is quite unusual to find weaknesses of a radical kind. The standards expected have been ratcheted up quite considerably in basic skills, in information technology, in class management. We can see the evidence of this partly from the fact that when we evaluate the average teaching standard in the first year of teaching by newly qualified teachers, it is very little worse than the average for the profession as a whole and in many cases is actually better. This does not suggest to me a flaccid and soggy system and, certainly, if it were like that, we would be saying so loud and clear without fear or favour.

  35. Do you do a customer satisfaction evaluation at the end of teacher training? These students, when they have completed, are they asked, "How good was it?"
  (Mr Taylor) They do, yes. In some of our reports we actually included questionnaire analysis of our own which showed very high levels of satisfaction with the training. There were particular features which they pinpointed, especially in primary, relating to the teaching of literacy and numeracy. From five years ago those areas have been addressed very systematically and now most trainees are very well satisfied with that. So actually it is really quite unusual to find teacher trainees who are less than satisfied with the quality of their preparation.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I would just add a couple of points. First of all, remember that for most students that teacher training period is 36 weeks. It can all be in schools or it can be a mixture, but for a minimum of 24 weeks in school. That is a relatively small period of time to try to get an awful lot of training and information through. I think the question that remains still on the table is could we not. . . Or let me put it another way: Should we not look at the one-year PGCE and the induction year as a combined two-year experience that prepares teachers for teaching? I say that because the location of institutions of higher education can sometimes mean that students do not gain experience in the sort of schools in which they often get their first appointment and those can be markedly different in their demand, their nature and their character. I have met students recently who believed they had a very good initial teacher training and fared very well in their partner school or school but had got a job in an inner city school and none of their training and experience had been in an inner city school, We must recognise those are very challenging positions in which to be placed—as an experienced teacher, never mind as a newly qualified. I think the push I would make is to look at the post-graduate certificate year where it operates and the induction year much more as a whole and think afresh about how we approach that.

  Chairman: Let us move seamlessly to teacher workload. Mark has a question on this subject.

Mr Simmonds

  36. The main problem with regard to teacher retention is the enormous workload that they have. Past reports have suggested that you should look at ways of reducing that burden. I wonder if you could explain how successful the policies that you have put in place, in your view, have been, and what you have not done to date that you will do in future that will further reduce the burden.
  (Mr Tomlinson) This is the workload, I presume, that is said to be associated with inspection.

  37. Yes.
  (Mr Tomlinson) That, of course, is for most schools a workload that comes once every four years or more and, in proportion to what else is generated, I think is relatively small. But, having said that, it is important that we seek to reduce it as much as possible. We have revised our forms that we ask schools to complete in advance and the revision has been to reduce the information we ask of them. We will much later this term, and certainly from the summer onwards, be pre-completing one of the forms with the data we hold, so that they do not have to fill it in they just have to check that the data is up to date. All the head teachers I have talked to believe that is a good move and will reduce the initial demands upon them. We have been very explicit about the documentation which the school is expected to hand over to the lead inspector. I think, as the Committee know, I have issued letters—certainly one last year to head teachers—stating quite clearly that I did not want teachers to be asked to revise their schemes of work, to revise and redraft policies, nor to be asked to enter into some perceived lesson planning that OFSTED was thought to want. We have no requirements about that; it is what the school does and has that we want to see. We will be going further in the summer, in that the forms that we do ask for will be on disk that can be completed and transmitted to us electronically or transmitted to the inspection team electronically, and that, again, should ease the burden. My consultations with head teachers and the like is that in general terms they feel we have made a good number of efforts successfully to reduce the burden on them prior to inspection. I think we will continue to strive to reduce it further, but I do think we have a reasonably good record.

  38. Are you saying that there is very little you think can be further done to reduce bureaucratic implementations of the OFSTED inspection process on the schools? Because that is certainly not the view in, certainly, my constituency—and Mr Pollard gave an example earlier from his—of the teachers on the ground who have to undergo the OFSTED inspection process.
  (Mr Tomlinson) All I can say is we have made efforts, I think effective efforts, to reduce it. I do not believe we are ever at the end of that process. I am quite firmly of the view that there is nothing that we do that we cannot do better and therefore we will continue to talk with head teachers, teacher associations and the like about how we might further reduce the burden. What we cannot easily control is how much the schools themselves feel they ought to do in order to present themselves in the best possible light at the time of the inspection.
  (Miss Passmore) I think there are demands made of head teachers that are different from the demands made of heads of departments or coordinators in primary schools and demands on teachers. We do not ask teachers to do anything different from what they would normally do in their lessons. There is no extra preparation whatsoever asked for. For the heads of departments and coordinators, we do ask to meet with them, and therefore they may want to think about things and review things in advance. The forms that have to be completed are completed by the head teacher. But we do know that the way that some schools manage an inspection—and this is very often the head teachers asking things of the staff—does increase what the school would do in that time. It is quite natural, I would have thought, that at any time you are going to be looked at—like appearing here today—you do a little extra preparation, but you do not go over the top. We do not want schools to go over the top and we do not want head teachers to ask their staff to do things that really are quite unnecessary.


  39. I do try to crack the whip at this Committee!
  (Miss Passmore) I was thinking of us.

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