Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



Mr Simmonds

  40. One of the other areas of workload that many teachers complain about is the way that the Government funds some of the initiatives, through ring-fenced and through certain funding streams. In your view, would you like to see that changed and, if so, how?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes. I think if you look at my last year's report I made specific reference to the fact that one of the concerns was the number of streams now available to schools and the different accounting mechanisms and accountability mechanisms that institutions have to go through in respect of that funding. I do think it is an area which has been tackled. The standards fund has been tackled with a number of headings and the requirements are much less than they were, but I still think there is more to do by way of tackling that particular set of issues. It comes, in a sense, to tackling the issue of the balance between core funding for a school and other streams of funding which may be necessary in some cases. But I do think that is an area which would benefit from further attention and, ideally, reduction. I mean, it is not only us. I was in an establishment last week in which they get European social fund money for pupils, 14-16 year olds and so on, and they were saying that for every pupil they have 11 forms to fill in. It seems to be an international issue, the growth of bureaucracy; it does not seem to be a wholly English or Great Britain phenomenon.

  41. Is it your view that it is a constructive use of teachers' time to be bidding for money which they probably should have anyway?
  (Mr Tomlinson) When you say teachers, in most cases it is head teachers. Again, if you have many streams, then it is a continual—

  42. Is it a valuable use of head teachers' time?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No. I think many schools have bursars to do it—increasingly more have bursars to do it. I think that is the right place for it.

  Chairman: Paul has recently been on the other side of this divide.

Mr Holmes

  43. It is not just head teachers who are involved in the process. Whole teams are involved, right down to classroom teachers, who have to provide evidence of books. You emphasise that OFSTED do not want from the classroom teacher anything more than they would normally do—and, of course, OFSTED are only there one week out of so many years. But what is it that you at the moment are requiring of the classroom teacher, in terms of detailed record keeping and target setting and all the rest of it, on pupils? From your experience of looking both at the primary sector and the secondary sector, are there different standards for the two sectors that might cause overload in the secondary sector? A primary school teacher is generally teaching 30 kids a week for a year, the same 30 kids, and they can keep very detailed records; a secondary school teacher, depending on their subject specialism, will be teaching between 200 and 600 different children. Can we expect in the secondary school the same depth of planning and record keeping that we expect at primary level? At the moment we do seem to expect it.
  (Mr Tomlinson) We do have common demands of both sectors, yes. I mean, I would add to that, of course, importantly, that in the primary sector few classroom teachers get much non-teaching time compared with t heir secondary colleagues. I am not arguing that one is well off, I am simply saying that relatively that is the case, so I think that has to be at least borne in mind in any response. I agree with your analysis in terms of the number of children and so on. I do think good planning is important, whatever shape it takes, and it varies from teacher to teacher. What bothers me most is any requirement that seems to imply a "one size fits all" solution to any particular challenge because my experience of schools is that they are all different in their own unique and important way. So I think some planning is important. I think what is borne out by inspection evidence is that, when we look at the extent of assessment that goes on, we find invariably it is not well used by the teacher for either planning their next work or planning individual pupils' next work. I think there is a serious question to be asked about: If it is not informing teachers' work for the future, is it therefore valuable and worth spending the time on? I think that is a question that deserves some careful consideration and thought. Obviously it is a task mainly for the Government and the QCA, of course, who are the main bodies responsible there.

  Chairman: Could we move on to supply teaching and supply teachers, Mr Tomlinson. Jonathan Shaw is going to be dealing with this.

Mr Shaw

  44. Schools are increasingly happy to use supply teachers, as you have highlighted in your report. I think there is concern about he quality of supply teachers, as was highlighted in the Amy Gehring case recently. Do you have a dialogue with these companies that provide supply teachers? Have you any observations about the regulatory framework in which they operate?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, we have no contact with them. We have no locus for any contact with them. We have not commented on the regulatory framework within which they operate.

  45. Would you like to?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Would I like to look at them?

  46. Would you like to tell the Committee this morning your observations as to whether they should be—
  (Mr Tomlinson) As you well know and, indeed, have stated, there is concern about the quality of the supply teachers. I would hasten to add: not all. There are some who are very good and are highly regarded by their schools—indeed, some schools would like to make them permanent. What is interesting is that those teachers do not want to be permanent teachers. The life of the supply teacher is a much more acceptable one than being a permanent teacher. That comes back to some of the record keeping that the supply teacher does not have to do and all the rest of it. So not all supply teachers are poor teachers, some are very good teachers indeed, but we do not have enough of that group. The question for the agencies would be: What do I know about the teaching of these people? before I decide that I would want to have them on my books and offer them to another school; equally: What feedback do I get from the schools about their performance? and: What do I therefore seek to do by way of improving their training and development to perform better? I think these are the questions, if I were going in, I would be asking them. Obviously what checks have you done in order to ensure (a), (b) and (c) I think would be proper.

  47. Who should be responsible for those checks? Should that be the school? Should that be the local education authority?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think, increasingly, the school, because it is the employer, it is in a sense the responsible body for asking those questions.

  48. It is all right for a large secondary school which has bursars, but the head teacher in a small rural primary school, how are they going to manage?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Very difficult, very difficult indeed. That is why, in the main, they look to relying upon the agency to have done that.

  49. Who checks the agency?
  (Mr Tomlinson) At the moment, as I understand it, no-one, but I would need to have that confirmed.

  50. That is my understanding as well. So what we have is an agency market at the moment, is it not? The shortage of teachers is manna from heaven for them in terms of their business. You have got that set of circumstances where there is a big demand to provide supply teachers and at the same time you have no checks and balances.
  (Mr Tomlinson) No.

  51. The child care legislation, day care standards and all the child protection measures we have brought in, that flies in the face of that, does it not?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think some checks have to be done by the agencies. The statutory checks in terms of List 99 and all the rest, and the social services list, which is not convictions but about people who should not be allowed to be in charge of children, those are required of them and so on. The extent to which those are thoroughly done, I do not know, because we do not go in an look at them. It is not within our remit to do so. Of course what is interesting is that some years ago that pool of supply teachers would have been recruited and managed by the local education authority, whereas that is now rarely the case for whatever good or otherwise reason.

  52. In the Amy Gehring case there were concerns previously about her as a supply teacher.
  (Mr Tomlinson) There were. Not so much about her performance as a teacher, in the strict sense of teaching, but certainly in the extent to which there appeared to be—and all I can go on is what I read in the press—concern about her behaviour, shall we say, as a teacher with pupils, and clearly what has been admitted by the company concerned is that information that it had was not acted upon and passed on in the way that it should have been.

  53. There is a great deal of demand for these teachers and no-one is really keeping a proper eye in terms of the type of person or the quality of them. Who is going to do that? It cannot be the schools. We do not want to place another burden surely on the schools. Who is going to do it?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think that is a matter for the Government to decide who is going to do it.

  54. Is it that it is just too difficult?
  (Mr Tomlinson) If OFSTED were asked to do it, I am sure we would be very happy to undertake that role.

Mr Pollard

  55. Mr Tomlinson, you said earlier on that it was a more relaxed environment being a supply teacher. Have we got the balance wrong between what we expect of supply teachers, filling the forms in and that, and what we expect of our mainstream teachers. I know schools in my constituency where they have a continual stream of supply teachers through them, because recruitment and retention is particularly difficult in our LEA. I am just wondering whether we ought to make it more relaxed for mainstream teachers as well so that they are not feeling quite so pressured. Finally, there is a huge number of retired teachers who we might persuade to come back to do perhaps job sharing or supply even. These folk have vast experience. There is one example in my constituency where they were trying to do a job share and the school thought it was not such a good idea because there was a lack of continuity with pupils. I think it is a cracking idea. Schools will benefit generally because you get that little bit extra from each teacher. That is the way teachers are.
  (Mr Tomlinson) On the question of job share, there are examples of it and in some cases, part time or job share, particularly where the other half is spent doing a professional job in areas such as art and design, where many teachers are still practising as almost semi-professional, bring a huge amount to the classroom and can enrich it enormously. Schools do use that but obviously it is a matter for the individual school. The first issue is it would be sensible and the government is looking at ways in which it can reduce the workload on our permanent, full time teachers. I would not want to go quite so far as that because we need teachers to have information about the progress of pupils and for that information to be available not just to themselves but to others. It is finding the right balance.

  56. There are so many supply teachers in some schools that there is a massive gap there anyway.
  (Mr Tomlinson) There is. Your point on continuity is a good one. Sometimes we are happy to have lots of supply teachers and ignore the continuity issue but then not have a job share because we are worried about the continuity issue.


  57. There seems to be an air of complacency about this. Here we are, in a situation where all of us in this room know how much schools rely on a good supply of supply teachers. There is no doubt that the system would not work without high quality supply teachers, good agencies, whether run by local education authorities or privately. We all need this resource. Yet what you are saying is that you do not think they are controlled. This supply of quality into schools is not really of central concern to you. There is not one word in your report that says, "We want to be able to check the quality of these people coming and move down the supply chain to make sure it is properly regulated. Is not this an admission of failure on your part?"
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, I do not believe it is at all. Our report is quite clear about the relative quality of teaching of supply teachers compared with the rest. There is a part in the report on teacher training which shows from our evidence that the proportion of lessons that are less than satisfactory is greater for supply teachers than for others. We are concerned about that and we say so. It is a concern, not just the quality but the number, as has been already indicated. I said that in my report: a succession of supply teachers. I am not complacent at all about it. We are reporting very clearly on it and I am reporting equally with the department about the problem. I am not complacent; nor am I suggesting that we are not interested. We have no locus at the moment for taking any action against the agencies that supply supply teachers.

  58. I would have expected you to be banging down the Secretary of State's door, saying—
  (Mr Tomlinson) You do not know that I am not.

  59. Are you?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I have raised this issue, yes.

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