Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. It can start off that way but are we not in danger of almost imperceptibly moving to a situation where you do create a divide between two classes of schools: those who have the special status and those who do not have the special status. Our country is not known for a good record in terms of that sort of divide.
  (Mr Tomlinson) It could create a divide. I am bothered about any school, whatever its designation, that is not providing its pupils with a high quality education. The designation is not important; the issue is are they providing a high quality education. If they are not, I am concerned, OFSTED is concerned and in the worst cases those schools find themselves in special measures that have to be dealt with and are being dealt with successfully. While there is any pupil or school that is not being given that high quality education, I then feel very unhappy and very uncomfortable, as I have said on public platforms.

  81. We are not very far in measuring alternative added value. I visited Stile Common School in my constituency fairly recently. They work in a very difficult area achieving a great deal for their pupils and they are judged only on the test results that are then applied. The lack of a value added measure outside that undermines the morale of the teachers in that school. What are you going to do about an alternative value added measure as an inspectorate?
  (Mr Tomlinson) As an inspectorate, you can look at the work in a school which is not measurable and report upon it and we do. We can strengthen that in the new system. I do agree with you about value added. People in OFSTED at the moment are working on the first national data which we have available which allows us to move to a value added system. You are right; schools have had such data and local education authorities have had such data, but the fact is we have not had pupil level data nationally which has enabled us to create value added scores nationally. I am clear in my mind that I would not want a single value added score for a school. That would be no better than what we have now. What I think is necessary and what people in OFSTED are working on is the possibility of a small group of value added measures which could accurately define the progress made by major groups of pupils within the school. For example, I would want a value added score for pupils who had been in that school throughout the two points of measurement, whether it is for one or two key stages, because this is an important matter where you have high mobility. I would want, if I could get it, a value added score for those pupils who had joined the school midway between assessment. That may be more difficult, depending on what data they bring with them. I would want a value added score for pupils with special educational needs so that we can properly recognise and celebrate the work of some of our schools who do a tremendous job with the support of parents, carers, non-teaching staff and the like. You might want a value added score because in that school there is a high proportion of pupils of African Caribbean heritage. You need a profile to talk about the way in which the school is progressing the education and achievements of its major groups. A single score would hide all those important achievements and differences. That is what I would hope the inspection system would move to. I think it will next year.

Mr Shaw

  82. The government wants secondary schools to reach 25 per cent GCSEs, A*-C. In the light of what you have said, do you think it is going to be possible for all schools to reach that? Particularly I am thinking of the county I come from in Kent, where we have the selective system at 11. We have some secondary moderns, because that is what they effectively are, with 60 per cent special needs and there is one school in the east of the county where no one reached that A*-C. Do you think it is possible for those schools to reach 25 per cent in the near future?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Probably, given what you have just said, one would hypothesise no. The issue is whether that is the right measure by which you want to move pupils and schools forward. I am not saying anything here that I have not made clear to people in the department.

  83. Would you agree that it is questionable and undermining for a school in such circumstances to be measured against a grammar school that has selected 25 per cent of its most able children?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes. This is the importance of value added because it is progress from where pupils are to where you have taken them. That is what is going to be very interesting. What happens in performance terms when you do have value added, whether those currently at the top of the performance tables add as much value as some who might be lower down the table. It is a very interesting question to which we do not know the answer but we will soon. We need more comprehensive, more rounded measures of what we think is school achievement and improvement and that goes beyond the measure that is currently employed.

  84. But not bog standard?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not think any of our—

Paul Holmes

  85. There has been for a long time huge concern about the gap between different schools and schools in inner city areas and so forth. We have had from various governments all sorts of initiatives: the national curriculum, key stage tests, league tables, specialist schools, OFSTED inspections and yet, in your latest report at paragraph 61 you say, "The gap between the highest performing schools and the lowest performing schools continues to widen." If the gap is getting worse at the end of all these initiatives, including OFSTED inspections, does that not imply that all these initiatives have failed in what they set out to do?
  (Mr Tomlinson) That applies to secondary schools. In the case of primary schools, the gap is being closed quite significantly. In primary, we are managing to find ways and means of narrowing that gap. It has been a considerable pleasure to me over the last two years in my annual reports that the proportion of schools at the front of that report contains a disproportionate number from what we might call the lower socio-economic groups as indicated by free school meals. I think secondary schools represent a huge issue, one that the government is well aware of and is seeking to tackle. Excellence in Cities is one which is showing signs of helping narrow that gap but there can be no doubt that that is one of the big issues we face at secondary, the gap, and it is widening.

  86. If the gap is widening, how can something like the specialist schools initiative do anything but widen that gap further? If, for example, within a city one school becomes specialist with the extra money, the extra status, the ability to select and two or three other schools within that area are not specialist, surely the gap will widen even further?
  (Mr Tomlinson) It could. I am more optimistic that in some local education authorities where this issue is being thought of there is emerging more coherent planning and trying to avoid that situation. There are some interesting ideas being developed at the moment in this context in Birmingham, for example, that are well worth looking at in terms of the way they want to move forward, but it is a risk. It is not just a matter of specialist schools. For me, we need to look at the way in which we approach target setting at the school level and at the local education authority level because if we are going to narrow gaps we are not going to do it with system wide initiatives. We are going to do it by tackling the cause of that gap. Given time, I could illustrate what I mean if you wanted but it is important that we have more refined means of tackling the issues in the context in which they arise, rather than believing that we can have a one size fits all solution.

Mr Turner

  87. Can I introduce this by reverting to the question of absenteeism? Accepting that some parents may choose to condone absenteeism because they want the support at home of an older child, for instance, to what extent do you think absenteeism, whether condoned or not, is really pupils voting with their feet against bad schools?
  (Mr Tomlinson) In some cases, it is. In some instances by the age of 14 pupils have decided that school holds nothing for them. It does not motivate them. It is not capturing their imagination and so on. Yes, they do vote with their feet.

  88. To what extent?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not know. Nobody asks the pupils.

  89. That is extraordinary. When you inspect a school, you do not ask the pupils?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Remember, it has been a matter of some controversy in certain quarters. We are intending that in the new inspection regime we shall seek the views of pupils. We do not systematically seek the views of pupils at the moment. We do however talk to groups of pupils. First, a group whose work the team is looking at and you talk to pupils during lunch times, break times, sometimes in lessons, but it is difficult in those circumstances to be sure you have a representative view of pupils. From September 2003, we will be asking pupils for their views at secondary level.

  90. On improving schools, I would like to focus particularly on the role of the local education authority because I see from your report that you say, "Most LEAs perform the majority of their functions satisfactorily. There is a great deal of unsatisfactory practice and improvement is from a low base." You found 23 local education authorities to be unsatisfactory of which five have now come out of that position; perhaps others are on the way. Would you like to identify what processes have enabled them to move from that unsatisfactory position, in particular distinguishing the very different processes that I think the government is requiring of different local authorities?
  (Mr Tomlinson) The one fundamental feature of authorities that are in difficulties is the corporate governance at the heart of the local authority, the effectiveness and unanimity of purpose of elected members and professional officers. Where that begins to break down, its impact is all pervasive in terms of the services and the quality of those services. Where the local authorities that were in the position of not being very good have improved, the one thing they dealt with first of all is that particular issue. They have been able then to talk to the schools and the like about the new vision, the new direction, the determination and the like. For example, Liverpool have done that. Barnsley did that very effectively as well. The core issue is that one.

  91. A government policy that requires a local education authority to out-source the management of its education function alone is not, in your view, hitting the button?
  (Mr Tomlinson) It may be. That is at the moment the one service that has the capacity to be out-sourced. For example, in Islington, there are signs of improvement within the education service. The issue is that once you have done that how well do all the other services coalesce with education because you cannot see it as a single entity. Some of the children we have been talking about need a coordinated effort of not only the education service but social services, sometimes housing and the like. These have to work together and this is a corporate issue about how you do that. At the moment, the jury is out on how successful some of the interventions have been. We reported on Islington and said there were signs of it improving but we have not yet gone back to others with out-source provision to say how effectively that is working. For example, we have not been back yet to places like Bradford or Leeds.

  92. Or Hackney and Southwark.
  (Mr Tomlinson) We have been back to Hackney.

  93. Why has it not worked?
  (Mr Tomlinson) If you look at our report, it went back to the fact that, while the education services were beginning to show signs of improvement under the previous chief education officer, the fact was that the problems at the corporate centre still remain and they were inhibiting the improvement.

  94. Would it help if we did away with this term which in a sense ghettoises the whole issue of education, "local education authority?" We do not talk about a local social services authority, after all.
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, but we do talk about local social services. Whether we are playing with semantics I am not sure.

  95. It is a means of pushing off education into an administrative, managerial ghetto.
  (Mr Tomlinson) That applies to any service in a local authority potentially. The issue is across all of them that if those silos are maintained it becomes very difficult to operate where you want coordinated services to bear upon a particular issue. That is one of the big challenges for local authorities, to get services coordinated in such a way that they are there, together when needed, in a timely and effective fashion.

  96. You have given a number of examples of areas where local authorities, for instance 40 per cent, are unsatisfactory in combatting racism and you say many have ignored advice under best value reviews to review the worst first. Could you, after this meeting, list for the benefit of the Committee the authorities to which you are referring in each of these categories in the report?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Not at this point. I could supply the information about which authorities fall into those categories, yes.

  Mr Turner: That would be very helpful. Thank you.

Jeff Ennis

  97. The future of education action zones has been limited by the government. I represent a governing body in my area which has been part of a very successful education action zone. What strategy do you think the government needs to put in place to make sure that the very effective success rates that there have been in education action zones will continue without the EAZ funding in future?
  (Mr Tomlinson) The EAZ funding was always a limited funding scheme. It was never seen as long term, for ever and a day. Some of the requirements of the initial bid were about how the local authority would in the long term integrate the work of the education action zone into its normal work. We do not have a good history of that happening. In fact, we have a poor history about integrating schemes back into the mainstream. We need to pick up on the very best initiatives and practices that have been found in those EAZs and if there are patterns emerging, improving attendance and improving motivation, people in the local education authority ought to want to pick up on those and incorporate them if they are getting over some of the major issues that we are facing. I recognise there may be for some a cash issue about that and that comes down to the priorities that the authority as a whole wants to give to different aspects of its responsibilities and budget. Equally, there has been much more expansion of excellence in cities which is gradually incorporating the EAZs as well. Therefore, it is not automatic that as the EAZ finishes so does the impetus of the money.

  98. From my perspective, the level of success that has been achieved in education action zones far outweighs specialist schools, for example.
  (Mr Tomlinson) If you look at our report on EAZs, while there are individual examples, the general picture is not one of showing that they have been anything like as successful as excellence in cities. There are notable exceptions to that, I accept.

  99. 300 per cent increase in A-Cs?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Not many have shown the levels of success hoped for. There may be all sorts of reasons for that. It may not be a matter of bad policy.

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