Select Committee on Education and Skills Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the National Association of Head Teachers (SQ04)

  NAHT welcomes the positive tone of the Chief Inspector's report and the recognition it gives to the work of teachers and students in raising the standards of teaching and learning in schools. Key points that emerge from the report which could be explored further include:

    —  issues around the employment and deployment of supply teachers;

    —  time for primary schools to teach the foundation subjects;

    —  continued levels of absence on the part of some children; and

    —  support available to schools with serious weaknesses.

  1.  The concerns expressed (paragraphs 34 and 35) over the recruitment of teachers reflect what NAHT is hearing from members. It is important to underline the point made that this is no longer simply a problem for London, although it is here that schools face the most serious difficulties. Retention is becoming as serious a problem as recruitment, and many schools in London face great difficulties in keeping a full complement of high quality staff. In this context, schools are having to rely increasingly on agency staff. The costs paid by schools for these teachers have increased considerably, and not all staff supplied by agencies are fully equipped to teach in the context of the school in which they are placed. NAHT is currently carrying out a survey of members' experiences in relation to supply staff agencies, which we would be happy to share with the Committee in due course. A further point is the factor identified in paragraphs 95 and 96. Data on teacher vacancies has tended to understate the true picture, in that schools have sought to overcome difficulties by deploying teachers with an understanding, but not a specialist knowledge, of a subject to teach classes for whom a specialist teacher could not be recruited. This strategy has been used by schools to lessen the impact of staff shortages on students' education, but HMCI notes that the situation is becoming more widespread.

  2.  The comment about pressures on the primary curriculum (paragraph 36 onwards) is helpful. In responding to the Consultation on Targets for English and Mathematics at Key Stage Two in 2004, NAHT also underlined the pressure on the curriculum brought about by the literacy and numeracy strategies. The NAHT response warned that "The temptation to push aside everything other than that which is measurable is overwhelming", and that there was a danger of a cohort of children growing up with a limited education in music, art, PE and drama. It is interesting in this context to refer back to the survey of primary education carried out in 1978 by HMI. This survey reported that, "The general educational progress of children and their competence in the basic skills appear to have benefited where they were involved in a programme of work that included art and craft, history and geography, music and physical education, and science, as well as language, mathematics and religious and moral education." (Primary Education in England, HMSO, 1978, paragraph 8.29). This underlines the judgement noted by HMCI in paragraph 40 of his report. It is not in the interest of pupils' education to restrict the primary curriculum to that which can be easily measured.

  3.  The finding that some 80 per cent of young people stopped in shopping centres during school time were accompanied by an adult is very worrying in terms of those students' education. For adults to condone the absence of these youngsters only serves to undermine the efforts schools and LEAs have put in to improve attendance and the education of the students involved.

  4.  Concerns are raised about the progress of some schools designated as having serious weaknesses (paragraph 290). Concerns have been raised in the past as to the level of support that has been available to these schools. The support has varied across LEAs. Some schools have been monitored by HMI, while others have not. It is important to ensure that schools in this position are assured the appropriate level of support and advice to enable them to make progress. A further point is that the only way for a school to lose the serious weaknesses label is to go through another full section 10 inspection some two years later. It could be argued that a full inspection is not necessarily the best thing for such a school. Consideration should be given to a less onerous means of establishing whether the school has improved in the areas identified as weak, and if the serious weaknesses label could be removed by some other means than a full inspection.


February 2002

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