Examination of Witness (Questions 60-77)
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
60. One final question. We heard concerns from
the evidence presented by your predecessor Mike Tomlinson that
no one yet inspects supply teacher agencies. They account for
some 20,000 teachers in this country. I am a governor of a private
school. We can talk to the head and say, "Look we are not
having Bloggs. He is shocking. Tell the agency we do not want
this guy any more." The agency will agree to that. Then they
will send Bloggs off somewhere else and then somewhere else and
then somewhere else. Mike Tomlinson said to us that he had been
having some conversations with the Secretary of State about this.
Is that something you are going to pick up?
(Mr Bell) First of all, OFSTED has not been approached
formally about that and I have not had a conversation about it
61. Do you have a view on it?
(Mr Bell) I think OFSTED has demonstrated over the
years that it has been able to take on new inspection responsibilities,
so the principle of having a new inspection responsibility is
fine. I would look carefully. I am not altogether sure, to be
frank, what it is we would be inspecting if we had responsibility
and how we would inspect it. But please do not interpret that
62. Oh, come on, Mr Bell, I think you are playing
too much of a straight bat here. For instance, you would inspect
the agency: "How many times has Bloggs been rejected from
various schools? What have you done about it?" "We have
not done anything about it." "That is not good enough.
What sort of training do these people have? What sort of assessment
have you done?"
(Mr Bell) I will be frank with you, I am not ruling
out having to look at it, but, back to the principle of local
management, I think there is an interesting issue here about the
decisions that individual schools make. Because the decisions
that individual schools make, in the end, will determine whom
you employ. Clearly that is not carte blanche for the
63. That is just free market, sort of laissez
faire, we will not have any intervention; in which case, what
is the point of OFSTED?
(Mr Bell) No, I am not suggesting that at all. What
I am saying is that, as always with these issues, you have to
think through all the implications because there are, as you cited,
thousands and thousands and thousands of supply teachers.
(Mr Bell) Right, 20,000 supply teachers, and, yes,
you might be able to get the information you have described, the
paper information, but there will be issues about: Should inspectors
then inspect those teachers in situ? Because the judgments
that are made about teachers in routine OFSTED inspections are
based on classroom observation. We also have an issue about feedback.
65. If you were head teacher and you knew OFSTED
was coming in, you would make damn sure that Bloggs was not there
teaching the children at your school on that particular day.
(Mr Bell) I am sorry, within your own school?
66. Yes. If you had a shortage, you would say,
"Look, I have got OFSTED coming, send me the finest teacher
you have got. I want Mary who came here last year. She is excellent.
Send me her."
(Mr Bell) I hope head teachers would not do that just
for OFSTED inspections; I hope they would want the best teachers
67. Come on. That is naive. You do not think
that schools prepare and ensure that they are on their best run.
(Mr Bell) No, I think I said to you earlier that schools
will obviously want to present themselves in their best situation.
68. So they are certainly not going to have
my mate Bloggs there, are they?
(Mr Bell) I am happy to look into your mate Bloggs,
Mr Shaw: Will you inspect him? That is what
I am suggesting.
69. Jonathan makes a very important point. Can
we separate these two issues. You are, I think, disappointing
the Committee at the level at which Mike Tomlinson did in the
last session we had with him. We clearly want to get some grip
on the teacher supply agencies. That is different from assessingwhich
we can see is difficulteach teacher. What we are suggesting
is that we want good supply teaching agenciesand we are
not against supply teachers or these agencies. There are certain
methods that could be employed, vetting and much else, of the
quality of the agency, that we believe OFSTED could quite easily
do. That is different from saying, "This is impossible to
do because we would have to check every supply teacher working
in a school." That is a different case.
(Mr Bell) One of my reasons for caution is not trying
to play a straight bat but actually there are other responsibilities
held by other arms of government for the regulation of employment
agencies. I am just cautious at sitting here and saying, "Yes,
it is a great idea to inspect supply teaching agencies,"
when I am not entirely sure (i) what the responsibilities are
of other local government departments for the regulation of employment
agencies, and (ii) what value OFSTED would bring to the process
if it took on inspection responsibility. You did say, and I said
earlier, Chairman, that I wanted the judgments that I made to
be based on evidence. I think all I am saying is that I am happy
to look at the issue but I am not automatically thinking this
is very straightforward, that it is very easy. That is all I am
70. One of the number one priorities or concerns
in my constituency is teacher workload. During your tenure of
office, what is going to be your intention? How are you going
to tackle this subject?
(Mr Bell) I think there are two dimensions to this
question: (i) What role does OFSTED play in teacher workload?
and (ii) What role does OFSTED play in reporting teacher workload?
We have undertaken a whole range of different arrangements to
try to reduce teacher workload. I am not sure if these have been
given to the Committee already, but I am happy to provide those
in written form, all the examples of areas where we have tried
to reduce the bureaucratic burden.
I think the other observation to make about the bureaucracy issue
is that if schools are only being inspected once every four or
once every six years, it is probably hard to make an argument
that in the day-to-day life of the school that is an oppressive
burden. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what role can
OFSTED play in reporting on it, I believe is an issue that the
Committee has raised before with my predecessorcertainly
you asked my predecessor to consider the issue and report on it.
It is an issue on which we will be reporting. I think we have
a role to play in reporting. In fact, we have asked inspectors
to cite examples of where they see bureaucratic burdens. Again,
it is back to the issue of what goes on in individual schools,
because I am sure your experience would suggest that in some schools
the bureaucratic burden does not seem to be an issue because of
the way it is managed internally, and in other schools it appears
to be more of an issue. Perhaps, again, this is where OFSTED can
be helpful. Using the Chairman's example of reports where we cite
good practice, we can cite examples of what is going on, but we
do want to be able to report generally. I hope in the annual report
next year we will be saying something about teacher workload and
71. I may even see it in Birmingham as well.
But it is a real issue in schools.
(Mr Bell) Absolutely.
72. You are suggesting that perhaps it is not
so much of an issue. What priority do you attach to this? At the
end of the day, if you stop teachers teaching, then it does affect
everything they do.
(Mr Bell) It has been quite interesting through the
last week hearing people say, "This should be a priority"
and "That should be a priority." I think I am now up
to about 300 priorities! It is a serious point. I think there
are lots of issues at which OFSTED needs to look. I think we will
report on it and it is something we will talk about in the annual
reports. To that extent, it will have priority. I think the fact
that we are taking it seriously and trying to take steps to reduce
bureaucracy shows that internally to OFSTED it is a priority.
Also, of course, that information that we gather will be very
helpful in advising publicly what is going on. I have already
commented, in a report that we will be publishing later this year,
on national initiatives, which I think may raise issues about
some of the bureaucratic burdens that can be associated with national
schemes. To give you another example, in a report we will be producing
quite soon there will be a report on planning in the primary school
that, I think, may raise some very interesting issues about how
planning can be effective without being over-bureaucratic. So
I think there are a number of examples which demonstrate that
we do take this initiative seriously, and they were partly in
response to concerns that had been raised at this Committee with
73. Do you thinkand I know it is very
early days and we will await your reportthere is too much
interference from the centre in the running of schools?
(Mr Bell) It is interesting. In the interview I gave
for the Times Educational Supplement last week I made the
point that actually you often find in organisations that, where
people have a will to make things happen, they do not let outside
influence, bureaucracy or whatever, get in the way; they actually
make them happen. I think that is why I am slightly cautious about
saying there are too many regulationsyou cannot do this,
you cannot do that. I think successful institutions often just
make them happen because they manage the demands and pressures
on them. Having said that, of course, it makes your job harder
if it is just one thing after another coming down on you. I do
not think OFSTED really has the evidence to say there are too
many burdens, there is too much interference, because OFSTED could
arguerightly on the basis of the annual reportthat
we have seen significant improvement in leadership and management
and surely a significant improvement in leadership and management
suggests that people are able to manage at local level and make
a difference at local level. But I think the OFSTED reports that
I have cited that will be coming out later this year may help
our understanding of what schools think about particular issues
where there could be an argument that there is too much central
direction or interference.
Chairman: I hope you will bear in mind that
this Committee, when we are not sitting in Committee, sit in the
House of Commons' chamber and listen. There was recent legislation
on special educational needs and I was sitting in that chamber
thinking, "Yes, here we are, all in favour of legislation,
but it will look like red tape bureaucracy when it is delivered
to the thousands of schools." So we do realise that there
is a balance in these things.
74. We have talked and inspection is easiest
on those things that are more easily measured, so it might be
said that unless young people have literacy and numeracy there
will be other things that they cannot access. One of the other
things we talked to your predecessor about was combatting racism.
Those areas are rather intangible. The actual values which young
people share, we trust, when they grow up in communities. I have
to say that it is not the burden of bureaucracy which concerns
my schools; it is how to have, across their communities, not just
their schools, a set of common values which are shared. How in
your OFSTED inspections are you going to move on to these less
easily tick-boxed policies? How are you going to move into these
areas that are crucial in fact for our society?
(Mr Bell) I think, again, it is fair to say that really
from the beginning of the inspection arrangements there has always
been a focus on the values and the ethos of the school. I think
many people have commented that it has been one of the virtues
of the inspection process. Going back to the earlier conversation,
it is not just the examination achievement of the school, it is
about the values and the ethos. I think that is often evidenced
in a number of ways, is it not? There has to be evidence in the
policies and procedures, but there is also evidence, for example,
in the extent to which different approaches are celebrated, perhaps
at assembly, or in whether there is a strong positive culture
in the school which recognises what goes on. I think that has
always been there. Interestingly enough, if you read the OFSTED
report which I cited earlier on the achievements of the black
Afro-Caribbean countries, it is very interesting that you think,
"This is about good schools. This is not about good schools
that are only good in that area; this is about schools that value
the learning there, that have high expectations, that are not
prepared to tolerate failure, that do have clear policies and
expectations, where teachers are well prepared," and so on.
So, interestingly, I think you can handle some of the specific
values/concerns (if we put it that way) by just good effective
management and leadership, taking account of the particular things
that you need to do. Another thing I would point out to you in
terms of not just what goes on in one individual school, the LEA
inspection framework now includes an evaluation of the extent
to which the authorities are carrying out their responsibilities
with respect to race relations. That is an important issue, it
seems to me, because that is about looking at the area-wide approach.
I guess that in the particular issues cited it is not just about
what goes on in any one individual institution; it is very important
that we as an inspectorate try to understand what is happening
at the authority-wide level, to see whether there has been an
impact on people's understanding.
75. The evidence, sadly, on the specific one
which we were given by Mike Tomlinson, is that approximately 40
per cent of the LEAs inspected in 2000-01 were unsatisfactory
in terms of combatting racism.
(Mr Bell) That is right.
76. My next question is: That is the evidence,
so what can OFSTED or anyone else do about that?
(Mr Bell) First and foremost, where that evidence
has been collected, it is the responsibility of the LEAs. In those
authorities where it has been judged as unsatisfactory, it will
be one of the key issues that the authority has to pick up. I
think the responsibility properly is back with the authority to
deal with the issue. I guess there are a number of ways in which
the authorities can do that, but I think it is not really OFSTED's
responsibility. If OFSTED have found the evidence and made a recommendation,
it is then the responsibility of the authorities to pick it up.
77. I think there is a fundamental problem thereand
it is not just about this issue, it is about everythingthat
says: The inspection comes along, makes its decision, and leaves
it to somebody else to follow it up. If you go back, X years on
and it is still like that, do you just walk away again and say,
"Of course it is their responsibility. They now have to so
do something about it. We have told them what the evidence is"?
(Mr Bell) I suppose, not just in LEAs but in schools,
we do report on what has happened and how the school or, in this
case. the local authority has moved on since the last inspection.
I think what we have found in schools, and I think we have increasingly
seen it in LEAs, is that most of the issues that are identified
in the first round of inspections are then picked up. I struggle
to think of a specific example of the issue you have described,
where it was identified in the first inspection, given that we
have only started the re-inspection or the second round inspection
programme, but I think for most authorities, as with most schools,
the key issues for recommendations are really the heart of any
action plan in taking the organisation forward.
Chairman: Mr Bell, it has been a very good session.
It has been an opportunity for getting to know you getting to
know us and we getting to know you. I hope you have the message
loud and clear that we will be cantankerous and awkward bunch
of people but also pretty well intentioned. On the one hand we
want you to do everything; on the other we want you to base it
all on evidence. Finally, we want you to be innovative and challengingwe
do not want you to be just a safe pair of handsand we watch
this space with interest.
1 First Report from the Education
and Skills Committee, session 2001-02, Ev 49, Appendix 18; and OFSTED
review: Reducing the Burden of Inspection, May 2001. Back