Select Committee on Education and Skills First Report

2  In-school reform

21. There are a number of policy proposals which have met with a generally favourable response. These include those relating to behaviour in schools, personalisation of learning, and workforce development (including the development of school leaders).


22. In June 2005, the DfES convened a Practitioners' Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, under the Chairmanship of Sir Alan Steer, to make recommendations about how effective practice in promoting positive behaviour and preventing misbehaviour can be embedded in all schools, drawing on the approaches currently used by successful schools. The Group reported on 21 October, just before the White Paper was published.[18] The Group produced an extremely thorough report and made over 60 recommendations.

23. It argued that most pupils are well behaved, that most schools manage behaviour successfully, and that "incidents of serious misbehaviour, and especially acts of extreme violence, remain exceptionally rare and are carried out by a very small minority of pupils".[19] The main issue, for both teachers and pupils, is the effect of frequent, low level disruption: "This has a wearing effect on staff, interrupts learning and creates a climate in which it is easier for more serious incidents to occur."[20] It supported what it described as the core message of the inquiry chaired by Lord Elton on similar issues in 1989 that there is a need for a coherent whole school approach to promoting behaviour based on good relationships between all members of the school community.

24. Its main recommendation was that a teacher's right to discipline a pupil should be set down in law, following on from recommendations made by the Elton Committee in 1989 but never enacted. The Group puts forward a number of reasons why it considers specific legal provision to be desirable, including the need to have a more definite provision than the current in loco parentis principle, which in any event does not apply to pupils over the age of 18, and the increasing trend for parents to challenge schools at law.[21]

25. The Government has accepted this recommendation and others with measures as summarised at the beginning of Chapter 7 of the White Paper:

"We will implement [the Practitioners' Group's] recommendations by:

  • introducing a clear and unambiguous legal right for teachers to discipline pupils, including re-affirmation of the right to restrain pupils using reasonable force, backed by an expectation that every school has a clear set of rules and sanctions;
  • extending parenting orders, so that schools can use them to make parents take responsibility for their children's bad behaviour in school;
  • expecting parents to take responsibility for excluded pupils in the first five days of an exclusion, by ensuring their children are supervised doing schoolwork, with fines for parents if excluded pupils are found in a public place during school hours;
  • expecting headteachers collectively to develop on and off-site alternative provision for suspensions longer than five days, with all exclusions properly recorded;
  • requiring local authorities to make full-time provision for permanently excluded pupils after five days; and
  • making discipline a key factor in evaluating school performance."

26. These proposals from the Government have been generally welcomed. Steve Sinnott of the NUT told us that he thought the measures on behaviour were "really positive"[22] and John Dunford of SHA said that he was "delighted that the White Paper in probably its best section welcomes [the Practitioners' Group] report and says that it will legislate on it."[23]

27. We welcome both the Practitioners' report and the Government's response to it. The Committee in the last Parliament commented on the problems caused by poor standards of pupil behaviour in its series of reports on secondary education from 2003 to 2005, and in its final report on the subject just before the 2005 election commented that:

"Poor behaviour holds down standards, causes some parents to choose schools outside their localities and some good teachers to leave the profession. Improving Pupil Behaviour requires swift action in schools. We welcome the Secretary of State's public commitment to improving behaviour and we shall monitor with interest the outcomes of her new initiatives."[24]

We are therefore pleased to see that the Secretary of State has continued to address this problem with vigour.

28. We are particularly pleased that provision will be made for excluded pupils from the sixth day of exclusion rather than the sixteenth day as at present, but should the Government go further? We asked the Secretary of State if it was reasonable to expect parents to stay at home with their children for the first five days of their exclusion; would it not be better to require schools and local authorities to make that provision from the first day? The Secretary of State argued that it was right for parents to take responsibility for their children. The Minister of State told us:

"In some areas of the country where we have got the behaviour improvement programmes local authorities have found ways to bring forward provision from day one. That has been, of course, with considerable additional funding from the Government. There is also a question, when you are thinking about whether or not that five days is reasonable over and above what the funding implications might be, as to whether or not it is also reasonable for parents to take some responsibility for what has happened to their child in having been excluded from school and that there is a period of time when the child is removed from the school. Quite often for headteachers that is quite an important part of the punishment, that the young person recognises that they have done something that was serious enough to warrant them being out of school for a period of time. I think the balance is about right on that".[25]

29. We take the point the Minister of State makes about parents taking responsibility and about pupils understanding that exclusion is serious and means they are kept away from school for a period. However, we remain concerned about the effects of this proposal on some of the most disadvantaged families and on single parents. We do not believe that it is realistic to expect parents in low paid or insecure employment to take time off work in these circumstances without the risk of losing their job. We also believe that it would be difficult to enforce such a policy. One of the concerns about excluded children is that they can drop out of education altogether. The fact that alternative provision has to be found after a week will certainly help to address that issue, but the DfES should monitor the situation to gauge whether that drop out continues to be a problem and if so whether provision from the first day of exclusion might be an appropriate response. It should also evaluate what has been the effect of local authorities having responsibility for excluded pupils from the first day of their exclusion in the areas running the behaviour improvement programme.

30. The Practitioners' Group welcomes the decision to consult the teaching profession on this issue and recommends that the Government uses similar groups in future. We agree. It would not be appropriate in all circumstances, but a Practitioners' Group of this kind could prove extremely effective in helping to spread best practice across schools on other issues and we hope the success of this venture will encourage the DfES to use this mechanism again.


31. The Government explicitly promotes increased personalisation of learning as a means of improving levels of attainment:

"To drive up standards while also improving social mobility, we are determined to provide more personalised services for children and their families. Personalisation is the key to tackling the persistent achievement gaps between different social and ethnic groups. It means a tailored education for every child and young person, that gives them strength in the basics, stretches their aspirations, and builds their life chances. It will create opportunity for every child, regardless of their background."[26]

32. The White Paper acknowledges that this is not a new concept, and lists some of the current best practice and some of the initiatives the Government has brought forward in this area, but says that there must be an increased focus on tailored learning:

"Now we must go much further and create an education system that focuses on the needs of the individual child. This means intensive small-group tuition in literacy and numeracy for those falling behind, including one-to-one support where appropriate, and extra stretch for the gifted and talented. It means every pupil being able to extend their learning and develop their interests and aptitudes through extra support and tuition beyond the school day. And, most important of all, it means excellent, tailored whole-class teaching with all the resources available from extra support staff to improved ICT being used to ensure that every pupil gets the education they need."[27]

33. The Government also acknowledges that this change will not come cheaply, and says that it intends to prioritise personalised learning within overall schools' funding to enable every child to benefit from this tailored approach.[28] Precisely how this will be done is not made clear, not least given the Government's desire to move away from separate funding streams and ring-fencing. Nor did we receive much evidence to show that the government had properly considered the training programme required to deliver this agenda. The DfES needs to provide more detail on its plans for funding personalised learning, and in particular how it will ensure that funding is used for its intended purpose. The department also needs to give much more careful consideration to the changes in Initial Teacher Training and the amount of in-service training which will be required to make personalised learning a reality.

34. As with the Government's plans on behaviour, this proposal met with general approval. Mary Bousted from ATL, Chris Keates from NASUWT and Steve Sinnott from NUT all welcomed the Government's plans.[29] Professor John Adams of the National Association of School Governors was equally supportive:

"We welcome particularly the emphasis on personalised learning, the whole area of individual attention and the recognition that the dispersion between the performance of the best and the worst schools, using that shorthand, has narrowed but the dispersion between the best and worst pupils, using again a very particular shorthand, has not. A personalisation agenda, trying to attack that, I think is extremely important."[30]

35. We welcome the Government's proposals to provide more individually tailored education. These policies, directed at what actually happens in classrooms, are as important as anything in the White Paper. These proposals could directly and beneficially affect every child at school in England, and we look forward to seeing how matters develop in practice.

36. We do, however, sound two cautionary notes. Included in the chapter on personalised learning are proposals on the gifted and talented programme and for an increase in setting and grouping by ability and attainment. Professor David Gilborn, from the Institute of Education at the University of London, drew our attention to the fact that, according to DfES statistics, white pupils were twice as likely to be identified as gifted and talented as pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds in general (10% of white pupils; 6% of pupils of Indian origin; 5% of pupils of Pakistanis origin; 4% of pupils of Black Caribbean origin; and 2% of pupils of Black African origin).[31] Professor Gilborn says:

"The government is committed to 'evidence-informed policy making'. The evidence on race and education is very clear: race inequality is sustained, and even worsened, where judgements are made about ability and academic potential but no safeguards are built-in to ensure that stereotypes and unintended consequences do not further institutionalise the disadvantage faced by many Black students."[32]

If the Government wishes to address educational disadvantage, it needs to take seriously the problem of the under-representation of minority ethnic groups in the gifted and talented programme to ensure that implementation of its policy does guard against stereotypes and unintended consequences.

37. In tackling educational disadvantage by personalised learning, the Government has also to have strong regard for children with special educational needs. The Committee is well aware that there are concerns at present—and witnesses touched on this—that some children particularly on the autistic spectrum and for example with Aspergers Syndrome can have abilities that bring them into a high intelligence/gifted and talented category. Their needs also have to be specifically addressed in personalised learning.

38. The Committee is conducting a concurrent enquiry into Special Educational Needs but also heard concerns from witnesses within its White Paper enquiry that admissions policies and unintended consequences of new school structures should not disadvantage children with special educational needs. We have further recommendations to make on this later in this report.

39. There are also questions about the effectiveness of setting and grouping. Recent research indicates that the use of ability grouping does not increase attainment at GCSE.[33] The researchers found that "Socially disadvantaged students achieved significantly lower grades", and that performance essentially depended on the set in which pupils were placed: "students of similar ability achieved higher GCSE grades when they were placed in higher sets". Much depended on the way in which sets were created and the extent to which pupils could move between sets. At the least, this evidence suggests that the case for further setting is not proven, and we welcome the Government's intention to publish independent research into current best practice.[34]

Workforce and leadership development

40. The school workforce is key to the drive for improvement in standards of educational provision and attainment. As the Committee in the last Parliament said in its report on teacher retention and recruitment, "without sufficient appropriately qualified and experienced teachers, all plans for improvements in school provision will come to nothing."[35] The Government notes in the White Paper that:

"The quality of teaching in our classrooms has been transformed since 1997. Ofsted judged teaching to be good or better in 78% of secondary schools inspected in 2004/05 compared with 59% in 1996/97, and in 74% of primary schools, compared with 45% in 1996/97. According to Ofsted, we already have the best ever generation of teachers."[36]

41. The Government proposes a revised set of teachers' professional standards laying down what can be expected of teachers at every stage of their careers, with a particular emphasis on continuing professional development. It also envisages a greater degree of specialisation amongst teachers, teaching assistants and support staff, in areas such as: "catch up and stretch"; literacy and numeracy; health and welfare (of particular importance for extended schools); sport, music and modern foreign languages in primary schools; people with recent practical experience of the workplace to provide vocational education; dealing with disruptive behaviour, truancy and behavioural issues; and trained bursars and other administrative staff "freeing teachers to teach".[37]

42. The White Paper also makes proposals for the development of school leadership. It says, rightly, that "Good leadership is at the heart of every good school. A strong headteacher, backed by an able leadership team and governing body, is vital for success."[38] In seeking to develop this situation, the Government makes four imaginative proposals: to train heads to lead the most challenging schools; to identify and train the next generation of school leaders; to bring in people from a wider range of professional backgrounds to act in expert non-teaching roles in the management of schools; and, through the National College for School Leadership, to identify the most effective heads as national leaders of education. [39]

43. This makes for a very impressive, progressive agenda, but does it take account of the realities of school life and the pressures on teachers' and other staff time? We asked Sir Alan Steer, as a current head teacher, for his view. He told us:

"..there is the potential in schools to vastly improve training if you get the culture right. That is a very easy thing for a head teacher to say with all the dangers of the poor classroom teacher saying, 'Well he would, would he not'. My school has embarked, in the last four years, on probably the most exciting educational initiative of my entire professional career, which has been the Assessment for Learning, which has very little, if any, resource implications, is hugely motivational for teachers and highly effective…often in a school it is an issue not that we have too many meetings, we have too many bad meetings."[40]

44. We believe that the Government is on the right lines with its emphasis on training and professionalism, and with its emphasis on the importance of leadership in schools. The Committee in the last Parliament made recommendations on the desirability of specific training for teachers who wanted to teach in the most challenging schools,[41] so we welcome the proposals on training for headteachers of these schools, particularly in the light of the recent findings from the National Audit Office on the difficulties in filling some head teacher vacancies.[42] We recommend that detailed consideration be given to training teachers for the most challenging schools and to ways of supporting them in their teaching career. As with the implementation of more personalised learning, however, there are resource implications, principally in freeing staff time to engage in training and development activities. As our predecessors said, there will be no improvement in educational standards unless appropriately qualified teachers and other staff are in place. To be successful, the Government must ensure that there is time in teachers' timetables to pursue appropriate training. We recommend that the Government looks urgently at setting a minimum entitlement in teachers' timetables, particularly in primary schools, for continuing personal development and such training. This is especially important in respect of newly-introduced elements to the curriculum , such as citizenship education, or significant curriculum changes in other subjects.

18   Learning Behaviour, The report of the Practitioners' Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, DfES, 21 October 2005. Back

19   ibid, para1. Back

20   Ibid, para 3. Back

21   ibid, para 222. Back

22   Q 246 Back

23   Q 302 Back

24   Education and Skills Committee, Fifth Report, Session 2004-05, Secondary Education, HC 86, para 90. Back

25   Q 659 Back

26   White Paper, para 4.2. Back

27   ibid, para 4.6. Back

28   ibid, para 4.7. Back

29   Qq 246, 247 Back

30   Q 343 Back

31   Ev 23 Back

32   ibid para 20 Back

33   What are the effects of ability grouping on GCSE attainment? Judith Ireson, Susan Hallam and Clare Hurley, British Educational Research Journal Vol 31, No. 4, August 2005, pp 443-458. Back

34   White Paper, para 4.36. Back

35   Education and Skills Committee, Fifth Report, Session 2003-04, Teacher Retention and Recruitment, HC 1057-I, para 145. Back

36   White Paper, para 8.5. Back

37   ibid, para 8.15. Back

38   ibid, para 8.21. Back

39   ibid, para 8.22. Back

40   Q 234 Back

41   Education and Skills Committee, Fifth Report, 2003-04, Teacher Retention and Recruitment, HC 1057-I, paras 84 to 86.  Back

42   Improving poorly performing schools in England HC 679 2005-06, 9 January 2006, Executive summary para 37. Back

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