Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questins 80-96)


9 JANUARY 2008

  Q80  Stephen Williams: On maths and science, quickly. The studies show that we have fewer high-achieving pupils at maths compared with other countries, although on average we are okay. However, in science we do comparatively well. How do you account for that difference and can you reassure me that it is not because science was the main focus of the international study last year?

  Ed Balls: I know that in maths and science we are above average and I know that in science we do particularly well. I do not look at these PISA results and feel that there is any reason for complacency. What they tell me is that we are above average, but not yet world class, and that there is a lot more to do in maths and science. To be honest, I could not give you a detailed answer today about why there is a differential between maths and science, or even whether those results are comparable, because in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development PISA numbers, there are lots of reasons why these things are hard to compare. I would be happy to write you a letter to give you more detail on that point.[6]

  Q81  Stephen Williams: But are you worried that at high levels in maths we are not achieving, whereas in reading we are?

  Ed Balls: If that is what the study shows, it is something that we will need to look at. We obviously have the ongoing Williams review looking at maths teaching in primary schools because I think that there is more that we can do, but I do not want to accept the premise of your question, although that is not because I am doubting it.

  Chairman: You should not have even got that question.

  Q82  Mrs Hodgson: I want to come in on the back of Lynda's questions about teachers, particularly—you will be able to guess, I am sure—with regard to SEN and teacher training. I know that we have spoken about that before. Along with the masters level of qualification, will you be looking at more specialist training in SEN—specifically dyslexia and things like that—and at working smarter, but not necessarily harder.

  Ed Balls: The answer to that is yes. We have allocated £18 million over the next three years, for SEN training amongst other things. We will be responding shortly to your report on SEN and accountabilities.[7] We are committed to reviewing SEN through the Ofsted report in a year's time. On the issues around dyslexia, we allocated £3 million a couple of weeks ago to have a tailored Every Child a Reader pilot, which particularly focuses on dyslexia. What we want to see is how far specialist dyslexia teaching within reading recovery makes a difference. That is something that we are explicitly examining at the moment. I know that there is some evidence that it works, but at the same time I think that we should not rush to judgment until we have looked at the evidence more closely.

  Q83  Ms Butler: Some £144 million has been allocated to Every Child a Reader. Does the Department have any plans to conduct further research on the use of information and communications technology in helping children to read, such as the accelerated reader programme?

  Ed Balls: I cannot answer that question, I am afraid. I do not have the detail on that, but I am happy to drop you a note.[8]

  David Bell: Many schools use those programmes, and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, particularly in its work with secondary schools, has done a lot of work to use ICT programmes to help children to read, so this is not something that is new to the system. I think that schools have been doing this over a number of years.

  Q84  Mr Chaytor: In assessing the performance of a secondary school, is the value added score more important than the five A to Cs score?

  Ed Balls: Both are important. The value added score gives you one way of measuring progress, but another way to measure progress is to examine it over time on the raw scores, taking into account the degree of deprivation and other factors in the area. I would say that we examine both measures rather than just one, although in the tables that I have published about Nottingham, which I referred to when I was talking to Mr Heppell, those comparisons were made using the value added score.

  Q85  Mr Chaytor: From the parent's point of view, why is the value added score not as simple and clear-cut to understand as the five A to Cs score?

  Ed Balls: Because it is more complicated.

  Q86  Mr Chaytor: Why does the Government not make it simpler? From a parent's point of view, they see a whole range of numbers, marginally either side of 100—what does that mean? They understand 68% five A to Cs; they do not understand 98.73% on the value added score.

  Ed Balls: My guess is because the simpler you make it, the closer it takes you back to the raw number. If there is an issue about how we present those numbers, I am very happy to examine that issue, because I absolutely agree with you that the value added is a very important part of tracking performance.

  Q87  Chairman: Someone in the Department must be able to make the measurement simpler, surely. Special advisers—they could do it for you.

  Ed Balls: Have you at any point advised us on how we should do it?

  Chairman: I am sorry; we can do that for you.

  Ed Balls: If you wanted to do that, that would be helpful, but I am happy to make a commitment to examine how we can make that measurement easier to use.

  Chairman: We can do it together. David, have you finished?

  Q88  Mr Chaytor: The other question was, should the colours of the rainbow be in the national curriculum?

  Ed Balls: It would be too late for me.

  Q89  Chairman: Secretary of State, before you fold up your papers, we have a few minutes left and I want to ask a quick question. What on earth is happening in the Academies Programme? I see that Andrew Adonis gave a speech yesterday that seemed to chart a totally new course for Academies. I thought that they were going to be specific Academies tackling deprivation in areas of underachievement, where they would be wonderful new buildings and would offer a new impetus in underperforming areas. First, there were going to be 200, now 400. However, that is what they were to be about. From the report that I read of Andrew's speech yesterday, it seems that you are on course to have all schools becoming Academies, almost like a specialist schools run-out right across the country. What is going on in Academies?

  Ed Balls: I have not read any report that suggested that, but I might have missed the report that you read. I do not think that anything that was said yesterday was different from what we have been saying consistently in recent months. We want every school to be a trust, an Academy or a specialist school. We think that we can get to 230 Academies by the end of the decade—on track to 400. Clearly, though, Academies will be the minority of secondary schools. Academies are focusing on turning round low-performing schools in disadvantaged areas and they are, in fact, delivering faster increases in results, not just with catchment areas that are more disadvantaged, and they are also taking a greater proportion of free-school-meal pupils than the catchment area contains. That is what the Academies Programme is about.

  Q90  Chairman: So it is not changing its basis?

  Ed Balls: No, not at all.

  Q91  Chairman: But yesterday Andrew was quoted as saying there would be 50 a year onward. Is that right?

  Ed Balls: Two hundred and thirty by 2010; our goal is to get to 400 at some point. With apologies to Mr Stuart, I cannot give you a timetable for that either, but we will definitely try to do it.

  Q92  Chairman: What are you doing about runaway children? There has been a fantastic campaign on runaway children for some time, led by Helen Southworth. Are you ever going to respond positively to her campaign and her private Member's initiative?

  Ed Balls: Tomorrow afternoon.

  Q93  Chairman: Positively?

  Ed Balls: Very positively. She has done a very good parliamentary report, and we will respond to it and make a series of announcements tomorrow afternoon.

  Q94  Chairman: Some of us have been involved in the Education and Skills Select Committee, in its different guises, for some time. Probably the one lesson that we learn going through that process is that if you want to improve schools, the one factor that is more important than anything else is the quality of teaching. Are you still happy that you are on course for improving the quality of teaching across schools?

  Ed Balls: The answer to that is contained in the Children's Plan. We intend to do more to bring in more graduates who might not otherwise come into teaching and to encourage more mid-career people into teaching. We can do more to support the professional development of teachers, and we should do more to tackle poor performance. That is highlighted in the report. We need to look at whether or not head teachers have the powers to tackle poor performance, if it occurs, and whether they can use them. We must do all those three things if we are to be world class, but we have the best generation of teachers that we have ever had.

  Q95  Chairman: But some of the good pilot schemes that you have introduced seem very slow to roll out and stay only in places like London. Some of us who are Yorkshire or provincial Members of Parliament would like to see Fast Track in our area—it is a programme that has worked well over this first tranche of four or five years. We would also like to see Teach First in our areas. When is that going to happen?

  Ed Balls: You and I have a common interest in taking forward the agenda, and I will have a word with Lord Adonis to find out what his timetables are. *

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  Chairman: Graham, to show that I am a very balanced Chair, you can have a quick question.

  Q96  Mr Stuart: That is very welcome, Chairman. It is very welcome that primary schools are going to teach foreign languages, but there has been a drop from 77% of 15-year-olds who studied languages for GCSE 10 years ago to about 50% now. Will you look again at the decision to stop it being mandatory to study languages to GCSE, if not now then in a year or two's time, if the collapse in the numbers studying languages at GCSE continues?

  Ed Balls: I am not saying that we will never look at this again, but at the moment it is not our intention to do so because the Dearing report made clear recommendations, which were implemented. We now have 70% of children who do some form of foreign language learning in primary school. Two thousand teachers are already trained, and we are trying to train 6,000 more to teach foreign languages in primary schools. The Rose review will embed modern language learning in the primary curriculum. Getting children to start learning modern languages early is the best way to persuade them to sustain modern language learning through secondary school. The Dearing conclusion was that when children are not motivated and not doing well in learning a foreign language, forcing them to continue to do so in Years 10 and 11 is the wrong thing to do. At the moment, I have not seen any compelling evidence to persuade me that we should change our minds on that.

  Chairman: Secretary of State, this train has arrived three minutes late, but we are not bad—we can still make Prime Minister's questions. This has been a very enjoyable experience for us. We have learned a lot. We are going to learn how to keep on your tail, which will be difficult but we will enjoy the challenge. I hope that you have enjoyed this session.

  Ed Balls: May I say that the scrutiny and also the policy advice that the Committee can give us over the next year on the implementation of the Children's Plan will be very valuable? I hope that you will take up the challenge.

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7   Special Educational Needs: Assessment and Funding: Government Response to the Tenth Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2006-07, Second Special Report of Session 2007-08, HC 298, published 4 February 2008 Back

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