Evidence heard in Public

Questions 67 - 150




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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee

on Wednesday 1 April 2009

Members present:

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Chairman)

Annette Brooke

Mr. David Chaytor

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson

Paul Holmes

Fiona Mactaggart

Mr. Andy Slaughter

Mr. Graham Stuart

Derek Twigg


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Councillor Les Lawrence, Chair of the Children and Young People's Board, Local Government Association, gave evidence.


Chairman: We welcome Councillor Les Lawrence. He is not an unfamiliar figure in this Committee. It is a pleasure to see him here again in these-for us-rather acoustically challenging circumstances. We will all have to shout a bit.

Les Lawrence: Is it because it is 1 April?


Q67 Chairman: I wish that there was a sensible reason. I did not know this for years, but you have to queue up at 6.45 am to book a room, and Jenny, a member of our wonderful staff, has been doing that for a very long time with none of us knowing about it.

Les, you know what the inquiry is about. When this Committee was formed, we took it very seriously that we would look at some of the main planks of educational reform over the past 20 years. We looked at the testing assessment. Did you come in for that one? Was it the last time you were here?

Les Lawrence: Yes, I did.


Q68 Chairman: It was a long time ago when we did testing assessment. Some people thought that we wrote quite a good report on that, and you know what has happened since then. Our report on the national curriculum comes out tomorrow so poor old President Obama will probably not get a look-in in the newspaper columns. This is the third of the sittings on accountability, Ofsted and all that. In parallel with that, we shall also be looking at the training of teachers. We have looked at some of the pretty fundamental aspects of schooling, and we are getting into the meat of that today. Do you want to say anything to get us started or do you want to go straight into questions?

Les Lawrence: Let's dive straight in.


Q69 Chairman: What is the Local Government Association's view on the Government's policies at the moment? Are you co-operating with the Government's policies or do you take Eric Pickles's line that non-co-operation is probably a good way forward-certainly for Conservative authorities?

Les Lawrence: The broad thrust of the "Every Child Matters" agenda-the emphasis on attainment, the concepts around school improvement, giving local authorities the strategic role in determining the nature of educational provision within the local authority and the role of being the champion for the child and the young person within the school context, as well as the wider service context-is one that local authorities are very keen not only to carry out, but further develop.

When I appeared before the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill Committee, we at the LGA were able to say that we were very supportive of the changing emphasis on and strengthening role of local authorities in the 16-to-19 arena because that fits into the overall 0-to-19 responsibility for the delivery of children's services in all its elements. In that sense, there is a broad welcome, especially for the recognition of the role of local government. That is not to say that there have not been significant areas where we have had robust discussions with the Government and when at times we felt that there was an overly strong sense of direction, or what some of my colleagues called the centralised control of localised planning. That relationship is evolving.

In regard to some of my colleagues, I have to say that the law of the land is the law of the land. Legislation is in place. Local authorities have a duty to implement that legislation, but we take great pride in actually taking the legislation, moulding and adapting it, and using flexibilities to best serve those whom we have been elected to serve within our localities.

If any local authority acted ultra vires, it would soon be called to account. In the constitutional context, that particular pivotal role in the relationship between central and local government is sometimes not fully appreciated by those in the House who, quite properly, have a specific role to fulfil.


Q70 Chairman: I am not trying to make a party political point. The chronology of the development of the national curriculum, which we have just finished looking at, has been pretty cross-party over 20 years with the centralisation of the control of the curriculum. We get used to those parameters being as they are. It is quite remarkable. I was talking to people from Bury this week, who said that the Bury view is to take Eric Pickles's recommendations-for example, there should be no co-operation with a programme of Building Schools for the Future. Is that just the idiosyncratic behaviour of one council, or is it the advice from the LGA?

Les Lawrence: The advice from the LGA is that the Building Schools for the Future programme gives local authorities a pivotal role not only in improving the facilities that our children and young people will learn in, but in being innovative and looking at each of the learning environments they are creating. We should be creating not bog-standard comprehensives-to use a terrible phrase used by a certain person-but environments within which youngsters can learn in different ways. They should be very flexible alternative environments. They should be provided in such a way that over the next 20 to 25 years they can be adapted to suit the changing types of learning that will be promoted by the teaching profession and the technologies that will support the delivery of that education. They should support the nature of the curriculum as it adapts to meet the changing needs of the wider society. You cannot just use the same traditional methodology. Pedagogical change will drive the nature of the learning environment.

Young people will have to become more flexible because over their lifetimes and careers they will face a series of different challenges and changes. You therefore want to try to create young people who are not only good at inculcating, adapting, analysing and utilising information and knowledge, but are themselves capable of being flexible and adaptable.

Chairman: I have totally misled you, Councillor Lawrence. For Hansard, it was Dudley, not Bury. Let us get down to the main point of this meeting. David is going to lead on the accountability regime.


Q71 Mr. Chaytor: What should schools be accountable for?

Les Lawrence: They should be accountable for ensuring, in conjunction with the local authority, that each young person fulfils their potential. That may sound very simple, but they must look at the capability of each young person and, within the constructs of the national curriculum, seek as far as possible to develop the learning environment for that young person to enable them to be encouraged, supported and challenged and to fulfil the potential that exists within each and every young person. Obviously, they must then monitor that through the various mechanisms at the various key stages and ultimately with the public examinations at 16.


Q72 Mr. Chaytor: What about financial accountability?

Les Lawrence: Yes, the money that is passported through the direct schools grant down to each school via each local authority's agreed formula has to be the basis on which the school is managed not only financially, but in terms of the overall resources that are available. That can be done in conjunction with the governing body and the local authority in partnership. The local authority provides the oversight and the financial support to enable the school to manage on a day-by-day basis and must do so without interfering in that day-to-day operation.


Q73 Mr. Chaytor: You have said in terms of accountability for both development of potential and the use of finance that the school has joint responsibility with the local authority. Should the school be responsible to the local authority? If not, to whom should the school be responsible?

Les Lawrence: You will find that local authorities tend to look at the family of schools within their jurisdiction as a partnership and, yes, leave them to operate on a day-to-day basis. They allow the head teachers, with the governing body, to oversee that day-to-day operation, but it is still a partnership, because although they have the autonomy to work in that way, they cannot do all that is required-diplomas are a classic example-on their own. Therefore, they need to be in partnership with the local authority.

However, you could equally argue, quite properly, that schools are accountable to the parents and the young people themselves for that which is provided to the young people and for how they report to, engage with and enable the parents to participate as well. But it all has to be done on a partnership basis. It is not people operating in silos, or being part of, or separate from: it has to be a partnership, otherwise success cannot be achieved to its fullest extent.


Q74 Mr. Chaytor: That sounds a little bit like blurring responsibilities. If something goes horribly wrong, who is responsible: the head teacher, the chair of governors, or the Director of Children's Services?

Les Lawrence: At the end of the day, the local authority is the accountability of last resort. It is for the local authority, by working in partnership, to seek to ensure-using all sorts of performance management techniques that do not interfere, but just provide oversight; a comfort blanket if you like-that the trends of attainment and the processes of financial management of the school are such that you can detect at an early stage if things are going slightly awry, be it at a particular key stage or throughout the school as a whole. You will then seek to intervene by using SIPs or an advisory service at an early stage. If a school descends into special measures, then certainly many of my lead member colleagues and I feel that that is a failure on behalf of the local authority for not having had the foresight to use the powers that we have to intervene earlier.

I agree that there are occasions, however, where something can go very badly wrong, very quickly; for example, if a governing body and its members decide to go off on a particular tack, or there are a whole series of new members and they decide to, shall we say, have an agenda that is not necessarily in the interests of the total school population. That does not happen that often, but when it does the local authority has to take very serious and urgent action, often having recourse to the Secretary of State.


Q75 Mr. Chaytor: You have put a lot of emphasis on the local authority's role, understandably, but where does Ofsted fit into all that? Do you think that the existing powers and procedures used by Ofsted are appropriate?

Les Lawrence: Ofsted is an important part of ensuring that the accountability framework is working, but more importantly that the levels of attainment are being achieved for all pupils, not just a few. I think that it is quite right for a body that is independent to provide additional challenge, at regular intervals, to ensure that the processes, methodologies and practices are appropriate for the outcomes that are expected.


Q76 Mr. Chaytor: From the local authority's point of view, are you satisfied with the current Ofsted inspection framework and, for example, the frequency of inspections?

Les Lawrence: On the frequency and the framework, there are concerns within local authorities about the consistency and the quality of inspections. Perhaps, in part, there are those who still hark back to the days of the HMI where there was a recognised respect, integrity and quality, although the inspections often took a very long time. But these days there are concerns about the quality and capability of some of the inspection teams. Also, with the more snap inspections, there are concerns about the extent to which they fully engage governing bodies. There are certainly concerns within some governing bodies that the degree to which they are allowed to participate and be engaged is not as great as it could be.


Q77 Mr. Chaytor: You have not mentioned at all the role of central Government, but it is they who legislated for Ofsted and the testing regime, and to reduce the national curriculum. What is the school's responsibility to central Government, in terms of accountability?

Les Lawrence: The school's accountability to central Government is, in a sense, vested in the local authority, ensuring that together they are meeting the legislative framework and the standards that are expected-through the various national indicators and other statutory targets. Quite rightly, if that is not being achieved-collectively or individually-then Government have every right to call to account individual schools or local authorities, or both.


Q78 Mr. Chaytor: Finally, as a representative of local authorities, are you satisfied with the current accountability regime that the Government have imposed, particularly in respect of testing?

Les Lawrence: I will give you a politician's answer and say yes and no. Sometimes I think that there is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the time scale between setting a policy and its implementation on the ground in a school or across the local authority, and seeing the proper outcome from that policy being enacted. There is a tendency, at times, for it to be rushed. In rushing, you do not necessarily allow that policy to be fully implemented to the extent that would bring about the total outcome that is being sought.

Without appearing to be unkind, sometimes the life cycle of Ministers itself hinders the full implementation of policies, whereas the life cycles of elected Members and school processes are such that they have a life of their own. Sometimes Governments of whatever party-this tendency has been there for the last 20 or 30 years-try to get an outcome that can be utilised in a way that is not always to the benefit of policy implementation on the ground.


Q79 Mr. Chaytor: Perhaps I could ask one final question. If you had the power to change one aspect of the current accountability system, what would it be?

Les Lawrence: I am not sure that there is any one particular aspect that I would want to change, other than to ask whether we could have a break from initiatives. I know that it is difficult, because a Secretary of State, of whatever power, might come in and say, "We are going to have a moratorium on legislation and initiatives for three years. We are going to bed down, ensure that everything that is in place is working and then subtly adjust those areas that aren't." The trouble is that in a very short space of time the media would be on everybody's back, challenging why nothing was happening in this or that area. But if I had the chance, I would ask for a moratorium on legislation and initiatives for about three years.


Q80 Mr. Stuart: To what extent do you think that choice has a role to play in challenging under-performance?

Les Lawrence: The first thing to say is that we have to be very careful around the use of the word "choice". The LGA and all the political parties in it have been very strong in seeking to get clarification on that. If you are talking about, for example, parents exercising a preference as to where they would like their child to go to school, be it primary or secondary, it is only a preference, because it is not a choice in the strict sense of the word. You are given options, but as for making a specific choice to place your child in a school-which, technically, exists in the independent sector-in the state sector it is exercising a preference.

The exercise of that preference can indeed-you are right-be a mechanism for providing a challenge to the school in one sense. But equally there are schools that actively encourage parents to participate in the life of the school, which itself becomes a challenge. Parents who are concerned about the outcomes for their children provide not only a challenge but additional support to schools to ensure that the education being delivered to the young people is in a form and to a standard that they feel is appropriate, so it is a partnership again at that level.

If parents feel that they are not getting the right education for their child, either they can appeal to the local authority or, in extremis, they can go direct to Ofsted and ask it to intervene. It is an interesting area for debate, but I think that if you tried to exercise strict choice you would bring instability into the school system, which would be to the detriment of the overall provision of education.


Q81 Mr. Stuart: It would seem to be the opinion of both the main political parties that that instability would not have the effect that you mentioned, but in fact would help to challenge deep-seated under-performance in certain places. For example, the Conservatives are looking more towards the Swedish model of freer schools-basically taking this Government's reforms further and making them less diluted. Does the LGA reject the idea that greater freedom to set up new schools would provide the ultimate accountability of allowing parents to go to new institutions?

Les Lawrence: The LGA's position has always been that the diversity of types of education within each local authority is to a large extent one of the strategic roles of local authorities, which is why you have still got some local authorities such as Kent which have grammar schools. You have got authorities such as my own where we have not only grammar schools, but single-sex schools and faith schools, and in a sense you are providing a wider degree of preference for parents to find an education most suited to what they believe are the needs of their offspring. Some authorities have gone for a single type of school within their local authority. I think that that type of diversity and flexibility across local authorities itself provides a challenge.

If you look at the Swedish system you see that there is now quite a lot of debate as to whether the free school system has caused a degree of dissent and division within the communities themselves. As I understand it, looking at recent debates in Sweden, they are beginning to wonder whether they need to go in the opposite direction, having been through the experiment-it has taken them about 20 years to create 900 of these schools, separate from the other more traditional schools. Even that takes a long time to evolve, and I do not think it is something that you could achieve overnight even if you had legislation.


Q82 Mr. Stuart: What do you think of the provision in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill to make academies accountable to the new Young People's Learning Agency as opposed to local authorities?

Les Lawrence: The LGA's position is that-I will not quite describe it as ambivalent-it does not really worry us to any extent.


Q83 Mr. Stuart: What do you see as the rationale for the very complex set of performance management processes that have been put in place for the 16-to-19 age group in particular?

Les Lawrence: We have some concern at the plethora of bodies: the YPLA, the SFA and the NAS, to name but three. We think that is a slight overkill. We worry that there is a danger of what we call-not mission creep, but you know what I am getting at. It is a mechanism for exercising greater centralised control than is necessary to exercise the new powers for the commissioning of 16-to-19 provision. We also have some concern at the apparent intention to dictate the size of the YPLA. We understand that it is going to comprise around 500 people, and we still have not worked out within our mechanisms exactly what each of those people is likely to do. Therefore, the larger it is, the more it will seek to find something to do.


Q84 Mr. Stuart: The LGA has talked about having a harmonised accountability system and a desire-rather than for competition and choice-for what seems to be the idea of a need for greater collaboration between providers within this harmonised accountability system. Could you explain a bit more about that thinking?

Les Lawrence: At the end of the day, if you take it from the outcome, what we want is quality provision that allows each young person to find the most appropriate route to develop potential after the statutory school system. Therefore, we need to be able to ensure that what is being provided, being commissioned, is of high quality at each and every stage. That means that not every institution is going to be able to do it. What you are doing is commissioning on the basis of need not on the basis of demand. What tends to happen at the moment-and there is good evidence both real and anecdotal-is that you can have a lot of colleges each competing for the same pool, trying to provide the same thing, the same type of course. At the end of the day, the quality is not always the same in each and every institution. Whereas if you challenge each of the institutions to be the best, then those that are the best will be the ones commissioned to provide. Those that are not quite up to the mark will have to look at another niche area and develop that skill.


Q85 Mr. Stuart: That rationale will be familiar to anyone listening to-I don't mean yourself as a bureaucrat-bureaucrats through all time who have thought that central planning and control and a rational division of responsibilities from them is the right way to go. We get astonishing quality through our supermarkets without an arm of the state intervening and telling Waitrose to concentrate on these things and Tesco on something else.

Les Lawrence: Supermarkets have a freedom that colleges do not. They can target different groups of people based on their ability to pay. So you will have the "basics" and you will have the "finest"-I am not saying Tesco is the best, I am just using it as an example-and then people can mix and match. We cannot afford to have a 16-to-19 system that is predicated on the basis of a student's ability to be funded at different levels. They have all got to be funded to get the best quality outcome and we have to use the colleges, work-based learning or the third sector to provide an education, combined sometimes with training or employment, to ensure that that young person continues to fulfil their potential and gain the skills that will benefit not only them but wider society, be it the private, public or third sector.


Q86 Mr. Stuart: Could you talk us through the information that local authorities rely on to assess their skills? To what extent is it Ofsted-determined or contextual value-added? Can you comment on the quality of that? Do you feel there is a commonality in the way that local authorities use the data?

Les Lawrence: In the statutory sector local authorities now have a database of information that enables them to track attainment very successfully, not only on an age, ethnicity and gender basis but on a collective basis, school by school, locality by locality. That certainly is being used to provide differentiated support to different parts of local authorities.

If you take some of the inner areas of our cities, you will find young people who at three, four, five and six have little or no skill in English. Therefore you can target support. Equally, with working-class white boys or black Afro-Caribbean boys and Bangladeshi boys, you can target those groups with support to raise their levels of attainment.

It is perhaps a sign of the times that girls outperform boys at all ages, irrespective of ethnicity. Whether there is some hidden aspect there, I am not sure. But because of that, you are able to see, first, where schools are not achieving to the extent that they should be and, secondly, what support is necessary to support improving levels of attainment. Thirdly, you have a mechanism to show to communities, and especially to parents, how schools attain and how they are succeeding with their young people.


Q87 Mr. Stuart: That all sounds marvellous, yet the number of NEETs we have after the doubling of education expenditure over the last 12 years is the same as it was 12 or 13 years ago. The number of children who leave primary school unable to read and write properly and the number who leave at 16 without five good GCSEs are deeply depressing figures. From what you have just said one might consider that local authorities were intervening early and were able to track the individual pupil to tackle the under-performance of white working-class boys for instance, but there is no evidence that it is being tackled.

Les Lawrence: If you look at the rates of improvement in many local authorities over the last four to five years, you begin to see that data being used very successfully. Yes, it has taken a long time. Do not forget that those who are NEETs now started their school careers many years back. The point that I was making to David Chaytor is that we have had this constant change, dare I say it, ever since the Baker curriculum reforms. Much of that was very good but the curriculum was being prescribed to the nth degree from the centre. We have moved a long way back to giving a lot more flexibility in terms of the curriculum construct now. Therefore we are having to operate in this constant state of change.

A period of stability would be very helpful to enable us to bring about the type of improvements that we are beginning to achieve now, simply because we have the data to hand and the powers to intervene. I think that over the next three to five years that will bring about the type of standards that we all want for our children and young people. Yes, you are quite right. Local authorities have not been as good as they should have been over the last decade in challenging and seeking to raise the levels of attainment of young people.

Chairman: Your answer suggests it was over the last two decades. You mentioned Lord Baker as the starting point.

Les Lawrence: I sometimes forget how long I have been involved in local government.


Q88 Paul Holmes: I was interested in your comment that the debate in Sweden has now moved on from the glowing view that free schools have been an unbridled success. Are you aware that the Swedish national educational agency's analysis of free schools showed that it was only the middle class who made use of them effectively, and that they had led to an increase in racial and social segregation in the areas where they were set up?

Les Lawrence: That is the evidence that the LGA has begun to gather. Some important benefits arise from involving communities more in the life of a school and the direction in which the school is going. There is an opportunity for local authorities to utilise some of that to encourage and embed schools within the communities in many parts of the country.

In some areas the level of aspiration within communities acts as a barrier to young people further attaining. Pupils are only in the school environment for a certain period of their life. A school can only take the level of aspiration in a young person so far, because once they go back into the community-the home-there is a depressing effect on that aspiration level. Therefore, if you can engage communities within the life of the school such that you had adult learning going on alongside the young person's learning-actually using the school as a community resource in a wider context-you can then begin to develop the aspiration of the community as a whole. If you do that, the teachers and the teams in the classroom can raise the aspiration levels of the young people further. In that sense, there is a benefit that comes out of the Swedish model, but it has to be adapted to the English culture and way of life.


Q89 Paul Holmes: I quite understand involving, for example, adults in school or having adult education classes, which I have seen in lots of state schools in this country, but why does that have to be part of a free school movement?

Les Lawrence: It does not. In many local authorities, it has been utilised because it has had some interesting benefits. For example, adults beginning to learn themselves means that they have been able to engage with their young children at home, discussing what the young people are learning and therefore what is consistent with their homework. Actually sitting around the table and having interaction within the family has itself been of benefit. That has helped to reduce misbehaviour, truancy and all sorts of by-products. So, yes, it does not necessarily come out of the free school movement, but the evidence shows that the more you can engage communities in the life of the school there is consequent benefit.


Q90 Paul Holmes: Last question. In your experience, and you could write to us about this rather than telling us now, are you aware of any hard evidence from Sweden of the free schools actually challenging and changing the curriculum in mainstream schools? When I was in Sweden, visiting both free and state schools, no one could provide any evidence. There were some people who made the assertion, "The free schools have made things change," but no one could actually provide one single piece of evidence to that effect.

Les Lawrence: We shall certainly write to you on that. My colleague behind will take a note and we shall get back to the Committee fairly quickly.

Chairman: More work on the Swedish model. Fiona.


Q91 Fiona Mactaggart: I am interested in school improvement and in how local authorities see their responsibilities and deliver them. For example, the evidence from the NFER is that, at local authority level, this is done in a more collaborative and less exigent way than perhaps at national Government level. Is that a deliberate strategy? Perhaps you could tell us about that.

Les Lawrence: It is a deliberate strategy. I know it is repeating the same message, but the family of schools is the partnership with the local authority. At the end of the day what you do not want is a whole series of institutions working in different ways, to the detriment of each other in some cases, and to the detriment of communities. What we want is to raise all the schools to a level such that each community has a good school within it, both primary and secondary, because we believe that is fundamental to the development and cohesion of communities. That is the first thing.

Secondly, we also want schools to help and assist each other. That is one of the things that you will find in the NFER document-one of the things that we encourage is high-flying, successful schools to assist schools that are perhaps struggling at a particular time, with a particular cohort of pupils or a particular subject area. Certainly in maths, English and some of the sciences, we need schools to collaborate, to share what are fairly scarce resources. Equally, when a school takes on a new head, the local authority likes to support that person into their post, and to use mentoring from long-standing heads with that new head, to enable their start to be as successful and as smooth as possible. So that is using a whole series of different methodologies to bring about the partnering and collaboration that Graham was seeking.


Q92 Fiona Mactaggart: How do you know if they are working?

Les Lawrence: That has to be done by monitoring the outcomes at various stages. There are the key stages and ongoing assessments that take place within schools. The relationships with the advisory teams, with the SIPs, is important in providing feedback and in challenging governing bodies to ensure that they fulfil their function of checking on what is happening within the school. There are a number of different strands.


Q93 Fiona Mactaggart: You talk about your role in challenging governing bodies. One of the things that I am interested in is the way that National Challenge is being received at local level. I wondered if you would say what your view is of National Challenge, and whether it has helped improve those schools that are not achieving five A to C grades, including English and maths, or whether it has hurt them.

Les Lawrence: In terms of what is happening on the ground, there is now general recognition that the methodology and the way it is being implemented is assisting significantly in turning round a number of schools. The issue was that a lot of time and energy had to be diverted to deal with the fallout from the way that the measure was presented and announced, and then the unfortunate appearance in the national press. Many of the schools that were within the categories deemed to require National Challenge had a high contextual value added and were often dealing with youngsters that many other schools were not able to deal with. They felt that they were being categorised not wholly in recognition of what they were doing, so that the word "failing" immediately became the kitemark of the school.

The issue was presented as being one of English and maths, but if you look at the figures, a lot of those schools were already either high performers in English or in maths. There were not that many schools that were underachieving in both. The presentation of the intent was not effective, but on the ground a collaborative and beneficial outcome is being achieved. You will see a significant number of schools within the National Challenge going above the 30% barrier this coming year.

The other aspect, which we have raised with the Government and are still worried about, is the degree of sustainability. It is all very well to target a particular age group-those who will take GCSEs this year-but we must ensure that the improvements, additional resources and emphasis on that year group are translated right down the school to those who joined year 7 in September last year. Sustainability is one of the fundamental outcomes that must be achieved. We have serious concerns that that emphasis, support and ongoing challenge will not remain once the immediate impact has occurred.

Chairman: That sparked you off. I will come back to Fiona. Graham?


Q94 Mr. Stuart: You talked about the pressure that was put on these schools through the accountability arrangements and National Challenge. Do you have any concerns about the distorting impact that kind of pressure can have on schools? I am thinking about the possibility of pupils being directed towards what could be perceived as easier courses. There is a proliferation of people doing media studies. There is an increasing contrast between the types of courses that are being taken in independent schools, which are often chosen for their rigour, and those that are chosen in many schools that are struggling desperately to meet standards, tick the boxes and get over that 30% target. Although it looks like improvement, could we be undermining the quality of education that the children are receiving?

Les Lawrence: Not if we continue the concentration on English, maths and some aspects of science. As long as it is within those narrow bounds, that diversion will not occur. But I re-emphasise that we are worried about the sustainability, because it is no good concentrating on just one or two year groups; once achieved, you have to embed it into the culture of the school and the delivery of education, such that it becomes a matter of normal practice within that school. That is what the National Challenge advisers have been tasked with ensuring. As well as working with the leadership of schools, they are also now ensuring that the Government bodies are brought in and that those bodies understand what is happening and take up the accountability reins. Furthermore, as local authorities are now fully engaged, have to report collectively and are responsible for the National Challenge advisers, I think we have a chance to ensure the sustainability and to ensure that we are not diverted towards inappropriate courses.

However, we still need to emphasise the importance of the vocational strands, because not all young people are skilled and able to do the academic ones. If the vocational strands have rigour and robustness built into them, they will be just as challenging and will help fulfil potential.


Q95 Fiona Mactaggart: I think the frustration was that in some schools the sustainable model was one in which the children did not achieve as much as they were capable of, which is what, in a way, created the National Challenge. I understand your concern that this is a good policy badly communicated-if I am summarising you correctly. I am interested in the balance between central Government and local government in terms of accountability. Central Government seem to use their challenge and warning powers, whereas local government seems to emphasise collaboration and partnership. Maybe local government is more able to deliver that, while central Government are more able to deliver the stick thing.

If I have characterised that correctly-correct me if I have not-is the balance correct between, on the one hand, the relative role of local government as the kind of partnership creator, supporter and chivvier and, on the other hand, the role of national Government as the alert, warning and challenge institution? Do you think there is sufficient understanding between central Government and local government of their different roles and of what the other is doing?

Les Lawrence: The answer to the latter question is no, I do not, which in part is as much the fault of local government as it is of central Government, in that we perhaps do not ensure that the communications between us are as clear, concise and precise as they should be. That is something that we in the LGA are seeking to address, not only with the current ministerial team, but also with all the political party Front Benches. I agree that things are badly communicated.

Going back to my response to David, what worries me is that the time scales within which central Government operate do not always fully take into account the time that it takes to actually deliver and implement a policy initiative that has been announced. If you think about it, the full extent of any policy change within education takes the full 10-year cycle to actually show the ultimate benefits. The National Challenge is in part trying to change the culture of low expectation, which in some cases can be very easily embedded within certain environments. When you seek to change a culture, it requires a step change in terms of the challenge of getting people to refocus and, if necessary, move on and bring in people who will bring about change. Then, in conjunction with staff, the nature of the work that the young people are engaged in changes, such that they begin to achieve in a fairly short space of time. That is happening in some National Challenge schools.

I think that the recognition many schools have undertaken of what they need to achieve will bring about the change, but it has to be sustainable. The other strand is that National Challenge brings with it additional resources. The trouble is that once National Challenge ends, those resources will no longer be there and we will have to make certain-as local authorities that have to carry on-that that support and change stay, albeit not within the same financial framework as during the concentrated period of the National Challenge.


Q96 Fiona Mactaggart: Have there been any innovations at local authority level in recent years that have been designed to improve accountability to parents?

Les Lawrence: It is difficult to give specific examples because so many local authorities do it in different ways. There is no single identifiable strand across all local authorities. It often depends on the nature of the communities in which those schools exist. For example, in one or two very rural authorities the school has become the total centre of the community. It is used for just about anything and everything besides learning, and is used during the holiday periods and in the evenings as a community resource. You will find that in the inner areas of some of our major urban centres schools are used very much to enhance and develop social cohesion because that engages the community in the purposes of education and helps to raise its aspirations. It is very differentiated; there is no single strand as regards a method of engaging parents.


Q97 Chairman: Councillor Lawrence, coming back to the overview of what you think has worked and what has not worked over a period of time, all the areas that we have been looking at-testing, assessment, national curriculum and now accountability-are mechanisms to improve standards. Which do you think has been most successful?

Les Lawrence: There has been an acceptance over the past two decades that schools need a degree of autonomy to operate in recognition of the communities that they serve. If you try to control too centrally, either at local or national level, schools tend to try to operate to a common denominator, whereas I think that you will find that most schools have their own little subtleties in the way in which they operate, which is designed to bring the best out of the young people they are seeking to serve.

I also think that the way in which the teaching profession has been remodelled has been one of the major changes that have brought about an improvement in attainment over the past three to five years. That is because recognition of the professional competence of the teaching work force, with the teacher at the centre of a team in the classroom, has enabled a lot more individual, personalised work to take place with pupils, in a way that recognises the individuality of each pupil, moving away from what I often used to call the "block teaching method"-you taught to the norm. It has also enabled the whole emphasis to be not only to assist those at the bottom end who need a lot of help but to stretch and challenge those who are in the gifted and talented groups. That has been one of the most pivotal changes over the past five years, I believe, in terms of turning round and moving us towards vastly raised attainment levels.


Q98 Chairman: But, reading between the lines of your answers, I take it that you like the scaled-down and less intrusive Ofsted inspection system, compared to the regime that Chris Woodhead ran?

Les Lawrence: We would certainly like consistency within what Ofsted does. We also think that there is a place for what I call the snap inspection, because one of the regime's drawbacks, prior to the subtle changes that have occurred recently in Ofsted, was the length of time schools had to prepare and get all the paperwork in place and get everything looking almost perfect. Many of us in local government feel that the odd snap inspection, with 24 hours' notice, is also a good way of providing insight into what is actually happening at a point in time. I will go back to the point that we need consistency, because if you do not have consistency, you will lose integrity; the inspection process will not be respected and people will always question the judgments that come out. If we can get that back into Ofsted, I think we will have the independent body with the quality we require.


Q99 Chairman: Coming back to 16 to 19, in both your written evidence and in what you have said today, you have expressed unhappiness with the complexity of 16 to 19 accountability. You complain about that, but when you gave evidence on the school report idea, which after all is a simplification system to put everything in one transparent document, you seemed to want to have your cake and eat it. On one hand you are complaining about too much complexity in 16 to 19, but on the other you are resistant to the school report coming along, which some of us think will simplify the whole process. How do you square those two views?

Les Lawrence: I will have to go away and think of an appropriate answer.


Q100 Chairman: You do not want to tell me more than that? Tell me a little bit more about why you do not like school report cards.

Les Lawrence: It is the extent to which the cards' outcomes are likely to be utilised, and I think that, again, that does not recognise the diversity of types of education you will find in different authorities. It is almost trying to impose one centralised system, albeit a simple one, right across the board, but it does not have the flexibility to recognise the different types of schools and the different types of communities they serve.

Chairman: Councillor Lawrence, we are coming to the end of the session, but Annette wants to ask a further question.


Q101 Annette Brooke: If we are to have a new model for local authorities, which I am very much in favour of, are the current systems for their assessment adequate? I can give an example of an authority that has its pupil referral unit languishing in special measures, two special educational needs schools in special measures and two schools in the National Challenge, and that is in an affluent part of the country, with schools thriving in the affluent parts of the constituencies. How can a local authority get away with that and be given four stars and goodness knows what? Surely there is not enough accountability for local authorities?

Les Lawrence: The new comprehensive area assessment system, I think, is designed to try to make the inspector framework more relevant and more appropriate to a point in time. The annual performance assessment, for example, came out last December. It covered the period from 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008, so it was reporting on a period that was distant in time. If you take the attainment levels that APAs refer to, you will see that was in the summer of 2007. Other attainment levels were already published for 2008, so in a sense the credibility of that part of the inspection regime was very much called into question. Equally, the overall local authority judgment was also very distant in terms of time. Certainly, with a CAA, the Audit Commission want to apply it in such a way that it is more relevant to the performance of an authority at the time you are reporting. Within that-and I think this is where we can improve on the point you are raising-Ofsted is developing a methodology to do much more of what I call snap inspections of children's services, that is, not only the non-educational, but also the educational part.

Chairman: That's the rub.

Les Lawrence: I think that will bring about a greater degree of rigour and challenge, and will make local authorities much more subject to their own oversight internally and will stop them from allowing things to drift and to get into the kind of situation that you have referred to. We have not fully developed the other part, which is the scrutiny function within local Government. If the scrutiny function in local Government was really working, that type of situation would clearly come into the public arena. I have to say that executive members are sometimes afraid of scrutiny, but I like it and I know quite a number of colleagues who like it. We really need to develop that area over the next few years, because if we do not, we will not be able to hold our heads up and say that we are really doing the job that I was trying to convince Graham that we have started to do.


Q102 Annette Brooke: I will just ask a supplementary question. What role will the LGA play in making sure that there is far more training on scrutiny for opposition members right across children's services, not only in child protection but also in schools?

Les Lawrence: We are very closely working with the Improvement and Development Agency and we have a series of what we call "things to know", "things to check" and "things to do" lists. Those are not only for lead members, but also for scrutiny Chairs. The three group officers of the LGA are working collectively to ensure that our database of opposition members is also enjoined within the discussions, because, at the end of the day, we recognise that you need both political as well as professional challenge within the system, therefore, succession planning is absolutely essential. That does not only mean lead members within a party; we also have to recognise, quite properly, that parties change control within local government and those who come in must be fully skilled and capable of bringing about seamless change, such that most services can move on without detriment.

Chairman: Councillor Lawrence, thank you very much for your evidence this morning. We have learned a lot. We hope to maintain our communication with you over the course of the inquiry. If you think of things that you should have told the Committee, but we did not ask the relevant question to get the information, please let us know. Thank you very much for spending your time with us today.

Les Lawrence: Thank you for the rigour and the courtesy, Chair.

Chairman: Councillor Lawrence, if you would like to stay with us for the next three witnesses, you would be welcome.


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Councillor Les Lawrence, Chair of the Children and Young People's Board, Local Government Association; and School Improvement Partners; Lorraine Cooper, Acting Head, School Performance for Primary Schools, Warwickshire County Council; Declan McCauley, Head Teacher, St. Thomas More Catholic Primary School, Great Wyrley, Staffordshire; and Lynda Jones, Adviser, Warwickshire County Council, gave evidence.

Chairman: Can I welcome our three new witnesses who have been good enough to brave the rigours of G20 London to be with us? They are Lorraine Cooper, Lynda Jones and Declan McCauley. Thank you very much for helping us with this inquiry.

I think that you got a feel for the range of questions that we ask from the session with Councillor Lawrence. We are very keen to understand more about School Improvement Partnerships and Partners. That is what we will spend the next hour asking about. We are always happy for our witnesses to say a couple of things to open up the session, if they want to, or they can choose to go straight into questions. We have your CVs here, so we know where you are coming from. However, if there is anything that you want to add before we start on questions, please do so.

Lorraine Cooper: No.

Lynda Jones: No.

Declan McCauley: No.


Q103 Chairman: You are terribly well-behaved and good students.

I will start the questions. You have been listening to the evidence and the three of you have a great deal of experience in terms of accountability and inspection. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the system that we have at the moment? What would you say that you would defend, if not quite to the death but none the less strongly, about the accountability system we have at the moment? Lorraine?

Lorraine Cooper: I think that the model of accountability that we have at the moment is broad. It covers a range of areas. By and large, I think that it gives very useful information across the board about what is going on in terms of schools and pupils' learning.

I think that the breadth that this model offers is one of its strengths, in that we have databased information at great depth now. That is very helpful. We have Ofsted inspections coming in and then we have what SIPs do, in terms of the interface with schools. All of that provides information that is extremely useful.

Sometimes, I think that the reliability of the model is its weakness. That is where we have to be very careful sometimes, because however good the system is it is only as good as the reliability it can produce. On occasions with schools we have problems, as we had this year over the testing systems and the problems that they created for schools; we are only just getting those problems reported now. Sometimes we have inconsistencies in the way that Ofsted inspections may be carried out. Admittedly, those inconsistencies occur much less frequently now, in my experience.


Q104 Chairman: It is the quality of the inspectors?

Lorraine Cooper: Occasionally you can have a situation where that proves to be problematic. However, I think there have been growing strengths in the relationship between the people who work at the interface with schools at local authority level and Ofsted inspections. There is a much better dialogue, in terms of sharing information, which is helpful from the point of view of schools.

I think that there are a number of strengths. The breadth of the model is one. However, we need to be sure about the reliability right the way through the system.


Q105 Chairman: Lynda, what is your view about the strengths and weaknesses of the model of accountability? Is there anything that you really worry about, or anything that concerns you, about the overall strengths of the accountability system at the moment?

Lynda Jones: I just want to add something to my colleague's point, which is about a strength in the accountability systems that have been developed over the last few years. The increase in data, which gives us a huge variety of ways of looking at performance, together with schools themselves becoming more accountable through the self-evaluation form and Ofsted, has meant that there has been a developing partnership between local authorities, SIPs and schools and governors. In turn, that has meant that the partnership has improved. I would like to add that as a strength of the system.


Q106 Chairman: Some people are very critical of self-assessment. They see it as diluting or weakening the inspection, by putting so much onus on self-assessment. I see that Lorraine is shaking her head at that point. Lynda, what do you think?

Lynda Jones: I think that it is about the validity and reliability of the judgments that are being made, really, and the evidence that is used to support those judgments, whether they are being made by the school judging its own performance or by those coming and making judgments themselves. That is the key point, I think.


Q107 Chairman: The original idea I had of SIPs were that they would all have to be heads. You were a deputy head. Do you think that SIPs should be heads? I know that you had another role as well.

Lynda Jones: I probably still have a personal interest because I have not been a head teacher, although I have gone through the NPQH-national professional qualification for headship-process, and I have been a deputy head for seven years. I believe that my experience as a school improvement adviser in two authorities and my experience in schools over 31 years brings a different perspective, and I am able to learn from head teacher colleagues who are part of the SIP process.

Chairman: Declan.

Declan McCauley: Certainly, looking from a school's perspective-we talked about self-evaluation-schools are much better placed now to know what is going on in school and how it impacts on school improvement. A lot of that has come about through the accountability processes which are in place with the local authorities, and that then goes on to inform Ofsted inspections. Schools are well placed in that respect. Also, regarding the amount of school improvement that we have seen, looking at pure statistics-thinking of where I am based-my school is a completely different school within the past 13 years. Children who are there make much more progress now than they did many years ago. That is down to the involvement of the local authority and the accountability that is placed on schools.

Chairman: Thank you. Now that we have warmed you up, I will hand you over to Annette.


Q108 Annette Brooke: I specifically wanted to ask about School Improvement Partners. They seem to have rather mixed reviews: some evaluations show how positive they are, but there is a lot of scepticism around, I would suggest, about them. My first question is: how well trained do you feel that you are for this job? Were you prepared for the task ahead with the training that was given? I do not mind who starts first.

Chairman: Lorraine?

Lorraine Cooper: I think that-

Chairman: Don't let these two heads bully you, Lynda. We will stand up for you.

Lorraine Cooper: I think it varies enormously, because people come to the role from very different perspectives. You have a range of people coming with a lot of different background experience. How far the training that they were provided with met their need might depend on their starting point. One of the problems was-it became slicker over time-that it was a fairly time-constrained process, with a set number of activities that had to happen. For some people, who had been involved in a school improvement context over a long period of time, they found that it did not stretch their thinking very much. For other people, who may not have had that background, it may have done a lot more. I think it depended on where people came from, because there is a massive breadth in the group of people who are now performing as SIPs.


Q109 Annette Brooke: So is the training standard?

Lorraine Cooper: It is standard. First, there is a testing process to make sure that you can do the basic data analysis type activities. Then there is a face-to-face training, which is a two-day residential, and that involves a range of different activities, including conversations that are observed, and feedback is given on the way that you might deal with addressing challenging situations. By its very nature, an awful lot of the learning happens on the job, and at that interface with other people doing the same job over a longer of time. Initial training starts you off, but whether it could ever turn you out as a fully fledged, all-singing and all-dancing SIP, I am not sure-it would depend where you started from.

Chairman: Lynda, do you agree with all that?

Lynda Jones: It is worth adding that there is a locally provided continuing professional development programme too, which updates as far as the national agenda is concerned, but also gives the particular local flavour. That is carried out in conjunction with school improvement professionals, so there is the development of a team, if you like-you have an evolving team who have a series of skills, knowledge and understanding. It becomes, therefore, increasingly bespoke, in relation not only to people's needs but to local needs and the changing national perspective.

On my needs as a school improvement professional, I think I was pretty clued up by many of the imperatives that were to be facilitated through the SIP programme, but I wasn't particularly au fait with working with head teachers in this context. For example, this afternoon I was due to go on an induction visit, where I would shadow a head teacher colleague who was working in that role, but I can't do it because I'm here. That is just to give you some idea of how we manage the programme locally, so that we can identify people's needs and plan to meet them through the activities that we plan.

Declan McCauley: I felt that the training was very rigorous and stressful for many people. The pressure was on to achieve; they didn't want to go to the training and not get through it. So there was an awful lot of rigour attached to it, and the use of the data and the focus on challenging schools certainly came through. I came to it from a slightly different starting point, having been a head teacher for quite a few years and having worked for my local authority, which asked me to take on a couple of schools in a different role before SIPs came in. But the training heightened my awareness of exactly how to work with refined data, and now it is a case of translating that into working within the local authority in Warwickshire. I am fortunate, because I work in another authority, so I have its perspective. My school is in Staffordshire and I work as a SIP in Birmingham, so it gives me a breadth. It is interesting to see how it all works.


Q110Annette Brooke: That is interesting. Lynda and Lorraine, do you just work as a SIP within one authority?

Lorraine Cooper: Yes.


Q111 Annette Brooke: Next question. I would really like to know from each of you, are you a critical friend or somebody who tells tales to the local authorities?

Chairman: She means a local authority snitch. Which is it? I shall start with you, Lynda. Which are you? Or are you neither?

Lynda Jones: I feel somewhat ambivalent, because I am employed by the LA for my substantive post and I am a critical friend when I am being a SIP. It informs my work as a school improvement professional in Warwickshire, because it enables me to get inside a school and to appreciate how it might be for them when you talk about bringing in changes. But I am a critical friend when I am being a SIP.

Annette Brooke: Any other comments?

Declan McCauley: We are both. We are that conduit between the local authority and the school. You have to be that critical friend, because the information flows through you-both ends-and that is really important.

Lorraine Cooper: The critical friend element is about the trust that you build up with the school in which you work in whatever role-whether as a local authority person or not. You're a critical friend because of the trusting relationship that you build up, which allows you to ask the questions that will challenge and move things forward. My experience at the interface is that I do not often have to worry about that. Schools have never seemed to object to being asked the critical questions, provided they are delivered professionally and appropriately. I have never found that to be a conflict-any more than there seems, generally, to be too much of a conflict about them not wanting the local authority to know certain things. There is generally a good and trusting working relationship between the schools and the local authority I work in, so schools generally are very happy for there to be a triangulated discussion, and they do not seem alarmed by it. They have plenty of opportunity to feed back to us through the SIPs appraisal processes that we use, and that seems to be the message: it is not a problem to them.

Chairman: Annette, I'll come back to you. I want to bring Andy in.


Q112 Mr. Slaughter: My limited experience of SIPs suggests that, in some ways, the schools that need them most are less good at using them. That may be a fairly obvious thing to say, because a school that is already performing-

Chairman: I was hoping you would shout a bit. The acoustics in here are horrible, Andy.

Mr. Slaughter: I'll try.

Chairman: Or lean forward into your mic.

Mr. Slaughter: If a school is doing well, it is probably less defensive and is probably quite interested in somebody coming in and filling in the gaps, and things like that, and it is probably better organised. Is your experience that, actually, you may be topping up already good schools, rather than addressing problems in schools that have more to do?

Lorraine Cooper: I think you are absolutely right to say that there is a massive differentiation between what schools need and how you might work with them. However, one of the major benefits of the SIP programme-this has been reported back to me by schools-has been that good schools previously felt that they lacked the opportunity to have a robust debate with other professionals in that sort of context, on a one-to-one basis, about their school. They may have had such a debate about broad educational issues, but about their school they missed it. So I believe that the SIP programme can be equally as effective in moving good schools to outstanding and outstanding schools to be really creative in their thinking and allowing them to see how they might help in supporting others.

I agree with your comment that, clearly, if schools are struggling, they will often struggle in respect of how to use the support as well. You need a different approach with those sorts of schools.


Q113 Mr. Slaughter: With struggling or coasting schools, how much is there a whistleblowing role for SIPs? Councillor Lawrence was saying, quite rightly, that if a school is going into special measures that is probably the fault of the local authority for not spotting it, but not always, because sometimes these things can happen quite quickly, after an ill-advised head appointment or if a governing body is suddenly thrown into disarray. Do you think there is a whistleblowing or supporting role for SIPs in that process?

Lorraine Cooper: Yes, I suppose I struggle slightly with the notion of whistleblowing. Maybe that is where I would have a problem. I see it as a professional relationship, part of which is professional honesty. If there is a problem, it needs to be brought to the attention of whoever can do something about it.


Q114 Chairman: Did you say you saw yourself as a whistleblower or not as one?

Lorraine Cooper: No, I have a problem with the term "whistleblower", because it is about a professional relationship.


Q115 Chairman: I was quite stunned, though, by Councillor Lawrence's saying that if we are going to sharpen up our act in the local authority world, the driver-I think this is what you said, Councillor Lawrence-is how much sharper we have to be in the bit of children's services that deals with child protection. You would have to be a whistleblower if your job was in that area, because a child might die or be in terrible misery. In a sense the whistleblower bit should not underestimated, should it?

Lorraine Cooper: If you mean by "whistleblower", bringing to the attention of those people who have a responsibility and an opportunity to do something about putting something wrong right, that is fine. I see that as part of that professional triangulation; that is what those roles are about between the local authority, the school, the governing body and the external bodies of accountability, like Ofsted. Together, we have that role. It is really important that that happens.


Q116 Mr. Slaughter: SIPs seem to work well where they are accepted and where there is a creative structure for them to go into, but I am talking about another example. What I meant by the whistleblower role would apply in the case of a school that is quickly getting into trouble and deep water and where the local authority may not have picked that up. If the SIP is on the ground and sees that, and the school is not responding, do you not think it is important that the SIP blows the whistle, for want of a better term?

Lorraine Cooper: Essential. Yes, it is essential that they do.

Chairman: Declan, what do you think?

Declan McCauley: I agree, definitely. If you are in a school, working as a SIP, the last thing you want to be doing is saying, "Okay, this is absolutely fine" and not feeding back that there are major issues. If you see something, it has to be fed back, because at the end of the day, the SIP is the person responsible. They are the conduit. A single conversation takes place through the SIP, who passes information both ways. If you see something that is wrong, you have to tell someone about it.


Q117 Mr. Slaughter: The other scenario that we have examples of is where it is pretty clear to people involved with a school that something is going on over a period of time that the local authority ought to know about. It might be that the school does not have a permanent head or that it is struggling just above going into special measures. For whatever reason, the people who are responsible are not reacting. What does a SIP do in those circumstances?

Lynda Jones: You must go back to the honesty and transparency underpinning all this. You would not say one thing to a head teacher and another to the LA. The reports that the SIPs write make it very clear what the judgments are. We need to remember that they have only a five-day allocation with that school. If schools have an immediate concern, the SIP might not be the person who is best placed to pick that up. If a school is vulnerable, the SIP will not be the only LA representative likely to visit the school. LA personnel will visit the school on a more regular and frequent basis. The SIP's judgment would not be a sole judgment in that case.


Q118 Mr. Slaughter: Do you see SIPs as a permanent part of the framework for school monitoring and improvement or are they a bolt-on extra that has some advantages for some schools?

Lynda Jones: We have put the initiative in place in Warwickshire with a view to it being an enduring mechanism. The strength of the work of SIPs relies on the relationships that are developed. Anything that causes discontinuity obviously breaks that. Schools say to us, "We do not want changes in SIPs. We see this as an enduring relationship." That is the spirit in which we have gone into it.

We have talked about National Challenge schools. It might be worth mentioning that one aspect of those schools is that the National Challenge adviser has taken over this role with up to 20 days allocated to those schools. That led to some dysfunction because the team had to be rearranged so that the best people were in the best places to support those schools. That is another element of the SIP programme. SIPs are matched to schools and are not arbitrarily told, "You can go there and you can go there." Some SIPs are better at supporting schools in respect of particular needs.

In summary, we do see it as enduring. The quality of the relationships is built up over time. Heads have said to us, "Don't change these about. You have just got to understand our context, which we need you to do. We don't want it to change." There has been some change brought about by National Challenge, and the SIP within the National Challenge adviser role has a key part to play in bringing about improvement in National Challenge schools.

Chairman: May I call in Derek and then come back to Andy and Annette?


Q119 Derek Twigg: First, it is great that people like you take the time to do the work you are doing. We have talked about process and about some individual examples. The big question is what are the three key pieces of evidence that justify SIPs?

Chairman: Declan, it is your turn to lead.

Declan McCauley: That's lovely-give me the difficult question. In all honesty, it is the working relationship that a SIP brings to a school. They bring a level of challenge and accountability. You have a face-to-face discussion with the SIP sitting there with the data and you have to account for exactly how the school is doing and what you are going to do about it. Also, SIPs bring a level of experience to the process, which does not necessarily come from within the local authority, but might come from a number of schools.


Q120 Derek Twigg: If you don't mind me interrupting, that is again about process. What is the evidence that you are making a real difference on the ground?

Declan McCauley: The evidence would be the feedback that we receive from the schools. We are quite closely quality assured. There is a performance management process in place. We also report back to governors so, again, feedback is the main thing.


Q121 Chairman: Is it feedback or just a warm feeling? Councillor Lawrence was very strong about the impact of classroom assistants, but early research shows that classroom assistants do not seem to make much difference.

Declan McCauley: From my perspective of looking after three schools in Warwickshire, my performance management process included questionnaires being sent out to head teachers-totally confidential-and returned to a senior line manager of mine at the local authority, as well as an on-site visit when I was monitored working with the school, face-to-face discussion with the line manager, looking at what schools actually thought about what I was bringing to the process, discussing that and setting me targets for this academic year.

Lorraine Cooper: As for the evidence, the local authority monitors the outcomes very closely over a period of time. I would monitor, for instance, the outcomes of Ofsted inspections and whether they match or do not match the views of SIPs, and whether we have a problem-a differential view, and so on. We would look at the data from schools to see whether the targets set are appropriate and at an appropriate level or whether they are not, and whether the right level of challenge is going in. We use a raft of evaluation tools to begin to gather evidence about whether SIPs are having an appropriate impact. It is fairly early days. In primary, we have only had them for 18 months. When they came in, it was a big change for personnel getting to know schools. We are certainly building up those sorts of processes all the time to try to get the evaluative evidence. We are held very heavily to account by visits from those in the national strategy who talk to us about the evidence of impact and outcomes for schools.


Q122 Derek Twigg: I thought that there was such support among head teachers for the process-that it was making a difference-that people would be queuing up to take the jobs, but I think that we are actually short of them.

Lorraine Cooper: Yes.


Q123 Derek Twigg: Is it not the case that some head teachers are refusing to have SIPs? Have you had any evidence that local authorities are accepting it or is that not the case?

Lorraine Cooper: It is certainly not the case in my experience.

Derek Twigg: So there is no instance of a head teacher refusing to have a SIP?

Lorraine Cooper: No.


Q124 Derek Twigg: Basically, there is not actual evidence at the moment. You are getting more of a feeling and feedback. You said earlier in your first contribution that one of the concerns about school improvement is the robustness and accuracy of data. This probably feeds into that.

Lorraine Cooper: It does. You will not have that evidence in five minutes. Schools do not work like that. They do not change like that. It is a case of gathering evidence over time, but we do rigorous analysis of our data to make sure that we are beginning to get some evidence of where the impact is and where it might not be. But recruitment is certainly a major factor.

Lynda Jones: It is fair to say that the LA would consider the performance of each of its schools. That is the main way in which we work out how schools are doing. SIPs add to that and are part of it, but they are not the sole contributor.


Q125 Derek Twigg: I have just one final question. I am sure that people talk about report cards, but from your experience as both a teacher and a deputy head teacher, and also of SIPs, what single most important factor-or one or two important factors-do you believe helps school improvement?

Lynda Jones: Perhaps I can mention the strengthening role of governance. One advantage of the SIP programme has been to bring more cohesion to the role of governors and accountability by strengthening the role between head teacher appraisal and the review of the progress relating to the data. Enabling governors to be effective-I have seen throughout my teaching career-can be problematic, possibly, and this is a real means by which you can add cohesion to that. So, it is probably not the most significant feature, but a point that I would like to make in relation to school improvement, the School Improvement Partner, and the ways in which the School Improvement Partner works relating to governance and accountability.

Derek Twigg: It speaks into accountability as well.

Chairman: Can we move on quickly? Declan, Lorraine, and then I want to come back to Andy for a very quick question, because I know that he has got to leave.

Declan McCauley: It comes down to the accountability issue at the end of the day. Within a school, you are accountable for how well the students are doing. To have someone from outside coming in, asking us difficult questions in the kind of relationship that Lorraine has spoken about, that is what it comes down to-the pressure is on you to perform.

Lorraine Cooper: I would add that there is no doubt in my mind that outstanding schools have outstanding leaders. I am not just talking about head teachers; I am talking about leaders through the layers. Therefore, a major role for anybody working at the interface of school improvement has to be about how you grow and develop outstanding leaders, because although some people seem to get it almost by osmosis as they go through their professional career, not all do. Some need greater support and input to develop those leadership skills in a way that means that the school can become outstanding, because it has that sort of outstanding leadership. That is a very major role for SIPs, which is perhaps why there was an emphasis on people who had leadership experience undertaking that role.

Chairman: Andy, I said that I would call you again.


Q126 Mr. Slaughter: Is there a preference for SIPs being working head teachers? There may be some cross-fertilisation, with benefits for the SIP-as well as the school they are going into-and perhaps a greater degree of practicality than one may get with someone appointed directly by the local authority. If the SIP is a member of the LEA staff, it is more like another level of inspection and you lose something that is special about the SIP process. If that were right, do you agree with the NUT suggestion, which is that the school should appoint the SIP-they already pay for the SIP-rather than the LEA?

Declan McCauley: Certainly, from talking to the head teachers who I work with as a SIP, they feel that having someone who is a serving head teacher is very valuable to them in their role, because they recognise that I face the same issues and concerns as them on a day-to-day basis. I understand where they are coming from as head teachers.

The rigour that you get by changing SIP every three years is important; it is important that the relationship does not become cosy. To manage that, as a school, would be very difficult. The difficulty lies, from where I am coming from, in there not being enough head teachers out there who would go forward to SIPs. There are many reasons for that, not least having to leave their own school for five days for each school where you are a SIP. That is a large amount of time and you have to have structures in place in your school to enable you to do that, and in many schools that is not the case.

Lorraine Cooper: We asked for some feedback from head teachers on this very question about how they see the different roles that are there. There has not been a strong body of evidence coming back from head teachers which says that they feel disadvantaged if they do not have a head teacher as a SIP. In fact, there has been quite a body of evidence-and I can only speak within our authority, obviously, at the moment-that says that for a fairly large percentage of schools, they were very happy to have continued with the person who they perceived as being a local authority employee. They have not seen that as a problem. There may be some differences here and, of course, all members of the primary School Improvement Service in our authority were also head teachers, so there was an understanding of that leadership level of working within a school.

While we may not be doing that on a day-to-day basis, and do not have the clarity that Declan would have about what letter happens to fall on the desk that day-I do not deny that those sorts of things are a very valuable aspect of a school's work-I think the nature of our work means that we have to keep up to speed with most of the other things that are going on that head teachers are considering. So I do not particularly see that as a major disadvantage, and feedback from schools certainly does not suggest that they think it is either.


Q127 Mr. Slaughter: You do not think there is a danger of a local authority agenda being imposed on a school, which you would not get if you had another head teacher there?

Lorraine Cooper: I think that for all SIPs, to some extent, there is a local authority perspective on the agenda, but we have been quite careful to manage our process in a way in which there are certain things that will need to be looked at during the course of the annual cycle of being a SIP at the interface of the school. That is about validating whether or not the school is performing in the way that it should, and about advising on things like the school's performance category, so that we know the level of support that it might need and so on.

We have tried very hard to leave a significant part of the agenda to the school at the interface with its SIP, so it decides what the agenda is at that level. It has also been a very deliberate move on our part to avoid a situation where SIPs become a conduit for local authority messages. That is not to say that the context for the local authority is not important; in our initial briefing at the beginning of the year before target setting, we say, "Here are the strengths and weaknesses coming out of our local authority data and these are the sorts of things you might want to check with your schools. If we have a weakness in this area, you need to see whether that is a weakness in the school that you are working in." But I do not think that we put too much on to SIPs in terms of saying, "You must pursue this local authority agenda." We try to keep a balance.


Q128 Mrs. Hodgson: May I get you to tease out and paint a picture of how SIPs work in practice in terms of the time spent in school? Is it an ongoing process of so many hours a week? Is it an intensive, week-long process? I understand that some SIPs are head teachers and some work for local authorities, so it is almost like a second job. Will you explain how it all works in reality?

Chairman: Does anyone who becomes a SIP suddenly find that their school is falling to pieces while they are away? Sorry, I am sure that that never happens. Lynda, would you like to lead on that one?

Lynda Jones: There is a standard allocation of days for each school and a standard modus operandi, if you like, so there is a five-day allocation for each school with the expectation that as soon as the data is available, there will be a discussion with the head teacher.

We have not mentioned the rest of the senior leadership team, but, going back to Lorraine's point about leadership in schools, it is very much the role of the SIP to seek to develop leadership capacity, so they will go through the data at that time to produce a data report, which will obviously be quite a complex affair. Governors will also be there, and the report will enable everybody to have a shared understanding of what the school's strengths and areas of development are.

Those areas of development come at the end of the report, and are a shared view that will be reflected in the school's development plan, and informed by the self-evaluation form. Although it may appear that you are dropping in and doing a report following the analysis, it is actually much more coherent than that. We will also follow the performance management of the head teacher that term. The SIPs support that, and, while the governors actually do it, it is the SIP, as the professional person allocated to the school, who will perform that. Clearly, that will be done within the report's context and the imperatives for improvement that will have been identified by it.

There will then follow a programme that will be discussed with the school and that is responsive to its needs. We very much want to do that, so they will use your time on possibly a consultancy basis and say, "This is my judgment; I have identified this in the SIP." When trust has been established, they will say, "This is a weaker area; could you go and have a look at it for me?" Yesterday, for example, in my SIP work I was looking at teaching in the sixth form. It was driven by judgments about data, and I was there to support teachers' self-evaluation, which they will feed into their self-evaluation form for Ofsted. That would be an activity in the second term. It is a cycle, as Lorraine says, and in the third term there would be oral feedback to the governors on the work that has progressed that year and how it relates to school improvement.


Q129 Mrs. Hodgson: I am trying to get an understanding of the time commitment. I understand the process and the whys, but how much time are we talking about-an hour or two hours a week?

Lorraine Cooper: There is a five-day allocation of SIP work per school.

Mrs. Hodgson: Per year.

Lorraine Cooper: Per year. In some local authorities, I believe that that allocation may be differentiated slightly so that good schools get slightly less time and other schools slightly more. In Warwickshire, we have a five-day standard allocation for our schools, and there is an expectation that the SIPs will spend the majority of that time in school-at the interface with the school. But they will spend an hour or two on preparation and on analysis of information and data that come through, and an hour writing up a report at the end of the day on which they do the work. So, it is nothing like as extensive as half an hour or an hour in the school every week. I am responsible for three SIP schools and probably get into them twice a term. I have that sort of level of contact. It is not weekly, by any means.

One of the issues is that very many SIPs, particularly the external consultant SIPs and head teachers, are not always able to give more time than that, even if it is needed, because they are employed in other work as well. That can be an issue-it is one of the constraints. It means that the local authority School Improvement Service working absolutely hand in glove with the SIP is essential, because if a school really fell into trouble, it might well be that their SIP would not be the person who could instantly respond by putting considerably more time in. So, we have to look at how that can be managed at local authority level. Generally, that sort of increased level of work might have to come from within the School Improvement Service as opposed to from just the SIP.


Q130 Mrs. Hodgson: Just one more point of clarity. You mentioned that you are the SIP for two or three schools. What is the norm? Is it one SIP per school? What is the average number of schools that a SIP covers?

Lorraine Cooper: It varies between the primary and secondary sectors, which is what Lynda has just pointed out. I believe that in secondary in Warwickshire no SIP has more than three schools. In primary, purely because of the numbers game, we have some SIPs with 16 schools. So, it can be anywhere along the spectrum from three to 16. It really depends on how much time they give-how many days they are contracted to provide the service for. Head teachers generally will not take more than three schools. That would be the maximum for a head teacher SIP.


Q131 Chairman: So, someone who did 16 would be, say, a retired head.

Lorraine Cooper: No, people who did that many might be fully employed local authority people or privately employed consultants. At the head teacher end of the spectrum there tend to be fewer schools per SIP.


Q132 Chairman: Following on from Sharon, what happens when the National Challenge advisers come in? Are they basically the same people putting more time in?

Lynda Jones: It depends on whether the local authority has appropriate SIPs to take on the National Challenge adviser role. We were able to use two of our existing SIPs, who had that experience.


Q133 Chairman: Do they have to be differently or better qualified?

Lynda Jones: Yes, they are known as super-SIPs, so they have to go through an additional accreditation process. We were able to use two of our existing SIPs to become National Challenge advisers.


Q134 Chairman: Could any of you be super-SIPs?

Lynda Jones: If you wanted to.


Q135 Chairman: But you would have to do another qualification?

Lynda Jones: You would have to be accredited, yes.


Q136 Chairman: This all sounds interesting. What do you think about this, Les? Have you been more or less convinced about the role of SIPs by what you have heard?

Les Lawrence: I think that local government per se has become more convinced of the SIP process as it has bedded in and been shown to be a valuable support structure to many head teachers, especially new head teachers. Also, it is a sounding board, whereby head teachers can seek to gain assistance and independent advice on issues that they feel need to be addressed in their schools.

Suffice to say that when the SIPs system first started, we thought that it was a way of creating cosy relationships between individual schools and different head teachers. However, as I said, that view has totally changed and we see SIPs as an invaluable part of the accountability framework.

Chairman: Les, you astound me by just how open-minded you are, and how willing you are to change your mind on things. I am really encouraged by what you have been saying today.

To wind up, we will have a couple of questions each from both Paul and Annette, who have been very patient.


Q137 Annette Brooke: I have just one question, but it is quite a complex question. We were talking earlier with Les about the collaborative approach and the fact that local authorities do not often serve notices. Then there is the proposed change in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill that will enable moves to be taken in the case of coasting schools, for example. Now, what I really want to know is how does the SIP work with the School Improvement Service? Lynda mentioned the fact that, when a school is causing some concern at whatever level, there would be more than one person coming into the school. How does that process work? Is it collaboration, or is it a case of actually pushing for the school to be put into some more formal notice-let us put it that way-when problems are obviously being picked up?

Lorraine Cooper: The process that operates within Warwickshire is very clear. If a SIP is in a school and starts to pick up on the fact that there are significant problems that are going to need higher-level support and intervention, it has the capacity to contact us and to say, "We believe that the school is at risk and we think that it needs a full review to see what is happening". That full review would be conducted and it would look in depth at the sorts of issues that the SIP has raised and it would have all the records of visit, because they all come back into the local authority and every single one of them is read every time that they come in. So we are gathering that evidence from schools anyway, on an ongoing basis.


Q138 Annette Brooke: I am sorry to cut across you; I apologise. Is that a risk of going into special measures, or is it more all-embracing, to pick up the coasting school too?

Lorraine Cooper: It is all-embracing. We do not just pick up those schools that we think might go into special measures. We have different categories that we allocate to schools, and those categories are allocated by the SIPs to a set of criteria that they are given. The SIPs do everything from allocating a category of "outstanding" right the way through the spectrum, so that if a school is coasting we would pick that up from the data. We would also expect the SIP to have picked that up from the data. We would then expect that problem to be reported back in the category that the school is allocated on the record of visit that is sent back to the local authority.

If there is concern, we would look at that at as a table-top exercise. If we get those alerts back from SIPs, we will look at the situation, look at the evidence base, gather our internal evidence in addition to the evidence that the SIP is providing, and at that point we would put together, with the school, a plan to bring about the changes that need to happen.

So, if the school is designated as being in a category of concern by the SIP, in conjunction with the school and governing body, that will automatically bring into play some quite rigorous systems. There is a system to support the school, by providing whatever might be needed in terms of training, development and assistance, but there is also a very clear system of accountability, where there are time frames attached, governors and head teachers of schools would meet regularly with us, at least on a termly basis if not a half-termly basis, and we have what we call a review and intervention meeting, where we measure the progress that the school has made towards the success criteria that were agreed at the beginning for improvement. If that improvement does not happen-and we hope that it is done along the way-we must look and ask what are the factors sitting behind that. Is it that the local authority support is not working? What other factors are impacting on that? Are there problems with the leadership? If that is found to be the case, we would-and do-take rigorous action. There is a strong process, and the SIP is central to that. They are the person who knows the school well and will alert us to any issues at the beginning.


Q139 Annette Brooke: So the SIP could be the person or instrument through which the pack of cards comes tumbling down, in the case of a head resigning, special measures and so on?

Lorraine Cooper: Yes.


Q140 Paul Holmes: I have two questions on recruitment that come from a completely different perspective. The Government hoped that there would be a much larger percentage of SIPs who were head teachers. In practice, that has not worked out. Why is that? Why is it so hard to get head teachers to do that role?

Declan McCauley: That is something I touched on earlier. If someone is a head teacher, it means going out of their school to work as a SIP. They cannot do that if they do not have total faith and trust in the team that they are leaving behind-i.e. the deputy head teacher-to run the school effectively while they are out. Not all schools have that, so that is one issue.

Not all head teachers want to take on the SIP role. When the role came in initially-I am talking not from Warwickshire but from Staffordshire-head teachers there were very wary of this new process involving people who were trained outside the local authority. What was the impact going to be? Who were they and what did they want? There was a lot of negativity, and heads did not want to take up that kind of position.


Q141 Paul Holmes: Is that changing now that it has bedded in? You spoke about going and seeing what happened in two different authorities with the schools you went to.

Chairman: Councillor Lawrence changed his mind. Did your colleagues change their minds?

Paul Holmes: It could be an important part of a head teacher's professional development and future promotion prospects if they have done this sort of thing. Is there a beneficial improvement now, or is it still a problem recruiting heads?

Declan McCauley: Now that head teachers are seeing how the process works, I know of some who have gone off, in the recent past, undertaken the accreditation process and become SIPs. Whether they go on to take up any appointments is a different matter, but they have undergone the accreditation process.

Chairman: Is that your shared experience Lynda?

Lynda Jones: We mentioned the accreditation process earlier and how onerous it is. The stakes are really high because, as Declan was saying, people know that you are going for it so what if you are turned down? What does that say? It certainly seems to say something about your powers of analysis, because that is a key part of being a SIP. That is one thing that may predispose people not to do it.

It also takes a lot of time. The online part of took me 15 hours to complete, and that was just to get through to the next stage and the face-to-face training. I know of one head teacher who opened it up, a crisis happened, and he was not able to complete it with a proper amount of time to consider issues. As a consequence, his accreditation was not successful. It could be that the accreditation process deters people.

In Warwickshire, we now have fewer serving head teachers as primary SIPs because they found that they had to withdraw, as they needed to be in their own schools. What we have described is a rigid process. There is a series of things that we must do at particular times of the year and that might not be the right time. For example, the autumn term is particularly heavy and, I imagine, that is a very heavy time for a head teacher too. That is another aspect.

Lorraine Cooper: Many head teachers tell me that they do not want the role because their job as a head teacher takes 200% of their time. They cannot get their heads around how they could deal with somebody else's problems as well as their own. That is the most common feedback that I get. Clearly, there are some who enjoy the role and feel that they can offer a lot and that it offers something to them. You will always get that in a group of people. Generally, however, we are not seeing an increase and if anything, I would say that I am seeing a decrease in the numbers of people who are available. There may be a number on the SIP register, but when you contact those people because you are looking to appoint, a very high percentage of them are not available for work. I have just been through the process.


Q142 Chairman: Do they get paid extra for the SIPs job?

Lorraine Cooper: They do, yes; they get paid to do it.


Q143 Paul Holmes: I think that Lorraine's point about the 200% input into being a head leads to the next question. There is a shortage of people applying to be primary school heads and a lesser shortage, but still a shortage, for secondary. Does the existence of SIPs improve or otherwise that situation? Do people applying to be head think, "Good, I'll have a SIP, who is very supportive and helpful", or do they think, "I've got the local government snitch, an inspector, so I'm not going to apply for that job. It's just not worth it any more." Is it helpful or not?

Declan McCauley: I personally do not see that that has any impact. If you were going for a headship, that would not even come into your mind.


Q144 Paul Holmes: But why are so few people applying to be heads these days? They always quote pressures from the Government, league tables, Ofsted-surely the SIPs are just another part of that pressure?

Declan McCauley: It is pressures from above, isn't? It is the initiatives-as Councillor Lawrence said earlier, it is taking time for initiatives to bed down-and not having more landing on your table. It is the pressure of managing your school. Some people do not even want to do an NPQH-they say that that is too onerous. There are many, many factors.

Lorraine Cooper: There are a number of factors. There is no doubt at all that when heads talk to you about why there are the issues around the recruitment of heads-why they do not move on to second headships, why they decide to retire early, whatever those things might be-a lot of them express the view that they do not feel that they are able to do the job as well as they want to, because of the volume of initiatives that fall on their desk. They constantly feel that they are battling the next new thing, instead of being able to do a good job on the rest.

There is a little bit of an element-for some head teachers, maybe not all-of feeling pushed further away from the learning and teaching by all the other things, by the breadth of their job, which is growing and growing. Some people will say, "That is not why I came into it. It is not what I want to do. I am about learning and teaching, about children, and I don't want to have to be bothered about some of the other things." There are some developments that will help that and will be very valuable, I am sure, as we get more development of people like business managers around ranges of school sites. However, the job has become very broad-the extended agenda for schools is pushing some people to the point where they feel that they can either be a head or they can live, as part of a family life. They are not sure that they want to forfeit the one for the other. There is a balance that needs to be struck.


Q145 Paul Holmes: This is a totally different question. Since the Education Act 1988, league tables, Ofsted, key stage tests and everything, Governments have argued that this is the only way to hold schools to account and to make sure that they do not just do their own thing, with nobody knowing what is going on. If you had had a system of SIPs, for example, in the '70s, would that have meant that William Tyndale could never have happened?

Lynda Jones: You would not have had the data then. Data are the lynchpin of the judgments that the SIP makes, because the data are robust and look at all aspects of performance. It is about standards and achievement, and Every Child Matters. Increasingly, the data will shine a light for you on what is going on in the school. Increasingly, as teacher assessments become more valid and robust, you will get that on a continuous basis too. In the '70s you would not have had that-the judgments would have been made by straws in the wind.


Q146 Paul Holmes: In Canada, Sweden or New Zealand, for example, it is very much based on the internal school assessment of pupils. In New Zealand, it is a 3% national sample at random, rather than a 1% key stage test, so you could get the robust data through SIPs and then go and talk to the local schools without having the framework of league tables-or could you?

Lynda Jones: At the moment, you have not got the valid and reliable teacher assessments. You will have, when reforms have come through and the teachers are properly supported in making those judgments. My personal view is that, yes, that would be a good vision for the future.

Lorraine Cooper: It is definitely the way that we need to go. The profession has changed phenomenally in that time. I came into it in the mid '70s and, I have to say, it is not the same profession now at all. It is held much more accountable and it is much tighter. Its systems and processes of understanding itself and whether it is producing the goods are much better than they were. I think that standards have definitely risen as a result. Schools now are much more robust and rigorous places and much more focused on whether outcomes for pupils are as they should be. My personal view is that if we had the systems and processes in place then that have brought about that development-it has been a journey and has not happened because of one or two things, but because of a series of things coming together over a fairly lengthy period-it would have been much more difficult to have a William Tyndale situation. It needs to continue to develop because it does not stand still, which is the beauty of education. It is a process of change and we need to adapt systems as the process moves on.

Chairman: I want to squeeze in two last questions. Derek and then Annette.


Q147 Derek Twigg: Do you think that we have got SIPs today because of the accountability that we have in the system? LEAs have accountability to ensure that education overall is very good, whereas most head teachers are only really concerned about what has happened in their school, for whatever reason. Therefore, why do you not work collaboratively anyway and help each other?

Chairman: Declan, would you like to take that?

Declan McCauley: That collaboration is there, but you still have to have the level of accountability.


Q148 Derek Twigg: Let me just, very briefly, give an example from four or five years ago in my constituency. We now have a different set of heads, but some of the previous heads would not talk to each other. I believe that is not uncommon. I accept that collaboration does take place, but there are too many areas where it does not. What is the answer?

Declan McCauley: I do not know what the answer is.

Chairman: Lynda has the answer.

Lynda Jones: No, I do not have the answer to that question. At the moment, the accountability regime does not take into account the partnership premium. We would like it to because that would impact on a number of arenas, for example the 14-to-19 arena. At the moment, SIP accountability is just with the school, so as accountability changes to suit circumstances, the partnership premium ought to be considered.

Lorraine Cooper: I believe that it is growing. It is happening. Increasingly, schools are aware that they cannot possibly deliver on the broad agenda if they stand as independent, single units, and they are looking outwards much more. If you said to me, what is the difference between what might be coming with the new framework of accountability compared with the old one, it might be that we have persuaded schools over some period to be quite inward looking in terms of their standards, their quality and whether they get their pupils, but that is turning now and is moving outwards more. We are beginning to say that it is about the provision for children across a locality and about how schools can work together to provide it. I think that heads are beginning to engage more in that debate now, but it is a big cultural change and it is not going to happen overnight. We are working on it and I have a sense from the headship group I work with that people have accepted that agenda and are beginning to look much more to what they could do better with colleagues than they could do on their own in terms of provision.

Chairman: Do you agree with that Les?

Les Lawrence: In Derek's case, I would suggest that the fault is partly with the local authority.

Derek Twigg: That has gone. It is historical. It is not the case now.

Les Lawrence: To deliver the post-14 diploma requirements, schools will have to collaborate, because no one school can deliver all diplomas. The local authority should be significantly and regularly engaging all its heads in a single conversation or groups of single conversations to ensure that they, first, understand each others' accountability in regard to provision at secondary level, but equally, understand how they can begin to share resources. I go back to the point that I made earlier on English, maths, science and languages: because there is a scarcity of skilled teachers within those areas, we find, in lots of authorities, that schools are now sharing teachers across schools to get the best out of the skills that are available.


Q149 Derek Twigg: So why do we need SIPs?

Les Lawrence: To me the SIP is a fundamental part of the individual challenge that enhances relationships and confidence in the heads themselves and enables them often to build up their leadership teams to be much more effective. It ultimately allows the head the freedom to go on and do other things which can be not only to their professional development but to the development and benefit of their school.

Chairman: Annette.


Q150 Annette Brooke: This is a very brief question and I am not intending to undermine rigour when I ask it. Hearing about all your analysis I have to confess that I am the softie on this Committee and I want children to be happy at school. Could you tell us about some of the other dimensions you are involved in?

Lorraine Cooper: The agenda is broad and children enjoying as well as achieving is very important. The well-being aspects of their experience at school, their growth as people in school and their ability to be adaptable to changing circumstances, which is the world they are going out to work in, are equally important. A large part of the work of the SIPs will be around those agendas-the "Every Child Matters" agenda-all five areas are equally important. People talk about accountability through data because it is the easy one to measure and get a handle on. Some of the others are harder to get a handle on but they are no less important. If they are not there, it will not matter how hard you push on the other side, it is not going to come to fruition and will not bring about the changes you want. Certainly, the agenda that the SIP has at the interface with schools will be broad and will cover those aspects. Quite a lot of the work when you are in schools may be looking at the outcomes of pupil surveys and questionnaires; it might involve discussions with pupils to find out their views on what they are receiving and how they feel about school. There is a whole raft of things that happen that can give that further information. Schools are undertaking more of that all the time, so when there is a SIP validating their judgments and their data, they will provide you with that sort of evidence and say, "Here is what the children have said." You can then have conversations to validate that. Yes, the enjoy part is important: looking at learning outside the classroom, the extended agenda and the availability of that for children is a very important part of the role.

Chairman: Lynda, take no notice of Annette. We all on this Committee want children to enjoy.

Annette Brooke: I thought you told me off last time.

Chairman: Lynda, do you want to comment on children enjoying?

Lynda Jones: I do not have anything to add to what Lorraine has just said.

Chairman: Declan?

Declan McCauley: I agree because it is a much broader package. It is not just about statistics and data. There is much more breadth and the SIP has a role to play.

Chairman: This has been a really good session. We have learned a lot. I hope you enjoyed it. You have given us a great deal of information. Thank you very much for your attendance.

Susan, this is your last Committee attendance in your present role and you are moving to a different Committee. We wish you well.