- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents


EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES (QUESTION NUMBERS 60-66)

KEITH BARTLEY, MICK BROOKES, DR JOHN DUNFORD, MARTIN JOHNSON, CHRISTINE BLOWER AND JOHN BANGS

16 MARCH 2009

  Q60  MR PELLING: In terms of the school report card, is it a possibility for schools or teachers or the community to grab back what some witnesses have described as the centralisation of power, despite the pretence otherwise that education policy is about devolution of power? If used properly, could it be used as a means of strengthening accountability to the community and working with the community?

  DR DUNFORD: Yes it could, provided, as John Bangs says, it fits properly with the rest of the accountability system. We see what we can get rid of, as I mentioned earlier, and we actually design it so that it complements other parts of the accountability system. In particular, if the report card says what needs to be said about the data, we can have a quite different kind of Ofsted inspection.

  Q61  MR CHAYTOR: Picking up on Martin's point, we hear from time to time from different witnesses about the narrow differences between achievements in schools. Surely that is a powerful argument for the school report card, because the consequence of introducing a report card that makes a judgment on a broader range of indicators would be precisely to deliver a set of results which, for most schools, would probably be good. You would get far less differentiation than you do now, when judgments are essentially made by league tables dominated by one single raw statistic.

  JOHN BANGS: Exactly.

  MR CHAYTOR: You have put up a very good argument for the report card as I see it.

  JOHN BANGS: Yes, only if you get rid of all the other junk that compromises it.

  KEITH BARTLEY: I think schools would have far more ownership of the report card if the consultative process that has been launched genuinely engaged them and gave them some opportunity to have the kind of debate that your questions are prompting. But we have to see it in the context—no one has mentioned this—of the two significant conclusions reached by the House of Lords Merits Committee's report last week. It argued for less government reliance on regulation in order to leave greater room for the professionalism of practitioners to deliver against the outcomes for improving education. That was part of your question just now. Shouldn't our focus be on what we do to improve the actual practice of teaching in our classrooms? As Martin said, everything tells us that is what actually makes the greatest difference for children. The House of Lords Committee report stated: "We call on the Department to shift its primary focus away from the regulation of processes through statutory instruments, towards establishing accountability for the delivery of key outcomes." Engaging schools in how that can be measured and presented could be a rich way forward.

  Q62  MR CHAYTOR: On the question of the single descriptor, which some of you have objected to, what makes a school different from a hospital, a primary care trust, a local authority or a police authority, all of which are now allocated single descriptors, whether 1 to 5, A to E, excellent to poor? Why is a school different?

  DR DUNFORD: I don't find the single descriptor useful in any of those respects. If I want to go into a hospital for a knee operation, I want to know what the hospital is like for knee operations.

  MR CHAYTOR: But you can find that out as well.

  DR DUNFORD: That's good. Similarly, if I'm going to stay in a hotel, I do not particularly want to know that it is a three-star hotel. I want to know what the facilities and rooms are like, and so on, which points to separate grades for different aspects of school performance, and not to a single, overall grade, which, incidentally, the colleges have at the moment under Framework for Excellence, and I understand are looking at getting rid of.

  Q63  MR CHAYTOR: But the two are not mutually exclusive. The concept of the report card is to provide an overall, broad assessment, and to include much more information as well. So if you want to know about knee or ankle operations, or performance in year 11 or year 7, CVA, raw stats, progress, well-being, it's all there, surely.

  DR DUNFORD: That would be good, and I think we should encourage parents and other people interested in these things to look behind the single grade, but the single grade would be an obstruction to them looking to the other information.

  JOHN BANGS: We have to understand where the single grade comes from. It comes from the Government's approach to public sector reform. It is a flight from complexity. It is about giving Ministers simple solutions to complex problems, but, as John said, those are often wrong solutions. A single grade does not drive up motivation for institutional improvement. What it does is tell the best people in the institution to leave, especially if it is a really bad grade, because it can't differentiate between those who are effective in the institution and those who are not. It is a crude blunderbuss approach that can lead to the best people leaving the institution. Perhaps this is a holy grail, but it is achievable: the key issue is to have a simple summary of the effectiveness of the institution, looking at the key concerns and issues, without having a single grade bracketed into four separate tiers that actually has the effect of demoralising individual people who are really making a difference in the institution.

  Q64  MR CHAYTOR: Just one very final point. John, do you not think that there is a supreme paradox here? In contrast with hospitals, PCTs, police authorities or local authorities, schools are giving single grades to their pupils every day of the week, every week of the year. How can you object to the public allocating a single grade to the school when the purpose of the school's existence is to allocate a single grade to pupils?

  MARTIN JOHNSON: The short answer to the question is that it is not very good practice.

  Q65  MR CHAYTOR: But I have yet to hear a teachers association or anybody within the system argue that we should completely abandon terminal grades or GCSEs.

  MARTIN JOHNSON: We do.

  JOHN BANGS: What David has opened up is a huge debate about the distinction between the evaluation of the pupil, the evaluation of the teacher, the evaluation of the institution and the evaluation of the system. How you actually evaluate the pupil is essentially diagnostic. You are identifying a point to which you believe the child should move next through whatever mechanism you use. To extrapolate that up and say that is the way to evaluate a complex institution is exactly the mistake that the current Government and previous Governments have made. You cannot use one particular set of objectives for a pupil and then use that system—for example, national curriculum tests—as a way of evaluating the institution. What happens is that you strip out very much that is good, and what you have is a single result that, as I say, often demoralises people who have made a real difference, because they are not recognised within that single letter or number. An issue that the Committee ought to address is simply how you look at institutions and provide a 360° picture of the institution that is separate from how you look at the performance of the individual pupil or teacher.

  DR DUNFORD: Can I add another gloss to that. In a system where institutions are being encouraged to work in partnership with other institutions, the whole focus, which we have been discussing for two hours, of accountability of the single institution has to be looked at if it is going to drive us more towards partnership working and towards system improvement and lack of polarisation, whereas the accountability driver, at the moment, is all towards competition between schools and beating them in the league tables.

  Q66  CHAIRMAN: If there is any area that we have not looked at in enough detail, from where I am sitting, it is systemic change and systemic evaluation. Mick?

  MICK BROOKES: It depends on the purpose as well. If the purpose of giving a single grade is either to praise or demean, I think that is not working. As to how parents know how to choose the school for their child, that is a real question, and the answer is that most do not, because they will simply opt for the school that is nearest to them. If they do, the best way of doing that is to ask the parent and pupil population, "What is your school like?" Some schools will not be getting those enormous numbers of GCSEs at A to C, but are nevertheless very good schools and are heading in the right direction. It is about having a school which is appropriate for the child.

  CHAIRMAN: Keith, do you want to answer?

  KEITH BARTLEY: Not on that thanks.

  CHAIRMAN: This has been a most informative session for us. It has gone on a little, but you have all been on sparkling form. I remember the first time I asked the unions to come in on a regular basis to talk to the Committee, and there seems to have been something of a change since then—you seem quite collegiate today. It is very refreshing. This is a very important inquiry, and I am glad that you have contributed so freely and frankly. Can you stay with this inquiry. If you look at what has been said today and think of things that you should have said or of other things that you would like to communicate to us, let us know, because it will only be a good inquiry if you help us as much as you can. Thanks again, and I hope that you like our national curriculum report that will come out shortly.





 
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