- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-150)


1 APRIL 2009

  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—ie 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 it 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?

  Cllr 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.

  Cllr 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?

  Cllr 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.

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