- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 231-239)


29 APRIL 2009

  Q231  Chairman: I welcome Deborah Ishihara and Clare Collins to our deliberations. David Butler will join us imminently. You heard my introduction when I said that we are very grateful for your help in the inquiry. You represent two sectors that are most important to us. I hope that you will bear with us in the sense that we are trying to cram a quart into a pint pot, so we are going to bombard you with questions. We are looking at the accountability of the education system. We are where we are. You heard what the other people said in the previous session. Do we need change, Deborah?

  Deborah Ishihara: Do we need change to what is presented to parents? Yes, in that sense, we do. In our view, there is not enough emphasis on compliance. Education attainment seems to be the main criterion at the moment. That doesn't give enough information to parents. We get calls every day about all sorts of other issues, such as bullying, exclusions, SEN and so forth. We hear from parents that they need more information of different sorts. What they are really interested in is whether their children will be happy at a school and whether they will be supported at a school. The information that they have to hand doesn't really address some of those issues.

  Clare Collins: Do we need change?

  Q232  Chairman: Are we happy with the system as it is?

  Clare Collins: No, we need an incremental change. We need to strengthen it. I represent school governing bodies. It is absolutely crucial that we clarify the role of the governing body as an accountable body for schools. If we do that and strengthen governance, we will strengthen accountability, and that will be a good thing for schools.

  Q233  Chairman: It is interesting that, in the previous evidence session, they hardly mentioned governing bodies.

  Clare Collins: It is not just interesting, it is quite worrying. Not only did they not mention governing bodies very much—

  Chairman: Welcome, David Butler.

  David Butler: Thank you, Chairman.

  Clare Collins: Doing my homework, as I obviously did for this, I read the other submissions. There was a huge number of pages of dense text, with no mention of the governing body.

  Chairman: Thank you for that. David, are you getting your breath?

  David Butler: I am, yes. I have just run up from Black Rod's. Thank you very much, Chairman.

  Q234  Chairman: Do we need an inquiry? Do we need to write a report on this or is everything in the garden lovely?

  David Butler: No. Several things could be said about this. I welcome the opportunity to present evidence to the Committee. We have sent in a written submission. I only finished it last night at the office, but you may have got it this morning.

  Chairman: David, we have got it. Don't worry about it—don't repeat it.

  David Butler: Fine. I am really happy to take any questions on it or any additional questions that you might have.

  Chairman: That is what we have got you here for.

  Q235  Mr Stuart: Governing bodies are supposed to hold the head teacher to account for the school's performance, so should we have all the multiple layers of other levels of accountability? Is that confusing the situation and stopping a more effective accountable system that is based on governors?

  Clare Collins: We agree that we have multiple accountability, but it needs clarifying. We have other aspects of the system. If it was made clear that they fed their information to the governing body, that would bring a focus to the role of the governing body, which would mean that you could streamline accountability and make it more effective. Listening to the last submissions was very interesting. Ofsted and the school improvement partners programme role are vital in looking at different levels of information, with people coming in with different expertise. That builds a picture so that you can ascertain whether the school is providing a good basis for the children's learning and whether they are making progress.

  Q236  Mr Stuart: Deborah, is a good and effective governing body regarded as a peculiar bonus, rather than as something that can be taken for granted? Are all these other structures in place because no one relies on governing bodies to do their job?

  Deborah Ishihara: I would not say no one relies on governing bodies. It is very useful when you have a good, independent check and balance on the school through the governing body. That does not always happen, but we advise parents daily that if they have a problem with the school, they can go and talk to the school, but if that has no effect, they can go to the governing body and ask it to act as a check and balance on what has happened. We strongly support the role of governors in terms of accountability. In our submission, if we talk about schools, we are really talking about the governing body and its role as a check and balance on the school, and we very much support governing bodies.

  Q237  Mr Stuart: Do you think that governing bodies are effective, David? In particular, do they fulfil their role of putting out tentacles into the local community, genuinely grounding the school and making every school a community school? Are they working?

  David Butler: In the main, governing bodies are working. Clearly, like anything else, you have examples of really excellent practice, but you also have examples of practice that is not so excellent. In regard to the line of questioning that we are having at the moment, I would say that our research, which was probably submitted to you just this morning, suggests that parents are interested in public accountability. There is also evidence from our research that they would like to see some, let us say, cross-comparators—in other words, some form of national basis on which they can examine schools and make sure that things are accountable. That would predicate in favour of something that is beyond the governing body. The governing body can do an excellent job locally, but if you want to go beyond that, you may need something else.

  Q238  Mr Stuart: In practical terms, what can governing bodies do to improve school performance? Clare?

  Chairman: Clare, can you reposition yourself slightly in front of the microphone, because your voice is not coming over quite so strongly. Remember, those microphones were used by Gladstone.

  Clare Collins: Sorry, are we talking about what governing bodies can do to hold schools to account?

  Mr Stuart: To improve school performance.

  Clare Collins: In terms of improving school performance, the governing body is there to challenge, focus and use the information that is available to it. It is there to influence and, in terms of putting out tentacles into the community, it can perhaps broker support between the school and the local authority or whatever to make sure that the school has what it needs to do the job that it is supposed to be doing.

  Q239  Mr Stuart: With the previous panel, I described two levels of accountability. One was about the institution—the school—and involved leadership, the ethos and planning for a rich learning experience. There is also the individual teaching quality. Is the governing body equally effective at ensuring that we have a high-quality institution and at challenging poor teaching so that we have high-quality teaching?

  Clare Collins: There are about three levels to that question. First, in terms of understanding what happens with the institution, the governing body has what it needs, with everything else that is coming in. Governing bodies should get reports regularly—at least termly—on the quality of teaching in the school. What the governing body does in response to that to make sure that the school follows through is problematic, and there are real issues about responding to poor teaching and about what is out there to help you deal with that. Risk-averse local authority HR departments can make things difficult, and that is extremely frustrating for governing bodies when they are sitting there saying, "This teacher is still performing poorly. We are still looking at yet another intervention. We want something to happen."

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