- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)


8 JULY 2009

  Q400 Chairman: You are moving away from the evidence. Where is the evidence?

  Jon Coles: I think there is very good evidence in New York that it has challenged performance at the bottom end very effectively, and shifted performance at the bottom end in New York. It has been done in all sorts of other places—in Alberta as well—on quite a different model. It is much less controversial in some of those other places than it is in New York. In New York, where it is a pretty new idea, it is still controversial, although there is good reason to believe that it has had a good effect in tackling performance at the bottom end.

  Q401 Chairman: You wrote the White Paper, didn't you?

  Jon Coles: Not physically, personally.

  Q402 Chairman: No? You claimed to have written a previous White Paper—it is in your CV. You're not claiming this one? It says in your CV that you wrote the 2002 White Paper.

  Jon Coles: That is a factually accurate statement, yes.

  Q403 Chairman: But you did not write this one?

  Jon Coles: I wrote some bits of it, but I didn't mainly write it, no.

  Q404 Chairman: You didn't write the famous one on diversity and choice?

  Jon Coles: I didn't write that one.

  Chairman: Thank you for those opening remarks.

  Q405 Fiona Mactaggart: When faced with a lot of research and evidence—OECD and so on—about different accountability systems, why did the Government pick one that was highly centralised in determining what it included, but looked at through schools?

  Jon Coles: I am not sure that this is a more centralised system than the one we had before. In fact, it provides information to parents on the basis of nationally validated evidence about performance, so it is possible in this country—in a way that it isn't in many other countries—to compare the performance of schools in similar circumstances on the basis of common data and evidence. The OECD says its studies show that the single biggest driver of school performance is school-based accountability, on the basis of individually taken school-based assessments that are externally set and marked. That is the biggest driver of performance, and the reporting of that is an important factor. In other words, if you want to improve your system, testing people on a universal basis through external tests and marking, and reporting the results of that, is a key driver of performance in the system. If you look at the issues that there are with our existing system of testing, you would say, first, that it focuses on a small range of measures and, secondly, that they are mostly threshold indicators, which therefore apply to particular groups of students far more strongly than to other groups. If you were to develop that system further, you would want to get a set of measures that captures, first, the progress of every single child and holds schools to account for that and, secondly, the breadth of things that schools are expected to do in the system, and not just attainment—although that should be centrally important—but the wider range of things that schools do as well. That is what the report card is attempting to do—to capture very much more sharply and precisely the progress of every child so that for those who have achieved poorly, for example at primary school, secondary schools are still held to account strongly for their progress, and more strongly than is the case at the moment. For those with particular abilities who have achieved highly, schools should be held to account for their progress, performance and success as well—not just that they should get grade C, but that they should go on and get As and A*s. That's what the report card is intending to do.

  Chairman: That was a long answer, Jon.

  Jon Coles: Sorry.

  Q406 Fiona Mactaggart: But if we look at the education system as a whole, what is the biggest problem? Shockingly and depressingly, it is the problem that I made my maiden speech about and which the chief inspector has criticised us for: the appalling number of children still leaving primary school not reading successfully. My view is that every child has a human right to read, and we do not have—and you are not proposing—an accountability mechanism that focuses on the whole system and enabling each child to read effectively. Indeed, with the abandonment of the national strategy, it could be argued that it might be losing part of that.

  Mr Coaker: We are not taking our focus off numeracy and literacy in primary schools because, as Fiona was saying—is that okay in this Committee?

  Chairman: Yes.

  Mr Coaker: Fiona was saying that the importance of numeracy and literacy was absolutely fundamental. As you know, I have said that we will be ending the contract with respect to national strategies in 2011, but that does not mean that we will take the focus off. We are saying that we will now look to schools individually to develop the work that they do on that, although we expect the literacy and numeracy hours and work in the schools to continue. But the money around that will be devolved to them. Our view is that we have made some progress but, as you say, we now need to try to accelerate that and to build on what we see as the success of the national strategies with respect of numeracy and literacy in the way that it has gone up, and push further to try and tackle that 20% to 25% at the end who are still leaving primary school without the expected level. That was why the booster classes and the extension of the peer one-to-one into year 7 in secondary school were also included in the White Paper to try to build on and tackle that as well.

  Jon Coles: Can I just add to that very quickly. If you look at the developments in this White Paper, I think they have the opposite effect to the one you're suggesting. I think that they sharpen the focus on English and maths. In accepting the expert group report conclusion that we should have externally marked and set tests in only English and maths, we are sharpening the focus on those subjects. They remain absolutely essential to the report card measures. The fact that in the White Paper we say that every child who is behind expectations in either English or maths in Key Stage 2—at any stage—will get one-to-one support within the next few years to catch up in those two subjects is the biggest sharpening of focus on getting people up to national expectations in reading, writing and mathematics that we have had since the introduction of the literacy and numeracy strategies. It is a big attempt to focus attention more sharply on particularly those children who are not meeting national expectations.

  Q407 Fiona Mactaggart: Just finally, one of the points that I made about the centrally determined accountability mechanism is that if you speak to parents, they want schools to be a place where their children learn and succeed. They want powerfully for them to come out able to read and participate in society. They also want their children to be happy. I worry about whether we have a clear enough focus on what parents and children want out of schools in this mechanism. Have we listened to them, or have we just decided that we know best?

  Mr Coaker: I think that that is exactly the reason for the report card. I think that the parents in your constituency and others will be pleased with the way in which the report card is actually trying to capture some of the points you make about people being happy and safe. Sometimes the problem is that you are then accused of being soft on standards and not caring about them.

  Q408 Fiona Mactaggart: Standards are appalling when children are miserable.

  Mr Coaker: Absolutely. When young people feel happy, safe, secure and valued for who they are, achievement usually goes up as well. You will have seen the different categories laid out in the report card, including pupil well-being. Parents ask me, "Is my child going to be bullied at the school? Is my child going to be safe there? Is my child going to be looked after and cared for, and what is the pastoral system like?" They ask those questions as well as looking at the academic achievement and how well the school is doing with regard to reading and writing. The only point I am making is to ensure that, in a sense, we are not accused of taking our eye off the ball with regard to standards. Standards of literacy and numeracy, as you have said, Fiona, are absolutely fundamental, but there are other things that go alongside that and will, quite rightly, contribute to the achievement of a school if put right. The report card seeks to allow parents to be able to see whether a school is good in those respects as well as the others.

  Chairman: Let us move on. Graham, you may ask questions on the school report card.

  Q409 Mr Stuart: Returning to the point Jon made about the right to one-to-one tuition set out in the White Paper, it reminds me of the golden days of the British car industry and of British Leyland and its commitment to quality control. There was a bigger number of people at the end of the line dealing with all the ones that were not constructed properly in the first place, which showed British Leyland's commitment to quality control. The Japanese did not do that. They decided to get it right the first time and have no one at the end of the line because no car got there without being right from the beginning, and anyone could press a button on the conveyor belt to stop the whole process and ensure that it was done right. I find rather worrying the idea that you are not challenging, or doing enough to remove, inadequate teachers and are not focusing enough on getting great teachers in classrooms. When you get a great teacher in a classroom in the most deprived and challenging area, standards are transformed, and if you get someone who cannot do it, you do not. One-to-one tuition is yet another gimmick from a Government who have come up with millions in 12 years, and it does not reassure me that children in the worst affected areas will get the support they need.

  Mr Coaker: Nobody disagrees that it is necessary to get a continued emphasis on standards to try to improve everybody within the pre-school, infant and junior phases of primary education, as you rightly point out, Graham. However, if people do not succeed and fall behind, it is important to have a system that supports them to catch up. A number of studies have demonstrated that one-to-one tuition and support is a way of doing that. My experience of talking to teachers, parents and others is that it has actually been exceedingly well-received. Notwithstanding the point you made, which we obviously would all want, nobody would be in a position where they would need that. People have been very pleased by the fact that, when people fall behind, that additional help and support will be provided. Now it will be not only available in years 3 to 6, but extended into year 7.

  Q410 Mr Stuart: For the record, I personally do not find that convincing, but we will see. So, true school accountability measures that work will root out the poor and inadequate who are failing children—is that right?

  Mr Coaker: It will improve accountability, which improves practice and standards in schools overall and allows parents to see what is going on. Alongside that—as a part of it—improving what happens in schools is about improving the quality of leadership through the head teacher, which is absolutely fundamental, and also about improving the quality of the teaching that goes on. One of the other things in the document, as you will know, is the licence to teach, which is another way in which we will try to ensure that teachers keep their professional skills up to date. Alongside that will be continuous professional development. As we discussed before, we want to ensure that high-quality teaching is available to everyone in every class.

  Q411 Mr Stuart: Accountability should mean that we root out the inadequate, and that is not about box-ticking. There will be some great teachers who will be damned if they are going to go on a course, even though the head nags them, and they might fail to fill the box in. When the guys come along every five years for the licence renewal, the poor and mediocre teacher, who is pretty good and assiduous at sucking up to anyone at the right time, will get a tick in all the boxes. Will this system root out the poor and the inadequate, because we have a system in which poor and inadequate teachers are not removed from our classrooms? Until you do that you have not got an accountability system worth the name.

  Mr Coaker: I think that the reforms we have announced will help to ensure that we have high-quality teaching available in every class. Accountability is about that, but it is also about ensuring that all the other things take place and that parents are informed. Then they will bring that pressure to bear themselves on the school to ensure that the quality of education there is as it should be.

  Q412 Mr Stuart: So you are saying that parents will be in a position to trigger the removal of inadequate teachers?

  Mr Coaker: What I am saying is that parents will be able to hold a school to account. If people have the information about a school, they will make a judgement about that, and ultimately they will make a judgement about whether they want their son or daughter to go there.

  Jon Coles: I think you are rightly saying that there is a big implementation issue about the licence to teach. If it is implemented in a way which says that people must go on a certain number of courses every year and fill in the forms and submit a portfolio, which is convincing on paper but says nothing about their teaching practice, it will not work. Therefore the job of implementation is to make sure that this is a real and effective way of making sure that those who are effective in the classroom, whose skills are up to date and who teach well every lesson, every day, are relicensed, and those who fall short of those professional standards are not relicensed. Obviously, making that system work effectively is the key to making it an effective reform, rather than one that is about box-ticking. We are very clear that the job is to make it about the quality of teaching practice and not about the number of courses that somebody has been on.

  Q413 Mr Stuart: We know how many teachers have been removed from teaching over the last number of years—practically none. Chris Woodhead famously came out with a figure of 15,000 inadequate teachers at one stage. Do you have any idea of what success would look like in terms of rooting out inadequate teachers?

  Mr Coaker: I do not have a figure that I can tell the Committee, but I accept the point that ensuring that we have good, high-quality teaching in every classroom is essential. I think that the licence to teach would help with respect to that.

  Q414 Mr Stuart: May I ask you quickly about the report card. However it is constructed, the evidence we heard from New York was that the pressure for change was immense. When Christine Gilbert came here she sounded rather distant from the report card work. The letter from the Secretary of State that I received recently emphasised how close the work is now. The prospectus from Ofsted is 55 pages, and most of it is pretty complex and talks about statistical means and various other things. Is it not true that the thing is going to be in a permanent state of flux as everyone challenges the results and says it does not fairly reflect their school?

  Mr Coaker: Let us be clear that that is the starting prospectus. We have a two-year pilot starting this September to take forward the whole proposal. The prospectus sets out some of the ways in which we think we can do it. That is now a matter for consultation, debate and testing in practice so that we can come forward in 2011 with a report card that exactly avoids the sorts of points that Graham quite rightly makes. We get something and there is a continuous state of flux, and that is why we have a two-year pilot.

  Q415 Mr Stuart: One last question. Is it your vision that there would be a total score? In New York you could get every school and find out which was top, which was 277th and which one on this year's marking was 586th. Is that how it will be with the report card here?

  Mr Coaker: The Secretary of State said when launching the White Paper that while we are going to consult further, he is now convinced that if parents, newspapers and websites are to make fair, clear and easy to understand comparisons between schools, our school report card will need to include a single overall grade. He said that while we need to consult further, it is his view, subject to that, that a single overall grade would be—

  Q416 Mr Stuart: I am clear about the grading, but will we be able to see the individual scoring? If all the schools are grade A, you will not be able to differentiate them.

  Mr Coaker: Do you mean the individual categories that make up the overall score?

  Mr Stuart: In order to come up with A—

  Mr Coaker: So, the pupil progress, pupil attainment and pupil well-being—what the scores are for those as well?

  Q417 Mr Stuart: The grand total. Literally, you would have the ultimate league table. You would be able to see the top school in the country possibly, and right down to the bottom. You could see every differentiation all the way down.

  Mr Coaker: I think our intention is to make as much information available as we can. Certainly, if you look at the information relating to pupil attainment, you will see that there is no difference in terms of the information we have made available. For example, people would still be able to compare, if they wanted to, examination results or SATs results. But the intention is to aggregate all those different categories to give an overall score.

  Q418 Chairman: It is a fair point that Graham makes: the press will turn those into league tables in the same way that it has turned exam and test results into league tables.

  Mr Coaker: That may well be the case, and it will be up to people to do that or not. But it is important to say that the Government have responded to the exact point that Fiona has made, which I think many of us have heard from our constituents, about schools not just being about exam results. While people understand that exam results and standards are fundamental, they also want to know what a school does in relation to other things. That is what the report card will make available to them.

  Q419 Mr Chaytor: This is a serious point: isn't the key to the success of the report card that is replacing the performance tables, the way in which the Government compiles the information on the raw scores? At the moment, the information on the raw scores is there, and any newspaper can lift it and print it. Is it still going to be easily accessible, or is the information on raw scores simply going to be part of each school's report card?

  Mr Coaker: It will be part of the report card.

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