- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)


8 JULY 2009

  Q460 Mr Chaytor: Do you think we need fewer but better people?

  Mr Coaker: I think that is difficult to say overall. I would hate the idea of professionalisation, although they need to be more professional, if you understand the point.

  Q461 Chairman: I think there is a good balance here. Minister, does the Schools Commissioner have anything to do with accountability these days?

  Mr Coaker: Certainly, the Schools Commissioner works with us in tackling all of these issues.

  Q462 Chairman: Who is the new Schools Commissioner?

  Jon Coles: We will be advertising a director job in the directorate shortly.

  Q463 Chairman: That is not the Schools Commissioner. The Schools Commissioner left months ago, and you haven't got one. Where is he? I know he went, but where's the new one? You're not going to have one, are you?

  Jon Coles: We will make an appointment of a director in the directorate.

  Q464 Chairman: That is not the same, Jon. These are weasel words. I have asked consistently what has happened to the role of Schools Commissioner. He is mentioned in primary legislation.

  Jon Coles: No, he's not.

  Chairman: Yes, he is.

  Jon Coles: No.

  Q465 Chairman: We will check you on that. Why have a Schools Commissioner up front, an important part of balancing the evidence given to this Committee? It was an important role and you buried it—or buried him.

  Jon Coles: He has gone to do a really important job in the system.

  Q466 Chairman: We know what has happened to him, but it is very unusual. You couldn't do that with the Chief Inspector, could you? Who else in the firmament of education is at risk and not to be replaced? There has been no explanation to this Committee. I have asked time and time again—what has happened to the Schools Commissioner?

  Mr Coaker: Would it be helpful, given that you have asked for an explanation and not had one, if I offered to go back to the Department and find out and write to you?[1]

  Q467 Chairman: But I have consistently asked. It is really frustrating that there is a mystery around this. It is like an Agatha Christie story. Who killed him in—

  Mr Coaker: If I put on the record that I will write to you on this point, and copy it to members of the Committee, and that I will ensure that that is done quickly and promptly, would that be helpful?

  Q468 Chairman: Thank you. Will you check that that role is not mentioned at all in any legislation?

  Mr Coaker: I will check the factual point as well.

  Chairman: Thank you. You can go now. Jon, you cannot go—we have two more questions for you because you do not have to run to a debate.

  Q469 Annette Brooke: Coming back to the data evaluation, which I must admit I was really not impressed with at the time, to what extent are SIPs simply being trained to produce what Ofsted wants to see? Do we have a cosy relationship between Ofsted and SIPs?

  Jon Coles: No, I don't think so. I think there is an issue with SIP training at the moment as it is too narrowly focused on data, but I do not think that that is connected to Ofsted and what Ofsted is looking for. We need—and the White Paper says this—to train SIPs much more broadly in school improvement and in reading schools and brokering the right support and so on, but I don't think that that is an Ofsted issue at all.

  Q470 Annette Brooke: But presumably, the point of having the SIPs there is to improve the Ofsted grade.

  Jon Coles: Yes. It is to improve the school. Absolutely. It provides challenge and support to the leadership of the school to improve it.

  Q471 Annette Brooke: I think my concern is that it is game-playing to get a better grade. Perhaps the SIPs role will change something so that you get the highest overall grade on the report card. How are we seeing real changes in behaviour, and not just the data looking better? I am still not convinced.

  Jon Coles: Obviously, this is a change that has not been implemented yet, so I cannot prove to you that it is going to be effective. The aim is straightforwardly that there is someone who really knows and understands the school well, knows what is going on, knows the ways in which the pupils are being well served or less well served, and is able to challenge and support the leadership of the school to serve the pupils better. That is the objective. I do not see that as a game-playing exercise at all; I see it as a well-grounded process of trying to improve things for the children and young people in the school. As I say, I cannot prove to you that the reforms are going to work as we have yet to implement them, but that is absolutely the objective of them.

  Q472 Chairman: Jon, how long have SIPs been in place? How long have we had them?

  Jon Coles: We started piloting them—I will have to confirm this—around 2004, I think.

  Q473 Chairman: So we have had time to evaluate whether they add value?

  Jon Coles: Yes, and there is a SIP evaluation available.

  Q474 Chairman: Who did that?

  Jon Coles: I don't know the answer to that off the top of my head, I'm afraid. It is publicly available, and I can certainly make sure that you get it.[2]

  Q475 Chairman: But the evaluation was that they do add value, and that is why you are really going into SIPs phase 2?

  Jon Coles: There are a number of points of detail where the evaluation suggested that there was room for improvement, but overall, there was a sense that they had added value. We think that this set of reforms potentially makes their impact that much greater.

  Q476 Chairman: There is a voice out there, Jon, that says, "For goodness' sake, why do we need a White Paper and more legislation? Why not let it all be?" Not all of the reforms you have introduced over the last 12 years have bedded down, and yet you are bringing on more. Do you sit in the Department in Sanctuary Buildings looking down at the school, the head, the teachers and the students just thinking up wheezes but not really thinking about what impact they will have on the people who have to put them into operation?

  Jon Coles: Well, no, we do not. By going through the policy-making process, we are obviously trying to understand the real issues out there that affect children and young people and their educational success and the evidence about what might be effective in improving that and producing well-implemented policies that improve things for children and young people. That is obviously the objective of what we are doing. Some of what we are saying in the White Paper aims to reduce the pressure of centrally driven reform programmes, move to a system based more closely on the needs of individual schools and produce something that is actually more effective in improving things, partly because it is easier to implement for schools, more manageable for them and more focused on their precise needs. That is the objective.

  Q477 Chairman: Jon, we said very similar things in our report on the national curriculum, but you gave us a really dusty old reply to that report because we said that the pendulum should swing back to give more power to schools and teachers. That is exactly what we said, but you came back with a very negative response. Why was that, because that does not seem to square with what you are saying this morning or what you said in the White Paper?

  Jon Coles: Well, I know that you will be discussing that further shortly and am sorry that you thought our reply was dusty.

  Chairman: Negative.

  Jon Coles: It was not intended to be. Clearly, what we have done in the White Paper is try to design a system that is more effective in improving things, partly because it is more sensitive to school circumstances. If we are at one on that, so much the better.

  Q478 Mr Chaytor: The model report card that Ofsted has produced describes the school by age range, gender and type. The "Anytown" school in "General" borough council is described as a comprehensive. How many types of school will there be for that purpose?

  Jon Coles: The report card will treat them all in exactly the same way.

  Q479 Mr Chaytor: So all schools will be described as comprehensives?

  Jon Coles: No, they will all be accurately described as what they are.

1   See Ev 213 Back

2   See Ev 213 Back

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