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The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Sarah Thatcher, Richard Ward, Committee Clerks
† attended the CommitteeSir Michael Wilshaw, Executive Principal, Mossbourne Community Academy Sally Coates, Principal, Burlington Danes Academy Sir Alan Steer, author of the Steer Review of Pupil Behaviour Liz Logie, Head Teacher, Beaumont Leys School Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers Chris Keates, General Secretary, NASUWT Amanda Brown, Head of Employment, Conditions and Rights, National Union of Teachers Christina McAnea, National Secretary for Education and Children’s Services, Unison Christine Gilbert CBE, HM Chief Inspector, Ofsted Sue Gregory, National Director, Inspection Delivery, Ofsted Sandra Burslem, Deputy Chair, Ofqual Dennis Opposs, Director of Standards, Ofqual Paul Ennals, Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau Philippa Stobbs, Policy Vice Chair, Special Education Consortium Brian Lamb, Former Chair, Special Education Consortium Dr Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England
The Chair: Thank you very much for joining us. You are our first panel. Can I make one request? Please keep your answers as short as possible, because we only have about 57 minutes maximum. Nick Gibb.
Q 8888 The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): One of the witnesses to the inquiry into behaviour by the Select Committee on Education—Daisy Christodoulou, an ambassador for Teach First—said:
“It’s not particularly that I want to search a pupil’s bag, but if there is a law and the school has the power to do so, it sends a message. That’s what I like about it. That message does get through to kids, and it makes them think.”
Can I ask the panellists their views on the provisions in the Bill that extend powers to search things such as mobile phones and give teachers anonymity if they face accusations from pupils or their parents?
Sir Michael Wilshaw: I have always done that as a head. If I suspect that somebody is coming in with an offensive weapon or something that they should not have, I have always taken it upon myself or charged one of my senior deputies to investigate that. If it means opening a bag, that is something that I would do. I would usually contact the parent first, though, to seek their sanction. In terms of members of staff who are accused of something by a student, I am in full support of that provision in the Bill. Those members of staff should remain anonymous until it is proved and the police charge that person with an offence.
Q 89 Mr Gibb: Thank you. By the way, I should have welcomed you all to the Committee. Thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to give evidence to us. It is very much appreciated. Liz, did you want to answer?
Liz Logie: On the last point, I certainly agree completely with teacher anonymity. Anything that can stop mischievous accusations is really important. That is almost a no-brainer. I completely support it. In terms of the extension of searching, the power of it is more in the symbolism than in the actuality. As for extending the power to search in itself, I do not think that schools are jumping up and down with joy about it as something that is going to make a huge difference to them. Symbolically, the idea that there is legitimate authority in the school is a very important message, and it is an important message to get across to parents. I do not think, however, that schools will be using those powers to substantially increase the number of searches that they do.
Sally Coates: I totally concur with what the other two panellists have said. Like Michael, I have always searched students if I have believed that they had an offensive weapon or anything that is a danger in a school community. I would do it with another adult present, so it is quite clearly done sensitively. Obviously, where possible, I would phone the parents. I also totally concur with teacher anonymity, because it is very easy to make accusations just because you have had an argument or you have a grudge against somebody. The teacher’s career could then be ruined by something that is completely false.
Sir Alan Steer: I agree with all my colleagues. To pick up on something that the others have not said, as always, the issue is “What does it look like?” and “What happens next?” For search powers to actually work, you need clear behaviour policies and guidelines in schools, so that, for instance, you are not leaving your most inexperienced person in the situation of trying to implement a search power. Instead, you have well-organised systems where properly experienced people can come and carry out whatever duty needs to be carried out. It is always a
Q 90 Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Alan, could you give an example of where it would be appropriate or necessary for a teacher to search a pupil of the opposite sex without anybody else present? That is what the Bill would do.
Sir Alan Steer: I would think that a teacher would be most unwise to do any form of intimate search of a pupil of the opposite sex under almost any circumstances. I imagine that if we sat here and thought, we could come up with some, but I would have thought it most unwise. If, for instance, they were with a child off the school premises, there were no other people to call upon and they thought that the child had a dangerous implement, I would urge them to call the police, rather than actually embark on a search. I would be interested in what my colleagues would say on that. It is something that troubles me.
Going back to “What does it look like?” and “How would it be implemented?”, the other thing that has slightly troubled me is the distinction between searches for things that are stipulated in the Bill and things that are under a different school behaviour code. You need these things to be very clear-cut for teachers to understand.
Q 93 Kevin Brennan: This search power only applies in circumstances where somebody is deemed to be causing an immediate danger to themselves or to others, where powers of restraint are obviously already available. On that point about school rules, all of us who have been involved over the years, as practitioners or Ministers, in trying to bring in law around behaviour are seeking to give the maximum appropriate powers possible to teachers and head teachers in order to have good behaviour and discipline in schools. Do you have any feeling that any of the provisions in the Bill are actually to send some kind of signal, whether it is to teachers or to tabloid headline writers, or are they real, practical powers that can be used? For example, in relation to the deletion of information from mobile devices that are held by pupils, is it properly a matter for school staff to examine and erase data from pupils’ mobile devices? Is it sensible for teachers to have more powers than police officers would have under those circumstances, for example?
Liz Logie: Yes, I have. When I read the clauses, I was trying to imagine the kind of scenario. For example, Sir Alan cannot think of an example of someone of the opposite sex searching somebody on their own. Neither can I. I cannot think of a situation when I would sanction that, advise it or allow it really. Again, I am not quite sure why it is in there.
Q 95 Kevin Brennan: Which you can do now. You have all described that there is a necessity for search—I understand that, of course there is. That already exists in law. I am trying to find out the purpose of writing on to the face of a piece of legislation the specific provisions that the Government are intending in the Bill, and I am yet to find anyone who can really explain to me what the purpose of it is in practical terms in the daily lives of teachers dealing with students in our schools.
Sir Michael Wilshaw: I suppose clarifying it in law is important. It gives support to head teachers and senior staff who want to make that sort of intervention. In a lot of this, you rely on the common sense of head teachers and senior staff to do things properly. Searching a pupil is always going to be a difficult thing, and a good and sensible head teacher with a fair degree of common sense would do it properly, contacting the parents or appointing someone who had a good relationship with that child to do it for them.
Liz Logie: It is also important to remember that, when you are either using force or doing searches, you are working at the extremes of behaviour in a school, not the norms. That is a really important point to make.
Q 96 Kevin Brennan: Finally, and this would be my main concern, which is not mainly to do with the pupils in this situation, but with the teachers and staff, is it possible that the specific provisions in the Bill could actually put teachers into a more difficult situation? I am directing this at Sir Alan, because you have done reviews on behaviour, discipline and so on. Might it potentially put teachers in a more difficult situation, if they are deleting material from people’s mobile devices without any recourse to the police, etc.?
Sir Alan Steer: I suppose in a sense I made those comments earlier when I said that it is what things look like. I do not want to say something shocking, but I do not think that legislation on its own, most of the time, makes a great deal of difference—either good or bad, though both are possible. It is what actually happens.
One of the most frustrating things that I found doing the work I did from 2005 to 2010 was the number of times that you would come across teachers who did not need new powers, but needed to know the powers they had. The level of knowledge of what the law said on all sorts of things was actually very low. The standard of training and support for people was often very low.
I was very concerned at one point when there was a move to remove the need to record instances of restraint. I thought that was very damaging for teachers and, if I had been a young teacher, I would have probably refused to carry out restraint unless a proper record was made, because what would have been my defence against a parent complaining six weeks later that I had done something improper? So you need to unpick these things.
I cannot imagine a circumstance in which a teacher under my authority would have deleted something from a mobile phone. As someone said earlier, you would retain it in your possession, bring the parents in and do the whole thing with their support and agreement. I imagine not if you found something totally obscene about another teacher—the extreme example people might have in their minds—but I find that such an outlandish possibility that I cannot really relate to it.
Q 97 Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): We are bogged down in that extreme situation. Is it helpful, from a teacher’s point of view, to know that a pupil of the opposite sex can misbehave knowing that the teacher cannot discipline them? In that context, giving teachers a lot of latitude is helpful, which is how the Bill is drafted.
Sir Alan Steer: We are talking about search, which I would not necessarily relate to discipline. You could argue that search is taking place when discipline has broken down. There are many other measures under which children are made aware that a teacher of either sex has full disciplinary powers, which I thoroughly support. One of the pluses of this discipline debate is, I hope, the continued increased awareness among teachers that they do have disciplining powers—and responsibilities, on which we need to focus just as much. But no, I do not think that the issue is of the search of opposite sex, as I said.
The key in any successful school is to have clearly understood and effective support systems, under which you bring in people to deal with significant problems quickly and ably. I certainly would not have given blanket search powers in my school to people, outside a very specialist skilled team.
Q 98 Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): You were saying that you cannot think of any instances. First, what about the matter of cyber-bullying? If someone filmed a happy-slapping incident on a mobile device, surely teachers would want the power to deal with it.
Secondly, you cannot think of an instance where somebody of the opposite sex would need to search a child. In primary schools, however, it tends to be that 90% of the teachers are female and a large number of the pupils are male. If, therefore, a primary school child picked something up that would put them in danger, would the teacher not want to be able to access that child instantly?
Sir Michael Wilshaw: Cyber-bullying is the curse of many of our schools. Facebook, YouTube and the stuff that sometimes appears on mobile phones are real issues now in many schools, and I would have no hesitation in erasing from a mobile phone something
Q 99 The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): Liz, I know that your school is both successful and challenging. Technology changes, and hand-held technology does so rapidly. Is it not the case that the essence of the Bill’s purpose is to give greater discretion to schools to deal with that dynamic situation? Will not such additional discretion assist teachers and head teachers in dealing with that rapidly changing world?
Liz Logie: It might. The two keys to behaviour are good systems and good relationships between teachers and students. We are talking about the edge—the extremes. Perhaps, if you have particularly challenging parents, as we all do, who think that the law is entirely on their side, it would be useful to be able to point to clause blah, blah, blah of the Bill. That would not, however, be a common occurrence.
Sally Coates: I would have no problem in erasing stuff from a mobile phone. Just as I tear up a piece of paper that has something deeply offensive on it and put it in the bin, I would not hesitate to take something off, unless I wanted to keep it for evidence to show the parents or to take the matter further. I would happily erase. First, they should not have a mobile phone. Secondly, they certainly should have nothing such as that on it.
Q 100 Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Governments have always said, “We want to cut down on bureaucracy and free people up to do other things.” Certainly that is the Government’s intention in the Bill. What is your view on how well the Bill is a step in the right direction?
Sir Michael Wilshaw: In terms of behaviour, children are children. They have not changed much in the 42 years that I have dealt with them. The children in Bermondsey in 1968 were very much the same as the children I teach now in Hackney. The thing that improves behaviour is the culture of the school, which is determined by the school’s leadership. If you have the right leader and the right senior team, it changes the culture of the school and behaviour improves as a consequence. If the Bill gives more power, more freedom and more authority for good heads to do what is necessary to improve behaviour, it is a good thing, especially in challenging areas, where often we are surrogate parents for a lot of our children. Where parenting is not good, and where children come from unstructured homes with very little care and support, heads have to intervene on a daily basis with large numbers of children.
Liz Logie: I entirely agree. One of the phrases that we use at Beaumont Leys school is that we have to take on the role of the wise parent. We have to take on all the things that come with being a wise parent: setting boundaries; having expectations; and showing tough love.
Q 101 Dan Rogerson: Wider than search and other such issues, the Bill seeks to remove the duties on schools, particularly on those schools that still have a relationship with the local authority, rather than those that are academies. Would you welcome that as giving you even more of an option in how you operate, rather than being quite so prescriptive?
Sir Michael Wilshaw: One of the criticisms I often hear from parents is that their youngster leaves school and messes about at the bus stop, and a member of staff at the bus stop intervenes and says, “You can’t do that. Go back to school and I’ll deal with you tomorrow morning.” The parents will say that the member of staff cannot do that because the youngster was on the street; he was not in school. He was outside the school gates, so the member of staff has no authority to do that. I have always challenged such arguments, and I have usually won the case. If the Bill gives more authority to head teachers to deal with discipline and behaviour both inside and outside the school, so much the better.
My slant on the question, which I hope is in line with your thought, is that the thing with bureaucracy is that we all hate it until the hospital records go missing or the doctor does not know who we are. So it is a very loaded word. Some aspects of the Bill trouble me, because I think it is an inconclusive Bill. I think there will need to be further tidying up in order to bring coherence to it. There are elements that are incoherent to me, although, as someone has told me, it may be my conservatism.
I disapprove of the removal of the behaviour and attendance partnership element, which I think we have not thought through. An incoherent thrust is coming from the Government on that. We are thinking in terms of schools and academies operating in chains. Well, one of the virtues of that is the support that you get from groups of schools working together. In my work I have seen that schools working in partnership have enormously empowered structures and have access to all sorts of things. Some, for example, employ their own child mental health service people. That is a big bone of mine, because the general national standard is a worry.
We have talked about autonomy. I was an autonomous head, and I loved being autonomous. I would no more go back to the pre-1990 days than fly. I had sharp elbows and was an awkward so-and-so, but what we have not done is define the responsibilities that go with the powers. That still seems to me to be a hazy area, and I worry about that. I worry about some of the changes on admissions and the role of the adjudicator. I do not know whether that comes into your area of removing bureaucracy and pressures on schools. To me schools are the leaders of the education system, and they have to have the capacity, the self-belief and all those things. They are also a national education service, and I want my grandchildren, wherever they live in the country, to have a top- class service. I do not want them simply to be lucky in living in one place or unlucky in living in another. I do not see a national education concept sufficiently in the Bill.
My concerns are about people who are not responsible, who do not do things well and who cause problems. We talk about teachers who do not perform and we know of teachers who have been prosecuted for sexual abuse and the like, so we know that those people unfortunately exist and have to be dealt with. We talked about search as an area in which we could be concerned that a teacher might not behave responsibly, and yet in law they would be allowed to do something that might be detrimental. We also have the issue of no notice detention, where somebody could give a child an immediate detention without any thought to their personal circumstances—they might be a young carer or subject to abuse at home.
While everybody obviously wants to signal that schools need to have authority, what should be in legislation and what should we do to ensure that we do not simply give carte blanche to anybody who sees this as a way to behave in a manner that none of us wants to see?
Sally Coates: Schools do not operate like that. The head runs the school with the governors, and, in law, the head interprets the law. None of my teachers would ever dream of searching a child; they would always come to me. We might say all sorts of things about lots of things, but teachers do not do those things. They always go via the correct channels. In law, it might say that you have to teach a certain subject, but if the head and governors say that you do not have to, that is their risk and their responsibility. The teacher does not take it upon themselves to do that. I understand your concerns, but the reality is that it will not happen because heads run the school.
Sally Coates: No, on that point, every head is not a really good head, unfortunately, and monitoring has to be in place, as you rightly say. In networks such as ARK—Absolute Return for Schools—we are closely monitored by the sponsor. There need to be monitoring procedures for all schools, so that there is accountability.
Sir Michael Wilshaw: Is every head a good head? It seems to me that the Bill sends the message that behaviour is important and that head teachers have to take it more seriously than they possibly do. Three years ago, Ipsos MORI did a poll—a very interesting survey. It asked parents what they considered the most important issue in schools and the challenges that head teachers had. The top issue, with 65%, was discipline and pupil behaviour—I have the figures here. What is also interesting is that when head teachers were asked what their top management priority was, behaviour and discipline came way down the list. There is a mismatch there, and the Bill sends the message to head teachers that they cannot do very much, and certainly cannot promote attainment, unless they have the right behaviour in the schools.
Liz Logie: Behaviour does not exist in a vacuum, though. You do not “do” behaviour. It is linked with a good curriculum, good quality teaching, good relationships within the school and a good ethos. Behaviour does not just exist unconnected to anything else; it is also about having good systems. There is a danger of talking about behaviour in a vacuum, and that is entirely wrong. Schools are very organic places, and many things impact upon behaviour.
Sir Alan Steer: I absolutely agree with that. It is very difficult talking about this topic, because the conversations can so often be banal because is it about 101 things. One thing you said, which I will pick up on, of which I entirely disapprove is the element in the Bill about no notice detentions. I have always argued that the best way to teach behaviour as a parent or teacher is to practise it. You have to walk the walk. It is nonsense to be discourteous and rude to parents with no notice detentions. You are actually exhibiting poor behaviour. It is thoroughly unreasonable and designed to annoy the parent. The vast majority of schools will not do it because it would run against their principles and how they operate. In that case, why is it in the Bill? The danger with these sorts of thing is that someone will be silly.
I did not particularly like some of the language about restraint. Restraint has actually been in the law since 1996, and I think it was the previous Conservative Government who brought that in. It is a highly skilled procedure, and to restrain a child is a significant act. The last thing you want is inexperienced or junior staff in the classroom having the assumption that if someone is playing up, they can use restraint. The language that speaks of giving teachers the authority to use restraint in the classroom to maintain discipline sent shivers up my back as a head teacher, because I know who jolly well will end up sorting out all the problems. We need to be extremely careful that when we talk about these things, we unpick them. I have to repeat to myself, “What do they look like? What will happen? What goes down the line?”
The proposal about 24-hour detention, I thought, was silly. I have never, in all the time that I have been working with behaviour, come across anyone who raised that as a problem, so I cannot see why on earth it is in the Bill.
Q 104 Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): One of your predecessors, who was a witness earlier today, said that an immediate detention might be useful, as he put it, as a short, sharp shock. What is your response to that?
Liz Logie: We use that at the moment. We have a number of parents who we work with and with whom we have arrangements whereby if their child is playing up, we give them an immediate detention that night. But we phone home, and we spent £170,000 on non-teaching pastoral staff who have developed good relationships with parents. We already do that without that being in the law, not as a blanket strategy, but as a targeted intervention with certain students.
Sir Michael Wilshaw: The same-day detentions that we have followed have been a crucial plank in our behavioural policy. If someone is misbehaving in a very serious way, disrupting lessons and being rude to members of staff, the expectation is that they stay behind at school that day until 6 o’clock.
Sir Alan Steer: I fundamentally disagree. I think it is discourteous to parents. If I was a parent at home worried about where my child is, for instance in an urban area, crossing busy roads, and they turn up at
Sir Alan Steer: If the schools notify the parent, then of course the detention is taking place with the parent’s permission. That is a different kettle of fish altogether. But the Bill talks about being able to keep children in without notice, and that is a silly thing. All good schools would phone home. I have done it myself to say, “Your child has done this. I think it would be effective to do this. Fine. Okay.” That is an agreed detention. But without notice, it would be silly.
Stephen McPartland: Sir Alan, you mentioned a couple of things. One was that schools would not give notice, but I imagine that in reality most schools and teachers would contact one of the parents by mobile phone or e-mail and give them notice. You also made a point regarding restraint. I know that most teachers use that as the complete last resort—they all hate it, not only because of the impact on the child, but the impact on the rest of the class and on the teacher. Often, the teachers break down in tears afterwards, especially if it was a younger child who was in need of restraint because they have been threatening the safety of another child. Surely, the powers in the Bill are more permissive than prescriptive.
Sir Alan Steer: As I said, they have been there since 1996. It is a bit of a non-event. What I was commenting on was the language we use—restraint is a skilful and important procedure. It can take teachers or a school into quite difficult situations, so we just need to be very careful about the language that we use and the expectations we have for it. I do not disagree with what you are saying; to me, as I said, it is a non-event because it has been there since 1996.
On the issue of the detention, my only issue with that is if a child was retained without the parent knowing. I think that that is unreasonable. I have no argument with Mike about keeping kids in the same night if one has told them, but if one was unable to tell the parent, I am afraid that the detention would not take place; it would have to take place the following day. I think that that is basic courtesy.
Q 105 Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): There is a fear that a number of children who are permanently excluded have an unidentified special educational need. Would you support regulations that triggered an assessment where a child is repeatedly excluded for a fixed time, or is at risk of permanent exclusion?
Liz Logie: Most good schools would be doing that. That would be part of the process and part of the assessment of that child. If you are repeatedly having temporarily to exclude a child because of their behaviour, that is a big signal to you that something is fundamentally wrong there somewhere. Part of what you would be looking at would be whether there was something in what you were doing with that child, and whether some need was not being met in that child. I would have thought that most good schools would be doing that.
Q 106 Mr Stuart: One of the dangers, of course, is that we get the exceptional and excellent heads giving evidence to us. The people for whom we have to make regulations are the less exceptional heads on a less good day during the least high-performing year of their careers. It may seem impossible for any of you shining lights to imagine what it must be like to be in that position, but could you see a justification for a regulatory approach? This is generally a Bill that is talking about deregulation, but we are looking at the fact that so many children with unidentified special educational needs get excluded, and their life goes into downward spiral possibly because there has not been a trigger to process that need.
Sir Michael Wilshaw: That should be picked up by Ofsted, which would comment on that when it looks at exclusions. It should be picked up by a good governing board when the head teacher reports regularly on the number of exclusions that are taking place whether those children with statements of special educational needs or who are on the special needs register have been excluded in greater proportion than others. An unsuccessful school would probably have a weak head and a pretty weak governing board that was not monitoring the situation carefully.
Liz Logie: The other thing, as we have already said to the Education Committee, is the issue of mental health and the kind of undiagnosed and unrecognised mental health issues, and the incredible difficulty of schools getting good quality support for young people. I am glad to say that there seems to be some movement on that front, and that child and adolescent mental health services seem to be starting to reach out to schools and making themselves known. A point that I certainly made when I spoke to you earlier was that in the nine years of my headship, that meeting in Leicester was the first time that I had ever met anybody from child and adolescent mental health services. That was quite scandalous, really.
Sir Alan Steer: The point on special educational needs is absolutely essential, and I think that a Green Paper will be coming out imminently. I suppose I would say no in terms of regulation, because I think that you may want to include other things in general guidance. I would be much more interested in guidance, say, to governing bodies on things that they should be looking at when they are hearing appeals or representations, or actually just getting the head teacher’s reports on discipline in the school. A guidance checklist would be just as effective. The moment that you start picking one, you come up with the next thing to pick up. I am not sure I think this is so significant that I would legislate on this alone.
Q 107 Mr Stuart: I know all of you believe that not only great teaching but an excellent curriculum are important to good discipline. We talked about incoherence earlier, but considering that we have a Bill that is trying to give greater freedom to heads to tailor what they do to suit better the needs of their pupils, does the English baccalaureate go in the right direction to support that, or in the wrong direction?
Sir Michael Wilshaw: I am a supporter of the English baccalaureate. I think it is a good thing, and I think that we have given up far too easily on children in terms of
Liz Logie: I am not in favour of the English baccalaureate. I certainly do not appreciate being judged on it retrospectively. There is nothing wrong with that menu of subjects—who can argue with them? I think that it is a great pity, and I oppose the narrowness of having only history or geography, which I do not agree with.
It is a great shame that there seems to have been a downgrading of and criticism of vocational education. We offer BTEC sport and BTEC art, and the work done by students is absolutely outstanding and engaging; that is a different repertoire of learning. At my—very challenging—school, the curriculum has been judged outstanding in the last two Ofsteds, because it is personalised and engages young people, who sometimes find it very difficult to believe that they can be successful.
For some students, the English baccalaureate is absolutely right. Why should 50 students from one private school go to Oxford and Cambridge, and only 45 students eligible for free school meals do so in one year? I speak as somebody who had free school meals when I went to school. But I am completely opposed to the English baccalaureate being a measure of a good school. There is much more to a good school than that.
Sir Alan Steer: May I comment on something along the same line? In my view, we still do not put enough focus on the significance of the consistent, good quality of teaching in a school to impact on behaviour. We tend to nod at that, and accept it as a universal truth, which Ofsted repeats and vindicates regularly, and then move on rapidly.
It still seems to me an absolute absurdity that we have requirements on schools, even after the Bill, to have school policies on every thing under the sun, and yet the one thing that we do not require schools collectively to determine consistency on is the single purpose for which they are built, which is learning and teaching. It is so absurd about the English system, that we demand that schools have policies on this, that and everything else, but we do not in this country put sufficient focus on ensuring that a school is the sum of its parts. You can have a whole lot of brilliant people working their socks off, but they may not be the sum of their parts, if they are not effectively being consistent over key things. I know “consistency” is a boring word. We all nod and then move on rapidly to something else, but it is the one key thing to improving standards in schools, in my opinion.
Q 108 Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I want to follow on from what Graham said, and I hope that the moment has not passed. I am keen on the idea of having something that triggers some sort of assessment, be that 20 detentions in a year, a certain number of internal exclusions or the use of restraint more than once on any particular child
My other question, since undoubtedly I will not have another opportunity, is about the clarity of the school records. When a child moves on from one school to another, how much clarity is there in records of behaviour, discipline, achievement, attention and all those details of the young person moving from one place to another?
Sally Coates: This is a very brief point on your question about clarity on moving between schools. On the point of permanent exclusion, when a child is very vulnerable and has to move out of school to an off-site unit or to another school, there is very little transfer of information. Certainly that point, when there is so much history about the child that needs to be passed on, should trigger a case conference or some kind of proper look at the child and the records, which should be moved. That process should happen or be triggered at that particular point.
Sir Michael Wilshaw: The history of children who are excluded from mainstream schools and put into off-site provision is not particularly good, especially for those children with special needs or with statements of special educational needs. It is simply wrong that the weakest and most vulnerable children who need a secure environment and who are used to a particular institution have to go somewhere else and start all over again. As a country, we have to move towards handling those issues within the mainstream situation. That might mean a bit more funding, which is difficult in these straitened times. Certainly, for a small proportion of youngsters in my institution who present constant behavioural issues in school and who would be excluded elsewhere, I have decided to keep them and deal with them in a specialised unit.
Sir Alan Steer: I very much agree with what Mike has just said. You would find other examples of that up and down the country. We always need to remind ourselves of the massive variation in our system. If school X cannot deal with a situation, school Y might deal with it extremely well, and we do not seem to have cracked that one.
The issue of special educational needs is enormous and I am slightly edgy about picking up this one thing and saying that we will legislate on it. A lot of what we currently do is a bit suspect when one begins to scrutinise it. For example, we talk about early intervention, but we do not fund it. When we do provide funds for it, we do not ring-fence our funding, so we just hope that the money we want to be spent on something will get there. We are not very coherent in a lot of our thinking on these issues.
Clearly, the earlier you can pick things up and deal with them, the more chance you have of coping with them. As secondary head teachers, I am sure that we
Q 109 Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I am confused by some of the things that you have been saying. I want to ask a few questions to see if I can sort myself out. You have said that we need to be able to raise behavioural standards across the piece. We need to ensure that that goal is higher in head teachers’ agendas. However, you also seem to be saying that you can already do everything that is in this Bill. Do we need the provisions on behaviour that are in the Bill?
Sir Michael Wilshaw: Certainly one provision that I welcome, apart from the same-day detention that we already do, is the fact that once the governors have reached the decision to exclude a child—no-one excludes lightly—it should be final. There is nothing worse for a head teacher than for his or her authority to be undermined by an appeal panel that sends back a child.
Liz Logie: I would like to say something about appeal panels. I have sat in front of one and it is a very uncomfortable experience. I believe that they should be kept because if there is not an appeal panel, there will be judicial reviews and heads will find themselves dragged through the courts. Even though it is not a great experience, I feel that appeal panels for permanent exclusions should be retained.
Sir Alan Steer: Yes, and I am perfectly comfortable with the search powers. I do not approve of the detention provision. What troubles me, and I think that it is a mistake that will need to be revisited—I mentioned earlier that I thought it was incoherent—is the abolition of the behaviour and attendance partnerships. Schools can deal with problems with themselves and in the community more effectively when they work together than when they work in isolation. I do not like the picture of isolated schools—I referred to this earlier when I talked about chains of academies—not for the things that people often think about in behaviour and attendance partnerships, but because their capability and capacity to be autonomous needs to be increased, so that they can have joint appointments of specialist staff and so that they can manage and lead as front runners.
I am concerned about some of the changes to adjudicator panels on admissions. I cannot see why that is necessary. I worry that for any school, however skilled it is, there is a critical mass. If there are too many children of a challenging nature, as we saw in the Ridings in Yorkshire, there are major problems. I do not want to see an
Sally Coates: I am very pleased that the appeals panels have gone, having had a permanent exclusion overturned. A teacher was attacked with a knife and the child was able to come back to the school. The governors made the right decision, so I am very pleased that the panels have gone. I also welcome the power to search—although I may have done it beforehand, now one can legally do it.
Sir Michael Wilshaw: The Bill says that behaviour is important. This is the first Bill that I can remember with so much detail on behavioural policies in schools. It sends the message, particularly to parents, that behaviour is important in schools and that head teachers in particular should address parental concerns more effectively than they do at the moment.
Q 112 Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): The rhetoric of the Bill is all about autonomy, freedom and deregulation, but it seems to me that it is a very centralising Bill, particularly with regards to transferring powers and functions to the Secretary of State. Is that a fair assessment? If it is, how will that impact on your job as leading practitioners in the education sector?
Liz Logie: On one hand there is a rhetoric around autonomy, but on the other hand, how do you get schools to do what you want? It is how you inspect them and how you assess them. That league tables sit powerfully in the middle of the Bill reduces school autonomy, so I think that there are some fundamental tensions within the Bill.
Sir Michael Wilshaw: It is part of this overall settlement of schools being more autonomous institutions and head teachers being more independent than they ever have been before. Most schools now receive 100% funding, but the contract is that, with that autonomy, independence and additional funding, you have to be more accountable for what you deliver. The Government have to set targets for what they believe to be acceptable.
Mr Wright: On a number of occasions you have mentioned an adjudicator. Trying to resolve things locally seems to have been bypassed in the Bill to give a direct route to the Secretary of State, which does not demonstrate localism or autonomy at all. What are your views on that?
Sir Alan Steer: Obviously I cannot guess how that will work in practice and how the Secretary of State will exercise those powers. One would imagine that in reality he will exercise them rarely, because I cannot imagine
Earlier, we discussed being secondary, while perhaps missing the point about primaries. The Bill is a secondary Bill; it does not have a sufficient picture of what it looks like for a primary school. The rhetoric about autonomy and freedom is all very well, but my wife is a governor of a one-form-entry Hertfordshire primary school. I wonder what it will look like to that head teacher when services inevitably disappear at county hall and so on, and they are told that the school is autonomous. We already have problems recruiting head teachers in primary schools, and I see that situation getting worse. That is one of many reasons why my vision is of autonomous groups of schools working together, mirrored by organisations such as ARK or whoever it may be, being mutually supportive in creating their capabilities and capacity. That would be localism. It would not be the localism of my youth when I first started teaching, but it would be a localism that I would buy into and accept.
Q 114 Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): I want to follow up the point about how we deal with children who have special educational needs before things get to the stage of exclusion. In the early stage, there is the common assessment framework, for example. Will you talk a little more about what you think would work? All of us are concerned that those children are the ones who could fall through some of the gaps in the Bill. I take the point that you are concerned about legislating for a particular format of special educational needs, but is there a role— through the behaviour and attendance partnerships, for example, or through some of the relationships that you have had with local authorities and local public services when dealing with young people with those issues—that you would want us to reflect on when thinking about how we might improve some of the proposals?
Sir Alan Steer: In my opinion, we have a mess. If you look at the situation nationally there is such disparity in services. We probably will not have time to talk about alternative provision, which is an aspect of this, but we have things nationally that we ought to be ashamed of. There are children who have gone off our radar screens to such a degree that we can only guess about them falling into abuse. We do not actually know that, but an intelligent person would guess that that is happening because they are perhaps having an hour a week of home tuition week after week, month after month. It is quite untenable, and I was pleased that the Government will implement the requirement that all local authorities must provide proper education by September. The question is how we will enforce that. That obligation has been there since 1996—I think—and the local authorities have not done it.
The whole SEN thing needs revision. In my view, we do not have sufficient focus on early identification and intervention. Training issues is one factor. I know that we can always say training, but you need levels of expertise to identify what the issue may be. You need reasonable access to expertise that you do not possess. I do not want to keep on flogging the same point, but I would have died to have had access to a psychiatric nurse or social worker. I did not know as a head teacher whether this child’s display of behaviour had origins in
Sally Coates: I totally agree that special educational needs is a vital area. Children, particularly boys, come to secondary school with poor reading and writing skills. They immediately go to 10 different teachers and start misbehaving because they cannot access the curriculum. It is almost too late to do something at that point. If we address special educational needs, we need to put real intervention into the primary and reception areas, particularly at key stage 1. That would stop a lot of the problems that we have by the time the children come through at 11. It is so linked with behaviour.
Sir Michael Wilshaw: We need to differentiate between children with statements of special educational needs and those on the special needs register. Most secondary schools have 10 to 20 youngsters with statements of special educational needs for learning or behaviour or both, and we need to make special provision for them. Most secondary schools in the sort of areas I work in will have a larger group of children on the special needs register. That does not mean that they will be special needs children all the way through the school. A good school will deal with their learning problems effectively, particularly at key stage 3 and in year 7, so that they can access the secondary curriculum and improve their attainment levels. A good barometer of how successful a school is can be seen in how many children quickly come off the special needs register.
Q 115 Stella Creasy: I appreciate that work can be done in schools. My concern is to understand how some of the changes proposed in the Bill will affect your ability to access support to do some of that work, such as from partnerships that you might have with other schools in managing children, or with local public services, be those local police forces, local authorities or local health care services.
Liz Logie: It is all about relationships, but sometimes those relationships need nudging, to use a Government word. I hope that those kinds of partnerships will continue. The common assessment framework works really well in my school, but it does not work as well in all schools. It is down to willingness and relationships.
The Chair: Thank you very much for coming. Obviously, it would be helpful if you could keep your answers short and to the point, which also goes for my colleagues’ questions. Will the Minister ask the first question?
May I address my questions to Mary and Chris? The first part is for Mary in particular, but both of you can
Mary, what are the views of your membership about the provisions on search and the other powers in the Bill that will help teachers to improve behaviour? And Chris, what is your union’s view about the anonymity provisions that we are introducing in the Bill for teachers who are facing accusations? Mary may want to comment on that, too.
Dr Bousted: Can I start with anonymity and then move on to behaviour? In terms of anonymity, the Bill addresses an issue that has given the Association of Teachers and Lecturers cause for concern for a long time, which is malicious or false allegations against teachers. We ran a survey two years ago which showed that a frightening proportion of teachers had either been subject to a false allegation themselves or had seen one of their colleagues maliciously and falsely accused. Such allegations have the power to—and often do—devastate a teacher’s career. Therefore, we welcome the Bill’s provisions on anonymity.
We are interested, however, in working with the Government to look at how those provisions can be enforced. With the enforcement of the powers, it seems to us that the devil will lie in the detail. In particular, how would the powers work and what sanctions could be taken if a teacher’s name were used, mentioned or put on a website, and so on? What would the sanctions be if the anonymity powers were not enforced? So, we are very interested in working with you on that, but it certainly sends out a very clear signal. For too long, it has been too easy simply to make allegations and for teachers to be suspended. Once they are suspended, it is very difficult to get back to school. You cannot talk to anybody. Very often, your name is blackened and dragged through the mud, and you simply cannot pick up your career again. So, in terms of anonymity, we welcome the powers.
On behaviour and discipline, the Bill gives out a clear message about the Government’s determination to enforce proper discipline in schools. However, I think that the powers themselves are very far-reaching and the feedback that I have had from our members is that first, they are not clear that such powers are needed in the way that they are put in the Bill and secondly, our members have raised concerns about children’s rights. If you look at them in one way, the Bill’s powers are very draconian; for example, there is the power to take somebody’s electronic device, view it and then remove the data.
Dr Bousted: It is, and we are explaining such things to members. In a sense the concern is that what they are doing oversteps the mark of a proper relationship between the profession of teachers and children’s rights. One proposal my members are particularly concerned about, and do not think will work, is ending the requirement to
Chris Keates: Thanks for those questions. First, Nick, you will know that NASUWT has been campaigning for years on the issue of anonymity. In fact, we worked with the Conservative party in opposition on a number of occasions to seek to get amendments to Bills on the issue of anonymity. It is with regret that I am rather disappointed by the powers in the Bill, as it is something you have had a long-standing commitment to introducing. Our concern is on a number of fronts. First, the Bill only refers to teachers. We think it should refer to all members of the school work force.
Q 118 Mr Gibb: Can I come back on that point? Do you as a union have evidence we can use on the non-teaching staff in schools, to enable us to satisfy ourselves that we would be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights? If you have that evidence and can bring it forward, that would be extremely helpful. Do the unions have that sort of evidence?
Chris Keates: We don’t have that evidence. My colleagues from Unison may have, from the casework they do. We certainly have robust data on the number of allegations we get and we have supplied them to you on a number of occasions. We are concerned as well that, if we are to have this provision in the Bill, it should be a deterrent. We do not think that the offence—and the tariff that goes with it—is sufficient to deter the media. A maximum £5,000 fine is not in our view a deterrent. If people think they have a good story, it would be worth paying that. For some of the national media, £5,000 is small change.
We also think that the way the provisions are drafted excludes a lot of areas where teachers will be vulnerable to allegations. For example, the proposal talks about the pupil who is registered at the school. It seems to imply that it is teachers who are working at that school, but does not cover supply teachers or teachers on temporary contracts, who might find they have an allegation made against them after they have left. There is the whole area where schools get together collectively on things such as educational visits, where there could be an allegation from a pupil about a teacher at another school. There are wide areas we do not think this provision will cover, in terms of guaranteeing anonymity. The other disappointment from our point of view—which will again come as no surprise to you, Nick, as I have raised it with you on a number of occasions—is that teachers are also saying to us that while anonymity would be welcome, the big issue at the moment is the reporting and recording of soft information, in terms of CRB checks, and that is not covered. We are looking at the Protection of Freedoms Bill to see if that could be looked at in that legislation.
With regard to the disciplinary provisions, we have done extensive consultation with our members. We did a consultation in 2010 and 10,500 teachers responded. We asked if they wanted more sanctions. In the last decade, we had unprecedented sanctions introduced into schools to support classroom teachers. Teachers told us that they did not want more sanctions; they wanted more back-up in schools from school leaders to empower them in the classroom, to maintain high standards of discipline and to back them in using the sanctions. That was the key issue. At the moment we have a survey going on called the Big Question, and this is one of the areas in that. So far, of the thousands of teachers who responded, only 15% expressed any support for extended powers to search. There was minuscule support for anything to do with the detention and taking away the 24 hours. We have been doing a whole load of consultation conferences around the country as well. There is no evidence to us that there is anything deficient about the current powers to search. The issue is how teachers are being backed in the classroom to use these powers.
Q 119 Kevin Brennan: In a very quick-fire way then, as we have to scrutinise the Bill in Committee, could our witnesses give us an example of what they would like to see changed in the Bill or taken out?
Christina McAnea: We would like the School Support Staff Negotiating Body to stay. Can I give you a quick example of why it is important that it is not abolished? It was there to try to bring a national framework for pay and conditions and to stop every school having to reinvent the wheel and do its own thing. The Chancellor last year in his emergency Budget promised £250 for every member of the public sector work force who earns under £21,000. The Government can deliver that for teachers and they can deliver that for all sorts of other staff. They have told us that they cannot deliver it for school support staff. So there will be an irony. There is no mechanism to deliver it. The School Support Staff Negotiating Body would have given them that. So that is one body that we would like to see remain.
Christina McAnea: We are very concerned about what is happening on careers and Connexions, particularly the careers service. Although we support an all-age career service, there seem to be no transitional arrangements in place. Our worry is that by the time the new all-age career service is up and running, there would be no career service on which that new service could be based.
Dr Bousted: The Bill is framed as a localism and autonomy for schools and teachers Bill. Actually it is a highly centralising Bill. It gives the Secretary of State powers to close schools and colleges without consultation, to instruct local authorities to issue warning notices to schools and to instruct schools to discipline and dismiss teachers. It allows the Secretary of State to take over the functions of the TDA, the GTCE and the YPLA, to appoint the chair of Ofqual, to make changes to the national curriculum and even to determine what early years education is, to whom it should be taught and for
Amanda Brown: We would agree with that. We think it is very centralising and we would want more powers given back to governing bodies, without the provisions removing some governors from the governing bodies, and powers to be given back to the local authorities where they are being removed so that they can provide provision equally across their areas. However, what we would also want is for the mantra of respect for professionals to be put in place properly so that practitioners are involved in devising solutions for the curriculum, looking at ways in which that can go forward and they can be involved in regulation of the profession rather than the GTCE’s powers apparently dissolving or being taken back to the Secretary of State. Also it should be clear that there should be a requirement for pupils to be taught by qualified teachers. There is obviously a role and we are very supportive of the regulation and the national body for support staff. It is important that all staff within schools are properly represented and have proper terms and conditions. But we do think that professionalism is very important and pupils should be taught by qualified teachers.
Chris Keates: I regret to say that we tend to judge legislation by whether it meets the values and ethos of public service, whether it raises standards of education, whether it will improve the quality of education and whether it will help children and young people to meet their aspirations. I cannot see any provision in the Bill that would pass those tests.
Q 122 Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I shall try phrase my questions so that they have yes or no answers. I should like to focus on Ms Keates, if I may. In your submission on academies the hostility of the union towards academies comes through. On the Twitter page of the Local Schools Network it says:
Chris Keates: We would like to think that all schools are local schools but we have to base what we have on the evidence before us. What we find in many of the provisions on academies is that actually they are quite anti working with or operating in local communities. The links severed with local authorities are about the whole community in an area. Many of the discussions we are having with those schools considering academy status at the moment are about their self-interest, their isolationism and the things that they want to do, not the things that they want to do for the locality or in collaboration with other schools.
Chris Keates: I do not really understand the point you are trying to get at. It depends. If you are talking about geography, they are in the locality. But a local school for us is being part of a local family of schools that are democratically accountable.
Chris Keates: If they can send their child to the school down the road—that is the issue. The fact of the matter is that quite a lot of the evidence actually shows that admissions become quite skewed, and the schools are not actually taking pupils who are from the locality.
Q 125 Richard Fuller: The Anti Academies Alliance website heralds that, at John Port school in Derbyshire, your members will strike for five days against the academy proposals. Is it correct for your members to hold strikes against plans to become an academy?
Chris Keates: I think it is entirely correct given the profound implications of the irreversible decision to become an academy. In terms of the pay and working conditions of the staff, which are important in providing high-quality education, the interests of children and young people and, from our point of view, the interests of parents, it is important that you have a school that is of the locality, not in the locality—that is the difference. I think it is perfectly legitimate for us to express our views in ways that are being done.
Q 126 Richard Fuller: Finally, many teachers have a passion for teaching and want to set up or get involved in academies, or even set up free schools. Do you think that those teachers should expect the same respect and regard as other teachers, or do you think that you should have a double standard?
Q 127 Richard Fuller: So you would not encourage any of your members to attack people—other teachers—who wanted to set up free schools, with personal attacks, doubting their integrity or anything like that?
Chris Keates: Of course we would not encourage that kind of behaviour. What we would say is that it is important that people are able to have an open debate about the issue and, quite frankly, what is happening with academies and free schools is all being done covertly, behind closed doors, using provisions that the Bill is trying to strengthen about who it is appropriate to consult with, and not even conforming with the public duty to have an open debate about the whole issue of a change of status of the school that is quite profound. That, I think, is disgraceful.
Q 128 Mr Wright: Two very quick questions, and I would like all of the panel’s views, please. Clause 18 abolishes the School Support Staff Negotiating Body—Christina, you mentioned that earlier on. What impact will that have on your members?
My second question is on part 5 of the Bill, which changes the landscape for local authorities’ relationship with schools. Will that be a positive or a negative thing, with regards to raising standards and aspirations for young people, and to helping parents get what they want for their children’s education?
Christina McAnea: The impact on our members: we are currently carrying out a big consultation on what they want to do and how they want us to take it forward. It is something we have been working on for about three years now. We had almost reached an agreement on things like national role profiles, a new job evaluation scheme and a whole range of issues that we thought would be useful to schools. Indeed, I know that the head teachers’ organisations were supportive, although I think there are some mixed views in the employer organisations—but the employers were working with us on this. When the Bill that established the SSSNB went through Parliament, as far as I am aware no political parties were against the organisation, so we were quite surprised when it was one of the first things to be abolished. It gave lots of power to the Secretary of State in terms of what the outcomes would be. In fact, we had reservations about that and what the outcomes of the negotiations would be, but it set a framework for skill support staff. We are in a position in England now where about 40% of our members who work in schools are no longer covered by any national agreement. The pay structure for teachers goes across everything except academies. For our members, if you are outside the community schools, and if you are in a foundation, a trust school or an academy, you are outside of national bargaining. As far as we can see, that is the direction of travel for the Government. We were trying to bring some coherence and consistency into the structure.
It is a predominantly female work force. There are high levels of low pay. There is a lot of confusion over the working time. Teachers are commissioned to work 1,265 hours. They obviously work longer than that. Some of our members have similar contracts. Many of them do not. There is a lack of transparency. They do not know what they get paid for in terms of annual leave. They have that big break during the summer. They do not get paid for it. They do not get paid for the Easter or Christmas holidays. They only get paid for the number of hours that the children are actually in school. What we and the employers face is a situation where we are going to have to get into negotiations on an individual school by school basis.
On your other point about the role of local authorities, our concern is that local authorities at the moment provide a very valuable service to schools, albeit variable across the board. I am sure you will have heard that from other people. What we are consistently seeing now is a kind of triplication of resources. For everything that would have been provided by a local authority, they will still have to be provided, so we work very closely with a range of academies and academy providers. They are all employing their own marketing managers, finance managers, HR managers and a whole range of people. That’s great—we will try to recruit them. But it does not seem to be making sense. It seems very inefficient. If the Department for Education is going to act in the way that a local authority has acted for many of the schools, which in a sense are semi-independent, a centralised service—or indeed one where every school replicates
Dr Bousted: I think Christina said everything about SSSNB. I just want to say something on the provisions on academies. My reading of the Bill means that the local authorities are left with huge responsibilities. The key responsibility is the provision of good schools. But any powers that the local authority has to actually plan that, or to plan it sensibly, are taken away from them. The powers that the Secretary of State takes to himself around the provision of land, the disposal of land and the compulsory purchase of land, and the presumption that any new school will be either an academy or a free school really takes away from the local authority any leverage to fulfil their responsibilities. So local authorities are left with responsibility but no leverage.
I will give you one example. I live in Kingston and the local authority went through a competition with an academy sponsor. For years a new school was needed in the north of the borough, and one is now being built. The local authority, with parental and popular support, won that competition, and will not now be able to build that school because of the provisions in the Bill. It will have to be built and run by the sponsor, who was rejected in the competition. So local authorities are left with the responsibilities but no leverage and no locus to be able to fulfil them. That runs through the Bill.
The issue that I have with the Bill is the belief that competition will win and will provide the mechanism for ensuring quality. I believe that that is profoundly mistaken. The Bill sets the school system afloat and the Government are not keeping the proper accountability that should be there for public money and for public education, which is paid for by the taxpayer. Children have more rights than that which should be given to them by parents who want to send them to such and such a free school, or by the collaboration of exam results. They have rights that are greater than that and I do not see in the Bill or in any of the other Government proposals where the accountability levers will lie to ensure that every child gets a rounded curriculum and a good education.
Amanda Brown: No, but we do very much support the SSSNB and we do think that it is very important. Many support staff working in schools might look towards the future in terms of teaching, but it does not affect us directly.
In terms of the local authority and its powers, we see this as undermining local authorities’ powers and giving them to the Secretary of State. That is important for the reasons that everybody has given concerning accountability to the local population; ensuring that there is proper targeting in particular areas where that is needed; and making sure that proper provision is made for the most disadvantaged, which can be spread. I do not want to spend too long going through the detail of it, although we can do. Things such as the new powers relating to schools cause concern and the extension of those, and the Secretary of State’s having much more power over setting up free schools and academies, concern us for the reasons that we have talked about before.
To link that with a previous question, all of us would say that whether a school is an academy or a free school, we want every school to be successful. We want every child to have a good education, but that does not necessarily mean that we support the direction of travel in the way that education is going, because we feel that it is becoming less accountable and providing fewer life chances to the most disadvantaged.
Chris Keates: In terms of the SSSNB, we think that is an important underpinning for the development that has taken place over the past 13 years in terms of the education team around the child. Children’s learning needs have become more sophisticated, and the model of just a teacher in the classroom trying to meet all those needs is no longer a concept that many schools will recognise. As qualified professionals in their own right, support staff are an important part of the team around the child. We want to make sure that both the teachers and the support staff have pay and working conditions that recognise them as professionals, and working conditions that enable them to focus on their role. The SSSNB was bringing a much needed underpinning for that universal entitlement of children, to make sure that there is that consistency of provision. Christina has obviously identified all the variations that setting up the SSSNB was designed to do.
In terms of local authorities, we think not having a proper relationship with the local authority makes a material difference to schools on a number of levels. First, there is the whole issue, particularly at a time of economic crisis, of value for money. The move towards more autonomy and more free-standing schools is financial madness. Why have 22,000 individual spending units when you can get much wider and better provision from the local authority?
As well as looking at issues of quality, that point is also important in terms of democratic accountability. A lot of teachers whom we talk to see the local authority as a provider of some very essential services in the work that they do. That might be in special needs, it might be behaviour support or it might be curriculum advisory services. We are getting a lot of feedback at the moment on concerns about cuts to those very important services. It is particularly important for local authorities to be able to hold schools to account for things such as the well-being of children. That is important to everybody. It is very important that schools are not seen in isolation from other children’s services and service providers. We are extremely concerned about sections of the Bill that sever those links with local authorities, linked to what is also happening in the Localism Bill.
Q 130 Mr Stuart: The only sanction that the Secretary of State will have to deal with someone who is referred to him for misconduct will be to ban them from teaching. I have two questions arising from that. First, does the fact that the referral is just something that a governing body has to consider, but does not necessarily have to do, mean that this heavy sanction of loss of ability to teach is fundamentally unfair because it rests on the subjective decision of governing bodies as to whether to refer or not? Secondly, should the Secretary of State have some other sanction other than just the sanction of prohibition?
Chris Keates: We feel very strongly that, where disciplinary proceedings at school level have led to dismissal or somebody resigning to avoid dismissal, it
It is a serious decision to decide whether someone should be dismissed and prevented from practising the job they are trained to do. If a teacher is dismissed at school level but not referred, they are in the worst of all worlds. They are not going to get a job anywhere else, and they will not have had an opportunity to present their case at an independent review.
If you study some of the cases that have been before the GTC, these things are very rarely black and white. There are all sorts of issues. We would argue very strongly that the Bill’s provision, which alters the current status quo of automatic referral, will be a detrimental step. We also think that it will undermine public confidence. The public should be able to have confidence in the regulation of the profession. There should be a review of decisions made at local level. If that person is to be able to continue to teach—they may be able to find a job somewhere else—their misconduct should be subject to review, both for the individual and for public accountability.
Amanda Brown: We are afraid that there will be inconsistency of treatment. Our members tell us that different leadership groups take different approaches in different situations. It is also important to remember that there are times when a teacher actually wants to have an allegation considered properly. If the allegation is considered by the governing body, unless there is an automatic referral, there are times at which that will not happen. A supply teacher, for example, may never get the opportunity to have their case heard.
There is also a danger of inconsistency in the rules on the independent safeguarding authority. We have to remember that many of the cases that are referred are cases of assault, rather than sexual misconduct, but all are classed as child protection. So there is a danger of all sorts of inconsistencies.
On whether prohibition should be the only sanction, we believe that the current regime with its different alternatives is much better, because it is very difficult, as Chris has said, to decide whether a person is no longer safe to work in the classroom or whether there is some remedial action or additional training that could be offered. Potentially, if the teacher needs a bit of extra assistance, it would also be a great waste of resources to train them to the point at which they could be a very good teacher. There would be the choice of either losing the teacher or putting the teacher back in the classroom without that assistance, so we think that alternatives such as conditional suspension should be retained.
Amanda Brown: Yes, it did. We were happy that it was very open and transparent. Clearly there were issues with long delays, but we believe that there must be an open and transparent process that has some practitioner involvement.
Q 132 Mr Hayes: I am going to resist the temptation to ask a question about the character of the accountability of democratic policy within a unitary system of government and stick to a more straightforward path. I have two questions on the issue of false allegations.
Mary, you mentioned that you have surveyed your members on false allegations and that you welcome this aspect of the Bill. First, what is the trend like in these terms? Are such allegations becoming more frequent and is their character changing? What can we do about that in terms of provisions in the Bill?
Dr Bousted: We did our survey last year, and it found that one in six of our members had been subject to a false allegation. One in two knew of a colleague who had been subject to a malicious or false allegation. If an allegation gets to the point at which it has to be made anonymous, very often it has gone too far. Coming back to a point that Christina made about discipline, what is more important is that the leadership of the school has a good policy and that the issue can be dealt with quickly. Very often, the facts around these issues can be quickly established, but very often, that does not happen, because no one takes it upon themselves to actually do the investigation, to find out what has actually gone on and to find out if there are any witnesses that say, “Actually this didn’t happen.” We had an allegation where a teacher, who was away from school on the day that the incident was alleged to have happened, was suspended for 10 months. The teacher did not know the details of the allegation. It was not until there was an investigation finally that it was found that they could not have been in school on the day that the incident was alleged to have happened. It does get to be that ridiculous.
The requirements are a clear policy, the leadership of the school being able to act and having a quick investigation. The problem with allegations is that they can go on for months and months. Something that is patently ridiculous then has the power to end someone’s career. Sorry, what was the question?
Q 133 Mr Hayes: That is great. The second question relates to the point that was made about the greater powers of search and so on for teachers to deal with problems in the classroom. Is it fair to say that this has changed beyond recognition, because of the change in technology and the change in habits in respect of hand-held technology in particular? Circumstances that teachers face now are extraordinarily different to those that prevailed 10 years ago, five years ago or even two years ago. Is it not absolutely right that this dynamic circumstance requires a fresh approach?
Dr Bousted: Well, you could say that it is, but I would say again that, as my members tell me, what is more important than having something in law, particularly the measures around taking something and wiping the data, is the worry that that could get them in more trouble, because you have a grey area of whether that data was illegal, morally bad or dangerous to know. It gets professionals into all sorts of areas where the decisions can be even murkier.
When we did the survey on cyber-bullying—we have done three now—we found that what is more important to teachers is that the school has a clear policy and that the policy is known to teachers and to pupils. The complaints that we have had are from members who
Q 134 Mr Hayes: Isn’t the backing about the school policy, and the school policy is dependent on the leadership of the school believing that they will backed beyond the school? My feeling is that the reason why we need to do this is to send out the powerful signal that the backing will not just come from the teachers—you know that I am a great champion of teachers—and will not just come from the school, but from beyond the school.
Dr Bousted: Yes. That has been clearly signalled in the Bill, but the concerns that my members are raising are about the powers that it gives them and how they then exercise them and how that is to be taken seriously, particularly with the issue of wiping data. That has provoked a lot of concern. It is okay to give the teachers the power, but if they are then deemed to have used the power unreasonably or unfairly, they could end up in more difficult territory. Legislation provides a very big sledgehammer, which can crack a nut, but the shell can get embedded elsewhere and cause other problems. I have never used that metaphor before, but I think that I will use it again, because I think it is quite good.
Q 135 Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Moving on to the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, what do you think would be lost in no longer having the QCDA as a national curriculum body? On the flip side of that, what concerns do you have that the Secretary of State has virtually unfettered powers to decide what is in and out of the national curriculum?
Chris Keates: I have to say that we have been huge critics of quangos over the years. A review of quangos is not a particular problem for us in terms of making sure that that review is done properly and openly. From our point of view, the QCDA has been one of the groups that teachers have spoken highly of, in terms of its work in looking at the problems and issues with the curriculum. From that point of view, it would be a loss if it went. That does not mean that we always have to keep the groups that we have. It is about what happens to that provision when the groups go, and that is the big question.
Regarding the powers that the Secretary of State will have over the national curriculum, we do not have a problem with Parliament having a view on the national curriculum; after all, we have a state education system. It is therefore right that Governments take a view on the curriculum that is to be delivered. The issue is how the debate on the contents of the curriculum is conducted
Our concern is the content of the curriculum: is it broad and balanced, and does it recognise the needs of all young people or will it be too narrow? I think at the moment, the emerging issues and concerns that we have are about the narrowness that may come from having a core classical curriculum and what will happen to entitlement in things that are outside the core.
Amanda Brown: To add to that, we also believe that the QCDA is very useful in part, and certainly some of the classroom practitioner focus groups and some of the materials that they have provided have been useful. The key was that there should have been resources for teachers to use, as opposed to something that they were directed to use, which became problematic. But as a set of resources, that was very useful. This is one of the examples in the Bill where we fear that additional bureaucracy or work may be created. By removing a national provision that works to set some resources, we might be requiring thousands of teachers across the country to do the same thing. Where there is a national provision that is a useful resource, we want to keep it focused in that place rather than reinventing the wheel thousands of times. I would be happy to talk about some of the other examples where we think that may be the case, such as in the abolition of the GTC.
Q 136 Mr Wright: I am grateful, Mr Walker. Following on from Pat’s point about the abolition of the QCDA, a future Secretary of State might say, “I think that we should be teaching literal interpretations of the Bible and disregarding evolution.” Is there anything in the Bill to stop that happening?
Dr Bousted: I do not think there is. The concern is transparency. The content of the curriculum should be the subject of a real debate, because it is absolutely key. I agree with Chris—ATL has always supported a national curriculum. My fear about these powers for the Secretary of State is that this Government, and particularly the Schools Minister, have very clear views on academic subjects. They want a curriculum that looks to a rosy past, is based around the accumulation of factual knowledge, does not value vocational education or subjects around a narrow core, and is highly unpopular with the very schools that the Government are so keen to promote—academies. I found out today that the performance of many grammar schools against the English bac is very variable, so it does not even seem to be a curriculum for those schools.
The powers that the Secretary of State takes for himself to determine what is in the curriculum and how particular aspects of it should be taught—synthetic phonics, for example—are huge. The problem is that the
Q 137 Dan Rogerson: To sum up the discussion we have just been having on centralising powers, as you put it, and the Secretary of State’s role, there are two groups of issues. One is what has happened with the local authority and the relationship there. The other is the issue of the quangos as Chris put it. Do you think there is an argument, particularly with regard to quangos, that putting the Secretary of State in charge makes it more accountable? As a local MP, one could challenge something the Secretary of State is doing. When it is a quango it is sometimes much harder for MPs to engage with someone and hold them accountable.
Chris Keates: It depends on the basis on which the quango is set up. It could be an arm’s length body that has a clear accountability. It depends on the purpose for setting up the quango in the first place. Some things in the past have been set up to be seen to be independent of Government, because it was felt that the public would have more confidence if there was something independent of Government. At the end of the day, everything should be working within that democratic structure. It must be right that Ministers who are presiding over whatever group is set up, whether or not at arm’s length, are held accountable for that group. There should be some way of doing that, but it depends on how it is set up in the first place. It is also a matter of making sure you do not have proliferation, making sure that they are not crossing over in the things they are doing, making sure that it absolutely clear. Some of the issues about TDA, the national college and some of the other bodies, were that they were all doing bits of the same thing, rather than having a clear focus. I would say it is important that the Secretary of State has some strategic bodies at arm’s length that can have that overview of what is taking place, and be there to monitor, support and give advice.
Christina McAnea: Exactly what Chris was saying: the Secretary of State and Governments obviously want to have power over, and a huge influence on, what happens in education. What seems to be happening is a politicising of education and taking away the role of professionals in education. On matters such as the curriculum, of course Governments want to direct the general policy of the curriculum, but surely you need professionals who can say, “This is what the curriculum should be; this is how you get a well-rounded child.” That would not necessarily, with all due respect, be politicians. If you look at some other countries in Europe, for example Germany, politicians do not interfere in the curriculum. They set general directions, but they allow professionals to come in and run education, health or whatever it happens to be. That is the same with
Q 138 Dan Rogerson: If the Government’s intention is to set out a basic curriculum but give more flexibility to professionals to build on that and to interpret and use it, that would be a better model than a very prescriptive one. Having been married to a teacher throughout the time of the previous Government, she would have argued, although she was not critical of everything that that Government did, that there was in fact a lot of micro-management in the previous set up. To characterise it in that sense does not ring true. I wondered whether, if the Government manage to achieve a slimmed-down curriculum entitlement, that would be the model we would want.
Christina McAnea: What I meant by letting professionals run it would be something like the QCA, so there would be a professional body that had expertise in delivering and saying what the curriculum should be like. It would take advice and be made up of people who understand how to deliver a balanced curriculum, without politicians necessarily being the ones to come and say, “When I went to school it was useful for me to study classics and therefore I think everyone should study classics.” In my union, two thirds of our members would be classed as low paid. Things like getting rid of the diploma entitlement are very worrying to us because it is narrowing the focus of the curriculum. It will lead to a whole of generation of children who are disengaged from the education process.
Chris Keates: The critical issue is the entitlement. First, there is the entitlement, and the flexibility is then in that entitlement. You cannot just have flexibility to determine whether somebody will have this bit of the curriculum and somebody else will not—that is the issue.
Q 139 Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Back on the issues of behaviour and the interventions available—under the Bill, they will be available to individual teachers, rather than just the schools—you have obviously reflected on the possibility of judicial reviews when powers are used. Have you considered the possibility of judicial reviews taking place because powers have not been used? Somebody may be blaming the school or members of staff for something that happened inside or outside the school, which they say could have been prevented if the powers had been used.
Chris Keates: That is always a possibility, is it not? We are in a very litigious society, and it is always a possibility that people will go for judicial reviews. I do not see the provisions of the Bill preventing that from happening. I am interested that you say that the Bill gives powers to individual teachers, because I think the coalition is trying to empower individual teachers, but the fact is that things do not work like that at school level, and you can operate only within the policy that the school determines through the governing body. Hence a lot of sanctions are brought in, but some schools do not use those parts of their policy. Then, teachers do not feel confident or empowered to use those policies. So I am not sure anything in the Bill will guarantee that individual teachers have more power or prevent them from being
Christina McAnea: Can I say what I think will happen in reality? In many schools—this is already happening in many secondaries—the framework being brought in says that staff will be employed specifically to do things like searches, and that often tends to be our members or potential members. That links very much to the question Nick asked earlier—I know he has just left the room—about whether there was any evidence about support staff and allegations, and we think the two are closely linked. Many of our members will work in a very intimate situation with pupils and young people; they will be working one to one and providing very personal support to young people with special educational needs—perhaps physical needs—and, without some safeguards, the whole issue of widening the way they can search children and the things they can intervene on undermines children’s rights and leaves many staff open to allegations of improper behaviour, particularly when they are in that very intimate, one-to-one situation.
Amanda Brown: As well as judicial review, there is quite a likelihood that there will be pupils and parents who seek to make negligence claims against schools for compensation because an event has happened and they are saying there should have been a search. That is certainly a danger. We think teachers do not like to use this power. Our teachers tell us they do not like to use these searches. There are, of course, very difficult scenarios in which there might be a need to search, but people in schools generally do not want to be doing searches—it damages relationships. However, I would also say that there is a real difficulty in the Bill with the detail, because there are lots of different things you can search for; you can search for an offensive weapon, you can search for drugs, but different provisions apply to the disposal of items, depending on what you are searching for. I think there will be all sorts of confusion and a danger of people overstepping the mark or not being clear about the provisions. Again, that will potentially lead to difficulties and further legal actions.
Q 140 Julie Hilling: I should just declare that although I have no financial relationship whatever with NASUWT now, I did work for it for a short period some time ago. The thrust of the Bill is about raising standards and improving outcomes for children and young people. That is the Government’s overarching aim. What effect will the Bill have on equality and social mobility for all children and young people?
Dr Bousted: I am very worried about the effect of the Bill. It privileges a very academic curriculum, which is inappropriate for lots of children and young people. It gives the Secretary of State huge powers, and not only to say what should be in the curriculum. This is a very interesting dichotomy. The Government say, “We’re only going to legislate for what should be the bare minimum.” They say, “We’re not going to tell teachers how to teach, but we’re going to tell them to teach synthetic phonics” and so on. The contradictions in the narrative, the philosophy and the framework of the Bill are legion and are evidence of very confused thinking.
The danger is that access and entitlement to diplomas will go. What will replace them, we do not know, because we have not yet had the Wolf review of vocational education. Quite what the rationale is for what will be in the curriculum—what will be the core and what will not be—we do not know. The whole issue of skills arises. We are told that the curriculum should not be about skills but about content, so skills are neglected as well. The idea is that if you do not legislate for the skills that a national curriculum should develop, that will just happen naturally. My experience as a teacher is that that is not the case; skills do need to be legislated for. So no, in a nutshell, the Bill will not increase social mobility and I do not believe that for most children it will raise standards.
Christina McAnea: There is a big problem of lack of evidence with much of the direction that the Government want to go in. For young people aged 14 to 19 from disadvantaged backgrounds, the Bill will do nothing. In fact, there is almost a perfect storm of disadvantage because of some of the things that are happening. There is the removal of diplomas, rising youth unemployment at a time when the careers service is in complete disarray, the removal of the EMA—I know that is not in the Bill, but it all builds up to almost a perfect storm for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in that age group. I can see nothing in the Bill that will improve outcomes for them.
Amanda Brown: I agree with that. A particular point is the narrowing of the curriculum—the putting forward of a curriculum that will not be accessible or approachable for some students; it will not assist them with that. Access generally to certain forms of schools is a particular point. Access to the curriculum will be narrowing because those schools will be able to make more choices about the sorts of curriculum that they put forward. There are particular issues about charging for education, whether that is in early years for more than the 15 hours a week or elsewhere. Also, we are very concerned about exclusions and how that will impact on the disadvantaged and particularly on those with special educational needs, Traveller children, Afro-Caribbean boys—the groups with higher exclusion rates. The EMA has been referred to and another issue is the market rates of interest for student loans. We are worried about all those things. None of them will improve access for pupils or life chances.
Chris Keates: We think equality and social mobility is the critical test for the Bill, and the Bill does not pass that test. We think the equalities impact assessment that has already been done is extremely weak. It covers only three of the nine protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. My colleagues have mentioned a range of provisions that will run counter to the promotion of social mobility. This is a big disappointment and I hope the Committee will have time to look at it. A really serious concern is the whole issue in the Bill of charging—charging for early years, for optional extras and for school meals. That is a really serious concern in the context of access to education and the ability of those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds to access high-quality education. That is an absolutely critical question that has been asked.
First, may I ask a question about the measures in the Bill to streamline the categories of Ofsted inspection? Could you both say a few words about that and how it will work in practice once you have worked out the details?
Secondly, I have a separate question about the “Reading by Six: how the best schools do it” report. I visited one of the schools in that report and was blown away by what I saw in the school. There was astonishingly high-quality teaching and reading throughout the school. By the time that they reach year 6, the children’s erudition and literacy—what they had read and their vocabulary—was better than I had seen in the later years of secondary education in other schools. Would you like to use this opportunity to say something about that report?
Christine Gilbert: We welcome the narrower focus on the four areas, because it gives us a chance to build on what we have been doing and to narrow the focus and look deeply, particularly at teaching and learning, in the school. Reading is part of that. As I left this afternoon, we were just putting the finishing touches to a consultation draft. We built a framework around the four areas and we have produced a set of proposals that are going out to schools and the wider community for a couple of months, so that people can comment on the proposals that we are making.
As you know from the Bill, there will be four key areas, but a number of things are woven through them. For instance, spiritual moral and social education—SMSC as we call it—will go through that. In the curriculum, that is not identified separately but will be woven through different aspects of it. There are four key areas, so it is very clear to people. We will do some consultation, which we are just beginning. At the same time, we will be doing what we describe as friendly pilots with schools to try out aspects of what we are looking at. That will be followed in the summer term by an intensive set of real pilots, where the grade will matter to the school. We shall be ready in September to publish the full framework and the evaluation schedule and so on. We will run some conferences and other things to advise people.
We deliberately did the reading by six survey to reassure people in terms of reading, given what is coming with the Bill and the White Paper. We just picked out a number of schools in a whole range of areas—some very poor, some less poor and so on. All those schools believed absolutely strongly that the children would be reading by six, and in most cases, they were reading by six. It offered exemplars of what could be done. But other schools up and down the country that we did not capture in that publication do equally as well. Reading is going to be an absolutely core focus of what we are doing. Inspectors will be listening to children read and so on as part of the new inspection regime.
Q 142 Kevin Brennan: From your inspections, do you think that behaviour in schools has improved in recent years, and what is your view of the specific proposals that are contained within the Bill on behaviour?
Christine Gilbert: In drawing the proposals together, we spent some time trying to work out what it was because our inspections show that behaviour is very good in our schools. It is slightly less good in our secondary schools; but, even there, our schools are generally safe, well-ordered places. There are two issues. Something we look at now is what I describe as low-level disruption in class—flicking paper around, looking out the window and that sort of behaviour—and how children behave around the school. We actually look at that now. We look at what goes on in the playground and so on. We will continue to do that, but we are going to try to focus more on reported bullying, for instance. One parent might report to us that the school does not deal with behaviour very well and, when you focus it down, it is an instance of bullying, or a couple of them. Generally, that has probably gone beneath the radar. We would have looked at it, but it would not have impacted on the overall judgment, so we are going to spend more time listening to what children and parents are telling us about this and trying to get underneath those particular instances.
Q 143 Kevin Brennan: I am sorry, but you did not answer the second part of my question, which was specifically about the clauses in the Bill that introduce new powers in relation to behaviour. Do you have any views on whether or not they will be effective?
Christine Gilbert: We would not presume to have views on those particular clauses. What we would do is see them as part of the school’s whole approach to behaviour. We would expect to see them set within a behaviour policy and processes and procedure, so when we would go into inspect in a year, 18 months or two years’ time, we would be picking it up there.
Q 144 Pat Glas s: An earlier witness looked at the concept of the local school and whether that was a matter of geography or of ethos. Given that, do you believe that schools should contribute to the cohesion within the locality in which they are situated and the community which they serve? If they should, how do we judge that if not through Ofsted? How would we measure that?
Christine Gilbert: Any good school would consider themselves of the community and see themselves as a key part of the community. Any good school would see the pupils as part of the immediate or wider community. As you know, we currently inspect community cohesion. That is going, and so the positive thing about the Bill is a greater focus on those four areas, some of which we will pick up. We will pick up some of the things that you are alluding to, but there will no longer be an explicit judgment on community cohesion. Every Government decide something is absolutely key and important. This Government have decided not to have that as part of the things—
Christine Gilbert: I do not think that it is up to me to say that. I welcome the focus on four areas—I cannot say that any more strongly. One of the difficulties that I
Q 146 Pat Glass: But if there is a situation where a school is located in a particular area, all of the children are bussed in from outside and it is not taking children from its local community, would that worry Ofsted?
Christine Gilbert: We would not look at part of that. We would look at how that school functions. We would see how it functioned with its locality and probably, with the stronger focus on behaviour and safety, we might take what is happening outside the school gates more into account. We are going to test some of this out in the pilots, but we are only looking at those four areas.
Q 147 Meg Munn: You will remember that when children’s services came together under the previous Government, there was some concern about losing a child protection focus, as opposed to education, just because of the size and the experience. Obviously, you have had a period of time now of looking at both of those. In respect of those four areas and behaviour and safety, how much of that do you see as being about safeguarding issues—the school playing its role within the area of safeguarding and being part of a local authority approach to that—particularly as there has been some concern expressed that a greater number of academies and more independent schools may feel fewer links to local authorities?
Christine Gilbert: We will continue to look at safeguarding. We have not anticipated spending the time looking at current safeguarding that we currently do. We currently allocate half a day, I think, and the figures for safeguarding are very high. Safeguarding is now well embedded in our schools. It will still be something that we look at, and if the inspectors are worried, they will spend longer looking at it, but we will use the time to spend more time in classrooms and so on. Safeguarding remains. Is that the key point?
Q 148 Meg Munn: That is part of it, and perhaps I will follow up on that before I move on to the whiney bit. You say you used to spend half a day and are going to spend less. What is it that you did that you are not going to do?
Sue Gregory: At the moment, we look at schools’ procedures for safeguarding, as well as the whole-school approach to safeguarding: how aware the staff are of child protection issues and whether there is good enough awareness of the need for training and identifying signs of abuse. We will still look at those broader elements,
Q 149 Meg Munn: My other point, just to give an example, is that you might find that you have a particular problem in an area with young girls not being in school, or being taken out of school for prostitution or trafficking and so on. We have had some in the press recently. Would you, for example, check whether, if that was an issue locally, the school was linked into local authority initiatives in the area? That is the kind of point I mean. At the moment, if you are a local authority school, there is probably a fairly good link, but if you are an academy, it would not necessarily be there. It may well be, but I am just asking whether that would be something that you would see the school as part of the safeguarding approach that has been taken in that area.
Christine Gilbert: We would not test that out now through inspection. The way that we might test that out—we have been talking about routine inspection—is that we will continue with what we call survey inspections; but, essentially, these are thematic inspections when we look at key issues. We were discussing this morning the next series of those. For instance, one is likely to be children who go missing from children’s homes, and we would then look at a number of authorities up and down the country and report that.
Q 150 Mr Stuart: An employment lawyer told us earlier today that performance management processes are too slow and cumbersome. I think that most people welcome the narrower focus that you will have, with greater time in the classroom and focus on teaching quality. How will performance management processes be improved to ensure that appropriate action is taken following an inspection by yourselves?
Q 151 Mr Stuart: You will spend more time in your inspections in the classroom, and there is a sense that head teachers, even when they know that they have underperforming members of staff, do not take action because the capability procedure is so long, cumbersome and painful. How are we going to marry up an effective response, support and/or more draconian action as appropriate if you help identify underperformance within a school, which is, after all, I assume, the purpose of spending more time in the classroom?
Christine Gilbert: It is not just underperformance. I know that this might sound to a Committee like semantics, but we are looking at teaching rather than teachers, so the recommendations will relate to the quality of teaching at the scene of the school. We hope that the inspection framework that we introduced back in September 2009 did this. We now do very full recommendations to a school to help it to move forward, so I would expect the school to take those recommendations and build them into its improvement planning. One of the things that we introduced with the framework that we are using now was to have a head teacher or member of senior
Q 152 Mr Stuart: Can I ask you specifically about the performance management processes? The common understanding, and that of lawyers, is that it can take 18 months or three years to deal with a teacher who is underperforming in the classroom and in whose classroom children are not learning. I do not want to get into the whole “Are you a regulator or are you an improvement mechanism?” debate, but what is your view on performance management processes in our schools at the moment, and what can be done to make them more effective where performance needs to be challenged?
Christine Gilbert: We would not have a specific role on making a comment about that, unless we are seeing really poor provision in classrooms, really poor teaching and poor outcomes for children and young people. We would report that. We have been specifically asked to be clearer about which teacher, but we do not believe that we are in school long enough to do that.
Q 153 Mr Stuart: That is why I am asking you about the processes. Are you in there long enough to make some assessment, collectively, of the processes by which underperformance is challenged in schools?
Christine Gilbert: Yes. If the school cannot know itself well, we need to be absolutely clear about what the school is doing about what it knows about itself. That would absolutely come through in our judgment about leadership and management. We propose that we do not continue with the capacity to improve judgment, but that we tie it up in the leadership and management judgment, so that will be really explicit about what we think the leadership and management of the school are doing in terms of teacher development, teacher capability and so on.
Q 154 Richard Fulle r: First, I should like to thank Ofsted for the very good work that it does in schools. I have a couple of questions about the benefits of the focus that the Bill permits. My colleague, Mr Stuart, was just talking about the focus on four areas, rather than others, in evaluating schools. What are the benefits of that in terms of your work?
Christine Gilbert: The benefits get at the nub of what makes a school work well and give us more time to focus on those four elements. They give us greater time to spend in classrooms and to use the views of parents, pupils and staff—staff have been a feature of the system that we currently run that was not there previously—to pick up issues and to test them out during the two days of the inspection, essentially triangulating the evidence to see whether we can come to clearer judgments and give clearer advice in our judgments in our recommendations when we leave.
That is the focus, but there is also a general focus on what we will do about weaker performers. We will spend more time, for instance, on satisfactory schools. If we
Q 155 Richard Fuller: I have a quick follow up question. The attitude of head teachers when they get the call that they will have an Ofsted report is clear and crucial. Do you think the Bill will change responses such as, “Good heavens, it’s Ofsted,” “I’m delighted it’s Ofsted,” or “Not again.”? How do you think the reaction will change?
Q 156 Mark Hendrick: The Bill will require Ofqual to determine whether regulated qualifications indicate a consistent level of attainment between regulated qualifications and comparable qualifications. How will one decide whether qualifications are comparable, and how can their levels of attainment be accurately compared?
Christine Gilbert: We look at exam performance against standardised norms, but we also look at progress in classrooms. If we have time, I think that Sue could very briefly say something about that. The inspector comes to a judgment by looking at the data, but also by looking at what is going on, looking in children’s books, speaking to children and so on. That is why the new feature in which we are listening to children read will be important, and very different from what we have done before. The inspector establishes that before they go into the school, and when they are in the school they might well reach a different decision about what it is they see.
Q 157 Mr Gibb: I thank you both for coming to give evidence today—it is very much appreciated. Could you say something about the requirement in the Bill to look at international comparisons when you are assessing standards in our qualifications system, and about how that might work in practice in the work that you plan to do to implement the Bill?
Sandra Burslem: We are very pleased to be here, and hope that we will satisfactorily address your issues. One of the two changes in the Bill is in clause 22. In the proposed new subsection (2), paragraph (b)(ii) gives us the duty to look at comparability across different countries, and paragraph (b)(i) is what we have always done, which is to look at the standards of qualifications over
Dennis Opposs: The work that we have started so far looks at pre-university examinations. In this country we are looking at A-levels and the Cambridge pre-U. We are then looking at Cambridge international A-levels. We have 11 other jurisdictions around the world where there are the same sorts of qualification, with which we are comparing. We published a report yesterday, which describes what we are doing, how we are doing it and which countries are involved. We are covering four subjects: chemistry, history, English and mathematics. When we report finally, at the end of the year, we should have learnt a great deal about what goes on in those different examinations, with the intention of learning what good elements we might be able to translate to qualifications that we use in this country, particularly to A-levels.
Dennis Opposs: The countries—or rather jurisdictions, because they are not all strictly countries—that we are looking at are Alberta, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Massachusetts, the Netherlands, New South Wales, New York state, New Zealand and South Korea. We are also still in touch with France and Shanghai and, although we are not yet certain yet that they are on board, we hope they will be.
Q 159 Mr Wright: I was going to ask a bit more about clause 22, but I think that Dennis has answered my questions satisfactorily. Why, however, were those particular countries selected and others not?
Dennis Opposs: We had a series of criteria, which included how countries performed in the international surveys, and also which countries send students to universities in this country, which was important. Aside from those criteria, the other challenge with the work is that once you have chosen countries you have to persuade them that they would like to take part in the work. Most of them did, but it was sometimes a bit of a challenge.
Q 160 Mr Wright: My main question, Mr Opposs, relates to clause 21. It seems that the fundamental essence of Ofqual is to be independent of Government, so that people have confidence that standards are being maintained and there is that independent assessment. Does clause 21 help or hinder that sense and perception of independence in respect of the changes to chair, chief regulator and chief executive—or have I missed the point, and it is not about that but about improving governance?
Sandra Burslem: We do not think that it will make a major difference to the operation of Ofqual. We are following one model at the moment, which is that the chair is the chief regulator. It is an equally common model for the chief executive to be the chief regulator, as in the case of the National Audit Office, where the Comptroller and Auditor General is the chief executive. The board, chaired by the chair, is responsible for governance and for the strategy that the board is following, but the chief regulator then makes the decision whether accounts can be signed off or not. We think that that is an equally appropriate model for Ofqual.
Q 161 Tessa Munt: I want to know about impartiality in comparing qualifications, and how you feel Ofqual is going to do that for those qualifications that it regulates and those that it does not. How are you going to demonstrate impartiality?
Dennis Opposs: We feel that we are suitably impartial and independent to be able to do that. We are not the organisation that offers particular qualifications. We regulate those that we regulate. In carrying out the international work, for example, to make the judgments that we need to make we will use independent experts in their subjects—history, say—and we will have a mix of experts, some of whom we will have appointed, and some of whom the organisations involved in the study will have appointed. That is where the key judgments are made, drawing on that expertise. You can be assured that we are suitably impartial and independent in making those judgments.
Sandra Burslem: We have shown independence already in the work that we have undertaken, and where we have found problems we have been a fearless regulator and have not hesitated to criticise and make our criticisms public, as on GCSE science, where we said the standards were not high enough. We have insisted on curriculums being resubmitted on several occasions, so that they are now of an appropriate standard going forward. There are other examples where we have intervened and said, no, the standard is not good enough and does not meet the needs of our learners, and we have been open and transparent in making those judgments.
Q 162 Mr Stuart: Can you explain what new subsection (2)(b)(ii) in clause 22 means in practice for you, because I cannot make any sense of it, and what sense I can make suggests to me an impossible task? Perhaps you can tell me whether it is an impossible task or whether I have merely misunderstood.
Sandra Burslem: There is certainly a tension there, in that we have traditionally looked over time at ensuring that standards are comparable and that the qualification is fit to be offered. This is a new requirement for us to look at international comparability. There could be a tension between those two. The current drafting leaves it, we think, to Ofqual to determine when to prioritise which of the two. If it is pointed out to us that history, say, is satisfactory in maintaining a constant standard over time but we are doing less well internationally than we did, say, five years ago, we would have to make a decision whether to prioritise keeping it comparable over time or making it comparable internationally. That is a tension that we are quite happy to take on.
Q 163 Mr Stuart: Thank you. Does not your answer suggest that there is no evidence to support the idea in the mind of the people who drafted this, that our tendency will be to drift downwards, and others will be drifting up? Hopefully, our standards will be solid. What happens if others lower their standards? It seems to me that this law—if we pass it into law—will tell us that we have to change our level of attainment depending on what happens in this international comparative basket.
Dennis Opposs: A lot of thought is needed to try to determine what we mean by comparable qualifications so that we are making a fair comparison. Clearly, different countries operate in different ways. If we look at 18-year-olds, as we are at the moment, we will find that in some countries students take many more subjects than they do in this country. That raises some questions. For example, if someone here is doing history and someone somewhere else is also doing history but the subject forms a much smaller part of their curriculum, how do you make the comparison? In some countries, a much larger proportion of the population go to university, so the exams are designed to allow for that. In some countries, only a small proportion go to university. A lot of considerations are needed. We feel confident that we have the appropriate expertise to draw out that information and make those decisions.
Q 166 Mark Hendrick: Someone who has done physics and chemistry in this country might find that the physics and chemistry in New Zealand and Australia are different. If a person has gone on to do a degree at university, that might have some bearing on their ability to follow that course. In a subject such as history, such a difference might not be that relevant because it is about methodology and the way in which history is looked at and studied. Are those considerations brought into play when you make those comparisons?
Sandra Burslem: It is important to recognise that we do not do all of this in-house. We commission independent subject experts, so we are not making the judgment; people from learning societies or university are brought in to help us to do that work. That is how we have always worked.
Q 167 Kevin Brennan: One of the motivations behind all this is the Secretary of State’s interest in international comparisons, particularly in the PISA tables, which are frequently cited as the most telling evidence—the comparison of the PISA position of England in 2001 with the PISA league table position of England in the most recent tables. You have obviously looked at this in great detail. Is there any methodological problem with making that comparison, which is done by the Secretary of State frequently and publicly?
Dennis Opposs: We do not regulate PISA. As we have moved into international work, we have started to take more interest in the international comparisons. Generally, you have to be careful in those international studies. They are carried out in a range of countries, using the same tests. You have to ask whether the test is a fair measure of what we value in this country, because it has
Q 169 Julie Hilling: My question relates to a concern expressed by the Government that there is no equivalency between vocational qualifications and more academic qualifications. The thrust in the Bill is to look to the English bac and be very much about more academic qualifications. What is your view on equivalency across the more vocational and academic qualifications, in terms of the learning, reasoning and everything else that young people must undertake to achieve those qualifications?
Sandra Burslem: We are very concerned to make sure that all qualifications are fit for purpose. In other words, a vocational qualification should be fit for the purpose of those learners at that particular level, and an academic qualification should be fit for purpose, if the purpose is to progress to higher education. We do not actually make the equivalencies; that is done elsewhere. We are concerned that every qualification that we accredit is fit for purpose at the right standard and at the right level, and suitable for use by learners.
Q 170 Julie Hilling: Can I explore a little bit more the fact that you do not set the equivalency? Obviously, any person leaving education then sells their qualifications, whether to a university, an employer or anyone else. There is clearly a concern nationally about equivalency of qualifications. Can you explain to me a bit more why you do not, who does and how?
Sandra Burslem: It is UCAS that allocates points to qualifications. Those points are then used for university entrance. That is not a function of ours; it is a function of theirs. We make sure that every qualification that we accredit is fit for its stated purpose.
Q 171 Mr Gyimah: You touched on some of the challenges around the PISA comparisons. It would be helpful if you could let us know how you think the Government can use surveys of international comparison when it comes to educational performance.
Sandra Burslem: The first thing that we have to do is make sure that we are talking about like for like and an equivalency between what we are doing and what other countries are doing. This week, we have published our methodology for doing that. We shall be moving into more detailed consideration of different subjects, at the
Q 174 Mark Durkan: As I understand it, a legislative consent motion will be required from the Assembly for the clauses in the Bill. Are you aware of any potential issues or complications whereby people might have reservations about that, or might suggest that other changes could be carried through in the Bill as well, so there might be supplementary amendments? Are you aware of any such thing?
Sandra Burslem: No, I am not. Two colleagues and I appeared before the Committee for Employment and Learning last week and talked about our role in Northern Ireland. We also have a Northern Ireland committee, which is chaired by our Northern Ireland member, and I am flying to Belfast again tomorrow to conduct our regular Northern Ireland committee.
We took our board over to Northern Ireland for its last meeting. The Minister for Education and Learning, Danny Kennedy, came and met us, and we had a discussion with him about the relevance of vocational qualifications—for learners, obviously, but also for the economic regeneration of Northern Ireland. We are very aware and cognisant of the importance of our work in Northern Ireland. Clearly, how that is conducted in the future is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Dennis Opposs: That is not a purpose of the international work that we are doing. I guess that it will give us some ideas about how the qualifications and examinations taken abroad compare with ours. We will get some broad indications of what comparisons there are. The PISA results, for example, tend to be presented as a league table, but we will not be able to present our results in that way. It is not intended to come out with those sorts of comparisons.
The Chair: If hon. Members have no other questions, thank you for coming to see us and for answering questions so concisely. We are nine minutes ahead of ourselves. We will see the next group of witnesses.
The Chair: Thank you for coming, and for arriving a little early. We have 48 minutes for you to answer questions, but could we have short answers because there are several of you? I know that we will always have short questions.
Dr Atkinson: Thank you for asking each of us. The reason why I offered is that we recently completed some research with the National Foundation for Educational Research. It talked to 2,000 young people up and down England, and bullying came out as a major concern for many of them—particularly subtle forms of bullying that are not physical at all, but are cyber or about name calling and singling out.
When I talk to heads and governors, to anti-bullying teams in authorities and to young people trained to work with their peers on bullying, it is clear that valiant efforts are going on to tackle bullying in all its forms. There is a human tendency for some people to want to be what in the north we might call “cock of the midden”. That is a very unfortunate human trait, but it is there.
Children and young people told our survey that the issue is a concern, but that they consider it is being dealt with in most cases. They are looking for a culture in which it is okay to tell, so that they are not singled out for telling at the same time as their peers are being singled out for bullying. My final comment is that you can never relent. I do not know whether colleagues have other things to say.
Philippa Stobbs: I would like to chip in. The Anti-Bullying Alliance, in conjunction with the Council for Disabled Children, has just completed a significant piece of work that particularly looks at the issue of bullying of disabled children and children with special educational needs. That gives us quite a good evidence base. It also gives us quite a good handle on some of the approaches that are likely to be most effective in growing resilience against bullying. The promotion of positive relationships between and among children is a significant factor in that.
We really need to make sure that we draw on the evidence base that we now have to inform developments and to inform the guidance, in the most general sense, that we give to schools on how they may best approach bullying.
Paul Ennals: If I may briefly add to that, the Anti-Bullying Alliance is based within my organisation, the National Children’s Bureau. Bullying continues to appear as the largest single concern for children. In almost every survey, they say that it is the issue that confronts them.
The evidence shows that there are some good, effective strategies for supporting within schools to tackle bullying, but we still want to be able to ensure that the schools that are not so good at it can learn more effectively from those that are. The evidence about what works is now fairly robust, and sector-led improvement models rather than top-down improvement models are most likely to be effective in improving outcomes in this area.
Brian Lamb: Very quickly, from my own inquiry of parental confidence in SEN, we certainly found that children with disabilities or SEN are disproportionately bullied, and that is something that even the children themselves are very conscious of. The “tell us” survey
One other area I was very interested in during the inquiry was how we use peer-to-peer support. Mentoring disabled children and children with SEN and helping other children, both face to face and through other peer mentoring schemes, seems to be very effective.
The issue continually comes up when talking to parents. As other panel members said, they are quite realistic and accept that it will happen, but they want schools to be able to tackle it, as it does not help children to perform in classrooms if they are subjected to bullying. That is true of all children, but, again, it is more specifically true of children with SEN or disabilities.
Q 177 Mr Gibb: In the experience of the panel, is the problem increasing? That is my first question. Secondly, if you can, would you give examples of some effective strategies that are being used to tackle the problem?
Paul Ennals: The most recent evidence that I can recall, which comes from Leicester university, shows that it is starting to decrease. We always have to be a bit cautious about the data, because what we are picking up are recorded instances of bullying. We cannot guarantee that the measure that triggers a child reporting the incident—and, indeed, the school reporting the incident—is consistent across the piece.
However, if we pull together the range of evidence, bullying is probably starting to reduce. My colleagues have picked up on some areas that continue to be troublesome; in particular, cyber-bullying is increasing. We have not yet seen similar reductions in bullying outside the school—in the journeys to and from school—but we have to hope for that.
What works according to the evidence? In particular, there are various applications of restorative justice, at least if one uses it in the broadest sense. That looks to involve both the bully and the bullied in a process of understanding what led to the behaviour, tackling the behaviour that led to the problem in the first place, and seeking to enable both sides to understand the factors that led to it. There are some quite good, well-researched models now. If they were applied more generally, and if staff across the piece were better trained and supported in the delivery of them, we could expect to see a significant further reduction.
Dr Atkinson: I would add to that that I have been in and out of schools from Cornwall to Northumberland and all points between since I took up my post exactly one year ago. The best work that I see is where children are trained to deal with all three sides of the bullying relationship: the bully, the victim and the bystander who stands by and does and says nothing when a friend is in dire need of someone to stand alongside them. Schools that really work on this issue work on all three elements of that relationship.
The fourth element is parental attitudes. When is children falling out with each other just children falling out with each other, and when does it escalate from a child falling out with another child to the stage where the person who is left on the sidelines is marginalised, sent to Coventry, ridiculed and cyber-bullied? When do parents step in and escalate things, and when can they help to calm things down?
As Paul has said, it has to be absolutely relentless. It must be brought up at every parents’ evening and at every tour of the school, and from year group to year group. I have been in and out of schools of all sorts—special schools, ordinary primary schools, comprehensives—where the notion that we all have rights, but that we all have a responsibility to ensure that everybody else enjoys their rights, is central to what happens. The UNICEF rights respecting schools scheme is one of the good tools that schools use.
Q 178 Kevin Brennan: There was a time when it was standard for head teachers to respond to accusations of bullying by saying, “It doesn’t happen in this school.” Largely—thank goodness—that has disappeared, thanks to a lot of the good work that has gone on in recent years under the previous Government. Hopefully that work to tackle the issue of bullying will be continued by this Government as well. We tackled that head on, and I hope that this Government will do that.
I want to ask about signals. We have heard a lot of evidence today that the reason for introducing some of the specific powers in the Bill is largely about sending a signal. For example, the clause about the deletion of material from mobile phones could be tied to the issue of cyber-bullying. In the view of the professionals before us today, some of the measures are difficult to imagine using in practice, and I would be interested in your comments on that.
Are you concerned that one other signal that might be emerging more broadly from the Bill is that, since duties to co-operate in all sorts of ways concerning safeguarding and children and young people’s plans are being removed, a general downgrading is being signalled to schools about the softer side of the progress made in recent years and the more holistic approach to children and the impact that has on bullying? That could concern the social and emotional aspects of learning or participating in behaviour partnerships and so on. What are the signals as you see them from that?
Dr Atkinson: I will start, if I may, by characterising excellence in schooling. Ofsted’s evidence across the system—I know the Chief Inspector was here before we came in—is that classrooms are not war zones in almost any school in the land. As the Select Committee’s report found not long ago, there is a minority of schools where there are real issues and where adults need to stamp some authority on the situation as well as teaching an exciting and vibrant curriculum that stops children from kicking off in the first place.
Most teachers I talk to are very reticent about stepping in and exercising powers, particularly powers of physical restraint. You will have heard that some of the children’s rights organisations consider educating children about what boundaries look like, and how they should work with each other in classrooms, to be a far better solution to some of the issues that they bring to schools than stepping in automatically in what could be considered an invasive fashion, and stopping children from owning their own goods or carrying their materials with them in school, or whatever. Test cases could easily be brought if a Bill that has not been properly thought through becomes an Act. There could be children who can—and will—ensure that their families take legal action if schools overstep the mark.
As the commissioner’s office—this is in the early stages of thinking so this is not me announcing anything
Paul Ennals: I am interested in the way that you have characterised it as a signal. There is a signalling issue about which duties we retain and which ones we do not retain. I must note my thanks for some of the key decisions taken where some other existing duties in schools could have been removed but were not. That in itself is a powerful signal.
Clause 30 and the proposal about the duty to co-operate is not so much a signal. I think—dare I say it?—that there may be a misunderstanding quite widely across the sector. The clause proposes to redefine which agencies have a duty to co-operate, and it removes the specific naming of schools, academies and further education colleges, which was a relatively recent introduction to the system a couple of years ago. We have not had time to work out what its on-the-ground impact is, because it came into force only in March 2010. It was introduced on the back of the encouragement for FE colleges, and a number of head teachers saw that there was already an existing and continuing duty to co-operate across the area to try to bring together the key agencies that were developing and providing services for vulnerable children and families, and schools wanted to have a voice at the table. Whereas previously those bodies named as having a duty to co-operate were people who would automatically be involved in the joint development process, schools and FE colleges were not.
In my view, the proposal in clause 30 to remove schools, colleges and academies from the duty to co-operate inadvertently acts against the interests of schools, because it is clearly in the interests of schools to have a voice in the planning and delivery of the non-education services, which are so important to them in meeting their own needs, particularly in respect of vulnerable children. They need to be able to have a way of doing that.
I know that another Bill is intended and planned next year, which will be looking more widely at the legislation around children’s trusts and so on. Meanwhile, we are seeing many other changes. Under children’s trusts at present and in most areas, PCTs are working in pretty close collaboration with local authorities to jointly plan the delivery of services. As we are preparing for the new Health and Social Care Bill, a lot of the arrangements are starting to founder as PCTs merge into larger groupings. We are all going to need to rethink the most effective way of delivering services across the piece and to plan together to co-operate in making sure that the most effective services are delivered. So there is a potential signal, as you suggest, in clause 30, but I think it is inadvertently the wrong signal, because it reduces the opportunities for schools and colleges at a time when we need to rethink it.
Paul Ennals: We could, but not because I want to die in a ditch over retaining the specific naming of schools, but because, until the new system comes in, we are going to need to change it. We will all need to change
Philippa Stobbs: I would like to add a point about entitlement to a core education for disabled children and children with special educational needs. Their core education often hinges on that degree of co-ordination and co-operation. It is not possible to meet the needs of a child with a medical condition in school without the support of the medical agencies. It is not possible to support a child with a visual impairment without the support of a specialist teacher. It is absolutely critical that that co-ordination sits around the provision for children with special educational needs. It is about their core entitlement to education. It is not about a bolt-on service that brings something additional. It is about meeting a core commitment to their education. I want to make the point that, for this group of children, it is hugely significant, and their core entitlement is eroded when that co-ordination does not take place.
The other issue that arises from any signal that co-ordination might be reduced is about planning a range of provision for children with a range of needs. Those are the two things. We need to secure the range of provision and secure the individual entitlement that is threatened if there is any erosion of the co-operation between the different agencies involved.
Q 180 Mark Hendrick: I would like to come back to the issue of bullying. I am sure many of us MPs have had constituents come to see us to complain about their child or children being bullied at school. Whenever we have contacted the schools, they have always insisted that there was not a problem or that the problem had been dealt with satisfactorily. Different schools talk about anti-bullying strategies, but I found that that was quite patchy across schools. When I approached the local education authority about it, it first of all said that some schools do not log incidents of bullying. Those that do do not always report them to the local education authority. Very little is done in the way of counselling of pupils who were victims of bullying, or providing any sort of mental health support and counselling to bring them through the difficulties. How far do you think the Bill goes in addressing those problems?
Dr Atkinson: I am not sure that any piece of legislation can and/or will give you sufficient detail to stop bullying. This is a classic example of what my two colleagues have just talked about: the need for institutions to learn from each other, so that across a locality, if you move your child from school to school, what you will get is the same fair, open and transparent deal from a community of adults who understand that bullying is a human characteristic and that to say “It doesn’t happen here” is nonsense, because it happens everywhere. It happens not just in schools, but in society and families as well. When I go out as commissioner, to anyone who says “We don’t have any of that,” I smile and say, “You think not? Let me bring you some child witnesses, and they will tell you that it happens.” It often happens quietly and subtly.
I do not think that legislation will stamp out bullying; it is rather a matter of good guidance, good professional development and a culture in which children and young
Q 181 Mark Hendrick: Can we bring in reporting methods whereby schools are obliged to log incidents and pass them on to local education authorities, and local education authorities are obliged to provide counselling and support, if children are in need of it?
Paul Ennals: We could, but to be fair, none of our systems in the past has been that robust and effective. I hesitate to say this, because there are other answers, but I am not convinced that that would be an answer to this. As an overview—I know Philippa wants to come in—I am not sure whether the Bill makes bullying better or worse, to be frank.
Philippa Stobbs: There might be some important messages, though, that could be signalled by the Bill. Along with a strong message about greater independence, whether for academies or maintained schools, and strong messages about schools working out how best to do things for themselves, we also need to be very careful that there is a balance, with some strong messages about the responsibilities that go with some of the additional freedoms being granted through the proposals in the Bill.
I agree absolutely with Paul and Maggie that it is not about legislation—I do not think this is an area where you can really legislate to bring an end to something. It has to be done in other ways, as we have said, but we could balance those messages about greater independence and greater freedoms with some very clear signals about the responsibilities that go with those freedoms.
Brian Lamb: Let us remember as well that there is already legislation in place around disability equality. Schools could look at their disability and equality impact statements and use them to address, especially, the differential impact between bullying in general and bullying of children with SEN and disability. I think we ought to be looking more—I certainly recommend this—at how we make that real for schools, so it does not just have to depend on the Bill. There is already a framework in place for schools to report on their bullying policies and how bullying affects children with SEN and disability. I think we should be looking more at how we push what is already there to address this.
Q 182 Mr Hayes: I am very sympathetic to your answers on the local, and on local communications; I long ago lost interest in anything that does not happen in the east of England. The point about the communication that you describe—the learning from good practice—is surely not principally about learning from our immediate locale, but about taking best practice and extending it wherever you find it. You talked just now about the disproportionate impact of bullying on vulnerable groups. What work have you done and what evidence can you bring to the Committee on that as a concept? How is it changing over time? Is it getting worse? Is cyber-bullying an issue? Can we identify a trend that we can address?
Philippa Stobbs: I would like to offer the paper that the Anti-bullying Alliance and the Council for Disabled Children have written, which we would be happy to
Brian Lamb: May I just give an example concerning cyber-bullying? I was impressed by the work done by Beatbullying, which has mentors who can be accessed online by children. They know enough about being online to help counsel children on matters such as cyber-bullying and how to address it. There are some innovative approaches to using the internet positively with peer support.
Dr Atkinson: It is somewhat more nuanced than that. In most cases, it seems, there are potentially two things going on. First, the problem is so underground and so subtle—it is taking place on the bus or on the footpath between home and school—that school does not think that there is a culture of bullying within the building, and that it is happening somewhere else.
Secondly, your school might be judged outstanding by the inspection system. Something might surface that indicates that there is a condoned culture of bullying—of whatever sort—in your institution. If you admit to that, you might fear that you will be judged by the community around you. You might fear that you are no longer regarded as an outstanding school and/or that people will start to leave and/or that you and your governors will attract a degree of notoriety that you do not want. So there are some subtle human interplays; it is not just about not getting backing. In an ever-diversifying system, school will back school and locality clusters of schools will back each other, because the relationship between the local authority, or local education authority, and its schools will diminish somewhat.
Paul Ennals: The next step up from that in the process is to ensure, as you have indicated, John, that the learning is not only within any one locality. The model of sector-led improvement that National Children’s Bureau colleagues have been working on in developing the centre for excellence and outcomes seeks to pick up the best evidence from across the world about what works. It attempts to identify the lessons that are transferable and those that are not. It is about writing that into a form that local practitioners can use—rather than cloaking it in jargon—and then providing a tailored model of support to a local area. It is about bringing someone from an area that is good at dealing with the problem, loaning them to the area that is not yet so good at that and enabling the learning to take place. That process does not take place through the flex of inspection and anxiety—or even targets—but through recognising that somebody, somewhere has found a better answer than you have done up to now.
Q 185 Meg Munn: On discipline, which we have touched on in relation to bullying and such issues, a general view has come through from all the witnesses that good discipline creates a good environment, in which children can learn, and a safe environment. I am concerned, as are colleagues, that some of the Bill’s measures could put teachers and children in unsafe situations and therefore could be more undermining to that specific situation of giving detention without notice. I am concerned about the searches, particularly those that allow a teacher to search a child of the opposite sex on their own without another adult present. I would like to hear your views.
Dr Atkinson: That is one of the concerns that my education experts and I have talked about for some time, and we will write more about that in our fuller response, by the April deadline. Suspending the need to give 24 hours’ notice of a detention could run you up against some real problems if you are a school that does not know that the 15-year-old you intend to detain on no notice is the principal carer in their home. If they are in rural Cumbria and they miss their school bus, there is not another bus to their village until the next morning. Those are some real issues, and in scrutinising this Bill you need to take them head on, in terms of children’s rights and in terms of this country having the United Nation’s convention 20 years ago. Children are not to be put through degrading or unusual punishments. Mr Major signed that convention, so it is a binding international human rights treaty. It is very important that you take it on board when you scrutinise the Bill.
We are equally concerned about the restraint issues, particularly given that there is no definition of what the exceptional circumstances are that would allow a staff member of the opposite sex to the child being searched to undertake that search. There are some serious issues. I do not think you are safe as a teacher. As a former English and drama teacher in secondary education, I would not have felt safe or safeguarded had I exercised such powers. Children and young people tell us that eight out of 10 of them have witnessed some degree of disruption or bad behaviour in lessons. They also tell us that the pupils who instigate it need to be helped, rather than excluded, and that schools need to be fair, transparent and appealable in how they exclude. There are issues on how that works in the Bill, which I urge you to look at.
The teachers whom I speak to are very wary indeed of physical restraint and, in particular, of upping the ante on physical restraint in confrontational situations. Finally, children and adults who talk to me as commissioner are united in saying that if you make the classroom a stimulating, challenging, exciting place, where different abilities are dealt with properly, the need for restraint and physical searches crops up less and less.
Philippa Stobbs: May I just add that we have concerns about the disproportionate impact on children with special educational needs of any of the measures? Children with special educational needs are significantly over-represented in exclusions from school. We have concerns that the circumstances of some of those exclusions suggest that there are circumstances where children’s needs have not been appropriately met by the school. We have real concerns about the review panel not being able to reinstate a pupil. On proper examination of the
Brian Lamb: When I did the inquiry, I was particularly concerned about the expertise and knowledge of exclusion panels around SEN. That would benefit from being looked at again. On restraint, I have concerns that many schools were excluding children, especially those with autism or speech and communication difficulties, for behavioural issues, when good and effective training on behaviour programmes, which are well established and work, would have benefited those children and would have stopped exclusions. If the additional powers in the Bill on restraint and search were applied wrongly to children with autism—they would not necessarily understand what was going on—it could make a difficult situation much worse. I want to see specific training for teachers on those issues, if those powers are introduced.
Q 186 Mark Durkan: A number of you have referred to other statutory provisions. One that comes to mind is one of the few private Members’ Bills that passed, the Autism Act 2009, although it does not apply to the whole of the UK. My recollection is that it was very much predicated on local authorities in particular establishing the number and needs of those in their community who had autism. The Act presumed that local authorities would have that information from schools and, in turn, the local authorities were charged with passing that information on to other relevant authorities, particularly coming up to the age of transition and beyond. That seemed to rest very heavily on the fact that schools were all co-operating with local authorities and so on, and were therefore in possession of this, and that schools would be involved in children and young people’s plans. Is there any danger that the Bill as it currently stands will inadvertently knock a hole in some of the assumptions—or presumptions—that were behind the Autism Act 20090? Is there any fine tuning needed between the two?
Philippa Stobbs: There is a risk that we will undo some of the mechanisms that can enable us to have better planning, both for individual children and for numbers of children. As you say, the key issue is knowing the population and being able to plan the full range of provision. When we say provision, that really does mean the sorts of things that Brian talked about, in relation to the staff skills that will be needed to make the appropriate provision for those children. The risks are those that I referred to when I talked about the need for co-ordination and co-operation in a local area to meet the needs for this group of children in particular.
Q 187 Pat Glass: Some of this has been touched on already, but do you think the clauses in the Bill—particularly those on authorised detention, admissions, searches and restraints, exclusions and the powers of exclusion panels—will impact positively or negatively on vulnerable children? I am thinking about groups of vulnerable children—looked-after children, young carers, and children with disabilities and with special educational needs. Will the impact be positive or negative?
Dr Atkinson: The exclusions clauses could very easily swing us towards negative outcomes for particularly vulnerable children. They are already over-represented
On the admissions issues, without local co-ordination or the role of the adjudicator being as strong as it needs to be, the possibility that more children will not get their school of first choice could arise. The pattern that we already see of children from difficult backgrounds being in difficult and lower-attaining schools could be exacerbated. I do not know whether colleagues have things to add.
Philippa Stobbs: Can I just add that we have real concerns about a message about greater freedoms for schools being expressed at the same time when there will be a reduction in powers for the adjudicator? I have spoken a bit about exclusions, so I would just like to pick up the admissions issue. As Maggie mentioned, the data are fairly clear about children who are entitled to free school meals being much more likely to attend low-attaining schools. On children with special educational needs, there is a huge overlap between those who are entitled to free school meals and those with special educational needs. We have real concerns that the greater freedoms and the reduction in the role of the adjudicator will have a further impact on admissions.
We were talking about international comparisons earlier. They are one of the drivers for many of the intentions around improving outcomes for all children. One of the key issues in improving the standing of the UK in international comparisons is, crucially, reducing inequalities in outcomes. It is, as it were, the long tail of underachievement that pulls us down in those international comparisons.
The lowest-attaining 20% of children includes most of the children whom we are concerned about. Those are the children on whom we really need to focus. We need to improve progress and outcomes for those children. That includes having greater access to the high-attaining schools and to a provision that is appropriate for them. Children in that group are also over-represented in the figures on absenteeism and other forms of being out of school. Outcomes for them are not good. They are twice as likely to be not in employment, education or training when they leave school.
Brian Lamb: What would really help on the exclusions point is considering the recommendations made by the Select Committee when it looked at behaviour, and something for which special educational consortiums have argued for a number of years. If the exclusion of a child with disability or SEN is going to be considered, that should trigger an automatic assessment for those children to ensure that the reason for the exclusion is not related to an unidentified issue related to the SEN. If the SEN was already known about and simply could not be managed by the school, that would be one issue, but so often we have found that when the exclusion cases get to panels actually there is an underlying SEN issue that has not been addressed, often around behaviour. In those circumstances that should be addressed first, before the exclusion. If that were put in the Bill as a backstop it would at least reduce some of the anxiety about exclusions. That was recommended by the Education Committee, and I think that was an excellent recommendation.
Paul Ennals: One very brief point about free school meals: plenty of references are made to the subject here, and there is more than one reference to it in the Bill and the accompanying notes, potentially in terms of defining pupils who receive the pupil premium and defining disadvantaged children in early years. At Committee stage it is necessary to look at the impact of the upcoming Welfare Reform Bill, which will significantly change the eligibility for free school meals. It is likely, at an early glance, significantly to reduce the eligibility for them, which might inadvertently impact on some of the planning processes that are currently under way to ensure that those various services are targeted towards those who are most in need.
Q 188 Mr Stuart: There are going to be pilots of schools continuing to have responsibility for pupils once they have been excluded. They are only pilots, so we do not know what will happen. If that does not go ahead and become a sustained part of the system, what incentives will there be in the system to address the behavioural problems of a child in the school rather than to exclude? Are there going to be incentives in a system that has greater levels of freedom to ensure that schools want to identify and sort out the needs of the children rather than seeking the perhaps easy solution of exclusion?
Paul Ennals: I was involved in the question to think about the idea of the pilots, and I have to say that I am very strongly in favour of them. I am not sure whether they will necessarily work, but I am very strongly in favour because it tackles the underlying issue that you are raising, Graham, which is the risk that inadvertently schools will find themselves incentivised to exclude children. None of us wants that. I am not sure whether the pilot will work, but my own view is that the pilot will make it clear that the most effective way of reducing exclusions is for schools to federate—to work together in groups in various different ways and, as it were, swallow their own smoke.
If, within a group of schools, one school finds that it needs to exclude a pupil for whatever reason, rather than their being knocked out of the system and having to struggle back in, if instead they are provided for elsewhere in the family of schools—if only on a temporary basis—that would not only meet the financial incentives issue but would very significantly reduce the negative impact that exclusion has on a child and on a family when they feel that they have been excluded not only from a school but from the whole range of public services that tend to be aligned.
Philippa Stobbs: You asked about incentives. One of the disincentives that schools have at the moment, which they are sometimes openly honest about to parents, is league tables—“If we take your child, it will affect our position in the league tables.” One of the important things that we could do to turn that around is to focus much more on measures of progress than on thresholds of attainment.
It ties in with what I was saying before, but the progress of the lowest-attaining group of children at the moment is absolutely critical to our international standing and to better outcomes for children. If we were to take greater cognisance of measures that look at that progress, that could provide an incentive, because in effect this is an easy win. If you can get the progress for this child, you can make strides for some children. They may not
Q 189 Stella Creasy: I just want to test back with you some of the things that we have been told by some of the other witnesses today. First, we were concerned about whether an increase in academies would cause difficulties regarding admissions for children with special needs. Certainly, anecdotally we have had examples of pupils who have struggled to get into academies, and I wonder whether you have any feelings about that. Obviously, the admissions code applies, but the ability of schools that are working independently of other schools to deal with some special needs is different, and I wonder if you have any thoughts on that.
Philippa Stobbs: We have some evidence that children with special educational needs have been rejected by academies, and there have been some high-profile cases of that reported in the papers as well. I think that we need to be clear that all schools discriminate against children with SEN in the admissions process. It is very subtle. It is before there is any official application, and before you get into the admissions process. It is the casual visit to the school, where the parent is too readily told, “We are not very good at dealing with children with this type of difficulty, but the school down the road has an excellent SEN department.” It is very difficult to get a handle on that. Therefore, we should be very clear that we want local authorities to go on monitoring and reporting on admissions of children with SEN. That is the only way we will get a handle on where it is happening.
Q 190 Stella Creasy: That leads me to the second set of questions. We know from the special educational needs and disability tribunal data that a lot of concerns that parents of children with SEN have are not necessarily about the schools themselves, but about access to other support services and how those fit in with schools. How will the provisions in the Bill, which will uncouple some of those relationships, affect the ability of children to get those other support services, which they need to do well, in schools?
Philippa Stobbs: There is a risk that there is a signal about greater independence, and, as Paul rightly said, there is a benefit for schools in this as well. However, with the proposals to remove the duty to co-operate, there is a risk of losing the level of co-ordination that is essential to providing for individual children, in terms of their entitlement to access education, and in terms of wider planning of services to meet the range of difficulties.
Q 191 Stella Creasy: I am conscious of the time, so finally, Brian, given that some of our concerns have been about behaviour and attendance partnerships, could they fulfil that role if the local authority’s formal role was taken away? Do you have a view on that at all? Do you feel that it is important to have a different set of duties around SEN, as opposed to behaviour? I am mindful of Maggie’s point about behaviour outside the school gates being an issue.
Brian Lamb: I have certainly recommended that the excellent guidance that the Department has on exclusions and behaviour be made statutory. That was all supposed
Q 192 Mr Gibb: On a slightly different subject, does the panel have a view on clause 1, which extends free early-years provision to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds? That is 15 hours of free provision.
Paul Ennals: I warmly welcome it. The evidence strongly supports the greater delivery of provision for two-year-olds. It is important to define clearly who that will cover. What is the definition of disadvantage? It will be particularly helpful to ensure that there is some reference in the legislation or accompanying guidance to the importance of quality, because the evidence shows that good-quality provision delivered by qualified staff improves outcomes, but poor provision makes them worse.
Finally, I know that the Government have made it very clear that they do not intend to remove the existing entitlement for three and four-year-olds, which is very welcome. However, the Bill’s structure enables future changes, for better or worse, to be enacted by regulation, so it would be very helpful for that statement to appear in the legislation in the House.
Dr Atkinson: I think the interrelationship of the different policies going through at the moment could impact on how the system develops in future. We have already submitted our serious concerns about the withdrawal of legal aid from SEN and disability tribunal situations, and about the likelihood of that impacting on children with SEN particularly.
Philippa Stobbs: I would like to add a little bit about schools and their responsibilities for training. We are concerned that high-attaining schools, which are the schools being selected for training responsibilities, do not necessarily have the group of children to give them the best experience of responding appropriately to SEN and disabilities. We will look for some commitments on the responsibility of the teaching schools towards children with SEN.
Brian Lamb: On the local ombudsmen, I would be very keen to hear the plans to replace the local powers of complaint. When I have talked to parents, my recommendation that the local government ombudsman should deal with SEN complaints, rather than the Secretary of State, has been very popular, due to the powers that the local government ombudsman had.
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