Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from Her Majesty`s Chief Inspector of Schools (HE 107)

  We are pleased to receive your letter of 10 November, inviting us to comment on aspects of the Education Sub-Committee's enquiry into higher education and attaching the terms of reference.

  As my colleague David Taylor stressed when we appeared before the Sub-Committee, OFSTED's principal locus in relation to higher education is the inspection of the initial and the in-service training of teachers, both of which areas lie firmly in OFSTED's remit. In commenting, therefore, we draw on extensive inspection in the last five years of undergraduate and postgraduate teacher training in all those institutions of higher education offering it, and also on the inspection of a large number of awarding-bearing courses by those institutions to promote the professional development of teachers and school leaders. In addition, of course, our inspection of post-compulsory education in school sixth forms (and, imminently, in further education and sixth form colleges) includes evaluation of the quality of the preparation of young people for higher education.

  We recognise that it would be wholly inappropriate for OFSTED to encroach on matters which are the proper preserve of the quality assurance arrangements governing higher education, in particular through the work of HEFCE and the QAA. Nevertheless, we think it would be helpful, nationally, to work towards a clearly-articulated and consistent approach to defining, inspecting and evaluating teaching and learning across all levels and phases of education, and we offer these comments in that spirit and based firmly on the evidence of inspection in the areas in our remit.

  These comments refer to some of the specific interests raised in your terms of reference.

Quality of teaching

  Quality of teaching is central to the evaluation of the provision for teacher trainees: not only do we evaluate the standards they achieve, but also those of the school-based or HE-based trainers, who should be providing models of excellence to their trainees. Our evidence from inspections of all kinds underlines that that excellence consists especially in the use of the best methods, the quality of subject knowledge and its application, and practical teaching skills: all these must be assessed in relation to the effect on learners. Quality of learning embraces the intrinsic character of the educational experience, the promotion of intellectual curiosity and positive attitudes to learning, and the acquisition of the desired knowledge and understanding. Criteria are set out in detail in the joint OFSTED/TTA framework for teacher training and in OFSTED's school inspection Framework. We would hope that there would be a large measure of consonance between these and the criteria applied by those with responsibility in this field to the evaluation of teaching and learning in higher education more widely.

Employing students in teaching

  Our analysis of teacher training and recruitment suggests that the teacher supply issues, in some subjects especially, are now so critical that all possible avenues should be explored to give students, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, opportunities to undertake teaching. Not only may this have value for promoting the career of teaching, but the disciplines entailed can have direct benefits to students' own learning.

Institutional arrangements and their contribution to the quality of teaching and learning

  We can also see from our evidence of inspecting teacher training that higher education institutions are developing stronger use of evaluation through direct observation of teaching and also more use of student evaluation and feedback. These mechanisms are contributing to raising the standards in teacher training and we can see that they are likely to have wider application in higher education, though that is a matter for others.

Quality of degrees

  In our evidence to the Committee on 1 November, we drew attention to the fact that in some subject areas, particularly physical education, technology and, to some extent, English, the nature of degrees was such as to prepare students inadequately for teaching careers. Thus we have evidence that, in terms of preparing for some specific forms of employment at least, some first-degree courses raise questions about the breadth of coverage and attention to key elements of the subject.

  We should be more than happy to talk through further the quality issues raised by our inspection evidence.

Office for Standards in Education

December 2000

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