Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 103)



  100. When schools go into special measures there is always a certain amount of shock and denial by the school, but that denial has been followed up by fast action. With serious weaknesses clearly the schools go into denial, but then they do not have to face up to the problems. What do you propose should happen with those particular schools to make them face up to the weaknesses within those schools?
  (Ms Passmore) They have to face up to it in their action plan. The LEA also has to write a statement about the action they are going to take. One of the things we should be considering is instead of simply visiting a sample we need to visit rather more, and more rapidly so that if things are not moving forward sufficiently well we are able to say at an earlier stage, before they go downwards any more, that further action is needed. This is something that we are looking at at the moment and it will have to be discussed with the DfEE. We do feel that this group of schools has not made the progress that we would expect. We need to make sure that things do get better.

Mr St Aubyn

  101. When your predecessor came into your job he seemed to identify that he was not prepared to live with the quality of teaching across the board that both parents and children deserve. In the last seven years the proportion of unsatisfactory lessons has dropped from 25 per cent down to 5 per cent. Does that suggest, first of all, that his fears were real, and that the actions of OFSTED and the other initiatives have put those fears to rest.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Thank you, your question gives me an opportunity to record here what has happened to the quality of teaching in our schools. I can go back a stage further to when the Senior Chief Inspector was Eric Bolton who then talked about, "A stubborn 30 per cent of teaching". The number was less significant than the use of the word "stubborn". As you say, that has gone down since then, in 1993/94 it was 20 per cent and it is now down to 5 per cent. I think that is a tremendous achievement by our teachers and head teachers, supported by their governors, at a time of considerable change and challenge. That, however, is not sufficient for the schools, there has been an increase in the proportion of teaching which is getting better, it has gone from 40 per cent to 60 per cent. What I found quite staggering last year was that 40 per cent of primary schools inspected last year did not have a single lesson judged unsatisfactory during the course of that inspection. We, therefore, have that important cornerstone in a majority of schools, a very high proportion of teaching which is satisfactory or even better. We also have nine out of ten schools which are well led. Those two essential ingredients, which the Inspectorate always identify, are central to school improvement and are in place. There are, of course, those schools where that is not the case, we have just been referring to some, but they are the minority. In the majority there has been a tremendous step-change in the Report. I think that that is as a result of the tremendous hard work of our teachers, head teachers supported by governors in local education, and the like. It gives me a great deal of optimism about the capacity of the system to take on the challenges that we have identified in this report and elsewhere, rightly, the Key Stage 3 issue, and so on. There has been tremendous improvement. I would like to think that that was reflected in what we reported about our school system and that teachers all around can gain confidence from that and lift their eyes from their bootstraps and look forward with pride to what they achieve.


  102. We are coming to end of our time, that was a very uplifting statement that was made about the development in our education. I am sorry to end on a, "could do better" note, as some of us have been very interested for a very long time in prison education, the kind of communication that I get from prisoners and from David Ramsbotham's report on prisons does not really square, I think it is a bit of a whitewash, with the prison education system. I have to say that I thought they got off very lightly compared to what I am picking up. Yes, you do mention the ICT skills shortages, but across the piece. In a sense, yes, they are in prison because they have done wrong, but they are very often the people that the education system has failed the most. You said that in your evidence. It does seem to me, as Chairman of this Committee, that we need take a very, very strong and hard look at what we supply to the education and skills training of prisoners when they are in prison. Perhaps we should have certain levels where people only got out of prison if they meet those educational targets, I am sure that is too radical. I do expect when you come back to this Committee next year it will be perhaps with more focus on the Education Service in prison. Apart from that, it has been a pleasure to have you here. I hope you have found our questions stimulating. Is there anything else you want to say to this Committee before you depart? Mr Tomlinson, I think you have had your swan song in the session, have you not?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think so.

  103. Do you want to come back on this?
  (Mr Taylor) We will not be able to come back to talk about prison education in the adult population because that will not be our responsibility in the future. We shall be focusing, and we are in discussions about this very thing, on the juvenile estate. We have raised very specific concerns on a number of single institutions contributing to the reports on prisons. We certainly would not want to suggest that we think there is any room for complacency about the educational provision. If we are being too soft we will look again at the evidence, where we have it.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Like any good school we can always improve. We will seek to do so. Can I thank you for your courtesy this morning.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, indeed.

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