Examination of Witness (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 10 JULY 2002
180. Supply teachers. We raised the issue with
Mike Tomlinson and we raised it again in our report and the Government
did not respond other than saying that they are the responsibility
of the changes under DTI legislation. There are 20,000 now operating.
Do you not see the need, given the shortage of teachers and the
increased number of supply teachers, for the agencies to be regulated
because a teacher can come to a school where I am a governor and
we can say, "Don't send him again because he is not satisfactory",
but the very next day he will be sent to another school, so should
you not be looking at that?
(Estelle Morris) Well, we always should be looking
at it, we always should be looking at it.
181. Particularly now.
(Estelle Morris) Yes, of course. It is one of those
things that supply teachers are always sort of on your desk and
you never stop looking at it in some ways because it is such an
important area. There are two things. There is my responsibility,
my Department's responsibility, which is the checking process
of those teachers who come as supply teachers, and then there
is the regulation process which is DTI's. Certainly after recent
events I started to discuss with the DTI the nature of the regulation
and I do not have anything to say on that now, but I do take your
point that if it grows and if they become more important, it is
always crucial that you update the legislation and make sure you
have got the controls you have got. I do not have anything more
182. Another role for OFSTED?
(Estelle Morris) I had not thought of that, but given
that you have mentioned it, it might be that you will say that
that is a responsibility for OFSTED. I will just put a full stop
by saying that we always have it on our minds and will keep it
183. Secretary of State, this is the second
time OFSTED has come up in passing. There was a debate much interrupted
by voting last week, but there was a concern expressed by not
only myself, but others about this rapid growth of OFSTED. It
continues to grow and it is around about 2,000 employees now.
It is approaching half the size of your own Department and there
is a worry that with this rapid expansion, and especially the
amount of inspection that has to be done in the pre-school area,
things can go wrong. The Committee is not saying or we were not
saying in that debate that things had gone wrong, but there is
a potential for things to go very wrong when an organisation expands
at that rate and we worry about the quality assurance, the inspections,
the inspectorate in this time of great expansion. What are your
fears and worries about that or do you have any?
(Estelle Morris) I am glad the Department is so lean!
That really is new!
184. We did not say that the Department was
lean. We said OFSTED was catching you up.
(Estelle Morris) I think what we have done is make
semblance of order in the inspection regime, so we actually look
at the changes which have been made in terms of OFSTED in the
early years and OFSTED working with the HMI. I think that is the
right thing to do, but you are right in that when organisations
grow like that, effective management of them becomes more crucial
than ever. I have already obviously had the chance to meet with
the new HMCI and I have every confidence that would happen, but
I take your point that it is something that David Bell will have
to manage and manage effectively, and that is the point of him
doing the job. You are right to say, "Does it not mean there
have to be greater management skills?" You are right about
that, but in response I would say I am confident that we have
got the right people in place.
185. You know that this Committee still is on
record as wanting a share in the appointment of the inspector.
(Estelle Morris) I notice that, yes.
186. We do hope that at some time you might
change your mind.
(Estelle Morris) Well, I hope we have got this HMCI
for a few years to come, so that will not be actually at the top
of the agenda for a while.
187. Very quickly, following on from the point
on OFSTED, can I get a feel for your views on whether you think
that there should be a lighter-touch inspection process for successful
schools than there is at the moment? A lot of schools certainly
spend a lot of time pre-OFSTED inspection and with what I would
term bureaucratic paperwork in preparation for the OFSTED inspection
and a lot of them consider it a waste of time, particularly if
they are successful. The second area is do you believe it would
be an additional element to OFSTED's army to be able to arrive
unannounced at a school so it is not polished?
(Estelle Morris) Yes, interesting. First of all, don't
forget there is the shorter inspection, but, in principle, yes,
I do agree that successful schools should have a more light-touch
inspection. Teachers over-prepare for OFSTED. If you speak to
David Bell or any OFSTED inspector, they produce more information
than OFSTED has gone for and that is because they are conscientious
people and it is high-risk stuff, but I wish they did not and
that would help with the workload as well. I will keep my eye
on that, but just to say that I know you would acknowledge that
there are shorter inspections now for successful schools. In terms
of unannounced visits, it is one of these debates which will go
on and on and I can see the strengths of it. I can also see the
drawbacks and the simple analogy I always use is yes, they arrive
on Monday morning, the head happens to be away taking some children
on an outdoor adventure for a week, and if I was the head, I would
want to be in the school on the Monday morning when OFSTED arrive.
I never would say that that is something I would never consider,
but it has never actually got to the point where we would do it,
so it is interesting, but we have no plans to introduce that at
this moment in time.
188. The OECD did a study of 15-year-olds across
a number of countries and that aroused a lot of interest and debate
in Germany as to how they did not do so well in the comparisons.
Dr Barry McGaw, who is the Deputy Director of Education at OECD,
has spent some time analysing these and a few weeks ago he went
into some detail analysing this study and his message from it
was loud and clear. He was questioned on this and he was backed
up. He was saying that the countries that did the best by the
whole school population range were those which had a fully comprehensive
education system and he named particularly Finland and Sweden,
and he said the ones which did less well were those which had
a selective system, and this is over the whole school population
range they did less well, and he named the USA, Germany and Britain
as examples where they do very well for the very bright kids,
but less well for the other half to two-thirds of the population.
It suggested that the sort of multi-tiered, hierarchical schools
that he talked about in a recent speech will actually push us
further down the avenue of being selective in schools and, therefore,
we would do less well.
(Estelle Morris) I have a very short answer to that.
I am obviously reasonably au fait with the recent report
and I am not saying what you have quoted is not right, I am not
saying that at all, but what I thought the main point of the report
on that was that in England the link between social class and
educational attainment is greater than in almost any of our competitor
nations. Now, that is different from saying that the link between
selection and a selective system and achievement is different,
and I am happy to read the paragraph to which you draw my attention,
but on that I was immensely proud of the tribute to our teachers'
achievements, immensely proud, and it just confirmed my determination
to try to do something about the link between poverty and educational
attainment. What we really got from that report was that it need
not happen. Other countries have overcome it and we should be
able to overcome it as well.
189. This week the Government published a document
on the reform of standard spending assessment. In respect of education,
do you want to see a closing of the gap between best funded and
worst funded LEAs?
(Estelle Morris) I want to see the formula more accurately
reflect the needs of each LEA.
190. No one doubts your interest, enthusiasm,
passion for the pre-school sector, the school sector and even
the FE sector, but some people would say, I would not say it,
that you are less interested in the HE sector and they would point
to the fact that if you really look at the long-term future of
our country, the spend and investment in HE, this Committee believes,
its salaries in continuing and growing research and in the regeneration
role of universities is so vital, so what do you say to your critics
who say that is not really your focus and they use the illustration
that we hear only this week, and our report is out tomorrow, but
we hear on the grapevine, it has not been announced publicly,
that yet again your own inquiry into student finance has been
delayed until the autumn.
(Estelle Morris) It is not quite that. I am interested
in higher education and I have both talked to Universities UK
and I have visited numerous universities both old and new. I have
had dinner with various vice chancellors, very pleasant it was
too, and I have learnt a great deal. What is true is in terms
of my own expertise and experience, I still have a great deal
to learn in all my areas and particularly HE. I think we have
spent some time finding out and preparing ourselves for the strategy
document which we will announce in October and what you heard
on the grapevine was actually an announcement by us that we will
produce a strategy document at the end of October/ beginning of
191. Strategy for the whole of HE?
(Estelle Morris) Yes, and what that will be will be
a combination of many of the issues both I and Mrs Hodge have
been talking to universities and students about over the last
year, so it will not be a blueprint, but it will be a discussion
document and I think it will be ample evidence that we have been
thinking, doing, talking and listening a great deal about HE over
the last twelve months.
192. And the cross-departmental inquiry?
(Estelle Morris) The cross-departmental inquiry into
student finance, that will be part of it.
193. At the same time?
(Estelle Morris) Yes.
Chairman: Thank you, Secretary of State. We
have enjoyed this session and thank you for being so frank in
answering and fielding so many questions.