Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 180 - 193)

WEDNESDAY 10 JULY 2002

RT HON ESTELLE MORRIS, MP

Jonathan Shaw

  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 to say.

  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 under review.

Chairman

  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.

Mr Simmonds

  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.

Paul Holmes

  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.

Mr Chaytor

  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.

Chairman

  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 November—

  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.





 
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