Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)
MS JULIA BLOIS, MR ROGER GITTINS AND MRS LYNN EDWARDS
TUESDAY 17 SEPTEMBER 2002
80. I am sure everybody on the Committee would agree but I think most of my colleagues would say that the question is why does not the head teacher sort it out. It is purely an issue of industrial relations. The job spec for your technician is clearly inadequate. Why is it not sorted out in the individual school?
(Ms Blois) Our technician will tell you that he already does a full week and he has more than enough. He does not take his supply of holidays. He will come up with all sorts of reasons. The bottom line is: in the department we need another technician. As long as that is a need, it is not being fulfilled in my area particularly. I have to do the jobs myself because there is not enough money to have another technician.
81. Presumably, you are on your knees at the end of each week also?
(Ms Blois) Yes.
82. Is this not entirely a domestic matter for the school, the allocation of tasks within the school?
(Ms Blois) I cannot be the only one with a technical problem like this. There must be lots of schools in the area that have the same logistical and technical support problem.
83. You did say in your evidence it was not a matter of time. He refused to do it because it was not his job. That is a matter of management, purely.
(Ms Blois) Yes, and maybe that is another issue, that the management in schools is not as it should be, but I cannot criticise my management. We have just had a new head so it would be totally wrong to say it is the head's responsibility. Yes, it has been raised more times than I care to remember.
84. On the question of administrative tasks, you say few members of staff have access to computers at home. Is that the case?
(Ms Blois) Yes.
85. Few teachers in your school and, by extension, in Birmingham, have a computer at home?
(Ms Blois) There are a lot of our members of staff who are not computer literate.
86. What are they doing teaching then?
(Ms Blois) Teaching is not about using a computer, surely?
87. Given the nature of the society we are in and the fact that we are moving into the information technology age, our task is to prepare our young people for this. How can it be that there are teachers in your school who are not computer literate, whatever the subject they are teaching?
(Mr Gittins) To some extent, that is addressed through the NOF training that is coming in for ICT skills for existing teachers and new teachers coming into the profession, but that training does take a long time. The majority of that training is done in the teachers' own time. I have watched my wife complete the training and I have seen the considerable number of hours she has spent doing that at home. I think teachers would recognise that that is something they want to take part in but it is not an overnight issue to bring your skills up to that level.
88. To come to the question of whether teachers have PCs at home, you are still saying that few teachers have a personal computer at home?
(Ms Blois) Most families of the teachers I work with have computers at home for their children but cannot access them because they do not have the time.
89. It is not the case that few members of staff do not have computers at home?
(Ms Blois) They do not have access to them. We certainly do not have access in school.
90. Roger and Lynn, is that your experience?
(Mr Gittins) It is difficult because that would vary from school to school. We talked about increased funding but there are increased demands as well. For example, we as a school try to work forward to a situation over the next two years where every teacher in the school has a laptop. There is a government initiative coming in and we should recognise that. It is very slow in terms of the speed at which we want to do that, but that is a useful development that will start to answer some of the problems, once the training comes on board as well. As a school, for example, we have just received £21,000 for electronic attendance. That will buy the software but in order to make it work the whole school needs to be networked and part of it is not. Every teacher needs a laptop. The cost to the school of introducing electronic attendance by next September is £70,000. As in most walks of life, if you need a laptop, you generally have a laptop but speaking as a head teacher when you are trying to allocate that expenditure, whether it be to that or to the technician who is washing the tea towels, you always look to see what the impact is on children's learning. Some of it is more diverse than others.
Chairman: This Committee would profoundly agree with you that what matters in education is the quality of teaching and learning experience in the classroom.
91. In terms of both your schools, you are saying that even within a technology school with specialist technology status your teachers do not have access to the PCs at school?
(Ms Blois) That is right.
(Mr Gittins) Mine would have access at school, the majority most of the time but I would not be able to comment about at home.
(Ms Blois) We have an ICT suite and we have a technology suite which is fully equipped with computers. We have now the arrival of laptops for each member of staff but they are not networked because the cabling is not in. We have overhead projectors that are in school but not in place because the cabling has not been done and we all still do not have access to laptops.
(Mrs Edwards) The only way we have access to computers ourselves at home is if we bought them but we are using them as a tool for our job. We do have access in school. There are four machines now in the staff room plus the computer suite. We have the usual problems with the network system: "Oh, the network has crashed", despite improvements upon improvements.
Chairman: We all live with that at times.
92. One of the other areas that the Committee is going to be looking at is the diversity of provision. Two schools have technology status?
(Mrs Edwards) We do not have specialised technology but I think we are looking at specialised science.
93. Did you have much difficulty in raising the 50,000?
(Mr Gittins) It is an interesting point to give you an insight into Birmingham because most of the children who come to my school live within Sutton Coldfield. There is a very well endowed charity called Sutton Coldfield Municipal Charities that finds sponsorship money for any secondary school in Sutton Coldfield that wants to apply for specialist status. I wrote a letter; I went to the trustees and I got £100,000.
(Ms Blois) Ours is a unique partnership with King Edward's Camp Hill so it was a 50/50 partnership. We are going to technology college status but it is never explained exactly how the funding came about. It was senior management staff who put in the bid and knew anything about the nuts and bolts of it.
94. How do you think technology status has affected your school?
(Mr Gittins) I do not think it has affected it in terms of having an impact on admissions. I do not think there are any community specialist schools in the country that I know of that exercise their right to change their admission criteria, although there are one or two foundation schools that do. We do not differentiate in terms of admissions. It has brought us additional resources. It has answered some of the ICT type questions. Two years ago we had 65 computers in school; now we have 225. We have had rooms refurbished and we have been able to use it to lever in other money from a whole range of places. It has hugely increased the number of different targets, criteria and so on in that respect, which has led to a certain amount of confusion. It provides an identity for the school. Technology is an interesting one, perhaps a little separate from others. Because of the involvement of ICT, along with maths, science and DandT, it impacts far more right across the curriculum.
95. One of the things we have heard is that schools only apply for this because it is additional money.
(Mr Gittins) I would suggest it is a key issue because the workload involved is enormous. The application started the day after I took up post in January 2000. It took something like 45 person days of members of my senior staff and other heads of department to put that together. Were the resources attached to it not very significant, schools would not go through that process.
96. How has it affected you, Julia, in the classroom?
(Ms Blois) We now have the ability to pay a colleague to become manager of ICT.
97. But not someone to wash the tea towels!
(Ms Blois) We have a lot of the hardware turning up in school now which we would not have had if we had not technology college status. It also links closely with our independent school because we have meetings with similar colleagues in the independent sector to start planning forward. Our feeder junior schools have benefited. We are running all sorts of joint projects with them to bring in the feeder schools into our technology department so that they have access to the equipment. We try to network all schools so that they can produce some of their schemes of work in junior schools which we can then print out for them or make up for them from their designs, which takes the stress off members of staff in the junior schools and means that we are using our specialisms to the full.
98. You say that the partnerships are alive and working. This has been one of the criticisms of specialist schools, that they sign the form saying they will work with all sorts of people and the reality is that they do not. That is one of the things OFSTED highlight.
(Ms Blois) The process is not infinite. We are not a technology college for ever. When the review cycle comes round, you have to show that you have achieved what you set out to do and we have worked very hard in the school to do that. It is rewarding to see the junior schools in. We have done a lot of staff training in the department and we have pupils who come in and work for that as well. It has given us the flexibility to do that.
Chairman: Does not the whole ethos of the specialist school breed a kind of "I'm all right Jack" attitude? Two of you are in this rather privileged category but everyone is not in that category. Some of us are getting a picture of Birmingham that it is all right if you are in the more affluent bit or even the 50/50 bits of Birmingham but what about the most deprived parts of Birmingham and the comprehensives that have no special status?
Ms Munn: Looking at the other group which went to different schools this morning, we did go to a school in a less well off area which has specialist status, where the head and the staff and the pupils were very positive about that. Although they found the process demanding and had been turned down once, the head said that, having got through a second time she could see that the second plan they produced was better and now, having got to that stage, they thought the process was more rigorous. I think it would be unfair to say that all of the Committee had not seen that.
99. We also saw Sheldon Heath School, where they are going to apply for specialist school status but they already have some City Excellence money, so they are in a special category. Are we right? We have arrived on planet Birmingham and we are trying to understand. It does seem to us that somewhere out there there are comprehensive schools in deprived areas that have no special status, are struggling to attract first choice students. What I am trying to get from you is the sort of debate we had last night between Professor Ted Wragg and Tim Brighouse, where one suggested he was in favour of universities and Tim was very worried about the impact down the chain, if you like. I wondered what you thought, as trade unionists.
(Mr Gittins) Because Birmingham is an Excellence in Cities area, the majority of the specialist school bids go in through Excellence in Cities. It is a slightly ring fenced area with greater chance of success. There has been huge cooperation and discussion at the EIC partnership meetings about which schools should be supported. The LEA put a huge amount of time and resources into supporting those schools. It was quite a democratic, consultative process. Other schools have got it individually but the vast majority have gone through that process. The LEA supported that. As a head teacher coming into Birmingham from outside, within the funding formula for Birmingham, there is quite a significant moveothers would know the figures better than me in terms of percentagesof more money following additional needs in terms of the way the funding formula is worked out. Within Excellence in Cities, there is a considerable additional needs element in the funding. My school, whose additional needs are nowhere near as great as some of the inner city schools, receives £42,000 a year Excellence in Cities money for 1,100 students. A school in the inner city with perhaps 600 or 700 students may receive anything up to ten times that amount. It is a huge, significant part of the budget. You then come back to the issue about whether that is a transitional part of their budget or whether it is going to be there for ever, because for them it is probably as much as 25 per cent of their budget.