Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 100 - 119)

WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001

BARONESS ASHTON OF UPHOLLAND

  100. It seems to me that you do not trust the general public, that you feel that parents cannot tell that there are some schools which may have less money spent on them, may be in deprived areas and you think that the Minister knows best.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Heaven forfend! No, I certainly do not think that and I am actually a member of the general public. It is not about the general public, it is about what the purpose behind publishing information is and what that information is actually telling you. We are very clear on Key Stage 2 and now Key Stage 3 that we are able to measure and show where schools have got to. It may be that there is case to be had for doing that within primary schools. At the moment, I have never had a letter yet from parents saying, "I cannot get information about my school, my primary school" because we know that, when parents go and talk to primary schools when they are looking at schools for children, they talk about issues like that. I am fully well aware that parents do not make the decision entirely on that but I am also well aware that on some of the agendas we have schools perhaps find some pupils less attractive and, therefore, it is important to keep that balance. What I am saying to you is I do not know yet and I will keep looking at it.

Chairman

  101. Minister, many of us on this Committee would say that what we are discontented about is the arid nature of the performance tables that are published that do great damage to the education process. I do ask you to look at two or three of the speeches which alluded to this last evening in the chamber of the House of Commons where many of us were arguing that what should be published is what added value a school brings to a pupil. Most people in the educational system I know are absolutely sick to the back teeth of reading reports of performance tables that put, yes, one of the most exclusive girls' schools in London right at the top for A level results. Surprise, surprise, when the intakes were all girls with ten A star GCSEs. Quite honestly, you would have taken local teachers out and hanged them if they had not done the trick. In my own constituency, at Greenhead College, Dr Kevin Conway looked at this new system, some of the colleges have already done this and a network of colleges said "What added value do we give that". Taking people who have got Cs and Ds at GCSE and working out what you did in terms of added value, there is a possibility of publishing added value. There would be a wonderful counter-vailing influence on the arid ones that we know, that we have seen. Why does the Government not get its act together and start publishing, commission someone to do it to actually give us value added and that would help a lot of schools who do the hard work with more difficult pupils but do a really very good job as most of our teachers do?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) We are publishing the first piloted value added this year.

  102. Oh.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Next year we will publish value added on Key Stage 3 and then we move to value added on Key Stage 2.

  103. Who is doing that for you?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think that within the Department statisticians are doing it. I would strike a note of caution as to why I really am seriously thinking about league tables in the broadest sense. I hear everything you say and I have said it myself as a chair of governors. We need to be cautious about what value added itself can do because I think a lot is riding on people's interpretation of what this is somehow going to show. The basic value added measure is taken where a child began and where they end. It will show to us schools that are doing exceptionally well across the spectrum with children and it will show schools that are doing fine and you may argue schools that are probably coasting as well, and schools that are not doing so well. What it is not is a very sophisticated measure yet because we know that there are children who are in our schools who have got a multiplicity of different things going on in their lives. The fact you move them from one thing to another is incredible from where they are. They are very individual stories and individual cases. So there are two things I am looking at. One, that we get the first bits of value added out but we get them out with the right expectations, this is not the end of the story, this is us moving on to be more sophisticated. What you will see will be better but I think it is probably not all we can do. The second thing is in presentational terms. I want to make sure that we are highlighting the schools that are doing well across the board. It is not just of the school that is top of the league table that we all say "Well, of course it is, it should be, with the resources and so on that it has it should be that". I celebrate that too, that they do well. It is about also the schools that we want to say as a Department we are particularly proud of the things that they are doing as well. So there is a kind of presentation and, it is about what we can achieve with value added.

Mr Chaytor

  104. Just pursuing the value added idea. You said next year will be the first year in which the pilot studies are published.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) This year Key Stage 3.

  105. In terms of Key Stage 2.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Next year.

  106. Then will that go nationwide for the following year?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think it is 2003 we get everything on to value added. I will correct that if I am wrong and get back to you.[11]

  107. On the question of Key Stage 2 and the SATs, I have a primary school in my constituency where the head teacher was recently accused and following an investigation by the local authority I understand subsequently admitted intervening with the process of the tests. He was immediately suspended from duty subject to investigation. The Governors then had to decide, after the outcome of the investigation, what to do. They decided to reinstate him. My question is what can be done to reduce the possibility of head teachers or classroom teachers interfering with the administration of the tests? Secondly, where there is clear evidence—and I am not saying this is the case in my constituency, as I am not familiar with the latest details—that a teacher or a head teacher has intervened in the process, is it right that person should be reinstated following suspension from duty?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) First of all, I think it is a very sad case. I think the first thing I would say about what can be done is that I think schools need to be aware of what pressure they are putting themselves on teachers. I am well aware that instantly people will say "Well, it is the Department which puts all the pressure on". Yes, we do keep the pressure up but we also do try and support schools. I do know that in some schools some governing bodies and some parents put enormous amounts of pressure on the heads. I think the governing body has to take some responsibility for saying "Was it not aware that the head was feeling this kind of pressure? Who was the head able to talk to?" and indeed the LEA and the LEA advisors, so there is that support system. You can never support somebody who effectively cheats and allows a school to cheat because, apart from anything else, it is the worst possible educational example you can set for children. Individual cases will warrant different responses. I would not comment on an individual case I do not know about, the governors have got to take into account a whole raft of other issues. We cannot countenance cheating, it is not fair on the kids, they lose out because if that is found to be the case then they do not get the credit for what they have achieved. It is not what the system is supposed to be for.

  108. If I can pursue the two aspects of the point. It seems to me there is an issue over the design of the test that makes it possible for teachers to manipulate the pupils' performance. Is there any debate within the Department or between the Department and the QCA about changing the design of the test so it is more foolproof? That is the first point, is it not possible to design a foolproof test?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) There is always discussion about changing the test, I suppose for that reason. I do not know if you can do a foolproof test. I think we also have to be careful about saying we cannot trust our teachers. The vast majority of teachers do these tests properly. They make sure that the tests arrive with the children and then they believe confidently that they have taught the children to the best of their ability. I would not want to be in a system where teachers felt we did not trust them because we do. In those odd cases I am much more concerned with what leads up to that in a way and people feel that is the way they should react, particularly good heads.

  109. Is there any discussion with the QCA about the nature of the tests at the moment with a view to minimising the possibility of cheating or, if not, would you be prepared to have such a discussion?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I will certainly go and find out for you. I am not aware of any. We look very carefully at the number of incidents reported to us of interference with the test and obviously each one is checked out because sometimes they have no substance to them, inevitably. My understanding is that we are very clear with LEAs and schools the procedures that they should follow for the tests so we are clear and they are clear. I do not know if we can do a foolproof test. I will certainly go and ask if that is happening and come back to you.[12]

  110. On the other aspect of the problem, that is the Governors' response because this comes within your sphere of concern as well.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed.

  111. I am not asking you to comment on any individual case obviously. On the hypothetical case, if a head teacher admits that he or she intervened in the process, do you think it is acceptable that that person is reinstated or ought it to be a dismissible offence? What does it say about the governors' powers and responsibilities? Is there a need to review that if a governing body were to reinstate someone who was clearly found to be cheating?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) These cases are so rare that there is not an obvious response I can give you. I only mean that because the governing body would have to take into account every other factor to do with that head teacher and would need to seek advice from the local education authority as well. It is a serious thing to have done and I would not expect governors to take decisions lightly. It is so rare that you could not have a blanket view on it.

  112. Not an automatically dismissible offence?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not think you could. Now, I may have to go back and say "Well, do I need to think about that, is that right?" This is the only case that I can think of that I know about, at the moment. It is rather like anything that is so rare, you would have to look at it in real detail. I think the LEA, I am sure, will be playing a huge part in that as well and advising the governing body and I am sure would come to us if it felt there was something which was amiss.

Valerie Davey

  113. Can I take up the issue of the inclusion policy for the outcome targets. We are encouraging schools clearly to take youngsters and integrate. I have got a school in my constituency which is doing that so well that parents are coming and saying: "Please take my autistic child into mainstream. You have done such a good job". That is completely to be praised, they are doing a really good job. But, the time and effort and energy on staff going to meetings, on parental involvement, is enormous and then at the end of the day the SATs results, the test results, of course, reflect the inclusion of those children. There is a real tension though between those two policies: high expectations, inclusion. How can we help give a school like mine the encouragement to do a very good job without being penalised?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) This is my point about delivery on the ground, it sometimes feels contradictory. The school I chaired governors of also had a policy of including children and, therefore, never found itself at the top of the local league tables and never could in that sense. It is about not under valuing the progress as well that children who have got special educational needs make. It is an area where I am really, really interested in trying to resolve that dilemma. As I say, early in my career, I have not solved it yet but I recognise it is a real dilemma. I believe that every school should want to include children, where it works, and it does not always, and I make no apologies for saying that. I believe that it is good for all children to work alongside children of different abilities, as I believe it is important in terms of multi-culturalism and multi-faith as well. There are lots of issues around it if you are going to then focus on any one measure, hence value added being an important part of that, but I would be pushing hard for schools to be as inclusive as possible.

  114. Could I ask you to take this up with Ofsted.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I have.

  115. In a previous meeting we did get a recognition by Ofsted that where you had a large movement of children moving in and out of an area that affected school outcome. I think an example we had was an air force base where children were coming and going and it really affected the outcome.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.

  116. You are, I gather, asking them about this inclusion policy, therefore, and what their approach would be and how they advise?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. I met with Mike Tomlinson this week and we are going to talk specifically and separately about the whole inclusion agenda. He is very keen to ensure that the Ofsted inspection regime recognises that. I am very keen that as part of the inspection and the importance to parents, the schools that have a good inclusion policy are given credit for doing so and that parents understand how beneficial it can be when it works well to all their children, whether they have special educational needs or not. I think Ofsted, my impression certainly is Mr Tomlinson is completely on board in doing this. We recognise it is a lot to do

  Valerie Davey: Can I say how much this school and others would welcome your statement today and I hope that Ofsted too would get their operation on the ground recognising what we have said.

  Chairman: Meg, is this a new point or do you want to continue with the others?

Ms Munn

  117. It is following up with the other area of inclusion which you mentioned at the outset which is children looked after by the local authority.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.

  118. I suppose the issue I just wanted to explore for the moment with you on that links to another area you mentioned at the outset which was exclusion panels and children with difficult behaviour, children who are looked after by the local authority and have a long history of a difficult childhood which is not their fault, their needs relate to behavioural things. While you may be able to win the argument in terms of actually including the children who have got disabilities, it can be extremely difficult for other parents to accept that a child whose behaviour is disruptive through their own experiences also needs to be included. How are you going to actually balance up this dilemma and this tension between the child with difficult behaviour who needs to be included and a normal child who is in front of the exclusion panel for violent behaviour?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) It is difficult. The first thing to say is that there are only so many expectations that we can put on teachers to be able to deal with all the children. So inclusion is also about making sure you have got the expertise available to the schools to support them. For example, I want the special schools to play a role in that working alongside main stream colleagues to support them and help them. Where you have children who are violent to other children or to teachers, then the power to exclude must exist. What we would want to do is be working with children from an earlier age particularly to make sure we address some of those behavioural problems that they have. I have a mantra that I might just repeat to the Committee because those who have heard it will smile. It is that I believe that when a child arrives at a school with its rucksack, with its ruler and its pencil case it should also have its special educational needs kit in there as well. We often wait far too long before we put in place the measures that will support children and schools battle for too long to get resources to do it. I will just put that in a box for a moment. In terms of children who are looked after, I recognise that they are less likely to achieve, I recognise that they are more likely to have emotional, behavioural problems. We have got to make sure that support is given to the school to support the child in the school and not expect the school to simply be able to take them and deal with it. We need to monitor it. I have just started to look at what other things we can put in place. It is a new policy area for me, obviously, as a new Minister, and I am very keen that we develop, alongside colleagues in the Department of Health, ways of doing that.

  119. Can I put a real plea about this. I understand why you are saying children who are violent, there must be the power to exclude, but from years of experience of working with these children that is yet another rejection and it feels to them like it is their fault. It makes matters considerably worse and their likelihood of ever achieving education goes down. Now there are areas which are looking at schools pooling their resources with the help of the education authority to actually enable children to be taken out of the school for a period, up to six weeks or so, and then be put back into the school. So they are not going through the process of exclusion because exclusion is as much, in my view, a failure of everybody involved with that child, not just the school but whoever else has been involved in that, rather than the child feeling like a failure.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I agree and I think there is something about the word exclusion, is there not, that we have got to look at. I do want to in the course of my time at DfES, however short or long that is, look at this. Having, as a chair of governors, excluded children, I find it an entirely negative process. I was often doing it in order to get the child the help they needed. First of all, the fact that we are going to have full time education in pupil referral units for all children excluded will make a difference because exclusion also means kids just being left to their own devices and that always worries me a great deal. The fact is they will not be excluded to do that, they will be excluded in order to go to other kinds of education. If I could find a way of reworking the phrase even, or reworking what we mean, if a kid is expelled for being, whatever, that is one thing but often these children we are describing are being excluded in order to get help and I undertake to do that.

  Chairman: Minister, we have a few minutes left. I want to get every questioner in if I possibly can.


11   Note by Witness: No correction necessary. Back

12   Ev. p. 43. Back


 
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