Examination of Witness (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001
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
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.
(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.
104. Just pursuing the value added idea. You
said next year will be the first year in which the pilot studies
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) This year Key Stage
105. In terms of Key Stage 2.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Next year.
106. Then will that go nationwide for the following
(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.
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 evidenceand I am not saying this is the case in my
constituency, as I am not familiar with the latest detailsthat
a teacher or a head teacher has intervened in the process, is
it right that person should be reinstated following suspension
(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.
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
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
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?
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
(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
Ev. p. 43. Back