Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 160-179)




  160. Are you attracted by the Dutch experience, the Dutch method of tackling this?
  (Mr Timms) I do not know much about the Dutch system. Although I suppose one could argue that the existing SSA system is intended to have some of that effect; it is certainly intended to. I think, by the shaking of your head, you are indicating that, in fact, it does not, which is a view that I would not attempt to challenge. But the idea was certainly there, and that will need to be one of the features of our new system as well; whether it will go as far as has been done in Holland, I do not know.

Paul Holmes

  161. From the drift of what you were saying, about trying to get more resource into areas that need it, is the Government now recognising that there is a link between social deprivation and underachieving schools, whereas they used to say that there was not really a link?
  (Mr Timms) We have never said there was not a link. It is very clear, that is the whole rationale for the Excellence in Cities programme, that schools in disadvantaged areas do face bigger challenges, and we have acknowledged that very fully in our resource allocations.

  Chairman: Minister, we will be coming back to areas like this, but I want to move on to teacher workload, and ask Jeff Ennis if he would like to lead on that.

Jeff Ennis

  162. The Department has recently commissioned a study looking at teacher workload; when is the final draft going to be published, Minister?
  (Mr Timms) We have received a draft of it this week; the final version is due to reach us before the end of the year.

  163. So, obviously, when we get this workload study, in what ways do you see that being used to actually inform future Government policy?
  (Mr Timms) I think it is going to be a very important document. Concerns about teacher workload have been increasingly prominent in our discussions with schools and LEAs and teachers over the last couple of years. There is no doubt at all, we have made very great demands of the teaching profession in the last four years, and they have delivered a great deal, in response, as well. But, at a time when we need to be recruiting significantly more teachers, and recruitment is proving difficult, more particularly, I think, when we need to do better on the retention side amongst teachers as well, then addressing concerns about workload clearly is very important. Now, Estelle Morris made a very significant speech about this earlier in the week, about how the school of the future will look, and how schools will need to use the skills of a wider group of employees than used to be the case, taking advantage of the very significantly increased numbers of teaching assistants, for example, of administrative support staff, some of whom are now in schools, and others of whom will need to be recruited, as well as a rising number of teachers. So the question for us really is, how can we do that, how can we make effective use of the resources that there are in schools, and I think the workload report is going to be a very important element in proposing solutions.

  164. Early press speculation says that one of the recommendations coming out of the report will be that they will be recommending a time limit of teaching time of 22.5 hours per week per teacher. Have you calculated what the effect would be in terms of the additional numbers of staff that would be needed to actually meet that target?
  (Mr Timms) Yes, I saw that press speculation as well, so I had a look through the draft report, and, as far as I could see, it was not there, so I am not expecting that to be a feature of the final report either. I think what the report does raise as an important issue though is teachers having adequate preparation time for their lessons, and that is often very difficult at the moment because of the actual teaching load that people are facing. So the question then is raised, well, how does one seek to carve out the extra time that teachers need, and I think there will need to be a variety of solutions. I think the use of teaching assistants will be part of the answer. I think there will be other possibilities we will need to look at. I think there are ways of managing the school resources which seem to work well, in some schools, that can help. So there will be a variety of approaches, I think, that will need to be taken in order to make progress on giving teachers that extra time that they need, and I think that will help teachers have the sense that their workload is more manageable. I think it also could help in raising the standards in schools, as well.

  165. Your description of the greater use of teaching assistants, I support the principle of breaking down the professional barriers, and stuff like that, but I understand that one of the things we are looking at is a teacher setting the work, in a formal educational setting, going off doing some assessment, or whatever, and leaving the class in the hands of the teaching assistant. As John McEnroe would say, you cannot be serious, man. Is that one of the proposals we are looking at?
  (Mr Timms) I think there will be circumstances, and I think there will be assistants who will be able to take on that role; that will be a matter for decision by the head, in a given school, and it will certainly depend on the skills of the assistants who are in the school. But, you see, what is happening at the moment is, we are putting very substantially increased resources into schools, and that is being translated fairly directly into an increase in the number of teaching posts, quite right, too, but that cannot go on indefinitely, we know that; if all the extra money that is going into schools went into the creation of teaching posts, there is no way that we would have enough teachers to fill all those posts. So we do need to be more creative about how we use those resources to be effective in raising standards in schools, and I do think that using teaching assistants in the ways that Estelle has been describing is going to be one of the answers, but that will certainly depend on the skills of the assistants who are available in a particular school, and that will be a matter for the head to decide.

  166. Just for the sake of clarification then on the future use of teaching assistants, would the head in a school have to identify a certain proportion of the teaching assistants within their school who could be categorised as somebody safe to leave actually to manage a class?
  (Mr Timms) Some of those decisions are already being taken by heads. There are examples already of, for example, classroom assistants invigilating in exams; and it seems to me a very sensible thing to do, if the people who are available are appropriate to do that. But I think the kind of decision that you have described is exactly the kind of decision the heads are making every day.


  167. Minister, in terms of the interim report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the conclusions—I know it is not the full, complete document—seemed rather facile, it said that teachers were very stressed during term-time, less stressed, and so if you took the average they were no more stressed than the average other, equivalent occupation. It seemed a bit facile to me. It seemed there was a parallel, in terms of losing teachers, almost in the terms of the inquiry this Committee did on retention, that the retention of students is worrying, that two-thirds of students who fail to complete their course you lose them in the first year. And it seems to me that what we must get out of the report, or certainly we must get out of the Department, is an awareness that, the teachers that leave early the profession, there must be some better induction process, some process of support, so if you get them through, reading through the Robinson/Smithers report, it did seem to me that if you can get that first, difficult, two, three years properly inducted then you would retain more teachers. And it just seems to me too many teachers are dropped into the teaching profession, with very little support and with very little time to think about what they are doing. You are going to pay an enormous amount for PwC to do this report, but I think a lot of people on this Committee could have told you the same things.
  (Mr Timms) I agree with that. I do not think the statistic is quite as stark as the one that you gave a moment ago; but, in terms of the importance of those first two or three years, I entirely accept, and we are putting a good deal of effort at the moment into looking at the provision of profession development, specifically targeted for teachers in their early years, for exactly the reasons that you state.

Valerie Davey

  168. You have brought to mind a situation. The Select Committee, in the last session, visited Switzerland, and in Zurich found in secondary schools a teacher committed to a group of young people, as their class, for three years; in other words, the important thing there was that there was a very good bonding, a very good relationship between teacher and young people. Unless teachers go in committed to young people then they are less effective. Are we not going to break that bond of trust; this professionalism and trust, as the Secretary of State was emphasising in this speech, must be to do with understanding and being with and committing to young people, not this great diversity of professionals and less trained and others doing something in a class?
  (Mr Timms) I agree with you about the importance of the bond between a teacher and a teacher's pupils, but I do not see that as being threatened by what we are proposing. There are a lot of new activities being taken on in schools, there is a much greater breadth, particularly as a result of the AS level changes, for example, and I think that has meant more people in schools with the increasing use of computing resources, that has meant a need for more technically skilled people to be in schools, there are lots of admin. tasks, and administrative support staff can help with those. So I do not think there is a dichotomy between providing that extra support, which it is very clear, in schools, is needed, with maintaining the very important bond, that you draw attention to, between teachers and their pupils.

  169. The emphasis of all that advertising though was, `who do you remember; you remember your teacher'?
  (Mr Timms) Yes, I take that point.

  Chairman: Some of us think that you can have both, you can have a good, consistent bond, but using the resources of the school to do the job more effectively, in terms of good management.

Paul Holmes

  170. On teacher recruitment and retention, but first of all on recruitment, three questions, they are all on the same thing, they are all very short and precise. First of all, the Government said in its manifesto this year that they would recruit 10,000 extra teachers; what is the baseline for that, is it January 2001, June 7, 2001, where is the starting-point to measure that against?
  (Mr Timms) I think the answer must be January 2001, because every January we carry out a survey, so that is when we have good data for, so it will be 10,000 more than that.

  171. How do you see the 10,000 extra teachers split, and is it 5,000 primary, 5,000 secondary, or have you got some ratio in mind?
  (Mr Timms) No. We have not set explicit targets about how the 10,000 will be made up. I guess, a working assumption that it would probably be on the basis of the current ratio between the two, but we have not established separate targets for primary and secondary.

  172. So if it were the current ratio, adjusting for the fact that primary school rolls are falling, while secondary school rolls are going up, for the next few years?
  (Mr Timms) That is a fair point. Certainly, the pressure is significantly more at secondary level at the moment than it is at primary; so I think that is where a good deal of the attention will apply, although there is a need for more primary teachers as well.

  173. And in terms of pupils being taught by teachers who are not qualified to teach that particular subject area, how far do the Government know how big that problem is? The last curriculum and staffing survey was 1996, and normally they were done every four years, but it is now five years on; is there another curriculum and staffing review under way?
  (Mr Timms) Yes, I think we are expecting to have fresh data on that in the next year, I will check that, but I think that is the position, and, you are right, the data we have at the moment is somewhat out of date, but I think it is in the next year we should have the new figures.

  174. On the issue of retention, we have just been talking about the workload side; in the Liverpool University report, they said that, and, again, it was not just the point that we are losing a lot of trainee teachers, who either never finish the training course or do not stay in teaching for more than a year or two, it was also the fact that resignations among older teachers are rising sharply. There were large numbers of teachers leaving taking enhanced pensions, that was stopped, but now I understand that the level of that age group leaving with loss of pension is now as high as it was a few years ago, when they could leave with enhanced pensions. So there must be something fairly serious putting older teachers off staying in teaching, and I could name two of my colleagues who left this summer with loss of pension for exactly these reasons. Now the Liverpool report interviewed teachers, and the highest reason they gave for leaving was workload, 57.8 per cent; and, again, I could say, from my experience, that my last ten years in teaching, up to this year, my workload had never been as high, certainly in the first ten years, the last ten years were much worse, and job satisfaction was much less. But a hidden one, that tends to get glossed over, the second highest factor they quoted, in the Liverpool University report, was pupil behaviour, at 45 per cent; then there was a recent report, again in The Times Ed., saying that pupils were now more and more mentioning pupil behaviour as a problem, in a way that they had not done in previous surveys. Part of the workload one we have already discussed, but, pupil behaviour, do you see that as being a particular problem that needs looking at?
  (Mr Timms) Yes, I do.


  175. I am giving a very good run to Paul today, as he is the only opposition Member present.
  (Mr Timms) Right. It is a very good question; and, yes, we do think that pupil behaviour is a very important issue, and I entirely acknowledge the point you make about its significance in the minds of teachers. There is a fair chunk, as you will have seen, of the White Paper that is addressing the subject; we are providing £178 million in this current financial year to help tackle poor behaviour. A very important achievement, I think, that we will have delivered by next September, is ensuring that where a child is taken out of the class there is a full-time education available for that child, which, of course, was not the case; and that was one of the big problems about the system in the past, that quite a lot of children were being taken out of class because of behaviour problems, and then almost nothing, they might get a couple of hours' teaching a week, but very, very inadequate provision. Now that we will, from next September, be able to assure a full-time education for anyone who is excluded, I think it will make it more possible, more desirable, for some children to be taken out and provided for separately in that way. But it is an important subject, and one that we are committed to making progress on.

Paul Holmes

  176. Taking children out of class and into pupil referral units, and so forth, that deals with the extreme cases, but it would seem to me, as a practising teacher, and to my colleagues, that equally as much of a problem is not the really extreme cases, of violence, and so forth, but the general behaviour and attitude of children, often backed up by parents, at a much lower level. Is there any research, or are the Government undertaking any research to look into that area, given that the Liverpool report classed that as the second highest reason why teachers were leaving in record numbers?
  (Mr Timms) Yes, there is. I would just make the point that, of course, learning support units are on site and not outside, so that I take the point you make about pupil referral units as being that sort of further step. But, yes, we have announced a project to tackle the roots of poor behaviour in children, we want to set up a programme of work to support schools in setting high expectations of behaviour, developing and strengthening emotional intelligence, tackling severe behavioural problems; so that is a significant programme of work that we are taking forward.


  177. It is interesting to remember, is it not, that you are going to be questioned in a moment about truancy and absenteeism from school with parental approval; in a sense, some of the most difficult children in a class, maybe we are shepherding them back into the very situation that is going to cause more stress for teachers?
  (Mr Timms) That is the importance, I think, of having the learning support units and pupil referral units available, so that there is full-time education available for all those children, even if, for whatever reason, they cannot be in school.

  178. Does that mean that, if you are successful in cutting down the six million and the one million, your £178 million is a greater underestimate of how much resource you need as well at this point?
  (Mr Timms) We are confident, I think, that the provision we are making from next September will do the job.

Mr Shaw

  179. On the post-14 curriculum, Minister. The Chairman invited Bryan Sanderson, the Chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, at our last session, to pick two or three things that he wanted to see, a wish list, and one of those on his wish list was to see a breakdown of the barriers and the prejudice that separates academic and vocational qualifications, as you mentioned earlier. The Secretary of State has spoken about providing an opportunity for youngsters who are sufficiently able and academically gifted to take their GCSEs ahead of the age of 16, but at the moment the sole focus on secondary education is 16 and the GCSE, and everything happens after that. Now if it stands that some youngsters are able to take their GCSEs ahead of 16, because they are academically gifted, they are mature enough, etc., so does it not stand, therefore, that some youngsters would perhaps do better if they took their examinations after 16, and perhaps we need to find another test, or focus, at the age of 16? Because, certainly, when youngsters, who are perhaps immature, take these examinations and do not do well, that is not exactly a platform for them to go on to further education and then higher education. I wonder what your thoughts are on that?
  (Mr Timms) I broadly agree with the points that you make. There are a number of things that we need to do. I think one thing we need to do is to broaden the range of subjects available at GCSE level, and, as you know, we are introducing the vocational GCSE which will be helpful with that, I think. But I agree also that there should be opportunities for some youngsters to take their GCSEs, or some of their GCSEs, early; of course, some already do that, but we might well see more of that in the future. We might also see some youngsters going straight to AS level, rather than taking a GCSE, in some subjects. I am not saying that children would not do GCSEs at all, but they may not do GCSEs in all the range of subjects they currently do, but they might go straight to AS in subjects; but, equally, again I agree, there will be some for whom it makes more sense to take longer to get to GCSE level. As you know, Estelle Morris has talked about an overarching award at age 19, which every child will be able to aspire to, and I think we might well see that, for some youngsters, getting to GCSE in some subjects by that age would be a significant milestone for them, one we would want to accredit and acknowledge. So, to conclude on this, I think the important thing is that there should be pathways through the education system that are individually tailored and appropriate for each student; in some cases that will mean faster, in some cases it will mean slower, but we need to be much more individually sensitive to people than the system has been up till now.

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