Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
TOMLINSON CBE AND
20. Just on the quality assurance point you
make, Chief Inspector, as you know, the predecessor to this Committee,
which I chaired, and I think it was universally acclaimed that
Maggie Smith was appointed to the job that she is now in. But
I do hope the message will get across that we do not see this
as the cuddly area of inspection, that we expect highly trained
early years inspectors, and whether they are scattered around
the country, working from home, we expect them to be well trained
and for them to be an effective body of people. And I was a little
worried, in those earlier replies to questions, bending over backwards
to make sure they are fine, and I welcome the fact that they are
writing poetry in the south of England, but the fact of the matter
is, it is quite difficult to quality assure a whole rag-tag and
bobtail of people, across the region, working from home, not meeting
very often, everyone will tell you, in similar organisations that
are run in that way, that is a very difficult group of people
to manage. And I am a little concerned, did you get rid of any,
how many people did not get through the net because they were
not good enough to work in the new OFSTED inspection?
(Mr Tomlinson) Chairman, you know that it was a TUPE-like
(Mr Tomlinson) And therefore people had the option
of coming across to us and we had to accept them.
22. Everyone; regardless?
(Mr Tomlinson) Yes; that is the basis of the transfer
system. What we have got in place is a considerable training programme,
which the inspectors themselves say is far more, in terms of training,
than they had previously, and we are determined to continue with
that training, not just in the first year but throughout. We would
like eventually, for those who do not have any formal qualifications
to be able to get formal qualifications in this area, and we would
want to work on that. Equally, we will face the issue, if we have
to, that some of the people that we have may not make the mark,
ultimately. We have to accept that is a possibility.
23. And they would go?
(Mr Tomlinson) And we will have to deal with the situation
then, if that arises, yes. I am quite determined, while I am Chief
Inspector, that the people doing the job are well trained, well
supported, but very effective, and if they are not then it is
simply not good enough.
24. You can give this Committee your assurance
that if somebody was found to be not up to the job they would
(Mr Tomlinson) I am giving you the assurance we have
the capacity to do that, yes.
25. No, that is different. The question I asked
was, would you continue to employ people you knew not to be effective
in the job?
(Mr Tomlinson) No, I would not.
(Ms Smith) Could I add to that. Each of the home-based
inspectors has a home-based senior living very near to them and
will have, that is the weekly session I referred to earlier, regular
supervision. And all the staff have a performance agreement, which
is very explicit, it has measurable outcomes, and their first
appraisals are due in March, and those that do not meet the standards
will be asked to do some further training, get further support
and demonstrate how they are going to reach the competencies that
we know they need to have to make clear judgements. It is a very
rigorous system, and I believe that we will manage that well,
and there is a lot of enthusiasm for raising the status of this
group of staff, as a profession, and they know that their part
in that is to be competent and to demonstrate that they are. So
it is crucial that we deal with this with great rigour. I do not
expect miracles, people will not change particular habits overnight,
nor will they acquire new knowledge overnight, so we have to be
fair in the process but we also have to be firm, and that is the
26. Two last, very quick questions, before we
move on to the next group of witnesses. And that is, in terms
of your quality assurance, presumably your inspectors will go
to settings, full of the father's smoke, children running around
in a smoke-laden environment, whether they are prone to asthma,
or whatever, you will see occasional physical punishment of these
children, and you will not able to comment?
(Ms Smith) No, that is not so at all; that is not
the case. Our guidance on the standards for childminders, in respect
of those things, makes it very clear that the childminder takes
enormous risks if they engage in activities such as that, and
for all sorts of reasons. And I am told that our guidance makes
it very clear to the childminder that if they have entered into
an agreement with a parent on either of those issues they are
still not safe, because a parent can suddenly change their mind,
if they feel their child is at risk, etc., or has had a smack
that was rather harder than the parent envisaged when they made
the agreement. I do not know of a childminder, yet, we certainly
have not, and we have done well over 12,000 transitional inspections
by this stage, and we have not found a foggy, smoky room, or signs
of physical punishment, in a childminder's home, to date.
(Mr Tomlinson) If we do then we shall report on it
and draw attention to it, as we review the standards.
27. Can I ask one follow-up there then. The
Education Committee previously recommended it should not be allowed
that childminders could smack or smoke, in relation to children;
the Government rejected that completely. From what you are saying,
do you think the Government were wrong to reject that advice?
(Ms Smith) All I can say is that it is not OFSTED's
place to set the standards, and we need to regulate against them,
and we have to collect evidence to say whether this is a problem
or not a problem. And I think any wise person would bear in mind
the basic legal framework in the country, and if there is not
a legal framework which says it is a criminal offence to assault
a child, which is quite true in this country, then it is very
difficult to impose things outside the law. And in my past work
in this area, in local government, I do know that magistrates
consistently overturned cases where a local authority had tried
to deregister a childminder because of that agreement to smack.
And so there is not any case law to support that either; and it
can be very difficult to impose such things, as I think that Scotland
will learn. However, sense prevails, good quality is good quality,
and that is the encouragement that we will give, and good quality
means being extremely scrupulous about these matters with children.
(Mr Tomlinson) I think the other thing is, as we collect
evidence, we will report on the way in which the standards operate,
and where there are difficulties we will state those without fear
or favour, and the Government will then take whatever cognisance
it feels appropriate of those findings.
28. I just got the impression, from Ms Smith's
answer, that she does not subscribe to the Government's view.
Does she agree with the Government that it is acceptable that
childminders should use physical chastisement to children, when
(Ms Smith) I do not agree that the Government ever
said it was acceptable. I understand their dilemma.
29. But they accepted it?
(Ms Smith) I understand their dilemma about public
law and what is largely a private situation, and I am keen that
we help Government achieve solutions to that dilemma through inspection
evidence. I think the way this has been interpreted is sometimes
rather sad, because it is a difficult issue, it is not simple.
30. Can I ask you, do you think there is a correlation
between the growing incidence of asthma in children and exposure
(Ms Smith) I am not sufficiently medically expert
to say that. I think there are all sorts of theories about chemical
toxins, car fumes, etc., in respect of asthma. The rise in childhood
asthma is very worrying. My focus, through our work, will be to
actually help, hopefully, over time, to gather evidence of how
that is worked through and what strategies in childcare can help
and support parents in this issue.
31. Would you be happy if your small children
were in a smoky environment then?
(Ms Smith) Not at all.
(Mr Tomlinson) I think we have to differentiate here;
that is a personal view and that is all. As the Office for Standards
in Education, the task we have got to do on behalf of the Government's
policy is that the Government's policy is the policy and our reports
must be set against that policy. And I do not think it is right
that our personal view has any bearing upon the way that we do
our job, we must do it in pursuit of the Government's policy.
Chairman: Thank you, Chief Inspector.
32. Just following on from that, would you expect
that the general environment, as well as the smoke-filled room,
could perhaps have effects on the asthma rise in young children?
(Ms Smith) Of course, and I think there are really
important issues for us all to consider for childhood health in
this, and we can only play a small part in that, but I hope we
play it well.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Maggie Smith.
And we look forward to seeing you at our next meeting.