Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. But, Chief Inspector, you will know that this Committee is very concerned about what we consider the supply chain through into 16 and 18, the fact that increasing evidence there is something is happening in that sector that is not bringing through enough talented people who would then go into higher education, or even into a parallel vocational, good vocational, further education. And we do feel that there is a job to be done here, in terms of identifying the weaknesses and doing something about them?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I entirely agree with you, and that is why, as David has already said, the focus of our inspections now is very, very clearly on the student learner and less on the systems within the college; and that, we believe, is the right focus to have. And your point about students moving into higher education, a figure that I was given recently was, the proportion of students this last summer with three Cs or better that could have gone to university from the lower two socioeconomic groupings amounted to only 800 students, which shows the magnitude of the task in raising that number of students, their performance, but more importantly their opportunity and desire to go on to higher education.
  (Mr Taylor) But that does also relate to the statistics for retention, through further education, because the real concern is how many students start courses at 16 and do not complete them, and therefore they are excluded from such statistics.

  81. I do hope you will look at the evidence that we took from the Learning and Skills Council, and from other people, in those sessions, in terms of our concerns about temporary contracts, short-term staff, low wages, the morale in the profession?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes.

Mr Chaytor

  82. In terms of OFSTED's capacity to inspect colleges, which are much larger and more complex institutions than most schools, what proportion of the inspection teams have experience of the work of colleges outside the conventional GCSE, A level programme that they will be familiar with in schools?
  (Mr Taylor) A high proportion do. The first point to make, of course, is that all of these college inspections are joint.

  83. Do you have precise figures?
  (Mr Taylor) Not a figure, because it will differ for different colleges.

  84. And are there figures across the board for all the inspections that have taken place so far?
  (Mr Taylor) We could produce those, but, obviously, that is not something I have got with me.[2]

  85. Sure; and do you publish the CVs of the inspectors who go into college inspections?
  (Mr Taylor) No, we do not publish CVs.

  86. But the FEFC did used to do that, I think, did it not?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think they made it available to the colleges for comment.

  87. Would you consider making them available, just to deal with this issue about the inspection teams may not have direct experience of how the colleges work?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Can I just say something, to add to what David said. First of all, we have recruited people into OFSTED, since we assumed this responsibility, as HMI, as permanent members of staff. Secondly, of course, we do most of our college inspections in conjunction with the Adult Learning Inspectorate, who supply inspectors, for example, with experience and expertise of work-based training, and the like. Thirdly, we have a large body of people, which we call additional inspectors, who come on to our inspections, the vast majority of whom are currently working in colleges. And we have recently, indeed, seconded into OFSTED a number of college personnel to help us with this work. So we will look at the figures and give you them.[3] We are as keen, I think, as you are hinting at that the team and its experience and expertise should match the college that is being inspected, whether it be a sixth-form college or a general FE college.

Valerie Davey

  88. Could I follow on from that and say that one of the characteristics of the former inspection was to have a member of the college staff on the inspecting body, which the former HMCI was adamantly opposed to; and, on reflection, do you feel that that would have been a continuum which would have been helpful to the OFSTED inspection?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No. I think that we discussed this quite extensively, certainly amongst ourselves, with the Adult Learning Inspectorate, and elsewhere. The college still nominates a person to be the link person with the inspection team; the only time that that person is not present at meetings is where the team is coming to its judgements and its grades about the performance of the college. And we think that that is quite right, that that discussion should be held within the team, based upon all the evidence, without the presence of someone from the college, who indeed might just possibly be in the area that the inspectors are wanting to be critical of; but, up to that point, there is the link still nominated. And over the inspections that we have conducted since April of this year, I do not think, David, we have had any major complaints from colleges about that particular arrangement.
  (Mr Taylor) No. We did have extensive consultations with the AoC, which was lobbying for providers', nominees, to have that role, of assisting in the grading meetings; we have tended to continue to hold the line that, on the whole, defendants do not sit in on juries' deliberations.

  89. But that link person is there to clarify, in the complexity of a large college, some of the information that you may require?
  (Mr Taylor) Exactly, and all of that is extremely helpful, and is used in that way, and the feedback we have is that the college nominee is working closely with the inspection to provide that kind of help, to help clarify hypotheses as they are being formulated, and so on. So it is very full co-operation; we just feel there is one place where it stops working.

  90. Moving on to the importance of the student learner, are you monitoring their views in the same way as you are now doing within schools, and, if so, can you tell us a little bit about how that is being done, because you have largely an adult learning group, and does that make a difference, and how are you managing in, again, the complexity of the colleges you are inspecting?
  (Mr Taylor) As you will be aware, many colleges do the kind of student survey in quite some detail themselves, and we naturally make as full use of that information as we can, but we have, in fact, introduced the student questionnaire in college inspections, which in some ways is the precursor for what we are hoping to do in schools. And it provides extremely useful information, particularly on the kinds of issue that Mike was referring to, which is the kind of level of counselling and support available, and how students feel about being in a college, which is a real focus of the inspection, and one of the concerns which is often expressed about how students can get lost in the jungle of a big FE college.

  91. Lastly, the Association of Colleges still feel, I think, that you are, even in the short time you have been doing this, concentrating on the bits that you know best, namely, the 16-19, and although that, I think, in the terms of this Committee, is especially important, can you tell us a bit about the rest of the work, and can you refute that criticism?
  (Mr Tomlinson) First of all, remember, these are joint inspections, there are two inspectorates involved in this. We have responsibility for 16-19, the Adult Learning Inspectorate, by its name, has responsibility for work-based training and provision, indeed, for adults, i.e. post 19. So all of our inspections are jointly with them. We have a profile of the college, and an agreement is made between the two inspectorates about the balance of inspectors into the college; so that, in fact, we do have the full range there. The difficulty is that, of course, in numerical terms, there may be more adults in the college than there are 16-19 students; but, in terms of total hours taught and the equivalence that that brings, that changes quite dramatically, because many adults are there for one hour per week, or two hours per week. So, in coming to a decision about the balance of staffing, we have got to make sure that they are used economically and effectively and are not sitting around for long periods of time, waiting for that group of adults to come in for that one hour. It is never easy; but I would say that we have looked at that balance. I think it would be true, on one or two occasions, we might have got it slightly better than we did, that is part of the initial process, but it is something we now look at, at an individual college level, between the two inspectorates, and come to an informed decision about what the best balance of inspectors is for that particular instance.

  92. And one last question, similarly, to the early years; will you be able to tell us, from your inspection, the value to a 16 year old to be in school, a sixth-form college, and an FE college?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think the value is an interesting question; what we have done with the school inspection framework is modify it to bring it into line for our inspection of sixth-form provision, into line with the common inspection framework that applies to colleges, and that started for school sixth-forms this September. And, therefore, we will be able to draw forward comparable data and conclusions about provision for 16-19 year olds in schools, sixth-form colleges, general FE colleges, or indeed for specialist colleges, where those students are to be found.

  Valerie Davey: I shall look forward to reading that.

  Chairman: Chief Inspector, we have tried to restrain her, but Meg Munn insists on talking about the appointment of your successor.

Ms Munn

  93. That may be because I met your predecessor for the first time, in the early hours of this morning, on some late night television programme. Moving on to the appointment of your successor, you may not know, Mr Tomlinson, that this Committee, in a previous incarnation, took a view that they should be asked to take an advisory role in the appointment, and have the opportunity to take evidence from the proposed nominee to the post and have that subject to a discussion within Parliament. From your personal position, looking at this, do you think that some qualified candidates might be dissuaded from applying because of parliamentary scrutiny of their appointment?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I really would not know. I am personally not involved in the process at all, which is right and proper.


  94. But you have got a right to speculate, Chief Inspector. Would you be put off?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, I would not personally be put off, but I cannot answer for anyone else, or I am not intending to answer for anyone else.

  95. Thank you, Chief Inspector; but, Judith, you have been around in this organisation for a while, and you are at the heart of policy, what do you think, in terms of colleagues who might apply for the job, would a bit of parliamentary scrutiny put off a good candidate?
  (Miss Phillips) I would not have thought so.

  Chairman: Meg?

  Ms Munn: You have asked all my questions.

  Chairman: We have got a few more questions, and we are running out of time, so I am turning now to reducing the burden of regulation, and asking Mark to lead on that.

Mr Simmonds

  96. Thank you, Mr Chairman. We were leading to this issue earlier. Could I ask you what you have done to date, Mr Tomlinson, to reduce the regulatory burden of the inspection process, and what further improvements you think can be made to continue that reduction?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Back in March of this year, I set in train, with the Department for Education and Skills, a review of the demands of monitoring and inspection, because, of course, part of the Department itself also visits schools and makes demands on them, so I want to do it jointly. We produced a report in May which had a total of 24 recommendations of ways that we might reduce the burden. What we have done so far is that we have, first of all, improved the pre-inspection forms, so that they are available electronically, and can indeed be transmitted electronically to the inspection teams/contractor, and we will continue to try to improve that, so that there is not a large amount of problem. Next term, we will, in the preliminary forms, put into the forms the data we have before we send them to schools, so that, in effect, schools are checking their data rather than having to find it and insert it. Thirdly, we have cut back the quantity of data and paper that schools receive, by merging the, I will use the acronyms, PICSI report, which is the information given to the inspection team prior to the inspection, and the Annual Performance and Assessment Report that we provide for schools. We have combined those two and the school gets one, and that has cut down enormously the amount of paperwork that the school receives. We have also got other things in train. I have stated, quite categorically, in my letter last September what I did not want headteachers to demand of teachers. We are reviewing arrangements for visits to schools, such that we manage them so that no schools have excessive demands placed upon them for inspection of different sorts at different times, not just the full school inspection but other visits that we might make. And we have established a group which looks at all the demands that we might place on a school, because I think it is the totality one has to look at, and those have to go through scrutiny and are rejected if they are not appropriate, or we do not really need to do that, or it can be combined in some way. And we are also asking inspectors, from this autumn, in inspections, to discuss with the school the current level of bureaucratic demands on them and where they originate from, and we will, in fact, in some cases, find that reports refer to those demands and their origins and the extent of them within the school. So we are very keen to play our part, and also to find out what schools think about the actual demands and where they come from.

  97. Can I ask a little bit further about that last point you made, that the essence, to my mind, is that you should be asking not just the inspectorate but also the schools how they think they can reduce the burden and process of the paperwork; that whilst also you have been able to do your job fully, as well, I wonder, are you going through that process, if not, when are you going to go through that process?
  (Mr Tomlinson) We are; it is part of the judgement about the management and leadership of the school, basically, and that is a part of that whole area of judgement and inspection.

Mr Baron

  98. Very briefly, Chief Inspector, following on from my questioning with regard to further education colleges and inspection, and so forth, short inspections, is there evidence to suggest that actually it generates less bureaucracy and paperwork for schools preparing for short inspections, is there evidence to suggest that?
  (Mr Tomlinson) The requirements upon schools are the same, whether it is a short or full inspection; what I think we find with the short inspections are very confident schools, very effective schools, generally manage that demand, as I think we have just hinted at, very effectively, and do not impose additional burdens on members of staff as preparation, because what is required is already there; it should be. The idea that the school does not have a prospectus, does not have a timetable, etc., is rather silly, and they do; and if we can reduce it further we will.

  99. Broadening this out slightly, with regard to the burden of bureaucracy and paperwork on teachers generally, we know there is a big issue here, we are all conscious of that; do you think there is a stronger role for OFSTED in addressing this issue, or certainly making recommendations about how the burden generally can be reduced, because, at the end of the day, it does affect a school's ability to teach?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes; and in my annual report last February I made the point that this needs reducing to an absolute minimum, in order to release teachers to teach and leaders to lead. So I am very much on your side. I think that what we are doing, in the inspections since September, reporting on it, will enable the Chief Inspector in future to be able to say, `what is the extent of it and in what ways,' because the question is not just about how much of it is there, but how is it affecting the school's capacity to improve; that is what the inspectors have got to pursue. And if they are saying in the report that the extent of whatever the bureaucracy is and wherever it originates from is, in fact, adversely affecting that, then I hope that inspectors will say so, and I hope that evidence will be used by the Chief Inspector to indicate what might need to be done.

2   Ev. 20 to 21. Back

3   Ev. 20. Back

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