Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH 2002
1. Could I welcome Mike Tomlinson, Elizabeth
Passmore and David Taylor to our deliberations again. This is
a regular process, as, I think, most people in the education sector
know. We meet the Chief Inspector and his team at least twice
a year. It is very good to see you. There is a protocol that in
a select committee you never mention anyone in the public gallery,
but the word is that a large group of visiting Dutch inspectors
might arrive laterthey might even be here, but I would
not know that. Can I get the questioning started by saying, Mr
Tomlinson, we know it is your last performance in front of the
Committee. I suspect you will find it very difficult to face life
without us but, if that is the case, I know that the challenges
you are going to find in Hackney might be some substitute and
I do wish you extremely well in that venture. You and I first
came across each other when you were doing a job in the Ridings
School not far from where I live in Halifax. Good wishes to you
in your next career. I just want to probe you on something before
we get down to the main questioning, Mr Tomlinson, Elizabeth Passmore
and David Taylor. This Committee sees itself as the conduit, if
you like, between your role as Chief Inspector, the Chief Inspectorate
and Parliament. This is the Committee to which you are answerable.
There is a feeling that when a new chief inspector is appointed
this Committee should have more of a role in assessing the candidates.
Do you think it would have been better if the process for appointing
the new inspector had been a bit more open, if we had known who
was on the shortlist and had made some input? Do you think a greater
openness is something we should have in appointing an inspector?
(Mr Tomlinson) As you know, Chairman, the arrangements
for the appointment of a chief inspector are a matter, of course,
for the Secretary of State and the arrangements are laid down.
The process is open in so far as it is an open competition: adverts
are placed and people are entitled to apply. There is a usual
procedure which surrounds any appointment of that nature within
the civil service. I do not think I can give you a simple answer
to your question about whether it would have been better. It would
have been different, that is for sure; whether it would have led
to a better process, a different outcome, I really cannot speculate.
2. But this is a committee of public scrutiny
and, indeed, the Clerk wrote to the DfES asking whether they would
write and ask the permission of all those people shortlisted,
so that we could know the quality and breadth of the shortlist,
but we have not had a positive reply on that.
(Mr Tomlinson) I equally cannot help you. I do not
know who was on the shortlist.
3. Can I ask David Taylor and Elizabeth Passmore,
would they have welcomed a more open process.
(Miss Passmore) The process was very clearly laid
down with the application details and, as an appointment that
stems from an Act of Parliament in the first place, it seemed
reasonable to me. I feel that it is obviously a parliamentary
matter, perhaps between this Committee and the Secretary of State
rather than OFSTED, because we have no role at all in making the
4. David Taylor?
(Mr Taylor) I have nothing to add to that.
5. I am not going to get anything out of you
on this. Right, we will get on to the main questioning. A very
interesting report, Mr Tomlinsonlights, shades, some continuing
problems, a sense that the earlier, easier achievementsnot
so easy but the earlier achievementsnow are going to get
tougher as we get higher levels of numeracy and literacy. But
there are some worryingly overall problems. One of the things
one could not help picking out of your report was this view that
comes through, rather in an explicit page, about student behaviour
and also non-attendance at school. Here we are at the start of
the second phase of the Education Bill going through the House
of Lords. Is there anything in terms of new legislation and amendment
to that Bill still going through Parliament which could improve
on either of those fronts: student behaviour and attendance? Is
there anything that you will suggest could be added to that Bill
to do something about this large number of condoned absences by
parents or about the misbehaviour of a small section of the school
(Mr Tomlinson) If I may focus immediately on behaviour.
As the report says, the position has not worsened in the last
year but, importantly, it has not improved either, so we do have
a situation where a relatively small minority of young people
in schools are bringing about quite a lot of disruption, not only
to their own education but, importantly, to those children in
the same class as they are. I think the one thing in the Bill
and amplified in the recent consultation document on 14-19, is
what is proposed to be done around the 14-19, particularly 14-16,
area. I think we have to accept that for some young people in
school at 14 what is on offer to them simply does not motivate
them, does not capture their imagination, does not draw them into
wanting to be in school at all. I think the possibility of having
more variety at 14-16, not least to having high quality, high
esteem vocational qualifications, is a positive step. Our own
work, published last year, looking at a small number of schools
who had moved to offer vocational provision for two days a week
during the ages of 14-16, showed clearly that where this provision
was good and it was organised between the school the local further
education college and employers as trainers then there was a notable
increase in the motivation of the young people concerned and improvement
in their attendance levels, not only during the two days but back
at school for the other three, and an increased motivation to
want to learn and be involved in the teaching back at school.
Equally important, their attainment at the end of key stage 4
as a consequence was higher than would be predicted from their
key stage 3 performance. Against a similar sample of young people,
twice as many wished and did remain in the education and training
post-16 than the comparable group that had not had the benefit
of that provision. So it leads us to think that a major opportunity
here exists within the 14-16 to offer young people opportunities
for studying not only in subject or vocational areas, but the
way that the courses are taught has a motivating factor. So I
think there is something there.
6. That is encouraging. All of us are in favour
of making school more liberating of the talents of young people
as well as more attractive for them to attend. But what I was
really pushing to ask is: Here we have a system where a large
number of parentsa small percentage but a large number
of parentskeep their children out of the educational system,
sometimes for long periods at a time, and some of them send their
children abroad for months, if not years. Is there not some system
that we could introduce in this country to put different penalties
on parents who do not send their children to school and collude
in their absence?
(Mr Tomlinson) I touched upon behaviour. I do have
to add, of courseand I said so in my reportthat
it is very difficult for schools to impose codes of behaviour
if, indeed, those codes are not supported by the parents or if
those codes are not part of the normal, expected behaviour of
those families or those communities.
7. But this is the last time we are going to
be seeing you and I am asking you: Should there be a change in
(Mr Tomlinson) I do not know what you would change
in the law. We already have, as far as attendance, the possibility
of taking parents to court if they are not ensuring that their
children get to school regularly and on time. There is also the
idea of extending in behaviour terms some of the orders that are
available at the moment. I cannot think of anything that the law
might do to add to that in order to ensure the attendance or good
behaviour of children. I cannot. I am not by profession a law
maker at all. I mean, I leave that to people who are far more
competent at that. Equally, what people tell me is that, even
with the laws that we have got, when you do take people to court
it does not result in the young people attending school again
and you find the young people are not paying the fine or are unable
to pay the fine. I do not know how you break into it, I must admit
to you. What is, I think, clear is that in schools where these
two issues are tackled with considerable consistency and vigour
with the support of parents, they are not the same problems as
in some schools where they are not tackled with the same vigour.
So there is a role for school, but I think we have got to accept
that at the end of the day we have got to seek to get more parents
supportive of education and perceive its value and we have got
to have better parenting.
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Tomlinson. We are now
going to move to more general questioning and Meg Munn will lead
the questioning on this item.
8. I wanted to look at the overall purpose of
the report and how useful it can be to government, policy makers,
etc. We have had a number of pieces of evidence, or whatever you
want to call it,. from organisations about the report. One criticism
which comes from the Local Government Association is that the
report gives insufficient attention to underlying causes of issues
and possible solutions and hence is of limited value to policy
makers. How would you respond to that?
(Mr Tomlinson) I would respond by saying that I think
it is a point worth looking atand I am sure my successor
will want tobut I think a second point is that the report
is intended to be a summary for parliament of the work that has
been carried out by OFSTED over the year and the major issues
that that work brings forward. Underneath this, of course, are
much more detailed reports. When the Local Government Association
said what it says, I think it should also reflect that for each
of the local education authorities inspected, for example, there
is a very detailed report and a great deal more data supplied
to the local education authority which is not within that report
which does look, for those circumstances, at the underlying causes
of whatever is happening there. I do think the criticism is somewhat
unfair, in that there is the greater depth of information within
the individual report. Looking across the report, for example,
as a whole, none of it has the detail that the individual underpinning
reports have. Whether they are school reports, local education
authority reports, teacher training reports and the like, they
have got the detail and, of course, importantly, at the local
level. That is where it matters most because the problems are
not the same in different contexts.
9. Is there a role either within the report
or within another report to try to pull that together? While individual
circumstances may relate to one area, presumably there must be
some common themes across.
(Mr Tomlinson) Yes.
10. Do you see that as part of OFSTED's role
to try and pull that together and have influence on legislation
and policy at government level?
(Mr Tomlinson)Yes, I do. Again, you
are sticking with the Local Government Association and their comments.
We have published two reports and there is a third in the pipeline.
The first was a summary of all the evidence of the inspection
of the first 97 or thereabouts reports which drew out a lot of
these issues. We published a separate one on just the London local
education authorities and, of course, having finished the cycle
of inspections of all authorities by December of last year, we
are pulling together a report that looks at all 150. So we do.
I always regard it as important that we share as much information
with our partners and stakeholders as we can and, equally, we
share information with the department itself and, indeed, with
other departments about the implications for policy or practice
12. Moving that down to a lower level, asking
a fundamental question about inspection looking at it from the
school's perspective, is inspection in your view about maintaining
the accountability of teachers and other staff involved in the
school in terms of the national curriculum and the other policies
that are around teacher training requirements, or is it more about
supporting and enabling schools to help children achieve?
(Mr Tomlinson) I think it is both and I think the
emphasis is moving. I think the proposals on which we have been
consulting for inspection put somewhat greater emphasis on the
use of the inspection as a tool for improving what is being done.
But at the same time it also has to give to parents a clear picture
of the state of the school either to which they have their children
already or are thinking of sending their children. So it has to
serve a number of purposes. But I think the balance has moved
a little, and no doubt will move a little further with the new
system, to a point of being more helpful in terms of improvementbut
no less rigorous, because you cannot improve unless you know where
you need to act to improve. So it has to be rigorous and analytical
but it is more a matter of how you do it than what you do, and
it is also a matter of how you then represent what you have found.
13. I would like to talk about the LEA inspections
very briefly. In my own LEAand I am not sure if it has
been inspectedwe have a particular problem about secondary
school transfer. Every single year the authority looks at it and
bats a few schools places from one village to another. It happens
each year. It causes great agitation in the villages that appear
to me to have been disadvantages. Do you check LEAs for secondary
school transfer rules and, further on from that, do you ever suggest
that school places in total might be looked at for a particular
(Mr Tomlinson) We do look at admissions policies and
the way in which they operate and all our local education authority
reports have reference to that. We are also at the moment bringing
together a report across a sample of local authorities on admissions
policies and the issues that they raise, which, of course, going
back to what was raised previously, I hope will be an important
document in terms of the thinking both at local and national level.
So, yes, we do look at it, we do report on it at the individual
LEA level, but I think there is an important job to be done by
OFSTED looking across the piece at admissions policies and the
way they operate.
14. Turning to nursery education. I wrote a
letter to you last Friday.
(Mr Tomlinson) Yes, I have it with me.
15. I am disappointed not to have had a reply!
(Mr Tomlinson) I am still striving to be satisfactory.
16. I jest about that, of course. I remember
asking you the last time we met about nursery and OFSTED inspection
and you said to me "a light touch". I had a group at
my surgery last week and they said to me it was "Gestapo
like"not my words, their words. One lady whom I
have known for donkey's years, who provides
excellent service locally and is well regarded, she was in tears
after eight hours of this. It seems to me that is not a light
touch. I just wonder whether the light touch message has not got
down from you, through the team, to the practitioners at grass
roots level. I know that has not appeared in your report but it
might appear in the next one.
(Mr Tomlinson) Of course I shall respond fully to
your letter in due course. On the issue of light touch, I do believe
that that is understood by the senior managers and those who manage
the programme of visits and so on. I will not go into detail here
but the point is that there is a job to be done in terms of looking
at how the operation is carried out. I think we know the case
specifically that you are talking about. If I am correctand
I may well not bethat operation has a seven-hour day, which
almost puts it, of course, akin to full-day care (though it does
not say that about itself). In the local authority that it was
in before, a full-day care inspection would be two inspectors
for two days. A full-day care inspection from OFSTED is one inspector
for one day. I think that is a somewhat lighter touch.
Chairman: I want to move to teacher training,
recruitment and retention.
17. The 1999-2000 report highlighted concern
about teacher recruitment and retention. Of course in the following
year, last summer particularly, there was a lot of comment in
the press that this was getting worse. From your observations
from the new report, do you think teacher recruitment and retention
and the problems therein have been tackled yet? Are there any
signs of attempts to tackle it or to improve the situation?
(Mr Tomlinson) I think undoubtedly the Government
has taken steps to try to improve recruitment into initial teacher
training and the results last year indicated success in that direction.
Equally, the early indications this year are also positivethough
we continue, I think, in fairness, to have difficulties in attracting
sufficient candidates into certain shortage subjects, but those
have been shortage subjects for a long, long time. That does not
make us complacent, it is merely putting the horizon a little
further back. So I think we are improving that. The problem, of
course, is much more about retaining teachers than in recruiting
them into initial teacher training, important though that is.
I continue to be concerned about the proportions which either
do not finish the PGCE or do and then do not go into teaching
or the proportion that does go into teaching but does not stay
much beyond three/four years. Those proportions are high and worryingly
high. In the report I have indicated the sorts of reasons that
teachers have been giving me for why they think they would or
are about to leave. I do not think there are any quick fixes.
I do not think anyone should be under any illusion that there
is some magic wand that can be immediately waved and we have got
the number of teachers. I think our head teachers, in fairness,
have done an incredible job over the last months in seeking to
ensure that every one of their classes has a teacher. They, of
course, say that in doing that they are concerned about the numbers
of people who apply for particular posts; increasingly they are
concerned about the number who will not apply for more senior
management posts in schools.
18. What is the reason for that?
(Mr Tomlinson) At head of department level the common
statement is that they do not really think they want to do the
job with all the administrative burden and the demands that are
being made upon them in various forms. They are also concerned
that the number of applicants for posts is much reduced compared
with the past. We hear that. The reality, of course, is that you
only need one good one, in simple terms. But there is an increasing
problem. Of course they are also relying quite heavily on supply
teachers in a number of cases, which, if managed well, does not
necessarily mean a big problem but, if not managed well, can mean
quite severe problems for the pupils concerned and, indeed, for
the school as a whole. David, would you like to add anything to
the position as we see it?
(Mr Taylor) No. You have said it.
19. We are struggling to get David to speak
this morning. We will find an area!
(Mr Tomlinson) I will conspire with you, Chairman.