Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



Mr Chaytor

  60. Earlier, you described your report as a summary for Parliament but to what extent do you see it as advice for government?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do see it as advice for government. In the commentary particularly I have sought to draw attention to some of the major issues which I think deserve government attention. Those are selective in that it is a commentary but within the body of the report and within the reports themselves which underpin that there is a great deal of advice that is available to the government and in some cases additional advice is offered whether or not it is asked for.

  61. If I could pursue the process whereby the advice is given in respect of specialist schools, your section ten reports took place during 2000-01. Your full report on specialist schools was published in October last year and your annual report for 2000-01 was published in February 2002, by which time there had been a Green Paper advocating expansion of specialist schools, an election manifesto advocating expansion of specialist schools and a White Paper advocating the expansion of specialist schools. Is there not an issue here as to the timing of your advice because by the time you have given your advice the policy has already been fixed?
  (Mr Tomlinson) There is always a risk of things being out of synch in that sense but at the point at which this was published it was quite possible—it did in fact happen—that one briefed the Secretary of State on the findings of that report and the issues that it was raising. Notably, we drew particular attention to, in a number of colleges, the failure to develop that community sharing aspect of the specialist character. That is something which the Secretary of State and other ministers concerned, and indeed officials, have been working on to see how that can be strengthened.

  62. That was still after the general expansion of specialist schools had been agreed and consolidated in the manifesto and White Paper.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes, it was. That is a political decision to which I am not party. All I can offer is, when I see that—

  63. What are the processes whereby you offer advice to the departments once you have the evidence?
  (Mr Tomlinson) It goes through two routes. Any report such as the one on the specialist schools programme is shared with the department and ministers in advance so that they are aware of it and know what it is going to be saying. They may in some cases, as they did with this, ask for a meeting to discuss it more fully. In the case of specialist schools, there was a full meeting with the minister of state, officials from DfES, the trust and ourselves. There is that sort of discussion and then the publication of the report. There are also separate cases where we do not have a formal report but evidence is accumulated and either the Secretary of State, ministers or indeed officials might say, "Do you have information or evidence about X?" or I may decide that, as the evidence is accumulating, my people say that this is becoming an issue and I will then make a judgment on whether I think it is something which we should alert ministers to or is there something we can put in by way of a brief paper that would help them. In the case of specialist schools, since that is the focus of your question, we do have an HMI who spends part of his time within the department specifically advising on visiting specialist schools so there is a constant stream of information coming through as a result of that individual's work.

  64. What about the number ten policy unit? Is there a similar relationship with advice given to the number ten policy unit?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes, where it asks.

  65. How often does it ask?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I have meetings with them probably once every six weeks or two months, something like that. Sometimes we may go with issues which are of concern to us or they will but I do not go with papers or ideas that I have not already made known to the Secretary of State. I am not undertaking a separate report.


  66. Why do you make that particular point?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think it is my proper duty to make sure that the Secretary of State knows what the chief inspector is offering as advice in those circumstances. It is just proper behaviour. I do not make any point but simply that is the way I believe I should operate.

Mr Chaytor

  67. Could I pursue the issue of your conclusions on the performance of specialist schools and ask are you content that the conclusions you have drawn about the performance of the different categories of specialist schools were accurately represented in the White Paper. Here, your report about the performance of A-C and A-G is slightly more equivocal than the wholehearted statement in the White Paper that all specialist schools across the board have a significant high levels of achievement.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Remember the data that we were using were in effect the year 2000 results and some 2001so further results have been obtained.

  68. Did those further results justify the different statement in the White Paper on performance?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I would have to check those data.

  69. Could you?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I will, yes, and respond to you.
  (Mr Taylor) My recollection was that there was a subsequent statement from the department which agreed that the initial figures had some error in them.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I believe there was a statement saying that but I would have to check.

  70. It would be helpful if you could.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Our report is clear that it is not universally the case that all specialist schools have better results. Notably, we point out where sports colleges do not have as good a set of results as others. Equally, it depends what you are comparing what with in order to make those comparisons.

  71. In respect of the major reservation that the report had about the specialist schools community role, do you think it is paradoxical that there are many schools that have a strong community involvement but they are not able to apply to become specialist community schools? Is there a paradox here? Do you think a 50 per cent target for specialist schools should be increased to include all schools? Ought there to be a special category of schools that have excellence in their community role?
  (Mr Tomlinson) As I understand it, though a target of 50 per cent has been stated, other statements have indicated that there would be a willingness to look at any school that applied for that status without strictly applying the 50 per cent target. If that is so, good in that, if schools feel that they want to and can take on this role and effectively discharge that role, that is fine.

  72. In terms of the process of policy advice and faith schools, has there been an equivalent OFSTED report into faith schools as there was in specialist schools and has that been made available to government?
  (Mr Tomlinson) There has not been the equivalent report, no, but we did look at the evidence from the section ten inspections about the performance of the faith schools. In terms of faith schools the only faith schools with sufficient numbers to make any reliable were the Church of England and Roman Catholic schools but there are other faith schools which are much smaller in number. We have made that analysis available to ministers.

Jeff Ennis

  73. One of the requirements to achieve specialist schools status at the present time is that they have to "raise unconditional private sector sponsorship of £50,000". In some of the more socially, economically deprived areas—for example, Doncaster—we had a secondary school last year which trawled all the local businesses and could only put together a package of about £20,000 so therefore it withdrew its bid for specialist schools status. How big a barrier do you think that is to the areas in this country that are economically and socially deprived in terms of achieving specialist schools status?
  (Mr Tomlinson) It can be a barrier. I can think of one I visited recently that is still struggling to raise that money but in every other sense it is wanting to operate very much in a specialist way. It is not only a matter of raising the money. Increasingly, it has been accepted that you would have services, goods, facilities in kind. Equally, the Technology Schools Trust has funds from industry, commerce and the like and can work with the school to help them get to the target they need to achieve. In many instances, that has been a very successful partnership, particularly in the sorts of areas that you are remarking on. The school I was in was in a similar area and it absolutely exhausted itself by trying to raise the money.

  74. Have you given advice to the government that there ought to be more flexibility over and above what you have already adumbrated, in terms of allowing the more economically and socially deprived areas to get specialist schools status?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes. It is part of the department's thinking now, how that can be done. It is part of transforming the secondary education programme that the department is managing and of which OFSTED is, where appropriate, a part.

  75. Turning specifically to the section in your report, you do make the remark that some types of specialist schools have achieved quite significantly improved records of achievement in terms of A* to C etc; whereas the sports colleges have not achieved more than the national average or, in some cases, less than the national average and yet, on the community involvement with all the funding that needs to be earmarked for specialist schools status is to improve liaison between schools. That has been a success in terms of what we have achieved in sports specialist schools and colleges. It appears to me that there needs to be some cross-fertilisation between the different types of specialist schools, not just between the schools within the pyramid of the specialist schools but also between the different types of specialist schools because of the varying level of success that has been achieved. Have you any comments?
  (Mr Tomlinson) You are right about sharing. Increasingly, that sharing is taking place through various mechanisms. I can think of one group of colleges who meet regularly. It is a self-created group because they have common interests; others where the Technology Colleges Trust brings groups together and so on; and in local areas there is that sharing as well. You raise a much more fundamental question when you compare the fact that one school is successful in its community work and another successful by its 5A*-C measures. It raises an enormously important issue about the way we report upon and measure a school's achievements. I allude to this in my annual report. I think it is difficult to fully reconcile an inclusion policy, which I entirely support and the vast majority of schools that I come into contact with entirely support, within a way of reporting on the achievement of schools which identifies only some pupils in the school achieving a particular target. I do not think those targets are unimportant. We all know the importance of 5A-Cs providing a gateway to a whole range of options but the fact is that there are a lot of children in our schools who do not get to that, whose achievements are not recognised. That is not just amongst the measurable entities of our education because an awful lot of good education is undertaken in schools, is never measured and cannot be measured but it is vitally important to the individual's development.

  76. Do you think the cross-fertilisation and good practice between different types of specialist schools should be put on a formal setting or basis or should that just be left to the specialist schools?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not know quite what you mean by "a formal setting".

  77. Should it be part of the criteria?
  (Mr Tomlinson) It is. It is going to be strengthened, I suspect, but there is a general issue. What we need is much more attention to that sharing of different and potentially successful practice right across the board. It touches on another issue and whether or not you raise it is entirely up to you. We do find that teachers, head teachers, heads of departments involved with OFSTED inspection, who are going into other schools around the country, find that a hugely rewarding experience in terms of seeing how that school does that and there is a learning process there. There is a message that we have to find ways at individual teacher level and system level of getting more sharing of experiences and of good practice, more appreciation of the differences as well, because some things do not travel well. It is a big need.


  78. There are many people in the educational sector who have been asking for OFSTED to measure other things than just GCSE results and test results. Value added should have been something that you should have been concerned at a long time ago. A lot of individual schools and colleges have been at the forefront of trying to persuade the government and yourselves to measure value added and not only be dominated by this straightjacket of how well you are doing in exams. The government's favourite, fat, sexy number is 50 per cent whether it is pupils going into higher education or specialist schools as a target. There is a nightmare scenario where 50 per cent of specialist schools are the specialist schools with all that extra whatever and 50 per cent of them do not have. Do you not, as a chief inspector, worry about the 50 per cent because the cross-fertilisation that Jeff Ennis has been talking about is not really happening very well, is it? You said that in your annual report. It did not happen in the city technology colleges. When we went to Emanuel College in Gateshead, the sharing across the piece just had not happened. Are you not worried that we are going to end up with 50 per cent specialist schools that have and 50 per cent of non-specialist schools that have not and we are back into the old divide between the haves and have nots in education?
  (Mr Tomlinson) It depends what you mean by the haves and the have nots.

  79. I know exactly what I mean in terms of a good quality of education, a superior quality of education for the specialist schools and a less good in the non-specialist.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not accept that analysis. There are a lot of schools that are not specialist schools but they are providing a very high quality education comparable with any schools that are specialist. This is an option the school chooses to go into or does not go into. It does not follow that only our best schools, however you judge "best", are in the specialist schools category. They are not. A goodly number of specialist schools are in our inner city environments.

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