Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH 2002
80. It can start off that way but are we not
in danger of almost imperceptibly moving to a situation where
you do create a divide between two classes of schools: those who
have the special status and those who do not have the special
status. Our country is not known for a good record in terms of
that sort of divide.
(Mr Tomlinson) It could create a divide. I am bothered
about any school, whatever its designation, that is not providing
its pupils with a high quality education. The designation is not
important; the issue is are they providing a high quality education.
If they are not, I am concerned, OFSTED is concerned and in the
worst cases those schools find themselves in special measures
that have to be dealt with and are being dealt with successfully.
While there is any pupil or school that is not being given that
high quality education, I then feel very unhappy and very uncomfortable,
as I have said on public platforms.
81. We are not very far in measuring alternative
added value. I visited Stile Common School in my constituency
fairly recently. They work in a very difficult area achieving
a great deal for their pupils and they are judged only on the
test results that are then applied. The lack of a value added
measure outside that undermines the morale of the teachers in
that school. What are you going to do about an alternative value
added measure as an inspectorate?
(Mr Tomlinson) As an inspectorate, you can look at
the work in a school which is not measurable and report upon it
and we do. We can strengthen that in the new system. I do agree
with you about value added. People in OFSTED at the moment are
working on the first national data which we have available which
allows us to move to a value added system. You are right; schools
have had such data and local education authorities have had such
data, but the fact is we have not had pupil level data nationally
which has enabled us to create value added scores nationally.
I am clear in my mind that I would not want a single value added
score for a school. That would be no better than what we have
now. What I think is necessary and what people in OFSTED are working
on is the possibility of a small group of value added measures
which could accurately define the progress made by major groups
of pupils within the school. For example, I would want a value
added score for pupils who had been in that school throughout
the two points of measurement, whether it is for one or two key
stages, because this is an important matter where you have high
mobility. I would want, if I could get it, a value added score
for those pupils who had joined the school midway between assessment.
That may be more difficult, depending on what data they bring
with them. I would want a value added score for pupils with special
educational needs so that we can properly recognise and celebrate
the work of some of our schools who do a tremendous job with the
support of parents, carers, non-teaching staff and the like. You
might want a value added score because in that school there is
a high proportion of pupils of African Caribbean heritage. You
need a profile to talk about the way in which the school is progressing
the education and achievements of its major groups. A single score
would hide all those important achievements and differences. That
is what I would hope the inspection system would move to. I think
it will next year.
82. The government wants secondary schools to
reach 25 per cent GCSEs, A*-C. In the light of what you have said,
do you think it is going to be possible for all schools to reach
that? Particularly I am thinking of the county I come from in
Kent, where we have the selective system at 11. We have some secondary
moderns, because that is what they effectively are, with 60 per
cent special needs and there is one school in the east of the
county where no one reached that A*-C. Do you think it is possible
for those schools to reach 25 per cent in the near future?
(Mr Tomlinson) Probably, given what you have just
said, one would hypothesise no. The issue is whether that is the
right measure by which you want to move pupils and schools forward.
I am not saying anything here that I have not made clear to people
in the department.
83. Would you agree that it is questionable
and undermining for a school in such circumstances to be measured
against a grammar school that has selected 25 per cent of its
most able children?
(Mr Tomlinson) Yes. This is the importance of value
added because it is progress from where pupils are to where you
have taken them. That is what is going to be very interesting.
What happens in performance terms when you do have value added,
whether those currently at the top of the performance tables add
as much value as some who might be lower down the table. It is
a very interesting question to which we do not know the answer
but we will soon. We need more comprehensive, more rounded measures
of what we think is school achievement and improvement and that
goes beyond the measure that is currently employed.
84. But not bog standard?
(Mr Tomlinson) I do not think any of our
85. There has been for a long time huge concern
about the gap between different schools and schools in inner city
areas and so forth. We have had from various governments all sorts
of initiatives: the national curriculum, key stage tests, league
tables, specialist schools, OFSTED inspections and yet, in your
latest report at paragraph 61 you say, "The gap between the
highest performing schools and the lowest performing schools continues
to widen." If the gap is getting worse at the end of all
these initiatives, including OFSTED inspections, does that not
imply that all these initiatives have failed in what they set
out to do?
(Mr Tomlinson) That applies to secondary schools.
In the case of primary schools, the gap is being closed quite
significantly. In primary, we are managing to find ways and means
of narrowing that gap. It has been a considerable pleasure to
me over the last two years in my annual reports that the proportion
of schools at the front of that report contains a disproportionate
number from what we might call the lower socio-economic groups
as indicated by free school meals. I think secondary schools represent
a huge issue, one that the government is well aware of and is
seeking to tackle. Excellence in Cities is one which is showing
signs of helping narrow that gap but there can be no doubt that
that is one of the big issues we face at secondary, the gap, and
it is widening.
86. If the gap is widening, how can something
like the specialist schools initiative do anything but widen that
gap further? If, for example, within a city one school becomes
specialist with the extra money, the extra status, the ability
to select and two or three other schools within that area are
not specialist, surely the gap will widen even further?
(Mr Tomlinson) It could. I am more optimistic that
in some local education authorities where this issue is being
thought of there is emerging more coherent planning and trying
to avoid that situation. There are some interesting ideas being
developed at the moment in this context in Birmingham, for example,
that are well worth looking at in terms of the way they want to
move forward, but it is a risk. It is not just a matter of specialist
schools. For me, we need to look at the way in which we approach
target setting at the school level and at the local education
authority level because if we are going to narrow gaps we are
not going to do it with system wide initiatives. We are going
to do it by tackling the cause of that gap. Given time, I could
illustrate what I mean if you wanted but it is important that
we have more refined means of tackling the issues in the context
in which they arise, rather than believing that we can have a
one size fits all solution.
87. Can I introduce this by reverting to the
question of absenteeism? Accepting that some parents may choose
to condone absenteeism because they want the support at home of
an older child, for instance, to what extent do you think absenteeism,
whether condoned or not, is really pupils voting with their feet
against bad schools?
(Mr Tomlinson) In some cases, it is. In some instances
by the age of 14 pupils have decided that school holds nothing
for them. It does not motivate them. It is not capturing their
imagination and so on. Yes, they do vote with their feet.
88. To what extent?
(Mr Tomlinson) I do not know. Nobody asks the pupils.
89. That is extraordinary. When you inspect
a school, you do not ask the pupils?
(Mr Tomlinson) Remember, it has been a matter of some
controversy in certain quarters. We are intending that in the
new inspection regime we shall seek the views of pupils. We do
not systematically seek the views of pupils at the moment. We
do however talk to groups of pupils. First, a group whose work
the team is looking at and you talk to pupils during lunch times,
break times, sometimes in lessons, but it is difficult in those
circumstances to be sure you have a representative view of pupils.
From September 2003, we will be asking pupils for their views
at secondary level.
90. On improving schools, I would like to focus
particularly on the role of the local education authority because
I see from your report that you say, "Most LEAs perform the
majority of their functions satisfactorily. There is a great deal
of unsatisfactory practice and improvement is from a low base."
You found 23 local education authorities to be unsatisfactory
of which five have now come out of that position; perhaps others
are on the way. Would you like to identify what processes have
enabled them to move from that unsatisfactory position, in particular
distinguishing the very different processes that I think the government
is requiring of different local authorities?
(Mr Tomlinson) The one fundamental feature of authorities
that are in difficulties is the corporate governance at the heart
of the local authority, the effectiveness and unanimity of purpose
of elected members and professional officers. Where that begins
to break down, its impact is all pervasive in terms of the services
and the quality of those services. Where the local authorities
that were in the position of not being very good have improved,
the one thing they dealt with first of all is that particular
issue. They have been able then to talk to the schools and the
like about the new vision, the new direction, the determination
and the like. For example, Liverpool have done that. Barnsley
did that very effectively as well. The core issue is that one.
91. A government policy that requires a local
education authority to out-source the management of its education
function alone is not, in your view, hitting the button?
(Mr Tomlinson) It may be. That is at the moment the
one service that has the capacity to be out-sourced. For example,
in Islington, there are signs of improvement within the education
service. The issue is that once you have done that how well do
all the other services coalesce with education because you cannot
see it as a single entity. Some of the children we have been talking
about need a coordinated effort of not only the education service
but social services, sometimes housing and the like. These have
to work together and this is a corporate issue about how you do
that. At the moment, the jury is out on how successful some of
the interventions have been. We reported on Islington and said
there were signs of it improving but we have not yet gone back
to others with out-source provision to say how effectively that
is working. For example, we have not been back yet to places like
Bradford or Leeds.
92. Or Hackney and Southwark.
(Mr Tomlinson) We have been back to Hackney.
93. Why has it not worked?
(Mr Tomlinson) If you look at our report, it went
back to the fact that, while the education services were beginning
to show signs of improvement under the previous chief education
officer, the fact was that the problems at the corporate centre
still remain and they were inhibiting the improvement.
94. Would it help if we did away with this term
which in a sense ghettoises the whole issue of education, "local
education authority?" We do not talk about a local social
services authority, after all.
(Mr Tomlinson) No, but we do talk about local social
services. Whether we are playing with semantics I am not sure.
95. It is a means of pushing off education into
an administrative, managerial ghetto.
(Mr Tomlinson) That applies to any service in a local
authority potentially. The issue is across all of them that if
those silos are maintained it becomes very difficult to operate
where you want coordinated services to bear upon a particular
issue. That is one of the big challenges for local authorities,
to get services coordinated in such a way that they are there,
together when needed, in a timely and effective fashion.
96. You have given a number of examples of areas
where local authorities, for instance 40 per cent, are unsatisfactory
in combatting racism and you say many have ignored advice under
best value reviews to review the worst first. Could you, after
this meeting, list for the benefit of the Committee the authorities
to which you are referring in each of these categories in the
(Mr Tomlinson) Not at this point. I could supply the
information about which authorities fall into those categories,
Mr Turner: That would be very helpful. Thank
97. The future of education action zones has
been limited by the government. I represent a governing body in
my area which has been part of a very successful education action
zone. What strategy do you think the government needs to put in
place to make sure that the very effective success rates that
there have been in education action zones will continue without
the EAZ funding in future?
(Mr Tomlinson) The EAZ funding was always a limited
funding scheme. It was never seen as long term, for ever and a
day. Some of the requirements of the initial bid were about how
the local authority would in the long term integrate the work
of the education action zone into its normal work. We do not have
a good history of that happening. In fact, we have a poor history
about integrating schemes back into the mainstream. We need to
pick up on the very best initiatives and practices that have been
found in those EAZs and if there are patterns emerging, improving
attendance and improving motivation, people in the local education
authority ought to want to pick up on those and incorporate them
if they are getting over some of the major issues that we are
facing. I recognise there may be for some a cash issue about that
and that comes down to the priorities that the authority as a
whole wants to give to different aspects of its responsibilities
and budget. Equally, there has been much more expansion of excellence
in cities which is gradually incorporating the EAZs as well. Therefore,
it is not automatic that as the EAZ finishes so does the impetus
of the money.
98. From my perspective, the level of success
that has been achieved in education action zones far outweighs
specialist schools, for example.
(Mr Tomlinson) If you look at our report on EAZs,
while there are individual examples, the general picture is not
one of showing that they have been anything like as successful
as excellence in cities. There are notable exceptions to that,
99. 300 per cent increase in A-Cs?
(Mr Tomlinson) Not many have shown the levels of success
hoped for. There may be all sorts of reasons for that. It may
not be a matter of bad policy.