Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



Valerie Davey

  100. I was interested that your commentary ends with identifying certain factors which you wish to look at in the near future and the first of those, interestingly to me, is the care and development of children 0-6. Can you tell me what the significance is now of 0-6?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes. Up to six is essentially the period where the foundation curriculum finishes and the next stage of the national curriculum comes into place. It also represents for most young children the point at which they will have spent some time in formal schooling as distinct from other forms of child care and education. What we are wanting to do is to ask ourselves and see if we can find answers to some fairly interesting questions. Does it make a difference to the child's development and educational attainment at the end of the foundation stage that they have had early child care and education? Does it matter what sort they have? Importantly, we want to look at the very tightly defined area. Is it getting to the children and parents who most need that support or are parents and children taking advantage of it? What are the obstacles to that? There is a whole set of interesting questions there that, with our responsibility now for child care, we are able to look at when we were not able to before. It will be planned within OFSTED and we hope the exercise will start later this year.

  101. I am delighted to hear your reference to and obvious approval of the foundation stage because I think that has been key. In your further progress, I am sure you will look back at the select committee's report on early years.
  (Mr Tomlinson) The foundation curriculum is a document which I find universally praised by teachers and practitioners alike in all settings. They think it is an excellent way of looking at and delivering the development of young children.

  102. I am sure it will impact on the attainment of young people, as was generally accepted would the numeracy and literacy courses. That has been a highlight over the last years. At the moment however the attainment appears to be tailing off or plateauing. Have you concern about that? In mathematics in particular perhaps there is a plateauing. What should we do, do you think?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes, I am concerned, but I am equally realistic about how long improvement can be sustained without taking a breather. The research, limited though it is, interestingly suggests that you can keep up this improvement for about three years before you need to take a breather and start again. If you look at our reports on numeracy and literacy, that sample of schools that we have been following has applied to it a series of tests of children coming up to the key stage two test—in other words, in years four and five. That test is administered for us by the NFER. The pupils in years four and five were performing better than their counterparts previously. The feeling is that the improvement is happening down below and will begin to feed through. What we have to be realistic about is that we cannot have continuous leaps in performance. What is important over the years is that the trend is upwards. One could say one percentage point, I might suspect, lies within the error of marking anyway, but that would not be a welcome thing to say.

  103. As you know, some reports have suggested that that might indeed be the case. The wider concern however is that pressure in numeracy and literacy tends to push out some of the wider curricular activities and it is that area I want to ask about. What about the wider issues and getting young people prepared for life generally? What about the life skill of swimming, as you would expect me to ask, to which I cannot find a reference in your report? As you know, that is a completely measurable skill. 25 metres swum safely and without aid. Are you going to offer me a separate report in which I will find those facts and figures?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Not at this point in time but I will most certainly make sure that my successor is aware of what you are interested in and seeks to provide you with it in future so that we have some comparison of what progress has been made since last time. The issue of maintaining the broader balanced curriculum that everyone supports—I draw attention to it in the section on primary and indicate where some of the squeezes are beginning to appear in some schools—we are coming to the end of an inspection exercise undertaken by HMI which has been looking in detail at how schools manage the primary curriculum to try and resolve these tensions. If I am right, the publication will be May/June time. What it does already indicate is that there are some schools who are managing by very innovative ways of organising their curriculum and time to be able to keep the broader balanced curriculum without jeopardising the emphasis on literacy and numeracy. We have to learn how they are doing it and see how well we can support the others to adopt these or other strategies to help to maintain that broad, balanced curriculum.

  104. From my constituency and a specific school within it which has looked after autistic children remarkably well on an individual basis and are being asked, because of their experience, to do it with others, I want to make sure that they do not lose out and that the added value is recognised. I think you have indicated that but they would want me to take this opportunity to say that they want to do that work but they do not want to lose out in the OFSTED inspection result.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I sincerely hope they will not, given the way in which I anticipate the reporting of achievement will move.

  Mr Shaw: In response to Mr Chaytor, you said that there was not a sufficient number of different faith schools to provide reliable information about whether they were providing good value as opposed to other areas. You looked at five colleges out of more than 400 and we have both barrels from the Education Minister at the colleges last week in The Independent, saying that they were threatened with closure. All this is based on five colleges. You did say later on that you looked at a further 18 and most of those were performing pretty satisfactorily. Is it now colleges? Are we going back in time? Is this deja vu to the macho era that we saw for schools? Are colleges now the target of OFSTED and the Education Department?


  105. Are you picking on FE colleges, Mr Tomlinson?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No. In the new inspection arrangements, we are focusing very clearly and explicitly on the quality of teaching going on in colleges—it was not given the same focus previously that we are giving it—and on the quality of management at various levels in the institutions. Since the report covers the work up to the end of the summer term 2001, which is why only five are included, we have inspected a further 63. The data now show that of those 63, ignoring the five, between eight and nine per cent are regarded as inadequate and between 10 and 11 per cent have a grade for management which is below the satisfactory mark. We continue to have about ten per cent of teaching which is less than satisfactory across those 63 as well and of course there is a matter of retention rates and the like. The issues therefore in here have not changed.

Mr Shaw

  106. You think five was accurate?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, it was not accurate.

  107. That is what ministers picked up on. Did you have any discussion with ministers prior to press reports on 7 March about the reliability and accuracy of the data contained within your report as providing a sufficient reflection of how colleges are performing?
  (Mr Taylor) We met regularly with the minister responsible for further education throughout the period from the issue of the first five reports. We flagged to her very clearly that in our view that was an unrepresentative sample were it to be used in the annual report. Over the last six months, those further meetings have clarified the emerging picture from the 29 reports which have now been published and the 39 which have still to be published, so that on 7 March that minister was fully briefed about the picture which we had obtained about further education from all those colleges. She was not therefore in any way dependent only on the five reports which were mentioned in the annual report and which Mike has indicated were the only ones we carried out during the academic year covered by that report. I do think it is quite interesting that, on the one hand, one of the programmes of inspection that I have been responsible for has been accused of being soft and soggy and the other one has been accused of being macho. It may be that we are treading the path between the Scylla of leniency and the Charybdis of rigour in an astute and political way.

  108. Assembling a team to inspect some of the large further education colleges, I think you need some 40 people. Are all your inspectors qualified?
  (Mr Taylor) They are.

  109. They all have at least a certificate of education? What would you describe as qualified?
  (Mr Taylor) Qualified would not be whether they have a teaching certificate. The qualifications for inspectors are a combination of successful teaching experience, leadership experience in the key roles within colleges acquired over a number of years so we both assess and train all inspectors whether they are our full time inspectors or the occasional, additional inspectors whom we employ. They are big teams and we accept there are considerable quality assurance issues for us.

  110. Is there a quality assurance programme in place for your inspectors?
  (Mr Taylor) Yes.

  111. Do you provide information about CVs? When you come in front of us we have your CVs and we know who you are and what you have done. Do you provide that sort of information about the inspectors for the colleges?
  (Mr Tomlinson) We have not provided the detail but where some colleges ask information is conveyed to them.

  112. If a college says, "We would like to know", in terms of transparency—?
  (Mr Tomlinson) In many cases, the additional inspectors are drawn from the colleges and are practitioners at the moment. We have on secondment to us a number of people from colleges to work with us on our inspections. There is always a quality assurance issue but I believe that in a mix with permanent staff, not only our permanent staff but also the permanent staff of the Adult Learning Inspectorate—because they are joint inspections. The inspection of their work based training indicates that more than half of it is judged less than satisfactory.

  113. Do you think on reflection that there has been a very negative conclusion about further education colleges from these five inspections on which the press reports were based? You do not think failing colleges could be closed for poor results when it is only based on five?
  (Mr Tomlinson) The minister concerned did not base her speech last week on five. She based it on a larger sample as a result of the continued dialogue we have with her. We have to face the fact that even taking the 63 in addition we are talking about ten per cent of our colleges near enough that are inadequate. I am not going to be complacent. That is not good enough.
  (Mr Taylor) Within the first batch that has been published, there have been some outstanding colleges, both sixth form and general FE, and those reports give full credit to significant achievements across the board.

  Chairman: No Member of this Committee wants you to be soft where you find fault.

Paul Holmes

  114. You have looked at 63 colleges.
  (Mr Tomlinson) 68 if you put the five in.

  115. 10 to 11 per cent of them have a management at below satisfactory level. Would you say management at the level of departmental heads who deliver the subject or are you saying that the main cause is with management as in principal and corporation with the board of governors?
  (Mr Taylor) One of the features of the new inspection framework is that we have asked our inspectors to take a broad view about leadership at all levels within colleges. We feel that there was some tendency to focus excessively on the role of the principal or the vice principal and top management team. In our view, with a focus that our inspections have on the quality of learning, the leadership provided at departmental level is absolutely critical to the success of an institution. One of the factors which is contributing to some of those unsatisfactory grades is inconsistency or unevenness of management across the piece. We are not saying that this college is full of bad managers, but in order to evaluate the leadership and management properly you need to ask: is that leadership and management at all levels operating in a way which is leading to successful student outcomes since the inspections are above all about whether the learners are getting the educational deal they should be getting. Where that is not happening, we are throwing up a higher proportion of unsatisfactory leadership than was previously coming through.

  116. Have you picked up any particular problem at colleges in general where the strategic steer given by the corporation and board of governors is the root of the problem?
  (Mr Taylor) In some cases, there are some generic issues around the governance and especially financial management of colleges which was a problem we were aware we were inheriting. We are not talking about widespread, very dramatic cases of the kind that perhaps propelled us into this activity, but there are issues about the corporate management in some of these colleges.

  117. Do you think there is any evidence or any recommendation you might eventually make that we need to look at the way corporations, boards of governors, are selected or self-appointed in terms of the quality of the board of governors that sometimes throws up?
  (Mr Taylor) When we are analysing the first year's reports—and there will be a major section in next year's annual report to supplement the very thin section on FE colleges this year—next year we will report in some detail about FE. We will have done a quarter of all the colleges and issues around governance are certainly going to feature within that report.
  (Mr Tomlinson) It might also raise the issue of management training at all levels, personnel and further education.

  118. FE colleges have a more vital role to play in our national, regional and local framework. Our regional economy is being held back because of a vocational skills shortage. What we must not have is colleges of FE being whipping boys. We must give them the encouragement to improve so that they do the business that we require.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I entirely agree.

Valerie Davey

  119. I think Mike Tomlinson did indicate at the very beginning that there is a change of emphasis on the future of inspection. Within the school inspection now, there is an element for the self-evaluation school. Could you comment on the outcome which that has brought to light and how important that is now in changing the whole structure of inspection for you?
  (Miss Passmore) The position of school self-evaluation is already changing rather than waiting until we make changes in 2003. The work we have done previously has shown that schools have not been very good at conducting evaluations that are useful, accurate and so on. From January this year, we have changed the format of one of the forms that schools are asked to complete. It used to be called "The Head Teachers Statement" and we have changed the structure of it so that it is an assessment of the school. It asks the head teacher—and we hope it is shared with others in the school—to assess various features but also to give us the evidence about how do you know. Instead of just telling us that something is good, we ask the person who is providing that information to tell us how they know it is good. We are looking at further guidance that we can issue as we do not want there to be vast numbers of different forms of evaluation required. The very last thing we would want to do is to come along with something which is required in a particular format from schools who have been doing things separately. We want to build on the training materials we have already produced that schools are using that are linked with our existing framework; to develop the existing form 4 so that it is a more considered document and more helpful to the school and inspectors and to have further guidance available that will also be worked on with the Department for Education and Skills, ready for the changes in 2003.

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