Select Committee on Education and Skills Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the National Union of Teachers (SQ10)

  I thought that it would be helpful if I sent you a letter setting out some questions which arise from the HMCI report for 2000-01. It is a detailed report and the questions set out below are not inclusive. There are other equally pertinent, questions that arise from the report.


  1.  In relation to the standards achieved by pupils, the report states that "in some key areas there has been little or no measurable progress" and that "the greatest improvements in standards have been achieved, in the main, in the schools with the lowest attainment". (Paragraph 1)

    —  How sustainable does HMCI think continual improvement in the rates of pupil attainment for all schools is?

    —  What further measures does HMCI think are necessary in order to reach the Government's Key Stage 2 targets, for 2002 and beyond?

  2.  The report notes a reduction of standards of reading at the end of Key Stage 2 "reflecting the reduced attention given to the teaching of reading comprehension". (Paragraph 4)

    —  Does HMCI think that this finding is related in any way to the improvement in standards of writing this year?

  3.  The report states that the National Numeracy Strategy (NNS) "has had only limited impact on standards this year". (Paragraph 5)

    —  To what does HMCI attribute this finding?

  4.  The report comments that "achievement in all the other foundation subjects and religious education is good or better in fewer than four schools in 10". Geography and design and technology are identified as giving particular cause for concern. (Paragraphs 8-9) Later in the section, schools' "drive to improve performance in the national tests" is identified as a key factor in the finding that only one school in five is able to provide a curriculum which is "broad, exciting and challenges pupils". (Paragraphs 36-40)

    —  Does HMCI agree that the above findings provide firm evidence of an unacceptable narrowing of the primary curriculum, due to an over emphasis on end of Key Stage tests and results?

    —  Does HMCI think that any benefits associated with the end of Key Stage tests outweigh such disadvantages?

    —  How does HMCI think that primary schools should address the issue of curriculum breadth and balance as an entitlement for all primary pupils, given the difficulties of schools in managing the current curriculum requirements?

  5.  The report identifies continuing weaknesses in the monitoring and evaluation of teaching, in particular the quality of feedback to teachers and the limited deployment of leading or expert teachers. (Paragraphs 13-15)

    —  What does HMCI think are the main barriers to improvements in this area? What strategies would he suggest schools use to address this issue?

  6.  The report notes that the quality of teaching in both primary and secondary schools continues to improve and that the amount that is good or better has never been higher. (Paragraphs 21+, 98+)

    —  To what does HMCI attribute this improvement?

    —  Can he identify any particular initiatives or interventions which might have affected this improvement, or does he believe this finding might reflect schools' greater familiarity with and understanding of the inspection process?

  7.  The report comments that "teachers" planning is effective in most schools" although "extensive and over-elaborate planning still creates unnecessary pressure on teachers' time". (Paragraph 29)

    —  Given the finding in the PwC Teacher Workload report that "over-elaborate planning" was perceived by teachers as being driven by OFSTED, what steps does OFSTED intend to take to address this situation?

    —  Does HMCI agree that it would be both useful and timely for OFSTED to provide teachers with explicit guidance on what it considers to be "fit for purpose" planning?


  8.  The report is critical of the standards of achievement in ICT at both Key Stages 3 and 4 and finds that "three in ten schools at Key Stage 3 and almost half at Key Stage 4 do not meet statutory curriculum requirements" in relation to ICT. (Paragraph 68, 112)

    —  Would HMCI agree that the standards of pupil achievement in ICT and the ability of schools to comply with statutory curriculum requirements are very much dependent on the level of ICT resourcing in schools and the levels of teacher skills and confidence in the use of ICT, in particular, the levels of personal ICT access?

  9.  The report finds that pupil attendance and behaviour continue to cause concern, with detrimental effects upon both the effectiveness of schools and overall levels of attainment. (Paragraphs 77-80)

    —  Why does HMCI think that behaviour and attendance continue to be unsatisfactory overall?

    —  What does HMCI believe to be the effect of Government requirements to set targets for reducing exclusions and truancy on pupil behaviour?

    —  How does HMCI think that schools should address the issue of "unjustified absence condoned by parents"?

  10.  The report considers the effect of various funding streams on schools, including the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant, noting both positive and negative implications for schools. (Paragraphs 93-94)

    —  Would HMCI expand on the issues identified by inspectors, in particular, the problems associated with the conditions of EMAG and the finding that the diversity of funding streams has "over-stretched the capacity of some schools"?

    —  Could HMCI identify any funding streams which have been reported to be particularly problematic?

    —  What does HMCI believe are the implications of this finding for future Government policy?

  11.  The report states that one in five specialist schools does not achieve the aims of the Specialist Schools Programme and comments that this "is a disappointing use of opportunities and resources" (Paragraphs 147-153)

    —  What does HMCI believe are the implications of this finding for the current expansion of the Specialist Schools Programme?

    —  In HMCI's view, does the programme represent value for money?


  12.  The report notes that "colleges have generally made more progress in introducing the new key skills qualifications than schools" and that assessment requirements are problematic for many schools. In addition, students are found to be "not enthusiastic" about the key skills qualification. (Paragraphs 179, 185)

    —  In HMCI's opinion, what are the main difficulties associated with the key skills qualifications for school sixth forms?

    —  How does HMCI think key skills courses should be developed in the light of this finding?

  13.  The report outlines the new post-16 inspection arrangements resulting from the Learning and Skills Act 2000. (Paragraphs 188-189)

    —  How will OFSTED ensure that school sixth forms are not over-inspected, given that they will be subject to both Section 10 and post-16 area inspections?

    —  What role does HMCI envisage that Learning and Skills Councils will have for quality assurance in school sixth forms?


  14.  The preparation of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) is found not to be done well in many schools and in some cases "has developed into the production of lengthy and over-detailed documents". (Paragraph 242)

    —  Could HMCI expand on the problems associated with the writing of IEPs? In his opinion, what are the main drivers of these problems?

  15.  The section relating to PRUs is critical of the standards reached by most pupils and the breadth of the curriculum offered. (Paragraphs 250-264)

    —  To what extent does HMCI think that factors such as lack of resources and specialist teachers have contributed to these weaknesses?


  16.  The report highlights OFSTED's concerns about the proportion of schools with serious weaknesses which fail to make sufficient improvements and subsequently are found to require special measures. By contrast, schools in special measures and those which have been removed from special measures have generally shown continued improvement. (Paragraph 289-291)

    —  What measures does HMCI think could be taken to provide more effective support for schools with serious weaknesses?

  17.  The section on Education Action Zones (EAZs) identifies a number of successful aspects about the initiative, including the development of teachers' and pupils' skills and an Improvement in standards in zone primary schools. The report comments that "the outstanding issue for zones is to ensure that the useful work they have done is sustained when their funding ends". (Paragraphs 306-313)

    —  Given that the Government has stated that the EAZ initiative will not continue, how does HMCI think that zones will be able to sustain effective programmes?

    —  What lessons does HMCI think have been learnt from the EAZ initiative, in particular, issues related to educational sponsorship and central targeted funding?


  18.  The findings relating to the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), in particular, that trainees should have made greater progress during their training, give cause for concern, particularly as the programme is intended to recruit teachers in shortage subjects and those from under-represented groups. (Paragraphs 355-357)

    —  Would HMCI agree that the current requirements on schools relating to the GTP have not been adequately resourced and that the lack of necessary training and time needed by teachers to fulfil their responsibilities to trainees has had a significant effect on schools' abilities to comply with GTP requirements?

    —  What actions does HMCI believe need to be taken to strengthen the GTP?

  19.  The statement that "there are real problems in recruiting teachers and retaining them, and these have got worse over the past two years" is a cause for considerable concern. In particular, the findings that "over one in five NQTs leave the profession during their first three years in teaching" and "the more disadvantaged the school, the higher the percentage of teachers leaving the school" should be viewed with considerable alarm. In his commentary, HMCI identifies four major reasons why teachers leave the profession: pupil behaviour, workload, pay and poor public perceptions of the profession. (Paragraphs 375-386)

    —  While the Government has begun to take action to deal with the poor level of teacher retention, does HMCI believe that enough is being done to tackle all four factors he has identified as significant?

    —  Does HMCI believe that the present difficulties in the recruitment and retention of suitably qualified teachers is a significant factor in a number of those weaknesses identified by inspectors in some schools as outlined in the Annual Report?

    —  What practical steps does OFSTED intend to take to contribute to the national priority of reducing teacher workload?

  20.  The report outlines continuing concerns about the quality of teaching by temporary (supply) teachers and highlights several aspects of these teachers' professional knowledge and skills which have contributed to unsatisfactory teaching. (Paragraphs 387-390)

    —  To what extent does HMCI believe that a lack of adequate professional development opportunities have contributed to the poor performance of temporary teachers?

    —  Given the increased reliance by schools on teacher supply agencies, and the increased number and profitability of such agencies, would HMCI agree that teacher supply agencies should be required to take greater responsibility for the training, quality and suitability of those teachers they place in schools?


  21.  The report notes that all the LEAs which have been reinspected after an initially unsatisfactory report have improved. (Paragraph 398)

    —  Could HMCI expand on these findings? In particular, is he aware of any lessons to be learnt regarding support provided by other LEAs or the comparative effectiveness of outsourcing?

  I hope these questions are useful to you.

  In addition, I would like to comment on the press release which accompanied the invitation to provide a written submission to HMCI's Annual Report. The Select Committee's recommendations in paragraph three, relating to the levels of stress created by the current inspection regime, would be regarded as patronising and offensive by many teachers and headteachers. It is not enough to "urge headteachers and governing bodies to keep a sense of proportion when preparing for inspection" whilst the high-stakes nature of school inspections remains. Such a statement would seem to imply that it is the fault of teachers and headteachers themselves, rather than the inspection process, that inspection causes stress for so many in the teaching profession.

  The NUT has taken the position consistently that the current inspection arrangements need reform. I would like to remind the Select Committee of the NUT's own proposals for school inspections, contained within a document entitled "Evaluation, Inspection and Support-A System that Works" and which set out a coherent, systematic and integrated approach to both internal and external school evaluation. I enclose a copy of this report for the further consideration of the Select Committee.

John Bangs
Assistant Secretary
Education and Equal Opportunities

February 2002

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