Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)
SARAH FULLER, JONATHON MCCLUSKEY, JAMES DAVIS AND LIZ MORTIMER
WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002
20. You would be happy just for an internal grading by the teacher, which is done with less pressure but it will still do the job?
(Miss Fuller) Yes.
(Mr Davis) I would totally disagree with that. I find, if you are going to do that then you are going to find some schools are going to say they are going to teach to a lower standard, saying that, "Alright, this will be good for our school," but it may only be good for that school, it may not be good compared with the national average. I think you need external checks and balances, to make sure that schools are teaching to the same standard, and not to different standards, for different schools, or different regions. So I think that is definitely important, that you do have some sort of external check as well.
(Miss Mortimer) And you may have the issue of perhaps favouritism. If teachers that know you mark it, if they have students that, unfortunately, they might prioritise, they may like more, they might also give them a better grade. I think perhaps you need to have it as external examinations, so it has got a balance across the scale as to how it is marked, because some teachers might mark at a different standard to others, even if they have got a strict marks scheme, they might still waiver a bit in that. So I think that you should still have it as external exams at that stage.
21. But then, just a few minutes ago, you have all been complaining about the pressure of examinations and the number of examinations, but now you are arguing that it is essential to keep the GCSE examination externally assessed; so is not that a contradiction?
(Mr McCluskey) I do not believe so. I think that, at the moment, the fact that there are too many examinations revolves around the ASs. I think the GCSE is a good boundary for young people to take an examination, to be sent off to external examiners, nothing to do with the school, examiners mark it, they get the grades, they then can make a choice of whether or not they go on to further education, where they have a certificate, they are skilled and old enough to go out to work, and I think it is a good boundary.
22. What do you want to see disappear, if you are sure there are too many examinations in your school career; what is going to go?
(Mr Davis) ASs.
(Miss Mortimer) Or perhaps the amount that you have to do for each exam, because, the one that I have got tomorrow, I have looked at the syllabus and it just seems far too much, I have got an hour and a half to write three essays, and the subject content in the syllabus, there is so much in there, it just seems far too much to be putting into one exam at one time. So perhaps, I do not know if maybe the marks schemes need to be assessed, the syllabuses need to be assessed, and perhaps either move the focus more to coursework or some other basis of marking it, or just not put so much into it.
Valerie Davey: I think Jeff wants to come in on a different issue, maybe why some of these youngsters are not in school.
23. A big problem in quite a lot of secondary schools is the level of truancy, and I just wondered if you had got any thoughts as to why so many students were truanting, and what we need to do within schools to try to counter the truancy ethos and to try to get students to stay in school? And particularly in view of the fact that a lot of truancy these days is parent-approved, there have been quite a few studies that have shown that, quite often, the students are out in the shopping centre with the parents, or an uncle or an auntie, or whatever. I wonder if you have got any views on that?
(Mr Davis) I actually found out that one of my friends truanted for about three months of school, because she was getting bullied, she actually refused to go back to the school because she was being bullied; it was not the fact she did not want to learn, it was the fact that she could not learn because she was being bullied, and that just made her so upset that she refused to go back. So, although you are going to get people truanting because they just do not want to go to school, you ought to address the fact that people may be truanting for a reason, that perhaps their parents will not let them go, or the fact that parents that agree with that, or they are getting bullied, all those other issues have to be addressed, apart from the fact that the child just does not want to be there.
24. That is interesting; only it appears to me, James, that you are saying that the anti-bullying strategies adopted in schools are not always as successful as they appear to be. So what can schools do to address that situation then?
(Mr Davis) Although the schools do address it, I think that sometimes people are too scared actually to go and tell teachers. I am lucky that the schools I have been to, when I have actually gone and told teachers, measures have been taken, but then people just will not go and tell teachers because they do not want to be seen as someone who will grass on their mates; because once you, as they say, "grass people up", or you tell teachers about it, then other people are not going to like you, and they are going to feel like that because of the fact that they are scared that if they do something wrong you are going to tell on them as well. So it is not the fact that they will not tell them, they will just make up something at home, some sort of illness, or something like that, just to stay out of school, and they will all actually know a similar problem.
(Miss Mortimer) I think there is also the fact that truancy occurs for kids, school does not appeal to some people. There are people that are not going to be highly academic, so therefore, if they are not seen to be achieving anything at school at an academic level, they might lose interest, and therefore not see the point of perhaps going in. I think the way perhaps to tackle that is to encourage the other skills they have, so, for example, if somebody is not academic, they might have a greater skill in public speaking, so, for example, that is not something that is really assessed, but you could encourage that by encouraging them to go to a debating society, or something. Or, something completely diverse, somebody might have an interest in gardening, as just an example, perhaps you could encourage them to do gardening projects, and that might actually develop them more as a person.
25. So we need more vocational courses, you think, in secondary schools, to accommodate students who are not academic?
(Miss Mortimer) I think there is too much emphasis on the academic achievements, because, as we were saying earlier, about attitudes to the people that are actually on the UK Youth Parliament, I told my sixth form tutor that I was on the UK Youth Parliament, and she went, "Oh, that's cool; are you going to miss any school for it?" And I do not think they see the fact that something like this will build me in the skills perhaps of public talking and data collection, in some ways, I suppose. I think different things will build different skills, and the schools only focus on those skills that are seen to be academic. I think the focus is too much on the academic side of things.
(Mr McCluskey) I also think there is a culture of discouragement by the teachers. Sometimes, back when I was at school, there is always a teacher's pet, a teacher's favourite, those who would get all the attention, those who would do the work, hand it in on time, and they would be the ones that the teacher would be focused to, they were the ones that, even though the teacher, or the lecturer, was supposed to be teaching the whole class, it would be focused to the select few, that were sitting at the front, or wherever they were sitting. And the rest of the class may then think, "Well, hold on, would I actually be missed, if I left, what am I doing here? I'm getting hardly any attention here; why am I not being taught, why is the focus on them, why am I here?" And, gradually, bit by bit, people then tend to dissolve within themselves, first of all, within the classroom, then they shrink within themselves, they do not speak in class any more, and then they leave the class, to bunk off outside the school, and then perhaps at home as well.
26. Can I just try to tease out one final thing, that I asked earlier, Chair, and that is to do with the aspect of parent-approved truancy, and I wonder if you have got any thoughts on how we can deal with that sort of aspect?
(Mr Davis) I think, what you have actually done, by putting parents in prison, is actually a bad idea. If you are going to punish the parents then you have got to think, what about the child; if the child has not got any brothers or sisters, what is going to happen to the child while the parent is in prison. And if you put a child in an orphanage, or a home, for that amount of time then is that going to stop them going to school as well. I think you would be better to educate, not educate the parents but kind of go like, "This is the benefit of what is going to happen if you send your child there," rather than just saying "Alright, you are doing this, we are going to send you to prison for it," because that could scar the child more and turn them against the Government and education more, because you are hurting his parents for his mistakes, than if you actually inform the parents. There could be a problem like they cannot afford to send their child, because they cannot get their child to school, or something like that; there could be problems behind it. I think you are going to have to deal with that problem first, because each situation is going to be a separate problem which needs to be dealt with.
27. We have touched on two really important issues together here, truancy and bullying. Sarah, do you want to touch on either of them?
(Miss Fuller) I think the only problem with truancy is some subjects are just incredibly boring or are taught really badly. I know that, general studies at my school, half the people who should be in general studies are not in general studies, and with some teachers there are more people in the class than in others; and I just feel that lots of people find that general studies is pointless, because when you are looking round at universities, they say, "General studies not included here; we don't take points for that." And people think, "Well, what's the point? I could be spending more time on a more important subject," and I just think sometimes it just needs to be put over in a more interesting way, and perhaps more interesting subjects covered. That is the main thing with general studies. And other subjects as well; sometimes you can have a teacher who will make the subject really interesting, and then you will have a boring teacher, so people just will not turn up, and it can be something just as simple as boring or interesting.
Valerie Davey: So there is a whole complex area here, much of which you have touched on very well.
28. There is a difference between not turning up once in a while to general studies and not turning up, and as Jeff Ennis said, about parents condoning truancy. And, James, you mentioned earlier about the woman who was jailed, I would just like to know your views on it. Given that there were two children, one only turned up for 28 per cent of the time that they should, and the other was 35 per cent; and, so we understand it, when the judge passed sentence, he was aware that every single conceivable person under the sun had tried to assist that family, to get those two girls to school, and, despite all those resources, and all that money being spent trying to get those girls to school, it did not work, but they are now at school. And headteachers reported to their union, the National Association of Head Teachers, that a number of parents said to them, "I will make sure that my son" or daughter "goes to school, because I don't want to go to jail." And the Education Secretary welcomed that. Given that background, does that change your mind at all?
(Mr Davis) I think it is a deterrent, and, yes, parents are now more likely to say, "I want you to go, because I might be sent to jail;" but then what are you going to do about the parents then that say, "Well, if you send me to jail, you send me to jail; if my child's not happy there, I'm not going to make him go," or her go, depending upon who it is? Surely, you must have to do something to deal with the problem. Yes, those two girls are now going to school, but when their mum gets out are they going to go to school again then.
29. I think she is out, and I think that they are going, so I understand.
(Mr Davis) Although that may have worked in one case, is it not going to work in every single case; if you sent my parents to jail because I was truanting, which I do not do, I will point out that fact, I would not look very favourably on Government, as a matter of fact, it would turn me away, to think, "That's not fair. I'm the one that's not going to school, surely you should be punishing me, not my parents." Or the parents might say, "Look, you don't want to go, it's your decision." Surely they should not be punished for the children, because it is the children who do it, and not them.
30. Just to follow that up, what responsibility do you think parents have for their children?
(Mr Davis) I think, at a younger age, under the age of 12, 13, then, yes, your parents have the responsibility to take you to school; but once you get to the age of 13 you are becoming more aware of what your rights are and your surroundings, I think then the individual himself has to take a certain amount of responsibility for his actions, it should not all rest purely upon the parents. When you are a teenager, your parents can try as hard as they want to make you do something; if you do not want to do it then you are not going to do it. Your parents cannot physically force you to do something, they cannot hold you, they cannot take you there by force, because then that will be against the law; so they cannot themselves physically force children to go, so if they do not want to go they are not going to go, it is as simple as that. If they set their mind to "I don't want to go to school, I'm not going to go," no matter how much your parents say, or no matter how much Government or the police or anyone else says, they are not going to go.
(Miss Mortimer) I think, after perhaps the age of 13, 14 maybe, the parents' responsibility is more of a guidance role, rather than perhaps taking students to school, under the age of 12, perhaps not physically, as in brutally, but as in they took them there themselves. I think you need to have that there and then after the age of 13, 14, where people are gaining independence, I think the parents need to give the correct guidance. If they do not show perhaps that guidance, and there is evidence to show that, show that they have not tried to get their child to school, and they have made them aware of the facts and figures, and suchlike, then perhaps you do not need something like prison, because that will be detrimental to the children, if perhaps they are in a single-parent family, it could disrupt things, perhaps to have something else, if it is seen to be the parents' fault for not informing the child, for not making them go, in some way or other. Perhaps something like community service, in some way, something that the parents can do that is not going to be detrimental towards their children but show them that they do have a role, to a certain level, of getting their children to school.
(Mr McCluskey) I think it is coming back to the issue of making schools more appealing, encouraging young people to go to school, giving them an incentive, and ultimately showing the young people, those people that literally do not want to go to school because it is boring, that they can get an education, it is within themselves to get an education, they are able to go out and make a decent living, not just a job but a career, not just a wage but a salary, most people have that opportunity. It is about accessing those things that are available to them and making people more aware of what is open to them.
Valerie Davey: I am going to move on, because there is one particular area that we have not touched on yet, and you have done, some of the Buckinghamshire MYPs have done a survey on sex education, and I think that is an area we wanted to move on to.
31. Can you tell us about this survey and what the background was to it; some hurriedly passed information here. Because we are curious as to why the survey was conducted and what the main findings were; that is an unfair question, if none of the people, the four of you, are from Buckinghamshire, but I think you are very well briefed?
(Miss Mortimer) Would you prefer somebody from Buckinghamshire to comment on that?
Mr Chaytor: It would be helpful, actually, would it not?
Valerie Davey: That is something we can follow up on; if there is somebody else here with it then, by all means, hand it forward, but otherwise they can come on to it. I think we can ask them more general questions. Kelly is coming forward.
Mr Chaytor: Can we ask Kelly just to fill us in on that; it would be useful, if Kelly is the person who knows most about it?