Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. It is more widespread than you seem to understand. That is my concern about this interview today.
  (Mr Normington) There are some schools like that and some parts of schools like that and there are some children who are behaving like that. I do not think that is the whole of the secondary sector. I do not see any advantages in starting from that basis.

  81. What does that statement mean?
  (Mr Normington) I think it is better to look at the system we have in place. The system we have in place involves, first of all, OFSTED inspecting all schools, but it is particularly following up those schools that are weak and failing and putting in place arrangements to reverse that. Many of the schools which are weak and failing will be the ones where you have the behaviour you describe. Those things often go together.

  82. These are not weak and failing schools, these are average schools. I am disappointed by the complacency I am hearing from you.
  (Mr Normington) No, I am not complacent.

  Mr Gibb: Finished.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Mr Gerry Steinberg?

Mr Steinberg

  83. I was not going to go down this track but I think Mr Gibb is partly right and partly wrong. I was a headteacher in quite a deprived area and my wife has taught in a deprived area for many years, and it is not so much the teachers who have low expectations—teachers always get the blame—it is the families who have the low expectations, that is the problem. I have had parents come to me and say, "What the f. . . . has education done for me?" And he is on the dole. You say, "Quite clearly it it has done nothing for you, has it, but it might do something for your kid." You do not seem to realise that at all.
  (Mr Normington) I do realise that. I said that it was not just about the low aspirations of the teachers or that it was always or mainly about that. I said it was the communities and families, that is where it starts.

  84. Right. So that is where some work has really got to be done, has it not, with the families from the deprived areas who have no confidence at all in education. Not the educational system, because they do not know what the education system is, they just have no confidence in education at all. They do not believe in education and therefore they are not interested in it and they tell their kids they are not interested in it and the kids become not interested in it. Teachers cannot be blamed for a situation where they have the children for five hours a day and the rest of the 18 hours a day are spent at home. So it is very difficult for a school to be able to indoctrinate when the kids come from that sort of background.
  (Mr Normington) I think the schools have a more difficult task if they are trying to overcome that kind of family attitude. I do not think it is impossible. You have to work really hard. Most of the schools in these areas work really hard with the parents to overcome that. Where I do not follow you completely is I believe that most parents want their children to succeed. They may not know how that is to be done but most parents do want their children to go to school and succeed.

  85. I am not sure whether you are right there, to be honest. Mr Gibb was partly right as well in terms of the attitude towards teachers. It is not necessarily that the kids in schools are aggressive towards teachers, although that does happen, it is the parents who are aggressive towards the teachers. My wife was attacked four or five years ago by an aggressive adult who was not even the parent because she had supposedly said something to a child. There seems to be no support for the teachers in that respect either. Mr Gibb in some respects is quite right, that in some of the areas that we draw from there is not a lot done to help the situation and we seem to concentrate on other areas and we do not tackle those particular problems.
  (Mr Normington) There is a huge programme focusing on schools not just in inner city areas but under the heading of Excellence in Cities which is about all the things that you need to do to support the schools to raise attainment in those areas, which includes extra support for those schools in tackling behaviour and working with families.

  86. You are not succeeding. It might well be a breakdown of society. I can give another example of a 21-year-old girl who had three children all to different fathers and the kids themselves do not know who their fathers are and you have got a situation where in ten years' time or 15 years' time you are going to have incest because nobody knows who is related to who. It is a situation that is happening and we do not seem to be doing anything about it. It has a bearing on education.
  (Mr Normington) It is asking an awful lot of schools to overcome all those surrounding circumstances.

  87. It is not schools, it is government, it is people like yourselves who are the ones who are responsible along with the politicians. Not all schools are unambitious, if you like. My son went to an ordinary comprehensive school and he went to Cambridge but that was because of family encouragement because we saw the benefits of getting the best possible education. We were able to do that possibly because we saw that, but how do you persuade other families from deprived areas to do that?
  (Mr Normington) To go to Cambridge?

  88. Not to go to Cambridge, but to impress upon their youngsters, their children that education is so, so important?
  (Mr Normington) I think there is no other solution than to support the schools in working with the parents and those children.

  89. I think it goes a lot deeper than that. Once you get to the school situation, it is too late. There is a whole social programme that needs to be done in conjunction with education. Let's move off the topic.
  (Mr Normington) There is a huge investment going on in pre-school education for that reason and in Sure Start, which is a programme specifically addressing that for nought to three year-olds.

  90. I have not got time to go down that track but I thought you were very complacent in answer to Mr Gibb and that is why I decide decided to follow that up. Let me go on to my original line of questioning. I fully support the Government's aim to get 50 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds into higher education but I am rather sceptical about it. Do you believe that 50 per cent of the population is even capable of having higher education?
  (Mr Normington) I think so, if we can achieve what we said earlier, which is to get more young people through GCSEs and into A-levels.

  91. That is the whole point. I went to college and did psychology—and I am talking about 30 or 40 years ago now—and in those days you could talk about IQ, you are not supposed to talk about IQs nowadays, and if I remember rightly there was a graph which said that the average IQ was 100 and so many percentage had IQs of 70 and so many had IQs of 120, and the graph went something like that, so there were those in the bottom part of the graph who were never capable of going into higher education and getting qualifications. Do you think we are too ambitious or not?
  (Mr Normington) I will give you two reasons why I do not think we are too ambitious. One is because all of the projections of growth of jobs in the economy over the next ten years say that 80 per cent of those jobs are going to require people with degree or near degree level qualifications and therefore as an economic proposition we need to set our sights higher. The second reason why I believe it is possible is if you look at what has happened to the attainment of children of unskilled manual workers over the last 11 years, there has been a huge increase in their attainment at GCSE, from something like 11 per cent achieving five A to C GCSEs in 1989 to something like 30 per cent in the year 2000, which shows that you can really push achievement levels up. That gives me hope that we can really do it. I think we have to try.

  92. It is our job here today to see whether it is possible. Getting people into college for the sake of getting people into college or higher education, does that not just lower the standards? Does that not water the standards down?
  (Mr Normington) I do not think we want to. The Government has set an objective that it will increase participation, but it does want to see a lowering of standards. It is not in anyone's interests to do that.

  93. As a result of the policy working, it could lower standards.
  (Mr Normington) If you look at the big expansion of higher education in the first half of the 1990s, there was no lowering of entry standards at that point. If anything, A-level entry standards went up slightly in that period, so it does not look as though that is a problem, but I agree we have to keep our eyes focused on it.

  94. I want to change the subject again to tuition fees. When tuition fees were introduced at the beginning of the last Parliament, I got the impression that we were told that those fees were being charged so that they could be directly passed on to the universities to put more money into the universities and that was the reason why university fees had come in, to increase expenditure in university education. We are told in the Report that higher education institutions received something like 3.2 billion for teaching. That is Page 5, Paragraph 1.4. That explains it there and the paragraph goes on to say: "Although in recent years the funding for each student has been maintained in real terms, over the last decade it has declined by over a third." So have all the tuition fees that have been taken in from students over the past four years been passed directly to universities on top of the money that they were getting in the first place?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) No, they have not.

  95. They have not?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) No.
  (Mr Normington) The first thing to say is that funding in higher education has risen by 1.7 billion—

  96. That is irrelevant.
  (Mr Normington) That has not gone into—

  97. When I voted for tuition fees to be introduced, I voted on the assumption that I was being told that this was one way of putting more money into higher education and tuition fees would do that. Professor Newby has just said no it has not. Where has that money gone?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) The grant to institutions was reduced by exactly the amount that was coming through in tuition fees so essentially there has been a displacement effect.

  Mr Steinberg: I am absolutely staggered.


  98. I am sorry, I did not catch that.
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) The amount of money that has been collected through the tuition fees, if you put all that into a pot, the grant to higher education institutions has been reduced by exactly that amount so there has been a substitution effect.
  (Mr Normington) But overall the amount going into higher education has gone up by 18 per cent.

Mr Steinberg

  99. I personally would have expected it to go up by the amount that we said was going to be put in. It was said that tuition fees were being brought in so that more money could be spent on higher education and that was the reason why I voted for it. Now you are telling me that it was just displacement so tuition fees could be included in the 18 per cent it has gone up or could also have paid for tarmacking roads somewhere?
  (Mr Normington) We are talking about different things, I think. The cost to the Exchequer of higher education has gone up by 1.7 billion. Some of that was financed by the change in the funding system. What it has not gone into is teaching. It is only just now that the unit cost decline per student has been reversed this year.


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