Examination of Witnesses(Questions 80-99)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
80. When did you have the revised framework?
(Miss Passmore) It was published earlier this year.
They were all published at exactly the same sort of time.
81. You will be looking at that to revise that?
(Miss Passmore) Yes.
Chairman: We want to look at the structure
of the school year. This Committee also feels it has a distinguished
history and one of the Chairmen of this Committee, Christopher
Price, was extremely interested in this and wherever he is in
the world I hope he takes an interest in David Chaytor's set of
82. Do you support the LGA's proposals that
there should be a six-term year?
(Mr Bell) The first thing to say is it is not an issue
we look at because, as I have explained in evidence, we accept
the world as it is in reporting. I have mixed feelings about it.
I can see the benefits of moving to that system but, like many
changes that are proposed, sometimes they are over-hyped that
this is going to be the panacea to all the problems that we are
facing in terms of the structure of the school year, so I am agnostic,
to be frank with you.
83. So your reports have not identified any
problems in schools as a result of the existing structure?
(Mr Taylor) On the general issue about whether the
current shape of the year sometimes produces problems such as
pressures on pupils and teachers as a result of very long terms,
particularly in the summer , our evidence supports the general
picture. Our evidence is evidence which relates to what real teachers
and pupils tell us. That does not necessarily lead us to saying
we would put our hands up and say that we support the five or
six term model as an alternative. We would say where there are
pressures on teachers observable through inspection we do hope
to report those.
84. Give us your addresses and we will send
Chris Price round to see you.
(Mr Taylor) We have written to him in response to
a letter he wrote.
85. Have either of the academies gone for the
conventional term year?
(Miss Passmore) I am not sure. I believe there are
one or two schools in the country. I recall one in the Humberside
area that has gone for it, but it is very, very rare across the
86. In your report on LEAs, paragraphs 170 and
171, you talk about the time it has taken to arrange intervention
in the case of failed LEAs. The NAO reports that one of the problems
with the Capita contract for ILAs was the withdrawal of all but
one or two, depending how you interpret it of the prospective
bidders for reasons of aggressive and unrealistic timescales.
How do you square this problem?
(Mr Bell) The specific point we were making in that
report was that there was a period of drift that seemed to follow
the decision to intervene and I think specifically we were concerned
about the engagement of consultants and others who to a large
extent would say, "Ofsted have said . . ." and to a
certain extent you were not taken that much further forward by
it. We also have some evidence from inspection reports that far
from standing still and nothing happening, things have actually
got worse by a failure to respond quickly to the concerns identified
in the Ofsted report. However, I suspect on this one there is
no exact science and you cannot say there is a period of three
months and two days or whatever. I think there is a danger of
just allowing the system to drift when nothing happens. Maybe
there is an interesting parallel over some of our concerns with
schools in serious weaknesses. One of the reasons we have moved
more quickly there is precisely because there is a sense of drift
after the first judgment was made.
(Miss Passmore) Our evidence from working with schools
requiring special measures reached a point where we said it was
very important to take action sooner rather than later and the
first six months was very critical. That is what has informed
what we are doing with schools with serious weaknesses which did
indeed feel there was a period in which they did not have to do
anything. What we are seeing with local education authorities
is because it was a much more complicated system to set up, the
intervention arrangements did take longer and there were pauses
or even going backwards for a while was considerable improvement
in the poorest performing local authorities where we have gone
back again. We are just saying perhaps we might have seen more
improvement sooner had there been a slightly shorter timescale
before the intervention took place.
87. You comment on the lack of capacity and
diversion of effort into writing specifications for tendering
and contracting. What about monitoring, because it is the failing
authority in many cases that is having to monitor the contract?
(Miss Passmore) The arrangements are now changing
to try and improve that further. We have introduced what has become
called the "frequent monitoring" programme. There was
not the same arrangement for local authorities as there had been
for schools in terms of the monitoring of poor performance where
for local authorities it was left until the next inspection, which
might be a year or two years later. Where there has been a little
bit of slippage, one might say, in the progress being made, I
hope we shall see that that does not happen in the future.
(Mr Bell) Mr Turner had a slightly separate point
about the monitoring internally of the contract. Can I pick that
up because in one LEA report we produced last term we made the
point that there was considerable confusion on the role as between
the client side, if one puts it that way, of the local authority,
and the contractor on the other side, and a tendency to duplicate
responsibilities. We were really quite critical of that kind of
arrangement. Having said that, to be fair, in other reports where
there is a client/contractor split, if I can use that terminology,
it is working well. That is an important issue for us in our intervention
reports to make sure that we do look at the way that these are
working. Broadly one has to comment that in a number of inspection
reportsand there must be about half a dozen nowlooking
at interventions, we do make the point we are going back quite
soon after a contract has been signed and we can often only comment
on early signals.
88. These have been six very different patterns
of outsourcing, have they not?
(Mr Bell) Yes.
89. Are you going to report in more detail on
how these different procedures compare and the benefits of them?
(Mr Bell) I am not sure we have got that in the programme.
(Miss Passmore) It is not in the programme to do so
at the moment.
90. I hope you will look at the New Zealand
experience as we have and reflect on some of their experience.
One almost got the impression in New Zealand that they would like
to get back to something like a local education authority to get
systemic change. I may be wrong in that because I just notice
some New Zealand parliamentarians come in!
(Mr Bell) Chairman, if I get criticised in the press
for jetting off to New Zealand I will say I am doing it under
the express instruction of the Chairman of the Education Committee!
Chairman: Absolutely, and I will come
91. Will you be looking at local education authorities'
ability to manage PFI contracts? It seems increasingly that if
PFI contracts are the only game in town, as it seems, for large
capital expenditure, and it does require the local education authority
(which becomes a client) to bring together a whole host of different
schools with different agendas, and in order for that PFI contract
to work well there does need to be a clear framework, the schools
need to be clear about what they are going to do in terms of facilities'
management. Who is going to manage those schools? What is going
to happen after the initial expression of interest. There is a
lot of concern amongst governing bodies, "What the hell are
we getting ourselves into?" If those arrangements are not
made you then see later down the line the experience of Harringay
and Sheffield who now say that there are difficulties. What is
your view on that?
(Mr Bell) I know from personal experience in Newcastle
where I was involved in the early days of the PFI, that it is
92. You say that and then people think, "I
do not want to know" almost like they do with computers.
It is the only game in town. You cannot just say it is complex
because that turns people off.
(Mr Bell) It is complex but what I was going to go
on to say is that it really does force governing bodies to think
about what their role is going to be in this. It is hard work
and it is, frankly, time-consuming but many schools now benefiting
from new buildings would say it is perhaps better in the long
run. In terms of reporting, I am not sure if it is out yet but
certainly the Audit Commission reported on PFI in education. It
may be that is a subject to pursue with the Audit Commission.
We would probably only comment insofar as an LEA inspection report
is concerned to say a PFI deal is in place to do this, that and
the other, and presumably we would only comment further if very
significant issues had been raised either by schools or the LEA
93. You do not think it is your role to comment
on the expertise of the local education authority as the client
in supporting schools to ensure that huge public projects are
(Mr Bell) I do not want to speak out of turn but I
think that is an issue the Audit Commission have touched on in
their report looking at the capacity of LEAs to manage projects.
94. If it is the only game in town for getting
cash for schools, this is going to be increasingly an LEA responsibility
and you inspect LEAs
(Mr Bell) That is a reasonable point. I guess you
would also expect me to say that in this work that has been done
in some detail by the Audit Commission, we would have to be absolutely
sure that we are adding any more value, but you are right.
Jonathan Shaw: They are not looking at
every LEA in the way that you are.
95. Can I ask you to give us a reasoned response
to that. I think Jonathan makes a very strong point. In my own
local authority in Kirklees, where there is a major PFI contract,
you can see physically the change in the management of that school
and it must be of some interest to Ofsted?
(Mr Bell) Absolutely. We will come back to you with
96. In your report in Annex A my local authority,
Hertfordshire, appears regularly as purveyors of good practice,
in fact miles more than any other authority and yet there are
distinct gaps where it does not appear, although I am not saying
it is not good in those areas. Is there a bit of hoop-jumping
here, as Elizabeth was talking about earlier, and people saying,
"We do not jump through hoops and, even if we do, we jump
through hoops for a purpose." Secondly somebody on the panel
said earlier on that it is the governors and staff who drive up
standards. Should not greater emphasis be given on those aspects
of supporting governors and staff rather than being one of a whole
range of things? If they are the key determinants in driving up
standards we should be putting some wellie into that.
(Mr Bell) Absolutely. As far as the first point is
concerned, we made the conscious decision to report in that annex
on areas where particular authorities were doing particular things
very well. Interestingly, that has been very well received.
97. Certainly in my authority.
(Mr Bell) Not just by those who are mentioned in despatches
but by those who perhaps have got weaknesses in some areas, who
will say, "That is good, we can go and talk to Hertfordshire
and Birmingham or whatever." I think it is good that is there.
I am sure that Hertfordshire and other authorities that are mentioned
a number of times would probably also say to you they are not
good at everything and they will look at what other authorities
are good at and perhaps they can learn. As far as governors are
concerned, yes, what support the LEA gives to governors is an
important part of the LEA inspection process. The support governors
are given is something we look at more generally in Ofsted. I
and a number of colleagues have addressed governors' conferences.
That is terribly, terribly important because sometimes there is
a tendency for important performance information within a school
to reside with the headteacher and properly that should be the
responsibility of the governors to look at the data and then to
hold the school to account. We are all for pushing that. As you
know, we look after that nearly extinct beast, the PANDA, within
Ofsted, which is the performance and management information sent
out to every school each autumn. We send a copy of that to the
chair of governors and we just recently strengthened the advice
in the accompanying letter to say it is really important that
this is discussed by the whole governing body. I think Ofsted
is making a contribution to encouraging governors to take their
responsibilities for governance and leadership very seriously.
Jonathan Shaw: Are any of the staff here
from Ofsted also school governors?
98. Robert Green is.
(Mr Green) I resigned as vice chair of a board of
governors of a comprehensive school on taking up my post in Ofsted,
so I have recent experience.
99. So none of your senior management are on
a board of governors?
(Mr Bell) There is a restriction on being governors.
As I think you can understand, there may be a concern about Ofsted
Chairman: You have been very courageous
sitting there taking all this fire but we have got one more item
we want to cover and that is reducing the burden of inspection.
David, would you like to lead on that?