Examination of Witness (Questions 40-59)|
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
40. Moving on to issues where you have direct
work experience in the past, Mr BellI am thinking particularly
about the role of LEAs. The LGA would say, for example, that the
role of LEAs has diminished drastically over the last 20 years
under the previous Tory Government and under this Government.
What is your view on that? Do you think the role of the LEA is
about right now or do you think we should beef it up?
(Mr Bell) I think you are absolutely right that the
role has changed quite dramatically. I think in the main it was
entirely appropriate that we move to a system of local management
because I think that has been very important in terms of bringing
about change, improvement and reform in the education system.
I think the OFSTED reports, successive annual reports, have highlighted
some of the benefits there. As far as the role of the LEA is concerned,
again it is very important that OFSTED has been able to report
on what has been found. I think it is important to make the point
that we are now into the second cycle of inspections and that
will be a differentiated programme: we will inspect all the authorities
again but we will not necessarily do it the same way in every
authority, and that is right back to this principle of inspection
arrangements evolving. I think LEAs have a harder task now in
persuading schools that what they do is valuable. We are in a
situation where there is a very open market for the provision
of services to schools in lots of areas and the LEAs, I suppose,
have had to raise their game to provide services that are considered
appropriate. On the other hand, of course, LEAs continue to have
a number of important statutory responsibilities and I think we
would have to say there that the inspection evidence has shown
that the record has been mixed: even with some of the statutory
functions not all LEAs have been carrying those out. Butand
I think this is an important butthe first round of inspections,
the full inspection programme of LEAs, has highlighted those issues
and really now given LEAs the opportunity, as I have suggested,
to raise their game on the back of that evidence.
41. Coming back to your earlier response about
the future of OFSTED being able to carry on its role in LEA inspection
terms rather than in school improvement terms, do you think LEAs
ought to concentrate on that provision to try to improve the level
of educational attainment in schools?
(Mr Bell) School improvement?
(Mr Bell) I think that is properly a decision for
each LEA to take. They have a lot of competition out there. There
are a lot of people now providing what one might describe as school
improvement services and they have to provide the right sort of
service that schools want to buy. That is the reality.
43. I was also delighted to see in your CV that
you are actually qualified to inspect early years education. As
you know, that sector has just recently come over from local authority
control to OFSTED control and it has moved from an area-based
delivery of service, where the inspectors work in local authority
teams, to working from home. I know there have been teething problems
in the transitionissues to do with the lack of computer
systems being brought in and also the change in working, from
working in a team to working in isolation. What do you see as
the challenges for the successful future inspection of early years
(Mr Bell) I highlighted that in my opening remarks,
that it was one of the big challenges to embed those changes.
I think one of the advantages has been to standardise the procedures
across the country. I think one of the things that OFSTED has
found in bringing together150 different approaches, whilst they
have been against a national criteria, is that inevitably different
styles of work and patterns emerge over time. That just happens
when you have different local authorities running the system.
You are right to say that we had some teething difficulties, and
I would not pretend that they have all been eliminatedone
of the first briefs put on my desk was about the IT systems in
the early years areabut I think we can work our way through
those. I think perhaps the more interesting point is the one about
working practices. We are now based in eight regional centres
for early years, but we would be quite keen to ensure that each
of those regional centres continues to have a link with the early
years and child care development partnerships within their areas,
so we are not just seen as just a remote arm but we are actually
working closely with the early years partnerships. We have a management
and leadership task, to ensure that people, in moving from working
in an office-based environment to a home-based environment, have
plenty of opportunity for professional development, opportunities
to come together and so on. That is our task, because it is not
just important to combat isolation, it is also important in professional
development terms that colleagues know what is happening. I think
it is really important that we address that. I think, again, we
perhaps should not over-exaggerate. It has not just been a simple
move from: they all used to work in an office and they have all
been sent off to work at home. It is not quite as simple as that,
but we are aware that if you are going to have a home-based work
force you need to find time and opportunities to bring the people
44. This Committee will be looking very carefully
at that transition and what it costs the tax payer. We hear of
so many transitions, from TECs to LSEs, for example, that are
going to save tax payers a great deal of money and then we find
not a great deal of evidence that that has happened. We will be
looking very carefully to see whether the transition of this large
number of staff from one sort of service to another actually costs
the tax payer a great deal of money.
(Mr Bell) Chairman, I wonder if it might be helpful
to undertake that sort of investigation really by the end of the
transitional period, which is March 2003, when obviously we will
be in a better position to understand how it has gone, what the
costs have been and so on.
Chairman: Mr Bell, part of this is not new territory.
It is one of the things that we are interested in. I know you
are going to be working closely with the Audit Commissioneven
more vigorously, since I think they are losing part of their other
empire, in healthbut the fact of the matter is that we
do have responsibility for value for money for tax payers. As
you are responsible to Parliament through this Committee, that
is one of the things on which we will be coming back to you.
45. The NAHT say that there can still be difficulties
regarding the experience of inspection teams for special schools.
Do you see that there are any special challenges that confront
the inspection teams when they are dealing with special schools
as opposed to ordinary schools?
(Mr Bell) In our consultation document, the one that
I cited earlier, we do recognise that there are issues about the
inspection framework for special schools and we want to consult
quite carefully with schools and other stakeholders on that subject.
One of the concerns that has been raised by a number of organisations
is: Do you get the right range of experience in an inspection
team where you perhaps have a range of needs to inspect? That
is an important element of the specification that is given to
contractors, to ensure that they actually do provide that kind
of experience. As I said on the issue of inclusion and perhaps
special needs more generally, I am fairly cautious in what I am
saying on that subject at the moment because it is an area that
I have to look at but, obviously, as with any other organisation
that raises specific issues I am more than happy to look at that.
46. If you, like many parents, had insufficient
confidence in the schools local to where you live to send your
children to one of those schools, what would you have done?
(Mr Bell) It is difficult territory, is it not, because
you are speaking about personal experiences. I think I would have
done what I suspect most parents would do: I would look at the
school and I would then make a judgment about whether it was right
for my child. I do not think I can really add much more to that.
I might have made a decisions in those circumstances to keep my
child at the school, depending on what I thought was going on
there, or I might have made the decision to take my child away.
I have to say, it is very difficult to answer because it is a
47. But it is one which clearly thousands of
parents face, some of whom are very well known parents. What do
you think should be the order of decision making for those parents
and what opportunities should be open to them which are not open
(Mr Bell) What I would say, Mr Turner, is I would
not presumeI very seriously would not presumeto
tell other parents how to do their job. Decisions about the education
of their children are properly the decisions of parents. I suppose
what I can say is that at least through the information that OFSTED
provides, parents have more information on which to base their
judgments, but I really would notnot just for professional
reasons but for personal reasonswant to sit here and tell
parents what they should do. I think what we have to ensure is
that they continue to have good information about the quality
of schools, so that they can make reasonable and informed choices,
and I think OFSTED has provided over the past 10 years, and will
continue to provide, a good service in that respect.
48. Do you think then that the structures of
education matter more than the personalities? Sir Keith Joseph
used to say, "The nearest thing to a magic wand is a good
head teacher" and yet governments of both complexions have
fiddled around with structures.
(Mr Bell) That is an interesting question. Structures
can be important but I think there is a danger that if you just
fiddle around with the structures you do not necessarily change
what is actually happening. I think it is interesting if you look
at inspection evidence of different kinds of schools, if that
is what you are alluding to, that, yes, you can make a case that
some schools are doing this, some schools are doing that, but
also you will find that, whatever structures you have, you have
good schools and you have not so good schools. I think it is hard
to make a very strong case that one kind of structure always delivers
the right kind of school. It would seem to me that if we have,
as we have in this country now, quite a variety of types of schools
in the maintained system, surely the real task is to improve standards
across all of those groups, in whatever type of school it is,
and for OFSTED to be able to report on standards in schools in
different types of schools. I think I am again back to evolution
rather than revolution. I am not always convinced that making
massive structural changes will necessarily bring about change,
but I think you have to have an open mind, and where structures
are getting in the way then you act.
49. I think Andrew makes a good point. In your
press release play was made of the fact that you send your child
to school in the state sector and that you have, by that, shown
that you have faith in the state sector providing the education
for your child. I think Andrew was making that point. A Belgian
journalist a few days ago asked me why there was a fuss about
the Prime Minister sending his child to somewhere which was not
a home-based school. He said, "I understand he is the first
British Prime Minister in history to send his children to the
state sector." In a sense, if the people who make decisions,
like yourself, or the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State
for Education, were to send their children to the sorts of schools
their constituents and the voters in this country do, they might
have more confidence in them. Is that not right?
(Mr Bell) Chairman, I am not making a political statement
about where I send my children to school.
50. But your press release made a very clear
statement, that you were very proud of the fact that you sent
your child to state school.
(Mr Bell) I do not think it was a case of being proud
of the fact. It was not a case of making a statement one way or
the other. I put that in, or it was put in, on the grounds that
I was bound to be asked. I think it is entirely reasonable for
me as a parent to make a choice where I send my child, but, as
I said in response to Mr Turner, I would not under any circumstances
presume to tell other parents what sort of choice they should
exercise for their children.
51. But do you take the point that some of us
on this Committee believe it is quite important for those people
who make significant decisions about the future of our children's
education actually to participate as active participants in using
(Mr Bell) I take the point.
52. In responding to Mr Ennis, you used the
words (which he did not, I think) "local management".
In inspecting, would you regard the objectives against which you
are inspecting as those of the school or those of the local authority
or those of the inspector or those of the Government or what?
(Mr Bell) I think I can answer that quite simply and
then expand on it. We are making judgments against the framework
for inspectionand that obviously is one of my responsibilities,
to ensure that the framework is kept up to date, hence the consultation
exercise that we are engaged in at the moment. I think it would
be foolish, however, in any inspection not to take account of
what the school's or any other institution's priorities are. In
fact, I think the inspection process, again in evolutionary terms,
has done that increasingly, trying to find out: What does this
school stand for? What does this school think is important? So,
yes, we are inspecting against a framework, taking very careful
account of what the school thinks its priorities should be and
also in the context of national policy. OFSTED has had a role
and will continue to have a role in reporting on the impact of
those national policies on individual schools. In fact, we will
be publishing a report later this year that looks at the impact
of some of these major funding streams on schools. I think that
is an important role for OFSTED. We inspect objectively against
the framework; we take account of what the school is doing, what
its priorities are; and we also have to take account of the wider
national context in terms of educational policies.
53. Finally, on the difficulties that children
bring with them, clearly those affect a school's priorities and
(Mr Bell) Yes.
54. Do you feel that it is within your responsibility
to examine how those difficulties arise?
(Mr Bell) I think in any context statement, say, that
a school provides in advance of inspection, we invite the school
to comment on the characteristics of its area, and, of course,
OFSTED itself holds quite a lot of information about the characteristics
of an area in which a school is located and that is very helpful
in understanding the backdrop. I would perhaps quote something
Mike Tomlinson said in his annual report when he said: yes, schools
can do so much, but actually they are subject to wider societal
influences. I am not sure it is really for OFSTED to stray into
that territory, except where we can find direct evidence of wider
societal factors having an impact on education. I think Mike Tomlinson
cited a good example when he talked about truancy and parents
perhaps being caught in shopping centres with their children and
being quite surprised that somebody had challenged them. I think
wider societal issues are really not for OFSTED to comment on.
The one thing I would say, however, about children coming to school
is that with our new early years responsibilities we are going
to be in quite a good position in the future to comment on the
different kinds of provision that are available and, perhaps,
what is working well. We hope to be publishing a report sometime
in the summer, which will be our first early years report, based
on a 10 per cent sample of all the early year centres that we
have inspected. That will give us a good indicator and then from
next year's annual report, my first annual report, we will talk
in much more detail about the early years settings. I think, whilst
that is not necessarily talking about the societal influences,
it will be very helpful information to understand the impact that
different kind of early years settings have on the education that
children get in school.
55. We value highly that aspect of OFSTED's
work. I got some very strange looks on the tube this morning as
I was reading Sex and Relationships, your latest report,
but it is a very good report. It is a very important one. I think
this Committee is very pleased that you looked at good practice.
The number of young school children becoming pregnant is a real
issuewe have the highest level in Europe. It is a significant
issue. I think the good practice that comes out of here should
be continued. We will be asking you in the future time and time
again about disruptive and difficult to teach pupils. What we
have found in our individual constituencies and in terms of experience
of the Committee is that, where there is very good practice, it
is very good indeed, and the role of OFSTED in sharing that good
practice I think is going to be very important.
(Mr Bell) Chairman, you have cited that report, and
I am please that you did. I am also pleased that my predecessor
launched it and I did not! I thought that for my first public
appearance, to talk about sex and relationships was a way to make
an impact. At the tail end of the week before, we also published
reports on the achievements of black and Afro-Caribbean youngsters,
and we did exactly the same thing: we cited examples of good practice.
Coming back to the earlier comments Mr Chaytor made, it seems
to me that OFSTED has an important role in school improvement
by being able to cite, "Here is what some schools are doing
that we think is very impressive. Here is what characterises this
as interesting practice." Hopefully, other schools will take
those reports, have a look at what successful schools are doing
and perhaps amend their own practice in the light of that material.
56. I hope you will have a good relationship
with us, good enough for us to suggest areas that we have picked
up. We are at the end of this summer going to be looking at education
in one city, Birmingham. This Committee is going to spend a week
there. We will be picking up very important information which
we hope to share with you, so that, if we identify areas we think
you should look at, I hope you will be receptive to that.
(Mr Bell) Chairman, I will be receptive. The only
thing that I have noticed in the first couple of weeks in post
is that OFSTED gets lots of requests, I think quite legitimately,
to look at pieces of information. I certainly will look very carefully
at any requests made from this Committee.
Chairman: I hope you will prioritise this Committee
over Tom, Dick and Harry from outside!
57. My colleague mentioned local education authorities
and you talked about the competition they face from other providers
of support to schools. You also made the point that they hold
a lot of information on schools and they have their statutory
responsibilities. You inspect local education authorities, and
at Newcastle when you were there. When you were inspecting, as
chief education officer, the schools that you had responsibility
for were asked to make a comment as to what they thought about
performance. I do not know whether they are asked to comment about
other private sector providers. I think probably not. Do you think,
as the OFSTED inspection system evolves, that LEAs should make
a comment on schools? If we are to foster this partnership and
finding ways of improvement and using the OFSTED inspection as
a part of that process, do you think that is a future you envisage,
where LEAs make a comment on the schools?
(Mr Bell) Can I come to that point in a moment and
make a passing comment about the first bit of your question regarding
the local education authorities. It is interesting that schools
are askedand I think rightly soto comment on what
they think of service A, service B, service Y. I think it is just
a little anomaly that these questionnairesand it is an
issue to discuss with the Audit Commissiondo not always
pick out the distinction between the service that the LEA has
provided directly and the services that other private providers
are delivering. I think that can give a skewed impression of what
the LEAs are doing, because in fact they may not be responsible
for the service at all. I think there is a degree of sophistication
that we have to bring in now to account for the fact that there
is a greater number of private providers. As far as the suggestion
about consulting the local education authority, again in the consultation
document that OFSTED published we cited examples of potential
partners that might be approached for information; for example,
in secondary schools asking the local Learning and Skills Council
to comment or the local education authority to comment. The very
fact that we were suggesting that approach, we thought was a good
indication that it could be helpful. What I would say is that,
as with all aspects of evidence that inspectors gather, the inspectors
still have to make their judgment on what they find. Whilst that
picture that they build up about the school is better informed
by receiving information from a variety of sources, it cannot
be allowed to skew the judgment of the inspectors. Again, I think
that is the principle of the independence of the inspection. Whilst
partners' views are important, inspectors must make the final
58. Do you envisage a time where that will form
part of the inspection process, the comments of wider stakeholders?
(Mr Bell) Yes, we are looking at how we might take
that forward and we have not quite concluded what we are going
to do on that. In some ways it would be a logical extension of
what we do at the moment, because we get the views of parents,
as very important prime stakeholders. Obviously we do get the
views of pupils, and part of our consultation was about getting
more systematic views from pupils as well, and therefore the extension
into getting views from other relevant partners would be appropriate.
I should say to you of course that it has always been the case
that during inspections anyone has been able to submit information
and evidence to the inspectors in advance of the inspection. That
has always been the case. In fact a number of schools make a point
of presenting a portfolio of views that they have received from
59. But that might be self-selecting.
(Mr Bell) That is their perspective on it. I think
it is about just sharpening that process up.