Gerry Steinberg MPIn the House...

Commons Gate

Making a difference: performance of maintained secondary schools in England (104-I)

Public Accounts Committee Mon 8 Dec 2003

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Evidence presented on Monday 8 December 2003 by Mr David Normington CB, Mr David Bell, and Mr Peter Wanless

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I want to carry on where Mr Williams left off, perhaps not as vigorous because he is a better performer, I want to make the same point, this Report substantiates what many of us have been saying for 15 years while your Department, your predecessors have totally ignored us and totally said that we were talk a load of rubbish. How much influence did Mr Woodhead have on the system that there is today?

Mr Normington: May I just answer a little of that, clearly I work for the Government that is in power at the time and they decide what the content of the material should be. This Government in 1998 decided that it should do this kind of analysis so that it was possible to have a more rounded view of what a school achieved. I have been a great proponent of improving the quality of the data between 1998 and 2003. I personally put a lot of effort into making sure that is better data. I think we have a much more rounded picture but you should never take one measure of performance.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): When did league tables come into existence?

Mr Normington: Sometime in the earlier 90s.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I think it was in 1988.

Mr Normington: I do not know precisely.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Labour opposition at the time was vehemently opposed to it but they soon change their mind when they got into power in 1997. Do you think I was right to ask for Woodhead's resignation in 1997?

Mr Normington: I am not going to the comment on that.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I think you should. You have not answered the question, what was the influence of Woodhead to the whole of Ofsted, was he a hindrance or a help as far as education standards have been concerned?

Mr Normington: In terms of performance tables the decision about performance tables is taken by the Government not by the Chief Inspector.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I might disagree with you on that.

Mr Normington: We do all of the data collection and we do all of the publication.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I believe that Ofsted and HMIs are the ones that made the recommendations to Government and they are the laymen and we look to experts such as Mr Bell to be able to give us the right data and the right information. I want to know, was Woodhead a hindrance or a help in terms of where we are today?

Mr Bell: I do not comment on my predecessors, every chief inspector does the job they see sit fit. Although we provide advice to the Department on a whole range of issue we do not provide advice on the content of performance table because as Mr Normington said that is a matter for ministers advised by officials.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): If I remember rightly, my recollection that was Woodhead believed there was no such thing as external factors and he destroyed some teachers because of that, schools that were in deprivation areas, where teachers had the most bloody appalling task to do, Woodhead said that had nought to do with the results that kids were actually achieving. You still have not changed much since those days all that you do is depend upon raw scores to do your league tables? Mr Normington you said we sometime compare similar schools, what is a similar school? How do compare a similar schools, how do you compare what is a similar school and what is not a similar, every school is unique?

Mr Normington: The performance tables that we now publish have five different measures which try to put raw scores, the absolute results of GCSEs in context and which also for the first time, because we have produced this information, enable us to look at the performance over time of the value-added by pupils from 11 to 14 and 14 to 16. That is a big step in the direction of enabling us to take a more rounded view of schools.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Are you saying that you do not depend on raw scores for your league tables?

Mr Normington: That is a fact. We take into account a number of things, the main one in the latest data available is the attainment of pupils at 11, which is very much related to a whole range of factors.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Will you both put on record that you believe that external factors outside of school control has a huge affect on the performance of children and pupils in secondary schools and in primary schools for that matter?

Mr Bell: If I can just point out that when the first Ofsted inspection handbook to guide inspectors was published in 1993 it actually said, " Many factors affect the capability of pupils and some of these are beyond the school's control". It is a central part of the task of inspectors to come to a difficult judgement of whether the standards that are achieved are as can be reasonably expected. That was said ten years ago to the inspectors and has always guided the work of inspectors in coming to an overall judgement.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I am sure you do not believe that.

Mr Bell: I do believe it actually.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You would want to go round to a lot of schools in the country and ask the teachers whether they believe that or not.

Mr Bell: If you look at the Chief Inspector's Annual Report we list outstanding schools from the schools we inspected over the previous year and they come from every socio-economic background in the country and they do not just take account of raw performance. Inspectors are making judgements, week in and week out that take account of the circumstances of the school and come to that important judgement, are the standards that are being been achieved as best as might be expected taking account of all of the factors? That has been the principle of Ofsted inspections from the beginning and it remains the principle today.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I do not mean this with any disrespect to you but I can remember when Mr Bolton was the Chief Inspector of Schools and when he came as Chief Inspector he told a totally different story to when he was not Chief inspector and he was called back to the Education Committee, you can work out what I mean by that. Can I change the subject altogether go to the very last paragraph in the main Report that is 3.44, page 34. I want to be little bit parochial now, I found in constituency terms this was probably about the most important paragraph in the whole of the Report as far as I was concerned. The state of school accommodation and the resulting effect that it has on standards and performance. I have a school in my constituency called Johnston School it is the best school in Durham county in terms of results and it is probably one of the best in the country in terms of results, I am sure that Mr Bell has heard of it, I will be amazed if he has not. Because the now ex Headteacher is very now the General Secretary of (inaudible). It was a good school before he went there and long after he left, so I am not saying he was responsible. This school has been a split site school for 30 years. It was a policy when comprehensive education came in in the 60s and Durham County Council moved to comprehensive education and created a split site school from an old grammar school, it was on two different sites. For over 30 years nothing has been spent on that school, not a penny has been spent because it has always been the policy that we will improve the school, we will replace this school, we will spend a lot of capital expenditure on this school and that has never happened. We are at a state now where the school is literally dropping down. If you look at paragraph 3.44 it says, "Head teachers responding to our survey rated the importance of the influence of a school's accommodation and facilities on academic achievement as more than 8 out of 10". They regarded it as very, very important. My great worry is that this school will begin to deteriorate in standards, as well as anything else, it might be difficult to recruit, it might be difficult to get children to learn and work in such an environment. What did the Government come along with? They have come along with a policy which says that you can basically have capital expenditure in private finance initiative, which I do not disagree with, but it is based upon areas of deprivation. This school is not in an area of deprivation, far from it, and this means that school which is probably number one in Durham County Council's priority list now will go right to the very bottom of the list and take 15 years to get to the top, do you think there should be mechanisms for schools such as this to be allowed have capital expenditure so that excellent schools do not deteriorate, but if this does not happen it will deteriorate?

Mr Normington: Yes, I do actually. There are three things: one is that we are spending £3.6 billion a year on the school estate and it will be £5 billion by 2005/06, that is an awful lot of money, and that gives us the possibility of not just doing repairs but doing major refurbishments. Secondly, we are looking for each local authority to have a plan where it prioritises its ---

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You are telling me something that I already know.

Mr Normington: The local authority has to balance deprivation but also need and condition. Clearly if a school is in a bad condition it has to take that into account and you will expect that school to be further up the list than schools which are in better condition, although we are trying to focus our capital refurbishment on areas of deprivation because there is some evidence that improves standards we are also trying to make sure that schools which are in poor condition are improved as well. I would be very disappointed if that school if is as you described it would have to wait 15 years to have money spent on it.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): It is possible they will able to do a stand-alone private initiative for that particular school but there will be a shortfall in the actual capital expenditure, the difference between what they can raise and have a deal with the private sector and the actual money that will need to replace school. I want a guarantee or some sort or assurance that shortfall can be Government-funded and will be Government-funded. I think Mr Bell has a responsibility here as the Chief Inspector of schools to say, in certain areas we have excellent schools which are performing very well indeed but could deteriorate very badly and unless the Government comes up with some money for these schools then I can see these school deteriorating, I think you have a responsibility to say that. Are you prepared to do that?

Mr Bell: We do that in two ways, one we do it at the level of the individual school. We often comment if the accommodation impeding pupils' education then schools will be able to use that report to help them make a stronger case. We also do it on a national level because in my Annual Report I always comment on the quality of accommodation. For example this last year I commented on some of the concerns still that remain about specialist accommodation in secondary schools, so that is a very important part of the inspection process because the quality of the education environment is very important, and we do say that.

Chairman: Thank you very much. Mr Nick Gibb.

Mr Gibb: I totally disagree with the earlier comment of Mr Steinberg about results, they do need to be published and we should be publishing as much information as possible about schools.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): With due respect I did not say that.


Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): On page 31 - basically I am taking this to its widest extreme - the transition from primary school to secondary school. Could I just say this is a vitally important area for the North East of England and I think Mr Bell might be the best to answer this. I am quite sure he is fully aware of the problems. We have a situation in the North East of England where in terms of results and league tables and performance our primary school pupils do extremely well but within five years of secondary education they perform appallingly compared with the rest of the country. Do you think that has anything to do with culture? Do you think it has anything to do with parental occupation? Do you think it has anything to do with class background, if you like? Why is it that we do have this huge problem which we have not been able to put right? Although performance is improving, it is still very bad.

Mr Bell: I think there are a couple of factors that I would draw attention to. One is the value that is placed on education historically in certain parts of the country - this is not just a phenomenon that one might expect to find in the North East of England - where there has not been a tradition, perhaps, of higher education and further education. That seems to take a long time to overcome and, therefore, I know schools and local education authorities are doing much to try to persuade parents and children and young people the value of education. The second point I would make is actually one that you began with and that is the transition between primary and secondary schools. We looked at this issue in some detail last year and we did see that for a number of children that was a critical falling off point. They seemed to be relatively well motivated and enthusiastic at primary school but for many of them it was not the social transition between primary and secondary school that really got to them, it was the education transition; the transition in educational terms from primary to secondary schools was not smooth enough. The secondary schools did not always build enough when they came from primary schools and, therefore, children became less motivated. I think there are out of school factors which schools and others can help address but I think one of the themes of today has been of course those things that schools themselves can do and giving great attention to the quality of movement between primary and secondary schools, the quality of education, the continuity of education, is all very important too.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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