Children, Schools and Families Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee am ar 19 Ionawr 2010.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West 10:30, 19 Ionawr 2010

Order. Before we begin, I have a few announcements to make. I do not think that they will be terribly interesting to anyone, but I have to go through the motions with these announcements. If people wish to remove their jackets, please feel free to do so if you want to be more comfortable. There is a money resolution in connection with this Bill. Copies are available in the room. If colleagues need advice, we have Officers who can point them in the right direction.

I should like to remind members of the Committee that adequate notice of amendments should be given. Three days’ notice of amendments is normally required for them to be selectable. That is, amendments tabled up until the rise of the House on a Thursday will be selectable on a Tuesday, and those tabled up until the rise of the House on a Monday will be selectable on a Thursday. As a general rule, I and my fellow Chairman, Janet Anderson, do not intend to call starred amendments, including any starred amendments that might be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee.

The Committee will be asked first to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper, for which debate is limited to half an hour. We will then proceed to a motion to report written evidence, and then a motion to permit the Committee to deliberate in private in advance of the oral evidence sessions, which I hope we can take formally.

Assuming that the second of these motions has been agreed, the Committee will then move into private session. Once the Committee has deliberated, the witnesses and members of the public will be invited back into the Room and our oral evidence session will continue. If the Committee agrees to the programme motion, the Committee will hear evidence this morning and this afternoon, and Thursday morning and afternoon. Next week we will move to the Committee Corridor and revert to the traditional clause by clause scrutiny.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 am on Tuesday 19 January) meet—

(a) at 4.00 pm on Tuesday 19 January;

(b) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 21 January;

(c) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 26 January;

(d) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 28 January;

(e) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 2 February;

(f) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 4 February;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table—

TABLE

Date

Time

Witness

Tuesday 19 January

Until no later than 12.00 pm

Association of School and College Leaders; Family and Parenting Institute; Commission for Local Administration in England; National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers; Local Government Association

Tuesday 19 January

Until no later than 1.00 pm

Association of Teachers and Lecturers; National Association of Head Teachers; Barnfield Federation; Harris Federation; National Union of Teachers; General Teaching Council for England

Tuesday 19 January

Until no later than 5.15 pm

Brian Lamb; John Friel

Tuesday 19 January

Until no later than 7.00 pm

Graham Badman; Education Otherwise; Home Educated Youth Council; National Children’s Bureau;

National Autistic Society

Thursday 21 January

Until no later than 10.25 am

Sir Jim Rose; Sue Barratt; Head Teacher at Bournville Junior School; John McIntosh

Thursday 21 January

Until no later than 2.30 pm

Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group; PSHE Association; Church of England; Catholic Education Service; Campaign Against Premature and Inappropriate Sex and Relationship Education in Schools

Thursday 21 January

Until no later than 4.00 pm

Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family

Division of the High Court; Society of Editors; National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; District Judge Nicholas Crichton

(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 26; Schedule 1; Clauses 27 to 40; Schedule 2; Clause 41; Schedule 3; Clauses 42 to 45; Schedules 4 and 5; Clauses 46 to 50; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Thursday 4 February.—(Mr. Coaker.)

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I want to raise an objection to the way in which the choice of witnesses is handled. I was careful to choose only a limited number of witnesses reflecting the wide range of subjects in the Bill. However, at least two of my witnesses were rejected and I was not given any reason why. One was Mr. John Bald, an independent consultant and an expert in education, and the other was Mr. Paul Strong, a head teacher at William Farr school in Lincolnshire. There are other head teachers who are being called as Government witnesses and I was upset that two of my witnesses on a very short list were rejected.

If this process of calling witnesses from outside to help scrutinise Bills is to work and to be transparent and open, it is important that Opposition witnesses are called unless there are exceptional reasons why they  should not be. If the Government simply use this as a way of justifying their own legislation, it calls the whole process into question.

On a practical note, I understand that one of the witnesses due to give evidence in the last session on Thursday was unable to accept the invitation, and I would like to suggest an alternative name to fill that slot.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

We have tried as far as possible to accommodate all the witnesses who have been suggested and have tried to ensure a balance of people for these public evidence sessions. If the usual channels can discuss who the alternative should be for the last slot on Thursday when someone is not able to come, I am sure we will be able to deal with that.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I have two points. First, I wish to record our thanks to the Minister for taking into account the suggestions that we made about who should be witnesses, and for accepting some significant amendments to the Government’s original list of witnesses. We appreciate the time it has taken to track down a number of individuals, some of whom have and some of whom have not been able to come.

Secondly, may I register our concerns about the programme motion. Although the Bill is small in size, it is great in scope, and we shall have an awful lot to consider after we go on from the evidence sessions. I hope that we can have some assurance from the Minister that every attempt will be made by the Government and by the usual channels to accommodate as extensive as possible a debate, because if we do not have that time, I am sure that that will be taken into account in another place, when decisions are made about how much of this legislation should be allowed to go through.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am grateful for the remarks at the beginning. I do not run a Bill deliberately to avoid anybody that anybody else wants being on the Committee. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about how we have tried to accommodate people on the Committee in order to give us evidence.

The hon. Gentleman will notice that we have an end date for our discussion of the content of the Bill, but clearly if there is a need for one or two additional hours on one or two of the sittings, I am sure, subject to discussion, that that will be possible. He will also note that, as is the case 100 per cent. of the time whenever I am responsible for a Bill, there are no knives. It is a matter for the Committee to determine how much time it wants to spend on particular issues, and I am sure that we will come to an arrangement without the necessity for an artificial knife. That will lead to the Committee conducting its business in a much more sensible and mature way. We have an end date, and I am sure that, with the good will that we will no doubt generate, it will be possible to put in an additional hour or two hours somewhere if people feel it appropriate to discuss something a bit more. I am sure that, subject to the usual negotiations and discussions, in the spirit in which this Committee will conduct itself, that may well be possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(Mr. Coaker.)

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Mr. Coaker.)

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Copies of any memorandums that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room. The Committee will now deliberate in private.

The Committee deliberated in private.

On resuming—

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

On a point of order, Mr. Amess. I understand that a policy statement has been made by the Department for Children, Schools and Families about home education and clause 26. It would be useful to have such policy papers in advance and I wonder whether you can make sure that we receive them.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Amess. I echo those concerns. There is an extensive amount of paperwork involved in trying to scrutinise a Bill and it is difficult to do our job if we are not aware of the documents within a decent period of time. May I ask, therefore, that we receive any documents at least 24 hours before the Committee sits? Is it possible for the Minister to write to members of the Committee later this week to indicate which papers might be used during each sitting and roughly when we can expect to see them?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Yes, I will do that. I apologise for the fact that the documents are not here. They are on their way as we speak.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Welcome to all our witnesses this morning. I do not know whether you have had any experience of giving evidence at a session like this, but I hope that it will be an enjoyable experience. Please introduce yourselves and briefly say something about the Bill.

Dr. John Dunford: I am General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which involves about 15,000 secondary schools, head teachers and deputy heads. We are concerned that there is to be yet another education Bill in this parliamentary Session, particularly so soon after the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009—not a very well-named piece of legislation, I might add. Our main concerns about the Bill are around the guarantees and potential in an increasingly litigious society for parents to take up an awful lot of head teachers’ time in disputing what are rather uncertain and woolly guarantees.

Dr. Katherine Rake: I am chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute. We have a long-standing concern to ensure that families and schools engage effectively to promote children’s learning. So that is our particular interest in the Bill.

Tony Redmond: I am the local government ombudsman. As a result of the ASCL Act 2009, to which John just referred, we are responsible for investigating complaints relating to the internal management of schools. We are an independent body and, as a result of this Bill, our  responsibilities will extend to covering the guarantees it contains. I have a responsibility to ensure that the dispute resolution procedure is fair and proportionate and that is the basis on which I shall fulfil my role here. I have a responsibility to ensure that the dispute resolution is fair and proportionate in the way that I carry out my functions, and it would be on that basis that I would fulfil my role.

Chris Keates: I am general secretary of the NASUWT and represent more than 273,000 teacher and school leader members. I am very pleased to have been asked to give evidence to this Bill Committee. We are broadly supportive of a number of the principles that are encapsulated in the Bill, particularly those that are looking to give entitlement, guarantees and access to some of the most vulnerable children in our schools. We have evaluated the Bill on the basis that we believe education Bills should be looking at making the state sector the sector of choice for education, not a sector of default. We have issues about some of the detail of elements within the Bill, particularly in making sure that the legislation and regulations are cast in such a way that they will not add unnecessary bureaucratic burdens or work loads on school leaders, teachers and other staff in schools.

David Simmonds: I am deputy leader of the London Borough of Hillingdon, and I am here to speak on behalf of the Local Government Association. We broadly welcome the objectives of the Bill. Local government is deeply committed to raising standards in education, but I have a number of observations about the operation of various items within the Bill, particularly the guarantees and the proposed intervention powers of the Secretary of State, and about elements of the Badman review and how that will operate in practice. I look forward to sharing them with you in the course of today’s hearing.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Thank you. We have until midday to question our witnesses. Mr. Gibb will ask the first question.

Q 11

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I wish to ask Mr. Tony Redmond about guarantees. When you have heard a complaint and upheld and you share the views of the complainant, paragraph 19 of the consultation document, “The Pupil and Parent Guarantees”, states that you can recommend

“where there has been a failure to make provision promised in the Guarantees, the LGO could seek to ensure that it is delivered;”.

Later in the document, it says that you can recommend that

“practices be changed for the future”.

How do you intend to deliver changes at a given school to ensure that all pupils go to schools where they are taught a broad balance and flexible curriculum? How will you change a school so that it delivers a high standard of education?

Tony Redmond: I do not think that it is the role or responsibility of local government to change a school. My role is to consider a complaint that is presented to the commission after it has been properly considered by the school and the governing body. My concern would be to see if there was any evidence that the guarantee had not been fulfilled. I would rely on evidence. I will  go a step further and say that I would look for any individual injustice arising from any action of the school that may fall short of the guarantee.

In determining whether or not I proceed to investigate, evidence is extremely important. If I conclude that there is evidence that the guarantee has not been fulfilled, I recommend to the school that it consider how that guarantee should be fulfilled. As you rightly point out, it is a recommendation—I cannot enforce it—but I think by virtue of making that recommendation, I highlight the issues on which I feel that the school has fallen short in respect of fulfilling the guarantee.

As you rightly point out, it is a recommendation—I cannot enforce it—but by virtue of making that recommendation, I would highlight the issues I feel that the school has fallen short of in fulfilling that guarantee. It is then for the school to decide how it should proceed. So a wider issue may flow from that recommendation.

Q 2

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

What you said is that when the school has been complained about—that it is providing a standard of education that does not fulfil the guarantee—at the end of that whole lengthy and probably costly procedure, you would ask the school to consider how it should fulfil the guarantee. Is that not just a complete waste of time?

Tony Redmond: I am making a recommendation, in which I would identify the areas where the guarantee had not been fulfilled and ask the school to fulfil it. I think certain specifics as to how the guarantee should be fulfilled may in part be contained in my recommendation, but ultimately it is the school’s action that determines the next step.

Q 3

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

Could you compare that with, for example, when you take up cases of a complaint of maladministration in local government and the impact of your recommendations there?

Tony Redmond: Regarding the impact of recommendations on local government, we have been the ombudsman in that domain for some 36 years. We find that our recommendations are implemented almost to the full—in excess of 99 per cent. In those areas, and it depends very much on the complaint, we may advocate good practice on how a particular complaint should be resolved, so that there is an opportunity to ensure that there is no recurrence of that particular type of fault. It may be that that sort of recommendation could be made in the case of a school as well. We are practised in understanding the nature of fault and how it can be rectified, and we will be careful and cautious about understanding the schools well in effecting any recommendations.

Q 4

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

Therefore, in relation to your many years’ experience in dealing with complaints against a local authority, you think that the course of action the local government ombudsman takes can also be applied to complaints about the guarantees in schools.

Tony Redmond: I think the principles that underlie our existing local government ombudsman operation could be applied.

Q 5

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

As we have started off with the ombudsman issue, may I continue in that vein? I wanted to check, Mr. Redmond, how confident you are that  you will be able to make judgments on whether the guarantees have been delivered. I do not know whether you have in front of you the original White Paper that lists the guarantees. On page 98, some of the pupil guarantees are listed. I want to draw your attention to No. 5 in the list, which states that

“every 11-14 year-old enjoys relevant and challenging learning in all subjects and develops their personal, learning and thinking skills so that they have strong foundations to make their 14-19 choices.”

If I was a parent who felt that guarantee had not been delivered, do you think you would find it difficult to make a judgment as to whether it had been delivered in practice?

Tony Redmond: Yes. In response to that question, I go back in the first instance to say that it is extremely important that our conclusions are evidence-based. Therefore I would look at what evidence was available to support the complainant’s arguments.

Secondly, we are conscious of the need to ensure that we have the expertise, experience and knowledge of the sector to be able to make judgments on such matters, and we would certainly ensure that that is the case. Having said that, we are also conscious of the fact that in terms of curriculum and teaching, some of those things might step outside the jurisdiction of the ombudsman, and we would be conscious of how we proceeded in dealing with those.

Basically, our principal concern is to ensure that when we carry out an investigation, we look at what evidence is available. We will not conclude an investigation and reach a finding if there is no evidence to support the complaint.

Q 6

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Do you think that the guarantees are drawn with sufficient clarity that you will know what they are supposed to mean? I do not think I would know what that guarantee is supposed to mean.

Tony Redmond: It is not for me to talk about the guarantees and how they are drafted. However, we will be careful in interpreting and applying the ombudsman principles to this particular type of complaint. I can only reiterate that it is a combination of, first, establishing whether there is any evidence to support the complaint and, secondly, whether any personal injustice is suffered by the individual who is making the complaint or by the parent on behalf of the child.

Q 7

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Have you estimated how many additional staff and how much additional expenditure you will need to police the guarantees?

Tony Redmond: We are in continuing discussions with the DCSF about the funding for this particular arrangement. Initially, it will be by virtue of a pilot arrangement, which commences in April—sorry, the existing provision under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. If the Bill becomes law, we would have to go back and consider whether there were additional requirements associated specifically with the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

Tony Redmond: We have not done any particular estimates as yet, but there are provisions within the existing legislation that we are required to consider and which are related in some part to the guarantees.

Q 8

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Llafur, Keighley

May I ask any of the panel if they would like to see something in the Bill that is not there at the moment, or see something clarified in the Bill, that would help some of the schools in my constituency? As far as parent participation is concerned, 95 per cent. of the children in three of my primary schools entered school with not a word of English—they all spoke Punjabi—and there is a senior school where it is up to 75 per cent. Thus, that senior school had only three parents visiting an open night. Can any of you suggest anything that would help parents, schools and children in my constituency, where there is a lack of English and a lack of knowledge of education?

Dr. John Dunford: I refer to my previous answer. Your point, Mrs. Cryer, is not something that should be in a Bill. It is something that schools should do, but it, like so much of this, should not be in a Bill. If we were to have something around the guarantees in this sort of area, it would be just one more thing that made things difficult and another hoop for schools to jump through.

I wonder whether the Committee would consider some guarantees on the other side of the fence—the guarantee that the Government will provide sufficient funding for schools to carry out such things, or for adequate facilities or decent buildings, or teachers well enough paid to stop them going into the City. All those kinds of things could give a more balanced guarantee.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Mrs. Cryer, your question has triggered interest among all the witnesses.

Dr. Katherine Rake: You have put your finger on a very important point, which is making sure that there is sensible entitlement. It is a very important principle and one that we very much welcome being embodied in the Bill and that is realisable in reality. Different families have different barriers in getting to it, so sensible entitlement is particularly important for disadvantaged and marginalised families who would not otherwise interact with the school. Our view very much is that for this to become a reality, that for all parents, especially those most in need, you need provision of outreach services or parent contact services appropriate to all those different cultures, in order to support that entitlement. The principle is absolutely right and particularly pertinent in the kinds of schools you are describing, but to make the principle a reality, we need a suite of services to support particularly disadvantaged families.

Chris Keates: In answer to the question, it is right that what the Bill is trying to do is to keep this at a very high level in terms of ambitions around the guarantees. We believe that it is right and proper for the state to set out what parent and pupil entitlements and guarantees should be. We recognise that getting the wording absolutely correct around such issues is fraught with difficulty, to avoid vexatious and frivolous litigation. We know that is important, but I do not think it should be a barrier stopping us going forward with something that will articulate for the first time what the state education system provides.

Many of the provisions put forward in the guarantees, schools are delivering already—they look like a long and daunting list, but very few are new. What you are asking about is something that is part of the issue of accessing entitlements. That has to be looked at. What the guarantees should drive is a focus on particular areas of entitlement that at the moment people feel  frustrated about not being able to access. It is an issue that has to be picked up, but I would argue very strongly that it did not go on the face of the Bill.

I agree with John Dunford, however, that one of the things that we think is a missed opportunity in this Bill is to actually put forward a work force guarantee that gives them rights and entitlements in terms of providing the highest standards of education for every child. A great deal has been done in the last 12 years around the work force, and we think that it would have been very useful to state that guarantee to the work force as well.

David Simmonds: Having been through the process of assisting a very small, private Sikh school, which was set up in my borough to serve the Punjabi community, and having seen it develop into a very large and exceptionally successful state Sikh faith school—the first one in the UK—I have seen that the key factor was the ability of those leading the school and involved in its development to determine their own future. That is a school that now ticks all the boxes and hits all the targets when it comes to both results—Every Child Matters—and any element of target that might be imposed upon it. But it has a very distinctive character that has evolved in the light of the needs of that specific community. So I think the key thing, coming back to John Dunford’s point, is that it is probably not something that should feature in a Bill. In a sense, it is almost the absence of prescription that has allowed that school to flourish in the way that it does today.

Q 9

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

This is a question for David Simmonds. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State suggested that there were 70,000 home-educated children, by the Government’s best estimate. According to the Government’s impact assessment on home education, the one-off costs for 70,000 would amount to around £100 million to set up the licensing bureaucracy, and thereafter upwards of £50 million a year. If that is implemented, for the next decade it would cost about £500 million to put in place a licensing bureaucracy, with no additional resource whatever for actual educational support. Given the constraints on public finances at the moment, do you think that it is, first, a good use of money and, secondly, that it might not lead to the redirection of funding from children who are currently in need and not being protected educationally or in welfare terms, and in fact lead to the setting up of this licensing system?

David Simmonds: I could not agree that it is a good use of public money to spend that sort of figure on bureaucracy. From the perspective of local government, the key issue for us when it comes to home education is that there are responsibilities that sit with me as a statutory lead member, and with the local authority. At present we have a large body—the county of Lancashire, which has the largest number of home-educated children of any local authority area—where home education is a good and successful practice. We also have a significant hard core where home education is used as a smokescreen for real problems at home. When it comes to addressing the challenge, the issue is not so much a regulatory framework for home education in the round, but around beefing up the capacity of local authorities, which are currently barred from access to homes—I can speak from personal experience of cases when this has cropped up—to ensure that children are safe and enjoying the  appropriate state of well-being, which they should, so half a billion pounds on regulation is not a good use of money in my view.

Q 10

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

In their impact assessment, the Government say that the figures for the number of children in home education who may not be receiving a proper education are based on local authority information. They say that it is 20 per cent., which is not what the local authority information says. I wonder whether you could comment on that. Had you made any assessment of the benefits that they claim in the impact assessment, which, according to a statistician in the information that I have received, says that they have effectively double-counted? They have taken both the lifetime benefit for the whole population of home-educated children as it stands now, and then taken the percentage of all those in future years, which is statistically completely unsound and means that they have effectively double-counted the benefits. Can you comment on that?

David Simmonds: I think we understand well that parents choose home education for good reasons most of the time. It is not possible for me to comment on the likely financial benefit or other long-term consequence, but we know that when home-educated children take their exams, a significant number perform extremely well, which implies that they have received good education. The outstanding issue will always be from a local government perspective, but it is not a problem of home education in the round, but of a small number of hard-core families. In the case of Khyra Ishaq in Birmingham, when education and welfare officers were refused access to the home on the grounds that the child was being home educated, it subsequently emerged that that was the place where serious and prolonged abuse had ultimately led to that child’s death. In my view, we cannot allow the situation to continue when we, as local authorities, are responsible for ensuring a good education, but do not have the ability to intervene in hard-core problems.

Q 11

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

In the Khyra Ishaq case, the failure was of following procedure by the local authorities. There was absolutely no lack of powers, and suggesting that home education was an effective barrier to the local authority doing its job would not be fair. The Children’s Commission told the Select Committee precisely that, and it was wrong, too. Khyra Ishaq is not a case of the child being below the radar because of home education. In fact, there were plenty of signals on which the local authority did not act, nor did it use the powers that it actually had. Can you confirm that?

David Simmonds: I have spoken to colleagues about the issue, and on the information that I have, I can say from personal experience of a case that I have had to deal with in my borough that it is quite often a barrier, particularly when there are first warning signals and the family indicate to staff that they are home educating the child and say, “No, you can’t see the home. No, you can’t see the child. No, you aren’t allowed in.” The local authority does not have powers unless there is some other justification that tends not to emerge until later, such as welfare grounds.

Q 12

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

What would you suggest is the best way forward? On Second Reading, Front-Bench spokespeople from all parties indicated that there had to be some updating or improvement of the present regulations. What do you recommend?

David Simmonds: The recommendations in the Badman report have some merit, but the key factor is that the Government cannot have it both ways, whereby the local authority is responsible for ensuring that the child is getting an education, but lacks the powers to ensure that that is happening. We should either lose the responsibility or we should gain the powers. At the moment, the issue is cited frequently by local authorities as a cause of concern in that hard core where there is a problem.

Q 13

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

Tony Redmond, have you done scenario planning with the Department for Children, Schools and Families in the sense of looking at the guarantees about the different types of case that might come forward? I have always found as an MP and a Minister that looking at different scenarios that could emerge and how we could deal with them is helpful in seeing how the law would be applied or implemented on the ground. Have you done any of that work so far, based on the guarantees?

Tony Redmond: Yes, we have. We spent a considerable number of hours talking to our colleagues in DCSF to examine the different aspects of the guarantees, in a sense to test them as to how we could proceed in certain circumstances. We continue to do that, and I recognise too that if indeed the measure does become law, we shall have to continue to work with schools and representatives of schools to understand the nature of the work that is going on in schools. We are very conscious of its being a new jurisdiction for the ombudsman. Yes, we have already looked at different types of case on a number of occasions.

Q 14

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

Chris Keates, you said in answer to a question that most schools were delivering the guarantees already. That is very welcome, but given that it might be just a way of formalising what we should expect in raising good practice, and if schools are already providing it, why would they need extra resources?

Chris Keates: Well, I did not raise the issue about extra resources.

Chris Keates: I have not raised the issue about extra resources because what we are doing at the moment is evaluating and looking through exactly what is on the face of the guarantees. The schools cover a vast proportion of what is in that list of guarantees.

The issue will be the detail that underpins the high aspirations and ambitions of the Bill; that is where the detail will come in—about what the expectations will be. We are keen to ensure that concerns about bureaucratic burdens and paperwork, which will of course have a resource implication for schools, are carefully looked at. It is difficult to quantify at the moment whether it is automatically a matter of extra resources when you do not know the underpinning detail or how the measure would be put in place in schools. That matter will come in probably around issues such as the complaints procedures that we have heard examined in earlier questions.

As a teacher trade union, we would always argue to make sure that schools have resources to enable them to fulfil any responsibilities that are placed on them. The argument about resources would start to be devalued  if every time something new comes in, the immediate idea is that it will need additional resource. For some things, it sometimes generates some bureaucracy and additionality, because people see it as an add-on, rather than looking at the systems they have. We would therefore argue that we look carefully once we see more detail on the matter. There should be minimum impact on schools from the point of view of their having additional work.

Q 15

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

Mr. Simmonds, I wonder if I could seek some clarification on the local authorities’ responsibility for the education of a child. My colleagues on this Committee have provided me with some information. Most of us have received quite a lot of lobbying, which suggests that it is parents’ responsibility, not the local authorities’. Can you state clearly on what grounds you feel that a local authority has the overriding responsibility?

David Simmonds: I am not a legislative expert or a lawyer, so if you ask me to direct you to a relevant paragraph in a relevant Bill, I would struggle with that. However, it is clear that local authorities have a statutory duty to secure the education of all children in their area, which has been backed up by a subsequent statutory duty to secure appropriate services at nursery level for children.

David Simmonds: I can see that Mr. Stuart disagrees with that point. The information that I have has been absolutely consistent and, as I understand it, well enshrined in the legal responsibilities of a local authority. Should the Committee wish to have a constitutional lawyer in front of it and ask them to unravel that conundrum, that is the only way I can suggest you proceed—if you disagree.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

The elective home education guidelines for local authorities produced by the DCSF lay out clearly and precisely in non-statutory form that local authorities do not have that overriding duty; it is parents who do.

Q 16

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

What I wanted to ask was whether it would be possible for you to give a note of the LGA’s understanding of that particular point and which statute it relates to. I do not want to put you on the spot, but we really could do with knowing the LGA’s position.

David Simmonds: I would be happy to clarify that. The only observation I would make is that it would not be the first time that there was a contradiction between statute and guidelines. Guidelines are often not reflective of what the law says, and the courts may take a different view when it comes down to it.

Q 17

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

It would be really helpful if we could have that clarification. I wanted to pursue this matter a little further. The concept of registration has upset a large number of people, and there is a difficult balance affecting large numbers of people for the sake of a few. Obviously, the few are very important, but we are looking at whether it is safeguarding our education. Do you think that the registration with all the strings attached—I mean the sticks, rather than the carrots—will  be very cumbersome to implement, for example, in determining whether an efficient and suitable education is being supplied?

David Simmonds: Yes.

Q 18

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

Could Dr. Dunford, Dr. Rake and Chris Keates comment on the registration monitoring for home-educated children set out in the Bill?

Dr. Katherine Rake: It is not something that we have any evidence on or are qualified to comment on, I am afraid.

Dr. John Dunford: That is the same for me.

Chris Keates: We look at it from the point of view of the balance, in terms of making sure that responsible authorities are aware of where children are, particularly around the issues. We cannot see why there is a real problem about registration, provided it is proportionate and a fit-for-purpose process. We probably have a slightly unpopular view of home education, in that we think we have missed the opportunity to have a debate about whether it is appropriate in a modern school education system. We have no objections in principle to registration—or the monitoring—provided that it is proportionate and fit for purpose. I would like to support my colleague in that it may be the wording that is wrong, but some of the provisions in the various Education Acts for local authorities’ duties place on them that direct responsibility for the welfare of people, as well as the issues around education, so I think it is a case of looking at the appropriate parts of the legislation. There are things that place specific duties on local authorities.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Colleagues, we have only just over half an hour left. I can see everyone who wants to ask a question and am making a mental note. The reason I am being a bit tough on supplementaries is that I want to ensure that everyone has an opportunity.

Q 19

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Coming back to home education, the Khyra Ishaq case was mentioned, but it is probably sub judice, so we had better not explore it. However, on that principle, can Councillor Simmonds or any of the other members of the panel tell me how many children who are home educated have been the subject of serious case reviews because they have been seriously harmed or killed by their parents or carers?

David Simmonds: I cannot talk about it.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I think that is probably because the figure is zero, so that puts in perspective why we are targeting such parents.

Chris Keates: Could that not be looked at the other way around? Do we want to be in a position in which we have the statistics? It is important that the framework is not just included as something implying that in some way people who home educate are abusers. This is about making sure that those children are part of the general framework of safeguarding, which is good for every child, wherever they are educated.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

It is about putting it into a cost perspective as well. Is there a real threat to that particular constituency of children and does it justify the elaborate framework and the cost being proposed in the Bill?

Q 20

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

It is probably quite difficult to get statistics on how many home educators are abusers. I hope it is not about this. It would be like asking how many MPs are abusers or how many teachers are subject to serious case reviews. However, I take the point that how we go about this must not be through taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Getting a balance is something that I hope we can work through in Committee.

I am interested, Dr. Rake, in your organisation, the Family and Parenting Institute, not having a view on this at all. Clearly, there are issues here that colleagues are raising about the rights and engagement of parents. In submissions that I have received on home education, one of the asks from those who are home-educating their children is about more capacity to get support and help for their choice in educating their children. You are saying the Family and Parenting Institute has not discussed this and has no view on the parenting and schooling of children.

Dr. Katherine Rake: It is not that we have not discussed it. We build our policy from a research and evidence base and we do not have a research and evidence base on this particular issue, so I feel it is not appropriate for us to comment without that evidence base. We represent families right across the UK, and obviously most families are engaged in the school system. I am here to talk about pupil-parent guarantees and family perspectives on home-school agreements. We build as much policy as we can based on the evidence that we have. We do not, as has been reflected in the debate, have a full evidence base on this issue.

Q 21

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

May I move on to home-school agreements and ask a couple of questions about them? The Government are seeking to introduce clauses in the Bill because they say that the agreements are not being used as effectively as they might be. I visited a school in my constituency recently, where it was clear that until very recently the head teacher—I am not saying it is his fault—was not even aware that he could use parenting orders. Perhaps David and some representatives from John’s organisation—Chris—could answer why, given that there are already powers for head teachers and schools to use parenting orders, they are not being used. Why not? Why are not teachers in every local authority getting the right sort of advice, whether it is from the local authority through guidance from the LGA or through head teachers about how they can effectively use the powers?

David Simmonds: A brief response from me. The Local Government Association has always taken the view that it is for the management team and the governors of a school to use all the things at their disposal to decide the best way to manage a particular relationship. There are times when a school may feel that going down the route of parenting orders is appropriate, if that is a way of addressing particular concerns about an individual child. But I do not think we would wish to be prescriptive and say, “This is what you must do”, as opposed to a number of the other interventions that you might put in. While home-school agreements are a good idea,  schools operate a number of different local arrangements, which, in my experience, have been by and large pretty effective.

Dr. John Dunford: In answer to Caroline Flint’s question, head teachers tell me that the relationship between the school and the parent is very much a human relationship. You want to avoid, if you possibly can, trying to sort out that human relationship in a court through parenting orders. Fundamentally, head teachers will do everything they can to avoid going to court, because they think that that will in the end make the relationship with the parent more difficult, which makes the situation with the pupil in the school more difficult. Therefore you try and you go on trying to sort out that relationship, always with the pupil as the focus.

We welcome the Government’s trying to beef up home-school agreements. We particularly welcome the emphasis on the responsibilities of parents to support the discipline of the school, because we have always felt that there was not a good balance between rights and responsibilities. But at the end of the day, a home-school agreement is a piece of paper. When I, as a head teacher, am dealing with a child who has been excluded, whose parent believes only their side of the story, I am afraid that waving that piece of paper at them in the readmission interview of the child—reminding them what they signed four or five years earlier—is not necessarily going to solve the problem. But we do welcome the provisions—I do not want to undermine the attempt to strengthen the discipline of the school in this respect.

Q 22

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

But you almost contradict yourself, John, if I may say so. My concern is not about everyone running to issue a parenting order at the first sign of lack of support from a parent. I think you are right; I think most schools go through that. I am worried about teachers and head teachers in the school community not feeling confident about how they would go about pursuing a parenting order, and what shape the order might take, as they can vary enormously depending on the family, and, in extreme circumstances, could be a spur to bringing in needed support for that family.

Your final point was about having a home-school agreement—a piece of paper—and then waving it around. The Bill is partly attempting to tighten up and improve. Therefore, effective action can be taken. Cases where things often have been tried and are just not working, and are having a huge displacement effect on other children in the school community, are in the minority.

Dr. John Dunford: We would see this in the context of wider support for the child, which the local authority and the children’s trust should be promoting—a better, joined-up service to support children who are in those difficulties. If the parenting order is one part of that, then we would look to the local authority to give guidance and help head teachers, so that they can use a parenting order to improve a particular situation. That, however, will not be in isolation from the other services that are being provided to that family.

Q 23

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Ceidwadwyr, Crewe and Nantwich

In your memorandum to the Committee, Miss Keates, you say that you remain to be convinced of the need for parental satisfaction surveys. Why is that your position?

Chris Keates: We are sympathetic with finding ways to ensure that local authorities take a lead role in looking at the quality of the provision within their areas. We can see the purpose behind parental satisfaction surveys, but we are concerned about how they will operate in practice and how safeguards will be put in place to ensure that we do not have, for example, local authorities having to produce plans about provision in their area with a low threshold of parent participation.

For us, a number of safeguards need to be built into the surveys. First, we think that there has to be consistency of approach in how local authorities conduct them. The threshold needs to be on the face of the Bill rather than in regulation. There should be a high level threshold of participation before it triggers a plan—we would say 50 per cent.-plus of parents entitled to participate in that survey.

There must also be safeguards on the questionnaires in terms of access through the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In the pilots, the questionnaires have been used by people to give individual comments about individual schools, and it is important that local and national media, which we think will have an interest in such issues, whatever the level of participation of parents, are not able to identify individual schools.

There could also be a series of unintended consequences from the participation surveys if used, particularly by lobby groups and organisations interested in the nature of provision in a particular area, to lobby parents in a particular way. Instinctively, we feel that many local authorities have a whole variety of ways to consult their constituents on provision. While we are sympathetic to trying to get something that requires that to be done, we remain to be convinced that this is the best way.

Dr. John Dunford: May I support Chris Keates on that? I am all in favour of doing parent surveys, and schools now do them widely with parents whose children attend their school. However, the suggestion is to survey parents about the quality of schools that their children do not yet attend, and that is like asking a customer to grade a restaurant before they have eaten the meal. I am sceptical about the value of the information that the surveys will produce.

Q 24

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Llafur, Keighley

Chris, a new clause is being proposed to the Bill about the conduct of madrassas and Christian religious information or education establishments outside the mainstream of schools. It is about child protection. Do your members complain that they have a problem with discipline in state schools because, perhaps, the majority of children attend another religious school where, to put it mildly, discipline is sometimes a bit heavy-handed so the kids feel that the teachers at the state school are a soft touch? Have you ever experienced anything like that among your members?

Chris Keates: I have experienced that. I cannot say that it has been on a wide scale. I cannot say that we have experienced it recently, and that is probably because local authorities are now far more interventionist in safeguarding the provisions that have been brought into place. Quite a few years ago, it would have been something that our members might raise, particularly those working in some larger cities. I cannot say that we have had a recent case. Some matters have been about the role taken by local authorities in safeguarding pupils and the relationships that they have developed with the organisations that you described.

Q 25

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Can I return to home-school agreements generally? In the briefings that the Association of School and College Leaders sent, John, you said that it was unrealistic to require home-school agreements to be personalised for each individual, and that that would be wholly impracticable in secondary schools.

Chris Keates, you said that your union was concerned about the potential for the agreements to become hugely bureaucratic. Will both union leaders expand their views on that?

Dr. John Dunford: It seems that clause 4(8) calls on the head teacher to review the home-school agreement at least once a year. My understanding is that the Government intend the home-school agreement to be personalised to an extent. A requirement that the home-school agreement should be personalised seems to place an impossible task on a secondary school with 1,500 pupils.

Surely a home-school agreement sets out the ethos of the school to parents, and to which parents should sign up. It is not a matter of negotiation between the school and the parent or the school and the pupil. I expressed our concern in the briefing in one sense to obtain greater clarity about exactly the extent to which personalisation is required. If it is, we would have to oppose it on sheer work load grounds.

Chris Keates: The current system for home-school agreements has fallen into disrepute and the Bill starts to give some teeth to home-school agreements, particularly our link with magistrates courts and parenting orders. Ours is a similar point to that made by John. There is talk in the provisions as they are drafted about the fact that they may be personalised or may be reviewed annually. We would like some clarity about what that would mean in practice. Clearly, there are huge implications. If every single agreement is to be personalised, it would be better if the school was able to use its discretion to add something on for a particular pupil, having stated the basic standards that the school expects. That might be part of the whole programme that it had with the pupil. We would welcome that kind of discretion.

The other issue that concerned us was the words “may be reviewed annually”. Our view is, yes, build in an annual review, but not an actual requirement whereby people go through every home-school agreement. It may be that we want to prompt a review of the agreement when circumstances change for a particular child or family, and the school actually knows that. For us, it will be what those intentions are at the moment. The provisions are not prescriptive, but if the intention is that they should become so, we believe that significant additional work and bureaucracy could be imposed on schools.

Q 26

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

May I ask both union leaders their estimate of what the costs might be? The impact assessment says that the additional costs will be mainly transitional, in the sense of changing the home-school agreement templates, but it seems to imply that the cost to the school of reviewing and making the agreements bespoke for every child will be zero. Do you have a feel for what the cost will be if the agreements are bespoke and reviewed annually?

Could you also talk about the licence to practise? What are the views of your unions on both those subjects?

Dr. John Dunford: I do not have a figure for the cost because it would largely be the time of senior staff in the school. As I say, in large schools, that would be massive.

The Government have set out the licence to practise as something that would help to give a status to the teaching profession, rather like doctors, for example, but doctors and other professionals work in very small groups. What we have done for teachers—Chris Keates and I have both put a lot of work into the development of this in recent years—is to establish a new performance management structure allied very closely to continuing professional development. That will provide over time all the guarantee that parents want that teachers are up to date. On the one hand, you have performance management allied to professional development. On the other hand, you have a capability process—there has been some debate recently about whether it should be strengthened, but the process is there—to deal with teachers who are not competent. You do not have any of those things for doctors or architects, other than the big bang of going to the General Medical Council or whatever the equivalents are. At ground level, we have these things in schools. Therefore, what value does a licence to practise add, over and above performance management, CPD and capability proceedings, which are all extant?

Chris Keates: First, I agree with John. I think the massive cost would be in time. There would obviously be some administrative costs, which are difficult to quantify, but again, that would depend on the system that was brought in.

The debate around the licence to practise has been quite unfortunate. The NASUWT has opposed the introduction of the licence to practise, basically because of concern in the profession about how it might be portrayed in the media. It has basically been described as some sort of tool to root out ineffective teachers, as an MOT and as various things that have caused concern, and done so in the context that John has articulated. At the moment, teachers and head teachers are subject to rigorous procedures, including Ofsted, professional standards, performance management, capability and disciplinary procedures and GTC regulation, so we do not want another layer of regulation that is going to usurp those procedures. As John says, we have reached agreement on a detailed, rigorous and robust performance management process.

We have set out, in our briefing note, our view that if the Government are to proceed with the licence to practise, it must not be seen as some tool to tackle incompetence, with the implication that there are thousands of teachers out there who are incompetent. That is not correct. There is the point about placing no additional requirements on teachers and head teachers. The medical licence to practise covers doctors wherever they practise medicine, so if the teaching licence is to be aligned to that, it would apply to teachers and head teachers in both the state and the independent sectors. You do not have a medical licence to practise just because you work in an NHS hospital. Those are issues that must be picked up.

The important thing is the contractual entitlement to professional development. More and more expectations are placed on teachers and head teachers, and we want  an articulation of that contractual entitlement to high-quality professional development in order to meet the challenges of teaching in a 21st century school.

Q 27

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

Can I ask David Simmonds about the parental satisfaction survey? As I interpret it, it is about influencing local authorities and enabling them to be seen to be listening to views about what choice is available. I do not see it as a battering ram to use against individual schools. In a certain area, parents might want an academy, a different type of specialist school or more diversity of faith schools. Is that your understanding of what it is an attempt to do—to help the local authority better plan provision?

How do you see the surveys working? Do you think that it is appropriate that they should be only for parents whose children have yet to enter secondary school, for example, or should the views of parents of children in years 7 and 8 be sought? Also, how do you think a local authority might deal with the fact that those who return any questionnaire often tend to be more confident and educated? Do you see a role for sampling, for example, across different communities in a local education authority to ensure that the response is robust and reflects the views of parents with different levels of confidence?

David Simmonds: There are a number of points in the question. The key satisfaction survey, from my perspective, is the one that will happen, in my case, in May this year: an election. That is an opportunity for everyone who lives in the area and is entitled to vote to express their view of the performance of the local authority. If people are concerned about education, they will have the opportunity to express that concern at the ballot box and, if necessary, to change the people in charge of it.

Q 28

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I respect that, but there are always a lot of other issues, such as the bins being emptied. I am specifically discussing a tool to involve parents in the planning for choice of schools in their local area, which sometimes needs a more refined and prioritised approach.

David Simmonds: To continue with the other points that you raised, electoral accountability is key. When it comes to planning for provision and the operation of the surveys, my question and challenge for the Committee is what the Government seek to achieve through the process. As a local authority, we have an inspection regime and a residents’ satisfaction survey, which includes specific questions about satisfaction with schools by category and a question about whether people have a child attending school. The information is already gathered through that process, which is carried out independently of the local authority by MORI.

We now have a statutory duty to prepare a plan for the children and families trust, which involves an extensive process of consultation with schools, parents and specific categories—you mentioned years 7 and 8—such as special educational needs. A variety of different categories of family are invited to express their view. That then feeds into the plan, which is designed to inform the future shape of the education provision within the local authority area. Schools themselves then carry out a number of different satisfaction surveys.

From my perspective, if there is to be an additional satisfaction survey over and above all those things, the key point is to minimise the bureaucratic burden that it will create. Ideally, it would be done as part of the school admissions round, if we are to do it at all. Rather than asking parents to fill out umpteen sets of separate surveys, they should do so through one clear and simple process when the mind is focused on what is available in the way of educational provision.

Coming back to the point about children’s trusts, every area has a children’s trust. That trust has various duties, and one of those is drawing up that plan in consultation. I do not quite see the value added from having an additional requirement to prepare a separate plan in response to the results of another survey, over and above the plans already being prepared in response to the existing mechanisms.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

We have only five minutes left, so I ask my colleagues to ask quick questions and our witnesses to provide brief answers.

Q 29

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I have two relatively brief questions. I return to both John and Chris and the additional bureaucratic burdens that will be imposed by the Bill. We have discussed the many parts of the Bill that concern you because of their bureaucracy. If, having listened to you today, Vernon was suddenly to decide that he would concede two bits of the Bill that you particularly disliked and wanted him to drop because of their bureaucratic effect, which bits would you suggest he drop?

Dr. John Dunford: The guarantees and the licence to practice.

Chris Keates: You are restricting me to bureaucratic burdens, but I would rather drop any bits that exempt academies from registering with the Charity Commission. To a certain extent, it is not a particularly fair question. A lot of the evidence that I have given on some parts of the Bill are to do with the fact that the way it is implemented is going to determine whether it is bureaucratic. We must not confuse bureaucracy with unnecessary bureaucracy, because you are always going to get some bureaucracy. It is a bureaucratic process, and I assume that you all believe that it is a good process to have.

I think it is the licence to practice. If there was anything in the Bill that we would say, do we need to go forward with that now, I would say the licence to practice. But if it was implemented in the way that we set out, it should not provide any more bureaucracy for schools at all; it should be seen as transition from performance management.

Q 30

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I have one other question, which might stir you both up a bit—if you need that. We have discussed the licence to practice before. Head teachers around the country often say to me privately, “It is true that there are mechanisms to get rid of teachers who aren’t very good, but the truth is that they take ages to implement; people go off sick when you are about to take action against; and then they leave the school and appear somewhere else down the road and do a bad job there.” Are you both saying that the existing mechanisms for dealing with teachers who are not performing well are sufficient?

Chris Keates: I am. I don’t accept that they take too long. It shouldn’t be easy to sack people. It should be a fair and transparent and fit-for-purpose process, and I believe that we have that in schools if it is properly used.

Part of the issue of underperformance is, first, that it seems to be the general view, put forward by some, that schools are rife with teachers who are underperforming. That is not true. Secondly, there are lots of reasons for underperformance. Some of them are inappropriate deployment, a lack of training and being put with groups that people haven’t been trained to be put with. There are some real management issues around that.

Getting down to the hard core of competency, the procedure in place has been reformed three times by the current Government. It has been changed three times. In fact, it became known in the profession last time as the fast track to the sack. You need to be wary of those few people who will tell you that it is too hard for them to sack people. What you have to ask them is have they started the process, have they looked at the reasons and have they been using performance management appropriately.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

John, there are two minutes left. The Minister has not yet had an opportunity.

Dr. John Dunford: I disagree with Chris. Head teachers would welcome the opportunity to have a look; it is not education law but mostly employment law. We have to follow the law when we are dismissing people, and that is absolutely right. But we would like to look to see whether the process could be made more expedient.

Q 31

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I have tried to keep out of this, because people obviously know what I think; I wished to give everyone else the opportunity of asking questions. I thank the witnesses for coming here and for the evidence that they have given.

I have a question for Tony. I wish to be clear about complaints. As John said, for most of the time one would expect the school to sort out particular problems that parents may have about the guarantee. The local government ombudsman has the ability not to investigate something if he believes that it would be vexatious. That is correct, is it not?

Tony Redmond: That is correct, yes. In terms of the complaints that come before us, that is certainly a consideration that we would take into account in determining whether to proceed.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Just to echo the Minister’s words, I thank the witnesses for their time and the way in which they have dealt with our questions. May I now ask for the next set of witnesses to join us?

Q 32

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

I welcome our witnesses. You have been in the Gallery listening to the previous session. Just to remind everyone, an hour passes very quickly, and all colleagues seem to have many questions that they want to ask our witnesses. Again, I appeal for brief questions and fairly brief answers. Witnesses, will you introduce yourselves and make a comment on the Bill?

Dr. Mary Bousted: Hello. I am general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. In general terms, we are quite relaxed about many of the provisions in the Bill. It is the implementation of the provisions that we are concerned about and want to ensure that it is done properly.

Mick Brookes: Similarly, we are fairly content with the thrust of the Bill.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Sorry, could you introduce yourself?

Mick Brookes: I beg your pardon. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

The background of this is that we are already down to fewer than three applicants per primary school, special school and early years school. It is slightly better than that in secondary. We are concerned that the bureaucracy involved in the implementation of this Bill will further deter people from applying to be heads. With a large number of colleagues about to leave the profession, we need to ensure that there is less bureaucracy and not more.

Peter Birkett: Hello. Pete Birkett, principal and chief executive of Barnfield college in Luton. We were the first FE sponsor of two academies in the country. We sponsored them on 1 September 2007 and doubled and tripled the results in that period of time. We support the Bill because of the guarantees underpinned by excellent teaching and learning that culminate in success and are summarised in a simple grade that parents can understand.

Daniel Moynihan: My role is chief executive for the Harris Federation of South London Schools, a grouping of nine city academies in south London. We welcome many aspects of the Bill such as making it easier to establish academies and accrediting academy groups. But the overarching thrust of the Bill is that it reduces academy freedoms; it prescribes things that were not prescribed before and, in general for the schools system, we believe that the guarantees and the licence to teach are likely to be a bureaucratic nightmare.

John Bangs: I am head of education, equality and professional development at the National Union of Teachers. Overall, we cannot see the necessity for the Bill at this time. We support aspects of it. For example, there is an important section that was not mentioned in the previous witness session on special educational needs, but that could have been subsumed in a serious new Bill on special educational needs in the new Parliament, drawing from the lessons of the Lamb review. We do not overall see the purpose or the real pressing importance of the Bill. There are aspects of it that we support, but there are aspects that we really do have deep, deep concerns about: first, the licence to practice; and secondly, the extension of the powers to the school improvement partner, and we share the anxieties of colleagues who gave you evidence earlier about the extension of powers to establish academies.

Keith Bartley: I am Keith Bartley, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England. Teachers must be encouraged and supported to exercise informed, professional judgment that leads to sustained improvements in learning. Although the increased emphasis on pupil and parent involvement in learning is welcome, we have previously raised concerns about the notion of formal guarantees. We would also like to see a clear focus on  measures that encourage parents and pupils to engage in ways that have a positive impact on learning, rather than passively receiving a set of entitlements. On the licence to practice proposals, we will scrutinise the proposals closely to test whether they will bring real and tangible benefits for teaching and learning.

Q 33

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

That is an interesting comment, Mr. Bartley, from the GTCE, which is charged, I presume, with overseeing the licence to practise. Will all the witnesses expand a little further on the licence to teach, starting with Mr. Bartley?

Keith Bartley: Certainly. I want to make it clear that the GTCE will implement the will of Parliament, so we will be charged with putting into place whatever measures are set out in legislation. I see merit in measures that support teachers to develop and improve their practice and that confer real benefits for teaching and learning that serve the public interest. We do not yet know whether the proposals in the Bill will achieve those aims. That will depend importantly on the detail of the model chosen. We are working closely with departmental officials to provide technical advice aimed at developing a feasible, sensible and management model. However, our council has yet to express its view on the policy, partly because it is waiting to understand the model that will emerge as a result of the passage of the Bill through Parliament.

John Bangs: We are opposed to the licence to practise. We do not know where it has come from. That is not just a response from full-time officials or executive members of the National Union of Teachers. Two or three days ago, we delivered to the Department for Children, Schools and Families more than 17,500 cards from teachers saying that they were opposed to the licence to practise, as well. That is a considerable number and the tip of an iceberg of the profession.

The reason why there is so much objection is that teachers are the most accountable profession already. Colleagues in the previous witness session identified performance management and capability procedures. They did not mention the increased powers of local authority intervention or, indeed, Ofsted. There are a range of accountabilities to which teachers are now subject. I see the reason for that in many aspects, but this is just an unnecessary addition. That said, and separate from it, very important evidence was given by the Training and Development Agency for Schools to the Children, Schools and Families Committee recently that identified the amount of professional development provision as a percentage of the school budget to individual teachers. Some schools devoted 0.5 per cent. of their school budget, while others went up to 14 per cent. If that is the baseline, at least at the moment, of professional development available to teachers, a licence to practise, even in terms of its own arguments and efficacy, rests on a very rocky and uneven basis.

Mick Brookes: I have a similar reply. We are not quite clear about the problems that this is supposed to address. I asked our senior solicitor what number of hours he needs to have to continue his licence to practise, and it was 15 hours. When you look at the in-service days that teachers are already required to undertake, that is already in excess of 30 hours—so time is certainly not the problem. Where we would be supportive is to ensure that the quality of CPD undertaken by teachers is enhanced. However, we think that that is addressed,  or should be addressed, in the current performance management arrangements, and the addition of a licence to practise is an unnecessary piece of bureaucracy.

Daniel Moynihan: Talking about academies first, we were originally set up with freedom to set our own terms and conditions. This measure seems to be a major infringement of that freedom. It is not clear to us what it will add. With existing performance management and existing arrangements for teacher professional development, these things could be beefed up easily by central Government. What would a licence to teach add?

Most schools, when they adopt performance management, judge teachers using the Ofsted grade criteria, which is a simple, small paragraph. Here, we have the addition of a tick list of two pages-worth of items in the core professional standards. I can imagine a scenario where it is perfectly possible for a teacher, over a period of time, to demonstrate that they have achieved each of those atomistic sentences on the tick list. Nevertheless, when you see a lesson using the Ofsted observation criteria, that is unsatisfactory. I can also see heads battling with teacher union representatives when they have evidence of a lack of capability in a teacher. What will happen is the professional association will come back to talk about not giving the appropriate professional development as required by the licence. There are all sorts of conflicts.

In practice, in schools, we now have something called a rarely cover regulation, where teachers should rarely cover. Owing to a large number of initiatives that come from Government, most of our training days are taken out to prepare for the initiatives. If teachers can rarely cover, and there are no training days, it is difficult to see where the time for all that extra professional development will come from—and, indeed, where the funding will come from.

Dr. Mary Bousted: I profoundly disagree with that last answer, as it makes a number of fundamental misconceptions. First, it is not good practice for schools to routinely grade teachers by Ofsted grades. Most people inform us if any schools have not been Ofsted-trained. Just giving teachers a quick grade does not give them anything on which to base performance and improvement. Secondly, it is important that a licence to practise does not become bureaucratic, which is why it is important for it to come through performance management. Frankly, anything that will make schools address the vast inequality in CPD provision, which John referred to—the licence to practise becomes part of an entitlement to good quality CPD, which most of my members say is parlously poor and they do not get—could strengthen the armoury towards that. From ATL’s point of view, we are not too concerned about a licence to practise, as long as it is rooted in and comes through the existing rigorous performance management regulations in schools. However, I think that the previous speaker has demonstrated a number of fundamental misconceptions about supporting the good performance of teachers. His attitude is bureaucratic in itself and not respectful of the profession.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

I am not sure that I can have witnesses falling out with each other.

Q 34

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

To put back the proposition, one of the issues that have already been raised in your contributions is the patchy nature of professional  development. Therefore, from Mary’s last point, is contractual entitlement to professional development one of the ways in which, partly, we can—it is a shame that we have to say this—raise the status of teaching as a high-value profession? We can really pull people together, by saying, “Actually, you do should have that professional development.” From all the papers that I read and going back to my days on the Select Committee on Education and Employment, how that professional development is delivered is still very patchy. This sort of change is not easy, but teaching is probably one of the few professional areas of work—I respect what you said about the differences between professions—that does not have a licence. Can anyone comment on that?

Peter Birkett: I totally agree with what has just been said. I consulted with the staff within the academies and talked to them about the licensing scheme. The heart of our organisation is to ensure that students reach their potential. We appreciate that the key way we do that is through excellence in teaching and learning. They, like me, support the idea of so many hours allocated per year to raise their performance. They also appreciate that, for a number of years, they have been asking for equal status with other professions, such as doctors, lawyers, solicitors, etc.—a similar reason why they support it. A point made earlier was that more CPD is made available for teachers in some organisations than in others, and this is about spreading good practice and ensuring a minimum requirement in every organisation, so that they can raise performance. I have also found that teachers, when taken out of the classroom—they do go through classroom observations—and do something else, which gives them time to reflect and develop other ideas, can bring that back into the classroom. That is why we fully support it.

Mick Brookes: I am probably too near Mary for this comment, but my experience of 27 years as a head teacher is that there is another side to the coin. We were zealots in providing high-quality CPD, but sometimes the problem is getting your staff to pick it up. There is a two-edged sword here. Certainly inside the performance management regulations, there is a requirement that members of staff should undertake good professional development. Getting them to go on a course, for instance, is one thing, but getting them to assimilate what is in there is another. So I think that there is another side to the argument.

John Bangs: There are two things. First, one or two people may remember the James report of the early ’70s, but that was the last time that any Government investigated teachers’ professional development through an independent inquiry. We had a professional development strategy from 2001 to 2003, which was axed at the first whiff of a funding crisis. We do not have a comprehensive professional development strategy for teachers in this country. There is no reference here about a comprehensive professional development strategy. The idea that some top-down mechanism will substitute for the lack of a strategy is one of those wishful, bureaucratic things that sometimes appears in Bills. It looks good and makes people feel somehow that head teachers, just because legislation exists, will actually get on and do what they are supposed to do, irrespective of their budgetary allocation.

Looking, for example, at the explanatory notes for the Bill, there is a human rights analysis:

“The Government does not consider that the establishment of a licensing scheme itself engages any of the Convention rights”.

But they then go on to say:

“The loss of a license to practise does not lead to the loss of a teacher’s professional status, and they can continue to teach under supervision (or at independent schools).”

If that is not a loss of professional status, I do not know what is.

The other concern that we have is that, actually, it would be a de facto fast track for the rogue minority of heads who are concerned about the capability procedures and want to fast-track or leap over them.

Daniel Moynihan: We have heard the value of CPD. Anyone with any sense in teaching would agree it is a very valuable thing. The quality of much of the stuff on the market is quite poor, and there is a case for doing something to improve the quality of CPD, but on whether that is best achieved by the licence to practise, I do not think so. We can achieve these things without the tick list incurred in the core professional standards. There are other ways to do this, which are less painful and less time-consuming.

Keith Bartley: We strongly support the notion of an entitlement and strengthening that entitlement. But alongside that entitlement sits a teacher’s individual responsibility to seek and take opportunities to develop their own skills. Currently, our impression is that schools are being very cautious about releasing teachers for external CPD opportunities, with enrolment on courses across the piece slowing down as schools anticipate budget pressures ahead. But professional development does not have to be provided solely externally. Structured development opportunities within schools or within local clusters of schools can be more effective and can lead more directly to changes in practice. But if that is the case, it leads me to have some concerns about the equitable provision for groups of teachers who are outside that mainstream provision—for example, supply teachers. Our research tells us that part-time teachers do not even receive their part-time share of CPD. One could argue that no matter how part-time someone is, they should have a full entitlement to the same degree of professional learning and development that any other teacher has. We are particularly concerned that there is very limited provision available at the moment for those who intend to return to teach. So we see that the notion of the entitlement around the licence gives an opportunity to assure better the quality of those teachers who are not within the mainstream performance management arrangements.

Q 35

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Mary, just to be clear, you support this because you see it primarily as a way of improving CPD. You do not see it as a mechanism that will be helpful in getting rid of poor teachers.

Dr. Mary Bousted: Can I just make one point here? There is no reason why a licence to practise has to be a reassessment every five years against the core professional standards. It should come out of performance management, and it should come out of a dialogue between the teacher and the context of rigorous performance management. If performance management says that a teacher is not achieving the proper standards, they  should be given support and development. If they do not respond to that, they should go to the capability procedure; that is the way to get a teacher out of the profession. As Chris said in previous evidence, the regulations and the procedures are there and should be used. So I do not see licence to practise as a sort of routine vehicle for bucketing out loads of teachers from the profession. I do not believe that there are thousands and thousands of bad teachers. I believe that we work in a very accountable framework. If licence to practise is properly implemented, it can be done in a non-bureaucratic way, and it can give real importance to the notion of a CPD entitlement. Entitlement is the next stage of the work that we are doing within social partnership. We are looking at what a CPD entitlement would look like and how it could be implemented. It is desperately needed.

Q 36

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Can I ask both Mick and Daniel to come back on the debate that we had earlier, if you heard Chris Keates and John Dunford? I said that head teachers around the country quite often say to us privately that getting rid of poor teachers is easy in theory, but that it can be quite difficult and quite prolonged in practice. Sometimes, they leave before the disciplinary action is taken, and then they turn up in another school where they might not be very good. Whether or not through this mechanism, is there any need to change the existing mechanisms for dealing with the minority of poor teachers? Or do you think the mechanisms are there for the heads who are willing to really use them, and the problem with them is weak head teachers?

Mick Brookes: The toughest thing that any head teacher has to do is to intervene and sometimes remove members of staff from his or her school. That is particularly difficult if you happen to be working in a small school with four teachers. If you remove one of them, you have lost 25 per cent. of your staff. When you go down that road, you know two things: it is highly likely that the member of staff will go off sick during the latter stages of the procedures, and they are also likely to take out a grievance against the head for bullying and harassment. That is the context in which we work. I understand the teacher unions wanting to protect their members.

This is a tough call, and one thing that needs to happen is that head teachers—not specifically, but sometimes—in smaller schools need to be given support. I think that all the unions agree that we cannot countenance poor practice in the classroom, and something has to be done about it. Mary is quite right that the intention of the competency procedures is to give support and guidance in the first place.

Allowing teachers to leave and have a misleading reference is completely unscrupulous, quite frankly, and it should not happen. But my experience of teachers who find that they are in the wrong day job is that most of them are pretty decent people who recognise that they are in the wrong job, and they will remove themselves, which is why Keith does not get many referrals for teacher competency; it is a self-selecting event.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Can I ask Daniel and then perhaps bring in John Bangs, who looks as if he is biting his lip and wants to say something?

Daniel Moynihan: I agree with everything that has just been said. A small number of teachers do not make the grade and cannot be helped with support. The  process of dealing with them can be very long and can be impeded by people going off sick. I am not saying that the intention behind licence to practise should be to assist schools in dealing with such people, but if that is the intention, the licence will not assist schools; in fact, it will make things harder, because there will be an extra set of things that schools will need to do. Teacher capability and competence is a separate issue that needs to be addressed. There is a market in people moving between schools who are not competent or capable, and that is a real problem in the system.

John Bangs: As you say, David, I sat in the evidence session earlier, and there was some impression that head teachers were somehow finding it difficult to get rid of staff who they believed to be incompetent. That is not the information that we have from our regional offices. The information that we have from them is that capability procedures are being used, but the amount of pressure that head teachers can, rightly or wrongly, bring to bear in individual cases means that those teachers leave earlier. From our information, head teachers do not feel an inhibition from external sources to act against staff who they feel are incompetent or giving problems.

Q 37

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Do you think, John, that the risk of some of the weak ones—there are bound to be some in every profession, and that includes Members of Parliament—clearing off early and turning up in another establishment might be prevented by the licence to practise if it is designed in the right way?

John Bangs: An academic called Stephen Ball once said that the thing about Government legislation that always made him feel overjoyed was that it was unrecognisable in schools, and this proposal will be unrecognisable if someone wants to subvert it. We are talking about 500,000 qualified teachers in the system. The vast majority of schools, head teachers and teachers act in good faith and operate according to the pressures on them. The licence to practise is not a professional development strategy or an effective or partial substitute for a professional development strategy. It will actually do nothing other than place an additional bureaucratic burden on head teachers and individual teachers, and it certainly will not lever in the kind of things that we have been arguing for. We agree with a funded entitlement to professional development, but a licence certainly will not lever in that objective.

Q 38

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Llafur, Keighley

I want to be absolutely fair, so I will ask the same question of you as I did of the previous group. We have talked a great deal about the licence to practise, and I can perfectly understand your concerns, but may I move on to the aspects of the Bill relating to pupil and parent guarantees, home-school agreements and parental satisfaction surveys? Do you agree or disagree with those aspects of the Bill?

I should also point out that probably more than 20 per cent. of my constituents are now either Pakistani or Bangladeshi, so I am deeply concerned about aspects of the Bill that will affect their children’s schools. There are three primary schools in my constituency where 95 per cent. of children enter with not a word of English, three other schools where 75 per cent. are  of that ilk and a senior school where 75 per cent. of the children entered earlier in their lives, at age four, without any English.

I am thinking about the pupil and parent guarantees and other aspects. It is difficult for parents with no experience of education themselves and little English, if any, to participate in such things. For instance, my senior school had an open evening last autumn that only three parents attended. Is there anything that we can add to, subtract from or enhance in the Bill that might help that sort of situation?

Mick Brookes: I will. Two of those elements are built on a false premise. The first is that parents have nowhere to complain. That is wrong. Parents have plenty of places to complain, and I think that some of the measures, if we are not careful, will give licence to vexatious parents or parents with frivolous complaints. That is one danger if the measures stay. I understand where they came from. Originally, the complaint used to go to the Secretary of State. Putting in the local ombudsman is probably a good move, but we do not also need the measure allowing parents who are not successful there then to complain to Ofsted. We need a single complaints mechanism for parents that is absolutely transparent and is an escalator, starting with the teacher and ending up with the ombudsman. The complaint to Ofsted should be taken out.

The second thing in terms of parental surveys is that any school worth its salt will take absolute notice of what parents say about its performance. I know that most of my colleagues do their own parental surveys as a matter of course to inform their school development plan and self-evaluation. The false premise here is that schools will misrepresent that. I do not think that that is the case. Most parents—any Ofsted survey will show that it is above 90 per cent.—are very satisfied with what is happening in their school. I think that schools should be trusted with that information. It should not be imposed from the outside.

John Bangs: The question is an extremely good one. It posits an anxiety about a one-size-fits-all set of guarantees. Absolutely. We have read both the impact assessment and the equality impact assessments of the Bill. Last night, the NUT launched a document on white working-class people and achievement. What is extraordinary about the Government’s equality impact assessment is that social deprivation and social class do not appear. Issues of ethnicity, rightly, do appear, but what does not is an evaluation of the impact of social and economic deprivation—if you will, social class. That is very important, and the question that has just been asked highlights it.

The second thing, in terms of our lobbying as a union and the advice we will give to MPs and peers, is that we will not call for the removal of guarantees for pupils and parents, but it seems absolutely axiomatic that the Government should do not just a consultation but a capacity audit of schools before setting the guarantees. Can they actually deliver, and what do they need to deliver in variance to their pupil populations? That is an  important position to take. If it is not taken—the provisions have mandatory force, and we advise a further amendment on that; Clive Romain, our senior solicitor, is here—the schools reading the legislation could be open to quite serious actions in court and damages, which will cost them a lot of money, because those guarantees have not been met.

Dr. Mary Bousted: In general, ATL is not against the concept of a pupil-parent guarantee. We think that the broad headings of the guarantees as they are set out are fair enough; they are what schools should be providing. The thing that we welcome, particularly with the home-school agreement, is that you are giving much more of a platform to the fact that parents have responsibilities as well as rights—responsibilities to support the school and its work, and to provide the context for their child to be able to go to school, to learn and to be able to get on and develop the skills and abilities that they need.

Much of what is in the pupil-parent guarantees is not new; they are duties that are already on a school—a broad and balanced curriculum and to have a behaviour policy to enforce good discipline. A lot of them are inspected by Ofsted and through the school improvement partners as well. In a sense, it brings together the agreement between the school and the parent in terms of the respective rights and responsibilities that both sides have for the child’s education.

Where we have worries, and where I am with John about the devil being in the detail, is on what the rights mean when they are translated into legislation. For example, what does the pupil’s right to be taught in an orderly classroom mean? How do we define what that will mean? Is the classroom not orderly because your child happens to be the collateral damage of a fight going on elsewhere? If something kicks off very quickly—as I know it can from my 11 years in comprehensive schools in London—it is often not the school’s or the teacher’s fault. You cannot always impose an orderly classroom. Sometimes circumstances prevent you from doing so. So the devil will be in the detail.

It is right that schools should have complaints systems and they should be robust. I was in for the start of the previous evidence, and I was heartened to hear the Government ombudsman saying that they can turn away vexatious complaints. It is important that we do not get what John Dunford called a whinger’s charter or serial complaints. There should be an understanding that schools are living places with lots of pupils and sometimes things happen. So, there are aspects of the guarantee that are in a school’s power to deliver. There are aspects that are contingent upon what is going on on a particular day, and it will be important to look at the legislation very carefully to see how they are translated.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

A final comment. There are only 20 minutes left and colleagues are trying to catch my eye, so we will have to speed up.

Daniel Moynihan: The guarantees, as statements, are fantastic. There is no doubt that everyone in education should be aspiring to achieve them. If you look at some of the guarantees, every child is entitled to relevant and challenging learning in all subjects. Of course that is true, but can it be so because it is mandated by Government? If there are still some schools that do not achieve that now, I cannot see how central Government can guarantee it. There are other strategies that can bring that about.  The biggest danger is litigious parents. When a parent says discipline is not very good and they refer the matter to the local government ombudsman or the YPLA, how will they investigate it? There is a danger that a huge superstructure of bureaucrats will be created to interfere further in schools, which are already subject to Ofsted inspections, SIP visits and all of the rest. That is fine, but for people to investigate parental complaints—if, for example, someone says behaviour is not good enough—we are adding another layer. Either they dismiss it without visiting the school, or they have to visit the school and make an assessment.

Q 39

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

Mr. Brookes, John Bangs implied—he did not quite say it—that head teachers do not find it hard to get rid of bad teachers. I am going back to the subject of licensing and tackling underperformance. The information came back from the NUT that there was not really a problem. Is that the experience of your members?

Mick Brookes: No, it is not. Our regional officers spend a lot of time defending our members against teachers who have been identified as being not up to scratch and have brought bullying and harassment complaints against my colleagues, so we will have to disagree on that one. In my experience, it is the toughest thing you have to do in school. That is not a charter to lay into teachers. I think the comments about the quality of teaching are right, and that it is the toughest thing you must do as head.

Q 40

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

So could you tell us, if you do not think licensing is the way to go, what changes you would like to see to tackle the problem? It is obvious that the teaching unions are in complete denial of them.

Mick Brookes: Okay, there is certainly the issue of support and the variable quality of human resources support around the country now. It was a high quality provision put on by local authorities, but it is now very patchy, and we are finding that some of our colleagues are getting into trouble because they are not getting the right advice when dealing with these very difficult issues.

Keith Bartley: All children deserve to be taught by competent teachers—that is an absolute basic minimum—and all children should be entitled to be taught by good teachers. The issue about this policy is that it seeks to raise the bar for the majority of teachers as its primary objective, and raises the secondary issue of the extent to which it can deal with underperformance or incompetence.

There will be a small proportion of practitioners in any profession, teaching included, who make the wrong choice, or who fail to thrive or succeed. In teaching, a significant proportion select themselves out during training or post-qualification. Beyond that, I believe that the prevalence of serious professional incompetence is very small, and capable of being managed. Indeed, it is being managed. There are teachers who lose their way because of short-term personal or professional difficulties, and they may thrive with support under a fresh start. Others simply do not recognise that they have a problem, and are unable to accept support and act on guidance offered.

The cases that reach the General Teaching Council for England and are found proven tend to exhibit a similar pattern. Teachers who, despite being offered support, mentoring, observation and often guidance  from their union representatives, are unable to raise their game and meet the needs of their pupils should not be recycled in the system, or permitted to practice.

Q 41

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

How many of the 500,000 teachers have the GTC played a part in removing from the profession on the grounds of incompetence?

Keith Bartley: We have had 76 cases heard relating to serious professional incompetence, which have resulted in 12 teachers being prohibited from ever practising.

Keith Bartley: Can I make the point that the issue is locally a matter for employment and that the issues that the GTC deals with are whether someone is fit ever to practise, rather than whether their practice was sufficient in local employment? We have recently commissioned jointly with the Department for Children, Schools and Families extensive research into referrals, not incompetence. That report is due to be published very soon.

My understanding is that, based on detailed interviews with head teachers, local authorities and others, including teacher associations, competence issues are being addressed primarily at local level and with varying degrees of success and rigour. It is difficult to say that a teacher is beyond redemption, and that is the level at which the GTC deals with cases on behalf of the profession. The research indicates—I hope we will be able to put it in the public domain very soon, because it will throw some light on this debate—a great deal of local activity around capability, performance management and all the structures that are in place. The issue is its variability across the country.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Finally on this point, Dr. Bousted.

Dr. Mary Bousted: The whole tenor of this is that there are cadres and thousands of incompetent teachers—

Q 42

Dr. Mary Bousted: Give me your evidence to support that. Ofsted says that we have the tiniest generation of teachers ever. School standards have been raised exponentially, and it is not bizarre—[Interruption.] I am not laughing, or finding this funny. It is not that teacher unions generally go in to defend improper practice. My regional and branch officials often go in to negotiate honourable ways for people who should no longer be in teaching to get out of the profession. The chair of the GTCE spoke about the number of teachers who self-select out of the classroom. If you are incompetent or a poorly performing teacher, the worst place for you to be is in a classroom because you are humiliated on a daily basis. Most people who cannot cut the mustard in teaching leave.

We must remember that performance management and data-tracking in classrooms mean now that the teaching you do and the progress of your pupils is measured year on year, and against schools in similar circumstances. So the idea that there are loads of places for poor teachers to hide is nonsense.

Q 43

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

Something completely different is personal, social and health education, within which is sex and relationships education. We have here a variety  of people from different aspects of education. Do you see any problems with this for your school or for your role in education? How much do you think that putting it on a statutory footing and making it a foundation part of the school will actually improve the best practice in this particularly important area, which I hope will be changed and have a new name? My colleague, Graham Allen, suggested “life skills”. That seems to be much better than PSHE, so I hope that it is noted by the education Ministers.

John Bangs: I am not happy with the impact assessment. The financial impact assessment is between £1.9 million and £4.8 million. We supported the PSHE introduction. It is important, but a lot of our members were very concerned about it. They had had experience of the introduction of citizenship in secondary schools and its operation has a variable impact. I do not want to say quality because when people try, they make it work. But in terms of its relationship with other secondary curriculum subjects, sometimes it is a small amount of the overall curriculum and sometimes it is integrated. What people told us when that happened was that actually no proper audit had been carried out of the additional staff needs.

My anxiety and that of my union is that no proper audit will be taken of the staffing needs in relation to PSHE. Opportunity costs came up in the first evidence session. We cannot always cost, but the devotion of staff time, leadership time and so on to its introduction are very real, so we will be pressing for a capacity order to be conducted by the Government before the new subject is a statutory requirement.

Q 44

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Can each member of the panel say something about their view on the home-school agreement and, in particular, the fact that it is to be bespoke and personalised, and also reviewed annually?

Peter Birkett: At the start of the meeting, I said that I supported the Bill because it is about engagement and parliamentary accountability. All the things that we are talking about bring in those things. Good schools and better schools have home agreements. We have a home agreement. I welcome this one because it made it more focused, and we had to identify things that we had not identified. For every year 11, 12 or personal tutor, we do that anyway. For extra catch-up sessions, we try to do that anyway.

Q 45

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Why do you need it to be part of a legal agreement?

Peter Birkett: Because it is happening in some schools, but not in others. Sometimes, head teachers, principals and others need guidance and this sort of legislation gives that guidance. It will make them focus on aspects that they possibly had not thought about before. It will also enable them to do it because they have got the legislation on their side to push it forward. It is about engagement with parents, pupils, employers and key stakeholders in the community, and it is also bespoke as much as it can be to an individual. We cannot say that that is a bad thing. In the further education sector, we have been working with students on individual learning plans for a number of years. Many of the things that I am seeing here are already in practice. That is why I am in favour.

Daniel Moynihan: I think that home-school agreements are a good idea. The issue for me is that their personalisation seems completely unnecessary, and far too much effort and work. Heads should be working with staff to improve the quality of teaching and learning, not worrying about personalising the home-school agreement. The thing that you want people to sign up to is the common approach to discipline, to pastoral care and so on. Those are things that are in common for the school. I think it is difficult to have home-school agreements that are personalised, because it is a common ethos that you want people to sign up to. To me, that seems completely unnecessary, and I think it will overburden heads.

The introduction and the firming up of home-school agreements, though, is generally to be welcomed and is a good move. When a parent does not abide by the home-school agreement, a parenting order is the outcome. That is fine, but parenting orders are terrifically demanding of head teachers’ time when it comes to managing them. There may be a role for local authorities to assist in that, because the head has to hold the parent to account for parenting. We have heads in our group that do it, and it takes a day every couple of weeks. It is a lot of work.

Q 46

Mick Brookes: I agree. It is good practice. It is about expectations and responsibility. Our concern is that parents who do not send their children—to put it in context, the very few parents—who do not send their children to school in a fit state to learn will not be impressed by this at all. They will need to be pursued. Whether this good practice should be enshrined in legislation is dubious, but it is good practice.

I think that good practice should be shared by all schools. Of course, there are expectations of the quality of education that children should get in their school, but there are also responsibilities—not only of the parents but of the children and young people themselves—to access that good quality education.

Q 47

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

Although there are home-school agreements under previous legislation, am I right that parents can choose not to sign one—that there is no obligation to do so? Under the Bill, once parents have accepted a place at a school and the child joins, they will have to sign up to the home-school agreement. Surely it is important to ensure that the law is clear about the responsibilities of parents. Although schools have many responsibilities under the guarantees, the agreement puts the onus in that direction. However, I accept that it should not be only the school that has to deal with the parent who refuses to send the child to school. That is why education welfare officers and others will have to be part of the team picture when dealing with the matter.

Dr. Mary Bousted: It is important that there is a requirement to sign. It is a clear articulation of an understanding.

I agree with Dr. Moynihan when he says that there is a danger; I think that personalisation is an overused word. Largely, education and schooling is a collective act. I do not perceive that in the system there will be hugely personalised home-school agreements, because  there are core entitlements and core responsibilities. However, I do think the fact that parents will be expected to sign is important. It gives a lever.

In fact, in some schools it is not the case that it is a minority of children who do not come to school. At some schools, teachers go in daily to have a difficult time with a preponderance of children—it might not be the majority, but it might be enough of a minority to make life very difficult—who do not buy into the ethos of the school, who do not buy into the ethos of working or the ethos that the teacher is there to be obeyed and respected. To have that as part of your armoury, parents having a series of responsibilities to ensure that their child goes to school ready to learn and behaves in school in a way that allows them and other children to learn, is very important.

Mick Brookes: I agree, but I do not think that it needs to be signed every year. It should be signed on admission, so that if you want your child to come to the school, these are the conditions and this is the promise from the school. The other thing, just to add to that, is another example of extremely good practice. For instance, in north Nottinghamshire, where I worked, we had a home-school agreement that was shared by the whole family of schools. If parents wanted to play one school against another, exactly the same home-school agreement would be at Sherwood school where I was as at Birkland school where my colleague was. I think that that is good practice.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Mr. Laws will now take us on to clause 10, the curriculum.

Q 48

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I wanted to come to an area that I do not think we have covered in any depth so far this morning, which is the primary curriculum. I cannot make up my mind about this section, about whether we are really gaining anything here. I think that the changes have been generally supported by people in primary education, but I note that the NUT is concerned that that is too top-down. I think also Nick Gibb has been concerned that that is too much dumbing down. Is it a waste of time? Will it achieve anything? Do you support it? I suppose that this question is particularly for John and Nick, but if the others are happy to join in, we would welcome hearing from you.

John Bangs: There are two areas of learning where Jim Rose received a degree of consensus. It was a real shame that it was not informed by the independent Cambridge review, and that the Government did not bring the two main reviewers, Alexander and Rose, together so that there was a genuine public debate. The issue has not been informed by a genuine debate by two of the most senior people, one of whom had more than 1,000 pieces of evidence from an independent review. Therefore, we may have had a better curriculum than this had there been a proper debate.

There is a structural problem with the curriculum, but it goes to back to 1988. There is no explicit expectation and requirement in the curriculum—that is, it is a school that develops the curriculum inside a broad framework; it is still a top-down curriculum. Secondly, we are concerned about—this is where the Bill provides an opportunity—the fact that there is no requirement on the Secretary of State to review the validity and reliability of the assessment arrangements in relation to the curriculum. That is particularly pertinent because  the curriculum is changing into areas of learning. Never mind the NUT’s position on the current arrangements; I do not know how, in the future, areas of learning will be assessed. There ought to be a requirement on the Secretary of State, once the curriculum changes, to review the assessment arrangements.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

We have three minutes left. Standing orders say that we have to finish at 1 o’clock and three colleagues want to ask questions.

Q 49

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

I have a very simple question. Do any of you think that only people with a first or a 2:1 should be funded to become teachers?

Dr. Mary Bousted: No.

Q 50

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Ceidwadwyr, Crewe and Nantwich

On parental satisfaction surveys, you may have heard some of the evidence earlier, which suggested that the threshold response to trigger a plan should be 50 per cent. of parents in a local authority area. Does anyone have a view on that?

John Bangs: That is an important point. The equality impact assessment talks about the threshold response of the responses received being 50 per cent., but there is no threshold in terms of the numbers of parents taking part, and there ought to be.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am trying to keep out to allow everyone else the opportunity to speak, as I said to the other group. Different views have been expressed about the licence to practise, and I will take some of that on board. We are trying to raise the status by underlining the importance of professional standards and ensuring the identification and receipt of continuing professional development. We do not want it to be bureaucratic, and we want it to build on the existing system of performance management. I have heard what people have said, and I want to reassure people, notwithstanding all the other bits of evidence that we heard earlier and now, and will hear as we go through the week. I just wanted to put that on the record because I know that it was a particular concern for the last group of witnesses as well.

Q 51

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

I have a quick question on supply teachers. I am concerned about how to ensure that they get access to CPD.

Keith Bartley: That is one of the benefits that the policy could draw down, ensuring that there is a mechanism through which supply teachers can receive their entitlement, against which the impact of their own professional learning and development can be assessed, in the same way as teachers with performance management. That is capable of being done, but it will be at a cost to the system. In order not to ignore the issue of those returning to teach after a career break, there needs to be some mechanism whereby they can be supported.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

I am afraid that I will have to interrupt. I thank the witnesses again for the time that you have spent with the Committee today. It has been a valuable session, and we are very grateful. Finally, I say to colleagues that the room will be locked, so you can safely leave papers here.

The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.