Pushing up standards is priority

14th February 1997 at 00:00
How the review body weighed up the evidence and reached its conclusions - two pages of extracts from the report

The priority attached to improving the operation of the education system and raising standards provides the context for our report. The focus of our recommendations is to enable schools to recruit, retain and motivate teachers of high quality.

The dominant issue has been funding. This underlies representations from the classroom teacher unions for a range of new nationally prescribed conditions of employment aimed at moderating the demands on individual teachers.

A further issue arose during the later stages of this review when the DFEE announced proposed changes to the operation of the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme aimed at reducing the number of teachers retiring early. The implications have not been the subject of detailed discussion between us and the parties, but our comments on recruitment are made in the light of the related revised training targets.

Almost everyone who gave evidence said that pay awards should be "fully funded" so that staffing levels could be maintained or improved relative to the rising number of pupils.

While our view continues to be that teachers and their schools are best served by a national framework of pay and conditions of employment, with local discretion for schools to exercise choice over the best use of their resources, we share concerns about funding.

Nevertheless, the financial pressures on schools will continue and the evidence we received suggested that schools felt they were reaching the limits of what could be done without making unreasonable demands on their staff and putting the quality of education at risk.

Some savings should always be possible but it is difficult to envisage how significant further savings can be generated in schools through efficiency gains or productivity improvements. Teacher numbers remain central to the maintenance of educational standards and we support the Secretary of State's wish to see an increase to match the rate at which pupil numbers are rising.

Recruitment, retention and motivation: premature retirements on the grounds of organisational efficiency or redundancy have accounted for a substantial share of retirements, and reached a new peak in 1995-96. As a result of the changes proposed in the operation of the pension arrangements, the DFEE expects a reduction in the number who will retire early. Following the large increase in initial teacher training targets before our last report, primarily to provide replacements for the increased numbers of teachers approaching retirement age, the DFEE has reduced the targets in the light of the proposed early retirement changes.

Teacher motivation and morale remain difficult to assess. The changing demands on teachers have been accompanied by continual media interest. Debate is to be welcomed but teachers feel oppressed by exaggerated and ill-informed media comment. There is a rising number of pupils with problems that manifest themselves in various ways. Teachers can expect, and usually get, the active support of parents, but in some cases parental involvement is either unhelpful or absent. On our visits, however, we were impressed by the level of commitment shown by teachers.

There is evidence that teachers are becoming less motivated to seek promotion; they are still concerned about the extra workload associated with more senior posts. Some of the teacher unions also report widespread concern about the adverse long-term effects on motivation and morale of the pension changes.

Conditions of employment relating to teachers' workloads: a survey in March showed that average total hours, particularly for classroom teachers, were at a higher level in 1996 than in 1994. A related exercise confirmed that workloads were seen as having built up steadily over several years and that teachers at all levels felt that they were working harder, for longer hours, and with extra responsibilities. A direct link was seen between the maintenance of staff morale, supportive managerial supervision and effective time management. A common view, however, was that financial constraints were restricting the options for easing workload pressures.

We remain of the view that new nationally prescribed restrictions would not be the right approach to resolve problems of workload. As for other professional groups, it would not be appropriate or practicable to set a limit to the time needed by teachers for the completion of their duties. We also continue to believe that new rigidly defined limits would constrain the flexibility needed to make the best use of resources in the context of the particular needs of individual schools.

Arrangements such as class size and non-contact time are interlinked, and the dilemma that action on one can interact on the other is best handled at school level rather than tackled nationally. There are strongly held, but often conflicting views about the effects of class size, and research on this issue has not produced conclusive findings. We hope that further research will lead to a more definitive view and provide a basis for policymaking.

Pay arrangements for heads and deputies: under arrangements in our last report, which will become fully effective from September, no movement up the pay spine for heads and deputies will be permitted unless the governing body has reviewed performance against previously agreed criteria.

The capability of governors to conduct annual pay reviews for heads and deputies has continued to be questioned. OFSTED described the salary determination process as that of "striking a deal" and expressed doubts about the capacity of governors to set performance targets, monitor the extent to which they were achieved, and make considered judgments as to whether there should be increases in salary.

Some aspects of the responsibilities of governors might be more satisfactorily discharged if objective and expert support was routinely available to them. We wish to return to these issues in future.

Last year, we recommended that teacher governors should not be members of committees that determined the pay of heads and deputies at their own school. This was not accepted, and the Secretary of State said she preferred to continue to rely on the exercise of local judgment on this matter. Our views are unchanged from our last report and we repeat our recommendation.

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