Official Report (Hansard)
Date: 24 October 2007
Education and Training Inspectorate
24 October 2007
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Jimmy Spratt (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Basil McCrea
Mr Robin Newton
Mr John Baird ) Education and Training Inspectorate
Mr Paul McAlister )
Miss Marion Matchett )
Mr Gerry Murray )
The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
I welcome the witnesses to the Committee this morning, and I thank them for providing us with papers. This is a key briefing session on the Education and Training Inspectorate’s general role in the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), but, more specifically, on the vital role that it will have on the early feedback on Training for Success, which the Committee is closely monitoring.
Given that Training for Success is part of the formal work stream for the Committee, and given that we will eventually publish a report on it, I have asked for this session to be recorded by Hansard. I remind members and the public to switch off their mobile phones. Mine is already switched off.
I will now hand over to the Education and Training Inspectorate officials, who will give us a 10 to 15 minute presentation. I will then open up the session for questions and members’ comments. Thank you for attending.
Miss Marion Matchett (Education and Training Inspectorate):
Good morning everyone. Thank you for the invitation to attend. We look forward to working with the Committee now and in the future, and we are delighted to be here.
For the first 10 or 15 minutes of the meeting we will set our work in context by outlining what we do. The Education and Training Inspectorate provides services for the Department and works closely with three other Departments. Although today we are primarily concerned with the work that relates to DEL, it is important to remember that our work goes across from the Department of Education (DE) and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL).
I will take the Committee briefly through the chief inspector’s report, which we published in April 2007. I will also outline what we have done to bring the findings to the attention of others, and I will describe briefly the DEL’s response to the report. We are conscious of the volume of reading that the Committee has to do, and therefore we have not provided copies of the report or the executive summary. However, we are delighted to leave copies of those documents with the Committee or make them available if members wish to have them.
If it is acceptable, I will take the Committee briefly through the paper and leave time for members’ questions, which are more important.
That is fine. Thank you.
The chief inspector’s report covers inspection of almost 1,500 organisations, some of which are the responsibility of the three Departments that I named.
Turning to page 2 of our paper, three main issues arise that cut across the responsibilities of the three Departments. The first is: trying to ensure that the Department is helping all learners to reach their full potential, and looking at the programmes that the Department undertakes in order to do that. We have named the second key theme “connecting better for learners”. Organisations that support learning, training and development need to work better together to ensure that they provide a range of opportunities for young people. That relates to the difficulties that many young people are presenting in colleges and training organisations. Connecting better is about urging training organisations to work better with community groups and for departmental groups to work together in the interests of young people. The third theme is about leading at a time of change. It is about the many issues that face those who are leading organisations through change and the issues with which they must deal at the front line.
As shown on the third page of our paper, the chief inspector’s report looked at the positive and the less positive messages from inspection. We gave credit to the sectors that do a particularly good job, and we looked for improvement in areas that do not. We looked in particular at special educational needs and at what is being done to help those young people who are not achieving as they should or who are presenting with difficulties. The worrying trend in learner achievement is the many young people who are presenting to training organisations and to colleges with health- and mental-health-related issues. We considered what the colleges and the organisations can do to help. We looked at how colleges and training organisations contribute to educating the whole person, which refers to making those young people able to be contributors to society and the economy, and making them feel that, when they leave their college or training organisation, their education is only beginning — they can become learners for life.
On the theme of connection, the report examined the importance of providing coherent services for young people. We looked at how the Departments are managing high-level initiatives and how the different organisations that provide learning and development collaborate and work together in the interests of young people.
Under the third theme, we looked at the definition of roles and responsibilities at a time of change. We looked for: clarity and direction in the programmes; agreement as to desirable learning outcomes in the organisations that were inspected; and what we believe planning for successful learning looks like.
The chief inspector’s previous report of almost three years ago identified recurring themes that need to be addressed. We looked at: diversity and mutual understanding; special educational needs; improving achievement; leadership and management; information and communication technology (ICT) and information and learning technology (ILT); and improving learning and teaching. When the report was published in April 2007, we examined what we had said almost three years ago, and we tracked any progress and improvement. We asked what the sectors, groups and Departments had done since the previous report was published.
Paragraph 3·6 of our paper describes how we looked at the additional challenges that the sector is currently facing. We also raised issues that relate to: pastoral care and child protection; the further improvement of education and training; governance arrangements; demographics and sustainability; educational provision for those aged 14 to 19; and careers education information, advice and guidance.
The last part of paragraph 3·7 deals with what the inspectorate is doing in order to bring the main findings of the report to the attention of others. We viewed the publication of the report in April as merely the beginning of the process, and, since then, we have shared the report with the DEL executive board and with those who support learning and teaching in the further education (FE) and training sectors. Indeed, we will be in Limavady tonight, where we will begin a series of six conferences that will take place throughout the Province and in which we will share the main findings of the chief inspector’s report with lecturers, teachers and trainers. Therefore, we are bringing the findings to others and sharing with them the improvements that we think need to be made.
Annex 1 illustrates the key findings that relate to the work for which DEL has responsibility. In our inspection reports, we present our findings in two distinct ways. First, we look at the positive features of the system, and secondly, we examine what we call “areas for development”. The generally positive comments that we have made about education and training are listed at the top of the table in annex 1. The section entitled “areas for development” describes the issues that we have raised with the DEL board and with those who support learning and teaching in the further education and training sectors.
Key recurring themes and matters that need to be improved in education and training are discussed in annex 2 of the paper. Under the heading “Diversity and Mutual Understanding”, we state that there is a need for more effective teaching strategies and more co-ordinated support. FE and training must address equal opportunities and cultural diversity more effectively, and those who are preparing to become teachers and lecturers need to have more contact with those who are of different community backgrounds.
We have looked at the progress that has been made in special educational needs over two years. However, there is a need for FE providers to liaise with schools on the transitional arrangements for those young people who are transferring from post-primary schools into college. Further education providers must also consider alternative education provision (AEP) for those young people who attend neither schools nor college.
The second issue that we raised under the heading of “Special Educational Needs” is the need for more professional development for those teachers who work with young people who face difficulties and barriers to learning.
The inspectorate has raised the issue of improving achievement with all three Departments. Improving achievement is facilitated by intervening early to ensure that young people do not enter the system at a disadvantage. Parents, families and communities are encouraged to intervene at an early stage to ensure that children succeed from their earliest days so that by the time that they reach further education and training, measures will already exist to help them become successful.
In order to improve education and training, we recommend that colleges and training organisations monitor and evaluate provisions better and evaluate how well interventions are working. For example, we are examining how well programmes that have been set up to improve student achievement are performing, and we are asking again for better inter-agency co-operation, particularly for those young people who are from disadvantaged communities. There must also be greater flexibility between sectors, that is, for those who move from school through to AEP, to training and to further education.
In the leadership and management section of our paper, we have noted that there has been some improvement in the quality of planning in the colleges since the previous report. However, leadership and management in the New Deal programme is neither what we want it to be nor is it as good as it should be. We will encourage those organisations to move towards self-evaluation and self-reflection, leading to improvement.
Although significant funds have been given to ICT and ILT, the programmes for and the provision of those tools are not sufficiently embedded. The excellent practice that we have seen in some places must be disseminated to other colleges.
As regards improving teaching and learning, we would like to see better provision for the individual needs of some of the young people and an improvement in the quality of some of the provision.
The last section of our paper, annex 3, examines the additional challenges that have emerged since the chief inspector’s previous report was published. The quality improvement strategy is DEL’s response to the request — and the requirement — for improvement in education and training. That section examines what the Department has done since the inspectorate commented on the need to improve quality. I understand that the strategy has already been presented to the Committee.
On the issue of governance, it is the inspectorate’s view that governors, who give their time on a voluntary basis, need more support and training — particularly in areas of legislation, equality, disability, and for those who work with vulnerable adults — in order that they will be well placed to support the improvement of colleges and training organisations.
We examine the effect that the demographic decline in the general population has had on some colleges and training organisations. We also examine the effect that newcomers — people who come into the workplace from elsewhere — have on the population and the opportunities that their arrival provides for colleges and training organisations.
We are looking at some developments on careers provision for those who are aged 14 to 19. We are examining the relationship and links that exist between DE and DEL in the work for 14- to 19-year olds, and we are asking for greater co-operation and coherence in the learning programmes for individual young people.
The final section concerns careers education and guidance. We have found wide variation in both programme content and the time that is allocated to them. Many young people do not have access to an appropriate mix of careers education and guidance. There is inadequate co-operation and co-ordination. However, the Committee will be familiar with the new joint policy, which looks at career education, information, advice and guidance. We also highlight the need to have more accurate labour-market information about the areas that can support employment and training for young people.
The final part of the paper, annex 4, gives the Committee a brief overview of the inspectorate’s work and organisational details. Our organisation profile shows that, as I said, we work across three Departments, and we also provide managing inspectors who work with and manage the inspectorate. We have given the Committee the names of all our colleagues in the inspectorate, and, just for members’ information, all the people who work in the inspectorate are home based, by which I mean that our colleagues live and work throughout the Province. Many of them have regional or specialist responsibilities for particular areas of the curriculum.
Paul McAlister is our assistant chief inspector, and he is a member of DEL’s executive board. Two managing inspectors work in that Department. That sort of arrangement also exists in the other two Departments, and that means that we can provide specialist support to the Department in the development of its policies but, more importantly, in the evaluation of the outcomes of policies.
I am conscious, Ms Ramsey, that I have gone through our paper fairly quickly, but we thought that it would be more helpful if we allowed time for members’ questions. We will be happy to provide further information and details on any points that I have raised, particularly on the reports.
Thank you for your presentation and for the paper that you sent to the Committee; it was very useful. I will ask about several issues, and I will then open the discussion to my Deputy Chairperson and other members.
You will have heard me talk earlier about Training for Success. Did the inspectorate play any role in the development of that programme following the criticism that was levelled at Jobskills?
I will ask Gerry to answer that question; he has been involved in the detail of the Training for Success programme. We will concentrate today on the early stages of the evidence gathering today, and Gerry will outline how we have been involved and what we plan to do.
Mr Gerry Murray (Education and Training Inspectorate):
We are conscious of the criticisms of the Jobskills programme, and I am involved in the committees that considered its replacement, which is Training for Success. However, the implementation of that policy remains strictly DEL’s responsibility. The level 1 programmes were the result of pilot initiatives that were driven by the inspectorate. For example, the previous access programme, which was level 1, did not suit all trainees, particularly those with low levels of literacy and numeracy.
Therefore, the pilot access programme was based on personal development and sought to help the progress of the cohort of young people who were unlikely to achieve NVQ level 1. The new programme recognised that there was a cohort of young people who were unlikely to be successful under the original Jobskills specification. That influenced the Training for Success model at the NVQ level 1 programme. We now have a new personal development programme that mirrors closely the pilot Jobskills Access programme, and we also have a skills programme the objective of which is that young people should aim towards attaining NVQ level 1. The inspectorate was influential in that respect.
The apprenticeship programmes that have emerged require young people to be based in the workplace and to have been offered a job before they were permitted to start. That involved workplace learning and assessment and a framework including essential skills. The inspectorate has supported those programmes and still does.
The level 2 pre-apprenticeship programme has emerged. That is a one-year programme for those young people who have been unable to find employment immediately. That perhaps would have been a different situation than the inspectorate may have envisaged.
However, it is early days, and Training for Success is an attempt to address the issues that arose round Jobskills.
OK. We will wait to see what happens, and we will come back to that.
I want to pick you up on your point about the Committee waiting to see what happens. The inspectorate’s advice will be based on our observation and evaluation of those programmes that are on the front line. We are in the same position as the Committee, in that we will need evidence. We will have to make visits, write reports, and carry out inspections before being in the position to be able to say how well the programmes are working.
On that point, it may be useful to take on board that this Committee is going to scrutinise the process. I would appreciate your sending any relevant information to the Committee.
The other major significant change in FE was the merger of the colleges. Is there any feedback on how that is working?
Mr Paul McAlister (Education and Training Inspectorate):
My point on the mergers is, to an extent, an echo of what Marion said about having to wait and see. As the Committee realises, the colleges have just merged, and, in fact, it could be said that the mergers are still happening. Although senior posts have been filled, there is still a degree of integration of organisations in following the new area-based college corporate status that they aim for.
Therefore, the inspectorate will not be in a position to comment on how well the mergers have gone until we have observed practice in the new area-based colleges. In recognition of the pressures that are on the staff and on the organisation, we have scaled down dramatically the inspection programme in FE this year, because we acknowledge that the colleges have much work to do with staff without having to be accountable for a developing situation. After this year, however, there will be institutional and specialist inspections and surveys that will provide feedback on the effectiveness of the new colleges’ work.
Marion has said that there has been some improvement in the New Deal programme in a majority of the FE colleges. However, she also said that the New Deal programme is not as good as it should be and that leadership and management of the programme has deteriorated. That is worrying. Could you elaborate on those comments?
New Deal programmes are contracted to 26 consortia. The numbers that are involved in some of those consortia are very low. In the past year, and the year prior to that, there was a visible decline in quality of the provision of the New Deal programmes. That is due to the fact that the cohort entering New Deal has more complex problems, such as literacy and numeracy difficulties. The management of the 26 consortia, which was set up seven or eight years ago, is dealing with a much more difficult cohort. The difficulty is that leadership and management skills are needed, but some organisations find that they are not available.
Therefore, leaders and managers find it increasingly difficult, in large colleges and in some of the community providers, to cope with that increasingly complex cohort, many of whom are starting on New Deal programmes for a second or third time. That is the crux of the problem. A cohort keeps returning to New Deal programme, and they are people who, increasingly, need more help. Therefore, one gets a more intense group of people each time and as each year goes on. Many community groups were set up to deal with large numbers of unemployed people, perhaps, seven or eight years ago. The complex cohort is therefore the crux of the issue. The ability of the leaders and managers to deal with such problems, to self-evaluate, and to devise improvement plans is at the crux of their effectiveness in leading and improving a programme.
Increasingly, our focus in inspection means that we are looking at leadership and management as a key issue. We want to help move organisations forward and help them to improve. We see leadership as a key factor in improvement. Unlike in the past, sections of our report will now directly focus on how well an organisation is placed to advance the improvement plan. The issue with New Deal is that some people are not sufficiently well placed to take forward the improvement plan for young people.
Thank you very much for your report. Annex 3 deals with additional challenges. I know, Paul, that the annex also refers to courses that are being offered to the 14- to 19-years-old age bracket. I taught previously in a further education college. There has been a lot of criticism over the years about apprenticeships and other courses that have been delivered in FE colleges to that age group. The question has been asked about what, exactly, students get out of those courses when they leave college. Do they get a job?
There has been a lot of criticism over the years; courses such as City and Guilds and NVQs have been taught in the past, and other courses have been delivered in FE colleges. I know that you are focusing on what you expect of post-primary schools and FE colleges. However, there is the criticism that a lot of kids who undertake those courses do not actually get jobs. They may get a job in the first year of leaving college, such as an apprenticeship. Do you understand what I am getting at? You are looking at the FE colleges, particularly those in which 24 subjects are offered, and 27 between — I always forget what the different age groups are. I agree with what you say about the gap between post-primary schools and FE colleges not having been closed sufficiently.
There has been criticism. In this age of trying to match skills to the economy, many kids are leaving further education colleges with a cynical attitude to gaining any qualifications. Do you follow my point?
That is an important point. I will talk about the general work that the Education and Training Inspectorate is doing, and John will talk about points emerging from FE colleges. Increasingly, we recognise the very issue that you have raised, and the inspectorate now carries out area-based inspections, which look at provision for young people in particular localities. Our most recent inspections were in Newry and in Coleraine. We asked students what it is like to be a learner in a school, in a further education college, in a community group, or in youth provision. The reports that we publish are about provision for learners in any given locality — they are not simply about specific colleges or schools. We hope to examine the experiences of young people in community groups. We are conscious of the question that was asked about transition, so John will discuss what happens to young people when they leave college.
Mr John Baird (Education and Training Inspectorate):
With regard to our inspection framework and how it is developing to match the Department’s strategic aims in terms of meeting skills needs, our inspection framework has begun to evolve and to focus much more on opportunities and focus much more on that key aim. We stood back from the inspection regime to let the new structures bed in, but that is not to say that we are not working with the colleges in ensuring that the Department, the inspectorate and the colleges move towards that goal. The sector skills councils work with the Department and the qualification frameworks they develop for the industries, and the sectors that they represent will be on the agenda this year and beyond. That is the work that we will build into the inspection framework to reflect upon whether those colleges are delivering on the qualification that the local economy and even the global economy need. We must be focused on what the sector skills councils develop in terms of qualification frameworks.
I thank Miss Matchett for the report; it is easy to understand, and there is a great deal of clarity in it. John mentioned employer engagement, but how do you address the quality of training that is offered to apprentices who are on placement? That has not been mentioned in the chief inspector’s report.
The Education and Training Inspectorate works with the Department for Employment and Learning, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Education. What is your observation of how those Departments’ strategies work on a day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month basis to deliver that quality of employer engagement, particularly if a demand-led approach of training has been opted for?
From the FE side and the training side, I have mentioned already that our inspection framework is focused on improving quality and raising standards. We have reviewed the framework to ensure that it has a much sharper focus on employer engagement on the economic agenda. Marion mentioned that the Education and Training Inspectorate, in tandem with the Department, is encouraging all the colleges, as they move towards their area-based provision, to be more self-evaluative. The inspectorate will then examine those assessments and decide on the colleges capacity to deliver on that.
Our evidence will be mirrored on the work already developed through the training programmes: the same inspection framework for both FE and work-based learning will have the same key focus on attempting to ensure the focus is on employer-based aspects of the programmes. The employer-based aspect that Robin Newton mentioned is as good as it can possibly be. If it was not, we would say so. We grade the arrangements accordingly, and if they are not good we deliver those hard messages.
Is there a danger that the individual’s training will have been completed by the time that you have completed your evaluation?
There are different inspection models for work-based training that involve cumulative contracted programmes with large organisations, and they are evaluated over time. A particular training provider might offer complex programmes such as Jobskills and New Deal, or we might look at the organisations, such as Bombardier Short Bros, which is providing high standards of training, that provide only one form of apprenticeship programme. Furthermore, district inspectors from the Education and Training Inspectorate visit their respective districts and compile information on the situation. In addition to the individual inspections, the scrutiny inspections involve evaluating the self-evaluations and development plans of training providers. DEL is contractually obliged to participate in that, and the inspectors are also involved. District inspectors set a valuation report and development plan: they scrutinise, grade and judge that before reporting back annually to every provider in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the internal inspection process, which is matched to the external, is continual. However, one must be careful. Training providers can change dramatically, and the continual monitoring process is necessary.
Our inspectors monitor, evaluate and assess apprenticeships in the workplace. As well as the different forms of inspection, there are large survey inspections, one of which is ongoing in construction. Clearly, monitoring, evaluating and gathering evidence and engaging with employers in the workplace are fundamental parts of our inspections.
All the indicators that we use in our inspections and in our monitoring visits are in the public domain. Therefore, the organisations that are being evaluated and inspected will be aware already of the quality indicators. It is an open and, as Mr Murray said, regular process.
The second part of Mr Newton’s question referred to the different Departments’ strategies and our work with them. I will concentrate on our work with the Department for Employment and Learning as it will be of most interest to the Committee. The chief inspector’s report that was published on 24 April covered the period up to 2006, and, due to its interests in improvements, soon after that the Department for Employment and Learning asked the inspectorate to examine what the Department had done since then.
Last week, Mr McAlister reported to the DEL board on what has been happening since April 2007 with the issues that were raised and with DEL’s proposed improvement agenda. The board formally requested that report, and the Department for Employment and Learning has requested that we provide a similar annual progress report, even though the chief inspector’s report is published biennially.
Can the Committee receive a copy of that report? I am keen to see any recommendations that you might make to the Department.
Mr McAlister presented the report to the DEL board last week.
Mr P McAlister:
Our protocol says that I should speak to the permanent secretary of the Department before agreeing to your Committee receiving a copy of the report. I do not anticipate a problem, but I was requested by the board to account for the work that we had done in helping promote improvement, and that is the context in which the report was given. I will have to clear with the permanent secretary whether she is happy that the report is given to you, but I do not anticipate any problems.
It might be helpful for you to know that when we met with about 300 support staff who support improvement in education and training — including in schools and further education colleges — the representative from the Department for Employment and Learning informed the attendees of what the Department had done as a result of the findings of the chief inspector’s report. As Mr McAlister said, we picked those issues up at the board meeting of senior departmental staff.
Mr Newton asked about strategy and about what happens in the Department. The Department takes inspection findings very seriously, and, in fact, it would like to receive them more regularly than would some of the institutions that are inspected. The Department is determined to improve, and that can be evidenced by the fact that its strategies include the word “success”. It is about improving success and outcomes for young people. Therefore, our relationship with the Department is based on monitoring progress, identifying areas for improvement, and working towards further improving the strategies.
Mr B McCrea:
I sense that the wheels are going round but there is no forward motion. Inadequate literacy and numeracy skills were among the areas for development that your report mentioned. What standard are you setting? New guidelines about achieving level 2, as opposed to level 1, in English and numeracy are soon to be published. Figures are bandied about that suggest that 25% of people here cannot read and write effectively. What is the problem? How should that problem be addressed? Dealing with inadequate literacy and numeracy is a fundamental task of this Committee. In that context, you made a general point about educational under-attainment.
What is the difference between leadership and good management? I am sure that we all have our own views on that, but I am interested to know your views and how you intend to measure it, given that you will have to report on it.
Finally, there is a fundamental problem in matching skills and educational attainment with what the needs either of the economy or of our young people. I know that that encompasses other matters, such as careers advice, but I am not overly convinced that sector skills councils have the necessary focus to be able to match up those needs. Do you have an adequate set of standards or criteria on which you can assess whether there is forward motion, or, as Mr Newton said, will young people feel that it is not worth being trained for a job because it will make no difference to their lives?
You asked three questions, the first of which was about literacy and numeracy, the second on leadership, and the third was about skills and preparing young people for work.
I began by saying that the report covers three Departments and that the literacy and numeracy element that we pick up is not specific to the work of the Department for Employment and Learning. The literacy and numeracy issues on which we pick up begin much earlier than when young people go into further education or training. If you remember, we had this conversation with another Committee. We are considering how young people can succeed earlier in literacy and numeracy in a way that places them in a much stronger position to take advantage of the courses and the programmes that are offered in further education and training. We are in no doubt that literacy and numeracy standards need to improve, and I believe that the Department of Education officials who made a presentation to their Assembly Committee would fully accept that.
Mr B McCrea:
You are having to judge what the real issues are in relation to literacy and numeracy. For example, an international report on the matter was published in 2002. Even with that report, I am still not sure what people mean when they say that we have a problem. What is the problem? Is it improving? It must be measurable in some way. I agree that the issue is a cross-departmental one, but this Committee will look towards addressing remedial matters.
For members’ information, there will be a briefing on that matter on 7 November 2007.
Mr B McCrea:
That is super; brilliant. Thank you, Chairperson. I am not sure that I have any further questions; that has clarified matters for me.
I am in your hands, Ms Ramsey. Would you like —
Please go ahead. I was just informing Basil that we were going to have a briefing.
Mr McAlister will pick up the specific theme of literacy and numeracy. I was just trying to impress on the Committee that the chief inspector’s report is not solely a matter for the Department for Employment and Learning; the literacy and numeracy aspects of the report are about helping children to succeed much earlier, intervening much earlier, and considering community numeracy and literacy programmes that help young people to succeed earlier in their education. You have talked about waiting until children are older before dealing with those issues; that is not in line with our thinking. Our thinking is that early intervention —
Mr B McCrea:
I do not want to annoy the Chairperson, but I understand the arguments, and we are all in agreement about them. You work for an inspectorate the job of which is to report on levels of literacy and numeracy, what you would like the level to be, and what your starting level is. I do not want to go on to it, but at some stage I will need to know the baseline figures, what improvements there have been, or what more is required.
That is no problem.
Mr P McAlister:
I emphasise that addressing the literacy and numeracy difficulties of young people is a complex task and is one that teachers face every day. Our inspections have drawn attention to the fact that teachers and schools alone will not solve society’s literacy and numeracy problems. We say that to each of the Departments that we advise. Obviously, we give specific advice to the different Departments, and if this were the Committee for Education, we would discuss the advice that relates to primary and post-primary education.
However, it is clear that even in their early days at school children need to experience what international researchers have sometimes referred to as “failure-free education”. That will enable children to see themselves as successful learners. Therefore, we need to create — and hopefully, the revised schools curriculum will work towards this — the space for young people to find a sense of success early on. We also need to create the space so that teachers are not under too much pressure to deal with other factors. That will enable them to focus on individual children.
The baggage, quite frankly, that many individual children are bringing to school — baggage that is beyond the field of education — is having a huge impact on educational attainment and progress and the effectiveness of the school in achieving those for those children.
Our reports have highlighted the need for the education authorities to marshal the other agencies that can help to deal with an individual child’s situation. Those agencies might include the social services or the type of specialist help that is needed for children who, for example, are on the autistic spectrum, or children who have the specific reading difficulties that are associated with dyslexia.
The inspectorate has played its part in task forces that have considered those specific problems. There have been North-South professional exchanges on issues such as behaviour, autism, and dyslexia. Those issues have a major impact on what is happening in the classroom, and on the teacher’s time that needs to be spent focusing on difficulties such as literacy and numeracy.
That was a fairly general statement. However, to be honest, it is such a complex issue that unless a huge report is being considered, we will always have to talk in fairly general terms.
The first point is to recognise that it is a complex issue. Secondly, it must be recognised that the revised curriculum in the school sector is attempting to address the matter. Thirdly, education on its own will not address the issue and we need to ensure that — as Marion mentioned earlier — there is a focus on collaboration and working across boundaries. There must be as good a level of collaboration as possible between the educational agencies and those other agencies that set up children for success, be it in education or in other aspects of life.
If it would be helpful, we can give the Committee information on the quality indicators that we use when we are examining literacy and numeracy issues. Those are in the public domain, and schools, colleges and organisations have access to them. Indeed, John Baird has already mentioned the framework for inspection.
To go back to an earlier statement, if children are not successful at school, they are prevented from being successful elsewhere. We agree that success at school is the key to success for many young people in later life, and that is the reason that we have fought so strongly for measures to deal with that. That is also the reason that we have such an interest in examining literacy and numeracy issues throughout the Departments with which we work.
However, as I have said, if it would be helpful, we are happy to provide the Committee with what we call the indicators that we use when we are considering programmes and provision that contain an element of literacy and numeracy.
OK. That would be a help.
Is the Committee happy for us leave the other two questions that we were asked?
Mr B McCrea:
I am happy to do that, given that we have to move on. Perhaps, however, we might just —
We are happy to come back to Mr McCrea’s questions about leadership, if time allows.
We will take Nelson’s question first, and we can then come back to those questions.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Annex 2 of the submission discusses key recurring themes, one of which is diversity and mutual understanding. With regard to both ethnic minority communities and the indigenous cultural diversity of Northern Ireland, will you expand on the three points that are listed under that heading?
Mr P McAlister:
The first point refers to the need to have more effective teaching strategies and more co-ordinated support. That would ensure that teachers recognise that diversity in our society is increasing and that teaching is not the same today as it was 10 or 15 years ago, for example. There is also a need for more co-ordinated support and work between organisations, for example, between the colleges and the other agencies that are available to advise on areas of diversity and mutual understanding.
What other agencies are you thinking of in particular?
Mr P McAlister:
For example, an ethnic minority languages subgroup exists in the Northern Ireland Race Forum, and that advises different Departments and agencies not just on languages, but on cultural differences. Such advice deals with making someone who has a different cultural background feel at ease and helps to raise awareness of particular areas of focus within a culture. It is important that people who are entering our education system can feel part of that system and that every effort is made to make them feel that way.
Does that also apply to the indigenous cultural traditions in Northern Ireland?
Mr P McAlister:
I expect so. By virtue of the fact that those traditions are indigenous, people should have an understanding of them and seek to increase that understanding.
We publish our questionnaires and other inspection-related matters in several different languages, and we make that information available when we consult parents. At the moment, we publish in some languages in order to address the issues of particular communities and localities. Therefore, we very much recognise the need to engage with parents and to talk to children and young people about their experiences of training and working with colleges. We put a strong emphasis on those matters as part of our inspection process.
Mr P McAlister:
We have carried out surveys among different groups of people for whom English is a second language and among those who take classes for speakers of other languages. We have made recommendations on the basis of those survey reports, and those are being addressed by the Department.
With regard to indigenous languages, which Mr McCausland mentioned, we would have —
I was thinking more of indigenous cultures rather than languages.
Mr P McAlister:
We report on and gather evidence from inspection of what is being taught in an educational setting, In the past, we have certainly given credit when schools or other educational providers have used the culture of their area to support learning, to give a context for learning, or have brought a sense of the importance of learning to a particular area. We recognise such approaches where we feel that they enhance learning. However, sometimes it is difficult to capture the impact of culture in a way that can be evaluated. We tend to pick up on cultural input only where it helps learning.
Do you want to return to Basil’s questions?
Yes. Basil asked about the difference between leadership and management. Definitions of leadership and management are legion.
Mr B McCrea:
I also asked how the Education and Training Inspectorate will measure that difference.
In our inspections, we observe learning and teaching, and we have discussions with senior members of staff about their contribution to the outcomes that the young people have attained. Again, our quality indicators for leadership and management are in the public domain. We will share those indicators with the Committee, if that is helpful.
There are many definitions of the difference between leadership and management, which, once expressed, generate a debate with those who do not agree. The definition by John Kotter, who teaches at Harvard, is one that I have found the easiest to remember. That definition states that managers manage complexity and that leaders manage change. I do not know whether members are in a position to decide whether that is a helpful distinction. Sometimes it is difficult for people to determine that difference when performing their roles. We are happy to share with the Committee the quality indicators that we use.
For us, the most important point is that a leader has a clear sense of purpose about their organisation, a clear focus on successful outcomes for young people, and an obvious interest in working in the college, and with others in the surrounding community, to enhance the opportunities of young people and the contribution that they can make to the economy and to society. Therefore, we regard leadership as a much more inclusive process and one that moves an organisation to where the leader thinks it needs to go. However, as I mentioned, there are many definitions, and we will share with the Committee the quality indicators that we have developed in what John has called the framework for inspection.
Mr B McCrea:
On a serious point, whatever way that leadership is defined, it is where it is at, and defining it is difficult. My definition of leadership is not as illustrious as the Harvard one, but if the way ahead is assured, good management is needed to ensure that that is delivered efficiently and effectively. Where the way ahead is not assured, leadership builds consensus on it. I am sure that that definition could be added to an inspectorate’s document somewhere — I know that Marion has a Harvard definition; now she has mine.
The Education and Training Inspectorate must find a way to measure the differences between leadership and management. The Committee needs the inspectorate’s help to tell us whether we are going in the right direction. We cannot just say that leadership is a good thing; we must say how we intend to proceed.
The quality indicators that we use are concerned with how leadership relates to: the development plan of a college; the quality-improvement agenda of a college; the management of the learning resources; the links with key stakeholders; the economic engagement; external and internal communication; governance; and the quality of opportunity for staff and learners. We are happy to share those indicators with the Committee. As I have said, they are in the public domain and can be accessed by colleges and other organisations.
Mr B McCrea:
I would like to see those. Will the Chairperson indulge my third and final question?
You are dropping hints that there will be a leadership contest. [Laughter.]
Mr B McCrea:
Hansard should stop recording.
A key factor, which other Members have mentioned, is that the skills output of our educational system does not really match the requirements of our children. We hear about sector skills councils, but they really work only for very large employers because they have control — I heard Bombardier mentioned. Most businesses in Northern Ireland are small- or medium-sized enterprises, some of which may be just emerging. How will we manage producing the skills that we need, not only now but in the future?
Your point about the sector skills councils is correct, but we will build that into the context of our inspection programme in the further education system.
We will examine what those colleges will do for the local economy. If they are not addressing, through the curriculum, the needs of their own local economy and the skill needs of the area, we would make those types of evaluations and comments, and that would hopefully affect the provision that a particular college makes in its curriculum for that geographic or economic area. Given that it is early days, few sector skills councils have their qualification frameworks in situ. We hope that a more focused curriculum and programme of training qualifications comes from those, which both training providers and FE providers can take and begin to address what those skills are. If we find, in any particular inspection activity, whether it is for training or FE, that they do not match that, we will report that to the Department, and we will also report on the leadership and management aspect of it.
Mr B McCrea:
When answering my previous two questions, Miss Matchett said that the indicators used for leadership and management are in the public domain and that she would send those to the Committee. Will the standards that that the Education and Training Inspectorate apply to skills matching be produced in a similar fashion for education and training? When will those standards be available? You have to judge against a criteria so that you can say that it is working. I want to know what the criteria are, how they were arrived at, and whether you are confident that they are working.
Mr McCrea is the only man I know who can turn three questions into 33.
Would it be helpful if we were to give the Committee a copy of our inspection framework? That shows the questions that we ask during inspection and those on which we have to report back to the college and to DEL.
Yes, that would be helpful.
Mr B McCrea:
Yes, and I am sorry, Chairperson; I did not mean to struggle in your indulgence.
The Education and Training Inspectorate carries out surveys with specialist teams of inspectors for specific areas. For example, a survey was recently carried out on IT, and that surveyed the problem of the considerable decline, to approximately 200 trainees, of IT apprenticeship programmes in Northern Ireland. The role of the sector skills councils was considered, and they would perhaps argue that a modern apprenticeship scheme is not the best way of meeting needs. Inspections are carried out with specialist inspectors, who are up to date in their field. We consult with employers and sector skills councils, and we make our own judgements. However, it is difficult to match provision in ICT with employer needs and anticipate future demands for NVQs in IT.
Mr McCrea also raised the point about what will be needed five years from now. We are currently carrying out a major construction survey. In a sense, that will be a complex survey because it considers the Jobskills programme, Training for Success and the needs of employers and industry federations. Many vested interests and key players in the field will be asked what they need, whether they can anticipate what skills will be needed, and what the retention rates will be. The Education and Training Inspectorate does that effectively and regularly.
If an organisation already has the charter mark for Investors in People (IIP) status, do you take that rigorously into account when carrying out a management and leadership inspection? Would you consider that the organisation had achieved a certain mark and therefore would not have to achieve much over that standard?
Any organisation can seek external accreditation. Indeed, our organisation has just completed its second assessment for a charter mark, so I am entirely in agreement with the measures that organisations take. We have a framework that we tend to use for all the organisations that we inspect. However, we also take a proportionate approach to inspection, in which, for example, depending on its previous inspection, each organisation does not have the same type of follow-up inspection. We drive our inspection strategy based on the inspection outcomes from the previous inspection. We have a follow-up inspection programme that looks at the issues that were identified, the improvements that are needed, and what is to happen. We put our grades in the public domain. The inspection grade determines the type of follow-up inspection that is necessary. Again, we can share that information with the Committee. For example, there are six grades of inspection quality standards — grades 1 to 6 — and qualitative statements for each grade, ranging from significant strengths to significant weaknesses, and these are in the public domain.
The inspectorate’s activity depends entirely on the outcomes of previous inspections, and, although we are keen to talk with colleges or organisations about the quality measures that they are involved in, our inspection framework is proportionate to the findings from previous inspections.
We have asked Hansard to produce a record of the proceedings because this presentation is important and, further to our scrutiny of Training for Success, it will be informative.
Returning to an earlier point and mindful that you were present when the Chairperson discussed further concerns about Carter and Carter Group plc, which, earlier this year, was successful in being awarded a contract in the Training for Success procurement exercise, what is the inspection regime for such organisations? Is there an early warning system that would highlight any failure to comply with a contract? When will you be in a position to provide an initial inspection report to the Department? Have you carried out any inspections in the seven or eight weeks since the contract was awarded? I have other questions, but I would like you to answer that first.
Was that a single question? [Laughter.]
From next week, I will be separating Mr Attwood and Mr McCrea.
There was a single theme and many questions.
I will deal with the theme, and Paul McAlister will answer the questions. An inspection is based entirely on evidence that has been gathered from direct observation. Given that evidence is based on what people actually do and is drawn from first-hand observations of learning, teaching and successes, that activity is unique. Although people may raise concerns, we do not draw speculative conclusions. We must have objective, first-hand and independent evidence, of which, accordingly, we are then able to advise the Committee, should it ask.
Paul will describe the inspection regime.
Mr P McAlister:
I assume that you are focusing specifically on providers that are based outside Northern Ireland because they do not have a track record here. Those providers should be on the inspection schedule for the coming year, and our business-planning process has started for 2008-09; therefore, we will include those inspections. In addition, any organisation that provides training for DEL is expected to submit self-evaluation and improvement plans that identify their current quality rating and include proposals to improve it. The inspectorate will scrutinise those plans in the same way as it examines those of the training organisations, as Gerry Murray mentioned earlier. Gerry may wish to pick up on and give more detail of what is involved in that scrutiny.
DEL imposes a contractual requirement on all training providers to submit an annual self-evaluation report and improvement plan. Undoubtedly, that obligation will apply to those providers that have been successful in gaining a contract, including Carter and Carter Group plc. In addition, our individual district inspectors will engage with such organisations, usually as part of a planned programme of visits.
Therefore, visits will be made to Carter and Carter Group plc and to all training providers in Northern Ireland. Those visits will provide running progress information. However, it is early days. There are various stages of monitoring in addition to the external inspection that is outlined.
Is it the case that between now and April 2008, the only hands-on inspection that will take place with regard to Carter and Carter Group plc, or any other training provider, arising from contracts that were awarded earlier in 2007, will be those that are provided by district inspectors? Aside from the evaluation and improvement plans that are produced in-house by training organisations, will the only hands-on, on-site inspection by the Education and Training Inspectorate be provided by the district inspectors as opposed to central inspectors? The Education and Training Inspectorate has indicated that it has prepared its inspection schedule for 2008-09. I am interested to know what will happen between now and 2008.
There is an ongoing inspection programme for 2007-08. It started in April 2007, which was the beginning of the current business year. It was planned with DEL at a case conference in February, where the final decision was taken on which organisations should be inspected and the risks that those organisations posed.
During the past six or seven weeks, the Education and Training Inspectorate has inspected three organisations, two of which have taken on Training for Success trainees. However, those trainees are mixed in with Jobskills trainees, who make up the bulk of the trainees in those organisations. Early indications are that the Training for Success trainees, who are probably the minority, are engaged in induction programmes and are, therefore, in the early stages of training. It would be difficult to stand back and give an evaluation of the Training for Success programme based upon that.
I have no doubt that Carter and Carter Group plc will be on the inspection programme for several years. However, the inspectorate does not have previous experience of gathering self-evaluated quantitative data in Northern Ireland. It is very much a matter of what evidence they have used to make their judgements and to present them during the course of the year.
I am a little confused. From what officials said when the matter was raised last week, I understood that there was to be an inspection programme.
I have just written a question on that matter. Has the Department asked the inspectorate to carry out any inspection based on the Committee’s scrutiny of Training for Success?
Not for the 2007-08 inspection programme. That has been scheduled for several months, but district inspections will take place that will include Training for Success activity.
Subject to what officials might say — and this is not a comment about the inspectorate — it was my understanding, from what was said last week, that there would be an inspection regime. The Committee did not bore into how that would look, but officials said that there would be a regime because issues had been flagged up.
I want to explain the inspection programme. Each year, the inspectorate meets the Department during the business planning process, which is generally signed off in January. The programme then begins in September. However, there is flexibility in that if the Department decides that something is a priority, it can request that an inspection be carried out. Although the plans have been completed, and the inspectorate begins inspections in September, the organisations that are inspected are often changed at request. For example, Mr Attwood mentioned that certain issues had been raised. It is quite likely that if issues were raised with the Department, it would raise them with the inspectorate and make a request.
I do not wish to speak for the Department, as that is not the inspectorate’s role. However, the Committee is probably aware of the Department’s quality and performance branch, which has responsibility for internal monitoring of contracts. Officials may have been referring to ongoing compliance issues right across Training for Success providers. The branch’s dedicated contract managers and assistant contract managers regularly work with all contract providers in order to ensure compliance. Therefore, the Department conducts its own internal audit on compliance.
I understand that. However, in last week’s briefing, the officials relied on figures that had been provided by the inspectorate on the success of training organisations and how they had improved over the past two or three years. Although the Committee did not bore into the matter, I got the sense that part of the architecture of inspections of Training for Success contracts would be various training organisations during 2007. That was my understanding, but we will be able to clarify the matter.
The second question relates to an announcement that the Minister for Employment and Learning made in the Chamber last week, during which he specified that a number of mechanisms would be established to assess training and opportunities for young people who have disabilities and special needs. Given that your submission flagged up the recurring theme of training for such people, are you aware of the Minister’s proposals, which outlined how to review training opportunities for those young people?
Mr P McAlister:
I am aware of it in so far as, in advance of his statement, the Minister asked me about the extent to which the inspectorate would focus on the quality of provision.
That is my question. Will you assess how those proposals can be advanced, taking account of their relevance to you?
Mr P McAlister:
I am not in a position to assess how proposals will be implemented; however, I can comment on how we would evaluate their outworking. In the coming weeks, there will be survey of learners with specific learning difficulties and disability (SLDD) — we love acronyms. Certainly, in the next few weeks, there will be a survey of SLDD provision.
For the Member’s information, I included a question on that matter in the letter that I sent to the Minister for Employment and Learning about the scoping study issue.
Mr P McAlister:
That survey will report on that matter. The Department for Employment and Learning has asked for the survey to be built into our business plan so that it will have the information that it needs. That survey will take place, and I understand that matter will be revisited.
A question was asked earlier about whether the Department for Employment and Learning asked us to carry out specific work for Carter and Carter Group plc. We work under a service-level agreement, and in the past when other priorities have come up we have been asked whether we could defer a particular piece of work in order to focus on something else. It is possible that senior officials in the Department for Employment and Learning intend to ask us to make that change.
Finally, I will defer to your judgement on this matter, but over the summer I spoke to senior FE managers who indicated that the various merged colleges are at different stages of preparedness for that merger; in other words, some were hesitant and some were enthusiastic about it. For that reason, I am surprised that you have deferred reviewing the merged colleges. I appreciate that they could become overloaded; nonetheless, they are at different stages of readiness — at an advanced stage and a not-so-advanced stage — and therefore are presumably at different degrees of openness to inspection. Certain managers have indicated to me that there are more problems with the mergers than appears.
The decision on when to scrutinise organisations that are merging is always important, and in this case, several different organisations with management teams are coming to work together. The inspectors may say that the organisations need a little time to begin to work well together before a formal inspection process, resulting in a published report, is implemented for organisations that are beginning to learn to work and grow as a corporate body.
We have accepted that in this complex situation we will continue to organise district and specialist visits, but that we shall not undertake an institutional, or organisational, inspection during the first year.
Mr P McAlister:
The key point is that institutional inspection is not occurring. Other inspection activities, for example, the SLDD and other aspects of provision are being considered. We are also inspecting FE training locations. It is important to realise that for an inspection to be useful, it must be conducted in a way that gives the organisation an opportunity to account for their roles, responsibilities, and work.
In circumstances in which those roles and responsibilities are not clearly identified and are still being worked out in a changing situation, we are aware that we could add to, rather than highlight or ease, any difficulties that they have. Although we are confident in the professionalism of our colleagues, we acknowledge that inspection creates some stress for the individual whose work is under scrutiny. I say that as a teacher and principal who has been inspected. Given that, we must also realise that considerable stress is involved in a merger. We must make a judgement about each case; our interest is the learners. If we impose more stress on the professionals who are charged with giving the best possible deal to learners, and we are not convinced that our inspection will necessarily give the right people with the right roles and responsibilities the opportunity to account for their work, we must put the learner first — our inspection can take a different form. As John Baird said earlier, we work closely with the colleges, but not through the model of institutional inspection. We have made that judgement, and we are confident that that decision has been made in the interests of learners. I do not know whether John wants to add to that.
I have nothing to add, other than to say that I work with the colleges, and there are several institutional pieces of work that are being taken forward at the moment.
One key area, which you mentioned, is the different level of preparedness of the colleges. We have worked with the Department on the new outworkings of the college development planning processes. We have also worked with the Department on the infamous common inspection framework that we keep talking about. The merger has been linked to that. All the FE district inspectors will be working with all the senior management teams across the new colleges to work with them and see where they think they are in that process.
It is a big task, and from our point of view, it is very resource intensive. It is probably more resource intensive than a series of six individual inspections might be in some cases. Some of the managers might think that it is no different to our inspection regime. Already, one principal has said to me that he does not see much difference in the work that is involved. We are working with the colleges to inform ourselves; we need to develop our own inspection models that fit appropriately to what those new structures look like from next year and beyond. The models that we have at the moment and that are effective for those aged 16 and over, are perhaps not as good as they could or should be. That is the reason that we have taken that route to assess where they are going. We can therefore evaluate against the new structures.
Paul, you said that you are on the DEL executive board. Given that, do you take concerns about reports to that board? Can you add items to its agenda? We have had many briefings over the past number of months; indeed, we may have already had a briefing on that. However, I would like to be apprised of who sits on the executive board of the Department for Employment and Learning, so that we can have a look at its work.
I would like to find out about some of the things that you have shared with us today. I also want to find out whether there is a follow-through process that ensures that recommendations are acted on at executive level and through to the Minister.
Mr P McAlister:
I have the opportunity to contribute to the agenda of every board meeting, and, in fact, I presented a report to the previous DEL executive board meeting, in which I stated that our inspectors got great job satisfaction knowing that the reports that they had crafted and the evidence that they had gathered is acted upon. The Department for Employment and Learning is particularly good at liaising. I will spare the blushes of John Baird, but he was seconded to DEL from the inspectorate to set up a quality-improvement strategy to ensure that the directors who are in charge of different areas of responsibility clearly understood the message of those inspection reports. There is a time gap between the inspection and the publication of the report; therefore, the official who is responsible is often ready to act on the messages of the inspection within days of the report’s publication. DEL is particularly good at taking the messages of the report and challenging us on what certain points mean in a language that they understand; sometimes we are accused of using inspectorate speak. That is helpful for us, because it creates a dialogue, and, over time, the Department understands our quality indicators and how we comment on aspects of provision.
I did think about your spake, because, in annex 1, you used the words “positive features” and “areas for development”.
We used to talk about “strengths” and “weaknesses”, but some people had difficulty with those terms, so now we talk about “positive features” and “areas for development”. However, I assure you that those words still mean strengths and weaknesses.
Mr B McCrea:
I suggest that we go back to using the words “good” and “bad”, or “success” and “failure”.
Thank you for your paper and for your presentation. We may come back to you on some of the issues that you raised. Given that the Training for Success programme has commenced and that the Committee will begin its work on that programme, we may come back to you for further information.
Thank you for your time and for your interest in our work.
I take this opportunity to thank Hansard. I apologise to Hansard staff for the earlier mobile phone interference. My request was that people turn off their mobile phones.
It is a bit unfair that some members do not turn off their phones whenever they are asked to do so; some of us turn ours off in the knowledge that they affect the recording equipment. Members should be a bit more considerate — they would be the first to jump if the material that we wanted recorded were not available as a result of interference from mobile phones.