Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-67)



Mr Chaytor

  60. I want to pursue Meg's point about segregation. From the information we have been given about schools in Birmingham there would appear to be about 11 faith schools, eight selective schools and about 25 specialist schools. Of the faith schools, all but the single Islamic school are predominantly white. Of the eight selective schools, all but Hamsworth Boys' Grammar are predominantly white. Of the 25 specialist schools, the majority are predominantly white. What do you think the impact of faith schools, specialist schools and selective schools is on interaction in Birmingham?
  (Ms Warmington) That is a very hard question. From what I have seen in some selective schools, the pattern is changing. There are more parents who are more tuned to understanding the selective school system. I know in Allum Rock and Saltley there are many private tutors trying to gear children up from that community to pass entrance exams. People recognise selective education as a way of jumping through the hurdle. One of the issues I am unclear about is where the government stands on faith schools and selective schools. I know from the Cantle Report, one recommendation was that there should be mixed communities within a school and that having schools from one community, whether it be an Islamic, Catholic or a white community, did not work to advantage community cohesion. I think there are some issues around how the patterns, as you describe them, keep particular communities locked in, whatever those trends are, and it is worrying.
  (Ms Oliver) African Caribbean parents aspire greatly. They want their children to gain the best from the education system and I had one mother speak to me recently, saying, "What am I going to do if my child does not get into this school? Where am I going to send her?" I was extremely worried and concerned for her. She thinks she has three years before she goes into secondary education and she is thinking that she must pass this exam to get into a selective school. She wanted me to offer her some advice as to where to send her child. It was extremely difficult. I do have issues around how faith schools, selective schools and specialist schools will impact on the community in Birmingham. Eventually, it could divide our communities in Birmingham.

  61. You are a bit equivocal about that. In terms of faith schools, would you see faith schools, for example, as a way of improving the performance of Pakistani or Indian children or would you see them as a way of reinforcing the poor performance of African Caribbean and Bangladeshi children?
  (Ms Oliver) That is a difficult question for me because I do not work with Bangladeshi children or Indian children. What I would like to see personally is the faith based African Caribbean organisations being consulted about these issues, the big churches in Birmingham, headed by various of our black bishops. I think they should be called to respond to these questions so that they are responding for their community in Birmingham and also nationally. I think you would get a better picture from them.
  (Ms Warmington) Some parents see the faith schools as a way of improving their child's chances, especially in terms of educational achievement. The issue is bigger than that. It is what is it about a faith schools, for instance, that contributes to overall improvement in achievement and whether that could be replicated elsewhere in the system. There are lots of different types of research that talk about the fact that with religion comes improved attention to education and teaching and discipline and all that sort of stuff, and that what faith schools reap are the benefits of this. Not that I advocate more research, but what might be interesting is whether that is something that can be replicated elsewhere in the school system—for instance, in non-selective schools. It may be because you are taking a particular characteristic like the ability to pass the IQ test, putting children that pass all together, and it is this strategy that is being employed there that reaps particular benefits and outcomes? There are a number of different things here, and when you start to unpack your question it is not just an issue of whether faith schools are the way to go or not, because there are some who would say that faith schools are not the way to go and that by advocating faith schools you engender wider issues of communities not understanding each other, not belonging and feeling a sense of identity. There is some more questioning that needs to be done around those parameters, if you are going to try to get to the answer that you want.

  62. If you could put yourself in the position of a Bangladeshi parent and you looked at the Birmingham school statistics and saw that there is not a single selective school that has more than one per cent of Bangladeshi pupils, what would you think?
  (Ms Warmington) I would think it is a very sad detriment in terms of the opportunities for my child.
  (Ms Oliver) I would be extremely concerned. If you were to go along to the grammar school in south Birmingham and you saw the children you would not know whether they were Bangladeshis or Indians or Pakistanis, but you would be quite encouraged by the fact that a large number of those children are from ethnic minority backgrounds, so that would be a hope for the future.
  (Ms Warmington) There are some particular questions that you could be asking here such as why some communities which have been in this country longer are still experiencing deprivation and disadvantage within the system. It is not as simple as saying there is an issue about the Bangladeshi community. It is something very fundamental happening with African Caribbean communities, for instance, and we keep having that conversation over and over again. We still appear not to have cracked the problem.


  63. This is very interesting and we will be taking these issues up with David Gillborn later in the week. There are some interesting stats on all poor, minority communities. The urban white working class or African Caribbean communities have been here much longer than most Asian communities. What I thought was interesting in your response to David's question was this: essentially, he was reading through the stats and suggesting that what was happening in Birmingham was that as schools became specialist there was an increasing tendency for those schools to have fewer ethnic minority pupils which presumably means that in a core of non-specialist—what someone disgracefully once called one size fits all, bog standard comprehensives—there would be a much higher percentage of poor people. Is that what you feel has happened in Birmingham?
  (Ms Warmington) I am looking at a school I know quite well which is a selective school and I do not see that picture. I do not have any stats on the school but I think it is quite a mixed selective school. I am not sure about the population in detail in terms of the different ethnic groups but in terms of what I visibly see it appears to be an increasingly mixed selective school. Dave has often talked and written about selection and what happens through the selection process, through streaming and some of the strategies that teachers employ. There does appear to be something inherent in terms of the things that we do that means that we shake out some groups within our society and promote opportunities for others. If you are suggesting that there is a way in which the selection process is disadvantaging members of the Bangladeshi community, I would have to say there may be something but I am not sure about it. There may be something there that is worth investigation.
  (Ms Oliver) Bernard Coard wrote some time ago about black pupils being made educationally subnormal in British schools. The tiering of our children is a way of making them educationally subnormal because if they are all in the bottom tier the opportunity to move up is going to be less for each year of their secondary schooling. I think it is very important that schools examine carefully their strategies when tiering our children, because they can tier them for failing totally.

  64. You have heard the drift of our concerns in the questions. Sometimes witnesses write to us after we have completed an oral hearing like this and say, "I wish I had said this to the Committee." Is there anything you would like to say to us that we should be exploring while we are in Birmingham or anything that you do not think you have already said?
  (Ms Oliver) I would go back to raising the funds for the programme that we are doing in Birmingham. It is raising expectations of achievement and the literacy for children in African Caribbean backgrounds. We are doing this in collaboration with a partner in Dorset. It was very difficult raising funds for this programme. We are working with three primary schools in Birmingham but this is also to raise the achievement of children when they get to the secondary stage of education. It is putting that intervention strategy in very early for them, starting with year five pupils, raising their levels of literacy, using a high level of information technology, some more computers, working with the parents, working with the children, working with the community, bring in various outside role models. These are all black role models, bringing in schools. We are still at the stage where we are raising funds for this very important programme and we feel that within those three primary schools there are quite high percentages of African Caribbean pupils. We would like to think that we do not have to scrape around for funding. There is a lot of money in Birmingham but when it comes to accessing funding for small organisations it gets extremely difficult. We would like to think that you would be able to support us in some way—we do not know how—but we believe REAL will be a resounding success. We are hoping to follow the children through from year five to year six and then into year seven and to look at children with special educational needs also, but again we need funding to do that.

  65. Are you in communication with the Early Excellence Centre?
  (Ms Oliver) Is that Excellence in Cities?

  66. Yes. It is Professor Christine Pascal.
  (Ms Oliver) I am not in touch with her.

  67. We could give you the details because she was a special adviser to our Early Years inquiry and their organisation, which is a stone's throw from this building, is extremely knowledgeable about funding sources, so perhaps that is a first step.
  (Ms Oliver) Yes.
  (Ms Warmington) I think there needs to be some sort of examination of national policy, examining the core of what has been delivered in the curriculum, and how you can make the curriculum "racism proof." How can you avoid the sorts of strategies that will perpetuate inequality in our society? There needs to be a look at the delivery mechanisms as well, how teacher training is conducted. As a past teacher, I know that there was not an awful lot of time and energy spent on understanding some of the teaching strategies that we were asked to deliver and how those related to the needs of particular individuals within our community. I feel that there needs to be an emphasis more in the roots of the system and we cannot continue to fragment the system to respond to ethnicity as an issue, not with the growing numbers of mixed race population, not with 43 per cent and growing numbers of ethnic minority groups in Birmingham. We need to provide a comprehensive, quality, mainstream service that caters for the needs of all our children. As an individual, I do not really care whether my child is taught by whoever; what I want is really good quality teaching that does not disadvantage their opportunity to achieve.

  Chairman: That is a very good note on which to stop. May I thank you both for being so patient with us and putting up with all these strange questions.


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