Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)



  120. Do you think that with those kinds of numbers it is seriously possible to provide a broad and balanced curriculum?
  (Mrs Harker) No.

  121. So what should happen?
  (Mrs Harker) Some sixth forms may have to close, some of the very small ones. However, this is where working more closely with colleges and networks of schools is important. We have to stop thinking in terms of the walls which separate us from the next institution. We are being encouraged and are on the ground working in partnerships. We have started to speak to our local sixth form and FE colleges, some of us for the first time, and work out a plan for the local area. That is tough because the practicalities get in the way very often but nevertheless I think heads in all of those schools, and even in the much bigger sixth forms which are still comparatively small when you compare them, say, to the range in an FE college, have to make sure that within the patch we are offering a diverse choice post 16.

  122. I would like to follow on with one question to Christine which is building on that. Do I take it that all Birmingham schools are now part of a collegiate?
  (Mrs Owen) No.

  123. Could you explain how the concept is working? Is it funding in certain areas of the city?
  (Mrs Owen) The schools have opted into it. Ruth and I are both in the same EIC network and Ruth and a group of six schools have joined together to become this collegiate.

  124. How big is this EIC network?
  (Mrs Owen) We have nearly 20 schools. We are bigger than many local authorities and that includes special schools, 11-18, 11-16, single sex and mixed schools. It is quite abroad range of social context too.

  125. And it is a matter of choice within each EIC network as to whether you form a collegiate?
  (Mrs Owen) Yes. Some of them were not based on the networks, I do not think.
  (Mrs Harker) I think they are actually. There are three collegiates. We are what you might call pilot projects. To a certain extent it is Tim Brighouse's brainchild. He spoke to all heads about the concept and moulded the ideas. It has been largely driven by him, he is very committed to it. In the end three groups of schools from within the EIC networks got together in time to say, "Yes, we would like to go for it". The one to which I belong is the only one which is working in what he calls a "closely coupled" operation although at the moment there is not a lot of difference between the ways in which the other two collegiates are working. Going back to the difficulties about the divergence, for me opting into a collegiate is one of the ways in which we can provide a more equitable provision across a range of schools. I do not think it will solve everything though.

  126. My question to Christine is, your school is not part of the collegiate?
  (Mrs Owen) No.

  127. So you have decided positively not to become part of it?
  (Mrs Owen) Positively decided not to because we are in the SWAN network, this EIC. My school is still a challenging school and for me I felt that it would distract me from having such a major focus in school. I have to be there basically a lot and it is hands on. I felt that what we were doing within the SWAN network—and there are great similarities: we are having joint teacher days, joint professional development. We have even employed a co-ordinator, so I suppose in some ways what has happened is that the partnership has gone into two although there are still links between us. It is early days really. I positively decided for those reasons that I would not enter in.
  (Mrs Harker) SWAN is seen as a very effective EIC network going well beyond what some of the other networks have gone into. It is quite innovative in some of the things that we have done. It was because of that, working closely with other schools, that we were in a position to say, "Yes, we will go a stage further and go for the collegiate", but the network is still the umbrella organisation.


  128. SWAN is South West Area Network, is it?
  (Mrs Harker) Yes. Think of Longbridge.

Valerie Davey

  129. We are beginning to see some of the diversity within Birmingham and our conclusion, those of us who have come back from the group I was in today, recognise that the key feature in all of this is superb headship and we have met some superb people, and three more obviously here today. Has Birmingham deliberately provided support, given you that confidence to do what you are doing? Secondly, the Government has set up the new college, the School Management College. Is there any influence yet from that? How have you got this confidence? I know one answer but how has Birmingham arrived at this position?
  (Mrs Owen) The Chief Education Officer has altered the whole tenor of the LEA. We have all been here a long time. I remember when I was going for headship before Tim came and the councillors turned up late, nobody knew where you were, you felt nobody cared what you were saying anyway, and the schools were a tip. We have had more resources and we have had somebody who has talked up education, who has challenged, who has supported us. We cannot tell you the number of times he has been into our schools. He was there on my first day in this tough school, at my first OFSTED when we might have failed. He personally has re-focused the LEA and so I suppose that has enabled people like us to work in a different atmosphere with resources, support and access. Tim is always there. I f you have a bee in your bonnet you go and talk to him about it and you feel that you can influence change and be taken account of.

  130. Do you feel as well now that you are supporting each other?
  (Mrs Harker) Yes.

  131. You are obviously talking in networks of schools. Is this in effect a network of headship? I cannot get the feel yet as to whether you have got support from Tim and the LEA and therefore headship has got a new feel about it or whether it is something which is broader than that within which headship is crucial and therefore you are perhaps helping each other.
  (Mr Arnott) I think there is a sense of community. It is interesting that Ruth and Chris both teach on the south side of the city and I work on the north side of the city in Stockland Green. As we were saying informally earlier on, the city does tend to divide organisationally into north and south a little bit and there is a bit of a sense that you work on the south side or the north side. I do not think that is competitive. I agree with what Chris has said. I think the single biggest factor in Birmingham's progress is down to one man and that is Tim Brighouse. At a time when education was under pressure and being criticised publicly and morale nationally was going down, he was coming round and doing the things that he does so well. Like Chris, he was in my school on my first day drinking coffee in the waiting room waiting for me to finish an assembly. He does that and that is great, but he has also contributed in a major way to the building of a community of heads in Birmingham. We have heads conferences annually when all the heads get together and we have a theme and we work hard but we get together and we know one another. That has been of tremendous value because it would be easy to get lost in a city the size of Birmingham as heads. I think there are a lot of people in Birmingham coming up to headship, in senior posts in schools, who have spent a long time working in the city and a lot of us are developing our own leaders. There is a sense of community. There is certainly a sense of improving on previous best and the heads that I work with and that I know are all wedded to that. Some years it does not happen. We dipped this year on our A-C figure but you look for reasons and we analyse it and we share that. Basically the aim is to keep improving all the time within this supportive community. You mentioned the National College of School Leadership. Because I am a fairly recent appointment as a head, I did the new national professional qualification for headship as one of the first cohorts and I have therefore had a fair bit to do with the National College of School Leadership. I think it has the potential to be a tremendous lever to improve qualities of leadership. Certainly at headteacher conferences we are now looking at how to improve leadership and learning lessons from the world of commerce, the world of industry. For example, Daniel Goleman's book on emotional leadership is one that I am reading at present which is very good and which was on the reading list at the last heads' conference, that sort of thing.[1] There are also opportunities. In the Midlands we have a headteachers' and industry organisation based at Warwick University which is the management arm of the national professional qualification for headship. They have organised, for example, a study visit to Oslo in the half term break. I am going on that so I shall be spending a week in Norway, three days shadowing a head in a Norwegian secondary school and the rest of the time looking at leadership and looking at bringing something back to Birmingham from another city in Europe. Leadership in education is very exciting at present and that is a sense that I think is shared amongst this community of heads.

  (Mrs Harker) Can I just add one point because I am a member of the Secondary Heads Association and do a little bit of work with headteachers as a result. I go round the country and people are very envious of me being a headteacher in Birmingham. The atmosphere, the ethos, are very different in most other LEAs. All of us came into teaching because we wanted to be educators, we wanted to work with youngsters. It is very easy these days to get pulled away from that—the bureaucracy, the paperwork, the legislation (dare I say it?). There are very strong pulls away from that. Every time I meet Tim he pulls me back in the direction of children and learning and that is very inspiring. He keeps us at the leading edge through video links up with some of the leading educators in the world. He is making us think, he is challenging us all the time and that is very unusual and it is very special. We are all wondering what we are going to do now.

  (Mrs Owen) I would like to make one point about the national professional qualification for deputies. One of the big areas that it omits is to do with behaviour and in terms of urban education and challenging schools I cannot understand how any head these days can gain a qualification that does not talk about the management of behaviour positively. I think that is an important thing to address.

Ms Munn

  132. Which is an excellent point with which to lead into what I was going to ask about because I very much echo what Val said in the schools I have been to. I have been to some of the same ones and some different ones. We have seen dedicated, inspiring, committed headteachers but all with their own particular style and way of dealing with things in their own schools. Obviously pupil behaviour has been a key issue within all of those schools. I have seen a number of strategies already. I wonder if you could share with the Committee strategies that you use in your schools to try and deal with some of the difficult issues of behaviour that are around.
  (Mrs Owen) I do not know if you know, but recently the headteachers, we ourselves, commissioned our own research amongst all the secondary heads in Birmingham. I was one of the people who collated the results because of the raising of issues of behaviour. Perhaps if I were to tell you some of the findings from that it would be helpful.

  133. Yes, and it would be nice if we could have a copy of the research.
  (Mrs Owen) We actually only did it orally because we felt that if it did get into certain newspapers, for instance,—we were not scandalmongering. We wanted a degree of honesty and in fact it was anonymous research and people wished it to be. What we found in Birmingham was that the vast majority of Birmingham heads said that behaviour for the majority in their schools was improving due to the huge investment made possible by Excellence in Cities, the standards fund to appoint dedicated behaviour mentors, attendance workers, etc. But they also were under more pressure than ever because the extremes of behaviour were worse. It is these children that fall outside the boundaries of what you call normal naughty behaviour. There are serious concerns about these. We feel that there is not enough support, getting access to child mental health psychiatry, for instance. I read today somewhere suggesting that schools appoint a senior teacher for child mental health. What will that do? We are not experts. We cannot deal with children who are severely troubled or troubling in their schools. There was very much a feeling that the problems were coming up from Key Stage 2 and were increasing, and that in many ways primary schools were able to accommodate behaviour because of their small, single teacher all the time set-up, but when you amplify the numbers and the opportunities in a secondary school these were then rising. They were not being addressed through the code of practice like most of us do so that we have a staged plan for pupils presenting difficulties with targets, meetings with parents, on report, support here, external courses there. The impact of unsupportive and hostile parents is a big issue in schools like ours. I could give you a quote from this morning but I do not know if you are allowed to swear in a Select Committee.


  134. You are allowed within reason.
  (Mrs Owen) A parent phoned me this morning at eight o'clock to say her child would not be in today again. I said, "Why?", and she said, "Well, she has started her shit again". I said, "Tell me about it." "She has run away again. She did it at Woodgate." I said, "What are you going to do then?", and she said, "I've got a 14-month old baby. What do you think I'm going to do about?" I said, "An 11-year old girl on the street is a bit worrying. Have you been involved with Social Services before?" "Yes." "Well, do you not think you should phone Social Services now?" Phone banged down. That is quite minor, as opposed to parents who come storming up over trivial issues like trainers.
  (Mrs Harker) Jewellery yesterday.
  (Mrs Owen) Then we get litigation on top of that. All of that is a big drain on resources, particularly in challenging schools, but not only there. Therefore staff recruitment in schools where more challenging behaviour is the norm is more difficult, so you get into that cycle.

  135. The trade unions told us yesterday how pleased they were with the way in which the more difficult pupils were dealt with and that the framework was good.
  (Mrs Owen) The framework for intervention?

  136. Yes.
  (Mrs Owen) I think some people have found that very helpful, particularly primary schools. We have found very helpful the Behaviour Support Service. In fact, in our EIC network we negotiated buying more places and having more provision. We put in extra money to share provision for children who were troubled and who needed time off site in a different environment. That is what we feel we are lacking for those extremes, the more specialised support systems. I have been asked to take a child whose statement is a nightmare. He has been through schools, he has been through a learning support unit which cost a quarter of a million pounds. He did not succeed there, he has not succeeded anywhere. He is violent, aggressive, unpredictable. "Here, you have him." Come on. It is not just the impact on my children and my school. What about that child? Who is helping that child to adjust his behaviour so that he is going to be able to be included when he is older? The other issue is about exclusions. The fixed term exclusion figures really under-report the extent of the problem. Schools in more advantageous areas do not have to exclude. They can suggest to parents that their children find another school instead of being formally excluded. There is great resentment about the 6,000 penalty for exclusion. If you have a really serious incident, a thug attacks another pupil, it could be racial, it could be with a knife, you exclude them and you lose 6,000. There are issues about that and about the appeals committees where heads who have been through some of these really feel they have been through the mangle and are well traumatised by this inquisitorial, adversarial manner in which the appeals committees are seen to be operating.
  (Mrs Harker) And more parents are bringing solicitors along. We are not legal professionals. It is very difficult to get advice although Legal Services are very good but they are hard pressed. We are all of us facing several cases where we have got litigation going on and that is very time-consuming and it is draining and it gets people nowhere.
  (Mrs Owen) The only other thing I would say is that in the vast majority of schools that is where children behave their best. We see the best of children. We mould them. We expect that; we enable it to happen. Some of the children we teach, out in the community are very difficult. All of us over the last five or six years in particular, the range of strategies we have put into place (and I have put it in the report) I felt was awe-inspiring when you see what individual schools are doing to support children in good behaviour.
  (Mr Arnott) Also you see what individual teachers are doing with individual pupils within the school. I support everything that Chris is saying. There are continuous relationships that are built up by individual members of staff with individual children which beggar belief. I have got several children in my school who, if it were not for a key member of staff in one place or another, that child would be out on the street, taking drugs, all those sorts of things. I would just like to add one thing to what Chris said which is about the appeals panels. They are amazing things. I went through one just at the end of summer. Normally they take about half a day but the final judgement from the appeal panel, which dismissed the appeal and supported the school, began with the sentence, "At the hearing conducted on 1 March, 24 March, 15 May, 16 June, 17 July and 22 July"—because I know that it actually went to six days of evidence because of the evidence that was produced by this parent with an army of solicitors, and I had to take an assistant head and we came through that and we did manage. I have referred to it in my evidence, that this was a woman that we had to take to court twice because she had made death threats against members of my staff. Schools are not protected from society. We are a public service. We are open to society. We take every child and every child's parents and the full range of social problems come into school. I think that for far too long schools have been blamed for what happens and not enough attention has been given to the super job that schools do. Thankfully now I think the trend in appeal panels is beginning to move back a little bit. The pendulum is beginning to swing back. I was grateful that in the appeal that was referred to a moment ago the panel did clearly understand what the situation in the school had been like in this particular case. Behaviour is the big issue. For far too long it has been an uncomfortable issue that politicians and the DfES have not really wanted to face up to because it is not very palatable when it is behaviour that is in newspapers. It is that which is holding back other children, thousands of children across the country, from achieving their potential in my view.
  (Mrs Harker) We are not in such challenging circumstances and yet these issues are still a daily occurrence. In my school just this morning the ESW (education social worker) was in school, and in court this afternoon. The parent had forced the child to take the stand to say that it was the child's decision not to attend school, not hers, and it has just gone completely out of control. Having said that, you asked about positive things. In EIC I think most schools would say that the learning mentors have been very successful. We have topped up the EIC money in my own school with standards funds and we have appointed two. In fact, it is such an important issue that we have appointed an assistant head to head up what you might call "social inclusion" to try and get a whole school community approach. We have developed a pupil support base. We used the first year of EIC funding for that. It is not an in-school exclusion unit. It is a base from which a wide range of support can take place. We were lucky that we have got staff who are qualified in anger management, personal development workshops, conflict resolution, bullying, self-esteem. We involve the police with offenders and there are regular sessions which are proving very successful with young offenders. There is individual counselling and very carefully structured group work because a lot of these youngsters have very poor social skills. Working in a group and helping them to relate to other people is very important. Things can be done. However, I agree with my colleagues. There are some students for whom, however hard we try,—and we have tried very hard—in terms of inclusion in my own school it is just not appropriate for them to be in school because the cost to the school and often to the individual is too great.
  (Mrs Owen) It would be fair to say that that range of strategies Ruth has used there is pretty common throughout secondary schools in Birmingham.
  (Mrs Harker) EIC has done a great deal.

Mr Pollard

  137. You said there comes a time when you cannot do any more for a student. What happens then? What do you suggest is done?
  (Mrs Harker) The experiment that we undertook with the Behaviour Support Service was very effective. For two terms permanent exclusions in south west schools disappeared. That stopped because the rate of exclusions in other areas in the city put such great pressure on the PRU that they could not do it. That was very successful because all of us as schools were also willing to take excluded pupils because they came with support and a sort of guarantee that if, with support, it did not work out then the youngster would be taken away. That gives those children who are excluded from schools a place to go and the support that many of them do not get. That was very successful.
  (Mrs Owen) It took them out for a period of time so that people could intervene, people who have more experience with behaviour modification techniques in a small group situation, and they gradually support them back into school. That was what was so excellent about it. We directed it; we agreed between us, and we actually put in a sum of money without worrying whether we actually got our own individual number of pupils, if you see what I mean, so we really did share this provision for the common good of the group of schools and it was excellent.
  (Mr Arnott) The South West Initiative was taken up by us in north Birmingham last year. We are now running a similar programme with equally promising results. Can I add in to what has been said something I do feel strongly about and that is the tremendous improvement that is made to schools by what you might call para-professionals or mentors. I do not want that to be a negative term because I do not mean that at all. I could not run my school now without my learning support assistants, my mentors and various other people who work in the school and work with children but not in a teaching capacity. The traditional one teacher in a class of 30 is increasingly seen less often. We have a large number of learning support assistants who we target traditionally towards special needs children but we also now employ them through a different budget. It starts with the core departments and now all my departments have their own learning support assistant led and managed by the head of department, supported through our learning support line. We have a senior manager who looks after them and works with them on their professional development. They are there to be deployed by the head of department to assist in learning in the subjects, so the English department has a learning support assistant, etc, and it is making a huge difference. What we are finding is that children are more confident learners and it is also having an impact on behaviour. Ruth has got a bigger school than mine with two mentors. I have got 600 children in my school which is smallish. It is a reflection of the sorts of issues that we face in Stockland Green that I have a team of four mentors, all of whom are working full time and are absolutely fantastic.
  (Mrs Owen) We also need more help with the child psychiatric bit for children who are acting out, who are bereaved and who need expert counselling support. We do not find that we get any of that.
  (Mrs Harker) The only way we can get that is to put it on paper that they are a suicide risk. We do it because that will actually mobilise them. It is the only way we can get immediate psychological help for students.
  (Mr Arnott) I do not think that psychological problems for children are in any related to their levels of deprivation. One of the things that I find in schools is that the pressures on children, particularly from the media and particularly from the industries that target children to sell products and offer children stereotypes which become so strong that children who do not comply with those stereotypes often feel forced out or find it difficult to cope, result in huge pressures, particularly on young teenagers, which makes it particularly difficult for many children. Again, mentoring and learning support professions in schools are often a super source of support for both the school and the child.

  138. This is where early intervention helps. The quicker you are into it the quicker you can do something about it.
  (Mrs Harker) Absolutely.

Paul Holmes

  139. The OECD PISA Study, the international comparison, put Finland at the top of the list. When they were asked how, Finland said, "We have created a system of proper comprehensive schools and we do not allow any school to dump their problems onto another school." Christine in her written evidence talked about struggling schools that, because they have got spare capacity, therefore get the problems, the excluded kids dumped on them. Is there any way in our system we can stop the problems being dumped?
  (Mrs Owen) I think there is. I think that the BSS model was an extremely good one. If a youngster has not been to school for a year in Andy's school, and the ESW says to me, "Oh, the parents have chosen you and you have got a space", what are the chances of that child succeeding? Zilch. But if, like with the BSS, you could take them away and start to gradually re-introduce them, maybe support them by coming in once a week, that sort of support I think would build up. But I think that schools like Andy's and like mine was eight years ago should have a moratorium. We should not be asked to take the most difficult children in the city; other more advantaged schools should be asked. If we are networked, as we are, we have shown that although we could be seen as competitors in some ways we are prepared to share, so who knows whether Ruth's school or my school paid more money for BSS and got the best value, but in terms of the community in our area, we know that we are doing the right thing. I think there are things that can be done. One of the things is that the ESW service or the LEA does not know how many times Andy has been asked to take children from different bits of the city and they do tend to work again in their patches. They are getting better too, the ESW service is improving.


1   Goleman D (2002), The New Leaders. Transforming the Art of Leadership into the Science of Results. Little, Browm, London. Back

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