Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 280-299)



  280.—But it has got a lot right and there is a lot of improvement going on, so should we be saying effectively to other local education authority chief executives "Get out there"? Is that the right message? Were there real down sides to not doing some of those central things?
  (Professor Brighouse) No, I do not think there were because I had a really good partnership with the politicians, the political leaders. Local democracy is hugely important. The quality of that leadership is hugely important. I have been remarkably blessed by the quality of the political leadership I have shared. Therefore it becomes a partnership and you can cover for each other. If you take Andy Howell, Sandra Jenkinson and Roy Pinney, they can talk persuasively and with feeling about educational matters. Are you with me? The teachers and the school community like it, so you can start to be supplementary and complementary. What you have got to do is cover the lot and decide when to take risks, when not to take risks, and where you are with the key issues that might foul you all up. You recognise this scene. It would not be a good idea to be out in the schools if you were not doing the right things when you were in the schools. I can think of people, if they went into school I would rather they did not. So it would depend on what your skills were. I have seen local education authorities make a remarkable difference to their schools without doing it in the style in which I have done it. So they can make a difference. I have just remarked that more recently because of a combination of central control and prescription and the media, you begin to argue that that central influence on the schools is much greater than it was 15 or 20 or 25 years ago.

Valerie Davey

  281. I would like to take that up in a different context. National government is very keen to see children's education improve. That is obviously the absolute raison d'etre of all that you have done. One of the key elements in that has been setting targets, but when the Government talks about setting targets and when you talk about setting targets there are fundamental differences. Can you explain that to us again. I know you have written about it. Can you explain why it is so important in your estimation that the Government changes?
  (Professor Brighouse) It would be worth your reading, by the way, if you are going to carry on with the secondary review, a paper by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam from King's College London which is around what they would now call "assessment for learning" or "formative assessment". I will try and get a copy of the paper and get it to you via the Clerk. Basically the best form of assessment in schools is where the teacher shares the map of learning with the children and an individual child and so it is really well-directed, and where the children therefore know where the next steps of learning are in a quite finely-tuned way. I could show you the marking of children's work where the teacher in the marking of the work is inviting the children to reflect on that practice, to share it with another pupil, who would then comment on the children's work and the first pupil would come back again and the teacher reflects again. This is taking some of the work out of it by engaging other people in the assessment process. The teacher will set the target for the next bit of work for the child to learn. That is setting targets and it is about pace, it is about improving against your previous best and, with the best teacher, it could produce a paced learning. It is formative assessment or assessment for learning, as it would now be called. That is where it starts. The clever teacher with a group of children actually harnesss that as a group and thinks of it as a team effort and promotes the team effort in order that collectively they try to achieve the same things. Some of our secondary schools, incidentally, have done that so well that when it comes to the vexed issue of setting—and we assume you are not streaming—they have shared the definitions of the levels so well that the children are invited in year nine and year eight to set themselves, ie which group is your next bit of learning in, and, lo and behold, the children have set themselves, overcoming the dangers of another person putting you down. In other words, the kids have done the assessment. Such schools are very few and far between but it seems to me they are on a very important track. In all of that in Birmingham, at the beginning, we knew we had to overcome "what more can you expect from children with a background like that", on the one hand, and parents saying "school never did me any good, so just keep your nose clean" and who now say "there is no job for you anyway, so forget about it", but would have said "there is a job for you at the works". Instead of a culture of being resigned, which historical inheritance would have had us do, we should say how do we get the thing moving? So we started with a primary guarantee. That was the big debate and very significant and hugely important because we talked about targets of input, targets of experience and targets of outcome. The words "primary guarantee" are important because people disputed the guarantee and said how can you guarantee. The fact is you cannot. We had a long debate about the guarantee. We had endless debates about when you do not get what you guaranteed. We start thinking of buying stuff and it has got a guarantee and if it goes wrong what do you do. We made a pledge together of what we were committed to do. Firstly, there were targets of input, about resource, about improving our services, about bringing our schools into contact with national and international expertise, trying to increase learning targets for the teacher (ie, unless they are learning—the example I was mentioning). Secondly, there were targets of experience. We had only five in Birmingham for primary kids. Firstly, they should take part in a public performance. Secondly, they should have a residential experience. Thirdly, somebody should identify with them what they are good at in the expressive arts and give them an experience or a chance to develop that within the expressive arts—music, whatever it might be. (I am thinking of music). A fourth would be designing together and planning and producing a book or a multi media for another age group and then critiquing it. A fifth would be the issue of in the last year of primary taking on an environmental project, where they would be involved in the scientific method and survey and get at issues that are of common concern. At the moment we are being inspected. I approached this morning as, "Oh my God, this is another inspection" but you are being, I think, very kind so far! Just at the moment we have got a "comprehensive performance assessment" and they witnessed a great debate about rubbish in the city. It is a matter that anybody in a metropolitan area will understand. Environmental sustainability issues are crucial to the metropolitan urban areas so them taking part in an environmental project is important. Then there were targets of outcome and they were around literacy and mathematics. There is no doubt that an incoming Labour Government looked at what we were doing and decided they would do something similar but instead of pitching it in the round, the message get lost nationally. This is perhaps where I am contradicting much of that. That is to say you cannot have that debate that we had with thousands of teachers where I would say when it comes to setting targets for literacy and numeracy, of course you have good years and bad years, but set ambitious targets and set modest targets but always set the ambitious ones because you never know and you will learn from setting them. That is bottom-up not top down and what they have done is top down. Sir Michael Bichard, who I understand is a great friend of yours—


  282. We are a friendly Committee.
  (Professor Brighouse) He came to Birmingham before the Government won power in 1997 to see what we were doing and he said, "I cannot imagine central government ever being able to set targets." I should have kept a note of that meeting because it all looks very odd now. But that is how we saw it and still see it and that is why you find schools not afraid to set aspirational targets because on the whole I will not write letters to them cursing them for not hitting their targets, even if I am being cursed for not hitting my targets.

  Valerie Davey: Can I just add I think your self setting of targets and assessment leads to a whole different aspect of the assessment in OFSTED but I will not enter that. If that can be said.

Jeff Ennis

  283. You compared yourself earlier with Bill Shankly. Bill Shankly's most famous quote was: "football isn't a matter of life or death; it is more important than that".
  (Professor Brighouse) I echo that.

  284. You have obviously got a passion for education and that passion has rubbed off on all the heads and teaching staff and other staff we have met this week. There is obviously a range of factors or issues that inhibit individual performance amongst children. Have you ever sat down and tried to rank them in terms of severity in inhibition of their personal performance? Which is the most important factor or is it not possible to do that?
  (Professor Brighouse) Until you got right to the end of that I was not quite sure where you were heading and I did not know how to answer, therefore if I have got it wrong tell me. I commend you again to look at a document that Young Minds produced about children's and adolescents' health, and mental health in particular, and they ran into a set of risks and resilience factors. I think that we should be much more focused on what the risk factors are with children and what the resilience factors might be. This is a debate that were I still going to be working I would want to promote particularly in urban areas—and we have floated these ideas amongst lots of heads—which is you would say, "Yes, if you pick up that model, which I found invaluable". They talk about genetic issues, and there are some, but they are about ten per cent of the issue. 90 per cent of the issue is social and economic, so if you looked at summer born and being a boy it is a disadvantage compared to being autumn born and a girl. Both those factors matter. If you look at some of the class systems then some of the languages from the Asian sub-continent are related to caste and therefore if you know that, this is where you do need deep cultural knowledge, you would say if a child is speaking a certain heritage language perhaps we ought to be on the watch for that child. That child will be amongst their peer group thought not so well off as another language. I am not going to because this is a public record go into which those languages would be. So there is that as well. Perhaps if I were a secondary school and accepting kids perhaps for the intake in year seven, I would be thinking of how many primary schools have they attended? Are they from a background where education has not amongst the family gone beyond 16 before? What has the child's attendance record been at primary? What is the genuine view of their "at risk" worry about the kids making it in the secondary environment. You remember my first point about figuratively lost and you know what I am getting at in terms of making the transition—all of those, plus the issue of special educational need, plus the issue of race and ethnic origin. All those are issues which you would want to take into account to make sure that you were looking at the risk analysis of particular kids. Then in terms of resilience factors, you would say what are the interventions we can make with those kids which would make a difference? Some of them will be extremely simple. I do know schools that having done that will amongst the whole staff say, "You have got Fazana and you have got Jane and you have got Haroon and that means that you, David, when you are coming into school or when you are in corridor or when you are on lunch time could you try to strike up conversations with those kids?" Some do that but there are lots of other things you would do like residentials and aiming high, etcetera.

  285. You did not specifically mention parental involvement.
  (Professor Brighouse) That is hugely important. I thought you were talking about the school. Parental involvement is crucial and we have not done it very well in Birmingham. We got into it late, but we certainly brought out the Inspire programme which is really, really good. With particular kids with barriers to their learning, the more you can involve the parent the better.


  286. That is very good if there is a parent and certainly a parent who wants to be involved. One of the teachers we met only yesterday after we have had all our formal presentation came up to me and said, "I must say this to you: part of my job is liaising between our children and the parents and a big deficiency"—these were particular children who had difficulties at school—"is they do not have parenting and the parents do not have any support. They do not know how to be a good parent and they are not helped to be a good parent." But, interestingly enough, you talked earlier about transition and how you were particularly interested in and concerned about that transition from primary to secondary. One of the things we picked up from Birmingham from a lot of the teachers and heads is this transition from 16 into the rest of life. There was a very real concern that we picked up here about what happens. After a good education, even a good educational experience with some qualifications at the end, they say, "We have not got any remit to find out what happens to the people we put so much work into. They go off. If we are not careful they will go home, close the door, turn the television on or go to bed and will not emerge again and we know there are so many of them who do not go into the next stage of education, who do not go into employment, who do not go into anything." It got members of the Committee afterwards discussing this. Perhaps we are waiting for Connexions to do this but at the moment who tracks our young people when we leave them at 16?
  (Professor Brighouse) I think the answer to that is, first of all, you have put your finger on an area—you know you were asking me what did I not give priority to—which I have not given priority to properly and that is post-16, and I should have done. It is partly because the indicators suggest we are not doing too badly at 18, but we were not doing well earlier, and if you are going to make an effort you are going to focus on that. That is the first thing to say. The second thing to say the answer to your question straightforwardly is no-one. When Connexions is in place the likelihood is that someone will, but at the moment I think the transition at 16 is poor, although not as poor as it used to be. More and more are staying on. More and more are being counselled by their schools and worried about by their schools to make sure they have some further full-time education or a job. When you take further evidence it would be a good idea to pick up on this issue, not using the Birmingham experience. I do not think you have taken evidence from the Careers and Business Partnership which will turn into Connexions. They would say to me, "You are on the board, you should know, you should have told the Select Committee that each year you get a tracking document. You should have told them about the work we do to try to track the kids who are outside the system", which they do. I am telling you but I am saying I think you have put your finger on something that is worrying in an urban circumstance, probably not as worrying as the year seven. I have given talks about "Mind the gap" because the gaps are really very hazardous. Whether it is the long summer holiday or whether, frankly, for some kids it is the hours between 4 o'clock and 9 o'clock the next morning, the gaps are hazardous.

Mr Chaytor

  287. This week OFSTED and the Audit Commission have published their report on LEA schools improvement from 1996 to 2001, and the report concludes unequivocally that "good LEAs have a beneficial effect on some aspects of performance of pupils and schools, but the effect is not great. There is no proven relationship between the quality of an LEA and the overall standard of attainment. The expectation that LEAs should have a major effect on pupils' standards appears unrealistic." This was published before Birmingham was inspected. Do you think that they will need to revise that judgment when they assimilate the Birmingham inspection into the future report or do you think that that judgment remains valid across the board?
  (Professor Brighouse) You have had witnesses earlier in the week and you will have asked that question of OFSTED themselves. You will have read their report and you will know, therefore, whether they feel they need to revise their judgment. From my point of view, I believe that you need to read that document as you have read it. That is to say that they are not denying that some LEAs in some respects can have an influence. When it comes to a school that is in trouble, there is no doubt an LEA has an effect. If it did not, heaven knows what would happen to that school. Somebody has got to intervene. I have tried to impress that you can, by very hard work and reasonable organisation and creating a climate, diminish the likelihood of things going wrong and marginally increase the likelihood of things going right. I would have wanted to write that a bit more carefully than it has been written, but even in the way it has been written if you lined that up with what I said earlier about the national influence and the media, then it would appear to be on all fours with what you are describing there, would it not? I do not want to over-claim the influence of an LEA. I think it is hugely important and I would not want it any other way. I have described the democratic political interface that was crucial, and you seem to think, and so does OFSTED, that we have made remarkable progress. Therefore, the LEA appears to have had an impact. Across the country only they can judge whether that is replicated elsewhere.

  288. In your experience here, do you think that is an under-statement of what is possible?
  (Professor Brighouse) Yes, it would be an under-statement. Indeed, if you read their OFSTED report of this LEA you could not come to that general conclusion. In fairness, they have come to a general conclusion and it is carefully written. I could have wished that they would have described the case studies that illustrate the exception to the general conclusion in order that from those case studies other practice would change. The issue that I regret deeply is our equality gaps. You could say to me why have you not given prominence to the good practice in Regent's Park, in Cherry Orchard with Afro-Caribbean children, in Hamstead Hall and in Moseley? Because we have not got to those case studies early enough to give them the prominence they undoubtedly deserve because other schools will beat a path to their door to learn from their practice and indeed are doing within Birmingham. It is always incumbent on all of us, whether we are OFSTED or LEA, to describe where things are going well rather than give too much prominence to general conclusions, which might depress the energy. What I want to do is to raise the energy and say we are within a touch of cracking the issue of under-achievement of particular groups. I believe that to be true. I could almost believe that the same could be said of LEAs if they learn from each other's good practice.

  289. You are looking for OFSTED to publish a handbook of good practice?
  (Professor Brighouse) I would love to see it.

  290. In terms of the relative influence of LEAs and national government and the individual school, how would you put a figure on that in percentage terms? What is the balance of influence?
  (Professor Brighouse) It is really rather like saying, if we played around the issue, which I think you should do in your visits and in looking at secondary schools, of the relative weights to put on, shall we say, Gardner's different forms of intelligence—spacial, musical, kinesthetic, literacy and numeracy. You would weight more important the literacy and numeracy skills as a platform for achieving in other areas. If you were marking out of ten, that the weighting I would give to the influence of the school is something like a factor of eight. If you then said the national weighting, it would be round about four and the LEA weighting round about three. In other words, the school is a disproportionately important unit in terms of whether it thrives or does not. The national weighting is about half that. The best schools simply ignore what is happening nationally, quite rightly so; they simply get on with what they are doing. The LEA just marginally less. In our case you might argue marginally more. Are you with me? Because of the example of good practice.

  291. In terms of the impact of national policy you have got here in Birmingham a hugely fragmented and hierarchical system of secondary education. Do you think that government policy in terms of admissions and diversity and the differential institutional responsibilities at post-16 is helping or hindering you bringing coherence and stability to the 11 to 19 age group? Which aspects of government policy on admissions, diversity and post-16 are most helpful and which are least helpful?
  (Professor Brighouse) Admissions needs substantial attention, and they are giving it some attention but they really do need to examine the criteria for admissions and they need to make sure that there is some body that is insisting that those criteria for admissions are observed so they need to take a view on what are the correct criteria for admissions. They ought in large metropolitan urban areas insist on the clearing house system. The presence of independent appeal is good. Let me say, they have moved further in this direction, in fairness to the Government, than the last Government did, but they do need to be firm of purpose about stipulating criteria for admission and co-ordinated admission arrangements and about the issue of children who are excluded and then placed in another school because, as I have indicated to you in the document I have written, the tendency is for the most highly-rated schools to kick children out when they are kicking over the traces, but then not accept others. That is another issue of a very large metropolitan urban area compared to smaller metropolitan urban areas, where you can probably get people to take in each other's children in such circumstances. I have to be very careful here. I am not suggesting that everybody can be taken in because probably a group of schools will need a unit to help kids who cannot take advantage of the school system. So I think admissions is very, very important indeed. Do you want to pause and come back on admissions?

  292. I would like to see what you say about the other things, about diversity and post-16.
  (Professor Brighouse) If I come to diversity of schools, then I presume they face the dilemma of "were they going to abolish specialist status and the money that went with it or were they going to capitalise on it and expand it". I believe that every school should be a specialist school and they ought to have the resource that goes with it because there is a huge danger at the moment that the pecking order means that those who are higher up the pecking order under the rules of becoming a specialist school get the extra resource. They already, if you look at the data, have the most advantaged children because of the pecking order system. That does not help the issue of social justice and every kid getting a fair chance of developing their talents, so the sooner it is directed to all schools the better. To introduce a further rung in what is called a ladder seems to me to start the process all over again, and I think they need to move boldly to create groups or circles of schools where each is a school in its own right but where children at 11 choose to join a school and another educational body, a collegiate for the sake of argument, and the collegiate will be made up of the group of schools and would offer before and after school programmes and occasional inset and share their intranet and share their professional development, and where that collegiate would have its results published as a collegiate as well as individual schools, but where the resourcing of any individual school would depend on the results of each of the schools, to encourage collegiality. For instance, inspection would be of the collegiate rather than the individual school, rather as they are doing on the 16 to 19 area-wide inspections where they have tried to overcome the over-competitive nature of colleges and their too great autonomy to the disadvantage of the common purpose. I think they have got to have the courage to move in that direction quickly if we are not to have serious consequences of under-achievement and social difficulty in large metropolitan urban areas.

  293. And the third part of the question was the post 16.
  (Professor Brighouse) My federation or collegiates would, I believe, also incorporate the university presence in those large metropolitan urban areas. Do not forget I have been saying large metropolitan urban areas because I think there are different considerations in both the large town or the small city and in county areas. There you have got disproportionate provision of further education and universities. If in Birmingham, instead of there being 75 schools, there were, for example, 15 collegiates, just for the sake of argument, it would not be impossible to have a bespoke relationship, indeed a partnership with or an associate involvement with both a college and a university. You could then start to be on a virtuous circle of expectation, achievement and shared expertise.

  294. Do you think the division of responsibility between the LSCs and local authorities and the Connexions Service—
  (Professor Brighouse) It is unhelpful, and it is likely to lead to incoherence.

  295. Can we come back to the admissions point in more detail then. What specifically, if you were framing new legislation on admissions, would you like to see in that legislation?
  (Professor Brighouse) I would like to see it being determined that in certain areas there is one co-ordinating admissions agency. I would say let it be the local education authority but I do not feel that passionately. It is an administrative task and it needs to be done fairly. If that were something that was done by another agency with everyody agreeing, because after all the authority itself is an admissions authority, so it may be possible to create an arm's length body to do that, that would be acceptable. That is number one. We definitely do need that. The second thing for me would be to examine the criteria for admissions. They have done it in the past. I would personally always give priority to children in public care because they get the worst deal of the lot; children with special educational needs; I think I am persuaded about siblings. My next priority would be that every parent should have a prior right over another parent to get into the school that is nearest to them. That is different to distance. I hope you are all aware of that. We can have endless discussions on that. What I am really saying is if I live here—and I have got in terrible hot water in the past by doing things other than orally in a select committee—eight miles from the school and my nearest school was eight miles distant but the second person lived two miles from that school but one mile from another school, I would give the person who lived eight miles a priority over the person who lived one mile because they live two miles from another school. I hope this comes out well in the transcript! But you follow me. I think that is a terribly important principle. I would have that as my fourth. Now you are going to say how about co-ed, selection and faith. You do have to say wait a minute, if you have selective and independent schools, independent schools have the right of declaring their own admissions' arrangements, and I cannot see any government changing that, and as long as you have got selective schools they should declare within selection those same criteria, but if they are over-subscribed I would use selection but then moderate it by the issues that I have described too. If it were faith I would again introduce the faith element, I suppose. That is an interesting proposition because in Northern Ireland, as you probably know, there is no priority given to faith by faith schools.

  296. Is that right?
  (Professor Brighouse) Forgive me if I say you had better do your homework!. I was an adviser to the Burns Report and when they said that to me, I said, "Are you really telling them that I am an atheist and I live next to this Catholic school that they have got to give priority to me over a Catholic that lives half a mile away?" they said, "Absolutely." Indeed, they said they would probably be more welcome than the Catholic who lives half a mile away. I understood what they were saying. I said, "Are you really sure that is right?" And apparently in the 1970s that was introduced as measure to overcome sectarianism. By the way, that is why I would push my collegiate like mad because that would help overcome the ghetto effect of different groups. So in our country you might have faith as a proposition. I do not think on the mainland you could get to the position which is the case in Northern Ireland, that it is enough to provide the school with a missionary intent, because we are not like that here on this side of the water. So I would let faith apply as a criteria and that is as far as I would go.

  297. Would you include atheism and humanism on a par with other faiths?
  (Professor Brighouse) If there were a school that wanted to declare itself a humanist school, I would go along with that. I am not sure that a humanist—You are going to get me into territory that I do not want to get into.

Paul Holmes

  298. You were saying earlier about if you were giving weighting factors, the school is most important, then the government, and then the LEA. However good a school is, it has very much got to work within the framework government sets. One of the frameworks that schools complain a lot about is league tables, tests and exams. It is said that our kids are the most tested and examined in the world. What would your comments be on the league tables and various tests and exams? How would you like to see that reformed?
  (Professor Brighouse) It is back to my point about assessment. It is very very difficult, although I do remember that Kenneth Baker said when introducing the Education Reform Act of 1988 that it was essential that assessment should be at once diagnostic, formative—and I welcome that bit—summative and informative. I thought that was saying a square should be a circle. You cannot do that. That is to say the moment you move from formative and sharing things and get into informative and summative assessment is the moment you are putting at risk the formative assessment of kids. As adults we go cope with the comparative, but they are still children. The danger with the league table approach is that it accentuates the pecking order with parental choice. I have argued that I would move towards collegiate publication of results and individuals within it. Quite honestly, I do not care about people finding out what the Birmingham results are. I do not mind comparing them with Bury and the Isle of Wight and Barnsley and Sheffield and Bristol and Kirklees and parts of Kent and Medway.

Mr Chaytor

  299. I would have thought it was very helpful to compare with them.
  (Professor Brighouse) I really do not mind doing it because on the whole I do not think that many parents are going to choose between Birmingham and Barnsley. If they did, there would be only one choice.


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