Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 320-329)



Mr Chaytor

  320. This week we have visited I would imagine about 12 schools in Birmingham. Not all of us have seen all 12 because we have divided it. The 12 schools have been uniformly impressive and the headteachers have been hugely impressive also. How typical are those 12 schools of Birmingham's 80 or so secondary schools? What is the balance between Birmingham secondary schools as to the outstanding, the middling and those that need more help? What is your assessment of the state of secondary schools as a whole?
  (Professor Brighouse) If I could refer you to a bit of paper I gave you where I think there were eight categories of secondary school. You have visited a super selective school, you have visited a comprehensive plus school—in my terms—you have visited a selective school, you have visited a comprehensive minus school, you have visited a secondary modern minus school, and in my terms you have visited a secondary other school, so you have visited almost the full range. You have not visited a comprehensive school in terms of the definitions I gave, accepting the definitions I gave you at the beginning. They are all very well led and they are all extremely well staffed. Some of them cause more concerns than others. My assessment of them is that it will vary. I certainly do not want to get into public—

  321. It is the assessment of the others.
  (Professor Brighouse) You have seen a typical range. Is it on the public record as to where you have been?

  322. We have seen examples of a full range of the categories of schools.
  (Professor Brighouse) You have certainly seen super selective, you have seen selective, you have seen comprehensive plus, you have seen comprehensive minus, you have seen secondary modern, you have seen secondary modern minus, you have seen secondary other. I am not sure you have seen a comprehensive school by the definition I gave you. That does give you a feel of the range you have visited. You have visited the full range. What they had in common was a real commitment and energy, with imaginative leadership. I am absolutely sure you will have different sorts of visits. I am sure you will have spotted that but they were shown to you in a different way. In all our schools that are doing really well in challenging circumstances, nobody is saying, "What more can you expect from backgrounds like this?" None of them are saying that. Some of them are facing hugely challenging circumstances. All are working flat out but they are the full range and they are typical of Birmingham. You would say that we have probably got that full range. For example, if you ask me, we have got quite a few super selective, we have got lots of selective, as you know, we have probably not got many comprehensive pluses but we have got a few, we have got one or two comprehensives, we have loads of comprehensive minuses. If you want me to, I could give you my view of which are where. It was very representative.

  323. It was representative of categories of schools but was it—
  (Professor Brighouse) And representative of the city.

  324.—was it representative of qualities of headteacher and was it representative of the positive ethos and energy?
  (Professor Brighouse) Yes it was, of our secondary schools, yes it was. In other words, if you ask me to rank those headteachers I would not do it in public, of course not, but if you pushed me against a wall and said, "Now give me a profile of comparative skills of those headteachers," then I start by saying, "You are in Birmingham so I would expect them to be very high quality", but I could describe to you the strengths and weaknesses of the different leaders you met.

  325. In total out the 80 or so, how many secondary schools do you have concerns about now, if any, or what percentage of the total?
  (Professor Brighouse) The percentage of the total I have worries about? It is probably about five, six, seven per cent.

  326. And ten years ago, how many would you have had worries about?
  (Professor Brighouse) I do not know. I did not know it well enough. When I came I did not know it well enough. I was worried about everything. Ignorance is not bliss, I have to say, when you have got a job like mine. I do not know. I would not like to say that. All the evidence of the two OFSTED reports and their section 10s and the analysis is that there are fewer and it has improved. Again the performance on socio-economics is very good. I am worried because I do not want this to be a "labour of Hercules" or whatever it is. It is probably not a labour of Hercules; is it Sisyphus?

  327. Hercules had twelve tasks; Sisiphus had one but quite a big one.
  (Professor Brighouse) Systemically because of the issues we have talked about and I have outlined in the paper, even if I help others I am worried about others taking their place as a result of parental choice and all the other issues, which is why I want a collegiate.


  328. In a way have you not described in a very real sense the dilemma for the Secretary of State for Education at any time? One is always trying to improve the schools we have but as you improve a band of schools you know there is always going to be another band of schools that becomes of even greater importance to you.
  (Professor Brighouse) I am suggesting that there are systemic ways of ensuring that that does not happen. In other words, you do not have to have ladders and escalators; you can have virtuous circles, and successful organisations can achieve that. For instance, it is noticeable for me when I go into Tesco's, which I do, that the floor manager says we need to know that we are 120th on the list of successful Tesco stores! I get a sense of a consistency of quality that is a network that is working well. I think you could apply that and you could make collegiates which would be successful, especially if we brought all the players in—the selective, the super selective. Are you with me? Of course we could. I think it is something worth going for. You ask about the Secretary of State and I think all Secretaries of State have not quite managed to look at the factors that I have outlined right at the end of that paper—teaching, assessment, curriculum, learning, organisational arrangements within the school, the relationship within the curriculum within the school. Without a doubt how that is organised, or not organised as the case may be—timetables, admission arrangements, planning of school places—is very important. These are all tasks that have been done separately. Remember that people said that the fault with the national curriculum is that they went away severally to design all the curriculum areas so that coherently it became more than enough. In a curious way exactly the same could be said of the planning of secondary education. We have not looked at the whole lot. We have looked at little bits and lots of little bits rather than the impact of one to the other and the totality. What I am essentially inviting people to do is to look at the totality and then look at individual bits to adjust them to make it better for all kids.


  329. I think that is a good note on which to end. You have been stoic in answering our questions for over two hours, Professor Brighouse. It has been a delight to question you. Can I thank you again, not only for this performance today but for the time we have had in Birmingham. I hope the report that we write will meet your highest expectations
  (Professor Brighouse) Thank you ever so much. It has been a pleasure. Thank you for coming to Birmingham. You will have contributed to the energy of the city and that is vital. Thank you for all the questions you have asked. I have not enjoyed all of them. Paul, I am sorry I started talking to David when I should have been talking to you. I felt under a little bit of pressure and I am very, very glad that the session is over.


previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 31 October 2002