Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 75)



  60. You think that there ought to be some recognition of the smaller unitary LEAs in terms of future funding?
  (Mr Parkin) Yes, I think there should.

Mr Simmonds

  61. I find that comment very interesting because, and I do not know whether they are in your union or not, most of the educational professionals that I talk to in my constituency are very much in favour of taking control of the budgets for their schools and buying back into the services that may be appropriate to do the special needs or transport that a local education authority can provide. Certainly my experience is not the same as yours.
  (Ms Gemmell) I think it is because we are not wanting to put the clock back and good LEAs, and I think I come from one too, actually did devolve large amounts of the autonomy that comes with money to their schools several years ago, as far back as 1990 in Nottinghamshire, which is where I come from. We are not suggesting that we are getting messages that the clock should be put back, not at all. You asked whether the balance was about right at the moment and I am talking about the here and now. I am not suggesting that schools want the LEAs to have more control. One of the things—

  62. Forgive me for interrupting but I thought you were saying that you felt the balance was about right and there was no message coming through to you that the schools should have more power than they do so at the moment.
  (Ms Gemmell) I was not talking about power, I was talking about—

  63. Control of the funds.
  (Ms Gemmell) All I merely said was from our case workload that comes into us we do not determine from that when we analyse it that there is an antipathetic feel to the current status with LEAs.

  Chairman: David wants to come in on this, although, Mark, from your education spokesman's recent speech in my own constituency of Huddersfield, I am wondering which Conservative policies are still being retained as he said he was not committed to any of them.

  Mr Simmonds: We are exploring everything, as you well know.

Mr Chaytor

  64. Turning to the question of under-achievement of Afro-Caribbean boys, you are saying that the problem lies with black lone parents?
  (Ms Gemmell) No. I am saying that there are other statistics that need to be looked at before you draw a conclusion. Nigel was saying—

  65. You said earlier that a factor was that Afro-Caribbean boys tend to come from families with a lone parent.
  (Ms Gemmell) That is from the perception of running a school which was multicultural with 25 per cent from ethnic minorities. We certainly gleaned that there was a connection between the number of families that did not have an adult male role model for the Afro-Caribbean boys and the difficulties that they got into. Certainly I do not think the Race Relations Board have ever correlated the statistic between families which do not have an adult role model and exclusion. I think that there is a connection. I cannot prove that.

  66. Did you observe the same relationship between middle class white families headed by lone parents?
  (Ms Gemmell) No.

  67. So it is an issue of class rather than lone parents?
  (Ms Gemmell) Sorry? An issue of?

  68. If you are trying to argue that the lone parent factor is a contributory factor in the under-achievement of Afro-Caribbean boys that would only be valid if the lone parent factor was present in other social groups, and if you did not observe that amongst white families headed by lone parents or middle class families headed by lone parents, presumably it does not exist?
  (Ms Gemmell) I think there is a race issue. I did say that I thought there was a race issue and when Nigel said that there was not I did not agree with him. I think that the absence of male role models is a contributory factor and we perceived that was higher within the Afro-Caribbean group than it was within the white Caucasian group.

  69. Where there are lone parent white families, is there a problem of under-achievement there in your experience?
  (Ms Gemmell) I was talking about exclusion. There are problems of under-achievement, which we have not discussed at all. The under-achievement of some Asian girls is one of great concern to some teachers but does not hit the headlines because they do not misbehave and they do not get excluded. If you do comparisons of their achievement compared with indigenous families in terms of white background in this country, you either get Asian girls who succeed incredibly highly or very poorly, there is not a spread.

  Chairman: What is your explanation for that?

Mr Chaytor

  70. Do you have an explanation for that?
  (Ms Gemmell) Yes, I do have an explanation for it but, again, it is based on perception. This is not PAT policy and I have no statistics, just that I was a head of a school with a lot of Asian girls in it. The very able girls see academic success as a way to continue their autonomy and to not have arranged marriages. The girls who are not so successful do not actually see the need to have a work ethic to maximise their potential because they do not perceive that they are going to have to have careers.

  71. Is that not to do with class structure within the Asian community?
  (Ms Gemmell) I think that it is, yes, but it is not something that we talk about very much.


  72. Can I conclude. The last question I want to ask you is one that seemed to get some reaction from previous colleagues and that is what is your feeling about the Government's enthusiasm about faith schools? I am asking you particularly because I was watching your face when I asked that question, so this is why I am pushing you on that.
  (Ms Gemmell) I do think the timing of the issue was an unfortunate one in world events. I do not see how one can possibly talk about having the possibility of private sector initiatives setting up schools or putting forward proposals for the—the latest phrase has gone out of my head, what are the new city colleges are going to be called?

  73. Academies?
  (Ms Gemmell) Yes, that is the one. I do not see how you can, on the one hand, say that is possible and, on the other hand, not make it possible for that private body to be a faith group. It seems to me that either there is the possibility for private sector initiative to establish education or there is not. It seems to me that a faith school that might be initiated by, I do not know, the board of synagogue or whatever, is no different from a school that is initiated by perhaps IBM. It seems to me that logic says you cannot have the one without the other. Certainly the only faith schools that I am acquainted with, which are few and in a particular geographical locality, do have in them children that are not of that faith and although they do promote the faith in terms of the children who follow it, they do not proselytise to my knowledge.

  74. You did not have much chance on this but the last question I want to ask you is if there was a wish list of what the Government should now be doing in the educational sector, if you could have that power over the Secretary of State, what would you wish for?
  (Ms Gemmell) We had a wish list that we actually sent to all of the parties at the time of the election. If I could read it to you.

  75. As long as it is not too long.
  (Ms Gemmell) No, it is very short. This was our wish list then. We wanted performance management and threshold to be linked together so that it was seamless, so you did not have to fill in forms and so if you were successful the guaranteed funding would be there. Because at that time it was part of the DfEE as it then was, we wanted a national register of child carers. We think it is appalling that nannies do not have to be registered, we think that is highly dangerous. We want a universal entitlement to funding for nursery education for three year olds, and there has in the new Bill been moves towards that, which we are glad about. We want a commitment to improved working conditions for all in child care and education. Hopefully the Pricewaterhouse review is actually going to help push that forward if in the funding review there is sufficient money for that Pricewaterhouse review to be implemented. We want a rationalisation of salaries and training for the whole team in education, that is head teachers, teachers, teaching assistants and other support staff. We think that there is not a need for a gulf, we think there is the possibility of it being one single whole team system. We want guaranteed non-contact time for classroom teachers. We have not been pushing 35 hours, many of our members cannot see how that would ever work. We want funding to be provided to maintain staff to pupil ratios. Interestingly, we note that they are now referred to as adult to pupil ratios. There is an interesting question there that if you are going to have adults working in schools, how that sits comfortably with the recent statutory implementation of the General Teaching Council to have all teachers having to be registered with their professional body, which we wanted for years, at a time when there is the possibility of having people contributing in a way which is almost indistinguishable from teaching in schools when they cannot be part of that register because they have no qualification. We want the ratios to be maintained and we want continuous staff developments and links within the Training Agency to be maintained. We want curriculum issues to be funded because of the number of times when you read a curriculum document and at the bottom it says it is funding neutral and very few things are ever funding neutral because at least the paper on which they are written costs a lot of money. We certainly want, which none of the other unions have mentioned, consideration of the effects of constant repetitive assessment on the pupils themselves.

  Chairman: Thank you, Jean, for that and thank you, Philip, for your contribution. I am sorry you had to wait until last but I think you have had a fairly good spread of time at the end. Thank you.

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