Members present:

Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
Mr David Chaytor
Valerie Davey
Jeff Ennis
Paul Holmes
Ms Meg Munn
Mr Kerry Pollard
Jonathan Shaw


PROFESSOR TED WRAGG, University of Exeter, examined.


  1. On behalf of the Committee, can I welcome Professor Wragg to our proceedings and say what a delight it is that he was able to come and give evidence to the Committee formally? You will know that our Committee sometimes takes evidence formally outside of the House of Commons. We did so when we went with OECD and UNESCO to Paris in March, and we did before that when we did Early Years in Oxford. There have been some gaps since then. Sir Michael Bichard, when we did our away day -- which was not an away day; it was a half day and it was not away -- tried to look with us at how we best add value in the select committee. He said, "You do not get stuck in, in depth, enough." That is a fair criticism. After a lot of thought, we decided we would come to a city and look at its education in depth over a period of a week. You are one of the reasons we are here because you wrote this report that I have before me now in 1993. The education system seemed to be failing, certainly not performing as well as it might. You wrote the Aiming High report and Tim Brighouse became the chief education officer. He is retiring at the end of this month. With a city of a million people with the biggest education authority, a history of improvement with a lot of targets still to meet -- what an appropriate time to do this. This week we are going to be trying to get under the skin of what is happening. The select committee decided, just before the House rose, to concentrate on secondary education all this year. Many people say we have been away from mainstream education for too long. We certainly have in a sense but we have been productive. We have done a very well regarded report on Early Years a couple of years ago. We have done three reports on higher education and a report on individual learning accounts. We have been busy and adding value, but we come back to secondary education seriously. You might not know but we are looking at the government's love affair with diversity and looking at whether that is good use of taxpayers' money and whether it will encourage standards to rise. We are looking at recruitment and retention. We are going to be looking at those pupils that do not achieve, where it seems to be very difficult to bring out their talents, and we will be looking at admissions policies. We have a varied diet. We are going to be producing these as discrete reports as we go through, not waiting for one large report. To business. We know a great deal about your experience and we want to ask you for your help. We are about to spend a lot of time looking at a whole range of schools. We are going to be meeting a university; we will be looking at a bit of primary and some FE. Mainly we will be looking at secondary. Can I ask you in opening to say what you found in 1993 in a nutshell and what you feel has been achieved?
  2. (Professor Wragg) Interestingly enough, because I have been a specialist adviser to a select committee in Janet Foulkes's day, for those with long memories, with Brian Davies and Robert Rose-James and other distinguished Members, with Sir Antony Meyer, I modelled the commission on the select committee process which I thought was excellent. We had 30 public sessions where people came along and gave evidence: community groups, governors, heads, teachers, unions, politicians, a very wide range of people, churches, faiths. It was all done publicly and we published the report in a similar style with a prose account and an account of what people had written in as well as a summary of what had been said. The process was very open. The reaction was very negative at that time. There was a strong feeling that Birmingham was failing its customers, its children, its parents and families. What I found remarkable is that the city council -- and I mean by this all parties; it was not just the ruling group at the time -- bit the bullet and said, "Fair enough. This is clearly not going well. Drastic action is needed." We made 25 recommendations and when we reconvened two years later I think good progress had been made on 23 of those. Of the other two, the only one we were concerned about was at that time they had not made much progress on special educational needs. That changed after 1995 and caught up. What Birmingham has done is it has run a successful, alternative model to what has been the mainstream model nationally. It is a model I intuitively feel much more sympathetic to and in tune with because it takes as its starting point that there is probably a fair amount of intelligent practice going on and at the same time does not duck the issue that there may be some bad practice going on that needs dealing with. Its starting point is a positive one. What the city has managed to do -- and Tim Brighouse has played an enormous part in this -- is harness the energies and enthusiasms of teachers in schools, parents and so on. For example, in 1993, when we took evidence, we invited people from the press. One of the witnesses was Ed Doolan who runs a personality broadcasting programme in BBC Midlands. He said he was buried under complaints from parents in his daily programme about education. Two years later, he said, "I do not know what has been going on here but I hardly ever get a complaint." I think that was because the whole thing opened up and a considerable challenge was issued to schools to do something. That means that in my experience of the morale of teachers in Birmingham, whilst teachers often feel as browned off as professionals do anywhere nowadays with shortage of money or being beleaguered or whatever else may be the problem, there has certainly been over the last eight or nine years a much greater sense of buoyancy and positiveness and a feeling that you are part of a team that is going somewhere than nationally. I think it is very noticeable to me, talking to teachers in schools.

  3. There have been a lot more resources because before your investigations and your recommendations there had been a long period of low funding in education. Quite understandably, Birmingham, with the change in manufacturing base and the decline in jobs, had been looking for a new kind of role in employment terms, in finding an awful lot of resources away from education into other purposes. In a sense, it was a very under-resourced education authority.
  4. (Professor Wragg) It was, but that was only one part of the problem. It was a significant part but resourcing was not the only issue. It certainly was the case that for whatever reason Birmingham, probably rightly in many ways, went for prestige buildings and institutions. It did neglect schools. I remember Jeff Rooker coming along and giving evidence saying they should sell the National Exhibition Centre and spend the money on education but that idea dwindled away.

  5. He was quite a radical in those days.
  6. (Professor Wragg) Yes. What was impressive was that they made an immediate change. They decided almost on the spot at their first meeting to put money into primary schools which had been particularly neglected. Birmingham had a terrible buildings problem because 40 per cent of its buildings were pre-1950 and there was a lot of dry rot around. Most of the newer, sixties buildings had wet rot so one way and another there was a lot of rot. It was just impossible to even stand still, such was the size of that kind of problem. What they did tackle was putting more money in and schools felt it straight away. By and large it was judiciously spent. It was not just festooned around.Schools really felt that they had got more money to do things and that they had greater value.

    Ms Munn

  7. I wanted to ask you something a bit more general about education. As you know, we are focusing particularly on secondary education and one of the concerns is that children appear to go backwards in terms of their achievement when they move from primary to secondary education. Do you have a view about whether some of that is about children just adjusting to wider environments and perhaps learning to socialise, to take more responsibility for themselves and, to some extent, perhaps a bit of a loss of that achievement is actually a gain in social skills?
  8. (Professor Wragg) The so-called year seven or year eight dip is part myth. It may well be that the scores go down slightly when you would expect them to go up. When children go to secondary schools, they take on an enormous amount compared with what they were doing before. If, for the sake of argument, they were to start algebra at the age of 11, they would probably spend less time on number, shape and space and the things that they did when they were in year six. To some extent, you would expect certain things maybe to not be quite as hot as they were when they were being drilled quite extensively for key stage two tests in year six. I am not sure that the dip is really a dip that matters. If there is a graph that goes like that, but it goes like that, it does not really matter. If it goes like that, it does matter. With the year seven or eight dip, what happens is that it picks up later and GCSEs and A levels and so on have continued increasing in terms of the kind of results. On the other hand, it is well known that when you have pressure in certain places in school, like 14 year olds, 16 year olds and 18 year olds, maybe the best resources are devoted there. I am not saying that the poorer teachers get given younger pupils because many schools would be appalled if one suggested that, but it certainly is the case that it appears to be a lower priority in a high stakes assessment system. Nowadays people do what is called border lining, as you know, where they try and get people on the border line, say, between C and D, and make sure that the ones heading for a D or a D/E get a bit of extra help and get over that critical C/D border line. That means that if you want to have smaller groups, more intensive teaching or whatever, someone else pays. Probably it is year eight. I am not convinced it is a big problem or one that injures people over the longer term.

  9. What about also the developmental stage that young people are at? That is obviously a period of time when a lot is changing for them and they are growing up generally. Do you think we take enough account of that in what we expect of young people?
  10. (Professor Wragg) Not really. It is known as jiggling hormones sometimes. Back in the early 19th century -- we do not have figures for this but they do in Norway -- girls started their periods at the age of 17. Now they start at the age of 12 on average. Girls go into the adolescent growth spurt at 12; boys at about 13 and a half or 14. It is a period when the things that go with growth, the angst and so on, the uncertainties of being neither child nor adult, can hit people. In former times, it would have happened much later, after they had left school. Probably the only time where the two coincide would have been when children left school at 15 and probably matured physically at about 15. There was a logical fitting of the first age at the point when people reached physical maturity. Otherwise, it has criss-crossed from leaving school early in Victorian times and maturing later to exactly the other way around. Certainly that is a factor. There are many aspects to adolescence. One important aspect that often gets neglected is that adolescence, particularly mid-adolescence, is a period of great idealism. A lot of young people belong to something for the only time in their lives when they are about 15 or 16. They become cynical later on. Adolescents are regarded as people who are cynical because on the surface they are and yet I have lost count of the number of intense conversations you can have on a private basis with, say, a 13 or 14 year old that would not necessarily be in public, particularly with boys, because of this anxiety about appearing a bit soft or a bit intellectual and being ribbed by your mates, but it does not mean to say it is not there. It just means it is better concealed.


  11. Are you saying that what has been believed by many is that we lost a lot of kids from the social classes D and E or four and five at that age? These are bright kids, falling away up to the age of 11, going into the big school and we seem to lose them. Is that a myth?
  12. (Professor Wragg) No, that is not. As with all these things, it is not evenly spread across social groups and social backgrounds; nor indeed across males and females. Males are more likely to drop out than females and more likely to become disaffected. They are more likely to be excluded for poor behaviour. Between four and five times as many boys as girls are excluded from secondary schools for bad behaviour. Their exam results now are ten percentage points adrift compared with 0.9 of a percentage point in 1984. Social class five, as it used to be called, is in danger of becoming even more detached and more isolated. It is a very differentiated dip. It is not just everybody goes down a bit and everybody comes back up again.

    Jonathan Shaw

  13. If young people get growing pains and have special needs, we are learning that the exclusion rate is so high in those two early years. You say it is a myth but there is such concern about it. We are seeing particular children from particular classes excluded. How is it a myth? (Professor Wragg) It is part myth because it is assumed to be a devastating blow and if only it were fixed the grass would rise even higher. My argument was it gets compensated for later but it is not at all myth for certain people because it could be a crossroads for them. I know in your deliberations you will be looking at key stage three and possibly even key stage four. I have just chaired the Exeter Education Commission last year and we have come up with new plans for 14 to 19 education because we can see certain people reaching those crossroads and simply going the wrong way, just dropping out because they have become disaffected. Often there is not the challenging range of programmes available for them that they should start thinking about at around about year eight, as they come towards year nine and have to formulate their thoughts for the next phase.
  14. What would you do with those young people?
  15. (Professor Wragg) Which particular group?

  16. The child who perhaps has behavioural problems or may have level two special needs and has a particularly close relationship with their primary school teacher, who manages to hang on to them and contain them and keep them there but then they go to secondary school. The first six months are okay and it becomes too much for them and they spiral downwards. Before you know it, they are excluded. They are into petty crime and they are causing all the sorts of difficulties that we know of to themselves, their parents and the community. What do you think the answer is?
  17. (Professor Wragg) I have done two big research projects over the years where we looked at children starting the first month of primary school and the first month of secondary school. We sat in schools in September. You realise what a huge change it is. In Devon, where I live for example, we have a school in Exmouth, Exmouth College, which has 2,500 pupils. Many of the children who go there come from two or three teacher village schools. They go one day, at the age of 11, from having a teacher who may well have taken them for three years to ten people they have never seen before taking them for ten different subjects where they are one of 2,500 people. That is a very big change. I have always been in favour of a much better phased change. I would like to see a little bit more specialist teaching in the last couple of years of junior school so that people do get, not ten teachers because no primary school can do that, but certainly two or three different teachers. I would also like to see them being taught by fewer teachers in the first couple of years of secondary school, so that you do not have that tremendous change. Even though schools try to do programmes now where they take children into the school beforehand and teachers cross-visit and so on, it is only a token thing. The whole atmosphere changes considerably and goes from being pretty informal and intimate to being, however hard schools try if they are big secondary schools, much more detached with the possibility of people switching off.

    Valerie Davey

  18. One of the changes which might come about if the government persists, and I hope it will, is that more languages will be taught in primary school. I notice that you are a language teacher and I am wondering, in particularly the context where children do not have English as a mother tongue, how we can make them becoming bilingual a positive and very valuable experience. What are going to do about language teaching generally and in particular for those whose mother tongue is not English?
  19. (Professor Wragg) I did a BBC Radio 4 series called Teach Your Child French. We tried to find out how many primary schools were teaching a foreign language. It varied in estimate from a quarter to a third but a lot of it was lunch time clubs, encouraging children to go to Saturday clubs and happening to have a couple of parents who were French and volunteered or having a teacher and putting lessons on. When I first started teaching, my wife was an infant teacher. I was teaching at a secondary school at that time and I taught six year olds German in the fine city of Wakefield. They loved it. They had a very good ear and they found it very funny to learn a foreign language. I would be in favour of not starting at six but starting early-ish. When it comes to secondary schools, there is a problem because if people switch off, as they sometimes do, it can seem the most irrelevant and dreary subject; yet it should be a very interesting one. I went to a language specialist school in Wigan and it was a very exciting place. They have primary school children coming in. They have created all kinds of shopping and home environments throughout the school and adults were coming in as well. There should be a liveliness about languages. What I think should happen, as a linguist, is I have always felt we should start teaching language as an immersion course. I have taken children away for a residential weekend, where everything was done in a foreign language, but that is a weekend. It would be nice to start with a week of intensive, high quality teaching because that gives people a flying start. They feel they are making very slow progress at the beginning. There is nothing better than going home and saying things to your parents quite early on. If they are disaffected, I would always want to offer them the option of doing an ab initio course later on because there are a number of courses around now where you can teach yourself, say, Spanish or Italian, languages that children are likely to come across on holiday. It is a pity if they simply make the blanket judgment that they do not want to learn a language. On your specific point, this has become one of the richnesses of particularly urban education that we now have this tremendous diversity, particularly of Asian languages. I think that is something to be encouraged. We did a project where some of the schools were here in Birmingham and it was interesting for us to see a Punjabi speaker, for example, in the classroom, translating for children who had just arrived. Punjabi was given proper standing. It was recognised that children were going to be very fortunate one day because they would have two codes.

  20. I have a pet theory that children who have two languages have twice as many brain cells.
  21. (Professor Wragg) There may be something in that. There is now increasing evidence that the brain does develop. It is not just London taxi drivers who have more developed spatial intelligence. The part of violinists' brains that deals with fingers is better developed. It is quite clear that the kind of stimulus that you get from an activity like learning a language will have a positive impact on connections within the brain. The only problem with bilingual education is usually if there is an emotional disturbance. If you have two parents, one speaks one language and one speaks another and they fall out, the child gets split and the language has an emotional overtone, there is sometimes a problem. In general, having two languages is a considerable gain.

    Paul Holmes

  22. In the 1993 and 1995 reports on Birmingham, there was quite a lot of agonising about whether increasing target setting and testing is the best way to drive up standards. Seven years later, there are more targets and testing than anybody would have dreamt of or had nightmares about. What do you think that tells us now? Has that driven standards up?
  23. (Professor Wragg) No, and I am sick about it, because we never intended the kind of target setting that eventually got hijacked at national level. For us, target setting was an interesting internal process where a school would set its own targets to improve on what it had done before, but to have outside monitoring so that people could not set themselves dead easy targets and say how wonderful they were; or, if they set themselves targets that were lower, which they might if their population changed, for example, somebody externally would know about this and agree it. What we did not want to do was what eventually happened. Schools were given targets willy-nilly that were seen as threatening and not something they were committed to achieving. We wanted very much to get over the idea that if every school sets its own targets and tries to improve the city lives. We also wanted the targets to be much broader than they are. For example, we wanted every child in Birmingham to have the right to have gone to a professional theatre performance, to go to a concert at the International Concert Hall, to take part in a field trip, to take part in a public performance. All these were targets but they were not the kind of targets which have become quite mechanical and in fact lead to deft footwork. A good example is border lining because you can say, "To hell with the As and Bs; they are home and dry. Who cares about the Fs and Gs? They are going nowhere. The Ds are the ones that can be pushed over and then we meet our target in terms of As to Cs." This kind of game that people end up playing I think is a misuse of targets in the end. I feel very sorry it went that way.


  24. You would not deny that there has been some cheating. The government and a lot of the education community celebrates the driving up of standards in literacy and numeracy.
  25. (Professor Wragg) Yes. I ask myself why, if standards of reading have improved as much as they are said to have improved, is the evidence from other people who keep scores of other kinds of tests, which are not always exactly the same but test the same domain, not showing the same startling rise? Why has the work done at Durham not shown the same rise? Nor indeed has the National Foundation for Educational Research had to recalibrate its test. If you are running a national test with an average score of 100 and you then find it is 102, 105, 108 or 110, you have to recalibrate it. The NFER has left its reading test untouched for a number of years because the mean has stayed around 100. I have doubts about whether the improvements are genuine improvements in reading competence, for example, or whether they are part artefact because people get smarter at preparing children for tests.

  26. What do you think we should try and get out of this Birmingham visit in terms of what the value added is, both for what we are doing in Birmingham and as a select committee? What do you think we should be looking for when we go on our visits and as we talk to parents, students, governors and teachers?
  27. (Professor Wragg) Warmth, life and imagination, for starters. Let me be frank about this. I think the national model that we have is not successful and I find it odious. The degree of prescription that there has been is unbelievable. I find it unbelievable that a whole nation of primary teachers, whether they were teaching five or 11 year olds, whether it was September or July, whether they were doing Boyle's law or Twinky Rides Again, was supposed to do a literacy hour which had 15 minutes of shared text for the whole class followed by 15 minutes of blended work for the whole class followed by 20 minutes of group work followed by ten minutes of whole class revision. On what conceivable grounds? That seems to me absolutely the wrong way to engage professional people. The way to engage professional people is what has been done here. I wrote a piece in The Times about it and I said it was like Brazil versus Antarctica because in Birmingham there has been a premium on people's imagination. That is what teaching is about. I am a great admirer of David Blunkett and I have known him for many years but when he said we must not reinvent the wheel he was completely wrong. If we did not reinvent the wheel, we would have wooden wheels, for a start. We would have no hovercraft. If doctors had not reinvented the leech, we would not have many of the things that we have now. Of course we have to reinvent things. It is helpful to give teachers ideas, support, possibilities and have websites and so on. I am all for that but what Birmingham has done which I think is a precious thing without being a slimy, sentimental thing to have done is to engage people's imagination and their commitment. That is something that anybody can try to do but not via national prescription. I am glad that there seem to be signs that the mania for national prescription is waning a bit. I hope it continues. I hope people look seriously at Birmingham and say, "What did they do to get groups of teachers together to think about their teaching and to feel that they are all part of the same crusade?"

    Mr Chaytor

  28. In your opening remarks, you suggested that Birmingham had a completely different model to the national model. You have told us what you are against in terms of national prescription. Can you tell us what happened because getting people together and letting their imagination rip is not going to be a model, is it? I am interested to hear specifics about how schools were supported by the local authority.
  29. (Professor Wragg) The first thing that happened was that the clusters of schools were made to work effectively. If you go round the nation, everyone will tell you that they work in federations or clusters or whatever they choose to call them. Out of 330 primary schools, Birmingham had something like 17 regional clusters within the city. These schools were encouraged to work closely together. That again was a bit of a change because in theory schools were supposed to be in competition with each other. As Keith Joseph once said when I interviewed him for a Radio 4 programme, life is an inexplicable misture of competition and collaboration. I think the collaboration side of it was in danger of being lost. First of all, they made the confederations of schools work. Secondly, because senior people like Tim Brighouse went into every school in Birmingham and so did his colleagues when they could, they got together. I went along and there were very good meetings where they would get head teachers together in groups of 20, for example, in a cluster and the chief education officer himself would be there, talking about what ideas they had, what the city was trying to achieve, where the weak points were. That seemed to me to be very positive, working through head teachers who hopefully would work with their colleagues. Collecting ideas was not left to chance. There was a deliberate policy, when a school appeared to be doing something worthwhile or a particular teacher appeared to be doing something worthwhile, to celebrate what that person had done and to find out the extent to which it might be generalisable. When you see somebody doing something that is interesting and appears to be working, teachers are very much persuaded by successful models. If you teach, you can look at somewhere and either say, "We could do that", "We could do it better" or even, "It is not quite what we need to do but we could modify it" or even, "It is so awful, I am sure we could do better if we put our minds to it", but at least you need to see the models. That is what Birmingham has done very well.

  30. In terms of monitoring and improving the performance, how do the results in Birmingham schools compare with equivalent authorities and with national standards over the last seven or eight years?
  31. (Professor Wragg) Birmingham improved faster than the national average rate, but you expect low performing schools or authorities to do that because they have more headroom. It is difficult to get an exact comparison for a place like Birmingham but if you look at the major cities Birmingham has appeared to improve faster. Part of the success is not just that its formal test scores improved, valuable though that is, but that they have done other things for young people in Birmingham in terms of opportunities. For example, the university does first aid. There are a number of ideas where young people have been encouraged to develop their talents. The work they are now doing in special needs and inclusion which is something they did not do brilliantly in the early stages -- that kind of thing. There are travelling children in Birmingham. There are different ethnic minorities. There was a strong feeling of alienation amongst African Caribbean families so they set up a special group that looked into whether or not more children really were being excluded from African Caribbean backgrounds. They found that they were and did something about it. I think it was that attempt to do something for all the groups that made a positive impact. Yes, their graph has gone up on test scores but it has gone up on humanity as well.

  32. Before 1993, do you think one of the problems of the previous system was lack of diversity?
  33. (Professor Wragg) There were many problems. I was quite shocked at how many problems there were. They were at all levels. The local authority was not thought to be serving schools well, particularly primary schools and not thought to be offering them advice on anything from the curriculum to finance on the scale that head teachers in particular were hoping for. There was a lot of quarrelling amongst the local politicians and I can say without being smarmy now that I am back in the city I was very impressed with the politicians I met of all parties. I felt it was a pity that they were falling out rather more than local politicians often do. It was not that they became close friends immediately thereafter but there was a lot more of a feeling that politicians were working on the side of schools. For example, the grant maintained schools complained that they felt they had been rubbished by the ruling group within the city. That kind of thing stopped. It did not mean to say that people had changed their minds about grant maintained schools; it just meant that they did something more positive about it. Wherever you looked, things needed doing and quite a bit was done.

    Jeff Ennis

  34. It is almost nine years since your commission produced what I consider to be a very readable, excellent report. During the course of those nine years, there is no doubt that the role of LEAs has diminished quite considerably. In fact, eight out of 33 pages in your report specifically refer to the role of the LEA. In some of the answers you have already given, you have said what a crucial role the LEAs played in terms of getting the confederation of schools working more cohesively. What are your views in terms of today's role of the LEAs in an authority like Birmingham? Has the role been diminished too much? Does it need to change further?
  35. (Professor Wragg) With all these things, it is a question of what you can do within the brief that you have. I am always reminded of the story of Len Shackleton and Arthur Ellis, the international referee. Len Shackleton was a bit of a wag and on one very muddy day he had a free kick with a very muddy ball and he built a pile of mud and put the ball on it. Arthur Ellis, the international referee, went over and kicked the pile of mud away and put the ball on the floor. Shackleton did the same thing again and he kicked it away again. Shackleton said, "It does not say in the rules that I cannot make a pile of mud and put a ball on it." Arthur Ellis said, "No, but it does not say that you can." I am with Shackleton on this. You are quite right that the role of the LEA has been diminished considerably but that does not mean to say that if an LEA is determined and imaginative and positive it cannot achieve a tremendous amount. After all, look what they have to do. What have they lost? They have lost things like being a monopoly supplier, which they probably should never have been in the first place. Yes, they have lost a number of powers but the ones they now have are tremendously important assignments that society is giving them. An authority like Birmingham has pushed it as far as it can without alienating schools. Back in 1993, one of the big complaints from schools was that local politicians had not adjusted to the new relationship. They thought they could still tell schools what to do and things have changed. What Birmingham politicians did do much better thereafter was they forged a much better partnership where they recognised that their diminished role was still very important. That is what all local authorities should do. They should make an absolute meal of what they have.

  36. You mentioned too much national prescription in the classroom. There have been enormous changes since you wrote the report. One of the main problems in the classroom is the gap that there has always been and always will be between the actual curriculum and the intended curriculum. Has that gap closed between the actual curriculum and the intended curriculum over the past nine years or is that still a very big problem area that education has?
  37. (Professor Wragg) Morris Goldman was a professor at Leicester for many years and did a very well known research project, some 25 years ago now called the Oracle Project, where he went round primary schools to see what people were doing. His report was referred to for many years afterwards. He recently went back again to the same schools. In some cases, he found exactly the same practice as 25 years ago. In one case, he said the teacher filed the children into the classroom in exactly the same way. The only difference he could see was that when somebody got a sum wrong, whereas 25 years ago she used to say, "That is so easy my five year old son could have got it right", now she says, "My five year old grandson could have got it right." Some people have managed to ride the changes. Yes, there have been quite a few changes. In terms of the national curriculum what has been the best success is the entitlement side of it. In this city, for example, even at the time when we did the 1993 report, there was a former girls' school that had no decent technology facilities because it had been a boys' school which had woodwork and metalwork. It still had not been put right in 1993. You could find some cases but you would be hard put to find any fundamental omissions. Now, it does not matter whether you are rich or poor, male or female. You will do science. That kind of thing has been a real gain. In terms of teaching strategies, I have spent 30-odd years researching primary and secondary classrooms both here and abroad. The thing about teaching is that people do nto realise how incredibly busy teaching is. On average, teachers will engage in something like 1,000 exchanges in one day. That is 200,000 a year, a million in five years. Then someone comes along and says, "Change it." You cannot do it by edict. If people have rehearsed repeated, favoured strategies that suit their personality and the age group they are teaching, the subject they are teaching or whatever, you cannot suddenly say, "Unscramble." It is like saying to a professional golfer, "Shift your swing a couple of millimetres to the right." If you say, "Have people really changed?" sometimes I think we have what Barry McDonald called innovation without change. There may well be a new curriculum but the style of teaching is the same as it was before. This happens, for example, when discovery type science programmes have been introduced. Those teachers who are faithful to the spirit of it will say, "Do this experiment. Now let's compare your finding. Now let's look in the textbook and we find you have just demonstrated a law which has been established for two centuries and is in your textbook." Somebody else will go in and will not do the experiment but will dictate the answers because that is what they want to do. It is very hard for people to make real, significant changes to their basic teaching strategies. The second important finding in international studies is that teachers have very little time to make a decision. I ask my new students every year how long they think they are going to have to make a routine classroom decision. Often, they will say, "Five or ten seconds" or, "20 seconds" or something like that. One year someone said half an hour, which was rather nice. I could get back to the staff room, read a book and come back, but five or ten seconds is an eternity in classroom time. If I ask somebody something or if something happens or somebody asks me a question and I wait, what are you waiting for? Life goes on. Because they make decisions very quickly, they lay down, as we all do, deep structures that are very much part of the way we are. When I analyse lessons and I find a teacher teaching about insects, he says, "Why is a camel not an insect?" Someone says, "It does not collect pollen." He says, "Humming birds collect pollen." Then someone says, "They have no wings" and he says, "Eagles have wings." It goes on like this and you can see that that man, in less than one second, is deciding every day to challenge children intellectually because that is the way he teaches. If someone comes along and says, "Change that" when he has laid down these patterns and he is having to think so fast, it is going to be very hard. Yes, there are changes but what Birmingham has managed to do is to allow people to have a more sporting chance. It is still not perfect but people will think critically about what they do and possibly change it.


  38. I want to get you onto the diversity front, Professor. You have said how important imagination is and letting imagination flower. You have also said you visited a specialist school for languages and you were very impressed by some aspects of it. What is your feeling in terms of what this current fashion for diversity is for specialist schools and foundation schools and city academies? Start with specialist schools. Many of us have been to specialist schools and been impressed not only by the buzz it gives the schools generally but also the achievements in that particular specialty. What is your feeling about specialist schools and diversity as applied to Birmingham?
  39. (Professor Wragg) I am in favour of them. I wrote a report for David Blunkett before the 1997 election because I was looking at some specialist schools in other countries. One school in Austria had been a specialist sports school for 25 years. It is not new in some countries. I was in favour of it with some provisos. I did a radio series and I went to quite a few specialist schools and I thought pretty well all of them were very impressive places. That is partly because they are not typical. In the first wave or two of specialist schools you would expect to have perhaps teachers who have bright ideas, energy and are proud of what they are doing, so they are not the same as the others. Whether that means that every single school becoming a specialist school would automatically do the same thing I do not think one can say. I am not in favour of schools being asked to raise money as a pot, like a poker game: here's our 50,000; we will raise you 50 and see your 50 and raise you 50. I went to one school that raised 50,000 from one sponsor. I went to another school that raised it from umpteen donations from 50 to 500 and I have been to schools where they gave up when they got about 4,000 or 5,000 because in a poor area they are very unsexy from a business point of view. I do not think that should matter. It seems to me like Robin Hood in reverse to give most to those who have it. The other point I would make is that there are many ways of becoming diverse. I have never believed that there was a bog standard school because I have never seen two schools the same. I have been to schools that in theory have the same number of free school meals or whatever. They are totally different from each other. The teachers are different; the children are different; their families are different; the history is different. I think there is a fair amount of diversity already. I do not mind diversity. I think it is a very refreshing thing.

    Mr Pollard

  40. Have you considered the Steiner model as being part of that diversity? They are trying very hard to become part of mainstream schools and get recognised by the Secretary of State and get funding.
  41. (Professor Wragg) The sad thing was that at one time it looked as if Ofsted might crush diversity because some of the schools that were different might have come off badly. I am glad that common sense prevailed in the end but Montessori type schools, Steiner type schools -- I would not say the more the merrier, but the thing about education is the lifeblood of education is those who are willing to innovate and have a go at something. For me, diversity has to come within the school, not just between schools. It may be that if you have a secondary school where the science teachers are trying out something and they are pretty excited about it; meanwhile, the maths teachers are trying something quite different that they are pretty keen on, that kind of diversity is just as important as that school being different from the one down the road. In a sense, the Steiner school, because they put a premium on imagination, the least they could do is improvise themselves.

  42. You mentioned a ten per cent gap between boys and girls and that had grown and is likely to carry on growing. What ought we to do about that?
  43. (Professor Wragg) It is not just a GCSE problem. If you look at the whole story right the way through, three to five year old boys in nursery schools specialise in formula one noises. Meanwhile, three to five year old girls are discussing Richtenstein. Well, they are not. Girls talk to each other and get encouraged to talk. Boys make sound effects and probably get told off for being a bit too boisterous and yet boys love talking about their fantasy play. I have interviewed loads of three to five year olds and asked them about their games. They talk quite happily but they tend not to be encouraged to talk so much. In primary schools we found that things like, for example, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, elder brothers, other male parts of a family reading with children, particularly with boys, was very helpful. We found also teachers trying to relate children's reading to their interests. I interviewed one boy who said he hated reading. The only thing he read was his Liverpool Football Club comic. At the end of the year, he said he loved reading. A nine year old boy, by the time he is ten, loves reading. Why? Because his teacher gave him adventure books, sport books and humour books, which he loves. That particular boy benefited from having something tailored to his interests. Going to secondary schools, by then you have 50 per cent or so of boys getting GCSE in English and 68 per cent of girls. There is a huge difference there. Five GCSEs; it is now 55/56; 45/46. Back in 1984, it was 27.1 and 26.2, 0.9 difference between them. I do not go along with the idea that boys do not have the course work gene. Back in the 1970s, people used to say that girls just wanted to leave school. They are airheads. They all want to be secretaries, get out and get a family. It was absolute rubbish and fortunately people put on programmes like girls into science and technology, women in science and engineering. Girls were encouraged to use their brains and that worked. Now we say that boys are incapable of course work. They just want to kick around with their mates. Right through from pre-school, through secondary, I think there are lots of things that need doing. Each of them might help two or three per cent but as a cluster of things between them they could make a real impact. This may not be the single biggest problem facing us but it is certainly one of the biggest.

    Jonathan Shaw

  44. How should Birmingham respond to pressure on faith schools?
  45. (Professor Wragg) It is a very important issue in Birmingham. It is very hard to know now because Northern Ireland is complicated. I have just done a 40 minute BBC Northern Ireland programme on integrated schools. I had not been to Northern Ireland for a bit and I was quite shocked by some of the things I saw when I was there. In the integrated schools in Northern Ireland there are five per cent of children and yet 85 per cent of people in opinion polls say they want more integrated education. After what happened at Holy Cross School, I think that was a setback for faith schools. There was quite a strong belief that there was nothing wrong with having, say, eight Moslem schools and so on. I want to be sympathetic to that but I went to the Holy Cross area. I did not see the actual event but I saw where it happened and it tore me to pieces to think that that could happen. I interviewed people who said things like, "I never met a Catholic when I was a child." You are just forced to think again. I am quite confused about faith schools at the moment.

  46. You were well disposed to them prior to going to Northern Ireland?
  47. (Professor Wragg) I could not find an argument, if someone said that you have a Catholic school and Protestant school, why can you not have a Moslem school.

  48. Would an argument be we would not start here?
  49. (Professor Wragg) But we did and that is the irrefutable bit of the argument. I would now feel uneasy if schools simply rippled on segregating because Lord Londonderry, who was the first Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, did not want separate schools. He did not want segregated schools. He said, "This is storing trouble" and he was right. It did. It was the Catholic and Protestant churches that wanted it and got it. Now it is very hard to change it.


  50. I went to an early excellence centre which Professor Chris Pascal runs here in Birmingham. I was most impressed by the way that is innovative and a tremendous group of people, working across the disciplines, working across so many facets of early years and across education, health and social services. There is a bit of a conundrum in Birmingham. Here we are, celebrating coming here because what an interesting education authority this is, but it is cheek by jowl with a social services department with an appalling reputation. This has been emphasised by some of the evidence we have heard today. Usually, local authorities, if they are good, are good across the piece. What is the explanation?
  51. (Professor Wragg) It is the history again. These things have evolved sometimes around personalities, sometimes around ways of working, sometimes with a strong sense of territory. Although everybody's buzz words nowadays are interprofessional partnerships and so on, in reality it is not as easy as people think. It came out in the Exeter Education Commission. The police, for example, have a very strong tradition in Devon and Cornwall of community policing so you would think there was a natural fit with schools and yet the police find it frustrating because in some secondary schools they have a clearly named person that they liaise with, the deputy head or whoever. In other schools, they have absolutely no idea and nor has the school. At that time, when we looked at it, they had 17 clusters of primary schools but they had a north, central and south health region for the city. If one grows up that side and does rather well and the other does less well, it does not seem easy to integrate them to share best practice because of their separate histories.

  52. Your commission seems to have achieved a great deal. How many places do you think have copied the commission idea? I know you are doing it in Exeter but would you recommend it for a large number of education authorities? Indeed, you might recommend it for social services here in Birmingham.
  53. (Professor Wragg) I think it is a very healthy process but it is only a kick start. The awful thing would be if there is a report that gets put in a drawer, which is what can happen. People feel the report was the Act itself and you have done it. I would want to disarm completely what we did in the commission. Okay, we had a good time. We talked to lots of people, we produced a report and lots of recommendations but frankly, if the politicians and the officers had ignored it, it would have been a waste of time. What has happened in Birmingham happened because of the work of people like Tim Brighouse and the political leaders who got behind it and the key people in schools, the heads and teachers. Without them, it is totally lost. A commission is a good idea provided someone sees it as being serious and a blueprint, not just a cosmetic exercise. Do not waste anybody's time if it is that.

  54. That is a very good note on which to end. I was very pleased when I read your material on the commission modelled on the select committee. What you have ended on is exactly what this Committee believes. It is all right having a good investigation and doing a good report but if you cannot sell it to government departments or to anyone else and it does not make anything happen, you add no value and you might as well not have done it. We can agree on that.

(Professor Wragg) Thank you and the best of luck with it because, having seen a select committee from the inside I think it is an extremely important part of our democracy. Do not be put off when the DFES gives you a list of 25 reasons why none of these things can be done. When we did our report, we recommended day release for all and we felt very strongly about it. At that time, the DES as it was said, "No, it would be far too expensive." Then along came things like high unemployment and youth training schemes so then the will and the money were found. Much power to your elbow.

Chairman: Thank you.