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
Mr Andrew Turner


Memoranda submitted by Mr Andrew Arnott, Mrs Ruth Harker

and Mrs Christine Owen

Examination of Witnesses

MR ANDREW ARNOTT, Headteacher, Stockland Green School, MRS RUTH HARKER, Headteacher, Bournville School and Sixth Form Centre, and MRS CHRISTINE OWEN, Headteacher, Bartley Green Technology College, examined.


  1. Can I welcome Andrew Arnott, Ruth Harker and Christine Owen to our deliberations. You will know that this is quite a special occasion for us because we very rarely hold formal sessions outside the Houses of Parliament. We did in Paris at the OECD in March; we did something like 18 months ago in Bristol in our Early Years inquiry, but we are here in Birmingham for a week. We are trying to understand the education system in this largest city in Europe under one government if you like, and we are here because it is a much improved city in education terms but it is also a city facing many challenges. We thought the combination of meeting as many people as we could and visiting as many schools as we could across a whole range would be of enormous help to us. Some of us were saying today when we came back from our most recent visit that we are beginning to get a sense of the city and its educational service. I think we are getting there but we have been looking forward particularly to meeting three heads who have such a wealth of experience. I know that all of three of you have taught in other schools in the city and have wide experience. Will you forgive us because some of the questions we ask you will seem quite naive to people who have been in Birmingham a long time. None of us is from Birmingham. We cover all the political parties and we are from very different parts of the country. We have just started our inquiry into secondary education and we are looking at secondary education across the piste and so some of the things we will be asking you are to inform our broader inquiry. One of the things that is of particular interest to us is this diversity agenda that the Government has, the view that if you have specialist schools and city academies and foundation schools and so on - and there are many ways now to be a different and diverse institution - in some way this will liberate the abilities of schools to deliver higher standards and better achievement for pupils. We are very keen to look at that in the first phase of our inquiry. I wonder what you think of this diversity argument. Have all three of you been involved in specialist schools? I know two of you certainly have.
  2. (Mr Arnott) We have applied to become a specialist school and we have had our outline bid accepted by the city, so it has got their stamp of approval on it. They have organised this latest round of applications which they will support and put forward to the DFES in phases. I think I have been at my school the shortest of the three of us and when I went there I found that it was weak in technology subjects and that was why I wanted to go for technology college status, as a means of raising standards in those subjects. We have had our bid accepted and the city is going to sponsor that bid in September 2003 to March 2004. We have to have it in by March 2004. We are a school that is not a specialist school but we want to become one because we think it will help lever up standards of teaching in the school.

  3. What do you think the specialist schools innovation is doing for education in Birmingham?
  4. (Mrs Owen) Perhaps I could answer that because on the map you will see that Bartley Green is actually one of these outer most deprived areas. It stands out on its own alongside the inner city.

  5. Where are you?
  6. (Mrs Owen) Bartley Green, in the bottom left hand maroon bit. When I went to Bartley Green it was a really failing school, being warned by HMI etc. For us, therefore, having lifted ourselves out of any threat from OFSTED of serious weakness, etc, we saw it as a way of maintaining our improvement and of really having quite a tight boundary framework but also getting additional resources to help us. I have put in my submission that what I think it is particularly good about things like the specialist schools movement is that you set your targets, you decide what you are going for, and they are challenging and you have to meet them, but then you do get some additional resources to help you. I have also pointed out that there are several disadvantages of course for schools generally in the diversity agenda. First, to raise 50,000 for sponsorship would have been impossible in my area. We raised 5,000 and went all out. If it was not that the Technology Colleges Trust found me an anonymous donor and also had a pot of money, I guess from the Government, to sponsor the EIC schools, we would not have stood a chance and that is unfair because schools in these circumstances do not have access to that sort of sponsorship. The other issue is, like for Andy, okay, 2004 but that is quite a way down the road. What happens to those schools who are not special in any way? I do feel that something will have to be done about those schools because usually they are in the most challenging circumstances where they are fighting to hold the line and improve and then everybody else is getting this leg up and they are still trying to maintain their standards and are probably being berated for not having made more progress too. I think the principle is a liberating one if there is also more support to those who need it.

    (Mrs Harker) We have just been awarded special school status. From September we are one of the first city centre prize colleges nationally, so in a sense I know what it is like not to be a specialist school. We have been affiliated to the Technology Colleges Trust for many years though and that is partly because I have always seen that as a very innovative organisation and have attended conferences and found that to be very helpful to the school. However, I think there is a tendency that schools only become affiliated simply because they want to become specialist schools. I think myself that in the early days of specialist schools the requirement to have partner schools was not exactly a paper exercise but it was not given as much importance as it is now. We have got two partner secondary schools, one the George Dixon International School which I think you visited, which has had very troubled times, and Harborne Hill which has had equally troubled times. Having bid in recent months, we have put a great deal of thought into the way that we are going to work together. Indeed, the partnership, certainly with George Dixon, goes back way beyond our application. I think that there was and is a danger that those schools who currently are not in a position to bid remain at a disadvantage because there is an advantage in the funding and all the other things. There is no doubt about that: the funding is very important. I do think that the recent emphasis on that partnership is the right way to do it. The two schools that have come into partnership with us have done so because they think that by being in partnership standards in those schools will rise significantly, as we think ours will as well, but ultimately they want to become specialist schools as well. Having said that, we will learn from them even though they are in perhaps more challenging circumstances than we are. That actually brings a special sort of experience which I think we can benefit from.

    (Mr Arnott) On my note I have made a point about the hierarchy of secondary schools as my third bullet point. The problem with levels of diversity is that, as Ruth has implied, there are winners and losers. The losers tend to be schools that are struggling and either cannot raise the sponsorship or they have other barriers in front of them. When Chris was explaining her background at Bartley Green, we are in a very similar position. I have been at my school 18 months, a school that was identified as a failing school and we had to bring round. One of the things to do with diversity is the Secretary of State's recent comments about the hierarchy of secondary schools. The intention as far as I understand it is to offer less prescription to schools that are higher up the pecking order, the specialist schools, but not to schools that are seen to be lower down the pecking order, and we are a school facing challenging circumstances which is right at the bottom; I think we are one of the 300 schools in the country that achieved less than 15 per cent five A-Cs this summer. It seems to me, and I have put it in here, that it does seem a little perverse that it is schools that are really struggling to build and rebuild and improve and who are tackling really major issues that are not given the opportunity to diversify and be innovative in the curriculum with their method of teaching. Having said that, it is infinitely better now and getting better than it was in the early days of national curriculum in the late eighties and early nineties when it was so prescribed that there was very little room for innovation or individuality at all.

    (Mrs Harker) What about beacon schools? Do you include those in your diversity?

  7. Yes.
  8. (Mrs Harker) We are a beacon school. Until this term we were the only co-educational beacon school in Birmingham, the others being selective girls' schools. We were invited to apply for beacon status in 1999. We actually declined to do that partly because I had a problem with the concept, and to a certain extent I still do.

  9. Why is that?
  10. (Mrs Harker) Because I think that it is built on the basis that the data that is evident now identifies the differences between schools. I think there is increasing evidence that the greatest differences lie within schools and a school like my own can be identified as being particularly effective. However, I know as a headteacher that there are some areas which are less effective, and obviously schools are constantly changing and there is this implication that if you are not eligible to be a beacon school you have not got strengths. That is absolutely not the case. Even schools in very challenging circumstances, sometimes schools with serious weaknesses, have a very strong department here or there and particular strengths and I do think that it is very difficult. To be quite honest, when we were invited again to be a beacon school the following year, we were already receiving quite a lot of visitors and we decided that we might as well get the funding to support that. It is also to do with the issue of how schools change. There is evidence that some of the schools that we have worked with have benefited from that and I think the George Dixon school is one of those.

  11. Benefited from what?
  12. (Mrs Harker) From working with us as a beacon school. There is no doubt about that. They have completely re-written their curriculum and timetable as a result of working with us and that I think is helping the school. There are clearly other ways in which schools which have visited us have benefited from that, and we have obviously learned from visitors who come to see us anyway. At the same time there are no quick fixes and coming into a school and seeing a good idea might or might not work back in the home school. It is a lot to do with the conditions in that school and that is something that is quite difficult for us to influence simply from one-off links with schools.

    Mr Chaytor

  13. This is a question in particular to Andrew. In respect of the question of diversity and hierarchy, looking at Birmingham specifically, what are the three things that you think ought to be done to reduce the degree of hierarchy of schools in Birmingham?
  14. (Mr Arnott) The first and most important one has been done. When Professor Tim Brighouse told heads last year that he wanted every school in Birmingham to eventually become a specialist school, that immediately lifted schools that were struggling and certainly it gave me hope in my role of bringing a school on and trying to build morale and improve things in there. That is the first thing. Rather than three things, I think it is support, all sorts of support, certainly for schools in challenging circumstances, and I have mentioned this a couple of times in my memorandum. In the last few years we have had a punitive system which has been based on punishing schools that are under achieving. All three of us have experience of working in very challenging schools and schools do not consciously set out to under achieve. As Ruth said, we have lots of different people in there and strengths and weaknesses within our schools, and schools develop and change radically. The key thing I think is to say that all schools can achieve this if they want to, and certainly the role of specialist schools is a major lever for improvement, partly because it attracts resources and partly because again it lifts the morale of pupils, teachers and the community as well. Our community in Stockland Green, to be honest with you, has very little going for it. We work quite closely with the community. We have a lot of support as we are working in our build-up towards going for specialist school status. A lot of our parents and our partners think it is quite special because of the word "special". This is something that they are all for and that they support. Raising the expectations of everybody, giving everybody the chance to feel that they can achieve and supporting all schools - those are the key things.

  15. I would like to put a question to Ruth who in her submission referred to the area inspection recently.
  16. (Mrs Harker) The post-16 one, yes.

  17. That is an area I am interested in. Can you tell us what the essence of the conclusions of the area inspection was? Later we might want to ask for a copy of it.
  18. (Mrs Harker) The area wide inspection looked at provision in the schools and colleges and the training providers as well simply focusing on post-16. In relation to schools, one of the main conclusions was that actually schools were doing pretty well. The key issues relating to us though were that we need to work more closely with the community in terms of addressing the local needs, perhaps looking more at the diversity of courses. Schools still tend to be fairly narrow in the curriculum, generally offering the traditional AS/A level routes, and that is not appropriate for all. We had picked that up as a group of schools anyway but certainly that was one of the main findings. It was less conclusive about take-up rates. In relation to the 11-18 schools, the post-16 take-up rate is pretty good and it is actually very close to the national average. The difficulty comes in the 11-16 schools where it dips, and so one of the conclusions was working much more closely in networks and partnerships 11-16 and 14-19 to try and bridge what can be a bit of a barrier at that 16 age level and then stop at Key Stage 4.

  19. You specifically mention in your report that there are five schools currently with sixth forms of 50-100 pupils and three with sixth forms of below 50.
  20. (Mrs Harker) Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

  31. And it is a matter of choice within each EIC network as to whether you form a collegiate?
  32. (Mrs Owen) Yes. Some of them were not based on the networks, I do not think.

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

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

  35. So you have decided positively not to become part of it?
  36. (Mrs Owen) Positively decided not to because we are in the SWAN network, this EIC. My school is still a challenging school and for me I felt that it would distract me from having such a major focus in school. I have to be there basically a lot and it is hands on. I felt that what we were doing within the SWAN network --- and there are great similarities: we are having joint teacher days, joint professional development. We have even employed a co-ordinator, so I suppose in some ways what has happened is that the partnership has gone into two although there are still links between us. It is early days really. I positively decided for those reasons that I would not enter in.

    (Mrs Harker) SWAN is seen as a very effective EIC network going well beyond what some of the other networks have gone into. It is quite innovative in some of the things that we have done. It was because of that, working closely with other schools, that we were in a position to say, "Yes, we will go a stage further and go for the collegiate", but the network is still the umbrella organisation.


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

    Valerie Davey

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

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

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

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

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

    Ms Munn

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

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


  49. You are allowed within reason.
  50. (Mrs Owen) A parent phoned me this morning at eight o'clock to say her child would not be in today again. I said, "Why?", and she said, "Well, she has started her shit again". I said, "Tell me about it." "She has run away again. She did it at Woodgate." I said, "What are you going to do then?", and she said, "I've got a 14-month old baby. What do you think I'm going to do about?" I said, "An 11-year old girl on the street is a bit worrying. Have you been involved with Social Services before?" "Yes." "Well, do you not think you should phone Social Services now?" Phone banged down. That is quite minor, as opposed to parents who come storming up over trivial issues like trainers.

    (Mrs Harker) Jewellery yesterday.

    (Mrs Owen) Then we get litigation on top of that. All of that is a big drain on resources, particularly in challenging schools, but not only there. Therefore staff recruitment in schools where more challenging behaviour is the norm is more difficult, so you get into that cycle.

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

  53. Yes.
  54. (Mrs Owen) I think some people have found that very helpful, particularly primary schools. We have found very helpful the Behaviour Support Service. In fact, in our EIC network we negotiated buying more places and having more provision. We put in extra money to share provision for children who were troubled and who needed time off site in a different environment. That is what we feel we are lacking for those extremes, the more specialised support systems. I have been asked to take a child whose statement is a nightmare. He has been through schools, he has been through a learning support unit which cost a quarter of a million pounds. He did not succeed there, he has not succeeded anywhere. He is violent, aggressive, unpredictable. "Here, you have him." Come on. It is not just the impact on my children and my school. What about that child? Who is helping that child to adjust his behaviour so that he is going to be able to be included when he is older? The other issue is about exclusions. The fixed term exclusion figures really under-report the extent of the problem. Schools in more advantageous areas do not have to exclude. They can suggest to parents that their children find another school instead of being formally excluded. There is great resentment about the 6,000 penalty for exclusion. If you have a really serious incident, a thug attacks another pupil, it could be racial, it could be with a knife, you exclude them and you lose 6,000. There are issues about that and about the appeals committees where heads who have been through some of these really feel they have been through the mangle and are well traumatised by this inquisitorial, adversarial manner in which the appeals committees are seen to be operating.

    (Mrs Harker) And more parents are bringing solicitors along. We are not legal professionals. It is very difficult to get advice although Legal Services are very good but they are hard pressed. We are all of us facing several cases where we have got litigation going on and that is very time-consuming and it is draining and it gets people nowhere.

    (Mrs Owen) The only other thing I would say is that in the vast majority of schools that is where children behave their best. We see the best of children. We mould them. We expect that; we enable it to happen. Some of the children we teach, out in the community are very difficult. All of us over the last five or six years in particular, the range of strategies we have put into place (and I have put it in the report) I felt was awe-inspiring when you see what individual schools are doing to support children in good behaviour.

    (Mr Arnott) Also you see what individual teachers are doing with individual pupils within the school. I support everything that Chris is saying. There are continuous relationships that are built up by individual members of staff with individual children which beggar belief. I have got several children in my school who, if it were not for a key member of staff in one place or another, that child would be out on the street, taking drugs, all those sorts of things. I would just like to add one thing to what Chris said which is about the appeals panels. They are amazing things. I went through one just at the end of summer. Normally they take about half a day but the final judgement from the appeal panel, which dismissed the appeal and supported the school, began with the sentence, "At the hearing conducted on 1 March, 24 March, 15 May, 16 June, 17 July and 22 July" - because I know that it actually went to six days of evidence because of the evidence that was produced by this parent with an army of solicitors, and I had to take an assistant head and we came through that and we did manage. I have referred to it in my evidence, that this was a woman that we had to take to court twice because she had made death threats against members of my staff. Schools are not protected from society. We are a public service. We are open to society. We take every child and every child's parents and the full range of social problems come into school. I think that for far too long schools have been blamed for what happens and not enough attention has been given to the super job that schools do. Thankfully now I think the trend in appeal panels is beginning to move back a little bit. The pendulum is beginning to swing back. I was grateful that in the appeal that was referred to a moment ago the panel did clearly understand what the situation in the school had been like in this particular case. Behaviour is the big issue. For far too long it has been an uncomfortable issue that politicians and the DFES have not really wanted to face up to because it is not very palatable when it is behaviour that is in newspapers. It is that which is holding back other children, thousands of children across the country, from achieving their potential in my view.

    (Mrs Harker) We are not in such challenging circumstances and yet these issues are still a daily occurrence. In my school just this morning the ESW (education social worker) was in school, and in court this afternoon. The parent had forced the child to take the stand to say that it was the child's decision not to attend school, not hers, and it has just gone completely out of control. Having said that, you asked about positive things. In EIC I think most schools would say that the learning mentors have been very successful. We have topped up the EIC money in my own school with standards funds and we have appointed two. In fact, it is such an important issue that we have appointed an assistant head to head up what you might call social inclusion to try and get a whole school community approach. We have developed a pupil support base. We used the first year of EIC funding for that. It is not an in-school exclusion unit. It is a base from which a wide range of support can take place. We were lucky that we have got staff who are qualified in anger management, personal development workshops, conflict resolution, bullying, self-esteem. We involve the police with offenders and there are regular sessions which are proving very successful with young offenders. There is individual counselling and very carefully structured group work because a lot of these youngsters have very poor social skills. Working in a group and helping them to relate to other people is very important. Things can be done. However, I agree with my colleagues. There are some students for whom, however hard we try, - and we have tried very hard - in terms of inclusion in my own school it is just not appropriate for them to be in school because the cost to the school and often to the individual is too great.

    (Mrs Owen) It would be fair to say that that range of strategies Ruth has used there is pretty common throughout secondary schools in Birmingham.

    (Mrs Harker) EIC has done a great deal.

    Mr Pollard

  55. You said there comes a time when you cannot do any more for a student. What happens then? What do you suggest is done?
  56. (Mrs Harker) The experiment that we undertook with the Behaviour Support Service was very effective. For two terms permanent exclusions in south west schools disappeared. They stopped because the rate of exclusions in other areas in the city put such great pressure on the PRU that they could not do it. That was very successful because all of us as schools were also willing to take excluded pupils because they came with support and a sort of guarantee that if, with support, it did not work out then the youngster would be taken away. That gives those children who are excluded from schools a place to go and the support that many of them do not get. That was very successful.

    (Mrs Owen) It took them out for a period of time so that people could intervene, people who have more experience with behaviour modification techniques in a small group situation, and they gradually support them back into school. That was what was so excellent about it. We directed it; we agreed between us, and we actually put in a sum of money without worrying whether we actually got our own individual number of pupils, if you see what I mean, so we really did share this provision for the common good of the group of schools and it was excellent.

    (Mr Arnott) The South West Initiative was taken up by us in north Birmingham last year. We are now running a similar programme with equally promising results. Can I add in to what has been said something I do feel strongly about and that is the tremendous improvement that is made to schools by what you might call para-professionals or mentors. I do not want that to be a negative term because I do not mean that at all. I could not run my school now without my learning support assistants, my mentors and various other people who work in the school and work with children but not in a teaching capacity. The traditional one teacher in a class of 30 is increasingly seen less often. We have a large number of leaning support assistants who we target traditionally towards special needs children but we also now employ them through a different budget. It starts with the core departments and now all my departments have their own learning support assistant led and managed by the head of department, supported through our learning support line. We have a senior manager who looks after them and works with them on their professional development. They are there to be deployed by the head of department to assist in learning in the subjects, so the English department has a learning support assistant, etc, and it is making a huge difference. What we are finding is that children are more confident learners and it is also having an impact on behaviour. Ruth has got a bigger school than mine with two mentors. I have got 600 children in my school which is smallish. It is a reflection of the sorts of issues that we face in Stockland Green that I have a team of four mentors, all of whom are working full time and are absolutely fantastic.

    (Mrs Owen) We also need more help with the child psychiatric bit for children who are acting out, who are bereaved and who need expert counselling support. We do not find that we get any of that.

    (Mrs Harker) The only way we can get that is to put it on paper that they are a suicide risk. We do it because that will actually mobilise them. It is the only way we can get immediate psychological help.

    (Mr Arnott) I do not think that psychological problems for children are in any related to their levels of deprivation. One of the things that I find in schools is that the pressures on children, particularly from the media and particularly from the industries that target children to sell products and offer children stereotypes which become so strong that children who do not comply with those stereotypes often feel forced out or find it difficult to cope, result in huge pressures, particularly on young teenagers, which makes it particularly difficult for many children. Again, mentoring and learning support professions in schools are often a super source of support for both the school and the child.

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

    Paul Holmes

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

  61. Is there any way that under the system as it exists you could, say, force the grammar schools to take problem children?
  62. (Mrs Owen) I would like to see that happen. Certainly some of those more advantageous schools suggest heavily to young people that the school down the road, which might be me because I have got a grammar school in my area, has spaces and if they do not want to go to permanent exclusion it might be in their interest to go there. Again I do feel that there is a willingness, certainly in Birmingham because we have had so much experience now of networking and sharing, that this is not beyond question. I think there are many heads of governing bodies who would be willing (there are a few that would not) to work it out if we had this proviso, as we did with BSS, that if it does not work out, no form filling, no inquiries, no panels, "We will take the child away, we will take them back, we will do some more work with them and either we will come back to you or we will go to one of your colleagues and ask for another start in a school."

    Mr Turner

  63. You were quite complimentary about the local education authority and about the Chief Education officer. Could I just quote something which was given in evidence yesterday: "All too frequently, the LEA appears to feel the need to bid for involvement in every new initiative and pilot project. There appears to be little evaluation or prioritisation of what is on offer. This results in added pressure on Birmingham teachers." Is that unfair?
  64. (Mrs Harker) There is a bidding culture. It does worry me. I do not think it is just the LEA. Individual schools these days have to spend a great deal of time bidding in order to try and get something and when you bid you are never quite sure so I can understand the LEA taking that approach because I think it is one that many of us are pushed into taking in schools. I think it is a little bit unfair, although I know where the person who said that is coming from because there is a lot going on. The fact is we do not all have to get involved in it. The collegiate is a good example. It is an opt-in thing in most cases. My view is that that does keep us at the leading edge of developments. Perhaps it could be better planned; I do not know, but it certainly keeps us at the leading edge.

    (Mrs Owen) I think there could be lots of initiatives where we could say this could have been better or that could have been better, but when we look at the totality of it we are all pretty practised at saying no. Even if it is Tim's baby we do not just go along with it.

    (Mrs Harker) We say, "How much is there in it for us?".

    (Mrs Owen) I said, "No, because that is going to distract me from my major task", so there is some truth in it.

    (Mr Arnott) I am in the early days of running a school that needs to be brought forward. I have a very clear set of priorities and I only bid for anything that is very focused on our improvement plan because I do not want to distract teachers from the main job which is to hit the half dozen main targets that we are working towards. We have a strict approach to bidding, that we do not distract ourselves from the main theme. If we think it is going to be of benefit then we will look at it, but in practice we have restricted our bids in the last 18 months to the specialist school bid for the reasons that I have given. I think we might have bid for one or two things but we certainly have not allowed it to distract us. The collegiate idea is a good one and I think that as the school grows and becomes more confident then we will be able to look at these things. Schools are individual. They are little communities and they are all different is what I am saying, and we have to work to the strengths of our schools. It is our job as heads to nurture that community and to make it the best place because that is where the children are.

    (Mrs Harker) I think that one of the differences about the LEA under Tim is that the balance of pressure and support has always been there. Whilst there has been pressure, and sometimes he comes at you with your targets, "What are you going to do about this?", there is always that support. Whilst there might be pressure on occasions to get involved in perhaps too many initiatives, at the same time it is within a supportive context. That is one of the things that some people from other LEAs tell me is lacking. There is pressure but there is not the support as well.

  65. Somebody said in the 1980s said, "The next best thing to a magic wand is a good head". When the good head leaves, or the good Chief Education Officer for that matter, what is it systematically that should be put in place in case the next one is not quite such a bright spark?
  66. (Mrs Harker) Systems can and will change with time. It is more to do with the culture. Tim has left such a strong culture in Birmingham so that, although he might not be the strongest person systems wise, and he would be the first to admit that, he has changed the culture and I think that that is such a powerful force that without systems here there and everywhere it will remain.

    (Mrs Owen) It is growing people, is it not?

    (Mrs Harker) Yes.

    (Mr Arnott) Yes,.

    (Mrs Owen) We have said that. Tim and I had this discussion, that a good school can survive a poor head for a reasonable length of time, but a school in challenging circumstances cannot survive without really good leadership for any length of time at all. You always need that head, I think. They have always got to be of a certain standard, but then it is the people you have grown alongside that, the middle managers, the assistant heads. If you set enough high standards within your own institution then they will not all fall apart when people move on. That is the history of troubled schools. They do tend to go up and down very much when people move on. I think that is partly because people underestimate how long it takes to change the culture. I have been there eight years now and I am really seeing it, but after three years, four years, five years?

    (Mr Arnott) In the details that I sent out, the first thing on my list in the change process at Stockland Green process is the culture. That is what you have to target first.


  67. We are coming to the end of our time. One is always conscious that when witnesses come before the Committee they will get on the bus or in their car and suddenly think, "Why the hell did I not say such-and-such?" You have a quick chance to say before we finish this session anything you would like to leave with us that you do not think has been said in this short session.
  68. (Mr Arnott) Support, if nationally we could have the same amount of support that we have had in Birmingham from our Chief Education Officer. We talked about the balance of support and pressure. In order to get the culture that we have got in Birmingham we had to have our champion and that was Tim. There is no question of that. I would ask you to take back to central Government the thought that the education service needs support. We went through the eighties and the early nineties and I have to say that those of us who were working in the education service felt beleaguered, criticised, second-rate. What has happened in Birmingham in the last ten years has done wonders. We are now seeing it coming through in a large urban area. The education service does not just need pressure. It also needs lots of support. I am glad to see the green shoots coming through.

  69. So that is all down to Tim, not to Government policies?
  70. (Mr Arnott) Oh, no. I use Tim as an example. As I say, there are green shoots coming through. Excellence in Cities is doing fantastic things for children in urban deprived environments. That is wonderful. I am not saying blind support. There are schools that are not doing well and can improve and have to improve. There is accountability here, but we do need support.

    (Mrs Harker) It is along the same lines really. The profession is beleaguered at the moment. We are seeing increasing difficulties in getting good staff. I appointed one today because two people failed to turn up on the first day of term. It has never happened to me before. Having said that, we are still attracting more people into Birmingham than possibly into some of the other big cities. It is to do with morale and self-esteem and allowing people to do the job that they came into the profession to do - teach. Sometimes the agenda and the pressure from outside does not allow that to happen. It is really getting back to - I hate to use the word - basics, but that is what it is about.

    (Mrs Owen) I am going to follow the theme, I suppose. In terms of administration, bureaucracy and workload, I do feel that we need a degree of common sense and trust about monitoring and evaluating. I quote a form there that we had from the LEA because the LEA has been asked by the Government to account for this money. The form is ten pages long, requiring enormous detail. There is no way we are going to fill that in. If we want that then we have to have somebody full time monitoring and evaluating. To me that is crazy. We need people, as I have put there, helping to dig the road, not watching and saying how to do it. The EIC and the pupil learning credits have been wonderful models in that we have been given the money, we have been told what the objectives are, we have had some checking through NFER and evaluation of all that, but it has been light touch evaluation. We have been accountable for those outputs and to me that is the model of evaluation that we should pursue.

    Chairman: It has been a pure gem, this hour, so thank you very much. We have enjoyed it so much. If you have further thoughts we are very open to you dropping us a line or picking up the phone to tell us whatever you want. We will be going to Auckland to look at one city in October and we will compare the two cities and publishing a report. Thank you very much.

    MRS MONICA COKE, Co-opted governor at Harborne Hill Secondary School, MR ROY GILLARD, Co-opted governor at Swanshurst Girls' School, and MRS FRAN STEVENS, Chair, Birmingham Governors' Network Executive Committee, examined.


  71. Can I say what a pleasure it is to have representatives of the governors of Birmingham schools with us this evening and I welcome Monica, Roy and Fran. We hold these meetings in relative informality but they are very formal in the sense that we are pleased to have our shorthand writer with us. She will be transcribing all these evidence sessions and every comment you make will be published. Normally I would say you are on television but when we take evidence outside Parliament we do not have the opportunity of having it on television. It is very rare that we do this on the road, if you like, and we are so delighted to be here in Birmingham for a full week to try to understand what, for this largest local education authority in the land (but one that is much improved), are the tasks, the challenges, the achievements. We really want you to be frank about the education service. We do not want to hear a rosy story. We do not want to hear all complaint. We want you to tell us how it is in Birmingham here you stand as governors. Can I ask you if you want to make a brief introduction? Who wants to lead?
  72. (Mrs Coke) I will start by saying who I am and the school that I represent at the moment. As the nameplate says, I am Monica Coke and I am a governor at Harborne Hill School. I have been a governor there for about 18 months now. I started about the same time as the new headteacher. I am also the Vice Chair of Birmingham Governors' Forum. I am one of the founding members of setting up a Birmingham Governors' Forum and that came about because my colleague on my right, Fran, and I were a little bit dissatisfied that governors were being done to as opposed to being part of the process that works together with Government or with the local authority in looking at what the needs are, at our young people in schools and about raising the achievement targets and attainment of our young people in schools. We felt that if governors were being given a lot of power but were not actually being part of the process to agree those powers then we wanted to have a forum where we could debate those issues and get the views of our other colleagues on the ground. We are not paid to do the job and it just seemed as though we were being put upon even more and more in what we had to do and the power was very onerous but we were not actually being part of that decision-making, that is to say, we feel that that is something we feel ought to be part of our remit. I have been a school governor for 14 or 15 years now. I have been a governor at primary school and now at Harborne Hill. I was asked to join the governing body there because they were under special measures and they needed some experienced governors to help them move the school forward. The school is just outside the city centre. It has a high population of students from Asian, African-Caribbean, Russian and other minority ethnic groupings. It has a high mobility rate. It was troubled with under-achievement and also not enough students in the school. Thankfully, the closing of Cardinal Newman School has helped raise the roll. At the moment we are at 521 which is helping the school somewhat. There is a deficit budget there still but all of the governors are working hard with the headteacher and the rest of the staff to turn round the school. The last OFSTED report, which was done in October 2001, has given us a marked improvement on where it started from when we got there. The school is improving but there are lots of issues there which I am sure we will come to.

  73. Thank you very much for that introduction.
  74. (Mrs Stevens) I am a governor at two schools in the city. I was a governor at Washwood Heath School but things have recently changed there, so that is no longer so. I am Chair of Birmingham Governors' Forum. As governors sitting on the Executive we are very proud of a number of achievements within our schools in Birmingham and we can see that there has been a raising of standards. However, we are very aware that there is still a number of challenges that we have to deal with, transition being one of those challenges for us.

  75. Transition at 11?
  76. (Mrs Stevens) Transition from Key Stage1 to Key Stage 2 where the schools have not merged, but on the whole I think the main issues now are probably from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3. Governors are asking questions as to, does the curriculum that we have suit our youngsters, or are we giving a curriculum that ensures that all our children can reach their full potential? We worry that there is too much emphasis on just raising of standards and academic achievement and not looking at the skills that youngsters need to equip them for lifelong learning and going into the world of education. Those are some of the things that concern us. We are also concerned about recognising the need to do further work with parents and the community. It is essential that we start to listen to community, that if we are going to have sustainable communities schools should be at the heart of those. In order to make them sustainable governors feel that the voices of the parents and the people in those communities should be listened to. We think we have some challenges there and some way to go if we want to have a city that we are all working and living in and doing things together in. Those are the biggest challenges as I see them that we need to work on.

    (Mr Gillard) I am a governor of Birmingham's largest all-girls' secondary school, Swanshurst, which is less than four miles from the city centre and, with around 60 per cent ethnic students, it is also the largest girls' school in Europe. I am delighted to say that it is a beacon school with a first class record and reputation. Currently we are seeking specialist status as a science college and are optimistic that we will succeed. At this point I would like to take us down a single issue route, and all single issues are inclined to be neglected. This affects secondary schools throughout Birmingham and throughout the land in terms of seeking specialist status. At Swanshurst it has given the governors and headteachers some concern about the enormous amount of time that has had to be put in to raise the 50,000 sponsorship necessary to make the bid. As far as the bid itself is concerned we have not got the status yet but there does not appear to be a real problem. We are optimistic, as I said. But despite having excellent relations with business and industry in our local community and knowing that the purpose of the 50,000 sponsorship is to improve that, we have found it very difficult within the economic situation for business and industry as it is now, and raising the money is proving a mammoth task, although it does look as if we will succeed. It is particularly difficult when the sponsorship rules eliminate any contribution from companies which have any existing commercial links with the school. It seems rather ridiculous. The bottom line is that a huge number of teaching hours have had to be put in by senior staff to raise the money. In fact, it was virtually a full time job for one of our deputy heads for about two months, amounting to something like 200 teaching hours. We have staff that are very good at teaching and running a huge school. That is for what they have been trained. They have not been trained in fund raising, nor should they need to be.

  77. We have heard that from many quarters since we have been in Birmingham and before we came to Birmingham we were aware of that problem, and I can assure you that the Committee takes that very seriously indeed.
  78. (Mr Gillard) One would hope that action would be taken.

    Mr Pollard: We will pass it on to the Secretary of State.

    Chairman: Let us get on with the questioning because we want to get as much impact into this short meeting as we can.

    Jeff Ennis

  79. We read a lot in the press about the onerous workload of teachers in schools but I think, speaking as an LEA governor at a comprehensive school in Barnsley, that that analogy can be extended to governors, so much so that I know in Barnsley and Doncaster we are having increasing difficulty in particular in recruiting parent governors to school governing bodies. Is that the experience of governors in Birmingham? I am not just making the comment with regard to parent governors, but obviously also co-opted or other types of governors. If it is the same experience, what does the Government have to do to try and make sure it is easier for people to become governing body members?
  80. (Mrs Stevens) The Executive Group has looked at this issue a lot. It clearly is a problem. It is also a problem that it can sometimes take as long as three years to really get a feel for what the role of governance is about. Then you find you have got another year and then you can be off. However, we can quickly resolve that by getting people back on again because we do have a shortage of governors. We have felt for a long time that there needs to be work done with people before they become a governor so that you begin to talk to them about the role rather than inviting somebody along to the first meeting, sitting down and trying to get on with the business. We ought to be tapping into the other good work that is going on in cities like in housing and lots of community projects and trying to recruit people from those to become school governors, people who know about those communities and are working with them.

  81. Like housing action trusts and things like that?
  82. (Mrs Stevens) Yes. There needs to be a sort of pre-training. What happens often is that governors get on to a governing body and they are overwhelmed. They really do not know where to begin. Just beginning to understand the jargon that we so often use and which becomes the norm after a while is very off-putting. There needs to be time to explain to governors what governance is about and that might also begin to help some of the problems we see in schools where there are difficulties between governors and the school management. We need to get governors to understand roles and responsibilities.

    (Mrs Coke) I feel that if there were some form of honorarium more people might take it up. I also feel that it is not compulsory for your workplace to give you time off to become a governor because a lot of the work that you have to do does not only take place in the evening. It is about having time to visit the school; it is about having time to be part of committees during the daytime because of the time when the school opens and the business takes place. To visit the school you need to be at school when there are people in the school, when the children are there. It is about looking at how they are learning, looking at the curriculum and so on. I think a lot of people who are in work find it difficult to have the time out from work to do those chores. Also, I think if there was an honorarium it might be a carrot. A lot of inner city schools in Birmingham have people from the Indian sub-continent. The husbands are at work and the wives are not allowed to be out by themselves, so that creates a problem in itself, to get people from those communities to become school governors. There is also the language issue. A lot of them feel that they do not speak English well enough to be able to contribute because of the flow of things and the amount of reading there is and the amount of issues and the in-depth study that is required. It has taken me about four years to understand some of the things that I needed to fathom out. It is the whole process of the abundance of paperwork because you do not have somebody who is summarising and coming out with the implications and what you really need to do in some of the documents you get. There is also the other issue around the short timescale for consultation and all that sort of thing. It is an abundance of things. The ones who are committed to give time to the process are already overstretched and going to another committee meeting is an issue. I have also heard of people who have been governors and have decided that they do not want to do it any more because they felt that there was too much clique-ism within the governing body, that the chair and the headteacher sew things up and they do not take any notice of the minions if you do not quite fit the complexion of who is already there. There are a lot of issues like those and people just do not want to do it. They just see it as an other task that is cheap labour, to do a lot of work to get the Government out of paying for and getting real people to do the job.

  83. Do you think the LEA are offering enough support to governing bodies given the scenario we have just elaborated on, or could they do more?
  84. (Mrs Coke) I know that the LEA have done a lot of work around recruiting governors because I know that the Governors' Support Unit and the equalities division works. We need community organisations to organise awareness events whereby they do presentations to try and attract particular governors, either from the African-Caribbean or Indian sub-continent, so all that sort of stuff is going on but it is all still a hard task.

    (Mr Gillard) On the point of getting ethnic governors at schools where there is well over 50 per cent of ethnic pupils, it is proving particularly difficult. If I take you through the situation at my school, Swanshurst, when I joined the governors four years ago there was just a single ethnic governor. He left after a few months although he had done a reasonable length of service. It took us ages to even get a single ethnic governor to replace him, a serious effort of trying to find people who are interested and prepared to get involved. In fact, we have got one each year over the last two years, so that there are now three ethnic governors. We would very much welcome having 50 per cent ethnic governors, more if you wish, and we think that would only be fair. That is also reflected in a way through the interest of parents, or to a degree the lack of interest of parents. At the annual meeting for parents, despite all our efforts at our school and speaking with colleagues at other schools, it is almost impossible to get more than a handful of parents at these meetings. We have 1,750 schoolchildren belonging to the school and there are about nine parents at the actual meeting if you are lucky. It is quite extraordinary really why parents are not much more interested.


  85. They are coming in good numbers to parents' evenings?
  86. (Mr Gillard) Yes, much better in that respect, but not the annual meeting.

    (Mrs Stevens) I think we need to begin to value governors. Many of our governors are parents and parents of kids in our schools. We talk about wanting parental involvement. Often we are a little bit nervous of when parental involvement turns into a strategic way of thinking. It is okay to be involved in whatever is going on in the school, but sometimes it is a fear when governors want to think more strategically about what is needed for the school. We must listen to those parents because although they might not be seen to know much about education, there is still an important role for them to play in what is right for the school. I believe through governance we can begin to give control back to local people. We need to enable people to control their own lives and then we might begin not to have the behaviour issues in our schools or the truancy or the exclusion. I think if governors can really begin to believe in what we are doing we might see an improvement.

    Mr Turner

  87. Fran started to answer my question. There are really two extremes in this governing role, are there not? One is that you turn up once a term and have a cup of tea and approve everything the head has said, and the other is that you get involved in the appointment of the tea lady. Neither of those is very strategic. How would you define your ideal governor's job?
  88. (Mrs Stevens) First of all, to understand what it is that the school is trying to do, that we have got X amount of money. I think it can be simplified. We have got this pot of money. A lot of it is going to go on teaching; how then do we best want to do it to benefit our kids in the school; what do we want for our children, and then to draw up a plan. Often governors are presented with a school development plan. You can start simple - X amount of money, limited resources. What are we going to do with these resources to ensure that our kids get the best from them? Is it going to be spent on teachers so we can start to get people to think, "Is that a key resource?", or do we think books are better? It does not take long, I do not believe, to get people thinking, "Yes, we can give more to that", but if you present things to so-called ordinary people in a certain way it disempowers them; it does not empower them.

    (Mrs Coke) Because of the amount of work that needs to be done I think sometimes teachers see governors as interfering busybodies and they do not have anything to bring to the table because they are not educators. But what I think sometimes teachers do not see is that governors are people outside of that establishment and they will be able to see what is going on in there with a different perspective. They come from businesses and you run a business on certain systems and procedures, and it is about having those systems and procedures and ensuring that you are monitoring and evaluating and providing targets and supporting and there is the pastoral care and all those sorts of things. If you are not involved in the situation you can sometimes bring a different perspective to bear. Also, in a school like, for instance, where you have African Caribbean students, we know that African Caribbean young men are under achieving. The school is a community and it takes a whole village to raise your child. It is not just the teachers in the school. It is about the businesses in the area because at the end of the day they are going to be wanting people coming out of those schools with certain skills to do the job. They are also going to be wanting this citizenship and governance around behaviour and you might not be academically qualified but you will be able to do a job and it is about the best job for that person so that they can get on the ladder of managing their own lives. You probably do need governors to be full time people to do that because they can then pick up the roles of bringing on the rest of the community. A governor's role is not a full time job and there is a lot to do. I think it needs to be more of a full time job in order to deliver what needs to be delivered. A governor will be somebody who provides support and assistance to the school and be able to bring on the wider community so that everybody is working together to achieve what needs to be achieved, somebody who can go and talk the same language as the children in the school or the same language as the community that the school serves, somebody who understands both sides of the argument from the school's perspective and from the wider community perspective. I think we can build on that.

    Mr Turner

  89. In a sense we have got one model which is very much an intermediary, an ambassador role?
  90. (Mrs Coke) Yes.

  91. And one which is much more of assistance to the management, in fact, in a way the management itself.
  92. (Mrs Coke) Yes.

  93. Does the LEA seek to recruit governors by reference to either of these models or is it left very much to the individual school to say, "This is the kind of governor we want. Now let us go out and find one"?
  94. (Mrs Stevens) Where there are schools in challenging circumstances the LEA will be very proactive in trying to put on governors who may have the skills needed to support those schools, which is good. I think on the whole you get governing bodies doing their own audit and saying, "These are the skills that we have got and these are the skills that we need, so our strengths are this and our limitations are that", and then recruit co-opt people with the competences that they need. Where I sometimes have a problem is that there is an inequality in as much as almost by definition in certain areas you will get governors with some more of the skills that you might be looking for than in other areas and that becomes an inequality issue. We need to address that by saying, "Can we put some governor in from another area into there?", and gradually wean them out, leaving the community then to do it, but to start them off so to speak. Would that make sense? I think there needs to be a bit more of sharing skills across the city so that it is not just in the leafy suburbs where you have already got your accountant, your solicitor and your GP sitting on the governing body who are going to be able to think very strategically because they do it day to day, who are very capable of critical thinking and making sure that their kids get the very best. I want to say, "We would like a bit of that over there please". We need to be a bit more generous in sharing out those people and saying, "Let us take the accountant from here and let us see if he can help out over there". One of the biggest skills that is needed often as a governor is somebody who is good at mediating as well. We need people with very special skills. I do not believe that all governors should go into a school because they might not have the skills to go in, they might do more harm than good, but they can look after the finances. You also need people skills. You need people who can form a good relationship with the headteacher, who can then act as a critical friend. The headteacher's job I think is very lonely, very isolated, so we need somebody on the governing body who can be there with those skills to support them and say, "Come on, we can do it together". We need to start with the skills that are required on a governing body and I think there are a number of them and we have not always got them.

    Mr Pollard

  95. I applaud anybody who wants to be a school governor and who is a school governor. I was one for donkeys' years. I am not now. I can go back to the time when you just used to turn up three times a year and eat the cucumber sandwiches and say how good the headteacher was. Now governors have huge responsibilities, hiring and firing and all of that. Interestingly enough, school governors form the biggest form of unpaid voluntary service in the country, and it is a strength of our civil society. When the Committee was out in Russia recently the Russian Duma and others were very interested in this mass of voluntary effort that went into managing schools. Could I also say, Fran, that what you said was the clearest exposition of a governor and what is required that I have ever heard. I am glad it is noted down because I think that can be used as a model for being what a governor is, so I congratulate you on that. Can I pursue the Forum? I am particularly interested in that, whether it works well, what are the good bits of it and whether there are things that you might like to do that you think you could do as a Forum that you are not being allowed to do either by the LEA or by central government strictures or just because you have not got the time or energy. Can I finally say that I was a magistrate for donkeys' years. I do not do it now; I am on the supplementary list. If you were a magistrate you could get money for loss of earnings. I wondered if you might pursue that as a way of reward, just for a few days. That might be a way of helping, certainly widening the net of those who might be captured as a governor.
  96. (Mrs Stevens) It is beginning to work more effectively. It has taken us a while to do it. The reason I think it is beginning to be more effective is that we have now succeeded in recruiting governors from across the city which does reflect our city. In the early days that was not the case. We have worked hard on doing that. We are listened to by the local education authority. We do want to begin to influence policy at a local level and we are very keen, once we see ourselves doing that, to feed more into the National Governors' Council, who I know are sitting behind me, so that we begin to get our voices heard. We produce our own newsletter, which is more like a magazine, and it goes out to all governors and the LEA has helped us in doing that. That has been a very good way of trying to communicate with governors across the city because what we found was hard was getting them out to extra meetings.

  97. So you are not alone as a body?
  98. (Mr Gillard) I think Kerry Pollard's suggestion of relating it to the magistrate system for getting some sort of compensation is an excellent one because, although even as far as expenses are concerned, governing bodies are allowed to have a section in their budget that allows payment for expenses, there is this feeling among many governors, and I am not sure that it is a true one, that if you take some expenses out you are preventing so many extra textbooks or library books for the kids themselves. Because nobody draws expenses nobody feels they ought to draw expenses and that to some extent relates to the type of person you have got asa governor, the majority of whom you want, but you also want the sort of people who perhaps desperately need their expenses if nothing else.


  99. We had some parents in here last evening talking to us. They were in a sense suggesting that there was not enough interaction between parents and this new organisation you have of governors across Birmingham education authority. Do you think your new organisation is strategic enough? What we are not getting in a sense is a kind of overview from someone who comes in here and says, "Okay; here is the map of Birmingham" - and what we are realising is how big this education authority is - "and here are the strengths and weaknesses from the consumer's point of view." Last night, because we had an open meeting for parents who had no organisational responsibilities or status, they came in and said, "If you live one side of Birmingham and you want education for your daughter in a girls' school, wonderful, loads of it", and in fact some were very critical of the size of your school, Roy. "It is much too big," they said, "it ruins the balance of other schools which have become almost boys' schools", because so many girls go to your school. But on the other hand they said that at the other side of the city forget education for girls in single sex institutions. I wonder if there is a role for you as a growing organisation to have (a) a better relationship with parents and (b) perhaps a more strategic view of where you want the authority to go?
  100. (Mr Gillard) Can I just say as background, as far as the fact that there are a couple of large all-girls' schools is concerned, it is brought about by the ethnic mix situation with the Moslems who are most anxious for girls to go to an all-girls' school.

  101. Members of this Committee were quite puzzled to hear that there was such a large school. We admire anyone who can run a school as large as that.
  102. (Mr Gillard) It is run very efficiently, in fact.

  103. How many pupils are there?
  104. (Mr Gillard) There are 1,750 for this existing year.

  105. The largest girls' school in Europe, you said.
  106. (Mr Gillard) Yes. It comes about from a merger, in fact, going back to the days when grammar schools ceased to be, of the grammar school and the secondary modern school and an early sixth form college.

  107. Many of us represent areas with pretty high ethnic minority populations but we do not have girls' schools.
  108. (Mr Gillard) There is just the demand when people send in for admissions for these girls' schools by the Moslem communities.

    (Mrs Coke) I think it is true though that there is an abundance of the type of school that has just been spoken about on one side of the city and not enough on the other side. That has been a big issue within the city, hence the setting up of the first Moslem school. I think it is for those reasons that the Moslem school was set up. There is a role for the Forum and, as Fran said, this re-launched Forum is beginning to develop a focus. It will also come back down to yet another meeting for yet some other governors to go to. That will also create a problem. At the moment the Forum is financed by 50 from each school. It also needs more money going into the school from the authority - I am not quite sure if they have put extra money in; I am not quite sure what the finances are for that - to be able to do some of the things that need to be done. At the moment we produce a newsletter about four times a year and that newsletter goes to every governor in the city to their personal address, and if you are a governor you may also be a parent governor, so there is a mix there and it does get into the school. What is not happening at the moment is to try and get to those parents through another mechanism. A system needs to be in place where, if there is an issue coming up that we need to take on board, then we can take that on board. We used to hold on a quarterly basis meetings in different areas of the city where we invited governors. What we need then to do is to look at how we begin to put something in place that we can present or do a presentation on to the whole school or groups of schools instead of just looking at governors because it was only for governors, trying to glean the views and aspirations and issues that are coming from the governing body. The intention was that the parent governors on those committees would then be able to go back to their schools and disseminate that information. The newsletter goes out on the Birmingham Grid for Learning. There is a website. We obviously need to do some more work in trying to get to those parents.

    Ms Munn

  109. What range of training does the local education authority provide for school governors?
  110. (Mrs Stevens) I have to say they do provide excellent training. You name it, they will cover it, from financial management to managing the new code of practice to appointing headteachers. The quality of training - I do not know if my colleagues would agree with me - is excellent. Where the problem lies is, because money has not been earmarked in the school budget for training for governors, as Monica said a while back, often governors feel as though they are depriving the school if they use that money for training and I think the money needs to be clearly earmarked and therefore the headteacher can say, "We must not carry forward an underspend. There is money here for training and you need to go and spend it." I know schools where they say, "We cannot spend it because there is already a shortage of money".

    (Mr Gillard) I think there is a sum that is ring fenced.

    (Mrs Coke) It is in the standards fund. It can be spent and some schools do spend it.

    (Mrs Stevens) Obviously you are spending it, Roy, and that is probably in a school where it is ring fenced. But if it is not clearly ring fenced it can be used for other things. I think that governors should all be encouraged to go on training because there is so much to do.

  111. Given that, because my experience is very similar in two local authorities, training for governors that is available is excellent, is enough made of that in terms of making people aware of the fact that training is available? I was scared when I became a governor of the responsibility I was taking on but, having had the initial training, I suddenly thought, "That is fine because I am going to get the support". As well as training, just going out to recruit people, is it made clear that this level of training is available to support people once they become a governor?
  112. (Mrs Stevens) The city is trying very hard to make sure that that training is accessible to all and that it can be delivered in very non-threatening ways as well. We have got whole school training going on. I know through talking to governors that some governors can feel quite intimidated. It is like the fear of going back to the classroom, "Will I be given a pen and paper? Might they spot that I do not spell very well? Will I be asked to do that?" In fact, none of that ever takes place in training but it can be a fear. I think that local authorities can say, "We can come in and do whole school training; thereby you will get it." It is good, what goes on in Birmingham.

    (Mrs Coke) I will support that. You cannot fault the training for governors that takes place. My only concern is that training should be given to people who may be interested in becoming governors as opposed to waiting for them to agree to be governors. If you begin to train and have a pool of people who are interested so you give them that taste and understanding of what the role is, it will probably then help their thinking and understanding that when they do get into the role, instead of thinking, "Oh, this is too much for me. I am frightened. I did not know what I was taking on. I am out."


  113. Sort of taster courses?
  114. (Mrs Coke) Yes, although when we asked a question about that we were told that it comes down to money and there was not the money there for that.

    Mr Chaytor

  115. If the Forum is successfully re-launched and gains great influence and takes on amore strategic role, there could well be occasions where the interests of your individual school will be at odds with the needs of the wider community and the position of the Governors' Forum. If there were such a conflict of interest, where the case put by your individual school was clearly causing problems for neighbouring schools, would you put your own school's interests first or the interests of the Governors' Forum first?
  116. (Mrs Coke) We would not do that ourselves. We would go out to consultation, I think.

  117. Who would you consult?
  118. (Mrs Stevens) As members of the Forum Executive we already often sit in on committees in the city, on admissions, school organisation and so on, where you are having to make decisions which will not please some of the governors. You may be saying, "I think this school should merge because we are taking a view that that is the way forward for that school".

  119. If I can give an example, if the issue to be considered by the Governors' Forum was the merger of a number of schools of which yours was one, and if your headteacher and the rest of the governing body were against a merger, how would you deal with that?
  120. (Mr Gillard) I do not think the Forum could ever have executive powers in that sense at all.

  121. If the Forum is going to take on a wider role it will have to grapple with these broader issues and it does not have executive powers but it would be expected to express an opinion or make a recommendation.
  122. (Mrs Stevens) If it was a merger of a school and you happened to sit on the Forum and your school was going down that road and you did not want it to be, the committee that was making that decision as to whether it merged or not would be the school organisation committee. If you sat on that committee I think you should say you have a vested interest and that it should be another member who sits on that.

  123. I understand that. Leave aside sitting on other committees. I am interested in the clash of responsibilities or the clash of loyalties for individual governors sitting on the Governors' Forum. If the Governors' Forum is going to have some teeth or some influence it is going to have to engage with these wider issues and this is where the conflict between your role as a representative of the Governors' Forum and your role as an individual member of the governing body of your own school could well come into conflict.
  124. (Mr Gillard) If that did arise one would declare an interest.

  125. But would you still vote for your own school?
  126. (Mr Gillard) You would express your own personal view.

    (Mrs Coke) I think you would have to go case by case and you would have to look at what is best at the time prevailing and, if you are being truthful about it, whether you are on the Governors' Forum or within your school, you are going to be stating the same thing anyway.

    Chairman: I think that is a brilliant point to make, Monica.

    Paul Holmes

  127. My question is partly a follow-on from the point David was asking, about clashes of interest. If there is a clash between the governors of a school and the LEA or the school or whatever, how is that resolved? For example, last night we had two parents sitting there who were former governors of Washwood Heath and we have another one who is sitting there now who is a former governor of Washwood Heath. What was all that about and how was that resolved between the LEA, the school and governors, most of whom appear to have resigned?
  128. (Mrs Stevens) I was a governor who came on to it.


  129. I suspect this answer could be very long.
  130. (Mrs Stevens) What went on there? Is that the question you ask?

    Paul Holmes

  131. Yes, how did the governors, the LEA and the school resolve whatever that issue was?
  132. (Mrs Stevens) How did it or how should it? I think that at that school there was a classic example of the need for mediation to take place to understand where people were coming from. No blame attached to anybody, I would say, because it was about trying to listen and learn from everybody. That is where I think there needed to be that really skilful mediation.

  133. The two former governors who were here last night were very cross about whatever it was that happened. They felt very hard done to.
  134. (Mrs Stevens) We have to listen, do we not? We have to listen to the community.

  135. But they felt they had not been listened to.

(Mrs Stevens) Who knows?

Chairman: I do not think we are going to get much further. Can I say how grateful we are for your time, for the frank way that you have answered our questions, the forceful way you have answered our questions, and that it has been a pleasure. Every time someone comes in front of our Committee they nearly always, they tell me, when they get in their car, get on the bus, or walk home, they say, "I wish I had said that". You have only got to drop us a line or ring up the Clerk and we will convert your oral remarks into part of this testimony. Thank you.