Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 331 - 339)



  Q331  Chairman: May I welcome Sir Peter Lampl and Dr Tessa Stone from The Sutton Trust to our deliberations. We are mid way really through our year on secondary education, where we have been looking at a range of issues and coming to the conclusion in that year on report—and we have been reporting out the different discrete sections as we have done them—that school admissions is one of the most challenging areas we have looked at. As I tend to say to the Committee, we are getting dangerous because we are learning something about it at this stage. We are in a situation where we are looking for guidance. The Sutton Trust has a reputation for finding that particular niche which gets us all thinking and the study you commissioned from the London School of Economics certainly got people thinking about social mobility and what the education system is contributing to that. In terms of the admissions system on which we are focusing today, what part do you think the admissions system in this country contributes to that decrease in social mobility, or do you think that has nothing to do with it?

  Sir Peter Lampl: Before I answer that may I say a couple of words? First of all, Tessa Stone will contribute as appropriate, she is my colleague. Thank you very much for the invitation to come here. Yes, obviously the social mobility work which was done at LSE has shown that in fact social mobility has declined in this country over the last 30 years or so and it is actually rather disappointing. The movement towards a comprehensive system was meant to make us more socially mobile rather than less socially mobile. The problem is, as we explain in our memorandum, we do not have a comprehensive system. We have private schools where parents with the means can opt out, we have grammar schools which are selective schools, we have church schools where there are many opportunities for covert selection; I am not saying they necessarily do it, but there are certainly opportunities. That is a big percentage of schools; our data says 17% of secondary schools are church schools. You have a lot of special cases and the data we have put together in looking at high performance schools shows that although we have all these rules which theoretically should be assigning children to schools in a fair way, in practice there seems to be something else going on. If you look at the best performing schools in the country, they have about 3% free school meals compared with a national average of around 17%. There is a lot going on here that is preventing us becoming a socially mobile society.

  Q332  Chairman: Many of us who admire the work The Sutton Trust has done recognise that it has been pretty sharply focused—this has been one of your strengths—on helping bright children from poor backgrounds succeed. Some of us, when we are looking at this particular topic of admissions, wonder how you square that with what happens to the kids who are not quite so bright and what happens to those if you are encouraging more of the bright ones to leave schools they would otherwise be in and go to schools where there is a concentration of bright young people.

  Sir Peter Lampl: You are right that this is where we originally focused and where a lot our focus is. We have now developed the work of the trust and we now start with early years, in primary and secondary. We try to cover the whole spectrum. I think my view is that action at the top does not preclude action at the bottom or action in the middle. We have a problem in all areas. The kinds of things we are proposing, which are related to independent schools and grammar schools, are not in any way suggesting going back to a selective system or increasing selection. What we are saying is that there are some high performing schools out there, but when you look at the data they are almost exclusively the domain of well-off kids and we think there are some practical ways in which you can make those opportunities available to a wider audience. Just to address your point about the so-called creaming off effect, one of the things you will have read about is the school in Liverpool, the Belvedere school, which is an independent school where we have provided open access to everybody. The facts are that 72 children a year go to that school and we, together with the Girls' Day School Trust, are funding just over 50 a year, so it is over 70%. We take from all over Liverpool and surrounding areas. When you look at the transition from primary to secondary in the catchment area of the school, it is about 10,000 a year. We are looking at 50 who might not have gone to state schools who are going to the Belvedere school. It is not a big effect. What we are doing is recognising reality. There are these schools out there. We are into the seventh year of a Labour Government, little has been done in a meaningful way about independent schools in terms of working with them. Grammar schools are still here, seven years later. I am just recognising reality. These schools are there, they are obviously excellent schools and what we are trying to do is give kids who otherwise would not have the opportunity to go there, the opportunity to go there.

  Q333  Chairman: Do you think there is an opportunity to develop your particular ideas in that regard through the modification of the charitable status of private sector schools?

  Sir Peter Lampl: When you look at private sector schools, unfortunately they do not do a huge amount which is charitable. The biggest thing they do is spend just over 6% of their income on funding students who are not paying fees. They are subsidising fees. When you look at where that is going, about half of that goes on scholarships which are not means tested and are for up to a maximum of 50% of the full fee. So half of the 6%, 3%, is not really focused on the kind of kids we are trying to help who are kids who cannot afford the fees. If you look at the other 3%, you find that a part of that is used to fund the parents who get into trouble while their kids are at schools; they are essentially people who have been able to afford the fees, but because of divorce or loss of job they then need funding. Part of that is actually used to fund teachers' children, which is a big benefit for teachers who go into independent schools. We estimate the amount of money actually left to fund children who genuinely need more than 50% of their fees paid is probably less than 1%. Yes, there is a lot more that independent schools could be doing and I made this point at the HMC conference; I made a speech there about this and said there was a lot more they should be doing in this respect.

  Q334  Chairman: You have done a lot of work. Have any of your projects led you to the conclusion that they could be generalised? Are there things we could take up as a government?

  Sir Peter Lampl: Yes, there are several. Let us stay with this topic; there are obviously SATs and higher education, but we are not talking about those. Staying with this topic, we are now into the fourth year of the scheme in the Belvedere school, we have proposed to the government that scheme be expanded to 12 schools. That scheme could be expanded to over 100 or 200 schools eventually. There is no shortage of candidates, of schools which would like to do it. These are schools which are in the inner cities, independent schools which would like essentially to have "needs-blind" admissions, as the Americans call it; we call it open access. This means that children are admitted to those schools irrespective of their ability to pay. That scheme can be expanded cost effectively; the average cost we are paying per pupil at the Belvedere school works out at about £3,400, because we are paying about 55% to 60% of the fees, that is the Girls' Day School Trust and The Sutton Trust, and parents are paying the rest. Essentially we have a partnership between sponsors, which in our case means us and the parents. If the government stepped into our shoes, they could be funding an excellent school for a little bit less than the full cost of a state school place. The economics of it work and we have suggested that initially it could be expanded to a dozen schools and eventually to many more schools. We could talk about the other scheme which is the Pate's scheme, but maybe you want to open up to other people. I should just like to say that the Pate's scheme, where we have taken a state school which has very low free school meals eligibility, and it has essentially become, like many good state schools, not just grammar schools but also comprehensive, a middle-class school and we are spending about £40,000 a year to put in a full-time outreach officer running master classes at the school for children from primaries in under-privileged areas. We have increased the number of children going to the school from these primaries substantially from an average of about 7 per year to 20 last year. We have also had 160 children[5] on enrichment classes who are all getting the benefit of spending time at a very good secondary school and creating relationships there. That is a scheme which could be taken up more widely. The one thing I have learned since doing this   educational philanthropy is that positive intervention actually works, not just in the schools sector, but also in the university sector. There are two examples here. The success of the Belvedere scheme has been a full-time outreach officer at the school, master classes at the school, working with primaries. We take students from about 90% of the primary schools in the catchment area. This has been a scheme which has been generally accepted and taken up by large numbers of people.

  Q335  Jeff Ennis: May I go back to your memorandum and the conclusion you drew about the fact that in the case of school admissions choice is something which is disproportionately available to the middle classes, and you have already quoted the Belvedere example and the Pate's scheme? In the types of LEAs I represent in Doncaster there is no independent sector. How can we develop a best practice model when there is no independent sector available over and above this Pate's scheme?

  Sir Peter Lampl: I presume, like everywhere else in the country, Doncaster is an urban area, you are going to have a big disparity, some good state schools and some not so good state schools. There are several things you can do. The first is clearly that if you have a good state school which has a disproportionate mix of children from well-off backgrounds, you can do something positive at relatively low cost. I want to come on to a couple of issues, which have developed since we submitted our memorandum. One is to let children from less-privileged backgrounds know what choices are available to them. Very often they do not know. Middle-class people usually know. That is the kind of thing we are doing in Cheltenham. We are actually exposing them to the opportunity. The second thing is making that opportunity available if they decide they want to do it, or giving them a chance. Obviously in the case of an independent school this requires funding, but in the case of a state school, it just means they are sensitive to them applying. The other side of the coin, which I know some of your previous witnesses have talked about, has been physically getting kids to a school of their choice. Since we submitted our memorandum, we have had the Boston Consulting Group do a study of school transport, of getting kids to school. It is very obvious from that, for instance, if you take the bottom income quintile, that the average distance most kids travel to school is just over one mile. If you take the top income quintile in this country, they travel almost three miles. There is a huge difference. If you look at car ownership, the bottom quintile has about 0.6 cars per family. The top quintile has almost two. This is not just a matter of saying we have to provide transport. This is a big issue. In fact what we have looked in some detail at is school busing and it is a very exciting and interesting proposition. You can actually bus kids to school very cost effectively and do a huge amount for social inclusion. A lot of the reason for kids from less-privileged background not exercising school choice is because physically parents cannot get their children there. Also, over and above just the educational thing, the cost benefit shows that if you bus all primary school—you could also bus secondary children—children who have to travel over one mile, it would cost about £180 million to provide the buses and save you £450 million in terms of saved time for parents, fewer environmental effects, saved time for everybody else. It is a very interesting proposition. I think something you need to think about as part of this inquiry is the whole transportation aspect of this.

  Q336  Jeff Ennis: As the Chairman knows, I have mentioned home to school transport at a number of previous evidence sessions, not just on this subject. It seems to have a very low priority with the Secretary of State in terms of educational provision, because it is not directly into the classroom. It appears to me that you are guiding us more towards a hands-on involvement by the local education authority in terms of the school admissions policy. Would that be the case?

  Sir Peter Lampl: Yes, I think it should be more proactive. To think that you are going to come up with a set of rules so theoretically everyone has choice is just not the reality. There are two things here. One is that the rules are quite difficult to devise anyway in the first place. Secondly, you cannot prove this but I always suspect that covert selection is always going on over and above the rules. To think you can just devise a set of rules which is correct is not the answer. You have to expose kids to the opportunities and you have to let them partake of those opportunities if they decide to take up those opportunities. Most importantly, you have to give them a way of getting there reasonably efficiently and I am advocating free school busing. Right now they cannot: unless you go to your local school you do not get subsidised to go to school. Even if you did, buses do not generally run from your home to the school. It can be very inconvenient to get from home to school on public transport. That is a big area.

  Q337  Jeff Ennis: You have already indicated that we have a mixed economy in education in this country. There is no totally comprehensive local education authority area. Is there a model which you would recommend to the Committee in terms of achieving equity in school admissions, one which can favour kids from poorer backgrounds whose parents are not particularly interested in which school they go to as well as the kids from middle-class backgrounds?

  Sir Peter Lampl: School transport, proactive intervention in situations are the key issues. In terms of getting the rules right, I have a lot of sympathy with having fewer admissions authorities. You have so many admissions authorities, the thing is so complicated, so many schools do their own admissions. You should try as far as possible to have the LEA do the admissions and go for that model. I have seen that some of the previous witnesses have testified to that.

  Q338  Valerie Davey: By contrast to Jeff's, my constituency has ten independent schools. The need there is to get the social mix in the 20 state schools. Would you be prepared to look at working in the other direction? If diverse social mix is a criterion of a good school, then we actually need it the other way.

  Sir Peter Lampl: Yes, that is right. You have to get diverse social mixes as far as you can in independent schools and state schools.

  Q339  Valerie Davey: So the admissions policy in Bristol needs to be looking at both.

  Sir Peter Lampl: Yes. We have to take the independent sector into account in all of this and as far as possible I should like to include them in the solution. Just because they are not under government control, etcetera, it is really important. A lot of them would like to help. I think we have come up with a scheme which does make sense and is acceptable to a lot of independent schools, which is this voluntary "needs-blind" admission. I really think that can help the situation.

5   Note by witness: There are in fact, 130 children on enrichment classes, not 160. Back

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