Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)



  Q340  Valerie Davey: It helps the situation in independent schools inasmuch as you get highly academic youngsters from low income families, but it does not help in my situation because of the disproportionate number of schools from which that minority left would then be coming. Your proposal is actually based on academic selection, which is where I think the Chairman started. Academic selection in a situation like mine denudes the state sector of the relatively small numbers of high achievers if we are not very careful. I do want to say to you, that like you I am facing reality rather more than I did in the past. Therefore I met the heads of my independent sector schools last week. They are looking for options and opportunities to work with state schools and we are trying to come up with ideas which do not say to the state sector "You're not as good as us". They are sensitive enough to realise that you cannot just go around saying "You're no good. What can we do for you?". Have you any other ideas which you can relate to our situation, which might bring those links together in a way which is positively beneficial to both sides?

  Sir Peter Lampl: We actually pioneered so-called independent/state school partnerships and that is originally how I got involved with the government. We got a couple of schemes going with King Edward's Birmingham and Dulwich College working with state schools and then the Labour Government came in in 1997 and abolished the assisted places schemes. I was introduced to Stephen Byers and we then got the independent/state schools partnership schemes off the ground. Those are helpful and actually that scheme could be much bigger than it is. It is running at about £2 million to £3 million a year and could be a much bigger scheme[6]. I do not really think it is the answer. It is a sort of sticking plaster. To have partnerships in all sorts of ways, joint use of facilities, classes, etcetera, and we have funded and looked at all those possibilities, is well worth doing, but to integrate the independent day schools in the inner cities truly into the education provision for everybody is really the way to go. I agree that there will be some selection. You are not increasing selection as those schools are already selective, you are just maybe selecting some different kinds of people; other people will be being selected. At the moment well-off people have the opportunity to opt out of the state sector into what are by and large academically the best schools in the country. There was a headline in the Sunday Times which is what is wrong with this country. The headline said "Top state school in Reading got better results than Harrow". It damn well should. I am sorry, but Harrow is not a very good academic school. This was a huge "Isn't that amazing? They actually did better than Harrow". I am sorry, but when I was at school you could go to the best academic school in this country for free and that is the way it should be. We all accept that these private schools should all be better and we have to get away from this "Oh, it's a private school, we don't like you" or "It's a grammar school". There is too much dogma and ideology in all this. Let us try to be practical.

  Q341  Valerie Davey: But also let us be fair. What you are actually saying is that what you want for the best youngsters is a social mix as well which gives them that edge.

  Sir Peter Lampl: Yes, I want the best youngsters, who have the ability and the aptitude, to have the opportunity to go to these academic schools.

  Q342  Valerie Davey: Where does that leave the rest?

  Sir Peter Lampl: I am not looking at going towards a totally selective system. We are talking about maybe 100 or 200 schools. The main focus has to be to improve state schools full stop. We are focusing on that. That does not preclude doing something to open up the top end. That is all I am saying. I agree with you. We happen to be funding four specialist schools a year. I know you have doubts about that programme. I happen to think it has some merits. Most of our effort is focused on the state sector and improving general provision for everybody, but we would like to open up the top end as well.

  Dr Stone: May I add that one example where this sort of scheme might best fit the situation you find in your constituency is in the outreach? In the Pate's scheme in particular the key to this is that you are not just dealing with a scheme which is interested in creating good recruitment for the school, you are actually dealing with a scheme where we have a full-time member of staff who goes into these primary schools for a morning a week every single week. That is the sort of interaction which, if you replicated it in the independent sector in Bristol you would have a dedicated member of staff who is providing outreach and relationship building as well. That is a key to the success of some of these things.

  Q343  Valerie Davey: We are beginning to think, from my meeting last week, that someone as a catalyst effect, a neighbourhood link to other links, might be useful.

  Dr Stone: Exactly and that develops a relationship whereby it is not the independent school saying "We're better than you and let us help you", it is much more developed.

The Committee suspended from 4.30 pm to 4.40 pm for a division in the House.

  Q344  Chairman: Basically the evidence we get from the PISA studies and places like that is that the system which seems to benefit most children across the piece is a non-selective system entirely. How do you react to that sort of evidence or do you think it does not make any difference to the system we already have in the UK?

  Sir Peter Lampl: As you know, in all previous surveys we actually did rather poorly. We did much better in PISA. We have a study under way to look at all that. I have lived in Germany, worked in Germany, owned businesses in Germany and I think their selective system works quite well. I know they did poorly in PISA, but they have done better in previous surveys. At the end of the day, according to PISA we do quite well at the 14 or 15 level. We have a big fallout at 16 and 17 and, if you look at the OECD data, when our kids get out into the big wide world, the workplace, we are way behind other countries in terms of the level of education and training. I think on a whole system basis that the jury is still out. It is a theoretical discussion: we are not going to go back to a selective system in this country, there is no way. We did it very badly, let us be honest. The people who were deselected had a pretty rough time and the method of selection was, and still is today, pretty bizarre: just to have a single test and then draw a line above a certain number and everyone above the number gets in and those below it do not. The way other countries do it is a better way to go. I am familiar with Germany where it is done by consensus, where people move between schools after they are selected. You could argue that maybe an unselective system, where you have some sort of setting in schools, works quite well. I am very happy to accept that. For the brighter kids, if you said to the average middle-class person who does not really have a political affiliation that they could send their child to a grammar school if they were of that ability—forget the system benefits—to an individual grammar school in an area, rather like my old school, where there is only one grammar school in Cheltenham, Cheltenham Grammar School, they would perceive that child would do better in that school than if he went to a comprehensive because he would with his peers and because there would be a certain ethos of achievement in the school, he would be getting better qualified teachers and people with degrees in the subject, all that sort of stuff. For the individual child, there is no question that a kid who is selected will probably do better in the selective system. Okay so there is a comprehensive school which has better value added, but people look at the hard data which are the results at the end of the day. The value added stuff is very soft and suspect at this point, It cannot take into account what is a more important factor even than the ability of the child, which is the level of parental support. If I took two schools, one where they were all Afro-Caribbean or white working class and they all tested the same as another school with, say, Asian children or children from middle-class backgrounds, they could all test the same but you and I know at the end of the day as a headmaster that the school with the Asian children is going to show huge value added. Has that been added because the school has added that value? Is it because they have supportive parents, parents making sure the kids do their homework, making sure the kids behave properly, all that stuff? For the kid who has the ability, that child is probably going to do better in a selective school. From a system point of view, I agree with you if you have a wholly selective system, which we had in this country, and I am not at all advocating going back to that. It worked much better in Germany where there are three types of school and kids move between schools after the selection takes place and selection takes place at a later age, so I think there are lots of benefits there. The PISA stuff by itself is not the final answer on selection.

  Q345  Helen Jones: We have heard from you about how you think children of high academic ability could be dealt with. Do you have any suggestions for how we might improve the performance of many of our children who are of average ability or even those who have a special need, using the system such as the one you have told us about? I think you will accept that it is relatively easy for a school to produce very good results when it has a highly academically selected intake. Have you done any work you would like to tell the Committee about on how we might improve the results for many of the other children in the system?

  Sir Peter Lampl: One of the things we are funding, although we have not done any independent research, is specialist schools. We are funding the Phoenix school as a specialist school. We are looking at low-performing inner city schools where we put one of our people on the governing body, we put some money into the deal and work with those schools. I know there is a lot of debate about how well they do. I happen to think that the data which is produced is optimistic on their performance and the Committee came to that conclusion. Some of it does stick. The fact that they have to put together a strategic plan means the school gets more of a focus and in those sorts of ways, yes, we are working. The other route of City Academies is somewhat more controversial, just because of the amounts of money involved. I am not sure that investing £20 million or £30 million in a school for 700 or 800 children is cost effective. I cannot say I have a better idea, but something the Committee should be thinking about is persuading someone like myself to put a bit of money in, though the whole thing is mainly government funded. I really have a question-mark over whether putting that much money in one school, new buildings, new staff, making it a quasi-independent school, is money well spent and whether it could not be spent more effectively in other ways.

  Q346  Helen Jones: Would you envisage, under the system you outlined to us as a possibility, independent schools taking in, for example, children of average ability from poorer families as opposed to children of high academic ability from poorer families or even children with special needs?

  Sir Peter Lampl: The selective independent schools on which we have been focusing will not want to do that and if you try to get them to do that they will say they are not going to participate in the scheme. It is very difficult. There are some independent schools, and you could talk to the Independent Schools' Council, which are less academic and which are prepared to do that kind of thing. You could expand the scheme to the less academic independent schools who are not taking a highly able intake.

  Dr Stone: That is right. We tend always to focus on the highest performing independent schools. There is a vast selection out there. I was recently giving evidence to the Bedford Charity which owns four independent schools in the Bedford area and is currently considering what it should do with those schools and is thinking about the mix of intake. They have a very different attitude to selection than, say, the Belvedere does or some of the top academic independent schools. They are looking at a broader intake and wondering how best to make their bursary schemes serve the community in the best way they can. They are looking at special needs and they are looking at the sort of students you are talking about. There are enough independent schools out there with different approaches and different constituencies that it would be possible to expand it in a variety of ways.

  Q347  Mr Turner: I take it that you believe that social selectivity is a bad thing.

  Sir Peter Lampl: Yes; in general I agree.

  Q348  Mr Turner: Is that because of its educational outcomes, or is there another reason?

  Sir Peter Lampl: There are two reasons. One is the educational outcomes. I also think that you learn as much from the children you were at school with and at university with as you do from the school. It is a real shame that we have a system in this country where children go into independent schools when they are three or four years' old and they stay in that system the whole time and all they meet are children with the same sort of backgrounds. I think that causes a lot of problems in our society and the fact that children from less privileged backgrounds are not mixing with those children has a lot of social outcomes which are undesirable. That is one of the reasons I am very interested in bringing independent schools into the education provision for everybody, so you do get more of a social mix, both in independent schools and state schools. I really have a question-mark over this. At the moment people with means can afford to send their children to independent schools and have nothing to do with the state schools. If that automatic right is affected, if the good independent schools are removed from that equation, I believe the knock-on effect will be that they will become much more interested in this. One of the problems we have in this country, which is totally wrong, is that people with means and good jobs and money are not really engaging with the state sector, because they are not part of it and they are not using it and they have an opt-out. If you were to close off that opt-out to a certain extent, like the Belvedere scheme, saying "Hey, you can't just come here because you can afford the fees" and a lot of those kids were to be displaced, there would be much more interest in the state sector, which would be a good thing.

  Q349  Mr Turner: So it is soft educational achievement measures rather than hard educational achievement measures. I think you said both, did you not?

  Sir Peter Lampl: I said both; yes.

  Q350  Mr Turner: But the hard educational achievement measures . . . ?

  Sir Peter Lampl: The hard educational achievement measures are if you let kids from less privileged backgrounds go to independent schools. There is no question that if you send the same child to an independent school—and this has been researched by LSE and the Institute of Education in London—as opposed to a state school there is higher value added in an independent school, just because of resources and all those sorts of reasons.

  Q351  Mr Turner: In your statement you say that there has been a fall in mobility between the 1960s and 1970s on the one hand and the 1970s and 1980s on the other. To what do you attribute that fall in mobility?

  Sir Peter Lampl: It is not me. I will tell you what the research attributes that to. Two major reasons. The first one is that actually the gap has widened enormously between the bottom and the top over that period. If you look at what people in the City were earning compared with teachers 30 years ago, not just teachers but working class people etcetera, that gap has grown enormously. This means that you have a bigger gap to jump than previously, in order to become more mobile. There is a bigger disparity in income. The second reason the researchers have come up with has been that although there has been increased educational opportunities which have been created over that period, they have gone disproportionately to well-off people and that has been because well-off people are getting their kids into independent schools, getting their kids into good state schools, getting their kids into university. You have seen the university participation rate for kids from the lowest social classes is about one in eight and at the top end it is eight out of ten. There is a huge disparity, much bigger than other countries, far bigger than the United States, where you are looking at 45% from the bottom income quartile getting into university. We are about 15% on that basis. What has happened is that although increased educational opportunity has been created in this country, clearly more people going to university, it has gone disproportionately to the haves rather than the have-nots.

  Q352  Mr Turner: You are saying that increased educational opportunity was created between these two periods, that is the 1960s to 1970s, compared with the 1970s to 1980s.

  Sir Peter Lampl: Yes; children born in those periods.

  Q353  Mr Turner: I am sorry, I thought you were talking about those who went to school. Children born.

  Sir Peter Lampl: They took a birth cohort from the 1950s and they took a birth cohort from 1970 and compared them 30 years later, the relationship between parents and children from the 1950 cohort compared with the 1970 cohort. They discovered that the earnings and social position of children born in 1970 was much more closely related to their parents' earnings and social position than kids born in the 1950s.

  Q354  Mr Turner: Most people would observe that the biggest single change which took place for those who were born in the 1950s compared with those who were born in the 1970s, was the abolition of grammar schools or the large-scale diminution of the London grammar schools.

  Sir Peter Lampl: That was one of the things which took place and the other thing which took place was big expansion in universities, which was another area of opportunity. I am not sure you can attribute that to the abolition of grammar schools.

  Q355  Mr Turner: Attribute what?

  Sir Peter Lampl: Attribute the decreased social mobility to the abolition of grammar schools. I am not sure that conclusion follows.

  Q356  Mr Turner: You have no evidence to the contrary but—

  Sir Peter Lampl: I do not have any evidence but what has happened is that we got rid of grammar schools in order to try to improve social mobility and what we put in its place was supposedly a comprehensive system, but it has not worked that way unfortunately.

  Q357  Mr Turner: It has reduced social mobility.

  Sir Peter Lampl: I am not sure. The school system has and the fact that many opportunities at universities have gone disproportionately to the middle classes. It is a combination of schools and universities which has done that.

  Q358  Mr Pollard: Does competition between different schools and different types of school raise standards?

  Sir Peter Lampl: You are talking to someone who has spent most of his life in business and has been competing in all sorts of businesses. In general I think that is true. We have a very strong independent sector in this country. If you look at the surveys they are probably, arguably, academically some of the best schools in the world. One of the reasons is that they compete with each another and they are very competitive and they compete with state schools. I do think competition raises standards; I believe it does.

  Q359  Mr Pollard: You implied at the beginning of your presentation that you were disappointed in the Labour Government. You said that six years in and we are where we are. I just wondered whether my reading of that was correct and if it was correct, what would you suggest should have been done?

  Sir Peter Lampl: The Labour Government has been good in some areas and not so good in others. In terms of what was done in primary schools, in terms of raising standards, it has been great and that has been a good thing; what is now going on in secondary schools with specialist schools in another area. The Labour Government is trying to improve the general level of education in this country, which is a great thing. What it has not done is address the issues of social justice in my opinion, both at the school end and at the university end. I think it has stayed away from that for political reasons. It has been very disappointing that there has not been more action in this area of selection into schools, secondary schools. It has left the independent sector alone basically. It has said it is not going to challenge the charitable status, it has done a few partnerships, it has sort of ignored it. I do not think that is the right answer. It has not really done anything about grammar schools. I think the answer to grammar schools is not to abolish them, but to open them up and make them available to a wider audience. A lot of them are effectively free private schools for middle-class kids and that is wrong. In terms of improving social mobility and social justice, it has been very disappointing. In terms of trying to raise education standards overall, it has done okay. It has not changed the balance of who benefits from those. You are focusing on a really crucial aspect, which is how kids get allocated to schools and how it all works. There are so many things. I keep coming back to school busing which is a huge social inclusion issue, which government has not addressed: school transport. In the States and Canada it is very different. It is the school's responsibility to get your kid from home and to school. The school day starts when the kid leaves home and actually finishes when the kid gets back from school. It is very interesting. Here it is your problem. I am sorry, but if you do not have a second car, theoretically you have the choice to go to a school of your choice but in practice you do not. The government say there is actually school choice, but we all know deep down that a lot of people do not have school choice. What I am concerned about is to get real school choice.

6   Note by witness: It is running at about £1.25 million this year rising to £2 million in 2005-06. Back

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