Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 960 - 979)



  Q960  Chairman: The information that I have points out that no appeals on individual children go to the Adjudicator at any school. Appeals on admission arrangements—that is over-subscription criteria—go to the Adjudicator except in the case of CTCs and Academies.

  Mr Miliband: What I said was totally consistent with   that. I said that the individual parents get independent appeal to an appeal panel, not the Adjudicator, just like in other maintained schools. However, when there is a generic issue raised about the admissions policy and the way it is being operated that is not a matter for an individual parent, that would be a matter for another admissions authority to take up.

  Q961  Mr Pollard: Would you agree that the appeal system described as complex, expensive and distressing by one witness in this inquiry in Slough is in need of review? Yes or no?

  Mr Miliband: The fact that one witness says that does not mean that we should have a review. So I suppose that means the answer is no. If you mean are we setting up a capital "R" review of the appeals process, no. If the witness from Slough would like to provide details of the way in which it was distressing and unhelpful, then we will look at it seriously.

  Q962  Mr Pollard: In Slough we had the first indication of any cost put on appeals. We asked the National Audit Office when they were here but they did not have a clue and your ministerial colleagues did not seem to have much idea either. Slough knew exactly what the cost is: one officer, full-time and some other associated costs as well. Is that something you need to get a grip on?

  Mr Miliband: You have had some interesting discussions as to whether there is any correlation between parental satisfaction and the number of appeals, which I think is quite an interesting area. I have seen that the number of appeals has gone up. We need to see whether that is part of a long term trend or whether it is a blip. Obviously if significant numbers of people are worried about it or if it is taking up disproportionate costs, then we have to be concerned. I would like to see if it is a trend and I would like to see whether there are ways in which other local authorities are managing the process to keep down the cost.

  Q963  Mr Pollard: When a school is full, should that be the over-riding criteria? When a school is full there should be no appeals, except for mal-administration.

  Mr Miliband: I think you are always going to have to have an appeal system, otherwise you are going to end up in a situation which is contrary to natural justice.

  Q964  Mr Pollard: Would that not become dangerous, especially if we are thinking about machinery being used in schools, for example?

  Mr Miliband: No school, however many pupils it does or it does not admit, should be putting its pupils into danger.

  Q965  Mr Pollard: The appeals panel are not necessarily going to know that that situation exists.

  Mr Miliband: The school is able to make representations about why it cannot take any more pupils if that is a particular issue. Of course, no-one knows which subjects pupils might take so it is quite a long way down the road by the time you get into that, but there is obviously room for those sorts of representations to be made.

  Q966  Jonathan Shaw: Robert Douglas, who is responsible for Education Leeds (the company now running education in Leeds) told the Committee that they actively advised parents about the appeals process and therefore they had a high number of parents appealing. I asked if those appeals were upheld very often and the answer was that they were not upheld very often. He conceded that the same amount of information was not provided in terms of how many parents succeed. I wonder if there should be a role here for some sort of inspection. Where an authority is giving all this information, there is a huge number of appeals with very few getting placed, is that a satisfactory process? I cannot believe it can be, or are we just stuck with it?

  Mr Twigg: I think I concur with David that there needs to be an appeal right, but looking at the statistics for different authorities there are clearly very different things happening in different authorities and I think part of that is to do with the availability of information for parents and how that is couched. I think it is also to do with the rules that particular authorities adopt. I have the figures for London and Enfield it has a massively higher number of appeals than any other London borough. That is because they allow multiple appeals through the year. An appeal may fail and then another appeal is made, which is the approach that the local authority adopted there. I do think there is a case to look at the consistency between the different authorities, but perhaps more importantly this refers to what the witness from Leeds said on the availability of information to parents and how that is couched. We would welcome the thoughts of the Committee when you report on that. I would certainly welcome it with respect to London and the   impact that the Pan-London coordinated admissions may or may not have on appeals, but also I think it would have a broader benefit nationally.

  Q967  Paul Holmes: I want to go into a little more detail about the appeals panel and school capacity. Hilda Clarke, who is Headteacher of Langley Grammar School in Slough, gave evidence to the Committee that on this year's admissions round for coming in, in 2003, the appeals panel for her school resulted in 30 more pupils being allocated to the school, more than the school's indicated admission number. A couple of weeks ago I gave an example to the DfES officials who were giving evidence about a school in my constituency, Brookfield School (which I know well because it was the first one I ever worked at). The governors had written to me with exactly the same issue as the school in Slough. They are a popular school, massively over-subscribed and every year the appeals panel puts in extra pupils into the school over and above the planned admissions limits. Now, of course, they are over and above the assessed capacity limit. What is the point in having planned admission limits and now the assessed capacity limits (that say that this is the maximum capacity this school can physically take) if year after year after year the appeals panels ignore that because they do not have to take notice of it and they just keep putting extra pupils in all the time?

  Mr Miliband: The point of it is to try to provide for the right checks and balances in the system so the appeals panels operate in a sensible way. How many did they admit?

  Q968  Paul Holmes: She said that this year they were given 30 extra pupils over the school's admission numbers by the appeals panel.

  Mr Miliband: How many form entry is the school?

  Q969  Paul Holmes: Five form entry.

  Mr Miliband: So they have 30 pupils on top of 150. The simple answer to your question what is the point in having the various bits of data and guidance that we put out is that it is there to create the right framework for appeals panels to make the right decisions in individual cases.

  Q970  Paul Holmes: The DfES officials when they were answering this question said—a little bit like you were saying earlier—that it is all down to the local education authorities; they are obviously not sending people on to the appeals hearings and putting the school's case well enough. I was back in Brookfield in my constituency 10 days ago talking to an A Level class and I had a meeting with the head and told him this. He said that he or his deputy go to all the appeal meetings and they put their own case. They have had some success, but still year after year they get the appeals panel saying they have to take extra children even though they are physically bursting at the seams of a school that was built in the 1960s with very narrow corridors and stairways and all the rest of it. The school is just bursting at the seams.

  Mr Miliband: I do not know the circumstances of the other schools in the area. I do not know if the other schools are full. I do not know the reasoning behind the appeal panels' judgments in those cases. Obviously it is a blessing—although sometimes in a very large disguise—to be a popular school. I do not know the individual case so it is quite hard to comment on the rights or wrongs.

  Q971  Paul Holmes: The general point, whether it is Slough or Chesterfield, is that you do have schools that, for whatever reasons, are popular, and the appeals panels do not have to take notice of the physical capacity of a school. They can keep sending pupils there beyond the capacity of the school to take them.

  Mr Miliband: They can, although I have not had generally argued to me that they are biased too far in favour of just admitting too many pupils to popular schools. If anything, the case has been made the other way sometimes: all the extra pupils—the appeal pupils or the pupils that come during the year—get quote, unquote, dumped in the less popular schools. There are obviously different practices in different parts of the country. I will look to see if there is a trend that the appeals panels are putting too many people through. Inevitably it is a local decision and I think that is right. It is far better for them to be doing it locally than for me to be trying to decide it.

  Q972  Paul Holmes: I will ask the school to send you all the details.

  Mr Miliband: That would be a good idea. If they send me the details I will make sure someone looks at them.

  Q973  Mr Chaytor: Minister, you have argued very strongly against the nationalisation of decision making over school admission policies and criteria, so why do we not have local parental ballots for aptitude selection?

  Mr Miliband: In the case of the up to 10% of intake that specialist schools can select, I think that the decision of a specialist school to take up to 10% of pupils has far less systemic impact than the decision to have selection across a whole area or to have selection in the case of an individual grammar school.

  Q974  Mr Chaytor: Does it not follow, therefore, that if selection by ability across a whole area or part of an area has a more systemic influence, it is more logical that that should be subject to primary legislation and not devolved to local decision making?

  Mr Miliband: I think in both cases you have degrees of local flexibility. In the case of the up to 10% aptitude selection that less than 6% of specialist schools use, you have the flexibility in the hands of the school governing body. In the case of grammar schools or grammar school systems, you have local flexibility in the hands of local parents. Both of them are forms of local flexibility.

  Q975  Mr Chaytor: You would accept surely that the more peripheral form of selection—that is selection by aptitude—has been decided by government in primary legislation.

  Mr Miliband: No, I would not accept that at all because the local selection by aptitude is done by the individual school. I do not require any specialist school to have 10% of places reserved for pupils with a particular aptitude. In fact, in four of the nine specialisms we do not allow it, but in those where it is allowed it is entirely up to the school whether or not they use the up to 10%.

  Q976  Mr Chaytor: In terms of the parental ballots we do have, the ballots of selection by ability, in about 50% of the selective areas feeder school ballots will be necessary and in those feeder school ballots a significant proportion of parents whose children are educated privately at primary school level would be entitled to vote. Do you think it is fair and reasonable that the future shape of the state secondary education system should be determined by parents of primary aged children in private schools? In many cases they would have a veto over the future arrangements.

  Mr Miliband: Everyone has one vote so I do not think anyone has a veto. The primary school pupil in a private school is a potential state school secondary school pupil. When Parliament discussed this in 1997-98 it came to a view as to how the balance should be struck between a whole range of different interests across a whole range of quite detailed issues in relation to grammar schools. Clearly in this case it was striking a balance of refusing to assume that for a pupil who was in a private primary school, it is impossible to envisage circumstances in which they would be a state school secondary pupil.

  Q977  Mr Chaytor: But by using the threshold of five children who had previously gone to the grammar school, you are actually excluding a considerable number of parents already in the state primary system. Would you accept there is some inconsistency?

  Mr Miliband: What I would say is that it is Parliament trying to strike a balance. I have not been back to debates—either in Committee or on the floor of the House—as to why five was chosen, but I think Parliament was seeking to strike a balance and that is what it did with the figure of five.

  Q978  Mr Chaytor: If you are arguing that parents of primary aged children in private schools should have the votes, does it not equally follow that parents—

  Mr Miliband: They are subject to the same five person hurdle. Let me understand what you are saying. A large number of pupils from private schools are ending up at the grammar schools.

  Q979  Mr Chaytor: That is largely inevitable, I would think, but my point is, can you defend the exclusion of parents of children in state primary schools whose schools happen not to have sent five pupils to the grammar school in the previous year?

  Mr Miliband: I think it is dependent on the grounds of balance. That is the way it was originally argued over.

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