Examination of Witnesses (Questions 960
MONDAY 8 DECEMBER 2003
MILIBAND MP AND
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 arrangementsthat
is over-subscription criteriago 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
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
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
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 saida little bit
like you were saying earlierthat 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
blessingalthough sometimes in a very large disguiseto
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 pupilsthe appeal pupils or the pupils that come
during the yearget 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
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
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 selectionthat is
selection by aptitudehas been decided by government in
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
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
Mr Miliband: What I would say
is that it is Parliament trying to strike a balance. I have not
been back to debateseither in Committee or on the floor
of the Houseas 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