Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



  Q360  Chairman: What will?

  Ms Windass: Good teaching. A good head teacher. The way that the school engages with its parents and pupils. A good governing body. All those things are what makes a good school and whether that is an academy, a voluntary-aided school, a community school, if you have not got those in place then you will not have an effective school.

  Q361  Chairman: John?

  Professor Adams: In short, we do not see the issue as a structural problem. There is a problem but it is less of a problem in a sense than historically it has been. There have been some dramatic improvements but it is not a structural issue, it is an issue, like the personalisation agenda, that is absolutely central. The White Paper talks about things like outreach workers, there is excellent practice around the country and what some schools call key family workers and so forth, really good practice around there. Making contact with students who are difficult to contact, trying to engage parents who are disengaged and not interested and probably not parents plural anyway, maybe not singular in a sense of looked after children. There is some good practice out there but none of that, it seems to me, has anything to do with whether my school, which happens to be a community school, is a foundation school or not.

  Q362  Chairman: Could you not be stopped providing the education that you really want to provide by vested interests: the trade unions, the local government, are they not the bête noire of governors and parents?

  Professor Adams: I would say that has not been my experience. Certainly in the case of local authorities, I have spoken to thousands of governors in my eight years and there is not a cacophony of complaint about their local authority. Of course, there is in various individual circumstances but by and large governors welcome the support they get from their local authorities. I do not think they are a bête noire at all, no.

  Mr Butler: I think, also, Chairman, that would be the case if we did not have any examples of extremely good practice amongst the schools that we have got in the country. There are some excellent leadership teams in some schools and they are doing all of this engagement with their parents, they are reaching out to people, they are dealing with difficult families, and they are achieving tremendous results for the children at their school. If those examples were not in place then, yes, there would be concern but the examples are there.

  Q363  Chairman: What is stopping all the schools being as good as that?

  Mr Butler: Perhaps the process of promulgating that good practice.

  Professor Adams: Also schools work in very different social and economic environments, do they not?

  Chairman: We will be coming back to that. Thank you for those answers.

  Q364  Mr Wilson: I will move straight on to parent power because the Schools White Paper promises to give power back to parents. Do you think the White Paper will give parents more power, will engage more parents in local schools?

  Mr Butler: I would like to correct one issue which I think we are trying to merge, and I am sorry for picking this up in the question that you posed, but in the same sentence you have mixed parent power with parent engagement. I should like us to try and separate those two issues. We welcome and we would always encourage, and we do encourage, the concept of parental engagement but that is quite different from what is being proposed in some parts of the White Paper where we are talking about an authority process over how education happens in a particular community. We would continue to take every step possible to encourage that engagement process but the issue of the power over the managerial structure of the school, I am not so sure that will develop anything which will be particularly useful. The reason for that is we pay and employ very sound professionals who in this day and age are well trained to deliver the leadership and education in their schools. I am not sure what this concept of parent power is going to add to that process. You have the difficulty of how many parents are able or willing to embark upon that process.

  Q365  Mr Wilson: In terms of engagement, is there anything in the White Paper that leads you to think there will be more engagement from parents rather than less?

  Mr Butler: There is some rhetoric in here but I wish there were some practical steps in place as to how that will take place. I come back to this issue of trying to promote good practice which exists in some places. If we could have some funding which would enable the good heads to be able to do this and practise things in a variety of different locations then I think we could have more engagement, but I do not see that in here.

  Q366  Mr Wilson: I think we all agree that parent engagement does help schools enormously, but does parent power help schools to improve educational standards? Giving parents more power as you see in the White Paper, will that help at all?

  Mr Butler: I do not think so. We find the term "parent power" as being anti a partnership approach and very much as an organisation we welcome and encourage that partnership approach, a partnership where you can have parents in partnership with governors and the school leadership team to deliver a result. To try and suggest to a very good head, "Actually we are now going to introduce this parent power because the parents know more about the school and they will take it over from you", I do not think is constructive.

  Q367  Mr Wilson: Do you think there is a danger that more middle class parents will get involved and those schools will improve and perhaps some of the other schools in more difficult areas where parents do not engage will become worse off or second-class citizens as a result of this White Paper?

  Mr Butler: There is an issue in the White Paper where it is genuinely trying to give opportunity where there is areas of disadvantage, that is to be welcomed. I think the concept that is being introduced and suggested here of parent power, there will be a limited number of people who can come forward and address that opportunity. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say it will probably be the privileged middle classes who feel able, confident, prepared and who can, perhaps, find the time to do it. Where we started potentially with an issue of a divided system, are we going to increase that divide because you will give opportunity to those people who are already very well able to take it and who may just take more.

  Q368  Mr Wilson: Do you think we are? Do you think there is going to be a greater divide at the end of this?

  Mr Butler: Sadly, I think there could be.

  Q369  Mr Wilson: Ms Windass, you talked about trusts and the fact that you did not think there was going to be much change at the end of the day, how much additional power do you think parents are going to get, and what do you think those areas are, as a result of this White Paper?

  Ms Windass: If you look at the White Paper itself, there is not very much additional power given to parents. It talks about governors having to engage with parents, which good effective governing bodies have already been doing. They will have the right to demand a new school, but they will not have the right to demand a new school, they can go to the local authority and say, "We do not like the provision in this area and we would like to explore the possibility . . ." but, at the end of the day, it will be the local authority, after a bit of research, which decides whether they can have a new school if that is the best thing forward. They can complain to Ofsted about whether a school was satisfactory or not but, again, they can only go to Ofsted at the end of a chain of exhausting all the local powers that are there and local complaints procedures. If they have got through all of that and then got to Ofsted, there is something seriously wrong. I do not think it is giving them very new powers. They will already be on the governing bodies of schools, it does not provide very much. In that sense, it could lead parents to believe that they have been given powers and rights that it does not give them, rather like the old, "You have a choice of school when you have the ability to express a preference".

  Q370  Mr Wilson: Do you think your views tally in the light of David Butler's answer earlier on? He is almost saying there is not much more in the way of parent power coming and you are saying that you are worried about this opening up of second-class schools because parents are going to be more involved. There seems to be a difference of emphasis, at the very least, between the two of you.

  Ms Windass: If you look in terms of parents' councils potentially, and where David is coming from, the fact that the parents who are least likely to be engaged in schools at the minute parents' councils probably are not the way to engage those parents. Many of those parents have negative experiences of schools themselves, so very much it will be the middle class potentially parents who would want to be on the parents' councils and, therefore, their views going forward rather than perhaps those parents coming from the less advantaged areas. I do not think we are coming from a different place from David, but in terms of the parent power that is discussed in the White Paper, it doesn't give many new powers to parents.

  Q371  Mr Wilson: Do you think parents now are sufficiently well informed about what is going on in schools? Do you think the White Paper is going to make any difference to improving that situation?

  Ms Windass: I think there is always room for improvement. Certainly, there is some good practice out there in which many schools engage very heavily with their parent bodies and manage to consult them, get them involved and inform them of what is going on in the school. There is also, as with anything, some less good practice, which can obviously benefit from the good practice being put forward. I am not sure the White Paper in itself will make any difference. Clearly, the new Ofsted regime which came in in September, one of the key things that Ofsted will be looking for in school self-evaluation forms is how schools consult and engage with their parent body. That is going to be there and, therefore, that is a very big flag on the mast for any school that was not doing this effectively before, that they would have to do it effectively in the future. The fact that for a governing body the White Paper says there will now be a statutory duty to have regard to the views of parents simply carries on from what Ofsted said. In that sense, I do not think the White Paper will make a difference, but what was already coming along will make a difference because all the schools will have to do it and make a real effort to do it effectively.

  Q372  Mr Wilson: My concern about the answers we have been getting so far this afternoon is that there seems to be a lot of complacency around in terms of you think the way to solve the problems which exist seem to be to do with the sharing of best practice. Am I right in thinking that is your answer to the problems, taking the best schools are already doing it and spreading it more widely rather than the things in the White Paper?

  Mr Butler: One of the things we could perhaps add would be if we could seek provision for training within initial teacher training for parental engagement and if we could see continuing professional development for that parental engagement, then you would begin to see things moving forward. That, in itself, would facilitate the opportunity to spread the good practice which exists.

  Q373  Mr Wilson: In a sense, for you it is down to good practice being spread more widely?

  Mr Butler: It goes back to what I said earlier, there are some stunning examples where this works and works really well.

  Q374  Mr Wilson: That has been the case for 30 or 40 years and the good practice has not spread particularly widely.

  Mr Butler: I suppose what I am saying is I do not see anything in the White Paper which is going to trap those years of experience and shoot it through the whole of the system.

  Q375  Mr Wilson: Do you think there is an appetite amongst parents for setting up new schools?

  Professor Adams: There must be one or two, I have not met them. The grounds for setting up a new school in the White Paper are four-fold. There is a question of standards, an issue about faith schools, an issue about inequality and also, parents can aspire to set up a new school if they are unhappy about insufficient innovative teaching methods locally. I have never met a parent who says, "There are insufficiently innovative methods in my locality".

  Chairman: You have not met the lobby for synthetic phonics.

  Q376  Jeff Ennis: We have already established that in your opinion, and it seems in all witnesses' opinions we have had today, there is very little difference between the trust school model and the foundation school model. Given that is possibly your view, what do you think the motivation is behind the Secretary of State pushing these trust schools so vociferously? Do you think she is disappointed that not enough schools have already applied for foundation school status and we want to cut back on these community schools?

  Professor Adams: Chairman, it is one thing to give evidence to this Committee and quite another thing to try to aspire to know what is in the Secretary of State's mind.

  Q377  Jeff Ennis: Professor Adams, why come up with a concept of rebranding the foundation school as a trust school when we have already got that model within the machine? What is the motivation behind it as far as you are concerned, let us forget about the Secretary of State?

  Professor Adams: I still do not know. I do not know anybody who has said, "What we desperately need are trust schools in this country". We desperately need a number of things, which a colleague has identified, but I do not know anybody who has felt this was the vehicle to overcome our alleged complacency. I simply cannot answer your question.

  Mr Butler: Like John, I would not wish to second-guess the mind of the Secretary of State.

  Jeff Ennis: In your opinion then, David, why rebrand a trust school?

  Q378  Chairman: Are you sure they are the same?

  Mr Butler: I perceive that a trust is able potentially to have a little bit more freedom about the way it sets itself up in the first place, but I think we have to understand that if you look closely at how a foundation school can work, you could probably get the same out of a foundation school model, therefore, that goes back to John's original comment.

  Q379  Jeff Ennis: I alluded earlier on to the fact that because community schools are the only type of school that cannot expand under the Schools White Paper proposal, to some extent certain bodies have perceived that to be discriminatory against the community school model. Going back to some of the early responses about having to spread best practice, we have got some community schools that have been really good beacons of good practice. Is the Schools White Paper discriminating against community schools?

  Professor Adams: The implication is that it is in this regard, what is held out as a plum for trust schools is that they can diverge from the National Curriculum and introduce alternative curricula. If that is a desirable theme for children in this country in the view of their educators, why should it only be some schools that can do that and not others? I do not understand it.

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