Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
MONDAY 12 DECEMBER 2005
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
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
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
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
Mr Butler: Sadly, I think there
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
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
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
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
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.