Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 412)



  Q400  Mr Chaytor: From your experience of parents' priorities, where does the existence of a range of different categories of schools lie? Is that the most important priority for parents, trying to find a place for their children?

  Professor Adams: I do not think so. The big issue always is secondary transfers, that is where that whole crunch comes. If we are talking about the specialist schools' agenda, I think there is an issue there where parents can choose what they think would be appropriate for their children. Remember, at the age of 10, they would like to join a sports' college or a language college, is very, very early to make those decisions anyway, it seems to me, but I can see that by and large what many people say, and what many commentators have written, is what parents really want is good local schools.

  Q401  Mr Chaytor: Do you think there is any conflict between the extension of the numbers of schools that are there or could be their own admission authorities and the principle of parental choice at the heart of the admission policy?

  Professor Adams: I do not know if there is a conflict. I think to have 23,000 admission authorities might not make the parental choice terribly easy. I think there is some conflict between that and the notion of improving information for parents and so forth. I do not think that is the clash.

  Q402  Helen Jones: The White Paper talks about school expansion and also about schools being able to acquire sixth forms. All of us know, of course, that the difficulty is what one school does has an effect on other schools in the area. In your view, who should be consulted on those expansion plans?

  Ms Windass: I would say every other school and the community. One school expanding has a potentially significant impact on all the schools in the area. Certainly, in terms of sixth form provision, it can also have an impact on further education colleges and such, so every school that might be affected by such a decision and also the local community and parents. It needs to be widespread. Obviously, there is a difficulty in how if you are an individual school you manage to consult. You cannot possibly send out questionnaires to that many people, but you could certainly make sure that your plans are well publicised in advance and discussed. It may be that the school may think a sixth form is a jolly good idea, but it may not be what the local community wants. You need to make sure everybody has had the opportunity to express a view.

  Q403  Helen Jones: I wonder if David Butler can comment on that, particularly in view of the fact that Ms Windass is right, of course, that to send questionnaires or whatever out to all parents would be a huge logistical exercise. What happens in such a scenario to parents in the more disadvantaged areas who may well have a view? Mr Butler, how do you think it would be best to feed their views into the process? How can you reach out to those parents?

  Mr Butler: As you probably expect, the questionnaire is not necessarily going to give you the result. If we look at the White Paper there is encouragement in here for the concept of schools to cluster and that is the opportunity for us to look at the issue of expansion, particularly in the area of the sixth form. If you look at the practicalities for many schools, what they like to be able to do is offer a range of subjects that pupils at that school may wish to follow. The school that I was a governor of for a period of time had exactly the same ambition but knew it could not meet that ambition in certain subjects because it simply did not have enough students to make it economic. What did it do? It talked to the school next door or the school over the road and in so doing at sixth form level in effect they swapped students. I think that is the way that you will get to sensible expansion because then you will have a reasonable cohort of pupils whom you can economically teach in a particular area.

  Q404  Helen Jones: Indeed, but that can be done now, can it not, under existing legislation?

  Mr Butler: Yes, it can.

  Q405  Helen Jones: I wonder if Professor Adams could comment on this business of presumption if a school wants to expand. The presumption in the White Paper is for expansion. In your view as a school governor how does that interact with the problem of dealing with falling rolls which many areas are going to face in the future?

  Professor Adams: Problematically, is the answer to your question. The obvious issue would be the impact on other non-expanding schools. While there is no set appropriate number of schools, and again my own school is currently engaged in a merger with a school that has severely falling rolls so there is a dynamic in the system anyway, clearly if one school was expanding when rolls were falling it could potentially have a dramatic and devastating impact on other schools. In other words, we could end up with less choice rather than more.

  Q406  Jeff Ennis: In response to an earlier question, Professor Adams, you mentioned the possible detrimental effect of the trust school situation on the Every Child Matters agenda. Could you expand on that slightly? What do you think are the possible detrimental aspects of that?

  Professor Adams: Perhaps I did not put it very clearly. I do not mean trust schools as such but the implication that a majority of the governing body be appointed not necessarily from local citizens, not representing local stakeholders, seems to me to be one of the issues which in a sense de-emphasises the importance of community. A lot of the Every Child Matters agenda, the placing of difficult-to-place students and so forth, embraces community issues and collaboration and co-operation between schools. I do not see how that is going to be enhanced by making schools increasingly independent.

  Q407  Jeff Ennis: I know one or two people have described the White Paper as being modelled on a London secondary-type situation. What is in the White Paper for rural schools in terms of parental choice and power? If there is not anything what should be included to act as a more inclusive model for the rural school settings?

  Mr Butler: I come back to the comment made by someone earlier: what parents want is that their local school is a good school and they want to have an admissions policy which is simple, fair and one that they can understand. That is very important in a rural setting because you have probably got one school here and the next school, the alternative choice, might be several miles away, and whilst there is a comment in the White Paper about providing the opportunity for transport to these people who could go to a different school, how many parents willingly want to see their child travel several miles, because it lengthens their school day?

  Q408  Jeff Ennis: Do you think we ought to have a statutory admissions code for schools?

  Mr Butler: A fair and transparent admissions policy. I am not saying that if you had a statutory one that would mean one rule fits all because there will be local requirements and you must have the ability to flex for that local issue.

  Q409  Chairman: Gillian, do you want to come in briefly on that?

  Ms Windas: Many of our members do not see anything very much for rural schools in the White Paper. David referred to the bussing of children but even within that it only applies between two and six miles and in a rural area many children of necessity are already travelling more than that to the only school in the area.

  Q410  Chairman: Do you want any change in the admissions policy?

  Ms Windas: Some of our members would like to see it mandatory. As you can imagine, with 350,000 governors out there, not everybody subscribes to a mandatory code but they would all like to see fair and transparent admissions criteria.

  Q411  Chairman: John Adams, what is your view on this? Could it not be done by just making the adjudicator a little bit more powerful?

  Professor Adams: Perhaps.

  Q412  Chairman: Do we need to go for having a mandatory code?

  Professor Adams: I think so. I have said so before and I still think so. There are no doubt other ways to bring about a similar result but I think, as we have already said, a fair and transparent code which is compulsory for all schools would be the proper way to do it.

  Chairman: Professor Adams, Gillian Windas, David Butler, can I say I feel very sorry that we have not got longer. We have learnt a lot. You have added tremendously to the value of our inquiry but, as you know, we are doing it in a hurry and we have had to squeeze an awful lot of oral evidence in. My apologies for dragging you here for such a short session but we have gained a great deal from it. Thank you.

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