Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)



  Q420  Chairman: Maybe, but you have very broad experience. Quite a lot of people think really that if you got your own way you would like to go back to selective systems. Is that unfair to you?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Totally wrong. The specialist schools movement, and I use the phrase advisedly, is about comprehensive education. If you talk to our head teachers they passionately support the concept of comprehensive education.

  Chairman: Everyone is nodding so I am going to hand over to Roberta.

  Q421  Dr Blackman-Woods: If you were in the earlier session you will have heard that we had a discussion about whether there was anything new about trust schools and whether they offered anything that foundation status currently offers. Can you give us your opinion as to whether you think trust schools add anything?

  Dr Sidwell: I am Chief Executive of the Haberdashers' Federation. We have two schools within our trust. I have always had a trust. What it gives schools is the Haberdashers' brand, it gives enormous experience from my trustees and my governors, and it enables us to leverage on their experience. It is a real benefit to our schools within the trust to have the Haberdashers behind us, if you like.

  Q422  Dr Blackman-Woods: If I were to rephrase that slightly, what is going to be lost if trust school status is taken out of the White Paper? Is there not going to be an ability for schools to brand? Is that what you would say?

  Dr Sidwell: Certainly if we lost the Haberdashers' brand I think that would be very sad for the pupils and parents who in their droves are applying to my two schools now, which are 12 to one oversubscribed and five to one oversubscribed at a school that was not a Haberdashers' school three months ago and is now and had not been chosen by any child for years. I think people recognise a good brand. If we can deliver that and tap into the massive experience of sponsors like the Haberdashers that is very beneficial to every child.

  Q423  Dr Blackman-Woods: I am going to hold that and come back to it in a moment or two because I was very interested to hear you say, Sir Cyril, that you thought the White Paper was not about competition. It seems to me that if you bring in a system where you allow some schools to expand others will not as a consequence of that or otherwise you are bringing competition or contestability into the system. I was really wondering whether you think there is any evidence that having contestability will deliver either for the most advantaged or the disadvantaged. Where is the evidence base for that?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: If you look at some of the collaborations we have in place, there are three schools in Trowbridge which have said that they prefer to have their accountability on a group basis. I think the law will require that the individual school's accountability would have to be shown as well, but this is something that has developed since 1997 when the then Secretary of State brought in the community role of specialist schools and a third of the extra spending has to be spent helping feeder primaries and at least one secondary partner. That sharing ethos sounds like rhetoric but it is not. I think Liz Reid could give you examples of high performing schools that have linked with other performing schools to the benefit of both.

  Ms Reid: We are running a programme at the moment called Raising Achievement, Transforming Learning, in which specialist schools work with each other to raise standards. That is a collaborative programme. It is based entirely on trust, co-operation and the willingness of schools to participate, and that is having good results. It does seem to me that a good deal of what interests you is already happening on a very small scale and the evidence of those small-scale comings together so far is promising.

  Q424  Dr Blackman-Woods: But we already have the possibility of communities of schools; we already have schools being able to federate; we already have schools being able to form alliances with business. My question is, what is it that is being delivered specifically by the White Paper that we have not already got at the moment, and what is the evidence that if we go down the trust school status route it will deliver any better results for either the most advantaged and those who are doing very well or the most disadvantaged? I am not sure that you have really answered either of those questions.

  Dr Kershaw: Perhaps I can respond to that by giving an example. My school is a high-performing specialist school. We have other nearby schools with which we work as a collaborative. We are working as closely as possible to plan a common timetable in a couple of years' time and to employ a development officer jointly, but to take those next steps we need a stronger framework that will help us to move forward and the trust framework would be ideal for us. If we could have some sort of trust it would appoint governing bodies for our collaborating schools and I think it would form a body that would have considerable strength to move forward, that would take over lots of functions that we now do separately and do them together and plan our future jointly. There would be an attitudinal change amongst us. I must say my colleagues over a range of schools, two in very challenging areas, one special school, were all very keen on taking those next steps. It is quite difficult to do that now. It depends upon us sitting round and talking as head teachers whereas we would rather like a little more structure.

  Q425  Dr Blackman-Woods: Can I come back to the evidence once more? I am not disputing what you are saying but what I am saying is, would it not be reasonable to expect that if we are going to bring in new structures, if we are going to go down a route of encouraging schools to be trusts, to work together more and collaborate, you would see an evidence base that says, "We are doing this because here are the results from experiments that are already happening and we think it is going to deliver da-da-da in terms of higher standards"? What I am saying is: convince us that this is not a wing and a prayer which is what it is looking like at the moment.

  Dr Sidwell: I have a quick example: our trust and the two schools we direct within that. With one school that was failing, that was in real difficulty, we have had some very quick wins because we have been able to be agile and responsive. When you are in charge of something like that, where you would be with a trust, you are able to deliver. We have raised standards already. We had all the children very quickly in uniform. No-one said we could not do that. I think if we had had a looser federation we would not have been able to do that.

  Q426  Chairman: You have done that with the present legislative framework?

  Dr Sidwell: No, by having a trust.

  Q427  Chairman: Is it a proper trust or is it a foundation?

  Dr Sidwell: No; it is a proper trust.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: It is an academy trust.

  Dr Sidwell: It is a trust and so both schools report into the one governing body and the one trust, and I direct that. We have been able to be very quick to change things for the children there. It did not happen before, even though we were working with them. I think it is a mechanism for a quick step-change and we have proved that in these three months with the number of things that we have done. We have changed the catering, re-modelled the school and so on.

  Q428  Dr Blackman-Woods: To get back to the original point, if you are doing that under academy status that is not quite the same as what is being proposed for all schools within the White Paper. I still think that there is an issue there that you have not quite addressed of a lot more schools going down the route of trust status as it is outlined in the White Paper.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: It is only voluntary. Nobody is telling you to do it.

  Q429  Dr Blackman-Woods: Of course, initially it might be voluntary, but if that is what is going to be—

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Oh no, I do not think there is any intention that this should be compulsory.

  Q430  Dr Blackman-Woods: It still begs the question of what is going to happen to community schools which are not trust schools, and if trust schools are expanding and we are not having new community schools and they may not be allowed to expand what is going to happen to the children in those schools? You still need to answer my question about what is going to happen to those who are most disadvantaged and who are currently not doing well in the system.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: There are 200 schools that are in special measures or serious weakness. It is my strong belief that some of those have been in special measures or serious weakness for years. They should be closed and become academies. I am quite blunt about that. The academy programme has been very clearly focused. It is about giving 150,000 children who are not getting a decent standard of education the chance of a good school. If you are a reasonably performing community school and you do not want to become a trust school there is going to be no requirement for you to do so. Two-thirds of our specialist schools are community schools but they are collaborating anyway and some of those people—Sir Dexter Hutt, for example, leads the Ninestiles Federation in Birmingham. That is a contractual arrangement with two former under-performing schools. I believe those three schools would prefer, instead of relying upon a contract (the single governing body), to have a collaborative trust arrangement where everybody pools to make two-plus-two equal 10 rather than four.

  Q431  Dr Blackman-Woods: Maybe you have convinced my colleagues. You have not convinced me that the trust school status will not inevitably leave some schools behind and that there will have to be a mechanism for picking up those schools to either federate or do something else. I am not sure that we know that trust schools in themselves will necessarily deal with the problems of lack of achievement.

  Ms Reid: If I could comment on this, we have been through a period, and indeed we are still in one, in which schools have not performed equally in relation to the value they add to their young people. The specialist schools programme has had some success in addressing that issue and trying to move us to a position where we can genuinely say that every school is a good school or an improving school. The question of schools being left behind is one that we are in the process of addressing. We are not adding to that risk. It is something that we are addressing and we are bringing schools forward. The trust school process may have a part to play in that and that is what some schools already think.

  Q432  Helen Jones: Dr Sidwell, you referred earlier to turning round failing schools in your federation, but where is the evidence that that can only be done with your kind of set-up because community schools have equally done that, have they not?

  Dr Sidwell: They have. As Liz Reid has just said, this may be only one way but it has to be said that at this particular school all sorts of efforts were made over the years to try and turn this school round—and it has been a remarkable change in a very short time—and it has only been possible by buddying it up in our federation against a very successful school and us using all the policies available so that we are not wasting time with bureaucracy. It did not matter whether we were an academy or not; it is the fact that we are a trust so that with two schools one can leverage off the other, as I have said, and get the pride and the self-esteem of a successful school. I think there is strong evidence that that school has been turned round very quickly.

  Q433  Helen Jones: Indeed, but, if I may interrupt you, that is not the point, is it? No-one disputes that turnaround. What we are asking you is to give us some evidence that that is a better way of turning all schools round than a community school. I can point to a community school in my constituency that was turned round by the local authority very successfully and with a very good head. Why do we have to go down the road that you are suggesting of trust schools in order to turn round failing schools?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We do have voluntary-aided schools and we have foundation schools.

  Q434  Helen Jones: Excuse me, Sir Cyril, but I was addressing that question elsewhere.

  Dr Sidwell: There are some schools which you can turn round in one way and some in another. This was a particular problem in that this particular school was particularly resistant and I think this particular method of having it in a trust with another successful school has proved right. It is a way of turning round schools.

  Q435  Helen Jones: Let us accept that this is a way then. Is the White Paper right in your view—and perhaps another member of the panel would like to answer—to make it clear that there will be no new community schools?

  Dr Kershaw: If I could go back a little, there are still many failing schools in many authorities and this may be another way forward. To say that local authorities are always successful, of course, is not always the case.

  Q436  Helen Jones: Not all academies are successful, are they?

  Dr Kershaw: Indeed. The difference between foundation and community is small in many ways but very significant in terms of attitude. Those foundation schools need not form trust schools. We are talking about a little step further down that road of delegating responsibility and authority to the level that it can best operate at and I think it can best operate at head teacher level, by helping head teachers.

  Q437  Helen Jones: I understand that, but that was not my question. My question was, is it right to have a White Paper to say that there will be no new community schools in the future?

  Dr Kershaw: I would defend that statement. I think if new schools were foundation schools that would be fine. Whether they become trust schools is a different issue.

  Q438  Helen Jones: So whether the people in a particular area want to go down that road or not you are saying they should not have the option of having community schools in future? Is that what you are telling the Committee?

  Dr Kershaw: I do not think I am saying that. I am saying it seems fine with me. Whether there are arguments that I have missed that suggest that community schools would be better I leave to you.

  Q439  Helen Jones: Can anyone give the Committee any evidence that trust schools per se will be better at improving the results of that lower quartile of pupils that have always been difficult to reach and they will be better at engaging parents who are perhaps disengaged from the system? Where is the evidence that that is the case as opposed to evidence that a good head and good teachers, whatever system they are operating in, will be able to do that?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We should involve the sponsor group.

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