Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
MONDAY 12 DECEMBER 2005
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
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
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
Sir Cyril Taylor: It is an academy
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
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
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 peopleSir 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
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 roundand
it has been a remarkable change in a very short timeand
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
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 viewand
perhaps another member of the panel would like to answerto
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
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.