Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440
MONDAY 12 DECEMBER 2005
Q440 Chairman: I am aware of that.
I will come to Sue Fowler in a moment.
Sir Cyril Taylor: If I could answer
that directly, one of the reasons why specialist schools are performing
a quarter better than non-specialist schools with the same intake
of ability as measured by Key Stage 2 results is the role of the
sponsors. We do not want to exaggerate their role but we have
very distinguished sponsorsGKN, Rolls-Royce, HSBC. HSBC
has backed 100 specialist schools. On the notice boards of every
one of those schools it says, "An HSBC Centre of Excellence".
That is not free advertising for HSBC; they do not need that.
It is the pride of association and this is where I think the input
of a sponsor could potentially be really crucial, not necessarily
automatically, but in a trust set-up you are in effect involving
the sponsor in a much more direct way. Sponsors are not doing
this to make money. They are not allowed to do that. You cannot
be a sponsor if you are selling services to the school. They are
doing it because of their concern about the community and because
they want to raise the standards of the country's skills, our
workforce. I think having a mechanism that involves that energy
and focus on results could be extremely valuable within a group
of schools working in a trust set-up.
Q441 Helen Jones: That was a very
interesting piece of rhetoric, Sir Cyril, but I think the Committee
would prefer some facts and figures. Do any of our witnesses have
any evidence to show that a trust school will automatically be
better at reaching those more difficult to reach pupils than a
community school would be?
Dr Kershaw: I cannot give you
that evidence but I can give a perspective on that. I operate
with a group of local schools as a collaborative largely based
on the 14-19 White Paper needs and demands. No one school can
provide the learner entitlement that we should provide for post-14
and post-16. No one school can provide 26 A-levels, 14 sector
skills courses, vocational courses and competency based courses.
We are working together to do that and our major area of collaboration
is around those vocational areasmodern apprenticeships,
competency based coursesthat are absolutely designed to
engage and inspire those children that you are talking about.
A trust would take that collaborative which really is working
for that cohort of students that step further. It is not evidence
but it is a perspective.
Q442 Mrs Dorries: I would like to
go back to Dr Sidwell. You talked about Haberdashers' Aske's as
being a brand. I think it is a brand in pretty much the same way
that Harrods is a brand and I am sure you have droves of parents
wanting to come to your school because the children who attend
a school like Haberdasher's Aske's have an extra punch, as it
were. It is like an extra A-level or an extra GCSE. It is by association,
as it were, even without good exam results. This question is to
Sir Cyril. Given that we have the trust schools who may wish to
go down this branding road, are we not going back about 35 years?
Are we not going to end up in a situation which is like the grammar
and secondary modern situation if we have trusts like Haberdasher's
Aske's and community schools which are left to fend for themselves?
Are we not going back to a two-tier system with two ends of the
Sir Cyril Taylor: Primary legislation
that exists in law forbids new selective schools to be formed.
It is very important to put that on the record because an awful
lot of people do not understand that. The trust initially is not
about bringing back selection by the back door. It is simply not
Q443 Mrs Dorries: Sir Cyril, how
do you know that, because we do not know that? We get to be told
what the admissions criteria are.
Sir Cyril Taylor: I recently had
a meeting with Philip Hunter and I believe that you are going
to be seeing him on Wednesday, and we talked about making the
admissions guidance statutory and he would be strongly against
it because he said that you would have a 1,000-page piece of legislation
and even then you would not cover every conceivable aspect. What
he is saying, and I strongly support, is that if people are in
breach of the code then a neighbouring school should complain,
and I believe the White Paper has a proposal to make the adjudicator's
decision binding for three years. Currently it is only binding
for one year. That means you do not have to go through the same
procedure each year. This is about raising standards in all schools,
especially the ones which are in socially disadvantaged areas.
It is not about giving already high performing schools a further
Q444 Mrs Dorries: So are you saying
that there is going to be a statutory code of admission?
Sir Cyril Taylor: No. I am saying
that I think it would be very difficult to make it statutory because
you could not possibly think of every conceivable admissions issue
that comes but, where people are in clear breach of the code and
the adjudicator finds that to be the case, I support making that
decision binding for three years.
Q445 Mrs Dorries: I understand that,
but if it is not statutory they do not have to abide by it.
Sir Cyril Taylor: Sorry?
Q446 Mrs Dorries: Whether it is binding
or not, if it is not statutory there is no legal redress for schools
to make it binding.
Sir Cyril Taylor: I believe that
if a complaint has been made and the adjudicator finds it against
you, you have to correct what you are doing.
Dr Sidwell: Haberdasher's is a
good brand but it is not Harrods in that it is expensive and it
is in Knightsbridge. My two schools are in very deprived areas
in New Cross and in Downham. We are completely committed to comprehensive
education. Those children have a right, as everybody does, to
buy something in Harrods if they want to, so to have a Haberdashers'
education is what I am trying to bring to those children. In the
three months that we have had the one school you should see the
difference in the pride with which those children wear that Haberdashers'
uniform. I am completely bound by the admissions code of practice.
I am completely committed to comprehensive education. In those
two Haberdashers' schools there is no academic selection at all.
We have specialisms for special needs and all the proper things
in terms of the over-subscription criteria, and the last bit is
a bit of random selection. We cover a broad area; it is not a
selective school for privilege in any way. It is giving to children
who are very needy and very deprived something that is good, because
the Haberdashers have had that 300 years of experience and they
can be proud when they look back at that. I just wanted to stress
that it is not privileged in any way.
Q447 Chairman: Dr Sidwell, what worries
this Committeeand this is what Nadine also believesis
that when we have taken evidence before, when we looked at admissions
before Nadine was on the Committee, what we found was that the
Sutton Trust was picking up that the top performing state schools,
comprehensive schools, actually managed to exclude students with
special educational needs, those on free school meals, very effectively
indeed. That is evidence we have recently seen from the Sutton
Trust. I think there is a new report coming out which will suggest
that only 3% are on free school meals in these comprehensives
in these areas, whereas people suggest that with the local population
and the community they serve it should be 13%. I believe that
the top 100 comprehensive schools have come up with very similar
findings. That is what worries this Committee, that by some kind
of method these very high performing schools, which are delivering
a very good education for the kids that get in, somehow do have
a way of refining whom they take.
Dr Sidwell: The code is getting
tighter and tighter and so I hope that if that has happened it
will be stopped. I cannot see how I could do that. In one school
I have got 46% free school meals and in the other 17%, so they
are both high. The way I select my children, I have no interviews,
none of that; I have not done that for years, so I cannot see
how I could know who is on free school meals and put them out.
I follow the fair banding and code of practice; indeed I would
get picked up if I did not, and I believe that there are strong
guidelines and strong coercion to follow that code of practice,
which I think is good and fair. I would like to reassure you that
we cannot and would not want to do what you suggest.
Q448 Chairman: But when we took evidence
we had heads as important as you running prestigious institutions
that said, "We take note of the code", but when we pushed,
"Do you take any looked-after children?", the answer
was, "No, we do not, and the reason we do not is that we
take note of the code and that is it". At the moment that
is the rule, is it not? You take note of the code. You do not
have to abide by it.
Dr Sidwell: I am, and all trust
schools would be, part of the Admissions Forum. I have to go to
that local forum, as do all the other schools in the area, and
they check up on my figures, as do the DfES. I could not get away
with that, even if I should want to which I would not, so as long
as the Admissions Forums and all the procedures that are put in
place are being followed that should not happen, and I believe
people are so much more informed now.
Q449 Mr Marsden: Sir Cyril, you reassuringly
said earlier that you saw the trust concept very much as an evolution
of many of the things that specialist schools were doing and you
referred to them specifically and you said that you thought it
had particular benefits for primary and special needs schools.
What is it that the trust structure would deliver that is not
already being delivered by collaboration between specialist schools
in, for the sake of argument, my own constituency in Blackpool
where I can say that the collaboration and the connections seem
to be working pretty effectively?
Sir Cyril Taylor: I think the
record on special educational needs and especially vulnerable
children is highly mixed. There are 160,000 statemented special
educational needs children, 70,000 children in care and another
1,200,000 children with some form of special educational needs.
The provision, frankly, is not uniformly good.
Q450 Mr Marsden: But that is not
the question I asked you.
Sir Cyril Taylor: I am just getting
to it. I think a trust structure would enable a group of diverse
schools to work together, such as a suburban school that has middle-class
parents working with a school that catered for inner city, socially
disadvantaged parents and a special school concerned about vulnerable
children. Vulnerable children are typically moved three times
a year from their foster families with devastating effects on
their educational outcomes. If a group of trust schools working
together adopt as a policy that they are going to track what happens
to these children, make it part of their accountability, I think
it would be easier to achieve than purely voluntary arrangements
that may or may not happen.
Q451 Mr Marsden: Hang on: you are
not characterising what I said correctly. I am not talking about
merely voluntary arrangements. I am talking about a situation
in the Blackpool case where specialist schools are working together
closely. In fact, I have a special educational needs school cheek
by jowl with a secondary school; literally they are next door
to each other. These are not just voluntary things. These are
currently being co-ordinated pretty successfully by the local
authority and with the local authority. I will repeat the question.
What are the specific aspects of trust school status and all that
that implies which would make that co-operation and that collaboration
more effective than it is now?
Sir Cyril Taylor: Common leadership,
common trustees, an ethos which has developed and is shared.
Q452 Mr Marsden: It is all a bit
vague, is it not?
Dr Sidwell: Expertise coming in.
Q453 Mr Marsden: We can get expertise
and we can get a common ethos. Okay, we cannot get common leadership
Sir Cyril Taylor: It is a little
unfair though to say that if you have not got a trust school therefore
you do not have a record and therefore we should not do it.
Mr Marsden: I am not saying that, Sir Cyril.
I am not saying you should not do it. I am asking you, after a
series of questions where we have all been trying to grasp the
essence of trustness, if I can put it that way, to try and define
the specifics in there. Can I move quickly on from that?
Q454 Chairman: Before you do, I think
we ought to have an answer to this because the last group of witnesses
did not think this White Paper was going to make much difference.
The last group of witnesses said, "Trusts, foundations: we
can do that through foundation schools already. What is all the
big fuss about anyway?". It was a challenge, "Why have
Ms Reid: I think this is just
about providing another vehicle, and it may be a more powerful
vehicle, for schools to work together. One element in a trust
is very likely to be a business sponsor or some business engagement,
or possibly the engagement of a university, which would be a very
interesting development. With the security and the single umbrella
of the trust it would be possible, for example, and I think this
is in the written evidence that has been laid before you, for
a group of schools to combine to recruit a higher priority director
of finance, for example, who might support and assist schools
in the management of their resources. I think there are a number
of those kinds of benefits that one could adduce but, as has been
said, schools that are already working together will look at this
option and I think for some of them it will make sense and they
will see it as a way of drawing in new partners from business
or from higher education. Others will continue to use the variety
of ways there are in which schools can collaborate. The key point
is that we are in a new period when schools are collaborating
and doing that extensively. I do think that some of that is because
of the power of the specialist schools network. It is an inclusive
network and it is the existence of that network and the development
and strength of collaboration we see that I think will mitigate
against the kind of anti-social behaviour that members of the
Committee worry that some schools will engage in.
Q455 Chairman: I was worried you
were going to say the anti-social behaviour that we were exhibiting!
Sue Fowler, I can see a real opportunity for bringing you in here.
Sir Cyril made a great fuss about 100 HSBC special schools but
we are balancing that with the fact that the senior person in
HSBC recently said that they did not want to go along with trusts.
They thought that that was a step too far, getting involved in
trusts. You are an employer and one from a very respected company,
very active in the Engineering Employers' Federation that I know
well. What is your view on this?
Mrs Fowler: It is fairly mixed.
I certainly see trust status as giving further opportunity for
employers to engage in education and to build links between the
education system and business, and it gives a certain stability
to that relationship. At the moment, for example, GKN is active
in educational and business links right the way across the country,
but obviously we are limited by our locations. Somebody like HSBC
is ubiquitous. We are somewhat more select. A trust structure
would lock in the relationships that we have more closely. Currently,
for example, I am a governor at Haybridge and we sponsored Haybridge's
bid for specialist school status five years ago. I am also a parent
of a child at the school and that helps to build the links between
my section of GKN and that particular school. In terms of trust
status, the relationship will perhaps be more high level but also
perhaps more stable. Obviously, my children will pass through
the school, I will myself perhaps pass on within the organisation
and they will no longer have those links, so in some ways it will
give stability. It may give greater involvement but again that
depends very much on the location of the school. Currently we
will send engineers, people like myself, managers, into schools
to talk to children about specific areas of the curriculum or
to engage in projects and things like the Engineering Development
Trust, for example, or involvement through EEF in projects that
they are running. That I think would continue in any case and
that is lower level involvement which this will not particularly
affect. In this context we are talking much more about the larger
employers. In many ways the companies that you want to target
are the SMEs because they are the people who are going to provide
employment opportunities for the majority of schoolchildren in
the future. The average life of an SME in this country is 14 years.
That does not lend the stability that a trust would want to establish.
Q456 Mr Marsden: I would like if
I may to ask Elizabeth Reid this question. It is related to the
trust issue but it takes on a wider one, and that is the question
of expanding schools which we heard about in the previous session.
If a specialist school is given the ability to expand its roll,
whether or not it is in a trust format or not, what are the mechanisms
that would exist to prevent that expansion socially distorting
the current mix in the school?
Ms Reid: It is very difficult
to see that there would be mechanisms specifically to prevent
that because there are not mechanisms that exist at present to
create a particular social distribution in the schools.
Q457 Mr Marsden: No, but at present
we do not allow schools to expand. Let me put it another way to
you. Are you afraid that the expansion of schools, if it were
permitted, would create a socially divergent system in specialist
schools that were operating effectively before that time?
Ms Reid: I think that would not
be the case. We have got some experience of this because schools
have been able to expand through the more open enrolment arrangements
and many schools have expanded. I think that there are issues
if there are surplus places and it can be very difficult for schools
in an area with surplus places as a result of declining rolls.
What one hopes is that going forward the very collaboration that
I have been talking about will resolve some of the difficulties
that undoubtedly we have seen in the past, in that some schools
have flourished and other schools have done less well because
as rolls have declined they have been obliged to take children
moving into an area who may have been excluded from other schools
and so on. We have seen all of that and know that well. What I
hope is that, given that we have now got much better and stronger
collaboration between schools, we would not see that kind of result.
The other thing I must say, if I may, Chairman, is that the standards
of education in virtually all secondary schools are now rising
and so this whole question of parental flight from schools that
are doing less well or declining is one that I hope we are beginning
to arrest. This is the key to it. It is actually to raise standards
in all schools and that is really what we are about.
Q458 Mr Marsden: That is very fine
rhetoric but it does not necessarily address what would happen
in a particular locality if there were expansion of schools. Is
it not the case that while you fail to have a compulsory code
of admissions that danger is going to be present?
Ms Reid: If that danger is present
in a locality there are a number of other factors that are at
work. One would want to know why it was present, what it was about
other secondary schools that were there for parents to choose
that made the expansion of another school such a threat. You have
to operate on the whole context and not just focus on one part
Q459 Mr Marsden: My final question
is to you, Sir Cyril, about the Schools Commissioner for Trusts
which is envisaged in the White Paper. Is it in your view feasible
that the same person who has a responsibility to promote the concept
of trusts should also be the person who would have a regulatory
Sir Cyril Taylor: I do not know.
I have not seen the job description. I do think there are certain
areas of the country where action on taking improvement measures
for under-performing schools has been very slow. It is not a general
problem but it is certainly an issue within some areas. I think
that could be a very important role that the Commissioner could