Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440 - 459)



  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 sponsors—GKN, 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 areas—modern apprenticeships, competency based courses—that 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 spectrum?

  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 about that.

  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 advantage.

  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 Committee—and this is what Nadine also believes—is 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 under the—

  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 trusts?".

  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 of it.

  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 role?

  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 play.

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