Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 479)



  Q460  Mr Marsden: So you do not think you are going to have a poacher and gamekeeper situation?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I have not seen the job description so I cannot really say.

  Q461  Mr Marsden: No, but you know how it is described in the White Paper. You have seen the White Paper and you have seen the comments that have been made upon it. I am asking your view on whether there is a danger.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Sorry; would you repeat the question?

  Q462  Mr Marsden: The White Paper talks about the Schools Commissioner for Trusts having a role in promoting the concept of trusts. It also talks about that person having a role regulating the activities of the trusts. What I am asking you is, do you think there is an inherent contradiction in those two roles being in the same person?

  Mrs Fowler: Not an inherent contradiction but I can see the concerns that you are worried about. I would hope that the commissioner would focus more on taking action to improve under-performing schools.

  Q463  Mr Chaytor: Sir Cyril, the section of the White Paper that deals with the Schools Commissioner for Trusts does not say anything about his or her powers to deal with under-performing schools or to close under-performing schools.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I was under the impression that the White Paper said that the commissioner could require authority to take action on a failing school. Maybe I misread that.

  Q464  Mr Chaytor: It says that the commissioner will be able to challenge local authorities that fail to exercise their new duties adequately, including in relation to school expansion and sixth form provision, but it does not say that the commissioner has to challenge local authorities in terms of their failure to deal with under-performing schools. There may well be a good role for that.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I think it is a bit moot because I suspect the academy programme, if it succeeds in the way that I think it will do, will take care of the bulk of the under-performing schools in the country and that is why I am strongly supporting it, because it is aimed at the under-performing schools.

  Q465  Mr Chaytor: I am confused; I am still not clear about what specific advantage a trust school has that is not available to schools within the existing system. All the issues we have heard about: the branding of the school, the uniform, common timetabling, the ability to collaborate over the governance and planning, are clearly there now. You are arguing the case for trusts as an option open to some schools in some circumstances, but in the White Paper it is absolutely central to it. It says, "We are developing a radical new school system based on a system of independent, non-fee paying state schools". There seems to be a huge difference between the complete revolution the White Paper is arguing for and the piecemeal optional extra you envisage. Is that a fair comment?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Would Elizabeth want to answer that?

  Q466  Mr Chaytor: Elizabeth has put the case for a step-by-step approach.

  Ms Reid: I would like to draw an analogy with the specialist schools movement and the whole progress of the specialist schools policy. What has been interesting about that as a policy is that it is one of the very few policies that is bottom-up. Schools opt into it. It is a policy that reached critical mass perhaps a couple of years ago and has succeeded because of its voluntary nature, because schools are engaged by it and schools are interested by it and schools test themselves.

  Q467  Mr Chaytor: It will be compulsory. There is nothing voluntary about the new status for new schools.

  Ms Reid: Specialist school status?

  Q468  Mr Chaytor: No; I am talking about the trust system. There is nothing voluntary about it. It says that new schools will be trust or foundation schools. They will be self-managing, independent, state schools. That is top-down with a vengeance, surely?

  Ms Reid: This part of it is very much about defining a new role for local authorities. That is really what this is about. I think there is a clarity, whether one agrees with it or not, in the White Paper about a move to a role for local authorities which is essentially a commissioning role rather than a provider role. On the question of trusts, one might envisage that if it is proposed in the way that it is, which is essentially that it is an option, and if it is an option that succeeds, it will grow in the way that the specialist schools movement has grown. That seems to me to be at least a possibility. If it does not work in the same way then perhaps it will not flourish. That is really the argument: is this something that schools, their governors, their parents, their communities, all want to buy into? Are there advantages? The argument is being put that there are advantages. The test of that in a sense will be the take-up, just as it has been the test of the specialist schools programme.

  Q469  Mr Chaytor: What will be the difference between trusts and foundation schools in terms of financial autonomy and ownership of assets?

  Ms Reid: My understanding is that there will be no essential difference but that the trust provides an umbrella governance for more than one school. That is the key to it.

  Q470  Mr Chaytor: But the White Paper describes two kinds of trust, does it not, those trusts that are attached simply to one school and those trusts that include a number of different schools? The issue in terms of finance and assets is, will trust schools, whether they are individual trusts or collective trusts, be subject to different rules from foundation schools? Will there be greater freedoms or greater autonomy?

  Ms Reid: As I understand it, no. There are foundation schools at present that have foundations, that do have small-scale resource in a foundation behind them.

  Q471  Chairman: "Can I sell off the family silver?" I think that is what David wants to ask.

  Ms Reid: No, and there are Treasury rules about that.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: There is a technical difference between a foundation school and a trust school. A trust school is a foundation school with a foundation. That sounds silly but let me explain it. A foundation school will own its own property, hire its own staff directly, have its own views about admissions in conjunction with the Admissions Forum. A trust school will have all of those functions but it will also have an overarching foundation over perhaps a number of schools and that foundation could, for example, raise money if it wanted to. It could have an endowment. It would have a group of trustees who may or may not appoint the individual governors along with the governance procedures, and I notice that parents could even end up with more governors in the trust schools than with the existing structure of schools. I find that very interesting.

  Q472  Mr Chaytor: Sir Cyril, is it not the case that foundation schools now have foundations and some of those foundations have significant endowments?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: They can have but all trusts will have.

  Q473  Mr Chaytor: So some foundation schools do have foundations?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes.

  Q474  Mr Chaytor: All trust schools will have foundations?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes.

  Q475  Mr Chaytor: But in terms of the financial autonomy of either kind of foundation school and the trust schools, what is the difference?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I do not think there are many groupings of foundation schools; I do know not the answer to that.

  Q476  Mr Chaytor: Is there a difference between the financial autonomy and the arrangements over the control of assets between the trust schools and the foundation schools that have foundations?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I believe the funding in a trust school will still go to the individual school and is coming from the LA. Do not forget these are maintained schools; they are not academies, but there is the possibility of the pooling voluntarily of a group of schools under a trust arrangement saying, "We would like to put some money towards an IT co-ordinator, a bursar perhaps, maybe a fund-raiser", and that is a much more explicit possibility than currently exists.

  Q477  Mr Chaytor: I do not understand how that is different from what applies with foundation schools now that currently have foundations.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I do not know the answer to this question, but it would be very interesting to see how many foundation schools are operating with more than one school. I suspect it is very few.

  Chairman: We have the Secretary of State here next week.

  Q478  Jeff Ennis: I am glad we are focusing on the issue that I think we all agree with, that we want to try and make every school in this country a good school.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Absolutely.

  Q479  Jeff Ennis: I hope that is the driving force behind the White Paper. Having listened to our witnesses, Chairman, is the Government not being a bit timid here? Would it not be better to have a New Zealand-type model where every school has to become a trust school and to have an overarching trust arrangement across an LA area which all commercial sponsors can feed into? That would make it easy to attract the SMEs, for example. It would also be more helpful for the deprived areas where you do not have a major employer, for example, to get commercial sponsorship in. Are we having the glass half-empty rather than the glass half-full approach here?

  Dr Kershaw: I think this element of choice, of schools taking some control over their own destiny and working with others, is crucial to this. If one replaced one governing authority with another governing authority I think the schools beneath it may not particularly take ownership or notice the difference.

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