Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660
MONDAY 19 DECEMBER 2005
MP, RT HON
MP, AND MR
Q660 Mr Chaytor: Could I ask about
SEN next? Parents of children with special educational needs cannot
state a preference for an academy.
Jacqui Smith: They can.
Q661 Mr Chaytor: They can now state
a preference for an academy?
Jacqui Smith: Yes.
Chairman: Since when? We were told
Q662 Mr Chaytor: Has this changed
Ruth Kelly: No. They can.
Jacqui Smith: An academy can be
included in a child's statement.
Q663 Chairman: Can we just get this
clear? We were informed at an earlier stage that that was not
a right. It had to be with the acceptance of the academy to consider
Ruth Kelly: It is slightly complicated.
A child can name an academy on his or her statement. If the academy
refuses to accept that child then I as Secretary of State can
direct the academy to accept that child. It is a slightly different
arrangement because the funding to the academy is directly with
the Department rather than with the local authority. If it is
a local authority school, if it is a foundation school or a VA
school or a community school, it operates in a slightly different
Jacqui Smith: And it is worth
remembering in that context, of course, that academies have more
children both with statements and without statements with special
educational needs than the national average than their predecessor
Q664 Mr Chaytor: Will the same arrangements
apply for trust schools? If the argument that academies are a
little bit different because they are defined by the Department
as independent schools, presumably that will be the same for trust
Ruth Kelly: No. Trust schools
operate within the local authority framework. Trust schools are
local authority maintained schools.
Q665 Mr Chaytor: But will they be
classified by the Department as independents in the way that academies
are classified as independent?
Ruth Kelly: No. They are local
authority maintained schools.
Q666 Mr Chaytor: So the issue of
SEN and trust schools
Ruth Kelly: Does not arise at
Q667 Mr Marsden: Secretary of State,
when you introduced the White Paper on the floor of the House
I asked you how the philosophy of the White Paper fitted in with
the broad thrust of Government policy, and I mentioned in particular
Every Child Matters so I want to turn to that again today.
The talk of parental choice and autonomous schools has been portrayed
by some people as being antipathetic to the philosophy of Every
Child Matters. Can you tell us here today how the White Paper
works with the grain of Every Child Matters rather than
Ruth Kelly: In fact it will give
schools more flexibility because it devolves power resources to
the front line to deal with the Every Child Matters agenda.
The Every Child Matters agenda I hope will be developed
through stronger and more autonomous trust schools than at the
moment partly because they will have more flexibility to respond
to it and partly because it will develop an ease of networking
in the system that is currently not there. Take primary schools,
for instance, which find it difficult to fulfil the extended schools
obligations on their own. They have to work in partnership with
other schools to deliver them. They could decide to team up together
through a trust to deliver extended school services that will
enable them to do that in a very quick and simple way.
Q668 Mr Marsden: So you are telling
this Select Committee that you think that the proposal for trusts
will make more sense and make more effective the agenda of Every
Child Matters rather than the informal federations and structures
that exist at present?
Ruth Kelly: They certainly could.
We are not being prescriptive about trusts. First of all, schools
will have to want them and to think it is in their interest to
have them. It depends on what the local issue is that they are
dealing with. It could be used to promote the Every Child Matters
agenda. It could be used to promote the 14-19 delivery of the
vocational education agenda, again tying in external partners
in a way that it has not been possible to do before to deliver
that agenda. It could be used, for instance, for secondary schools
working with primary schools so that they try and overcome this
issue of children when they reach secondary school falling behind,
but working very closely with the agreement of schools.
Q669 Mr Marsden: If you are so positive
about the potential in the White Paper for Every Child Matters
why, on the face of the White Paper, did you not make a requirement
to assess schools on their achievement against the outcomes of
Every Child Matters rather than just on issues to do with
achievement and behaviour?
Ruth Kelly: It is an obligation
for schools and they are inspected on the basis of the Every
Child Matters agenda and that will apply to trust schools
just as it applies to other schools.
Q670 Mr Marsden: So it is an absolute
commitment that they will be on that basis?
Ruth Kelly: Yes.
Jacqui Smith: I do think it is
important to remember that one of the key outcomes of the five
Every Child Matters outcomes is to help children achieve
better. Everything in this White Paper is about ensuring that
children, and particularly some of those who have had more difficulty
previously, are able to achieve. There is nothing contradictory
between those objectives and the very strong objectives about
raising standards and achievement in schools, and schools also
increasingly understand that delivering on the other four outcomes
is what is going to help their young people to achieve. It is
strong, confident and autonomous schools that are able to make
all the partnerships necessary in order to deliver on all of those
outcomes. As Ruth says, as of this September the new Ofsted framework
inspects schools explicitly on the basis on which they are able
to contribute to all of those outcomes, so the accountability
system already does that and that will be the case with trust
Q671 Chairman: Accountable to whom?
Jacqui Smith: I was talking about
inspection being part of the accountability mechanisms in schools.
As part of the new Ofsted inspection framework
Q672 Chairman: Accountable to Ofsted?
Ruth Kelly: Accountable to the
citizens and users, parents and pupils, in the area, and ultimately
the elected local councillors in the local authority who are responsible
for delivering school standards.
Jacqui Smith: Chairman, you know
from your experience of talking to head teachers and others that
what Ofsted includes in their inspection framework is a powerful
driver of the significance of what is happening within schools
and therefore I think it is very important that as of this September
the achievement against those outcomes is included in the Ofsted
framework. What we are also proposing in the White Paper is that,
in order to ensure what we are confident about: that this synergy
between the broader local authority responsibility with respect
to developing their children's services and the contribution that
school as, of course, the place that has most universal contact
with most children most of the time, actually works, is that schools
will have a duty as they make their own school development plans
to have regard to the local authority's children and young people's
plan, everything within the system that is likely to support that
Q673 Mr Marsden: Minister, can I
take you on just a little bit further from that because I would
like you to look at that rhetoricand I do not mean that
in an unfair way; I mean that in its neutral senseand apply
it to a very specific situation in respect of special educational
needs. We have had witnesses come before us to talk about the
pros and cons of expanding schools. It is interesting that Sir
Alan Steer who came before us and who, of course, has contributed
very forcefully and strongly to the White Paper, actually said
that he would have concerns about expanding the size of his own
school. I want to deal with the practical question that, if you
have a child with a statement or a special educational need and
you have a system in which a school decides to enlarge, what is
there to stop that enlarged school, a trust school, having policies
that will bar or certainly not increase the proportion of special
educational needs children in that school?
Ruth Kelly: They have to abide
by the code of practice legally. The schools adjudicator can make
legally binding decisions as to whether they are complying with
the code, and in the code it says they have to be fair to children
with special educational needs.
Q674 Mr Marsden: They have to take
regard of it. They do not necessarily have to abide by it.
Ruth Kelly: They have to follow
it and that is determined on a legally binding basis by the adjudicator.
Fair enough: if there is not an objection it will not come to
light, but if they are not abiding by the code and someone objects
to it, the adjudicator can legally enforce the position, so to
all intents and purposes schools have to follow it.
Q675 Mr Marsden: Is that not a rather
tortuous process to have to go through, Secretary of State, and
is it not a process that privileges parents who know their way
through the system and might disadvantage parents, for example,
from a working-class background or people who do not know their
way round the system in terms of that process? Why not just have
a clear-cut compulsory system that they have to obey the code
of practice, not just take regard of it?
Ruth Kelly: I think you are suggesting
that the code ought to be translated into primary legislation,
but correct me if I am wrong.
Q676 Mr Marsden: Not necessarily,
Ruth Kelly: Correct me if I am
wrong, please do. First of all, to make it clear, the code is
not translatable into law because it outlines what is poor practice
and it outlines what is acceptable and good practice and therefore
will be context specific. It depends very much on the location
of the school. For instance, if you have got a school on the edge
of a city which has feeder primaries from a rural area, it would
not be appropriate to set distance from the school as the admissions
criterion. In another situation that might be absolutely the right
thing to do, so some flexibility within the code I think is a
reasonable way of conducting this.
Q677 Mr Marsden: Let me finally ask
the question in another way. Given that there are these concerns,
and they are strongly held concerns, about the implications of
expansion, and given that you may or may not agree with me that
the current process is a somewhat tortuous one but let us say
for the sake of argument that many people out there think it is,
how would you go about, other than putting it on the face of the
Bill, reassuring the people that I have talked about that they
would not be disadvantaged in the situation that I have described?
Ruth Kelly: I admit the system
is quite difficult to explain. I think there are advantages when
all schools are on the same footing. We have a situation in which
voluntary-aided schools are their own admission authorities, in
which for community schools the admission arrangements are set
by the local authorities, and in which foundation and trust schools
are their own admission authorities, which I believe is the evidence
from the adjudicator although I have not seen his evidence. When
all schools are operating at the level of the school but the enforcement
procedure and the framework in which they operate is set correctly,
the system should be fairer to everyone than the situation at
the moment. That is quite a difficult argument to explain but
it is the case that having some schools in a different relationship
to the local authority is not necessarily the best way of proceeding.
Let me give you a very concrete example of that. If a community
school, where the local authority sets its own admission arrangements,
is named on a statement of special educational needs and refuses
to take that child, the local authority cannot object to that
and direct that school to take that child because it is a community
school. If a voluntary-aided school named on a statement refused
to take a statemented child the local authority can direct it
to take that child. That is quite a complicated system. If all
schools were their own admission authorities the relationship
between the person who is responsible for strategy and the schools
who set their own criteria becomes clearer and easier to manage.
Local authorities may also ask the Secretary of State
to intervene in cases where they have determined that child should
be admitted to a community or voluntary controlled school, but
the school has not complied with that decision. There have been
occasions when the Secretary of State has had to direct that a
child be admitted to a particular community school which has resisted
a pupil's admission.
Q678 Mr Marsden: It becomes clearer
in that context, Secretary of State. I can think of lots of other
areas where people might think it has sown confusion. Regardless
of that will you give this Committee an undertaking that in drawing
up any legislation on the back of the White Paper you will have
due regard, as you yourself has said, to some of the difficulties
and complexities of the present situation because I think there
is a genuine concern that if that does not happen the overall
objective that you are trying to achieve will be vitiated?
Jacqui Smith: You set this question
in the context of school expansions and I suspect you also set
it in the context of new schools.
Q679 Mr Marsden: I did not mention
new schools. I was specifically talking about expanding schools.
Jacqui Smith: Let us take the
issue of school expansions. One of the important things to remember,
of course, about school expansions, where they are beyond increasing
the intake of 26 pupils or they are at an expansion of more than
25% of the school, is that they will go through a statutory process
and one of the things that we are strengthening in the White Paper
is the expectation that as part of that process the admissions
arrangements will be part of the consideration of the approval
of that particular statutory process, so already in the White
Paper, both with respect to the proposals made about new schools
and the proposals made in respect to expansion, we are, if you
like, strengthening the certainty that you are looking for, that
the admissions arrangements in those schools will be fair and
will not disadvantage a child with special educational needs or
other children or young people within that area. That is a strengthening
of the current regime.
3 Note by Witness-While legislation on admission
of children with statements of special educational need requires
a school to admit a child with an SEN statement naming that school,
local; authorities also have statutory powers to support them
in placing other children. Provision in the School Standards and
Framework Act 1998 gives them powers to direct foundation and
voluntary aided schools to admit named chldren for whom no other
school is available. In some cases, this may be children who have
special educational needs but do not have a statement. Back