Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720
MONDAY 19 DECEMBER 2005
MP, RT HON
MP, AND MR
Q720 Mr Chaytor: In the legislation
will there be a distinct category of trust school?
Ruth Kelly: No.
Q721 Mr Chaytor: There will remain
a distinct category of academy and CTC?
Ruth Kelly: Yes.
Mr Chaytor: What powers will the academies and
the CTCs have that the trust schools
Chairman: You are getting a little beyond an
Q722 Stephen Williams: When you came
here last on 2 November, I asked you about the partner organisations
who might be interested in forming a trust with schools and you
were particularly keen to talk about KPMG, Microsoft and some
other well known organisations you mentioned at the time. Do you
have any new names that you wish to add since 2 November?
Ruth Kelly: We are working with
a lot but I do not think it would be right to share with the Committee
discussions which are currently of a sensitive nature.
Q723 Stephen Williams: How many are
Ruth Kelly: We are working with
a lot of universities, for example. I do not think it would be
right to name the particular ones.
Q724 Stephen Williams: No one would
have any difficulty with the educational organisations. You mentioned
the Open University last time. One of our researchers after the
last meeting wrote to your Department under Freedom of Information
and asked for it to be revealed what sort of organisations the
Department was talking to. The reply we received on 15 December
from David Shand from your cross-cutting policy team was, "We
have a list of a number of other individuals and organisations
that we have been in contact with about trust schools since the
publication of the White Paper. This information is exempt from
the right of access under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information
Act, prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs."
You have named some well-known organisations that are fairly innocuous.
Surely you could name the others? If you cannot, would it not
be better not to name anybody?
Ruth Kelly: No, because we agreed
before the statement. We did not talk to anybody about this until
two or three days before the statement because obviously we wanted
to announce to Parliament our intentions before announcing them
to the wider world. We talked to some organisations we thought
might be interested and agreed with them that they would be prepared
to be named in the statement. Since then we have been talking
to others. I do not think it would be right somehow if we were
out there trying to persuade everyone to go down this route before
we had parliamentary approval for this. What I think is important
is that we are able to illustrate in some detail what potential
trust organisations might look like, because I know that MPs have
asked for this and I think it would serve the broader public interest
to be able to do that. In January, I intend to publish a document
which sets out some specific examples of what a variety of models
of trust might look like in practice.
Q725 Stephen Williams: We will look
forward to seeing that. Are there any specific types of organisation
you would like to rule out as being unsuitable to be a trust partner?
Ruth Kelly: This comes back to
what the local authority role is. I would like to see local authorities
go out there and attract the organisations and partners that they
think would help serve their local area. If they have an issue
with 14-19, try and draw some people in who are able to offer
the expertise and work opportunities in that area. If they have
an issue with the Every Child Matters agenda, try and draw
in the voluntary sector who may be able to provide support in
delivering that agenda. If the issue is staying on rates at the
age of 16, they should try and get the FE college and the university
involved, or perhaps some combination of all of those. If we get
this right, I think the potential is enormous. What I cannot do
is say in advance, "This particular organisation is going
to be right in that particular community." Those are local
decisions, best tackled locally.
Q726 Stephen Williams: Would you
rule out a fast food company such as McDonald's or Burger King
who do have charitable trusts or do you think those sorts of organisations
would be unsuitable?
Ruth Kelly: We have set out all
sorts of safeguards which will be in primary legislation in the
Bill, including making sure it is non-profit making, set up as
a charitable or educational objective and so forth. The best judges
of what is in parents' or pupils' interests are the parents, the
school, the governors and the local authority. I think they should
all have a role.
Q727 Jeff Ennis: In terms of the
response rate to setting up trusts, you said you cannot give a
definitive figure on that. I wonder whether you think there might
be more primary schools or secondary schools going for trust status?
Will there be more urban schools than rural schools, given that
a lot of people have interpreted the trust school model based
on a London secondary school system?
Ruth Kelly: I do not think it
is a London issue. If you look at secondary school performance,
London has out-performed the national average. What we are trying
to do is tackle under-performance in the system.
Q728 Jeff Ennis: We are talking more
secondary than primary then, are we not?
Ruth Kelly: There is an argument
that says there is more of an issue in the secondary sector with
under-performance than there is in the primary sector. If you
look at all the value-added dataI have done thisyou
will see that with primary schools the best of the worst perform
in a very small band. They all perform at quite high levels. The
secondary system is not like that. We have seen a halving of the
failure rate. We have seen some schools rise up to deliver outstanding
results. We have the coasting school phenomenon in the secondary
sector that we still have to tackle. It is a widespread issue
in the secondary sector. The trust school will be an opportunity
for them to tackle those issues. However, if you look at the primary
sector, that is not to say that we should rule this out for primary
schools because, particularly on the Every Child Matters
agenda, it might be a very good way of encouraging collaboration
and joint leadership models, shared bursars and all the sorts
of things that primary schools might want to work with; or indeed
you might get secondaries teaming up with a group of feeder primaries.
What I find quite exciting about this is that the model which
emerges will be the one that tackles the specific local issue
that needs to be tackled.
Q729 Jeff Ennis: It appears there
is more incentive for secondary schools than primary schools?
Ruth Kelly: There is a bigger
Q730 Jeff Ennis: What about urban
and rural schools settings? Is there more incentive for an urban
school to be a trust as opposed to a rural school?
Ruth Kelly: I would not like to
predict the take-up in these different areas. I can easily see
how a group of urban schools collaborating on 14-19 and so forth
might want to be part of the same trust. I can also see a rural
secondary school thinking to itself: what I really need to do
to tackle the issues we have in a rural community is network with
some other schools who have different facilities. That might be
what best serves my pupils. I would not like from here to try
and predict what the models of the future might be. This is a
way of facilitating and dealing with local issues.
Q731 Jeff Ennis: Will you be providing
any incentives, financial or otherwise, to try and coerce schools
to become trust schools?
Ruth Kelly: We are certainly not
trying to coerce or bribe schools to become trusts.
Q732 Jeff Ennis: You currently have
a very big disparity in the free school meals rates amongst schools.
Some schools take no or very few children on free school meals.
Just coincidentally, they happen to be some of the best performing
schools. Then we get some with 60% free school meals who just
coincidentally happen to be some of the worst performing schools.
What incentive within the trust school model is there to bring
about a better equity and spread of free school meal children?
Ruth Kelly: We need to make every
school a good school.
Q733 Jeff Ennis: Including community
Ruth Kelly: Every school. The
vast majority of the proposals apply to community schools but
we are extending flexibility to those schools as well. We are
trying to make every school a good school. The trust vehicle is
one way of doing that but personalisation and all the other measures
in the White Paper are an attempt to do that as well. What we
are also trying to do is to say to children from poorer families
that other schools are open to you to apply to. There are lots
of families who think a no entry sign has gone up on certain schools.
I just do not think that is fair. I think they should have a right
to apply and be considered properly by that school if they fall
within the school catchment area. That is what the proposals on
free school transport are designed to address so that money does
not become a barrier to getting the bus to school every day and
that is why choice advisers will be important in implementing
that as well.
Q734 Jeff Ennis: I want to preface
this by saying this is not a trick question. This is a serious
question. I want you to answer it seriously. This is what I perceive
to be a big bang model, a serious model. Why do we not allow all
schools within an LA area to become trust schools? That would
give a clear enabler to provide a split between the LA and the
schools. It is like a primary care trust model that we have in
the health sector now. It is based on this type of thing. It would
then be easier to attract in the more deprived LA areas, like
my own, commercial sponsors because we have quite a few big named
sponsors, Rolls-Royce and so on, which we do not happen to have
in Barnsley, by the way. We have already heard evidence from some
of the specialist and academy school people saying that it is
a lot easier to attract sponsorship in some areas than others,
but we all have a problem attracting small and medium sized enterprises.
By having one over-arching trust, you would be able to get better
funding from SMEs and it would be easier coordination as well
across the LA for school admissions. To me, this big bang model
has a lot of attractions. What is wrong with the model?
Ruth Kelly: Technically nothing.
Potentially schools in a local area could choose to go down that
route. I would need to see the details as to precisely whether
it is compatible but from what you have said I do not see a reason
why schools should not be able to do that. The important thing
is they need to think that that model is in the best interests
of serving their local community.
Q735 Jeff Ennis: The big bang model
is an option?
Ruth Kelly: I do not see a particular
reason why schools locally could not decide that that is what
they needed to do.
Q736 Mr Marsden: I would like to
return to the issue of the Schools Commissioner which we had some
discussion on when you previously came before the Committee in
November. I am referring to the exchanges that we had on that
occasion. On that occasion, you were obviously still in evolutionary
mode because you said, "We are developing the detailed proposals.
We will set out proposals as to how the Schools Commissioner will
work. He will have some regulation role. What we are thinking
about is a much more arm's length role for the Schools Commissioner."
At that stage your thinking on the Schools Commissioner and the
questions I asked you about what precisely that role would be
were blending together. Have you more clarity now?
Ruth Kelly: We will publish guidance
in due course as to how the Schools Commissioner will operate.
I envisage the Schools Commissioner particularly looking at disadvantaged
schools and helping local authorities to match make people who
potentially want to be involved with trusts with where they think
the local need is. I would really like to see a situation in which
the local authorities went on the front foot and tried to do this
but there needs to be someone centrally who makes the trust and
helps people who emerge get involved in the system.
Q737 Mr Marsden: Let us get this
as clear as we can. The role of the Schools Commissioner as currently
defined is going to be a promoter and an involver.
Ruth Kelly: A matchmaker.
Q738 Mr Marsden: Is the role of the
Schools Commissioner in any shape or form going to be the regulation
of those trusts, because that was one of the things that was implied
in the White Paper?
Ruth Kelly: What I have said in
the White Paper is that the Schools Commissioner should advise
the Secretary of State on my powers. That is a function that has
always been carried out in the Department. We are just talking
about a civil servant in the Department of Education who reviews
the BSF proposals to see whether the local authority is fulfilling
its educational vision in the appropriate way and it has sensible
propositions in place to raise standards in schools. It would
be a normal thing for the Schools Commissioner to do that.
Q739 Mr Marsden: This is in many
respects a very new role. You are hoping it is going to succeed.
You talk about trusts being successful. You have accepted that
there may need to be some push in local authorities in that respect
and that is why you have this matchmaker role. You have also just
said that you would want advice from the Schools Commissioner
on your powers. Are those not rather big things to ask of any
DfES civil servant, however celebrated that person might be?
Ruth Kelly: It is what the civil
servants do now. For instance, they find academy sponsors and
try to match them up with the academy programme and also approve
BSF educational visions. What we are proposing to do is clarify
the nature of the Schools Commissioner in relation to the trust