Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720 - 739)



  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 intervention.

  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 a lot?

  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 data—I have done this—you 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 standards issue.

  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 schools?

  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 process.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 1 February 2006