Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 780 - 799)



  Q780  Mr Chaytor: We saw evidence last week that placed England, though not the UK as a whole, at the upper end of the European segregation index in terms of schooling. At the lower end the least segregated schools were in Scotland and the Scandinavian countries. Would you envisage that the extension of choice and diversity in the secondary sector would lead to greater or lesser segregation in English secondary schools?

  Ruth Kelly: It depends what you mean by choice and diversity. If you are talking about schools being their own admission authorities—

  Q781  Mr Chaytor: Yes, not necessarily their own admission authorities but the placing of parental choice at the heart of the system and the creation of different categories of support, the broad principles that underline the White Paper. Would you expect this to lead to a narrowing of the segregation gap?

  Ruth Kelly: I expect the package of measures set out in the White Paper will lead to a narrowing of the attainment gap.

  Q782  Mr Chaytor: A narrowing of the attainment gap. What about the gap in terms of social, ethnic or religious segregation?

  Ruth Kelly: I think the evidence that we have so far is that there is no correlation between the two. I would expect it would be different in different areas according to which approach they take, but there is no direct correlation.

  Q783  Mr Chaytor: You would not anticipate any change in terms of levels of social segregation as a result of expansion?

  Ruth Kelly: That is not what the evidence we have suggests to be the case.

  Jacqui Smith: If you take the issue of diversity, which is an interesting one, one of the arguments that was made by some at the beginning of the real expansion of the specialist school programme that we have seen was that that which is undeniably a development of diversity in the system would in some way or another be detrimental to levels of achievement, would be detrimental to access to a broader range of opportunities. Actually, what you have seen is firstly individual school improvement with quite a lot of evidence that the focus that specialism brings drive school improvement and increases standards within that school. You have then seen the ability of schools to use that specialism to be able to network together so that is an improvement that is spread throughout the system, and that is part of what we want to build on in the trust school model. Increasingly, you are seeing, for example, in 14-19 collaboration that where you have a diverse range of institutions and they are then brought together to collaborate, that opens up more opportunities and more choice within the system than would have been the case had you not had that diversity in the first place. That is the experience that we are seeing up until now.

  Mr Chaytor: Is there not a tension between your focus and I think perhaps a new focus on collaboration and the push towards greater autonomy? When the White Paper was launched the rhetoric was very largely about the advantages of autonomous schools and as the weeks have gone by there has been more and more emphasis on the importance of collaboration and networking.

  Q784  Chairman: On the Today programme it was said it is all about trusts, broad trusts, not about individual—

  Ruth Kelly: He knows his members. That is the point. I think this is a vehicle for building. The big change is to safeguard trusts in primary legislation and the ability for the power to innovate to apply across a network of schools. We have always had in our mind the idea that schools will want to enter into voluntary collaborations and have that formalised by binding and external appointments. That has been the model that we have used. You can see it applied in the ECM agenda—Every Child Matters—you can see it in applied 14-19 and in other contexts as well. What I think is best that we leave this to local determination.

  Jacqui Smith: If you are a strong and autonomous school, clear about what it is that you are doing for your students with the funding and the responsibility delegated in the way in which it has been and in which it will continue in this White Paper, you are more likely to want to enter into a collaboration than if what you try and do is find some directive way in which to drive collaboration. My experience before I came into this place was that was not the way in which you promote collaboration, and the experience of the last eight years in relation to what I said in my previous answer seems to support that argument.

  Q785  Mr Chaytor: If you are a strong and autonomous up to 16 school and you want to open a new sixth form, does that fit neatly with the 14-19 implementation plan that you launched last week?

  Ruth Kelly: Yes. We consulted on the criteria to be used for the opening of school sixth forms a few months ago and we confirmed out intention in guidance last week. That means that if you are a school that is in the top quartile of value added schools, so you are a very high performing school, and you adopt a vocational specialism as your second specialism, thereby contributing to the 14-19 agenda, you should have the ability to open a sixth form. The reason behind that is I think (a) it is very important for schools who are very successful and have a clear case they can make to contribute to standards in the area to be able to do so, but (b) we have to build vocational capacity and this is one way of encouraging schools to go down that route.

  Q786  Mr Chaytor: Will that be subject to the approval of the local authority and the LSC jointly or will those schools be so autonomous that—

  Ruth Kelly: It is a right.

  Q787  Mr Chaytor: It is a right for the local authority.

  Ruth Kelly: I will confirm to you precisely how it operates. The idea is that schools should be able to do this because we need to encourage schools to come forward with proposals so that they can build up vocational capacity.[8]

  Q788  Mr Chaytor: Just one last question on admissions. If in organising the competition for new schools local authorities will be responsible for establishing the admissions criteria as part of that competition, does that mean new schools will not be their own admission authorities?

  Ruth Kelly: They will be.

  Q789  Mr Chaytor: Are you going to specify in advance what the criteria are going to be?

  Ruth Kelly: Just as on admissions on a range of issues, in other words how they contribute to the Every Child Matters agenda, how they work in the 14-19 collaboration, all of these specifications will be set down by the local authority. In no way is it taking away the freedom that school has or the autonomy devolution of power to the front line.

  Jacqui Smith: It will be part of the decision making process of the competition to determine that the admissions arrangements that have to be now set down in the proposal, which was not previously the case, comply with the code of admissions. Assuming that they do, and if they do not the local authority will be able to ensure that they do, they need to remain in place for at least three years.

  Q790  Mr Chaytor: Will the local authorities set the admissions criteria as part of the rules?

  Ruth Kelly: That is a slightly more complex negotiation actually, as Jacqui has said, as part of the competitive round before the proposals which the local authority can accept or reject. The relationship is such that the local authority adopts the admission arrangements that it needs to.

  Q791  Chairman: One thing that came out of the last few questions was you are talking about the supply side in terms of people having choice, it being more flexible, but we have taken evidence and a lot of schools say, "Get to a certain size, small is beautiful", or "We are a successful school, we do not want to get any bigger". How do you place children? Who places them? Who is responsible for placing children when there are lots of disappointed parents?

  Ruth Kelly: The local authority.

  Q792  Chairman: You are not getting this magic formula for successful schools.

  Ruth Kelly: There is no magic bullet. I completely agree, there is absolutely no magic bullet. All we can try and do is make every school a good school and allow preference to operate within that system. The overall objective is to make every school a good school.

  Q793  Chairman: You do not mention this in the White Paper at all, Secretary of State, the views that came out in the past, I do not know about very recently, that Tim Brighouse was associated with and that the Education Network have recently published, that if you really want to help the children who have suffered from disadvantage, come from poor backgrounds, have special educational needs, the best way to help them is to make them more valuable and if a school takes on a special educational needs student 50% more or 100% more money flows in that direction. Has the Department considered those ideas?

  Ruth Kelly: Of course, that is the logic behind the current situation on statementing, which is an entitlement for a child with special educational needs to have those met in full with the appropriate resources. For children who are not statemented there is a variety of level of special educational need. Personally, I do not think it would make sense to try and specify exactly how much money and what resources, time and effort and so forth should be attached on average.

  Q794  Chairman: What if you got more money if your student was from a poorer background?

  Jacqui Smith: To a certain extent, of course, both through the way in which we distribute the dedicated schools grant, as it is now, and previously through the schools funding formula, and through the way in which at a local level the funding formula works, there is already an element of recognition for specific needs for deprivation. The system works in that way.

  Q795  Chairman: It does not shake up the system in the way that some of these proponents are saying, "If there is real value in that pupil then the pupil would be much more readily accepted". Many of the schools seem to find ways of keeping them out.

  Ruth Kelly: I think we take a decisive step forward in that direction in the White Paper with our proposals for resources to be attached to children who have the lowest prior attainment when entering secondary school. In the recent allocation of funding approved by the Department to individual local authorities, we have explicitly attached a very significant element of funding, I think it is £335 million, to support that agenda, which is about £100,000 on average per secondary school. If you are talking about a really radical step forward in supporting children with additional needs then I think there is one.

  Q796  Chairman: You would expect me to ask this, Secretary of State, because it is an old hobbyhorse of mine. You and the Prime Minister often make speeches about the dreadful situation that so many young people in this country drop out of education at 16 and go into jobs without training, they go into unemployment, and you did in your opening today. There is nothing in the White Paper about what we are going to do for that category of young people.

  Ruth Kelly: In my first few weeks in this job I published a White Paper on the 14-19 agenda which was all about trying to increase the staying on rate and dealing with the challenges of the group which are not in education, employment or training, which I know you have particular concerns on and we continue to work on that agenda. One of the most significant things we can do is drive up standards in all schools and support and tailor provision to meet their needs in the early years of secondary school.

  Q797  Chairman: The Minister of State was amused about that.

  Jacqui Smith: Then we followed that up last week with the 14-19 implementation plan, which I am sure you have read.

  Q798  Chairman: We have. But it does not join up with the White Paper, does it?

  Ruth Kelly: I think if you read the White Paper, the 14-19 agenda runs through it.

  Q799  Chairman: Clarity and joined-upness. Can I say that this has been a very good session, we have gone over time and it has been a long time to keep you answering questions. We have learned a lot and we will go away and write up our recommendations. We shall have the recess to do that and think about it. I hope we can be helpful in the process of making this White Paper even better than it is at the moment.

  Ruth Kelly: I invite the Committee if there are any follow-up questions which emerge during consideration of the evidence you have taken so far, if the Committee wants to write to us we will be very happy to deal with any questions.

  Chairman: We will take you up on that. Thank you.

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