Select Committee on Education and Skills First Report

Conclusions and recommendations

Higher Standards, Better Schools for All

1.  We note that, by taking one type of foundation school and giving it a new name and a high profile, the Government has managed to make a cause celébrè out of something which already exists and for which no further legislation is apparently necessary. (Paragraph 19)

2.  The Secretary of State told us that "This White Paper is all about driving up standards for the most disadvantaged children" and we shall take this as the measure on which to judge the White Paper. (Paragraph 20)


3.  We welcome both the Practitioners' report and the Government's response to it. (Paragraph 27)

4.  A Practitioners' Group of this kind could prove extremely effective in helping to spread best practice across schools on other issues and we hope the success of this venture will encourage the DfES to use this mechanism again. (Paragraph 30)


5.  The DfES needs to provide more detail on its plans for funding personalised learning, and in particular how it will ensure that funding is used for its intended purpose. The department also needs to give much more careful consideration to the changes in Initial Teacher Training and the amount of in-service training which will be required to make personalised learning a reality. (Paragraph 33)

6.  We welcome the Government's proposals to provide more individually tailored education. These policies, directed at what actually happens in classrooms, are as important as anything in the White Paper. These proposals could directly and beneficially affect every child at school in England, and we look forward to seeing how matters develop in practice. (Paragraph 35)

7.  If the Government wishes to address educational disadvantage, it needs to take seriously the problem of the under-representation of minority ethnic groups in the gifted and talented programme to ensure that implementation of its policy does guard against stereotypes and unintended consequences. (Paragraph 36)

8.  Their needs also have to be specifically addressed in personalised learning. (Paragraph 37)

9.  At the least, this evidence suggests that the case for further setting is not proven, and we welcome the Government's intention to publish independent research into current best practice. (Paragraph 39)

Workforce and leadership development

10.  We recommend that detailed consideration be given to training teachers for the most challenging schools and to ways of supporting them in their teaching career. (Paragraph 44)

11.  We recommend that the Government looks urgently at setting a minimum entitlement in teachers' timetables, particularly in primary schools, for continuing personal development and such training. (Paragraph 44)

12.  Although Trust schools are promoted in the White Paper as a radical innovation in school governance, it is important to note that these freedoms and flexibilities are already available to schools under the power to innovate under section 2 of the Education Act 2002. (Paragraph 47)

13.  No causal link has been demonstrated between external partners and the success of a school, or between the independence of a school from local authority control and its success. (Paragraph 50)

14.  We recommend that the Government should publish a list of bodies it considers appropriate to act as Trust sponsors. It should also publish details of those organisations which have been approved by the DfES. (Paragraph 55)

15.  We believe it is essential that Trusts do operate in a collaborative fashion and that Government embeds in any legislation requirements for this to be monitored at local and national level. (Paragraph 57)

16.  If Trusts are formed, it should be a requirement that all parent governors on a Trust school governing body should be elected by parents of children at the school. (Paragraph 59)

17.  We recommend, therefore, the model of a federation of two or more schools as the preferred option for the development of the Trust school concept. (Paragraph 63)

18.  Given the Secretary of State's statement that schools will not be bribed or coerced into becoming Trust schools, and given the lack of enthusiasm we have found in the course of the inquiry for schools to become Trusts, we believe that the Schools Commissioner should perform a much less executive role in relation to the promotion and establishment of Trust schools than suggested in the White Paper. (Paragraph 65)

19.  We therefore recommend that the Schools Commissioner should not be or remain a serving DfES civil servant after appointment and indeed that it might be useful for Government to seek an appointee from outside DfES. The Commissioner should be established at arm's length from the Department reporting to Parliament through the Select Committee as well as to ministers in DfES. This will be essential to enable her or him to operate in a more independent manner and enjoy the confidence of all parties concerned. (Paragraph 65)

20.  Becoming a Trust school may be attractive to some schools, and the DfES should advise and assist those who wish to do so, but it should be one option in a pluralist schools system. The promotion of Trust schools should not be an overriding policy objective. (Paragraph 66)

21.  We urge Government to have due regard to these concerns and to implement mechanisms in the Bill to allay them. We make some recommendations to this effect later on. (Paragraph 68)

22.  There is no reason why a local authority should not put forward a proposal for a new community school when a competition for a new school is to be held, (Paragraph 69)

23.  We see this diversity as a strength rather than a weakness, as long as all maintained schools abide by common rules on admissions, fair access and social composition. (Paragraph 70)

Local authorities

24.  We recommend, therefore, that all publicly funded schools should be given the same legal responsibilities in this respect. (Paragraph 75)

Every Child Matters

25.  We welcome the fact that Ofsted, under its new inspection regime, is assessing schools against the five Every Child Matters outcomes, but that still does not ensure that schools will co-operate with other agencies. A formal duty for schools to co-operate would put the matter beyond doubt and we recommend that the Government should legislate for that duty in the forthcoming Bill. (Paragraph 78)

Local authorities as commissioners

26.  Since the introduction of local management of schools under the Education Reform Act 1988, local authorities have not had control of schools in the way the White Paper implies and some of its critics believe. (Paragraph 79)

27.  The Bill needs to be drafted to ensure that where there continues to be provision of education through community schools, local authorities are able to provide support as now. This also fits with our earlier recommendation that local authorities should be able to propose the establishment of a new community school in a competition for a new school. (Paragraph 80)

28.  It appears that local authorities will be even more central to education provision in their areas that is the case now. (Paragraph 82)

29.  If authorities cannot have reasonable confidence in the long-term viability of some of their schools, or if they no longer are in charge of the assets of schools because of a change in status, how can they plan for the future, and how can they reasonably be expected to undertake long-term financial commitments? Is there a need for Trusts to own their assets in order to be effective? Could they lease them from the local authority? We expect the Government to issue guidance on the issues raised as a matter of urgency to ensure that PFI projects in the Building Schools for the Future programme are not adversely affected as well as to ensure that public assets are protected in the long term. (Paragraph 83)

Choice, diversity and fair access

30.  We are firmly of the opinion that fair access should take top priority, followed by choice and diversity respectively. There is growing concern and a body of evidence about the relationship between school admissions and levels of social segregation and schools need to show that they are aware of their responsibilities to their communities in general as well as to the children whom they admit. We propose that a new duty be placed on all schools to promote social inclusion and community cohesion through all of their institutional policies and procedures, including their admissions policies. (Paragraph 85)

31.  We recommend that Trust schools should be given the duty to spread good practice and demonstrate collaboration across the local authority area, and that their performance in this regard should be monitored by local authorities, who would report to the Schools Commissioner to produce an annual report to Parliament and to DfES. (Paragraph 86)

32.  We recommend therefore that Trust schools and others be given the duty to operate equitable admission policies for children with special educational needs across the local authority area, and that the performance of schools in this regard should be monitored by local authorities, who would report to the Schools Commissioner to produce an annual report to Parliament and to DfES. (Paragraph 87)

Helping people exercise choice

33.  There has been criticism of some aspects of this proposal, but for poorer families choice without mobility is no choice. (Paragraph 93)

34.  We ask the Government to examine the case for index-linking this funding to inflation and to ensure that its effectiveness—and the possible need substantially to increase it—is monitored by an external body. (Paragraph 93)

Constraints on choice

35.  Until such time as the distribution of able and well motivated pupils between schools is better balanced, and the vast majority of schools are considered by parents to be of acceptable quality, there are likely to be schools that are regularly oversubscribed. The aim must be to ensure that the admissions process is as fair and transparent as possible. We therefore recommend that the Government looks at the possibility of introducing anonymised admissions. (Paragraph 96)

36.  The goal should be to achieve the best combination of a diverse range of schools with equitable capital and revenue funding, balanced intakes and a scrupulously fair and transparent admissions process monitored by the local authority and admissions forum in each area and (we suggest later in the report) by the Schools Commissioner nationally. (Paragraph 97)

Pupil funding

37.  We recommend that the Government should develop with local authorities a system to direct additional funding at individual pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds wherever they live, possibly using local funding formulae. (Paragraph 102)

Planning social provision

38.  There is clearly a vital role here for local authorities in planning provision. They must retain sufficient powers to manage the process and balance pressure from parents and schools to expand. There is a danger that a poorly managed choice agenda could accelerate the flight from schools in deprived areas. This would further disadvantage those who are already disadvantaged in education. (Paragraph 103)

39.  We recommend that the Government publishes a costing of the surplus places that may arise because of this demographic change. (Paragraph 106)

The admissions process

40.  Our concern is that there must be a Code of Practice which can be enforced. There must be effective oversight of the Code and effective sanctions when the Code is breached (Paragraph 113)

The current proposals

41.  The larger the number of schools with different arrangements for dealing with oversubscription the greater the problems some parents may have in predicting the outcome of any preferences they express. (Paragraph 114)

42.  The concern is that, without changes to the admissions process, if more schools act as their own admissions authorities they will use that power to choose pupils who are likely to perform well academically. (Paragraph 116)

43.  It is clear from other evidence, however, that there are legitimate concerns that some schools are using over-subscription criteria to mould the nature of their intakes to maximise the number of pupils who are thought likely to perform well academically or to be "easy to teach". It is also clear that this tends to mean that pupils eligible for free school meals are less likely to be accepted for those schools. (Paragraph 119)

44.  It is unhelpful for the Secretary of State to cite evidence from an unfinished research project in support of one of the Government's proposals without being prepared to make the detail of that evidence available to us. (Paragraph 123)

45.  We accept that the Code cannot simply be made a set of mandatory rules; it is, after all, a document offering guidance. (Paragraph 127)

46.  We recommend that the Government should bring forward regulations to prohibit interviewing or other proxies for academic selection as a part of the general schools admissions process as soon as possible. (Paragraph 127)

47.  The situation concerning partial selection has been contentious for some time and we believe that the legislation should be amended to clarify what is and is not allowed. (Paragraph 128)

48.  We referred earlier to the recommendations of our previous reports on selection by aptitude. The Government no longer collects data on the extent of such selection and justifies it largely on the grounds that few schools use it. We have not yet been presented with a credible explanation of the distinction between aptitude and ability. This is most unsatisfactory and we believe aptitude selection should now be prohibited in regulations. We also recommend that the DfES re-examines the current Code of Practice to identify what other practices should be more closely regulated, prohibited or, conversely, encouraged. (Paragraph 129)

49.  There remains the question of those schools which are specifically permitted by the 1998 Act to select wholly by academic ability. Our previous report dealt with this issue in some detail and we wish to reiterate our recommendations. We welcome the fact that that there is now all party agreement that there should be no new selection by general academic ability. (Paragraph 130)

50.  The Government has consulted on a new Code of Practice, but has put it on hold while it considers the responses. We believe that, in the light of our recommendations, the Government should reconsider what the Code should contain and its fitness for purpose, and consult again before implementation. (Paragraph 131)

Local authorities to monitor admissions arrangements

51.  Local authorities and admissions forums would be required to monitor closely local admissions arrangements for compliance with the Code of Practice, to make an objection to the adjudicator about any which did not comply and to make an annual report on behalf of the admission forum to the Schools Commissioner. (Paragraph 133)

52.  If, within six weeks of being informed of the conclusions of the admissions forum, the school or schools in question did not amend their proposed admission arrangements accordingly, the local authority would be required to make an objection to the schools adjudicator (at present, the admissions forum cannot itself object to the adjudicator). (Paragraph 136)

53.  We consider that giving local authorities the duty to monitor the system locally is the most effective way to ensure that the admissions process is fair, as the Government wishes it to be. In particular, we consider that it addresses the argument that more admissions authorities mean more covert selection by ability. However many admissions authorities there are, the key to equity is rigorously enforced fair admissions practices. (Paragraph 137)

54.  This process would fit well with one change that the Government is proposing to the admissions process, namely to make the adjudicator's decisions binding for three years rather than one year as at present. We welcome this change. This is also the fixed period the Government is suggesting for the admission arrangements of new schools. This time limit has been criticised in the context of new schools, but there is a logic in having the same time frame for new and existing schools, and if the Government makes it a duty on local authorities to monitor admissions arrangements and to make an objection where the Code is not being observed, we believe the system would be sufficiently robust. (Paragraph 139)

Social composition of schools

55.  One way to address the low representation of children from deprived backgrounds in some schools would be for local authorities to set benchmarks for the secondary schools in their areas for the numbers of children on free school meals or whose families are in receipt of Working Families Tax Credit admitted to Year 7 each year. Each local authority would also be required to make a report annually to the Schools Commissioner on the social composition of secondary schools. In turn the Schools Commissioner would report annually on the position across the country, but should also have sanctions where it appears that schools or authorities are not addressing these issues of inequality. (Paragraph 141)

56.  We recommend that the DfES works with other government Departments and those outside Government to construct more sophisticated measures of deprivation and disadvantage. (Paragraph 143)

Trust schools

57.  We have established that these are not a new concept; the Government has re-branded one type of foundation school and sought to promote it as the way forward for schools. Much more detail and clarity is needed on the process involved in becoming a Trust school, which the Trust Schools prospectus does not provide. If the Government wants to allay fears about how Trust schools will operate, it needs to provide this detail and clarity as soon as possible (Paragraph 155)

58.  We recommend that the Government looks at this issue again with a view to establishing much greater safeguards on the transfer of assets to Trusts through detailed restrictions on disposal of assets and other issues or by a leasehold-style arrangement. (Paragraph 157)

Local authorities

59.  Rather than having their role reduced, local authorities have significant and even increased responsibilities. (Paragraph 158)

60.  It is imperative that schools work with local authorities and other agencies on Every Child Matters and we recommend that schools be given the formal duty to co-operate on these issues. (Paragraph 159)

61.  We therefore recommend that when a competition for a new school is held, a local authority should have the right to put forward a proposal for a new community school. (Paragraph 160)


62.  We recommend that the Secretary of State brings forward as soon as possible new regulations to bar the use of interviewing in the admissions process. We also recommend that the DfES examines the Code to see whether any other provisions might also be the subject of regulations. (Paragraph 161)

63.  We recommend that under the forthcoming legislation all local authorities should be given the statutory duty to monitor admissions practices in their areas and make an objection to the Schools Adjudicator where it appears they do not comply with the Code. (Paragraph 162)

64.  We welcome the Government's decision to increase the length of time for which the Adjudicator's decisions are binding from one year to three years. We consider that this, together with the duty on local authorities to police the process systematically, will make the admissions process considerably more effective. (Paragraph 163)

65.  We recommend that local authorities be required to provide benchmarks for each of the secondary schools in their areas for the number of pupils they should be admitting in Year 7 eligible for free school meals or working families tax credit. They should make annual reports to the Schools Commissioner, who in turn should report to Parliament through this select committee. (Paragraph 164)

66.  Taken together, these recommendations on admissions and social composition, giving new duties to the Schools Commissioner, empowering local authorities and strengthening the Code of Practice with regulations provide the effective practical means to ensure that the Government's aspirations on fair access can be realised. (Paragraph 165)


67.  We recommend that the Government develops its proposal to provide extra funding to those areas with the lowest levels of prior attainment by pupils entering secondary school by seeking a means of providing extra funding for individual pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. (Paragraph 167)

In-school reforms

68.  In the end the form of governance of a school is less significant in determining the attainment of its pupils than the nature of its pupil intake and the quality of teaching and leadership. (Paragraph 170)

69.  Schools need to have a sound structure of governance and accountability, and this can take more than one form, but in the end it will be what happens in schools, whatever their designation, that will decide whether the attainment of disadvantaged children in our school system will be improved. (Paragraph 170)

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