Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


23 MAY 2007

  Q1 Chairman: Good morning. Sir Cyril, Elizabeth Reid, welcome to our proceedings. Although Sir Cyril has been in front of this Committee helping us with inquiries, I do not think he has ever been here talking about the work of the Trust. We are very interested to talk to you because it is obvious that in your 20th year in business as a charity you have an enormous amount of knowledge about the educational sector and the educational scene. In fact, you say on your website that you have advised 10 Secretaries of State, Sir Cyril. I thought I had seen a few but you have seen four or five more than me, although the pace has quickened more recently. You have enormous experience of working both in the Trust and also with the Department so we hope today to tap into your knowledge. Elizabeth, you run a very large educational charity, that reaches out to, from what I can see, about 90% of secondary schools in the country, and you do lots of other things as well. You have 300 staff. That is a big organisation. Again, we would like to know something about where you think we are going. Would you like to say anything to start or would you look like to go straight into questions?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I did write a letter and I would be happy to repeat a very quick overview about the history of the Trust, if that is what you would like.

  Q2  Chairman: Most of that I would like to take it we have all read.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Our role is to try to help raise standards in schools and that is what we want to focus on. Liz came up with this wonderful mantra, "For schools, by schools" and we basically eventually foresee that we should not be offering services that schools do not value and are not willing to pay for.

  Q3  Chairman: Sir Cyril, what do you and Liz Reid say when you read a leading parliamentarian saying only this week: "It is a failure to open up the supply side in education, which is the reason why, despite years of ambitious attempts at education reform, Britain now lags behind so many other advanced Western countries." Does that not depress you after 20 years?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: But I do not agree with that. I think there has been enormous progress made in schools and I think it is very sad that some aspects of the media—I know we have some distinguished members here—criticise grade inflation and things like that, but in 20 years I think the standards of education in our schools have increased dramatically. We still have the issue of 400 low-attaining schools and that, I think, is a very important problem that we must resolve. I think it would be fantastic if we had an announced goal that within five years we want no more failing schools, full stop. I spent quite a lot of time in America working with some New York City schools and the standards of some of their urban schools are nothing like the standards that we achieve here.

  Q4  Chairman: David Willetts is one of the most thoughtful people speaking and writing about education, is he not, yet he comes out with a very pessimistic analysis of what we have achieved over the last 20 years?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: There are some particular issues in areas of social disadvantage. The reason why I support the academy initiative so strongly is that there are some schools in very, very challenging areas—buildings are run down, they cannot attract the best staff, they have vacancies, excluded children with behaviour problems from other schools are put into those schools—and it is very difficult for those schools and that is why some of them, I think, do need to be closed and re-established as academies with a fresh start. The case study of the Haberdashers' in Hatcham supporting the former Malory School: it is quite an extraordinary, moving experience to visit the school, which has only been an academy for two years now, I think, and it has been transformed. That is not the only example; there are many other examples of progress like that.

  Q5  Chairman: Liz, can you tell us a bit more about the charity itself? Where do you get your funding from? I know it says where you get your funding from, but in proportion. I know that specialist schools do pay a fee once they become specialist schools and I know you get a departmental grant. What is the proportion between the departmental grant and any other income you get?

  Ms Reid: The organisation's grant, the Specialist Schools Programme grant, is about one third of our income. Then there is a further third that derives from other DfES grants, principally to support the academies programme, to support Raising Achievement and to support the development of applied learning and the implementation of the 14-19 reforms.

  Q6  Chairman: So two-thirds DfES and a third other?

  Ms Reid: That is correct.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: It is slightly less than that now. I think the trend is going down. I think it is 55% or something like that.

  Ms Reid: That is, of course, 2005-2006 and we are now in 2007-2008.

  Q7  Chairman: Is it a flat fee that a school pays to be a member?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: One pound per pupil per year, basically.

  Ms Reid: The final third is a mix of affiliation fees paid by schools, charges for services to schools, and we have a small amount of sponsorship.

  Q8  Chairman: What is quite interesting—and I do not want to be mysterious, Sir Cyril—is the number of addresses you seem to have.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We only have two.

  Q9  Chairman: I thought you had an office near Bruce Liddington in the Department.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: No, no. When I started out in 1987, when the Department was over Waterloo station, I was shown into a rather pokey little office and I survived about two hours there; I said I could be more effective working out of my own office. This document has been shared—and I have extra copies if Members would like to look at it—a brief on specialist schools and a brief on academies[1], and this is quite useful when talking to sponsors, for example, and I am able to use the Department's stationery because every word of this has been checked by officials to make sure it is absolutely ...

  Q10 Chairman: Which address is on that letter?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: That gives my personal office address in Queen's Gate. That is where I work from. This is voluntary work. I have paid employment somewhere else. Liz's office is in Millbank but I do not have an office within the Department.

  Q11  Chairman: So you perch on a desk when you are in Sanctuary House?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I basically only come in to talk to people.

  Q12  Chairman: I see. It is just that I often bump into you in Sanctuary House. I assumed you had an office.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I do have a pass to get into the building.

  Q13  Chairman: Liz, in terms of the work that you achieve, some people would say that when you are assessing your effectiveness, it becomes less and less relevant in a way, and indeed, a little misleading if you keep comparing the performance in GCSE in the specialist schools area as more schools become specialist schools. I think you say in your document that 90% of schools are now specialist schools and so you are really comparing yourself with the rump, are you not, of 10%? Is there a better way to evaluate how you are doing and what change you have brought about in standards in schools?

  Ms Reid: I think there are different ways to do that and there will be different ways going forward. There are a number of things to be said about this though. The Trust itself is not responsible for the achievement of these results; schools are, and then behind schools local authorities have the statutory responsibility for the standards in the schools which they maintain. We published this document simply in order to demonstrate to the wider world that this policy which we support and the schools which we support have been making progress but I think going forward it is plainly absurd to go on with a set of comparisons when we are on the eve of a specialist system. Going forward, we need to focus on the achievement, for example, within specialist subjects. We have significant groupings of schools with specialisms, so are the language colleges adding value to the system as a whole as centres of excellence besides other specialist colleges, and so on? That is the kind of question that in the future we will want to explore, and perhaps explore rather more fully achievement post-16, staying on rates in specialist areas, for example. Those are the kinds of questions.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: If I could just add to that, I think the principle of accountability is extremely important but it has to be fair and transparent accountability. Concentrating on just raw five A-Cs, especially if it does not include Maths or English; although that is a useful snapshot, much more interesting is the value added calculation of Professor David Jesson at York University, where he compares the intake ability at age 11 looking at raw scores in the key stage two and can then project what a school should get, and he could include Maths and English five A-Cs, and you compare them with their actual outcomes. More and more of our schools are accepting that as a fair measure. I think there are some other accountability measures, for example, the number of children who actually turn up. There are arguments about authorised absence and unauthorised absence.

  Q14  Chairman: You said accountability. There are two sorts of accountability, are there not? This Committee has a responsibility in the sense that quite a lot of DfES money flows through the charity so in a sense we think we should be able to ask you questions and find out what you are spending the money on. That is one sort of accountability. The other is a kind of accountability for what you and organisations like yours are achieving. I was recently with the Sutton Trust, who after only 10 years had the Boston Consulting Group really quite ruthlessly and radically evaluate the "bang for the buck" of all the different programmes that they do. It is a much smaller organisation than yours but they went to an organisation that they thought would be rigorously independent. I am a great admirer of Professor Jesson's work but he is quite bound into your Trust. He is on the Board, is he not?

  Ms Reid: No.

  Q15  Chairman: Is he on the Advisory Board?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: No.

  Q16  Chairman: We have been misinformed about that. Apologies for that. There are two professors at York. One seems to give you a pretty fair run but Professor Stephen Gorard is more critical of your claims of achievement, is he not?

  Ms Reid: Chairman, first of all, Professor Jesson has in the past been a member of the Trust's Council but he has not been a member of the Trust's Council for some years now, so we need to be clear about that. The relationship is a straightforward relationship, of the kind that we have with a number of academics. It is absolutely the case that there is terrific academic debate about the causal relationship between a variety of factors and young people's achievement.

  Q17  Chairman: What I am getting at, Liz, is this: is there a time, a regular time, where you get someone who is totally independent and say, "Look, evaluate our performance"? You have been at it for 20 years. How do you know you are doing good stuff if you do not get that sort of independent evaluation?

  Ms Reid: If I may, Chairman, the question is, what are we to be evaluated on? There are many different factors that produce success in schools. We need to be clear about that. Those who are most responsible for what happens in schools are the governors and the managers of individual schools. As I say, behind them stands the statutory authority of the local authority in relation to the schools that they maintain. What we do, as a third sector organisation, I hope, is add value by offering a range of activities which schools participate in generally on a voluntary basis. How we are evaluated is very much in terms, I think, of whether schools value what they do, whether they affiliate each year, whether they re-affiliate each year, whether they continue to use our services, whether our services develop and grow. We are very much a membership organisation and I think that point is sometimes missed. So if I may say that we organise a network; we have networks in each region of the country and each region has its own head teacher steering group determining the nature of the activities that will be put on for schools. Each specialism has a specialism steering group and those head teachers determine what they would like by way of activities and continuing professional development. Each of the programmes we run otherwise; we run a large-scale community programme, leadership programme and so on. They are all overseen by head teacher groups and head teachers and their staff often design and deliver the programmes. In a way, that is the test of our effectiveness. Do schools think that we add value? Do they value working in the network? But we take many steps. For example, we are at the second level of European Foundation for Quality Management standards, we have "Investors in People", we have a range of external accreditations, ISO standards and so on.

  Q18  Chairman: I am not trying to be critical here. I am merely saying that if you had some sort of external, regular evaluation of performance, it would guard you against people like David Willetts saying nothing really has been achieved. In a sense, I am saying have you thought about it as something that you might want to do in the future?

  Ms Reid: That is absolutely something that the Council of the Trust, I am sure, would wish to consider. I think the Chairman said in his letter to you that the Council holds me and my colleagues to account and they do that in very many ways. What I do want to be clear about is that the Trust as an organisation is not responsible for school standards in secondary schools in England.

  Q19  Chairman: But if you have two-thirds of your money coming from the Department, how do they monitor how you spend the money?

  Ms Reid: They monitor very frequently, Chairman. In fact, I think there is a point here that I ought to draw to your attention. The Trust has a financial memorandum with the Department. Until three years ago that financial memorandum was in respect of grant and aid and I was the accounting officer for the Trust. Three years ago we reviewed the financial memorandum, put in place a new memorandum and we moved from grant and aid to grant and I became the accountable officer. So in fact, I do have a direct line to you personally. Within the financial memorandum there is a series of arrangements for very regular meetings and reports. I sit down with my colleagues in the Department on a quarterly basis and for all the main areas of our work where we are supported by the Department with grant there are regular meetings, generally of six-weekly frequency. So there is a very thorough and regular scrutiny undertaken of our work by the Department. It might also be helpful to say that I think increasingly, as National Audit Office and Treasury guidance and government procurement arrangements develop and sharpen within a wider framework of European regulatory change in relation to competition, we are increasingly competing for contracts that the Department may wish to let and I think that is a large part of our future. That, of course, puts another discipline into the situation for us; competition is itself a sharp tool.

  Chairman: Shall we hold that there and dip into some particular topics. Thank you for those opening questions and answers.

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