Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)


23 MAY 2007

  Q20  Helen Jones: I am somewhat intrigued to hear you say, Ms Reid, that you are a membership organisation. That, of course, in a sense is true but less than a third of your budget comes from members, if I understood you rightly, does it not? So you could not carry on the work you are doing without these very large sums of money from the DfES. I listened to what you said about the regular meetings, accounting and so on, and I understand that but against what outcomes is your use of this money measured?

  Ms Reid: If we take, for example, the Specialist Schools Programme, we have a clear dataset that we report to the Department on quarterly. The first thing we report on is the amount of sponsorship we raise, because that is an important role to ensure that no school is disadvantaged in its desire to become specialist because it is having difficulty in accessing or raising sponsorship. So we do that on behalf of schools, and our history is one of always meeting the target that we have agreed with the DfES.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: £300 million in the last 20 years.

  Ms Reid: In addition, we manage the Partnership Fund, for which we raise money and to which the Department makes a matched contribution. That Partnership Fund is also there as a supplement for schools that have tried absolutely everything but it is very difficult for them, so they can access that. We are monitored on that. We have a very small-scale programme to support specialist schools that may find themselves in difficulty with their achievement. We do have some responsibility but it is always shared with the local authority—it must be—who in the end have absolute responsibility, so we do have some responsibility for ensuring that GCSE results rise.

  Q21  Helen Jones: Can I just stop you there? What are your targets in each of those areas? How much sponsorship are you expected to raise for this year, for instance?

  Ms Reid: For this year we are going to raise just under £4 million for specialist schools. In the past, when the programme ...

  Q22  Helen Jones: Is that your target set by the DfES?

  Ms Reid: Yes, that is the target we have agreed with them.

  Q23  Helen Jones: You talked about supporting specialist schools. What targets are you given by the DfES in that regard?

  Ms Reid: To retain schools in the programme, because schools have to be re-designated on a regular basis and the target there is that 95% of schools should be re-designated.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Could I just add on that, again on the accountability measure, that re-designation is a crucial part of the Specialist Schools Programme, and they have to re-bid, it used to be every four years, now every three years, to retain their additional funding, which is about £150,000 a year for a typical school, and that is compared to an overall budget of about £5 million. Ofsted are now going to be the prime determiners of whether a school should be re-designated because the re-designation procedure is going to be linked to the Ofsted inspection and we think that is a very good measure. We are working closely with Ofsted so that their inspectors can understand what a good specialist school is. One of the things that is not generally known is this helping schools to help each other, sharing of best practice. This is a crucial value of the Trust's network. A language college in Newcastle can call a language college in Exeter which is teaching Mandarin through a Chinese teacher that has been seconded to them. It is very interesting to share that best practice. That is incredibly valuable to schools.

  Q24  Helen Jones: I am sure it is but what I am trying to get at is how we measure the effectiveness of your organisation in doing that. You see, quite rightly, Elizabeth Reid said to us that you are not responsible for the achievement of results. That is the responsibility of the schools and the local authorities and they are held to account for that by the Ofsted inspections. So exactly how is the value that you say you add to this measured in terms of results?

  Ms Reid: Chairman, I have given some indication of the kinds of targets that we agree with DfES. Those targets have been very much about the implementation of the Specialist Schools Programme and we are having this discussion at an interesting point, the point at which we are within sight now of meeting the Government's targets for the number of specialist schools, the so-called specialist system, that is, 95% of schools to be specialist or academies by 2008. We are in discussion now with the Department about what our future role will be because our role has been very much about ensuring that schools became specialist, but the issue here was that the policy, unlike many, many policies in education, is entirely voluntary. It is for schools to decide when to become specialist, if they want to be specialist. There are still schools, high-performing schools, that are not specialist, that may never choose to be specialist and, as a voluntary organisation, I do think it is helpful to focus on the Trust as a third sector, voluntary organisation, with a large-scale membership. Our role has been to support that voluntarism.

  Q25  Helen Jones: I understand that you are saying you are a voluntary organisation but you are a very unusual voluntary organisation in that you are a voluntary organisation which is largely funded by Government, are you not? If we achieve 90% of schools becoming specialist schools and academies, how do you see your role then? Are you not simply another step on the way? Why do those schools not just deal with the DfES?

  Ms Reid: If I may, Chairman, no doubt that question is asked in schools. So far, for us, fortunately no doubt, the answer has been affirmative, that they would like to continue working with the Trust and schools do re-affiliate. I believe they do that and I believe we have had success with this policy on a voluntary basis because schools get value from working with each other with us in the network that we maintain for them.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The grant from the Government in total, including tenders that we win in open competition, the direct grant is very important to us and we want to keep it, but you asked us to put our goals for the future and goal 10 is to develop the financial independence of the Trust by reducing its dependence on direct government grant. I am a big market man and I think that the future of this Trust is going to be schools paying for the bulk of our costs by voluntary contributions, and we will only get them to do that if we are providing the services that they want and they are willing to pay for them. The total context, if you take our direct grant of £25 million, is a schools budget of £30 billion, and I would submit that that is a pretty small proportion of that and we are getting value for money.

  Q26  Helen Jones: I do not think the schools in my area consider £25 million a small amount of money. Can I ask you something else? Part of your money is raised from sponsors. Can you tell the Committee who those sponsors are?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes. We have a list of them. We would be happy to supply the list. There are 700 of them and they range from the most distinguished charities in the country, like the Weston Foundation, livery companies, giant organisations like Oracle, Microsoft. If you come to our annual lecture tomorrow, which is being given by Lord Rees on science, we are awarding Microsoft our Sponsor of the Year award because of the support that they have given to us.

  Q27  Helen Jones: Thank you. The other issue I wanted to raise with you is that the Trust seems to have various multiple roles, different offshoots. You have specialist schools and academies, the Schools Network, and you have this international arm, which is called iNet. How do you ensure that the demarcation lines between those different arms are maintained and that when we hear from you—I think this probably applies mostly to Sir Cyril—people know on whose behalf you are speaking?

  Ms Reid: I do not tend to speak much in public, Chairman, but I think we are very clear about the nature of the Trust's activities. The international network, like all of our work, has to stand and fall financially on its own account. The international network is growing. It was set up because we were receiving approaches from schools in other parts of the world asking whether they could join, whether they could access our website, whether they could have our publications, whether they could attend conferences and that network has been successful and is growing but it has to manage itself financially.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We also learn from schools abroad.

  Q28  Helen Jones: Is that run on a commercial basis?

  Ms Reid: Yes.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: HSBC has given a very substantial grant to get that established, and in our accounts to the Council we break down the income of the various activities. The Government does not fund iNet at all. That is a freestanding division within the Trust and, obviously, we are concerned that it must cover its costs.

  Q29  Helen Jones: You mentioned £300 million raised over 20 years in sponsorship. That could have built roughly 12 new schools, could it not? Can you convince the Committee that that money has been better spent through you than it might have been spent on building new schools in deprived areas, for example?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The sponsorship is mainly for the specialist schools and the original city technology colleges. We do help occasionally with academy sponsorship but we do not have a direct role in that. The fact that companies like HSBC, Rolls-Royce, the Mercers, the Haberdashers and Associated British Foods use their shareholder money to support local schools we think is a very, very good thing and the involvement of distinguished organisations like HSBC—there are 150 specialist schools sponsored by HSBC. They are allowed to put up in front of their building "An HSBC centre of excellence". If the school does not perform very well, HSBC is saying, "Hey, you might have to take that sign down." So this is the employers interacting directly with schools. For example, Rolls-Royce were finding it difficult to get apprenticeships. Now they employ as many young women apprentices as they do men because the nature of the job has changed; it is programming robots. They only support schools where there are actually Rolls-Royce factories. I think the linkage with sponsorship is not just the money; it is the encouragement to raise standards.

  Ms Reid: It might be helpful to say, Chairman, that it has not built 12 new schools but it has provided small-scale building improvement and development projects in every specialist school because the £50,000 sponsorship that needs to be raised as part of the whole range of things that have to be fulfilled to be specialist attracts a further £100,000 capital grant from the DfES. So school by school, there have been very worthwhile physical building improvements as a result of that investment.

  Stephen Williams: I have been looking through all the glossy reports we have been provided with right at the start of the meeting, including your Annual Report 2005-06 and the ten-year Education, Education, Education summary of your last conference. One question I do not think we have perceived so far is the number of people who work for the Trust.

  Chairman: 300.

  Q30  Stephen Williams: In the current Prime Minister's speech at the last conference he says the Trust are the most dynamic educational organisation in Britain. "You are the true change makers in our country today." That is quite a sweeping claim, is it not? You must be quite pleased with that.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We think our head teachers are wonderful. They are the people that have improved standards in our schools.

  Q31  Stephen Williams: So you interpret that as praise for the head teachers of the schools rather than for the Trust?

  Ms Reid: It is about the network.

  Q32  Stephen Williams: Given that it is the head teachers who have made that improvement, and the vast majority of secondary schools in particular in this country are now specialist schools, what difference do you think your Trust actually makes to what a local authority or the National College for School Leadership or the DfES makes? How is what you contribute different?

  Ms Reid: I want to come back to the network, because we enable schools, head teachers, teachers at all levels, to work together across boundaries. I mentioned the regional networks. I think we provide an arena in which good practice can be transmitted very easily, and it is transmitted because the advocates of the good practice are the practitioners themselves. That makes it very convincing and credible. I think there is a particular kind of culture that has developed in the network which is very much about "can do", with some pretty strong beliefs that children can achieve, that schools do make a difference; indeed, it is their responsibility to make a difference. As Ofsted found in its second report on specialist schools, the network is optimistic and it generates a very positive approach that believes success is possible.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Could I just give you three examples of unique best practice that the Trust has helped to disseminate within our group of 3,000 schools? There is the very difficult issue of 11-year-olds arriving in secondary schools with poor reading skills, a crucial issue: a child who cannot read cannot learn. Progress has been made. It used to be half of 11-year-olds had a reading problem; it is now probably 20% or so. We have encouraged many of our schools to give their incoming children a reading test and then if a child has a reading problem, they give them intensive support. We learned from the States that it is very important that schools have libraries, 10 books per child, that there is a skilled librarian, that there is an independent silent supervised reading period and that when the children hand the book back to the library, they can take an online comprehension test. That is taking off and we think that will help to raise standards. Last night—Rob Wilson has stepped out for a minute—I was at a dinner where the Reading school which was an under-performing girls' school—we hope will achieve specialist status—is now partnering with the Kendrick selective school. We think that is a very interesting idea. Why cannot all 164 grammar schools help an under-performing school? Take Cisco academies and Oracle academies—we now have 500 of those academies in our schools— that incredible, high-quality IT professional qualification.

  Q33  Chairman: Is that a different sort of academy from the other academies?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The Cisco academies are longstanding in 20,000 schools worldwide. They just use the word "academy" but it is a unit in the school which combines laboratory learning, how to basically link machines to the Internet as well as online. If you get a Cisco Certified Network Associates certificate, you can go straight into a £25,000 a year job as an 18-year-old. Many of our schools are now making those academies, Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft, available for adults in the evening and at the weekends. That is the spreading of best practice, and I could give you dozens of other examples.

  Q34  Stephen Williams: What I am trying to get at, Chairman, is what is the difference that the Trust makes that other change makers, to use the Prime Minister's phrase, should be making as opposed to an LA or the DfES or the teaching profession itself? Just to take your example of helping children with reading, you could say just as easily say that the Reading Recovery programme or classroom assistants or other changes that have taken place or parents going into school and helping may have made that progress as well. Some of the things you just said sound to me as though anyone could have done that. They did not sound particularly innovative to me. I may be being unfair.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: They were not doing it. I do not want to criticise either local education authorities, many of whom do an excellent job, or our distinguished civil servants, but head teachers are more likely to listen to another head teacher about what works and this sharing of best practice and collaboration and co-operation I think is a unique function that the Trust has actually developed and is now developing even more.

  Q35  Stephen Williams: Would it be accurate then to describe you as a network clearing house for ideas and best practice rather than as having a hands-on role in schools?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We do not run any school; we have no powers to, but we help them with advice and helping the network.

  Q36  Stephen Williams: Can I ask finally in this section about iNet, which is your international networking arm? Are other countries going along a similar path to us in changing virtually all of our secondary schools eventually into independent, state non-fee-paying schools with specialisms?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The concept of a specialist school originated in the States as a magnet school. The concept of a city academy originated in the States as a chartered school. They have not always worked quite as well in the States and now we have this very interesting situation where Americans, the KORET Group from Stanford University, came over to determine why specialist schools were working dramatically better than magnet schools were in the States. There are now 1,000 magnet schools in the States and they are growing rapidly. The teaching of languages: we have a strong relationship with the Chinese education authorities. We would like all our language colleges, 250 of them, to teach Mandarin. We think it is a strategic world language but the difficulty is getting teachers that can teach Mandarin. We are hoping to supply that by getting Chinese teachers. We now have exchanges between our schools and Chinese schools. We have links with South African schools, with Chilean schools, with Australian schools and with European schools. This is very important. We learn from them; they learn from us.

  Q37  Fiona Mactaggart: I was just struck by your claim that this collaboration between head teachers is a unique function. I am unusual as a Member of Parliament in that within my own constituency, which has not geographically changed, the LAs in it changed when Berkshire was abolished and Slough LA was created, and in that process I saw within the framework of a local education authority exactly the process you describe take life and take off, partnerships between schools, helping each other through problems, sharing innovation and so on, and I would challenge your claim that this is unique. Where there is energy put into a local education authority, I have really seen what you are talking about being done. What is unique about you?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Berkshire was one of the first county councils to have an entirely specialist system. It is an excellent local authority and we collaborate very well with them.

  Q38  Fiona Mactaggart: What I am saying is that when Berkshire Education Authority was abolished, Slough Education Authority's schools' results improved substantially.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes.

  Q39  Paul Holmes: On the same theme, I worked in secondary schools for 22 years, from 1979 to 2001, in Derbyshire. The head teachers always collaborated. The heads of department, history, physics, whatever it was, always collaborated. They always got together, sometimes on a regional basis within the county, sometimes on a county basis. There is nothing new in that at all. It has always happened. You mentioned the idea that libraries should have 10 books per pupil. I never worked in a secondary school that did not have a good, well resourced library, ever in 22 years.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Perhaps you should table a Parliamentary Question to find out how many books there are in every school.

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