Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)


23 MAY 2007

  Q40  Paul Holmes: The next point I was going to make was that in the last six years I have visited schools around the country with the Select Committee that have very poorly resourced libraries but that is because they do not have the money. It is not because they do not want them.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I cannot entirely agree with that because, while investment in IT is very important, it should not be at the expense of books. You need both. The proportion of schools—I think Ofsted published a report on this—that have a qualified librarian is disappointingly low.

  Q41  Mr Pelling: I just wonder, Chairman, whether colleagues are being a little bit uncharitable in the questions they are asking about the charitable trust. Has the Trust also been an important catalyst for change and has it been an important conduit for encouraging private money into education?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We hope so.

  Q42  Mr Chaytor: Could I just pick up a point that Liz made earlier about the voluntary nature of participation? If the governing party has a manifesto commitment to transform the secondary school system into a network of specialist schools and a target of all schools being specialist or virtually all schools being specialist by 2008, it is hardly a voluntary participation, is it? It is a bit difficult for a school to resist that when it is a central plank of the Government's policy.

  Ms Reid: I do not think it is a question of resistance. I think it is a question of choice. One of the key parts ...

  Q43  Mr Chaytor: The choice is not a level playing field, is it? There is three-quarters of a million pounds on the table if you become a specialist school. It is a central plank of Government policy. What sense would it make to resist it?

  Ms Reid: There are schools—I do not think they would want to use the word "resist"—who to date have chosen not to become specialist. I believe the reason for that is that the specialist schools policy is very much about developing a distinctive ethos in each school and there are many schools still who feel that they have that distinct ethos and that specialism will add nothing. That is the position they take and it is their right to do that. I do think that the nature of the network, this voluntary network, has been important in supporting the implementation of the policy because, as I say, schools join and rejoin the network every year and get benefit from it.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We encourage schools to raise their standards and we do it in many different ways. This outcomes paper refers to our three different high-performance school clubs: most improved, most value added and it used to be 70% five A-Cs, now 60% five A-Cs including Maths and English. The schools take great pride in being members of these high-performing categories, and 1,300 of our schools that had GCSE results in 2006 are high-performing and there is a high-performing status within a specialist school. Could I also talk about the value of a specialist subject, which I think is often missed? St Paul's Way School in Tower Hamlets was a very under-performing school, with a very high proportion of ethnic minorities. They had a brilliant art department. They applied for specialist visual arts status. The pupils in that school were getting an astonishingly high proportion of As and starred As in visual arts and something happened, what we call the locomotive effect, that with good performance in one subject, the other departments say, "If our same pupils are doing so well in that subject, why can't they do well in my subject?" and that pulls that performance across the way because you have success and pride in one department which is then replicated throughout the school.

  Q44  Mr Chaytor: Could I pursue that point? Do you see the whole advantage of the specialist schools network as primarily a driver for school improvement at the level of the individual school or primarily an underpinning of a parental choice policy? My question specifically is, as the years go by, would you expect it to be more likely that more parents would send their children further from home to attend a specialist school because of its specialism, or would you expect most parents to have confidence in sending their children to the nearest school because the specialist network has improved the quality of all schools?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Perhaps I can respond to that, as it is a policy area. My dream is that all schools should be good schools. The problem with admissions will be solved when we improve the standards in these 400 low-attaining schools. I think we are getting increasing evidence, sometimes using the new trust status. There is a group of schools in Worcestershire, led by the Haybridge School, seven schools joined together with an FE college; they are going to run a joint post-16 provision specialism with some vocational subjects. I think it would be fantastic down the road if groups of schools worked together locally. Controversially, and Liz Reid does not necessarily support this view, I would like to see fair banding and, if a school is oversubscribed, random allocation, as is practised by the Haberdashers' two schools that joined together. But I would also like the possibility, if you have a brilliant young mathematician aged 11, that even though they might go to their local school because it is a good school, there is the possibility of going to the specialist maths college or science college. I think the other crucial issue facing this country is that half of our schools are only 11-16 and pupils have to move at 16. David Jesson's work on identifying the gifted and talented shows that only 20% of those very able children identified using raw scores in key stage two Maths and English get the three As at A level if they had to move at 16. Some of them do not even take A levels. Collaboration and co-operation of groups of schools working together, more post-16 provision on a group basis, I think, is something that everybody should be supporting and many of our head teachers are moving down that road.

  Q45  Mr Chaytor: What is the answer to the question? Are we likely to see more parents choosing to send their child to the local school or are we likely to see more parents choosing to send their child to a specialist school?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I think admissions is a very complicated issue. The current right of specialist schools to choose 10% of their intake, in certain subjects like languages, is used by very few of them. Most of our schools are passionately comprehensive in their intake but I think it is possible, especially if schools are reasonably close together, like, for example, Grantham: two grammar schools, one FE College, four former secondary moderns. All the secondary moderns are now specialist. They persuaded the Learning and Skills Council ...

  Q46  Mr Chaytor: If I can just interrupt, surely they are still secondary modern? If there are two grammar schools, there must be four secondary modern schools. You can change the name on the front door but reality is to all intents and purposes they are secondary modern schools.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: No, not now. They regard themselves as specialist schools and they have a joint post-16 ...

  Mr Chaytor: You can change the name on the front door but you have not changed the nature of the admissions policy.

  Q47  Chairman: David, you are asking some good questions but you have to let Sir Cyril answer them first, before you ask the second one. Sir Cyril, carry on.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Legally, I suppose they are, in a selective system, still secondary modern but they are not regarded as a secondary modern; they are regarded as a specialist school, and at post-16 they teach the post-16 courses in their specialist subject and the children move around. I think that is a wonderful example of collaboration. Trowbridge is doing the same thing and this is happening all over the country.

  Q48  Mr Chaytor: Could I just put a question to Liz about the aptitude selection? Sir Cyril said few specialist schools choose the 10%. The figure in the early days was about 6% using the aptitude selection. Is it still about 6% or has it increased?

  Ms Reid: It might even have gone down a little. We do not hold this data.

  Q49  Mr Chaytor: Do you not think it is important that you should hold the data?

  Ms Reid: I do not really.

  Q50  Mr Chaytor: You have a vast amount of information. Professor Jesson's report is hugely detailed. Is not this question of which schools use the selection by aptitude an important element in the evaluation of all schools?

  Ms Reid: No. That is a matter for schools themselves. The Jesson methodology takes into account the range of intake that each school has and that is no doubt itself part of an ongoing debate but the network is a plural organisation so, for example, specialist grammar schools are part of the affiliation network, academies, schools of all kinds are part of the network. There are even a small number of independent schools that are part of the network. The criterion for joining and staying as a member is simply a willingness to share and work together and that is what schools do.

  Q51  Mr Chaytor: In terms of understanding the bigger picture, the Department does not collect the data on selection by aptitude because they say that specialist schools belong to the SSAT. The SSAT does not collect it, and it is an important ingredient, an important piece of evidence, is it not?

  Ms Reid: If I may, Chairman, I would be extremely surprised if the Department, either Ministers or officials, would say that specialist schools belong to the SSAT because that is just simply not the case. We have covered this ground in a number of answers.

  Q52  Mr Chaytor: My question is simply this: is the issue of the proportion of schools selecting by aptitude, and whether that has a positive effect or not, not an important piece of evidence that either the SSAT or the Department ought to collect, given the vast amount of similar data they collect?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Perhaps I am being unfair to officials present here. I have an official brief here that says that only 6% of specialist schools use the right to choose by aptitude.

  Chairman: Who gathers that? You are not allowed to do that. He passed a note.

  Q53  Mr Chaytor: One other question. Professor Jesson's report is extremely interesting and informative and he gives figures for free school meals for the intake of each specialist school as well. What I do not see, and I do not think I have been able to find anywhere else, is the relationship between the proportion of children with free school meals in different kinds of specialist schools. My question—and again, I think it is a question for Liz—is do you have this and have you done an analysis of the free school meal intake according to categories of specialist school? The purpose of my question: is there a relationship between certain kinds of specialism and certain free school meal bands?

  Ms Reid: The answer is that we can access the information. No, we have not done the analysis and yes, I agree it would be a very interesting thing to do and something we may bear in mind for developing the analysis next year.

  Q54  Mr Chaytor: So if I put a Parliamentary Question on that subject you would be able to advise the DfES very quickly as to what the answer was?

  Ms Reid: If I may, Chairman, the holders of educational data in this country are the local authorities and the Department for Education and Skills and the schools themselves, so if we are able to access data, it is courtesy of those bodies. We are not in that sense a data collecting organisation ourselves and I think most people would frown on such an idea of adding an additional burden to schools and other statutory organisations.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Page 29 of the outcomes study[2] does actually break out the proportion of specialist schools by free school meals, above 50%, zero to 5%, and there is a relationship—in my mind, it is quite clear—between schools with very high proportions of free school meals. It does not mean to say that all schools with a high proportion of free school meals do not perform well. Some of them are performing extraordinarily well, especially on a value-added basis.

  Q55 Mr Chaytor: Thank you for that. That is very useful. The issue is the relationship between the free school meals band and the specific category. What is the difference between sports colleges and science colleges, for example? I would have thought Professor Jesson could have put this through his computer.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We have that data and I think it is very interesting to break it out.

  Q56  Mr Marsden: Liz Reid, if I could start with you, what evidence do you have that specialist schools have better qualified teachers in their specialisms than other schools?

  Ms Reid: I have no evidence of that sort at all, Chairman. That, if it is available, would be held by the TDA.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: It is a crucial question you ask. When William Atkinson took over the Phoenix School in Hammersmith, a failing school, 50% of the teachers were not permanent; they were substitute teachers. Now he has transformed the school. It is doing very well. The ability to attract and retain good teachers is absolutely fundamental to a successful school.

  Q57  Mr Marsden: I accept that, Sir Cyril, and it is useful to have that anecdotal example but, with respect, Liz Reid, and I do not wish to be unkind, your response is rather extraordinary, is it not? Here you are, the Chief Executive of a Trust that is going out week by week trying to attract sponsors, and you are unable to tell me, either from your own basis or from another database, what evidence there is that specialist teachers in these schools actually improve them.

  Ms Reid: I think I may have misunderstood the question in the first place. There is some evidence, and some of that is available in the outcomes study, that in individual subjects that comprise the specialisms the performance is better and the uptake is better in specialist schools but that is not invariably so. On the question of sponsorship, I think it is very important to understand that sponsors in the end sponsor individual schools. Very many sponsors visit schools that they may sponsor and one of the things that we really try to support is the development of a relationship between the sponsor and the school because that is the value.

  Q58  Mr Marsden: Do they ever ask the sort of question that I have just asked?

  Ms Reid: I think they are concerned about generally a school's commitment to improve and to do better and to develop the specialism.

  Q59  Mr Marsden: So they are not that bothered about whether the teachers who are there at the moment are any good at their specialism or not?

  Ms Reid: If I may, whether teachers are any good at their specialism or not, we have a very elaborate set of arrangements to ensure now with schools that teachers are competent, that they are satisfactory, and that they are participating in continuing professional development—there is a national framework for all of that—so there are a whole set of arrangements that actually exist in schools for relationships between schools and their teaching staff. That is not a matter for us.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The more extreme examples are the academies. We have a role to support academies to raise their standards after...

2   Educational outcomes and value added by specialist schools: 2006 analysis, by Professor David Jesson and David Crossley. Back

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