Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


23 MAY 2007

  Q60  Mr Marsden: I will not trespass on that area because we are going to come on to that shortly. Perhaps I can come to you then, Sir Cyril. There is a lot of discussion about what is going to happen when we have so many specialist schools. The dilemma, it seems to me, is the old Gilbert and Sullivan line, "When everybody is somebody, nobody is anybody", and that may be something that you would like to reflect upon. Can I ask you the question about how specialist a specialist school needs to be because when you look at the list of the categories of specialist schools, they range from some that are quite hard-edged subjects to some that are not woolly but less easily definable. Does that matter?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The brief has a list of the numbers of different types of specialist schools. Technology is the largest at 582; arts is 440; music colleges, disappointingly, are only 22 but they have only been available recently.

  Q61  Mr Marsden: Do not think I am putting you on the defensive here. I am not actually criticising the fact that there is a range. I am not saying it is a bad thing that there are some which have a less sharp curriculum focus than others. I am merely asking you whether in fact you think that makes a difference to the outcome and indeed what evidence we have as to differential outcomes. You gave a very good example earlier about the Cisco units and I assume that that is exactly the sort of thing in a hard-edged way in a technology college that you would be able to monitor.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We have the data by specialism on page 28, and it is true that the overall performance varies by type of specialist subject. The value added, which is, we think, the more important measure, does not vary so much. It is up to the school to choose the specialist subject they think is most appropriate for them. They obviously have to have a department that is capable of supporting that. I would like to eventually have all the specialist schools have high-performing status—currently about a third are. It is a budget issue—and they can add a second specialism. We are working very closely with officials so that when a school achieves high-performing status, they take a strategic view on what the second subject is, because we would like all the subjects to be covered locally and, if there is not a science college locally, then we want the high-performing schools adding a second one.

  Q62  Mr Marsden: Can I ask you a very specific question, which arises out of an inquiry which we have just completed on citizenship education, whose summary at least you may be familiar with. During the course of that inquiry one or two questions were asked about the relationship between citizenship and specialist schools. In my own constituency in Blackpool there have been a couple of inquiries about it. Would you be in favour of citizenship within a broad Humanities framework being a criterion for specialism?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: My instincts are that I would prefer the specialism focus on the hard academic subjects but, on the question of citizenship, I am a historian by original training and sadly, too much history in our schools is Henry VIII's wives and Nazi Germany. I would like to see a combined history/citizenship course.

  Q63  Mr Marsden: That is interesting.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We would hope that our Humanities colleges ... We had a project with Cambridge University to perhaps review the teaching of history; it has not got off the ground yet, but we are all British, even if we might have different ethnic minorities. It is very important that our young people, whatever their ethnic minority, understand what it means to be British, that we did found democratic government. I would like our young people to learn about the Anglo-Saxon wittons, et cetera, and not just focus on some of these more colourful ...

  Q64  Mr Marsden: Liz, in connection with that, going back to the Humanities colleges, do you think "Humanities" is too woolly a title for a specialism?

  Ms Reid: I think it enables some choice within it for schools. I am aware that we have schools that do focus very hard within the Humanities specialism on history and on geography, for example. I think that is a good thing.

  Q65  Mr Marsden: I would like, if I may, Chairman, just to ask a couple of questions about the future. I was interested to see, Sir Cyril, in the document in the list of things you gave us you said what you are hoping to do in the future, and number five was developing the community plans of specialist schools by encouraging them to work together. Is there an implication there that specialist schools have not been working together in the community in the past?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: There have been big improvements recently. An Ofsted report five or six years ago said this needed improving and we focused on this. Most of the community plans involve developing very close links with the feeder primary schools and sharing the expertise. We think that is very important. This is a significant sum of money. It is a third of the top-up to the current funding, so roughly £40,000 per school, multiplied by 3,000 schools eventually, which is £120 million a year. I think if schools pooled more with their community, at least a proportion of it, a school could be the school that has the expertise in looking after children, for example, or their particular specialist subject could be the ...

  Q66  Mr Marsden: So you are not saying that this is a new ethos; you are saying it is a new tactical way of delivering ...

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I think it is an evolution.

  Q67  Mr Marsden: Finally, could I just ask you this, Liz. You have had a number of questions already from colleagues on the Committee about overview of your work. Has the work of the Trust ever been the subject of a National Audit Office review?

  Ms Reid: No, Chairman.

  Q68  Mr Marsden: Would you welcome it if it were?

  Ms Reid: Absolutely.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I do not know whether they audit charities. It is not a departmental government body.

  Mr Marsden: My colleague has just said sotto voce that if you are two-thirds state-funded, I think they might have an interest in it.

  Chairman: It is complicated. You are a complex organisation, neither fish nor fowl.

  Q69  Helen Jones: Just one question on specialism. If, as you said, Sir Cyril, you hope we would have a situation where a young person who is gifted in mathematics could go to a specialist mathematical school, how do you account for the research that shows language schools were delivering better science results at GCSE and A level than specialist science colleges were?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I am afraid I do not know the answer to that. No doubt Professor Jesson would. I suppose you could surmise that it is difficult to be a language college so that it probably attracts the higher-performing schools. The state of language teaching in this country, as the Lord Dearing review recently showed, is such that we need to do a lot more to teach modern foreign languages.

  Q70  Helen Jones: Might that be something to do with their intake, which was the line that my colleague David Chaytor was pursuing? It would be interesting to match up those results to the number of pupils on free school meals, would it not?

  Ms Reid: If I could also comment, Chairman, one of the things that specialist schools have to do is widen the uptake in their specialist subjects. You can find that in many specialist schools there is a much broader range of young people engaging in the specialist subjects than is otherwise the case. As we develop our data analysis, taking into account some of the suggestions here this morning, I think one of the things that would be worth doing is looking at value added in relation to the individual specialisms. This is the point we were on earlier. We might find, for example, that there is a much broader range taking the specialist subject and there is more value being added in that subject area.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Page 28 has the data you are asking for.

  Q71  Mr Chaytor: Chairman, can I pursue this question of the table on page 28, because there are two issues I am puzzled about. Sir Cyril, earlier you said that the value added for specialist schools was fairly even across the board but the table on page 28 surely says exactly the opposite, because the net value added, the final column, ranges from 0.3 in engineering schools to 15.8 in CTCs. Professor Jesson's commentary is "It is surprising to find such a wide range of differences in added value between specialist school types."

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I think that is an issue.

  Q72  Mr Chaytor: You make the point repeatedly that the indisputable higher performance of specialist schools in net results and value added is not due to intake, but if we look at table 2, where it gives the predicted GCSE A-C score for specialist schools as against non-specialist schools—this is the fourth column—it shows the predicted result for specialist schools should have been 58.6 and for non-specialist schools 50.3. Surely, that demonstrates precisely the opposite; it demonstrates that it is largely due to intake because there is an 8.3 % gap in the predicted results of those children in specialist schools as against those in non-specialist schools.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: This is the issue that the Chairman referred to earlier on, that it is increasingly irrelevant to compare specialist with non-specialist as we now have 90% of all schools and many of the non-specialists are at the lower performing end.

  Q73  Mr Chaytor: The whole basis of your argument about the superior performance of specialist schools is now and has always been comparing specialist and non-specialist and here what I am saying is that the argument you make, which I am prepared to accept, that intake is not a factor—clearly, intake is a factor.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: If you look at the value added last column, we do better than performed and the ...

  Q74  Mr Chaytor: I do not dispute that. All I am saying is that the predicted GCSE scores of the cohort in specialist schools as compared to the cohort in non-specialist schools is hugely different and therefore intake must be a factor. Is that not the case? It is precisely the opposite of what you have consistently said.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The value added score is still on a net basis plus 4.6.

  Mr Chaytor: I do not dispute that but intake is a factor.

  Q75  Chairman: It is a fact, is it not, that the 10% that are left, many of them have been schools that have been in serious difficulties?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes, absolutely,

  Q76  Chairman: As soon as they are, they cannot become specialist until they get out and get an Ofsted ...

  Sir Cyril Taylor: They are not even eligible to apply when they are in special measures.

  Q77  Chairman: So it is what I described as a rump really.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes.

  Q78  Chairman: That is in a sense why comparisons are no longer really very important, I would have thought.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Absolutely correct. It is the absolute level of performance we have got to be focusing on.

  Chairman: We are going to move on to academies.

  Q79  Paul Holmes: Just before we start on academies, can I just say I was astonished at your comments about libraries earlier and about the fact that collaboration between heads was uniquely down to the Trust and had never happened before. I was astonished by your comments on history. As a former history teacher and head of history, as I recall the National Curriculum, Henry VIII and his wives is about two weeks in year eight and Hitler in Germany is about half a term in year nine.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: It might have changed a bit.

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