Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)


23 MAY 2007

  Q80  Paul Holmes: I am not quite sure where you got that from. In the letter that you sent to the Committee on 15 May you say that you strongly support the goal of establishing 400 academies on the site of low-attaining schools so that within five years there will be no failing schools in the country. That is quite an astonishing claim, that in five years' time there will be no more failing schools.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: It is not a claim. It is a goal, which I sincerely hope we will achieve. I happened to serve as High Sheriff of Greater London a few years ago and I spent a lot of time studying the problems of young offenders. The Home Office published a fantastic study in 1996 called Misspent Youth. The origins of young offenders in this country, almost all of them were excluded from school, cannot read and write properly, substance abuse, bad peer group culture and disadvantaged family backgrounds. Many of these low-attaining schools have those sorts of problems. The knock-on cost to the country in welfare, health, of young offenders: one young offender, somebody estimated the other day, is £50,000 a year real cost of being in prison. Because of the re-offending rate of 85% within a year of being released, one young offender could cost the taxpayer £1 million or £2 million. We cannot afford to have 400 low-attaining schools and this ought to be at the top of the priority list.

  Q81  Paul Holmes: I agree absolutely. All these are problems we have faced for the last century. What is the magic ingredient X that you have identified that means that 400 academies will solve this problem that we have had for the last hundred years?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The initial record is extremely encouraging. The 20-odd schools that have GCSE cohorts averaged 40% last year compared to 27% for the last year of the predecessor school. Many of them have only been open one or two years. The CTCs are amongst the best schools in the country and they are the forerunner of this initiative. We have identified crucial elements of change and this is why some of these low-attaining schools are so low-attaining that I do not think you can turn them round by normal methods. You have to close them, pupils transfer, usually the leadership has to change, ethos of discipline. It would be fascinating to have a really in-depth study of how Malory School has been transformed in such a short time. Pupils want to learn but you have to have the right environment for that. We owe these 400,000 children a decent education. Social justice demands that every child in this country has the opportunity of going to a decent school. Seventy-five thousand 16-year-olds leave school every year without qualifications.

  Q82  Paul Holmes: I agree with all that but, to return to the question, and to break it down into two parts, first of all, I asked what is the ingredient X of academies that is going to solve this 100-year-old problem? First of all, you say the evidence is very encouraging. The last parliamentary debate I took part in and the last Parliamentary Questions I asked on this showed that, on the figures that were available—and, as you say, it is very early days for academies—one third of academies were doing better than the predecessor schools, one third were doing about the same, and one third were doing worse. So in the early days of evidence there is not very much evidence yet for us to judge on. Is that correct or not?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: My data is different. We have a chart in the outcomes study.

  Q83  Chairman: We also have very different data in the Committee. It may have been said in the heat of debate.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I think you might be referring to five A-Cs including Maths and English, and that is a harder task. English is often a problem because of ethnic minorities not speaking English at home.

  Q84  Paul Holmes: My data was not said in the heat of the debate. It was based on Parliamentary Questions; it was based on hard evidence. It was not last year but the year before so we have one year more evidence, but the evidence is still quite clear so far that there is simply not enough evidence to judge academies on because they are too young, surely.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I do not agree with that. The 15 city technology colleges are amongst the highest performing schools in the country. Many of them were founded on the sites of previously... The Sylvan School, which Lord Harris backed, had no first choice applications. It had 9% five A-Cs. It is now 90%. The school is transformed.

  Q85  Paul Holmes: We will come back to CTCs in a minute. On academies, the second part of my question was what is the ingredient X that makes this huge difference that previous schools were failing to achieve?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Leadership is absolutely fundamental. Without an outstanding head teacher, the challenges of taking on one of these schools—these are the heroes and heroines of our system.

  Q86  Paul Holmes: Do you have hard evidence to back this up?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I am not sure you can get statistical evidence but Ofsted will tell you they rank leadership when they inspect.

  Q87  Paul Holmes: So we are embarking on a huge experiment, privatising 400 schools, on the basis of gut feeling rather than evidence?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: No. The 15 city technology colleges were the pilots. They are outstanding schools. The initial 20 schools that had GCSEs in those six are doing extremely well. What is your alternative? To do nothing for these schools?

  Q88  Paul Holmes: For example, there are seven secondary schools in and around my constituency in Chesterfield. If I went along to any one of those heads and said, "I will build you a £25-£30 million brand new single-site school, I will let you hand-pick your staff and I will let you ignore the DfES as much as you like", would they be able to achieve the same sort of results as academies, yet still be in the state system?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The whole building thing, as you know, has now been changed. The sponsor's money goes into a permanent endowment.

  Q89  Paul Holmes: The sponsor's money is fairly irrelevant because the vast bulk of the cost is from the taxpayer.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes, but many of the future academies will not be occupying brand new schools.

  Q90  Paul Holmes: No, but you are basing your evidence on the few academies and the CTCs that already exist. Let us not talk about future hypotheses. Let us look at what actually exists. If I went to any one of the seven secondary school heads in and around my constituency and said, "You can have the £25-£30 million brand new school, you can have the status, you can handpick your staff" and so on, would they not get the same results as academies?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I happen to know the Sheffield School quite well and I think you have an outstanding Director of Educational Services there. He is actually on our Council. I think Sheffield has made enormous improvements.

  Q91  Paul Holmes: I said Chesterfield.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: If you would like to come and visit some academies which are miracles of transformation ... This is an initiative that works.

  Q92  Paul Holmes: I am not disputing the transformation in some academies. I have visited some of them. What I am saying is, are you saying that could not happen if you let any existing state school head have the same access to new buildings, new site, new status, handpicking staff and all the rest of it? One academy the Committee visited in London, for example, was an ideal school; it was every head teacher's dream: a brand new school, handpicked staff, the children came in at year seven and you had no baggage from the previous school. It was year seven and then years seven and eight and so on. That is the dream of every teacher in every school. If any existing state school head was given all that, are you saying they could not replicate what academies have achieved?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Building Schools for the Future has taken over the building of academies. It is in the way this has all been worked out. We have to see just how it works on the ground. I do not have a precise number but I understand the capital budget is underspent by £1 billion per year. Whose fault is that?

  Q93  Paul Holmes: That is not relevant to the question I am asking.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The money is there. Why is it not spent by the local education authorities?

  Q94  Paul Holmes: This has absolutely nothing to do with the question I am asking. What evidence do you have that the only way to improve these schools is to create them as independent schools, fully funded by the taxpayer but independent, rather than giving existing state school heads the same access to buildings, to handpicking the staff and all the rest of it?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Obviously, the record to date is of comparatively few schools but the fact that we persuade sponsors to put up substantial sums of money, the fact that local education authorities—Manchester is so keen on this initiative that they have a wide range of academy schools that are supported by the local education authority.

  Q95  Chairman: Does Liz Reid want to come in on this? It is getting two-handed between Paul and Sir Cyril. Liz, do you want to make any comment on Paul's question?

  Ms Reid: Simply to say that, in so far as we have a role, we have welcomed academy schools into the network and they work with other schools in the network on a range of programmes. We do some work at the behest of the DfES to support individual academies with practitioner support from high-achieving schools. There is a big collective effort going on to make sure that academies are welcomed into the family of schools nationally, regionally and increasingly locally, and schools are working with each other to make sure that they are a success. So it would be true to say that academies are actually drawing on all of the experience of successful work that there is in the specialist schools network.

  Q96  Paul Holmes: Still no evidence to justify this great leap into academies has been offered at all.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I keep challenging you on that. Forty-seven academies open; only one was in special measures and Middlesbrough is now out of special measures. Previously a lot of those schools were in special measures with serious weaknesses. That is hard evidence. If you had scored 46 out of 47, that is not bad.

  Q97  Paul Holmes: There is also hard evidence that schools in Excellence in Cities areas, for example, have shown the same sort of turnaround. Phoenix School showed the same sort of turnaround without going down the academies route. So there is evidence that all sorts of things can turn failing schools round, not just academies.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes.

  Q98  Paul Holmes: One of the unique things about academies, so we are told, is the role of the private, charitable sponsor, whatever group it is. You have just mentioned, for example, a couple of local authorities. Sunderland, Manchester, Kent, Coventry and Kensington & Chelsea are all acting as co-sponsors now into academies. Surely that undermines what one of the initial concepts of academies was, that there would be a unique contribution from some sort of private or charitable individual, but we are just going back to LAs being involved.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Wait a minute. There are still independent schools. The trustees still have the power, even though the local authority may be appointing a substantial number of the trustees, and they still have the authority and the motivation to make the changes necessary.

  Q99  Paul Holmes: A state school head could not be given the freedom to do that? It has to be an independent school?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: You have to have a good head in the first place.

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