Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)


23 MAY 2007

  Q100  Paul Holmes: There are no good heads in the state sector then?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Nobody is saying that but the 400 low-attaining schools ... I think Ofsted would agree, if you look at their inspection reports, that leadership is often the primary concern.

  Q101  Paul Holmes: You seem to be saying that the only way to get a good head into these schools to turn them round is for it to be independent, charitably sponsored and all the rest of it, that there is no evidence from Excellence in Cities, no evidence from Phoenix School that good heads within the state school system have turned failing schools round?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Obviously, many local authorities have taken low-attaining schools and helped to turn them round. I am not saying this is the only solution but it appears to be a very effective solution. These 400 schools have been low-attaining for not just a few years; it goes back 20, 30, 40 years.

  Q102  Paul Holmes: Last question: you mentioned CTCs as being the longer-running example of academies. Where they have been around for quite some years now, have there been any systematic studies done of why they have succeeded? For example, do they still take children from the same geographical area as the original school they replaced? For example, is there any evidence of covert social selection taking place at all? Are there any hard studies that look at this?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: They are comprehensive schools, and if you look at their intake of ability, they are not covert selective schools.

  Q103  Paul Holmes: The evidence I have seen suggests that you do see the number of children who qualify for free school meals, for example, falling compared to the schools that they replaced. That would indicate there is some form of selection, whether it is by aspirational parents or whether it is by the school, taking place.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: If you become a highly successful school, you get many more applications than you have places, and that is why I am a strong supporter of fair banding ...

  Q104  Paul Holmes: So the intake of the school changes and therefore one of the reasons it is a failing school goes.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I am not saying the intake, but the applications change. I think fair banding and random allocation is the future of the admissions process.

  Q105  Paul Holmes: That would be for the future. The evidence on why CTCs have succeeded would so far show that they change their intake.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: They have the highest value added of our groups of specialist schools.

  Paul Holmes: But they have changed their intake.

  Chairman: Other people have questions on academies. I think you have had not a bad run of questions.

  Q106  Mr Pelling: Can I very briefly create a link, as it were, into my questions from what Paul has been asking? Sir Cyril, the Chairman mentioned Sylvan High School and the transformation that has taken place there, and I guess also the BRIT School in Croydon, and people like Leona Lewis have come through it, are a very good example of the benefits that the CTC schools have had. How different do you feel academies are, bearing in mind this all started with the CTCs? I am sorry to go down memory lane.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: It is difficult generalising because there are many more of these academies than 15 CTCs, although we could have had 100 CTCs but the events of '92 ...

  Q107  Chairman: Sir Cyril, you could not get the money. Even with the backing of the Prime Minister, CTCs could not get beyond 15.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Not true. When the '92 financial crisis occurred, and the pound went down the chute and we had 15% interest rates, they cut off the capital flow and that is why we had to go for specialist schools instead.

  Q108  Chairman: Let us get this straight. Yes, the ambition was 100 but the then Government got to 15 and then changed the policy.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: They never set a target. I have been involved since 1987.

  Q109  Chairman: I can remember the 200 businesses you had in London that pledged the 200—everyone at the time thought it was going to be 200 CTCs but you could not raise more than the 15, could you? It was all the capital cost.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: You ask Angela Rumbold, as the Minister at the time, and I have forgotten whether it was John Patten who was there. They called me in and said, "The Chancellor's said we're not having any more money for this."

  Q110  Chairman: That is exactly the point I am making.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes.

  Q111  Chairman: So we are agreeing. I thought you said something rather different.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: No, I am saying we could have raised the private sector sponsorship but the Government cut off the flow of capital money. It is very interesting, is it not, that a Conservative initiative started on a CTC has been taken on so enthusiastically by the Labour Government?

  Q112  Mr Pelling: I thought that was a very good point that Sir Cyril made. Obviously, with the development of the academies now, it is very much part of the Building Schools for the Future project. Is that something that you welcome? It seems to be a project very flushed with money, perhaps compared to ...

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I annoyed some of the early sponsors of academies by making perhaps derogatory remarks about glass houses. I actually think that schools need to be highly functional and glass is not a very good building material. It is hot in the summer, cold in the winter and nasty boys can throw bricks at it. I think moving to standard, functional designs is the answer. The Mercers built a fantastic academy in Walsall on time, within budget, for £17 million and it is a wonderful school. Let us have 400 schools like that. The idea now that, because an academy is getting the £25 million, some other school is not getting that—it is all part of Building Schools for the Future now. Some of our sponsors are saying, "Hey, how long is it going to be before our school is built?" and we are saying that it ought to be a maximum delay of three years.

  Q113  Mr Pelling: What could be done, do you think, to make BSF more efficient and more timely?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I think the officials work very hard. I think continuity is very important here and I think Partnership for Schools could play a very valuable role in that, and national tendering could produce very substantial savings.

  Q114  Mr Pelling: What role does the Trust itself play in giving advice on the BSF programme? I do not really understand it. Is there a formal role?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Chairman, are you going to ask about my advisor role?

  Q115  Chairman: You can mention the advisor role.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: People say "You have been around 20 years." It is a voluntary, unpaid role. I have no office in the Department. I have no power to take decisions. Ten successive Secretaries of State, in their wisdom, have decided to reappoint me as their advisor on the specialist schools and academies since 2005. I meet a lot of head teachers and they tell me what the real problems are on the ground and on the academy programme people like Phil Harris really know what they are doing. They are backing ten academies, the Mercers, the Haberdashers. These people are experts in running fantastic schools, and what we want to ensure is that we learn those lessons and do not reinvent the wheel each time.

  Q116  Chairman: Phil Harris is Lord Harris, not the musician?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: That is right. We have had a bit of an argument about whether the focus should be on the really low-attaining schools or maybe some different schools and I personally suggested it should be focused on the 400 very low-attaining schools but that is my opinion.

  Q117  Mr Wilson: Why limit academies to just 400?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Good question. I think, going back to Paul Holmes's concerns, certainly extra resources are being put into academies. I think it is a question of priorities. Let us get every low-attaining school to a reasonable status first. There is the trust initiative and that has many of the advantages of the academy project. This could be a sleeping giant. We were at a dinner last night and I think if the Reading school and the Kendrick School set up a trust of a highly selective grammar school working with an under-performing school, what a wonderful model that would be. I think the trust structure could be a very interesting alternative to the academy.

  Chairman: Can we be very careful about not straying into trusts because it is the next section and I do not want civil war to break out.

  Q118  Mr Wilson: I am not going to stray into trusts. I want to stick with academies. Just to clarify, you see 400 as an artificial limit and you personally would like to see more?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Four hundred academies at £2 million each is £800 million. That is a fairly significant fund-raising goal. We have raised the money for 220 academies. I think the financial contribution of a sponsor academy is really important. First of all, it demonstrates commitment to that project, and although many of the sponsors do not get involved in the details of running an academy, they are giving that drive and encouragement to improvement. Phil Harris visits his schools the whole time and certainly the Mercers, when they sponsor an academy with the Mercers' name on it, an institution that was founded in 1200, that school is going to be a good school.

  Q119  Mr Wilson: I do not have any doubts about the success of the academies and future success. What I am trying to get at is why there needs to be this artificial limit on them. If they are such a good thing for disadvantaged children, particularly in inner city areas, why are we saying there should only be 400 of them?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: It takes a lot of time to do every academy. It is a huge amount of work. I think that would be a good question to ask in three or four years' time, when we have achieved the target of 400.

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