Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)


23 MAY 2007

  Q120  Chairman: Can we hold on that for a moment? One of your, in a sense, supporters, Sir Peter Lampl, supports the ideas of academies but would support more academies but cheaper. His view has been consistently that you could have rolled out more and more quickly if you had not gone for this high-cost new-build model. He is usually seen as a pretty reasonable person in this field. What would you say to that view that you could, as Rob says, have got more, more quickly, if you had spent less on them?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The building policy has changed dramatically and it is now part of Building Schools for the Future. I do not think you will be getting academies built at very high cost any more; it just will not happen, full stop. I still think that to turn round a really low-attaining—the list of those 358 schools are so challenging that it requires an enormous amount of effort and that should receive the priority. That does not mean to say that the principle of empowering your head teacher to be responsible, with a supportive governing body—and of course, many local authorities are now encouraging that—that is really the key principle but let us solve the problem of the failing schools first.

  Q121  Chairman: You are a great believer in fair banding and random allocation. Surely, the one way to get another 164 academies quickly is to apply fair banding and random allocation to the grammar schools, and then you would get rid of an anomaly that we hear from David Willetts is seen not to have worked, has not helped social mobility.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I do not think I am going to stray into that.

  Q122  Chairman: Sir Cyril, this is the important point. You are an independent charity. I would have thought you must have a view on that.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: This is my personal view. It is not necessarily the view of the Trust.

  Q123  Chairman: Let us ask Liz Reid. Would you have any view on whether the passion Sir Cyril has for fair banding and random allocation could be or should be applied to grammar schools?

  Ms Reid: Chairman, as Chief Executive of the Trust, I try to represent the wishes of the Trust Council. This is not a matter that has been debated in the Trust Council.

  Q124  Chairman: Every charity—and I am the chairman of several charities—has a set of guiding principles. What are your guiding principles as a charity?

  Ms Reid: Our objects?

  Q125  Chairman: They are not changed by the trustees. They are what they have when you register a charity.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We have advice on the mission. Perhaps I should have submitted it. It is not binding advice, we do not have to do it, but we say to our schools, "This is the law on admissions, this is what you can do, this is what you can't do", and it is up to them to decide what system they want to do.

  Q126  Chairman: What I am trying to get at is, here are you, as you have acknowledged, one of the biggest educational charities, you have 300 staff and a large budget, but you have no view on the future of grammar schools?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I have a view.

  Q127  Chairman: What is your view, Sir Cyril?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I am not in the business of closing highly successful schools. There are 164 schools that exist, there is a ballot procedure if local people do not want it. Ripon had a ballot. The Ripon Grammar School...

  Q128  Chairman: We do not want to talk about the past. You are passionate about random allocation and fair banding. Could you apply those to grammar schools?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I do not think you could, no, because they use the 11 plus. I think I would be opposed to more grammar schools being established but the existing ones, especially if they do like they are doing in Reading, linking with an under-performing school. Pate's School in Gloucestershire that Peter Lampl went to, they are going out all over council estates to identify very able children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. The big criticism of grammar schools is that their free school meals eligibility is about 1% on a weighted average basis compared to 15-16% for all schools. I would hope that more grammar schools would focus on that issue.

  Q129  Mr Wilson: Can I move on to some of the other questions I was keen to ask, one of which was again about these artificial figures that seem to have been drawn up? One of the areas is that selection at the moment is by aptitude and 10% of that is allowed at the moment. Why fix on a figure of 10%? Why not 20%, 30%? Do you have any reason for that?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: There is a famous Harvard scholar, whose name escapes me, who invented the concept of multiple intelligence. Unfortunately, when you delve into his research, there was no evidence that there was a test which identified aptitude as opposed to general intelligence. That is the problem, and now specialist schools, the great majority of whom are comprehensive, do not wish to go through a covert academic selection mechanism, and that is probably the reason why so few of them have utilised this right.

  Q130  Mr Wilson: But there is actually no specific reason why it should be 10% apart from the schools not wanting to go along a selective route?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Ministers make policies.

  Q131  Mr Wilson: No, but I am asking you for your opinion as to why you think that is the case.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: If they are not using the power at the moment, as only 6% are, there clearly is not much of an interest in going down that route.

  Q132  Mr Wilson: Another area where there seems to be an artificial government way of controlling it is the limited number of specialisms you can select, and you can select by aptitude in. Why is it this small number? Why can that not have more breadth to it as well?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: They cover the entire curriculum range.[3]

  Q133 Mr Wilson: I thought there was only about half a dozen different areas.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: No, no; there are 12.

  Q134  Mr Wilson: Has it been extended in recent years?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: It has been extended. Engineering has been added and now we have the second specialism as well.

  Q135  Mr Wilson: Do you think that it is crucial to the overall success of the school system that there is choice and diversity built in within the system so that you have lots of different types of schools that parents can choose from?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I think it is an excellent goal but the problem with admissions is that we have too many failing schools and some parents end up being assigned to a school that they would not want to send their child to. This is the social justice argument. This is why I am so passionate about doing something about these 400 low-attaining schools.

  Q136  Mr Wilson: Does not choice and diversity in the system helped to raise the standards of schools overall?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Not if you are from a socially disadvantaged family that might not speak English at home, do not know the admissions procedures, go to the local school and that is not a very good school.

  Q137  Mr Wilson: Is that not the whole point about appointing mentors and choice advisers and that sort of thing to help exactly those families to make the most from the choice within the system?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: The admissions advice that we publish talks about inner and outer catchment areas, fair banding and random allocation, and even Lord Hattersley has come out in favour of the recommended system.

  Q138  Mr Wilson: To reaffirm something the Chairman was asking about a few moments go, you seem to support very much the line taken by David Willetts and David Cameron that grammar schools that are around should continue to exist, the 164.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Absolutely, because I am against closing an outstanding school.

  Q139  Mr Wilson: But you do not want to create new ones?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: No.

3   Note by witness: There are 11 different subjects which schools wishing to bid for specialist subjects can choose. However, schools wishing to use aptitude tests for up to 10% of their intake can only do so in modern foreign languages, performing arts, visual arts, physical education or sport, and, where it existed before 2007, design and technology and ICT. Back

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