Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-165)


23 MAY 2007

  Q160  Mr Chaytor: It may be I am using the wrong term but my recollection is when you came before the Committee before, we explored the nature of trust schools and for the first time got on the record that a trust school legally was essentially a foundation school with a foundation and in the Education and Inspections Bill that is basically what it says, so there has to be a foundation and presumably an external organisation has to establish that foundation. Who is responsible for identifying and encouraging the external organisation?

  Ms Reid: Very clearly, this happens locally and it is very much driven by the relationships that schools already have. We are not part of that process.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: We are not funded for that.

  Ms Reid: No. We have currently a very small amount of funding through until August of this year which the Department uses to enable us to give support as determined by the Department to the Pathfinder schools and to the early adopters, but this work is now out for tender and it will be undertaken by a contractor from August. We are bidding for that work but it is an open, public competition.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: There is a specific department within the Department for Education headed by Lesley Longstone, who is in charge of actually promoting the trust structures.

  Q161  Mr Chaytor: So there is a tender, and you will bid for the tender, to do the work to be responsible for the Department?

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Yes.

  Q162  Mr Chaytor: Can I just ask also in terms of academies or trusts, to all intents and purposes, what is the difference—again, maybe this is primarily a question for Liz—in your view? Academies are legally defined as non-maintained schools, even though the bulk of their funding comes from the taxpayer. Trust schools are legally foundation schools with a foundation, so not a new category of school at all but what do you think are the respective advantages of the two different models?

  Ms Reid: I think that the trust model provides an opportunity to embed and structure a range of partnerships and I think that is what we can begin to see happening. So, if you like, it is a qualitative difference in the nature of the commitment of the parties to the relationship. I think this is very much about the opening up of schools and about schools drawing in a range of expertise, knowledge and perspectives that can support them in raising standards. Academy schools have one sponsor, but they may have two or three. Academy schools are created with the consent of local authorities. The emerging pattern is of those schools, although they have independence, working as part of the range of schools that there are in any given area or region. The point I want to make about this is that each school is different, each community has differences, and there are different solutions that are appropriate for different schools but what unites schools and gives us an education system is the responsibility and the commitment to rising standards of achievement for young people in the schools. So the model may be different but the content and the aim of what happens is the same.

  Q163  Mr Chaytor: Could I just ask one final thing? I think what you have been describing to us is a move perhaps away from the earlier concept of the focus of school improvement being absolutely on the individual school to the future focus on raising standards to be a more collaborative model. My question is, do you think the drivers, the financial and accountability mechanisms in the system, are effectively promoting that collaborative model, and given that performance indicators and budgets, for example, are still at the level of the individual institution, is that going to inhibit the growth of a system-based approach? How do you see the future for the allocation of budgets and for performance indicators and league tables?

  Ms Reid: There is a further discussion to be had and there is no doubt about performance indicators but what I would say is this. I think the focus is less now on school improvement, institutional improvement, important though that is, than on the achievement of individual young people. This is the work that goes on in all schools, regardless of kind, structure or policy. It is the focus on the achievement of individual students and tracking their achievement. We have a refined and revised Ofsted system of inspections now which very much looks at schools' quality assurance systems. They are interested, for example, in whether schools are tracking the progress of individual students on a regular basis. I think the way in which Ofsted goes about its work, the self-evaluation that it asks of schools, is now structured into it. Is a school tapping into all of the resources and having all the relationships that are necessary in order to enable young people to learn well and in fact to achieve the outcomes of Every Child Matters? That, I think, is the focus and that is why schools want to work together. You will find some of these anxieties about boundaries actually can be overcome through these processes of all schools working together for their young people, sharing experience and exchanging knowledge.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I do have sympathy with your concern because the league tables do not measure collaboration and co-operation. We are delighted that Ofsted are now playing a role within re-designation but, because they only visit a school for two days, they have said they cannot go to all of the other schools to find out whether there is a community programme, so we are going to have to come up with a solution for that and we are discussing with officials whether, as part of the re-designation plan that schools have to submit every three years, some quite measurable specific outcomes for the community programme, which is a third of the extra funding, cannot actually be determined. We have not got there yet but I think it is an extremely important issue which you raise.

  Q164  Chairman: This has been a very good session and there has been some robust questioning, but you would expect that from this Committee. Sir Cyril, the questions that have been asked today and the very full answers we got I think go to the heart sometimes of problems that you have and the charity has, in the sense that we all admire your energy, the fact that you are an entrepreneur, a social entrepreneur, you run a charity, you are chairman of a charity, you do a lot of stuff, and sometimes when we pick up the Sunday papers we are not quite sure which of those hats you are wearing, whether it is as Special Advisor to the Secretary of State or whether this is Sir Cyril on his own. The reason I was pushing you about the grammar schools is not because I particularly wanted to embarrass Conservative members of the Committee over the recent speech by their Shadow Secretary. What I was trying to get at was that here you are, wearing one sort of hat, perhaps two, saying robust things about grammar schools and keeping them and so on, and at the same time sitting next to Elizabeth Reid, who is your Chief Executive of a charity whose sole remit, as I understand it, is raising educational standards. When I took the Select Committee to Maidstone recently, in the heart of Kent, and saw how difficult it is to raise standards in an area where the cream-off of the grammars in Maidstone means it is very challenging indeed, and for a charity, for you, Sir Cyril, to have a very strong opinion, "Don't touch the grammar schools; there is a ballot system" and so on, I think that is a very different question to a charity whose remit, whose charitable mission, is raising standards. I would have thought that the charity would have a rather different view. Sorry. That is my view.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: I am sure that occasionally Liz Reid, when she reads the paper, gets a little bit concerned about what I might have written but I am a citizen with the rights of my own opinions and perhaps in future when I write articles it should not say "Chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust". Innovation in development of policy is very important and having an article in the Mail on Sunday about how important it is that we integrate our minority groups better has produced an enormous amount of people who say, "We support that."

  Q165  Chairman: Sir Cyril, we know each other very well. You know the point I am making, that it is confusing because you are so energetic, you wear so many hats. The job of this Committee is to scrutinise the spending of the Education and Skills Department. That is the Select Committee's job. We will continue to do that, so we look forward to seeing you regularly. Thank you.

  Sir Cyril Taylor: Thank you.

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