Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
MP AND SIR
16 JANUARY 2008
Q20 Mr. Chaytor: Is there not a further
category of independent schools which may wish to re-enter the
Sir Bruce Liddington: Yes. That
is a separate piece of policy; the Government welcomes independent
schools that want to enter the maintained sector. So independent
schools are sponsoring Academies, such as Wellington School, which
is sponsoring an Academy in Wiltshire. Winchester is about to
come in with an Academy project in Hampshire. But there are a
small number of independent schoolsBelvedere in Liverpool,
William Hulme's in Manchester, Bristol Cathedral and Colston's
Girls in Bristolthat are coming into the system as Academies.
Belvedere is a very high-performing school, and William Hulme's
and Colston's Girls are above average performance schools.
Q21 Mr. Chaytor: So the Academy concept
is now far more flexible and variable than it was just two years
Sir Bruce Liddington: Yes.
Chairman: Graham, did you want to come
in on the same point?
Q22 Mr. Stuart: Yes. Going back to
the evidence that you just gave, Minister, on the Charity Commission,
I wonder whether the evidence that you have given is compatible
with what the Secretary of State told us last week, when he said
that he wanted to get rid of a two-tier education system. You
seem to be welcoming additional places in the independent sector
if they are provided by that sector and not by state funding.
Jim Knight: As I think I said
to David, as far as I am concerned, the best outcome is that charitable
status is demonstrated by access to facilities and expertise for
a large group of people. The more we can blend and blur the edges
between the independent and maintained sectors, the better we
will achieve what the Secretary of State is setting out about
moving away from two-tier systems within education. Various examples
of those have been around in the past. We should try to get something
that is consistent with equal opportunities for every child in
Chairman: Graham, I will call you again
Q23 Mr. Heppell: One of your duties
is to promote Academies, specialist schools and so on, but at
the same time, you say that you are trying not to be prescriptive.
How have you helped local authorities that have rejected the idea
of Academies out of hand? Are there examples of where you have
steered such authorities through? I hear what you are saying about
being pragmatic. I have some experience of councillors who may
be pragmatic and who may not be pragmatic and will dig their heels
in. I am sure that there must be areas where people have said
that they will not have Academies. How do you help those areas
with the Building Schools for the Future programme?
Sir Bruce Liddington: The critical
point on which I engage them is what their alternatives are for
their underperforming schools. The one thing that is not acceptable
to the Government is to have underperforming schools that nobody
is doing anything about. The role of local authorities in challenging
underperformance was strengthened in the 2006 legislation. Local
authorities can now issue warning notices as soon as they have
concerns about a school. They do not have to wait until it goes
into Ofsted special measures. They can remove the governing body
of a school and put an interim executive board in its place. That
removes what local authorities have said to me over the past seven
years, which is that quite often, when there is a low-performing
school, it is the governing body that is the problem for the local
authority because it is in denial. The Prime Minister has made
it much easier for me and my office by indicating how to deal
with the 639 schools that are below 30%. I do not have the exact
figure including the 30th percentage point, but I expect that
it would be about 670. The Prime Minister has unequivocally said
that those schools cannot remainin five years' time, they
must not exist. The major problem will be if those schools do
not exist, but there are another 670 that have slipped below the
floor target. Let us hope that we can avoid that. We will avoid
that. In my conversations with local authorities, I do not say
that they must have Academies or they will not get their Building
Schools for the Future money. I do not say that and never have.
What they must do is come up with a plan that will address the
low performance of those schools. I do not care whether it is
an Academy, a trust, a federation or whatever, but it needs to
be successful. The Academy policy is a tried and tested way of
dealing with the lowest-performing schools. Therefore, if a local
authority that has one or more low-performing schools does not
want to have an Academy, I challenge it to come up with a solution
that will work just as well as an Academy solution, if not better.
Local authorities have the opportunity to do that.
Q24 Mr. Heppell: It seems to me that
there is a bit of a contradiction in saying that local authorities
should be seen as leaders in their community, they should shape
the direction of schools and they should pick what are the local
circumstances. I hear what you are saying, but I have a suspicion
that you are almost making people an offer they cannot refuse.
You are saying that you want to see their options, but if they
do not come within your narrow remit, they are unlikely to be
successful. Councillors have said to me that they are going along
with Building Schools for the Future, they are getting a good
deal on it, but are not happy with the way that they have to do
it. That is not my personal view, because mine is the complete
opposite view. However, some local authorities are saying that
they do not want Academies or the changes, but know that they
have to have them to get the money. I am quite happy with the
idea that there is a strong direction centrally, but you seem
to be saying that there is not.
Sir Bruce Liddington: The situation
that you are describing perhaps applied five years ago. Now, particularly
with the changes that have come into sway since Ed Balls became
Secretary of State, local universities can be Academy sponsors,
as can good local schools, good Further Education colleges and
good, known independent schools. Let me give an example. In somewhere
like Bolton, where they did not want to have any Academies at
all five years ago, they are now going to have four Academies,
which they welcome. One of them will be sponsored by Bolton School,
the good independent school. These changes that have been introduced
by the Secretary of State mean that having an Academy is less
a step into the unknown than it was five years ago, when you had
a rich man with £2 million who was coming along on a metaphorical
charger. Now the local authoritywhich can itself co-sponsor
the Academiescan come up, as Manchester and Birmingham
have, with its own sponsors. It remains involved in the Academy
project. It is less a step into the unknown, and more an opportunity
to seize the chance for the robust and necessary step towards
independence. Frankly, the image I occasionally have is of the
witchfinder general going round leaning on local authorities to
do things they do not want to do.
Chairman: He is not the Chief Inspector
Sir Bruce Liddington: No. I see
my role as helping local authorities to understand the range of
options they have. In particular, shooting down some of the urban
myths about Academies, but above all being persuasive so that
local authorities can see that they have to face up to the challenges
and that we will not let them just stay as they are.
Mr. Heppell: I still do not see you as
Sir Bruce Liddington: That show
Chairman: I am conscious that this is
the biggest the Committee has ever been. There is a fantastic
attendance. There are even more people here than there were for
the Secretary of State last Wednesday, and everybody wants a bite.
John, have you finished?
Mr. Heppell: I have finished.
Chairman: Andy, you wanted to come in
very briefly on one point?
Q25 Mr. Slaughter: I will be as brief
as I can. You paint a good picture of the function of Academies
in raising standards, and I am sure you would say the same about
BSF. You now have the imprimatur of The Sunday Telegraph,
which says that BSF is being used for social engineering and destroying
grammar schools. I do not know whether you think that is a badge
of pride or not. Realities on the ground can be different, as
we know. If you have a local authority which is seeking to use
the Academy Programme or BSF money to do the oppositeto
set up schools which will increase social division and will be
selective by fair means or foul what powers do you have
to address that issue nationally?
Jim Knight: We have to agree on
the strategic vision. At some stage it goes back to the sort of
question that John asked, about whether this is genuinely locally
determined or only locally determined as long as they do what
we say. We do need to agree the strategic vision with the authority,
and we have a very clear position which has near unanimity among
Front-Bench Members that there should be no new selection. We
certainly would not want to see opportunity restricted for some
by systems being put in place in areas that would do that.
Q26 Mr. Slaughter: What can you do
if that is being done, either by the front doorby some
selective processor by the back door? We all know that
selection and admissions can be done in quite subtle ways.
Sir Bruce Liddington: May I answer
Sir Bruce Liddington: The admissions
code does not allow schools to fiddle around with their admissions.
I was head of a very oversubscribed, grant-maintained school:
a school that was its own admissions authority. I know what schools
do. The code now has statutory weight, so that if schools are
not sticking to it they are breaking the law, and that has concentrated
the minds of a lot of schools, particularly schools that are their
own admissions authorities. Under the 2006 legislation, admissions
authorities have a duty to monitor the admissions system and challenge
any examples they see of admissions not being done correctly.
I remind local authorities and admissions authorities of that
very regularly. It is not in anyone's interest for some schools
to do less than adhere to the code, and my office would monitor
any Building Schools for the Future plans that looked as if they
were leading to segregation and selection. An interesting statistic
is that, whereas the national average of free-school-meals children
in all schools is about one in seven, the number in Church of
England and Roman Catholic voluntary-aided schools is very little
lower than that, about one in 10. The key difference is in selective
schools, where the incidence is about one in 50, or in some selective
schools, one in 100. It is little known, but the voluntary-aided
schools, Church of England schools, Roman Catholic schools are
a good deal closer to the national statistic than people would
Q27 Annette Brooke: How do you promote
diversity and choice in those areas that still have grammar schools?
Sir Bruce Liddington: Local authorities
that have grammar schools have four-fifths more schools for the
remainder of their children to go to. There is nothing to stop
a grammar school becoming more diverse and in places like Kent
and Buckinghamshire, where I live, the grammar schools have shaped
their brand to make sure that they look different from each other
because they no longer feel, rightly or wrongly, that they will
necessarily be the school of first choice. With the remainder
of the schools in the local authority, I have the same conversation
as I do in non-selective local authorities, encouraging them to
have more Academies, more trusts and more federations, to amalgamate
good and weak schools, close schools which are not viable and
have more specialist schools in a strategic way.
Q28 Annette Brooke: Is that just
a second-best solution for those families and pupils who cannot
aspire to the grammar school?
Sir Bruce Liddington: It is not
the policy of this Government to close grammar schools.
Q29 Annette Brooke: Right. I just
wonder whether there is even more that should be done in those
areas that have grammar schools. Because you have the downside
of the secondary moderns, do they not need even more help?
Sir Bruce Liddington: Let me give
an example. I mentioned the pilot that Lord Adonis announced yesterday.
Two of the schools in the pilot, and I hope a third school to
be brokered within the next few days, are Kent grammar schools
which have each undertaken to take on responsibility for a Kent
secondary modern school with a view to making that school into
an Academy. A grammar school cannot become an Academy, it is not
in the legislation because Academies have to take children of
all abilities, but the intention is that there will be, for example,
collaborative post-16 provision so that the youngsters who go
to the secondary modern now and typically leave school at 16 will
have the opportunity of the high-quality grammar school post-16
provision. The good quality education that exists in the best
grammar schoolsnot all of them are the highest achieving
or have the highest contextual value-added either, but the two
in the pilot dowill be shared with the other school in
the federation. That is a construct that Lord Adonis is very keen
for us to roll out across the country with more grammar schools.
Q30 Annette Brooke: Thank you. Could
I just ask about local authorities as co-sponsors of Academies?
When I first heard about this, it surprised me because it seemed
to be against what I thought Academies were there to do for the
Government, which is to get independence from those nasty local
authorities. Is this just local authorities deciding, at least
we will get some power this way? What is the real gain of having
local authorities in terms of the Government's vision for Academies?
Jim Knight: Let me start and Bruce
will finish. I think the gain is that as local authorities develop
their commissioning function and expertise, local authorities
can see the value of Academies. They see their independence, their
flexibility and innovation and the strength of governance that
comes from the main sponsor. Those are all things that they want
to see in their areas as part of turning around the schools that
they have been struggling with. They also see that, as a commissioner,
they can be part of guiding how that Academy is set up and run.
They are a minority stakeholder on the governing body and, in
terms of recruiting the sponsor, they can be involved as a co-sponsor.
That is good commissioning as far as I am concerned.
Sir Bruce Liddington: I would
want to make the distinction between the situation as it applied
when the policy started, and as it applies now. Back in 2000,
there were a depressing number of local authorities that needed
intervention because the standards of education provision were
so low. At that time, the Government did not encourage sponsors
of early Academies to work closely with local authorities. That
situation has changed over the years as more and more local authorities
have come out of intervention and started to provide good quality
service for the children in the schools there and as the Government
have given local authorities a clearer, sharper role on challenging
low performance.The Secretary of State's view is that it would
be perverse if an Academy sponsor now took an Academy forward
in isolation from the local authority's provision of education
in that area. In places like Sunderland, Manchester and Birmingham,
we have been more than happy for the local authority to find or
help find its own sponsors and to have two members of the governing
body, rather than one, which is the norm for local authority representation
on an Academy governing body. That said, we still expect there
to be a lead sponsor as the focus of the development. You should
not ignore the degree of independence that an Academy has from
the local authority. It is funded by the Department, it can opt
out of the national pay and conditions of service, and we still
expect the lead sponsor to have the majority of governors on the
governing body. So the role of the local authority is enhanced,
but it certainly is in no way a takeover or something that simply
preserves the status quo. In my view, there would not be
very much point in that.
Q31 Annette Brooke: Finally, is that
two-way traffic thenthose Academies which are perhaps totally
independent from the local authority at the moment are being brought
more clearly within the strategic framework of the local authority?
Sir Bruce Liddington: I would
have to answer that question in two stages. Statutorily, the funding
agreements of the early Academies can be varied only by consent
or by a long notice period. Ministers have not been enthusiastic
to impose changes on those agreements, which tie Academies into
a lot of the legislation for maintained schools. We are changing
the funding agreements of new Academies. For example, the Secretary
of State has decided that, from July, new Academies will all do
the National Curriculum.
Jim Knight: In core subjects.
Sir Bruce Liddington: Yes, in
core subjects. We cannot impose that on the early Academies without
a lengthy process which, as I say, Ministers have not been enthusiastic
to go into. But I think that the second part of my answer would
be to say that even those early Academies have recognised the
fact that isolationism is no longer regarded as being acceptable
in the educational world at present. I look back to the time in
1993, when, as head of a grant-maintained school, I was summoned
to a meeting in Birmingham by John Major and John Patten. We were
told that we should do whatever we wanted to in our own schools:
select if we wanted to, interview if we wanted, and take no notice
of anybody else's agendas. If you got a group of education professionals
and leaders together today and said that, you would be booed out
of the room because people now recognise that collaboration is
actually better for the children in the school. You cannot do
the 14-19 vocational offer, for example, as an isolated school.
You have to work with others. Increasingly, those early Academies
are coming back into the local fold. I know of one where the Principal
of the Academy chairs the local authority Heads Group. I know
of another, south of the river from here, where the Academy has
willingly signed up to the protocol that the other local authority
schools have got, to place hard-to-place children. Increasingly,
even the early Academies are coming back into the fold.
Chairman: Sir Bruce, we have to move
on. I would like Adam to lead on fair access.
Q32 Adam Afriyie: Thank you. We have
some wonderful words in politics, and one of them is "fair".
The questions that always spring to mind are, "Fair to whom?"
and, "Fair on what criteria?". Initially, my question
to the Minister is, what is your definition of "fair access"?
In an ideal world, fair access is operating perfectly, as you
envisage itwhat is the outcome? What do we see?
Jim Knight: That every child,
regardless of background, has an equal chancedoes not have
obstacles put in their wayof being able to access schools.
That obviously has to be within reason as, for example, there
might be issues like distance that make it difficult for them
to get home every night. Having a uniform can be prohibitively
expensive, so people from poor backgrounds cannot access that
school. Things like parental interviews are selection by the back
door in terms of income. That is the sort of thing that we have
sought to get rid of through the new admissions code, which every
admissions authority must act "in accordance with",
as opposed to having "due regard to", as it was previously.
Q33 Adam Afriyie: I wonder whether
I could ask the same question of Sir Brucewhat would be
your definition of "fair access"?
Sir Bruce Liddington: I have always
said that giving parents a choice between a good school and one
or two indifferent or poor schools is no choice at all. My job
description says that I am the national champion for choice and
diversity. What that means to me is that there have got to be
more good places in good schools in the right places. An eloquent
example of that is in Carlisle, where there are falling rolls
to the extent that, quite unusually, there are empty places in
good schools. There will be two Academies, each of which will
be the amalgamation of two schools. I visited two of those schools
that are going to become one Academy. One is a good school and
the other, which serves a white, working-class estate, is in special
measures. I said to the head of the school in special measures,
"Why does anyone come to this school?" It has only 250
on roll and there were more than that number of spare places in
the good school, in the centre of Carlisle, about three miles
away. He said to me, "Eight pounds a week." That is
what it would cost the youngsters from that white, working-class
estate to get on a bus and go to the good school in the town centre,
because under the old legislation, if there were places nearby,
the local authority did not have to provide free transport. Now
local authorities have a duty to address issues like that. Now
that issue will be addressed, because the school on the white,
working-class estate will close. For me, fairness is giving every
child the opportunity to get a good place in a good school in
the right place.
Q34 Adam Afriyie: But that is with
caveats, in terms of geography. If there is not a school above
the national average within, say, 10 square miles of where someone
lives, then surely there is some form of restriction on equal
or fair access for each child. I am just checking whether it is
recognised that there are constraints?
Sir Bruce Liddington: It is. I
said to my line manager last year, when the results were published,
that I would rather become the national champion for expression
of preference rather than choice, because it is not possible to
give everyone a free choice. As you know, there is a government
policy to expand good and popular schools, which is one of the
things that I go around encouraging local authorities and schools
to do. However, there is an Academy in south London that is the
most oversubscribed school in the country. It would have to expand
to have 35,000 children on roll, if it was to give everyone their
first choice. That is not possible.
Jim Knight: I represent a constituency
where one town of over 10,000 population has no post-13 education
at all. Everyone has to get on a bus to access their education
beyond Key Stage 4. The other option is to get on a ferry, which
does not run for one month of the year, and go across the water.
That is a reality. That is one of the reasons why, in the Children's
Plan and elsewhere, we have talked about trying to improve parental
and pupil voice [Interruption.] The policeman warned
us about mobile phones.
Chairman: A £50 fine for charity.
Jim Knight: We are ensuring that
in areas where choice does not operate very effectively, we are
still driving forward improvement.
Q35 Adam Afriyie: I was just doing
a reality check. There is an understanding and acceptance that
you are never going to have equality on all variables for all
children in the entire country.
Chairman: Okay, do you have a question?
Adam Afriyie: The question is about the
choice advisers that we now have, the transport for children on
free school meals and the admissions forums. Does the Minister
think that those are sufficient measures to support your definition
of fair access, or is something missing?
Jim Knight: No, the only thing
that might be missing at the moment is proper understanding and
rigorous enforcement of the new statutory obligations. In order
to address that, I will be writing this week to all the local
authorities in England to remind them of their duties under the
Act. That will inform them of some of the concerns that have been
raised with me, anecdotally, about the lack of understanding and
rigorous enforcement of the code. We are serious about this. Tomorrow
also sees the new admissions appeals code coming into effect.
I think that the basic framework is right and I do not think that
we need to add to it. We will keep these things under review because
we are very serious about these matters.
Q36 Adam Afriyie: Sir Bruce, with
your responsibilities, do you think that anything is missing from
the code of admissions and the other three measures? Would anything
else assist in achieving the objective?
Sir Bruce Liddington: I support
everything that the Minister has said. The additional dimension
that perhaps I bring is an insistence that local authorities and
other admissions authorities monitor the effectiveness of the
admissions process and are prepared to challenge it where it is
not being done properly. For example, in one London borough, the
director of children's services indicated that because of the
large number of voluntary aided schools and Academies in the borough,
he was no longer able to fulfil his statutory duty with hard-to-place
children. We put together the protocol that I mentioned earlier,
which was agreed to by not only all the remaining community schools,
but all the Academies, voluntary aided schools and the City Technology
Collegewhich does not have to fit into it. The local authority
had never approached the oversubscribed voluntary aided schools
with a view to them taking their share of hard-to-place pupils.
That is something that I talk to local authorities about because
I believe that hard-to-place pupils should be spread around the
system rather than be put into just the lower-performing and empty
Q37 Adam Afriyie: I think that you
have brought us to the next set of questions, which is on monitoring.
I will ask the first question on those lines. The admissions forums
have the power to produce a report on social segregation and several
other issues on an annual, bi-annual, quarterly or monthly basis,
but they do not have a duty to produce that report. Do you think
that they ought to have the duty to report, at least annually,
on the effectiveness of their activities in a particular area?
Sir Bruce Liddington: I think
that it would be premature to say that we need to change the legislation
to introduce that duty until we see what their reaction is. I
anticipate that they will want to report on those issues and my
office will be encouraging them to do so.
Q38 Chairman: How often?
Sir Bruce Liddington: Probably
in line with the fair access report that I have to make to Parliament
every two years.
Q39 Chairman: Minister, do you concur
Jim Knight: Yes, I would want
Bruce to strongly encourage admissions authorities to produce
a report. They will probably want to produce it annually, but
my hope is that they will at least produce a report to coincide
with the cycle that Bruce has mentioned.