Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-62)|
MP AND SIR
16 JANUARY 2008
Q60 Mr. Stuart: But vast amounts
of money have been spent, yet the data seem to suggest not only
that we are tumbling down the international league tables, but
that we are letting down those who are poorest, weakest and most
vulnerable in our society, when the fundamental aim of policy
was to address that. What has gone wrong?
Jim Knight: I do not think it
has gone wrong, and one must be cautious about believing too much
of the spin that comes from Tory central office.
Mr. Stuart: It was the Secretary of State.
Chairman: Hang on a minute; this is a
Jim Knight: What the evidence
shows is that, 10 years ago, more than half of schools in England
could not get more than 30% of pupils to achieve five A* to C
passes, including English and maths. We have now got that down
to 21%, but there is still further to go and we are on track to
achieve what the Prime Minister set out for us: by 2012, to ensure
that none of those schools exist.When you look at individual data
on pupils, you can see a similar improvement in performance, but
the hope and assumption 10 years ago would have been that, if
we improve the performance of the school system and take out failing
schools, that would narrow and eliminate the gap between those
from the poorest backgrounds and those from more advantaged backgrounds.
What has been perplexing and disappointing is that, while the
gap between schools in more advantaged areas and those in more
disadvantaged areas has narrowed, the gap between advantaged and
disadvantaged pupils has not narrowed to the same extent. That
is why we now need more personalised learning, and the progression
work that we are doing. There is a whole raft of policy to try
to tackle that, so that we narrow the gap more individually within
schools, as well as between schools.
Q61 Chairman: Minister, research
that I certainly respect is the work by Professor Tymms and people
like him. They indicate that performance depends on intake. That
is the truth of the matter, and Sir Bruce touched on that when
he talked about a schoolwas it in Peckham?where
there may not be the ability to have a balance. Heads gave evidence
to the previous Education and Skills Committee that, if you do
not get a balanced intake, you will always be in trouble as a
school. Surely, fair banding must be the answer. The emphasis
in policy of shipping people around different schools, running
them around and giving them free transport takes away from a balanced
intake. All the time that you are giving to those people able
to travel, move and be clever about their admissions positioning,
that will always leave the schools somewhere in the centre of
my and other hon. Members constituencies with an intake for which
it is very difficult to raise the expectations and the levels.
Is that not true?
Jim Knight: Intake is significant,
and fair banding is a clear option within the admissions code,
because it is something that we think can work well; but it is
not the be-all and end-all. The biggest single determinant of
success for a school is the teaching and the leadership from the
head teacher of that teaching and learning.
Q62 Chairman: But Sir Bruce just
said that if he had 100% kids from one background, with very few
aspirational parents and very little backing from their homes,
you are never going to do it. Surely that is right?
Jim Knight: You have got a much
tougher job, but I, and I am sure the Committee, have visited
schools in very difficult circumstances in low aspiration communities
that are doing a fantastic job and outperforming others of similar
levels of resources and intakes. One of the achievements of London
Challenge was being able to marry up and show schools with a similar
intake, in similar circumstances, with similar resources, that
the results can be very different. That is down to the inputs
of teaching and learning.
Chairman: Well, I am sorry Minister;
I have valued all your answers today, but I have one reservation.
The Select Committee went to a secondary modern school in Maidstone
that was 100% free school and more than 65% SEN. I really think
that that is a challenge, and those sort of schools need help.
You will only get it through some kind of fair banding. That is
not a question; I do not need an answer. This has been a good
session, and it has overrun. Thank you very much for your assistance.
We will be seeing you soon, Minister. Sir Bruce, we will be in
touch with you as soon as your report comes out.
Jim Knight: Thank you.
Sir Bruce Liddington: Thank you.