Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
16 JANUARY 2008
Q80 Mr. Stuart: It is especially
difficult if there is incoherence in the messages that parents
receive. On the one hand, they are to exercise choice, and when
they exercise it, they then face criticism. The Minister said
that we need greater enforcement of the legal obligation. He did
not feel there was enough cracking down yet. He doubtless meant
that you should be cracking down harder on enforcing the obligations
under the admissions code, and it is creating a real tension,
which is why, in my area and across the country, there is a massive
increase in the number of appeals. People are more and more dissatisfied
with the system, because expectations are created which, as you
said, are not met for broader social reasons.
Chairman: Graham, stick to questions,
Dr. Hunter: Unfettered parental
choice and the market lead inevitably to social segregation. The
only answer to that is regulation. Unfettered choice and the market
lead to unacceptable segregation, so somebody has to make a judgment
about when to start to regulate in order to avoid the undesirable
consequences of unfettered choice and the market.
Q81 Ms Butler: Dr. Hunter, you said
earlier that it will probably take a while for schools to comply
completely with the code. How long? How many years do you think
it will take for schools to comply?
Dr. Hunter: I would guess another
Q82 Ms Butler: Just another year?
Dr. Hunter: I am expecting a splurge
of references to us this year, and I would have thought that by
the end of that, most schools will have got the message. The code
is very clear; it does not take a genius to be able to read the
code and understand when a school is complying with it and when
it is not.
Q83 Ms Butler: Has it been made clearer
now that the loopholes have been closed?
Dr. Hunter: Absolutely. I think
that it is a very good code.
Q84 Ms Butler: What progress has
been made over the last few years to make sure all local authorities
reviewed their admission arrangements? In my constituency of Brent
South, there are more than 250 children without school places,
and it seems to be getting worse. What progress has been made?
Dr. Hunter: It varies in different
parts of the country, but I am clear from what I have heard this
morning that the Government are determined to make sure that every
local authority and every admissions forum is addressing those
problems. The capacity to deal with them does vary, and I worry
about some of the smaller authorities having the officer support
and the political clout to deal with the problems that they face.
Q85 Ms Butler: As for the local authorities
that are not complying, for whatever reason, how can that situation
Dr. Hunter: It can only be dealt
with through pressure of one kind or another from Government and
by making sure that support from central government to those authorities
is sufficient to allow them to deal with their problems. Some
of the problems, particularly in London, are difficult. I was
working in an authority last year where I think only 35% of the
11 to 16-year-olds living in that authority go to schools in that
Q86 Chairman: What was that percentage?
Dr. Hunter: Only 35% go to schools
in that borough and over 50% of the children in schools in that
borough come from somewhere else. Now I frankly fail to see how
a local authority like that can plan for the future. This has
been established by setting up all these local authorities in
London, and in my view anyway, there has got to be some mechanism
somewhere to make sure that that situation is improved.
Q87 Chairman: Which borough were
you talking about?
Dr. Hunter: Hammersmith and Fulham.
Q88 Fiona Mactaggart: I want to know
this: is there any research about the impact on a child's achievement
of them going through the appeal process at the beginning of their
secondary school career, which is where it usually occurs?
Dr. Hunter: No; not that I know
Q89 Fiona Mactaggart: If there is
not, is it not up to you to try and ensure that there is? It is
clear that it must have some impact. I do not believe that it
Dr. Hunter: You mean going through
the appeals process?
Q90 Fiona Mactaggart: Yes. When a
child is not admitted or goes through an appeal for admission
and is then not admitted, what is the impact either on their future
education in the school where they end up or on their education
in the school that they are admitted into following an appeal?
I think both of those may have an impact on the child's future
education. I watch those children arriving in my constituency
surgery. They did not get the bicycle because they did not pass
the 11-plusand then they are hauled into see me, with mum
complaining. And they hear all of this talked about, and they
are very unhappy children. I want to know who looks at what the
impact of going through all that at the beginning of their school
career is on that child's learning while they are there. Nobody
has that jobthe schools are not going to do it.
Dr. Hunter: Well, we as adjudicators
do not deal with the appeals process. We are engaged in some activity
this year monitoring some of what is going on there, but we do
not have any statutory responsibility for that. And that is something
that, no doubt, the Department and Ministers and so on are thinking
about now. Part of what you are talking about is to do with selection,
the 11-plus and all that. We have a position where there is selection,
and I am not saying anymore about that.
Q91 Mr. Chaytor: Why not?
Dr. Hunter: Because I am an adjudicator
and I am very keenmay I say?not to get involved
in policy areas of that kind.
Q92 Fiona Mactaggart: But there are
areas, which are not selective, where the same experience occurs
for an individual child, and I think that unless the Department
is poked, they might not do this researchthey have not
so far. It has been going on for a long time. Do you not think
that it might be a role for your unit?
Dr. Hunter: There was some research
about five years agofrom Sheffield Hallam, againabout
the appeals process that covered what parents thought of it.
Q93 Fiona Mactaggart: Did it cover
Dr. Hunter: No, it did not do
that. They did not follow it up in that regard.
Chairman: I think that this is a suggestion
for research for someone else; we recognise that it is not your
job to do research, Dr. Hunter.
Q94 Stephen Williams: Just a question
for the AdjudicatorI was looking through the tables at
the back of your most recent report. I noticed there were 10 adjudicators
around the country and you head up the team. Is that enough to
cope with the work load? You said you were expecting a splurge
of referrals this year. Are you confident that you have enough
people in your team?
Dr. Hunter: It has been so far.
There were 16 when I came and I got them down to eight because
they were not busy enough, and we added two more last year because
we thought the work would rise. I think that is probably enough.
Q95 Stephen Williams: And do you
operate as a national team, or is there geographical professionalism?
Dr. Hunter: Yes, it is national.
Q96 Stephen Williams: So you get
sent wherever there is demand. I just wondered, looking through
the table, whether some authorities seem to have lots of complaints
and some do not appear at all. Hertfordshire seems to appear in
great numbers in every single category of complaint. Is there
any sort of pattern that we should be worried about?
Dr. Hunter: No, we often get the
position where a local authorityI think that it was Kent
last year and Hertfordshire this yeardecides to have a
go at looking at all the admissions criteria for every school
in the area, which is what all authorities should be doing. Having
done that, they send a lot through to us. If all authorities do
that, as a result of what Mr. Knight was talking about earlier
today, we are going to have a busy year and we may have to bring
in more, but I think that we have probably got enough at the moment.
Q97 Stephen Williams: Right, just
a quick final question: when the Education Inspections Bill was
going through in 2006, an amendment that my colleagues proposed
at the time but that was withdrawn because the Minister made a
concession included a suggestion that local authorities should
be able to look at the admissions policies of individual schools,
and it was conceded by the Minister that some pilots would be
implemented. Have you seen any evidence of these pilots taking
place, which effectively would be working alongside your team?
Dr. Hunter: I am not sure of the
context of that, but all local authorities now have a duty to
look at all the admissions criteria for all the schools in their
area. You question whether they are doing that, and I suspect
that, as I say, after this year, we will begin to assist in the
way they are doing that. If they have got problems with that,
they refer them to us.
Q98 Chairman: But if you come back
to the nub of this, when we had earlier discussions with you,
it was very clear that you were discontent with the system. That
is why you wanted a different code and why you wanted to be able
to come in more often. It tends to happendoes it not?that
although the articulate middle-classes catch on to a new set of
rules that they can use, it does cascade and filter down. So is
it a splurge in that other people from less affluent backgrounds
will learn to use the system?
Dr. Hunter: The splurge will arise
because local authorities have got a letter from the Ministerthis
week, presumablysaying that we have got to do it. My experience
is that they tend to do what they are told to do in this regard.
Some of them will do it better than others, but I would guess
that, this year, all local authorities will get down on to looking
at all the admission criteria of all schools. You will find in
a year's time that schools are pretty compliant with a very good
code. As I say, that is only the start.
Q99 Chairman: But the irritating
thing when we took evidence for that previous Committee was that
we would have a head from central castingI always sayand
I would say, "But you have no looked-after children; you
have hardly any special educational needs children; and you have
almost no one on free school meals. What about the code?"
I remember a particular female head smiled sweetly and said, "We
take note of the code."
Dr. Hunter: Well, they cannot
"take note" now; they have got to comply. It is the