Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)
16 JANUARY 2008
Q100 Chairman: But do they? Is the
process really happening?
Dr. Hunter: You will get the answer
to that after this year's experience. I am pretty confident that,
after this year's experience, you will be able to look at it and
say that that part of it is working.
Q101 Chairman: You are a very experienced
person in the education world. You have worked in so many areas
and have an overview. Do you think that what has happenedthe
change in the legislation, the change in your role and the change
in the nature of the codewill address the fact that there
is such a distortion in terms of the intake in many of the schools
that have been able to exclude? Can you see a real qualitative
Dr. Hunter: The answer is that
I can see a real step change, which will produce a very good basis
for further work later on, but it will not answer all your problems.
If every school in the country is compliant with the code, you
will still have areas in which there is a degree of social and
racial segregation, which some of you, the Government and some
people locally will feel uncomfortable about. At what point does
that degree become unacceptable? That is the first question. The
second question is, what do you do about it? The answer to the
first question will be different in different parts of the country.
You will have different answers in Ealing, Bradford, Bury, Huddersfield
and everywhere else. In my view, it has to be a local political
decision. The question of what to do about it is extremely difficult.
Q102 Mr. Stuart: Do you feel that
the change from education departments to children's services departments
has affected the ability to deal with major reorganisation?
Dr. Hunter: There are two things.
First, they did go through a blip when they lost a lot of good
officershoary old education officers who knew how to shut
schools. I was a Director of Education at the time of the last
cuts in numbers. We closed 133 schools in Staffordshire in the
1980s, and every one of them was difficult. They did lose a lot
of those officers; they are picking them up again. Secondly, are
there now some authorities that are just too small to cope with
these things? My answer is yes.
Q103 Mr. Stuart: Do we need to give
additional support to help?
Dr. Hunter: Either additional
support, or you start amalgamating authoritiesor you stop
setting up new tiddlers.
Q104 Mr. Stuart: Moving on to Academies,
is it appropriate for the Secretary of State to be involved in
approving Academies' admission arrangements as well adjudicating?
Dr. Hunter: I do not think that
it will make a lot of difference in practice, because Academies
are tied in to the same code. I think that it is a perception
problem, and the way to get out of it is to give it to somebody
independent, like the adjudicators.
Q105 Mr. Stuart: If I may go back
to some of the earlier evidence, representing a rural area, as
I do, and seeing the difficulty of choice, with its not being
delivered, would you like to see choice emphasised less and to
focus more on the Minister's talk of raising standards in all
schools, as well as recognising the need for a proper social mix
Dr. Hunter: There is a job for
Ministers, local authorities and everybody else, which is to fix
expectations at a realistic level. That is difficult.
Q106 Chairman: Do you have a suggestion
about who that independent body should be, if the job is taken
away from the Government?
Dr. Hunter: Sorry?
Chairman: You suggested that you would
like to see
Dr. Hunter: No, I meant the adjudicators.
Give it to us.
Chairman: Oh, give it to you. Right,
okay. Good. Excellent.
Q107 Mr. Chaytor: Your annual report
last year described the ending of the first preference first provision
as a good thing, because it was unnecessarily complicated. How
was it complex? Was it more complex than any other criteria?
Dr. Hunter: Yes, it was. First
preference first meant that schools were giving priority to families
who put that school down as their first preference, which inevitably
meant that, where you had some first preference first schools
and some equal preference schools, parents started playing the
system. They just stuck that school down as their first preference,
even if it was not, in order to improve their chances of getting
into that school.
Q108 Mr. Chaytor: But in the wholly
or even partly selective areas, would you not accept that ending
first preference first has worked against the Government's objective
of creating greater community cohesion, because it reduces the
capacity of the non-selective schools to strengthen their intake?
Dr. Hunter: I see no evidence
of that. Basically, what those schools were doingI understand
why they were doing itwas sort of blackmailing parents,
saying, "If you don't put us down first, you'll lose your
place in the queue." I do not think that that is fair.
Q109 Mr. Chaytor: If there were evidence
of that, would you reconsider your view?
Dr. Hunter: Yes, of course I would.
Certainly, the first preference first system and what was called
conditionality were giving a lot of people a lot of problems.
You would need some pretty strong evidence to go back to it.
Q110 Mr. Chaytor: Could I ask about
fair banding? It is not necessarily fair, is it? The issue is
that fair banding is banding on the nature of the applications
to a school, not the nature of the wider catchment area of the
school. What are the merits of banding according to applications,
as against banding according to the wider catchment area?
Dr. Hunter: It depends where you
are and how many schools are into the banding business. If all
schools in an area are operating in a banding system, I do not
think that it makes a lot of difference which direction you are
going in. I have noticed some of the Academies getting into banding.
This is precisely what Bruce Liddington was talking about. If
a school is serving a difficult area and all the kids and only
the kids from that area are going into the school, you have to
try to widen it in some way. Some of them are into banding, and
I think some of that is probably justifiable. It depends where
Q111 Mr. Chaytor: There was reference
earlier to lotteries. Is there evidence that people are starting
to use the lottery provision?
Dr. Hunter: Some of them are.
Some of them are using it in different ways. In Brighton, for
example, they were not really using a lottery, except as a tiebreaker.
As tiebreakers, they are coming in more, and probably very sensibly,
too. They have a place. They are one of the devices that can be
used if it is necessary to get into dealing with unacceptable
Q112 Mr. Chaytor: But are there circumstances
in which a lottery would be a useful or valid method of allocation
other than as a tiebreakeras the basic method of allocation
to the school?
Dr. Hunter: Yes, I can imagine
that. I think at Haberdashers' Aske's, which Bruce was talking
about, that is the case. You can come across circumstances where
that is possible.
Q113 Mr. Chaytor: According to the
annual report, there seems to be one local authority that disproportionately
takes up the time of your colleagues, which is Hertfordshire.
How can it be that one out of 150 local authorities is responsible
for about 20% of the total references on admissions? What can
be done about that? Is it not the case that you should not just
be waiting for those to come from Hertfordshire but should be
intervening more actively with Hertfordshire to prevent it?
Dr. Hunter: We have been having
discussions with Hertfordshire about the way things worked out
last year. What happened was that the code came in fairly late
in the sequence this time. Hertfordshire decided to have a go
at it, after most of the schools had made up their minds about
their admission arrangements. Having decided to do that, they
stuck in a whole lot of objections, many of which they withdrew
as they went through the system. That was a particular set of
circumstances, and we will have that from time to time.
Q114 Chairman: We have talked before
about pan-London co-operation on admissions. How is that going?
It was very important. When I listen to you, there is a subtext
that London is a bit of a mess. I do not know if that is true.
Is it a bit of a mess?
Dr. Hunter: I am the wrong person
to ask. I used to work for the Inner London Education Authority
(ILEA), and I used to think it was wonderful.
Mr. Stuart: A minority view.
Dr. Hunter: Probably.
Chairman: Well, we do not know whether
it was a minority view. There has been no polling on that.
Dr. Hunter: We need more collaboration
and co-operation between London authorities. How you achieve thatwhether
you give some powers to the Mayor or what have youI do
not know, but something has to happen in London.
Q115 Chairman: But how is the pan-London
Dr. Hunter: That is working reasonably
well. I was, if you remember, reasonably sceptical about that
at one time. I said it was necessary, but I am always sceptical
about big computer schemes.
Q116 Chairman: You thought it was
going to break down, did you not?
Dr. Hunter: I said it would break
down sometime. It has not broken down yet.
Chairman: Touch wood it has not.
Dr. Hunter: I think that it has
a reasonable chance of working.
Q117 Chairman: Would you like to
get rid of what people call the Greenwich agreement? I am not
talking just about London. Do you think people should go to community
schools? We have taken evidence from heads here who have said,
"Look, if I have a fair number of people in my community
coming to my school, I can do wonderful things, but if a very
significant percentage of my community leave the area, it is much
Dr. Hunter: It depends where you
are. Last year, I was in Southall in Ealing, where 95 or 98% of
the children are Asian. Up the road, there are schools where 70%
of the children are white. Those are local schools serving their
local community, and people were happy with that. Now, somebody,
somewhere has got to say that that is either acceptable, because
it is working, or that it is not acceptable, because of the implications
that it has for racial integration and all the rest of it. That
is a matter that ends up with local politicians; it is a proper
political decision. That is the local authority, local councillors
and the local MP reaching a view about what is acceptable and
what is not.
Q118 Chairman: So it is almost like
the visioning process that Building Schools for the Future entails.
Should the question of what is the vision of educational provision
in this area for the next 50 years be a very important part of
Dr. Hunter: Yes, of course. I
am quite keen on politicians, and this is what they are for. They
are there for making decisions and reaching views of that kind.
They are elected to do that job, and it is a very difficult job.
Q119 Mr. Stuart: Chairman, you are
talking about segregated societies, but I would suggest that the
evidence is that local politicians are not normally best placed
to challenge the existing situation. That would certainly seem
to be the evidence from the United States. If, for broader social
reasons, segregation has gone too far, are the local politicians
not more likely to be supportive of the existing arrangements,
reflecting, as they do, the existing forces that have led to that
situation arising in the first place?
Dr. Hunter: National Government
has to have a view as well, but in the end, it is the local politiciansand
the local MPswho are going to lose their seats if they
get it wrong.