Diversity of School Provision - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-184)


25 FEBRUARY 2008

  Q180  Paul Holmes: None the less, even under the new code, you cannot direct Academies. You can ask but not direct, whereas you can direct mainstream schools.

  Graham Badman: Well, please do not tell them in that case.

  Q181  Mrs Hodgson: With your permission, Chairman, I have a similar question with regard to exclusions. I do not have any statistics to hand to compare figures on exclusions other than what PricewaterhouseCoopers has found and what I know from my own experience and my own borough, which is that a greater proportion of children are excluded from Academies. The evidence is here; that is a matter of fact. Also, when a child is excluded from a school, another school in the local authority area will often take them, but that may not be the case with Academies. Often that is because Academies are full. I am finding in my borough that the one Academy often totally refuses to play ball and will not take children excluded from another school, although when the Academy excludes children, other schools are expected to take them in, so there is now starting to be a worrying disparity among the schools.

  Chairman: We are pressed for time and I know colleagues are getting a little restless, but I must keep a quorum here if we are to finish the last couple of questions, so can you respond briefly to Sharon's question?

  Martyn Coles: I have taken pupils permanently excluded from other schools.

  Jean Hickman: We are part of the Walsall managed move/transfer policy and we do likewise.

  Lucy Heller: The same would be true for our schools.

  Graham Badman: We do not have that problem. Unless there is a managed move process, the Academies will not do the job they are meant to do within a locality, so we encourage them all and we have not had any difficulty in getting our Academies to respond to a notion of managed moves where there are exclusions.

  Chairman: Last tail gunner, I think we used to call them—Annette Brooke.

  Q182  Annette Brooke: I have been reflecting on the relative importance of people in the system and the structures of the system. Let me give just one example. The fact that local authorities manage the admissions policies of schools gives me a lot of confidence, but that is not necessarily common to all Academies, so I would like to leave this meeting convinced that we could have a structure that meant that Academies were genuinely serving the public good. I am assuming that all of yours are, so can you tell me which changes we should have, apart from in the area of admissions policy, to get rid of all the niggly questions round the edges—the Saturday morning test and so on? That worries me. I visited an Academy that did that for the banding. What else is there that would ensure that these dynamic people were serving the public good?

  Chairman: Let us start with Graham this time, rather than others leading all the time.

  Graham Badman: I will go back to the issue of governance. The heads have made great play of the fact that they have strategic, directive, on-the-ball governors. That is great. It is not necessarily universal. I think we have too many governors and they are too parochial. Within a structure where you are getting school collaboration, you would take out a lot of the parochialism and niggles between schools by having a governance model that enabled schools to have their own governors but also a wider set of governance arrangements, for a town or a neighbourhood, where there was shared ownership of the problems of all the schools within that. Every head, I think, has to take responsibility for all the children, not just those within the purview of their school.

  Lucy Heller: I would just refer to time. The Academies movement, perhaps like education in general, has suffered from an overload of initiatives and changes. We have already seen, in the relatively limited time that Academies have had to show their stuff, that things seem to be moving in the right direction. Generally, given time, people in local communities who have been, in some cases, violently opposed to them have come to change their mind once they have seen them in operation. I would say let it be. I would not make changes to anything. I do not see any instant—

  Q183  Annette Brooke: You would not clip the wings of the freedom at all?

  Lucy Heller: No, I would not. The freedoms are important, but I do not think that they are overwhelming. I do not see any signs that people are misusing them in any way. The change in the curriculum requirement said that Academies must follow the national curriculum in maths, science, ICT and English. I thought that was unnecessary simply because I am not aware of any Academy that has used the freedoms in a way that was at all damaging. It was a response to a question that had not really been asked. I am in favour of leaving things as they are and letting them go. Have a look at the next PricewaterhouseCoopers report when it comes.

  Q184  Annette Brooke: There are obviously issues in relation to the admissions policies of some Academies, although not those here I am sure.

  Jean Hickman: At the time, yes. It is five years since we began and there are certainly great differences now from the provision on the same site for the same community in north Walsall. There also has to be an increased clarity on what we are all about, which is probably why we are here today. The clarity needs to be by definition. There are an awful lot of words attached to every initiative; Academies have endless words attached to them. Those words need to be clearly defined so we all know what we mean when we talk about an independent state-maintained school or a transitional budget. What do those words definitely mean? At the moment, the clarity seems to be that by me defining a specific word, I have a different understanding of it than someone else. The definitions are not clear and clarity in time is what we need.

  Martyn Coles: Indeed. I am almost turning full circle in saying that Academies on the whole have most definitely brought better standards to areas or institutions that have not previously had them—I do not care to comment on the whole country because I do not have experience of that. I agree with you: full and clearly transparent admissions policies should be the case for all state schools.

  Annette Brooke: Thank you. Is that a good note to end on?

  Chairman: A good note to end on. We wish that clearer and more understandable admissions policies were true right across the piece, not just in Academies. This has been an excellent session and I hope that you have realised how generous the Chairman has been in giving everyone plenty of questions. Thank you very much for the time you have given us. It has been a really good session and we have learned a lot.

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