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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)


7 MAY 2008

  Q280  Chairman: I welcome Professor Francis Green and Chris Parry to our proceedings. As you know, we have been looking at diversity of school provision and we are pleased that you are able to give evidence to the Committee this morning. We have divided the sitting into two sections to try to give a fair amount of time to both sets of witnesses.  We tend to drop the titles after the introduction, Professor Green, and just go with first names. Is that all right? It is slightly less formal.

  Professor Green: Yes.

  Chairman: We usually give our witnesses a chance to say a few words, as long as they do not take too long, about their thoughts on the area that we are investigating.

  Professor Green: Thank you for this opportunity and invitation. To introduce myself, I am an economist who specialises in labour economics and education economics. A few years ago, when I was on a committee that was advising the Department for Education, as it then was, on what kinds of research it ought to be undertaking, I put my little hand up and said, "How about doing a little bit of research on the independent sector?" That was greeted with stony silence and never got any further, but I am pleased to say that a few years later a colleague at the London School of Economics and I persuaded the Nuffield Foundation to give us a little bit of money to kick-start some research on the independent sector. It was our view that it was an extremely important sector in education but that it had been pretty well neglected by independent researchers for 20 years and by economists for probably a lot longer than that. That is where I am coming from. Our research lasted for about a year, and what I will say today and any answers that I give to questions are based partly on that research and on the research of a few professional colleagues who have been looking at the issue over the past five or six years, generally using large-scale, nationally representative data. The general aim of the research is to cut back from individual examples and political arguments either way and try to look at independent schools from the position of what is happening in the picture at large, using representative survey data and aggregate data, which come out of the Independent Schools Council. I know that you do not want me to go on for any length of time. Briefly, it was our view that the independent schools had really transformed themselves since the 1960s, a period when they were comparatively under threat, to become academic powerhouses. I need not give you the evidence for that. There is now plenty of formal evidence that private schools unequivocally boost the academic qualifications that pupils receive. They have done that primarily through fantastically increased resources since about 1980 and a pupil-teacher ratio that is now little more than half what it is in the maintained sector. One half of our research involved looking at the benefits that people received in the labour market through having had an independent education as opposed to a state-maintained education. Broadly speaking, our estimates were that for people who had been at school in the 1980s, give or take a slightly broader range, there was a premium of between 16% and 19% on pay. That is not an economic return but a premium. Obviously, the figure does not take into account the costs of the investment. That was the premium that they received in the labour market. It does not include other things, to do with consumption benefits and others. We do not know how the people in the independent schools now will perform in the future. Obviously, that is a matter of forecasting; but it is our opinion that it is likely that the premium, if anything, will be larger than it was for the people who were at school in the 1980s. Why do we think that? Well, the two big things that have changed since the 1980s are, first of all, that there is a yet further increased demand for highly educated—well educated—people in the labour market. We know that from many sources. Secondly, the investment that parents and others have to make for children to go to the independent school has increased immeasurably also, since the 1980s, so both the outlay and the resources, and the demand, have changed. We think that the premium, as it were, for today's cohort of private school people will be substantially greater than the figures I have just given you. That was really addressing the benefit side; the other side, if I may take just one minute more, that we looked at in our research, was to try and kick-start some understanding about the different sides of the teachers' labour market. There is one paper, which I believe has been circulated to members of the Committee, in which we looked at this. We looked at pay conditions and transfers between the two sectors. One of the key issues we tried to put a few numbers on was the issue of the transfer of teachers between the two sectors, and how it is that the independent sector was, as it were, staffing up. They needed to increase staff in order to increase the teacher-pupil ratio over time, as well as replace retirements, and so on. The figure that struck us—we were using the figures from the Independent Schools Council—was the number of people who were moving from the maintained sector to the independent sector. These figures are relatively small compared with the overall stock of teachers in schools. There are 400,000 or 500,000—I have not got the exact numbers with me; the numbers moving over the years are relatively small compared with that stock, but if you look at them in relation to the number of teachers coming out of our universities and teacher training colleges, they represent about 7% of that flow, averaged over the last seven or eight years. That was as it were the nearest we could get for the moment to putting hard data, that you could find in the papers, on the statistical flows between the two sectors. I am willing to take further questions on that, but also conscious that I have probably used up my few minutes now. We were circulated a list of potential questions, and my expertise, which I am very happy to talk about, really relates to the first two of those questions. I should probably keep a bit quieter about some of the subsequent questions to do with the running of independent schools. Those will have to be passed to some of my colleagues.

  Q281  Chairman: Thank you. Chris Parry, you are rather new in your job. You have been there only a couple of months, have you not?

  Chris Parry: Seven days.

  Chairman: Seven days?

  Chris Parry: I know it is a long time in the education sector.

  Chairman: After a career organising the defence capability of the country I am sure that you are well able to grasp all the issues affecting independent education in a few days.

  Chris Parry: I will rely on your judgment, I think. I, too, welcome the opportunity to give evidence before the Committee. I am aware of the substantial practical and educational experience around the table, and also the mix of maintained school and independent school ex-pupils. I can say, early in post, that I am really proud to represent a world-class sector: 7% of the education community. It contributes substantially to the UK's reputation for high quality education and schooling—and I think there is a difference. The OECD places us at the top of the league table for educational attainment. If you take out the independent sector, it drops significantly—embarrassingly so, in fact. Our strength in this sector is our independence. It is the ability to tailor the requirements of pupils and the ethos to the demands of both local and global forces. Any amount of over-regulation hampers us in our ability to develop dynamically in relation to trends. One of the areas where we have been very successful in developing capability is with special educational needs. We have a considerable programme of links with the maintained sector and we will probably go into those later. Every school in our area is involved,[1] and predominately there is an exchange of best practice in a two-way flow, although perhaps not as much as we would want. There is also a long history and good evidence of local community engagement, going back, in some cases, over 400 years. What hampers us is the perpetuation of attitudes and myths that seem to come out of the cold war, if I can mix my sector metaphors. There is a lot of ideology and there is still a sectarian divide between the maintained sector and the independent sector. I would even say there is a bit of prejudice and bullying from the maintained sector, particularly in the teacher training colleges. We also have some confusion over the interpretation of the Charities Act 2006 and perhaps we can discuss that, but all in all we are a confident, vibrant sector. We hope to do more for the rest of the education community. We want to learn more from the education community in the United Kingdom. Only last week, we took on board COBIS, the Council of British International Schools, and that extends our influence, and the UK's influence, abroad by a great measure, into over 40 countries. I think perhaps that is all you need me to say before we get into the questions.

  Q282  Chairman: Let us get into the question session. First, may I ask both of you how much effect the independent sector has on education generally in this country. Does it provide an enormous guide to good ways of teaching and how to bring the best out of pupils? What are the things that we can learn from the independent sector in the state sector?

  Professor Green: With respect, there are three or four questions in there. How much effect does the independent sector have on education generally? I think a lot. Despite the small size of the sector in terms of pupil numbers—7 or 7.5%—it has enormous influence. That is partly through the ways I was suggesting.

  Q283  Chairman: Forgive me, Professor Green, but many schools give evidence to the Committee and with most of the people from the state sector who come here, you can say, "How many free school meals pupils have you in your school and how many special educational needs pupils?" and there will be a balance, but if I have the high master of, say, City of Birmingham Boys School, the answer will be "Not many" in any of those categories, whether it be poor children, SEN children[2] or looked-after children. It is a very different world, so whatever we can learn, it is a different universe, is it not?

  Professor Green: I think that is true of some schools. Inner-city, state-maintained schools are a world away from one of the traditional so-called public schools, but it should be remembered that the independent sector is very diverse in itself, probably more diverse than the state sector. There are great differences in the fees charged and in the type of education offered. There are areas of the country where there are quite a lot of similarities and substitutabilities between the local schools and some of the private schools. My own area is one example of that. In Canterbury, there are several private schools as well as even more state schools, all concentrated in one town, and I know lots of children through my own personal contacts who are at the margins between going to one or the other. To my mind, there are more possibilities for learning between the two sectors than actually take place. There is quite a lot of envy and jealousy and ideology between the two sectors, to which Chris referred.

  Q284  Chairman: That is not surprising, is it? The Committee visited a school in Maidstone—a more challenged school—that had 100% free school meals, 65% SEN pupils, and many looked-after children. It is down the road in Maidstone amidst many schools that do not have those challenges. It is not cold war, is it? It is a fact of life.

  Professor Green: Yes, I know, but there are things that could benefit the maintained schools. If some of the fantastic science teachers they have in some of the private schools were to go and teach in an inner city school, they might have problems with discipline because they do not have those particular sorts of people skills. They would have to be honed in a well-ordered independent school, and then they could go to a more challenging school. But not all schools are full of ruffian boys and girls, are they?

  Chairman: The school that I went to did not have any ruffians, but it had poor children and children with special educational needs.

  Professor Green: Indeed, but my point is that there will be a lot of scope for productive learning and teaching if some of the good science teachers that we find in the private schools were to make some of their time available to some of the state schools. I know that there are difficulties, and I know that different skills sets are involved in teaching in private schools and state schools—and it depends what kind of state school it is—but there is some scope for that.

  Q285  Chairman: I am the warm-up act; we will drill down on those cases in a moment. Chris Parry, what do you think can be learned from your sector by the state sector?

  Chris Parry: I have been in both state and maintained sectors. It is ancient history now, but my experience in both indicates to me that it is the independence and freedom from regulation and the ability to trust professionals that lies at the heart of this. Typically, in the independent sector we have more control over disciplinary regimes, we have more variability over the curriculum, and governance is more independent. That means that people can use their initiative, they can experiment, and they can find out what works. Indeed, the Government recognise that. Lord Adonis said that he wants to copy our DNA—and right at the heart of that helix is this independence and freedom from regulation. Our only worry is that in taking our DNA he does not genetically modify us.

  Q286  Chairman: Putting Lord Adonis's remarks to one side, is not one of the problems that it is a very different world? As I said to Francis Green, we have a system of league tables, but some people think that they are rather unfair. Indeed, I see that Eton and other public schools will refuse to co-operate with leagues tables in future. If you go to one of the more exclusive schools, and most of public schools are exclusive, there are quite high academic barriers to get in, and a high percentage of children will come from very supportive middle-class families, so it would be surprising if the results from that kind of entry were not excellent. In a sense, you can see the resentment in the state sector, in schools that represent the communities in which they sit; in terms of free school meals, and their intake of SEN and looked-after children, they are being unfairly compared with some of the schools that you represent.

  Chris Parry: Again, that is an apt question. It represents the ideology that we are one community. We have to see children as children, whether in the independent or the maintained sector. The question that we have to ask ourselves is why people choose to go to the independent sector. There are a number of reasons. I detect that some people simply want a certain type of education for their children. In many cases, it is not an intellectual decision or even a practical decision; it is an emotional one, and they are prepared and able to pay. Other people simply cannot get provision in their local area in the state or maintained sector. Where I come from, the maintained sector is very poor. My wife and I have made sacrifices to send both our children to the independent sector. Ideologically, some people might choose to send them to the maintained sector. If I want, emotionally, the best for my children, I have to pay for it. That means that certain things have to go by the board to allow that. There are hundreds and thousands of families like mine who have chosen to make that commitment, both to their children's future and to the future of this country, and at significant expense, I might add.

  Q287  Mr Stuart: Of course, 51% of parents have said that they would send their children to an independent school if they could afford it. I have a question for Professor Green. Your research looks at the transfer of teachers and its economic benefit. As you say in your paper, there is no loss to society overall from the transfer of teachers from the state to the independent sector, but have you examined what role this world-class sector of teaching, which contributes so much to our highest universities, plays in attracting high-quality teachers, people with high qualifications and high motivation into the sector of teaching overall? It would not happen if the independent sector was not there and so could it be that the impact of the independent sector overall is to enrich the whole of the teaching profession by offering diversity as well as high standards?

  Professor Green: I do not have any numbers to give you on that, but there will be teachers who go to work in independent schools who probably would not otherwise have gone to work in the maintained sector. These will be the people largely coming "from industry" and other jobs.

  Q288  Mr Stuart: Could some of the outstanding science and maths teachers you talked about never have entered teaching at all if it were not for the independent sector bringing them in? So could there be a net overall positive contribution?

  Professor Green: I do not know whether you regard this as positive, but there are fewer barriers to going into teaching in the independent sector because you do not have to be a professionally qualified teacher to teach there. So there will be good science teachers—I have some in my family and I know about this—who are not professionally qualified teachers but are doing a good job of teaching science in an independent school. I do not really think that that is a policy option to say that we will start taking away the need to have a professional qualification to teach in the state sector, but that would be one example—

  Mr Stuart: Can I ask why not?

  Chairman: Quickly, as David wants to come in here.

  Q289  Mr Stuart: I am interested to know why not.

  Professor Green: That is my naive political wisdom, perhaps. You might be able to defend it. You could say that someone with a PhD in science, provided they were properly managed on the teaching side, could really enhance teaching in state schools. Maybe we should think more imaginatively there.

  Q290  Mr Chaytor: Can I pick up on Chris Parry's point? If hundreds and thousands of parents are making huge sacrifices to send their children to independent schools, and if 51% would wish to send their children to an independent school if they could afford it, is that not a powerful argument in support of those who want to introduce a huge expansion in the number of cut-price, cheap-rate independent schools? Does that not completely endorse the Chris Woodhead or Civitas approach to a new sector of more downmarket independent schools?

  Chris Parry: The justification for the transfer of DNA to any sort of provider who can give our children a decent education and schooling and a future is entirely justified. We have to do a very careful assessment of the cost, not only in the short term but also in the long term. Once sunk costs are put in, one must factor in the whole scope of a child's education. Where we have seen real tragedies across both sectors is where a child starts a form of education and then cannot complete it for one reason or another. The investment has to be factored in over 20 years. Strategically—dare I say it—Government Departments are not very good at acting in those time frames. We know why: it is part of a political culture. To invest in the future, we must have a strategic plan that covers both sectors of the community and takes the best of both. To add to what Professor Green has just said, we must remember that the independent sector is 7% of the whole. If we took 7% of the maintained sector, we would find excellence in that as well. There is a tremendous tendency to do down the maintained sector. I visit a mix of schools both in the independent and maintained sector, and excellence has a virtue all of its own across the whole community. We should be aiming for that, and taking the best of them both. Some fairly unfavourable and unbalanced comparisons can be made. The 93% sector is as diverse in some ways as the 7% that represents the independent sector, and what brings best practice together—innovation—and gives it to our children in my view and if it works, we put it into place.

  Q291  Mr Chaytor: Yes, but if there are 1,200 or so schools within the ISC at present, and if your argument is that a significant number of parents are already making sacrifices and a significant other number would like to pay for their children to go to a private school if they could, surely the logic is to double the number of private schools. Would the ISC welcome another 1,200 private schools, the fees of which were more affordable to parents? That is my point.

  Chris Parry: In a modern market, if we want excellence we have to pay for it. There is a small pool of excellent teachers. A small pool of apt pupils can maintain those levels. The Academies and trust schools programme is entirely compatible with the independence and the lack of regulation that I have been proposing. Many initiatives in recent years are entirely consistent. It goes back to the tradition of all good schools that delegation of responsibility for teaching and a light load of regulation leads to what you are seeking. We will then see if the costs come down.

  Q292  Mr Chaytor: Is not the logic of your argument about the pent-up demand of parents that we need more independent schools and that the fee levels should be lower than the average fee level of the ISC schools? Is that not the absolute corollary of your argument?

  Chris Parry: Some of the schools have depressed, in the sense that they have put down levels of fees deliberately.

  Mr Chaytor: Things have been going up 6% per year since 2000.

  Chris Parry: Yes, but compared with the real rate of inflation in all sectors, that is actually fairly comparable. Against headline inflation rates, of course, it looks silly, but we all know that we can perm those in many ways.

  Q293  Mr Chaytor: Do we need another 1,200 independent schools, with average fees of £6,000 a year?

  Chris Parry: If that can be achieved. We have to look at the price of pensions, the facilities and the price of regulation. Those things are going up all the time. Every service industry is being hit by high rates of inflation, such as increased fuel bills and food. If we can achieve it at such levels, of course we should welcome 1,200 extra schools. We must also look at the comparative price of a maintained place because that will go up all the time. Currently, the Department for Children, Schools and Families says that it is about £5,400 a year. That compares pretty favourably with some of the lower levels of the independent schools anyway. There are more ways in which to calculate it, but again unless we do it for the long term, we shall be saddled with quite a programme, if we are not careful.

  Q294  Mr Chaytor: Coming back to the performance of the current independent sector, to what do you attribute the high level of performance? Is it a question of ownership? Is it a question of the market mechanism? Is it the fact that a parent is writing a cheque for the child's education, and the school knows that it is subject to pressure from the consumer? Or is it intake? You have talked about freedom from regulation, and I should like to know exactly what regulations you consider to be particularly burdensome. I am interested in the extent to which you attribute the superior performance to ownership, intake, market mechanism or absence of state regulation.

  Chris Parry: As you well know, it is an area of myth for most people. Let us talk first about intake. You will find that the independent sector is open to a wide diversity of abilities, age ranges—obviously—and income levels. The detail of that is quite clear. I think that there is a distinctive ethos in the independent sector based on excellence. Second best is not good enough among teachers. I think that the amount of pastoral and wider education engagement is greater and I think that they see more of their teachers. In the independent sector, more teachers are prepared to get involved in extra curricula and pastoral activities than in the state sector. If I am really honest, I think that the disaggregated nature of the independent sector means that there is strong leadership at local level among teachers, heads of departments and others. The bottom line is that parents pay for the education, as you say.

  Q295  Chairman: Sorry, but I said this to your annual conference a couple of years ago: one of the things that offends people outside the independent sector, more than anything, is what you have just said. I see that your head of research, Pru Jones, said it when she talked about paid-for education. That really upsets a lot of people—taxpayers in this country who do pay for their education. It is paid for through taxation. Many parents who send their children into the state sector find it quite offensive when those in the independent sector regularly talk about paid-for education.

  Chris Parry: May I say that I find it very offensive that I cannot find provision in the maintained sector for my children? I pay my taxes, which pays for two places in the state sector, and yet I pay out of my taxed income a significant amount of money to ensure that my children are educated.

  Chairman: My point is that it is all paid for. Do not try to fudge it by saying that you did not have the choice. It is all paid for; it is paid for through taxation. If you decide to go into independent education and pay separately, that is different. I am trying to make the point that it is offensive to many people to disregard what people pay through taxation.

  Q296  Mr Chaytor: What I am trying to get at is like for like. If we could compare two schools—one independent, one within the state sector—with identical intakes, would there be a higher level of achievement in the independent school, and if so, what would it be attributable to?

  Professor Green: I think that I can answer that. My research suggests clearly that it is the extra resources. Not only my research points to that: a major study was carried out by Oxford University using schools within the independent sector, showing that schools that spent more got more out of the children. The high levels of academic qualifications achieved—they really are achieved—by the private sector can, in my view, be attributed mainly to the extra resources and the fact that they have nearly half the pupil-teacher ratio and much greater physical investment in plant and equipment. That does it.

  Q297  Mr Chaytor: In terms of public policy, is the most logical conclusion that to get higher levels of achievement across the board, it would be more effective to increase the investment per pupil in the state sector to the level of independent schools, to make all schools independent, or to introduce a voucher system? From your experience, which of those three options would be most likely to raise achievement?

  Professor Green: I cannot give you a researched, informed answer. My preference would be to put more resources in the state maintained sector so that people such as Chris would not necessarily have to make the decision on behalf of their children. I made a different decision on behalf of my children, and I was very happy with it. We find lots of different experiences in that respect. For the past seven or eight years, I have been a governor of a local state-maintained school. In my time as a governor, I have to say that although regulations come down from the local authority, the number of times that they appear to constrain what we can do as governors, or what my head teacher can do in his school, is very small—that problem is not on the horizon; it is not part of the way of thinking. My head teacher is able to be very innovative. He has introduced an international baccalaureate—nobody is stopping him doing that—he has control over the curriculum, and he has changed a number of things. Perhaps there are more difficulties when it comes to dismissing teachers, and that might be a difference between the public and state sectors. He may have to be more careful in the dismissal of teachers, but I do not know. I take a different view from Chris Parry about the tremendous effects of the differences in regulation.

  Q298  Mr Chaytor: If the funding in state and independent schools was identical, and therefore presumably the pupil to teacher ratio was identical, what would be the advantage of an independent school from your point of view?

  Chris Parry: All things being equal, which we have never had? I do not have the evidence to make an intelligent comment about that.

  Q299  Mr Carswell: You spoke very movingly about the financial sacrifices that some parents make to buy the best education that they can for their children. To put it bluntly, is that sacrifice—that financial burden—greater than it should be because of price fixing in the independent sector?

  Chris Parry: Last year it was proved beyond doubt, through the Office of Fair Trading inquiry and the subsequent work associated with it, that price fixing does not take place. There was a certain amount of exchanging information at the time, but there was no conclusive proof of price fixing. The law of the market applies in the independent sector; parents would not buy into education in certain schools if they were hopelessly priced or controlled by cartels.

1   Note from witness: Almost every school-ISC cannot be 100% sure that every single school is involved in this practice Back

2   Note from witness: The percentage of pupils with SEN at independent schools is between 1-2%, the same as in the maintained sector. Back

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