Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-319)|
7 MAY 2008
Q300 Mr Carswell: My second question
builds on a point that David was trying to make. As an economist,
I would expect that, as in many markets, such as aviation, when
there is a big demand, supply will come along. In the aviation
sector there are no-frills providers such as Ryanair and Easyjet.
Why are we not seeing in the education system a growing number
of middle-range, no-frills schools? Where are the Easyjet or Ryanair-type
private schools? Are there constraints on supply, or are there
barriers to entry? Could we do something to increase supply? If,
for example, we gave every parent in the country a legal right
to control their child's share of local authority funding, would
that stimulate growth in independent schools?
Chris Parry: There is confusion
between fees and resources, which do not directly relate to each
other. At the end of the day, resourcesboth human and materialcome
from a variety of different sources and the fees do not directly
relate. There is a demographic problem, which is that the number
of pupils is declining and will decline over the next 10 years.
If we look across both sectors, the idea of having what I would
call independence or excellence-lightthe Ryanair exampleis
not useful. However, the experiments that we are having with Academies
and trust schools should give you the answer within about five
or six years. We are on the leading edge of that at the moment,
and we have got to see what both the educational and the financial
provision are before we can make really clear judgments. Looking
across the independent sector, there are certain fixed costsstaff
costs, facilities, regulation coststhat take up about 90%
of the costs of running a school. There is very little variability
or flexibility with that, so having these schools on the cheap
would be pretty difficult, although in the maintained sector,
with all the infrastructure already in place, there might be some
room for that. That is where Academies, trust schools and other
such innovations can come in, but I stress that that relies on
a certain amount of delegation to the professionals, as they know
how to run schools, and putting in place partnerships that will
allow them to run businesses as well. Schools are businesses at
the end of the day.
Q301 Chairman: I thought that most
of your members were charities?
Chris Parry: I am talking about
the maintained sector. With Academies and trusts, there is a chance
that if you have good partnerships in place that bring expertise
to the governance, you might be able to reduce the equivalent
costs in the maintained sector.
Q302 Mr Carswell: Professor Green,
I am interested in your thoughts. Why cannot we have Ryanair-type
Professor Green: It is a really
good question. The glib answer is that Ryanair operates in the
for-profit sector, whereas the independents are not-for-profit
institutions. The people who run schools are not there to make
profits from those schools. They do not have shareholders. I read
about a small number of schools that are franchised, but I do
not have expertise in that. Although that was the glib answer,
none the less, to my mind, there is a bit of a puzzle about the
7 or 7.5%. It was 7.5% back in 1980, yet an enormous amount of
money has gone into the sector. You can question the fact that
costs go up faster in the education sector than for buying washing
machines or something like that, but none the less, in real terms,
an enormously increased resource goes in annually and, on top
of that, there is the existing wealth of schools. It is puzzling
that more schools have not started up.
Q303 Annette Brooke: My first question
should be to both Francis and Chris. Are independent schools businesses
Chris Parry: According to the
Charities Act 2006, they are all charities.
Professor Green: That is the legal
answer, which is correct. Most private schools provide only relatively
limited public benefit; that is my personal experience, and I
know many schools in the Canterbury area. My sons are at school,
and they benefit because they can use the large hall of the local
public school for prize-givings. That is welcome. Whenever my
sons' friends see the facilities there, they are always gobsmacked
by the fantastic playing fields, halls and so on, but I am afraid
that they never get to use them. Such schools are not charities
in the sense that they are broadly available for members of the
public to use, in my view. That is not a legalistic statement
Mr Carswell: It is a subjective comment.
Professor Green: Sorry, it is
a statement about the people who actually use those schools, who
are mainly people from the higher income brackets. That is a statement
of fact. In the area that I know about, they are largely not people
from working-class estates in the Canterbury district area, and
I suspect that that is true throughout the whole country.
Q304 Annette Brooke: May I just follow
that through? Let us take the new legal definition of charitable
status, and obviously there are some requirements on independent
schools. I think that the ISC suggested that the new regulations
presented a threat to independent schools. In what way do they
present a threat?
Chris Parry: Thanks for the question.
It is not so much the new Charities Act that presents a threat
to us, but its interpretation. The definition of public benefit
has not changed; only the interpretation placed on it by the Charity
Commission has changed. I am really concerned that most trustees
will be confused about their role, because it seems that the education
mission, which justifies the charitable status in the first place,
has become of secondary importance to the social mission implied
by some of the guidelines issued by the Charity Commission. Therein
lies the threat. In the gap between the legal requirement and
the public perception, there might be many flaws.
Q305 Annette Brooke: I want to follow
that through. I am a great one for looking on the bright side
Chris Parry: So am I.
Annette Brooke: Presumably, there are
opportunities for you to forge stronger links between the independent
and maintained sectors. Where do you see the main opportunities?
Chris Parry: First, it is worth
saying that many of these partnerships and links already exist,
and have done for many years. Independent schools are characterised
by their local and community commitment. There are hundreds of
partnerships between maintained and independent schools. They
share expertise and ideas, especially in shortage subjects. Hampton
School in Middlesex, for exampleit will be familiar to
some members of the Committeeengages extensively with local
maintained schools in subjects such as physics, chemistry and
biology. It has master classes on the academic side at weekends
and half terms. Hundreds of our schools run summer schools, sports
clubs and coaching. We have something called Pitchlink that co-ordinates
independent schools' pitches. That goes out not only to adult
teams, but children's teams as well. We share playing fields and
other facilitiesDame Kelly Holmes trained at Tonbridge
School when she was at school.
We have 330 Government-sponsored independent state school partnerships,
which have grown up over the past 10 years.
Q306 Annette Brooke: Will the ISC
be promoting good practice? While I know that there are some good
examples around, we could probably all think of instances where
there is no real partnership at all. How do you plan to spread
Chris Parry: That is kind of you.
In our sector, one thing that we lack is the ability to go the
same way on the same day. I have a certain number of rogue elements
in my sector, but I have 1,450 head teachers who are all independent
heads of their own schools. Part of my role in the future will
be to disseminate best practice, not just in that area, but in
the academic arena. It is something that we have lacked up until
now, and the challenge from the Charity Commission will give us
an opportunity to do that, particularly in this area. It is important
to stress that every head is aware of his responsibilities with
regard to his local community. The vast majority of schools are
fully engaged with their community and with other maintained schools
in their area. We are seeing clusters of schools growing up, and
one of the problems with the Academy programme is that it forces
a beauty contest in certain local areas, where the independent
school has to latch on to a single schoolchosen for them
in some cases; chosen by them in othersand that leaves
the other schools to go to the wire. I am in favour of clusters
where independent schools help other schools in their area more
generally. That does not mean that the Academy programme is not
worth sponsoringit certainly isbut the beauty contest
threatens to reduce influence in local communities.
Q307 Chairman: Chris, let us get
this on record. One thing worries me about what you have just
said in response to Annette. Has the Charities Act 2006 made a
difference to your members in terms of how they see the onus on
them to act in a different way to come up to the expectations
of Charity Commission? Part of what you said implied that we have
always done this, and we are going to carry on as we were. I understand
from the Charities Act and from the Charity Commission, which
I met recently, that it is looking to you for a marked change
in behaviour. Are you saying that most of your members do not
see that change?
Chris Parry: No, the Charities
Act and its interpretation by the Charity Commission has catalysed
people's views. They are looking at better ways of doing what
they already do, and I think that you will find that people will
be more imaginative in the ways in which they stretch their resources
to help their local communities further. To a greater or lesser
extent, our members have always done things with the local community;
they have always helped the maintained sector. We are going to
systematise it better. As Annette Brooke said, we can introduce
best practice and make suggestions because we cover the whole
of the spectrum. It should not be forgotten that we work in the
interests of the whole education community. It is not an "us
and them" argument. My organisation is fundamentally interested
in the improvement of education across the whole community.
Q308 Annette Brooke: May I ask, Francis,
whether all of this is just cosmetic to legitimise the independent
sector? Will we really see changes as a consequence of the latest
Professor Green: I do not have
great hopes or expectations that it will lead to enormous change.
There will be more difficulties in the proposals from the Charity
Commission than Chris and colleagues are expecting. However, I
am not an expert, and they look at what they do and how they configure
their own schools better. As I understand it, public benefit means
that people should not be excluded from the opportunity to benefit
on the grounds of poverty. I am not saying what should or should
not happen, but it may be interpreted in that way. There are millions
of people in this country who are excluded from using private
schools on grounds of poverty. Look at the fees. It is like the
elephant in the room; it is so obvious. I think that the proposals
will have some effect, and the effect could be more than cosmetic.
Q309 Mr Slaughter: Boarding fees
are probably about the same as the average incomeabout
£20,000 a year. If I was paying that amount per child, I
might have some objections. As you said so eloquently earlier
on, you have already paid through your taxes and you are now paying
a huge, phenomenal sum of money, and the resources that you are
paying for are being given away to people who are not paying for
them. Is that how parents and governors of independent schools
Chris Parry: Each parent, governor
and head will have to make their own choice. From my own point
of view, there is a social responsibility for all institutions
in this country. I spent 35 years in the public service, and if
it was about money, I would not do the job, to tell you the truth.
This is not about money; it is about community and social responsibility.
We also live in a market-driven society.
Q310 Mr Slaughter: That is exactly
the opposite to what you said a few moments ago. You gave us a
short lecture on why the Government should be providing state
schools to which you felt able to send your children and that
you were paying a penalty by sending them to independent schools.
If the Government or the Charity Commission were then asking you
effectively to pay a third time by giving back to the state for
the use of other children the resources that you have not only
paid for through taxes but through school fees as well, is that
not something to which your school would object?
Chris Parry: I cannot speak for
the schools; it will be up to them. All I can do is give an opinion.
My opinion is that there is a social responsibility and different
schools will find different ways of providing that endowment.
As you know, Winchester has suggested that it will put an extra
rate on the fees. That is the only school so far that has suggested
a direct pecuniary penalty to its parents. You will know that
some schools have endowments. Christ's Hospital, for example,
has a huge endowment. It gives bursaries and scholarships to the
tune of 86% of its pupils. It has an endowment that serves a public
purpose. Other schools will find ways in which they can extend
educational provision. If I could just finish off what Professor
Green saidwe are in the area of opinion hereand
while there is an ongoing consultation with the Charity Commission,
none of us can say what the ultimate provision will be. Therefore,
it is mere speculation at the moment. All I can say is that the
law is very explicit at the moment about what constitutes public
benefit, and that definition has not changed from the previous
legislation. The definition of a charity fits every one of our
schools at the moment. I am encouraging each of them to write
to Dame Suzi Leather to show why they fit that particular charity
Chairman: I am conscious that we have
two sets of witnesses. Andy, do you want a quick further question?
Q311 Mr Slaughter: I want to go back
to the point that Annette was touching on. Is there not a big
difference between saying, "You can use our playing fields
and facilities when we are not using them"that is
not a great opportunity cost to the private schooland taking
on a large project, such as sponsoring an Academy? Is that why
you are objecting to that? You say, "Well, we'd rather spread
our largesse around in a rather thinner way," but if independent
schools were required to have a project that could take a substantial
investment of time, money and dilution of their resources, that
would be a sea change. That is what you are opposing, is it not?
Chris Parry: No, I am opposing
the idea that each independent school is the same as the others.
We have some independent schools that are bumping along, just
about able to provide provision with their resources and outputs.
You cannot compare Winchester or Eton with some of the smaller
schools around the country. Each will be able to contribute in
its own way, according to its resources.
Q312 Mr Slaughter: But subject to
financial audit or capacity audit, there are clearly independent
schools that are hugely well resourced and funded. In the end,
it comes down to money and commitment. The idea that seemed to
lie behind the Actunless it was just a bone to throw to
Labour Back Bencherswas that if we want to achieve something
substantive, we should cut through the failings of schools that
are barely able to keep their head above water. A lot of independent
schools are highly successful and have huge resources, and could
manage to take on a large project of that kind. Do you think that
Chris Parry: Given that you have
just explained the flexibility that we require in the interpretation
of the Act, I agree with you. That would enable schools to contribute
according to their resources and expertise. But we do not know,
and part of the problem with the Charity Commission is that some
of its guidelines are incredibly confusing and do not give us
any hard tack to bite on. Until we get that guidance
Mr Slaughter: It does not sound to me
like we are getting engagement.
Chris Parry: No, we cannot. We
are not being given the ammunition to find out what our members
can contribute. When we get better guidelines on 11 July, I can
come back and give you a more sensible answer, perhaps.
Chairman: We are very close to our time.
Q313 Mr Stuart: A quick question,
Professor Green: is there a danger that the impact of the Charity
Commission could be that fees for those who are already struggling
to pay them at institutions that are not so fabulously endowed
as the tiny number at the top could be affected, with a detrimental
effect on people of modest means who sometimes find their entire
family contributing, because they think that local schools will
not be able to perform for their children? Is there a danger?
Professor Green: Is there a danger
because they might lose their charitable or registered status?
Mr Stuart: I am thinking of the impact
on fees. If there were a cost when the new guidelines from the
Charity Commission were enforced, while everyone was thinking
about the Etons and Winchesters, could people be driven out of
small schools providing SEN provision, for instance? It is an
enormously diverse sector. Is there a danger that people of modest
means in particular circumstances could be driven out of the independent
sector because of additional costs imposed on it?
Professor Green: A small danger,
Q314 Mr Stuart: On well-being, Professor
Green, do you have any understanding of the comparative well-being
of children in the independent sector and the maintained sector?
Has there been any work on that?
Professor Green: No independent
research that I am aware of. That was not part of our research
looking at children currently in school.
Q315 Mr Stuart: Obviously, one of
the big issues is that it appears from some research that we have
the most miserable children in Europe overall. May I ask Chris
Parry whether there is evidence that the sense of well-being is
higher in the independent sector? It is not just about qualifications
or earnings; it is also about bringing up happy, well-adjusted
Professor Green: You will gather
that one of my beefs is that here we have a sector that is very
important and making a big contribution, yet the investment in
it and understanding of it from people who are independent of
the independent sector is relatively limited. What we have tried
to do is to kick-start something that simply does not existpeople
have been frightened off it and stayed away from itto try
to understand better its role in society. We need more research
on it, and an additional academic response.
Q316 Chairman: Have you done research
on the contextual added value of the independent sector?
Professor Green: Not personally,
but there is one study available that shows that the independent
sector adds more added value to qualifications than the state-maintained
Q317 Mr Stuart: Can I get an answer
from Chris on whether he has any feeling about well-being?
Chris Parry: The critical nexus
is between parents, teachers and pupils. What we have achieved
in the independent sector is a good relationship between the three.
Two of the points of that triangle have a vital interest in the
third point, which is the children. Our pastoral and educational
strength, I think, complements the schooling that we provide.
Q318 Mr Stuart: On regulation, we
know that you were not happy about Ofsted's increased role in
the regulation of independent schools, yet when we took evidence
from Ofsted, its representatives appeared bewildered that you
should have any such concerns. They did not seem to understand
what those concerns were. Perhaps, for the benefit of the Committee,
you could give us a clearer understanding of the problems.
Chris Parry: We have our own independent
schools inspectorate, which has functioned for many years and
produces high levels of excellence and achievement. I am afraid
that we are sceptical of Ofsted's ability to take on additional
schools; it is barely able to deal with the number of schools
under its control at the moment. We think that we have different
standards of best practice, and we would not welcome a shotgun
wedding between Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Q319 Fiona Mactaggart: Is there anything
that the independent sector can learn from the maintained sector?
Chris Parry: Yes, lots.
Fiona Mactaggart: What?
Chris Parry: There is a lot of
best practice on both sides of the divide. I am regularly at the
National School for College Leadership up in Nottingham, and it
is quite clear that there is expertise. What they do not do is
talk to each other. I said "sectarian divide" earlier.
It is quite severe. There is an ideological problem between the
independent and maintained sectors, but when you get people together,
they are the same profession. They recognise that, and each realises
that the other is human. From my own experience during the cold
war, as I said earlier, I know that there are misperceptions about
what is going on on the other side of the divide. I personally
believe that we need to have more inter-sector transfer, so that
people get experience in both sectors. There are different challenges
in the maintained sector from those in the independent sector.
We need to talk morethat is the first thingand find
out what we have in common, which, after all, is children, and
then go on to build bridges. There are different perspectives
and different things like that. What specifically can we learn?
I think that we can learn things about discipline. It is a real
myth that there are no discipline problems in the independent
sector. Boys will be boys, and girls will be girls. What I call
the 14-18 war always has to be fought by adults with children;
there is no question about that. There are lots of things in that
area. There are good partnership lessons that we can learn. Certainly,
as the Government agenda rolls forward that says that we must
engage more with our communities and increase partnerships, an
incredible amount of good practice has come forward from the maintained
sector that we can learn from. At the end of the day, it is a
single community. The more we can drive the two sectors towards
a single community in terms of perception and outputs for our
children, the better it will be.
3 Note from witness: This is not true. Almost
all independent schools in ISC membership are charities. Back
Note from witness: Not quite right-it was when she was
training for the Olympics. Back