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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-329)


7 MAY 2008

  Q320  Fiona Mactaggart: Have the Charities Act 2006 and Government policy reduced what you call the cold war?

  Chris Parry: I think that it has produced a flash point along the Berlin wall. I think that it has heightened tensions, because it has made people very nervous about what regulation might do to the independent sector, and it looks like a missile aimed from the maintained sector into the independent sector.

  Q321  Fiona Mactaggart: What has the maintained sector got to do with it?

  Chris Parry: Most of the people who are baying for the independent schools to do more and putting around interpretations that even the Charity Commission does not talk about come from the maintained sector. I tell you that there is a lot of prejudice, particularly in initial teacher training. If you go into the independent sector, there is bullying and all sorts of influence to stop people going to the independent sector. That sort of thing has got to stop. We are a single community, and the idea of privilege and wealth—

  Q322  Chairman: What is the evidence for that? As Chairman of this Committee, I have never heard of that before. What is the evidence for that bullying?

  Chris Parry: The evidence is research done by my organisation into last year's outtake from initial teacher training. I can forward that to the Committee.[5]

  Chairman: We would appreciate that.

  Fiona Mactaggart: I used to be a teacher educator, and I do not recall any such bullying. However, we will leave that there.

  Mr Stuart: With your views, that is perhaps not surprising.

  Q323  Fiona Mactaggart: I am concerned about your view that the Charities Act 2006 has been a flashpoint. It seemed to me that the duty on schools to show that they do not exclude the broader public, which might not be able to afford the fees, from benefiting from their activities should be quite a gentle pressure towards more collaboration. I do not quite understand why it has not been. Many schools have always accepted the concept of public benefit.

  Chris Parry: Again, I would say that we are still in a consultation phase. The guidelines from the Charity Commission are very confused. In my experience, where there is confusion, there will always be nervousness and antagonism. The friction that is happening is not helpful to the debate.

  Q324  Fiona Mactaggart: So your problem is with the guidance, not with the principle.

  Chris Parry: The principle of what?

  Fiona Mactaggart: Of public benefit having to be shown by those who benefit from the tax release under the Charities Act 2006.

  Chris Parry: I have absolutely no problem with the 2006 Act saying that public benefit must be demonstrated, but I am afraid that, currently, it is the discretion that the Charity Commission has arrogated to itself to provide the interpretation of the Act that is causing the problem.

  Q325  Fiona Mactaggart: It is still draft guidance. This is the second draft, is it not?

  Chris Parry: Yes, but in all our dealings with the Charity Commission, the guidance did not accord with the discussions that had taken place.

  Q326  Fiona Mactaggart: So it is cheating?

  Chris Parry: No, it may simply be thinking one thing and talking to us on a different level. We do not know. Until the guidelines come out properly on 11 July,[6] anything that I say on this is pure opinion.

  Chairman: It sounds like Frankie Howerd's, "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!"

  Chris Parry: Of course we are nervous because of the open-ended discretion that seems to be applied. I am concerned about schools such as Winchester and Eton, against which all other schools will be judged. We have no assurance that any sort of flexibility or agility in that regard will be in place. If you put a large public school as the benchmark, many schools will not be able to meet those criteria. Vast numbers of people will not be able to afford the education that is given at those schools if charity status is not sustained.

  Chairman: One last question, Fiona, because we must move to the next session.

  Q327  Fiona Mactaggart: I have a question for Professor Green. You talked about the proportion of advantage that those who had been to independent schools accrued in their later employment. I am still concerned about how you know that that is a causation and not a correlation.

  Professor Green: The answer is that it is never 100% certain that it is not a correlation. We are pretty sure because we control for a lot of things. In this study we controlled for family background, for cognitive and non-cognitive abilities at the age of five and for other things. In controlling for those things, we were being statistical in looking at the relationship between people who have been to private schools and those who have not and in looking at their wages later. That is a standard procedure in econometrics. There are all sorts of caveats that one needs to bring to bear; but, frankly, a Committee such as this is not the place to bring them out. I can none the less assure you that the evidence is pretty robust. It stands up to different ways of looking at it. We have done it through three separate data sets, all of which are nationally representative, so it is not just the quirks of one particular set. My general answer to the question is that we are as sure as we normally can be about making such statements.

  Q328  Mr Stuart: There is a lot of concern about Diplomas. Someone from Edexcel or OCR said that they were the most complicated qualification that they had ever seen, and there is concern about the speed of implementation. What involvement do your members have with the new Diplomas? Can you throw any light on their likely success or otherwise? The Committee is committed to seeing the Diplomas succeed.

  Chris Parry: With your licence, Chairman, may I put it on record that for various reasons we dispute the figures that you just heard about from Professor Green?

  Chairman: On record.

  Chris Parry: Diplomas are a new initiative. Our members are looking at the moment to see where they would apply. We have some capacity for innovative thinking and taking the initiative. You know that we are looking at Cambridge Pre-U, international baccalaureate and a lot of other things, including Diplomas, to see how they might fit in. They may be suitable for some schools, but you are right that they are a complex mix of practical and academic subjects. Some schools have indicated that they would welcome the content and curriculum of some Diplomas. We would like to see how they bed in with some of our other qualifications, but most schools have indicated that the classic GCSE, IGCSE and A-level provision remains at the moment a benchmark off which they do not want to wander unless they see the tangible benefits of going into the Diplomas.

  Q329  Mr Stuart: On joining partnerships, Diplomas are not being delivered by single institutions. Are some of your members joining in with other schools, perhaps in the maintained sector, to deliver them?

  Chris Parry: They are exploring the possibilities with those schools and further education colleges. The biggest problem at the moment is the 10-day practical requirement, which means that people will need to move around quite a bit. We are exploring it. We are adopting a positive approach and seeing when it can benefit our individual schools.

  Chairman: That was a very interesting session. We have appreciated your answers to our questions, Professor Green and Chris Parry, so thank you. We will continue this inquiry, so if you did not get the chance to answer fully some of our questions or if there are question that we should have asked but did not, please contact the Committee.

  Chris Parry: I will pass you the data that you want.

5   Note from witness: TES, November 2007. Also, ISC bulletin, April 2008:
http://www.isc.co.uk/publication_8_0_0_31_345.htm independent_sector_survey 

6   Note from witness: This is not quite right. 11 July is the deadline for response to the current draft guidelines. The next and probably final set should be published in the final quarter. Back

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