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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 330-339)


7 MAY 2008

  Chairman: Welcome. Sorry for the bit of overrun on that first session, but these things happen. I am glad that you could make it. I hear that you had a delay on your train, Stephen.

  Stephen Patriarca: Not too bad.

  Q330  Chairman: You are here anyway. Both of you heard that previous session. We are looking at what the independent sector can bring the overall education performance of our country in terms of diversity. Do you have anything to say about that?

  Stephen Patriarca: Having heard most of the first session, the first observation that I would make is that I did not recognise some descriptions of the independent sector from my experience of nearly 30 years within it. I spent 23 years at Hulme Grammar School in Oldham and since 2000 I have been principal at William Hulme's Grammar School in Manchester. Since last September, that school has been a city Academy. It struck me that the character and dimension of schools such as those and other northern grammar schools, including the Bury grammar schools, is very different from some of the assumptions that one might build from a knowledge, for example, of southern public schools. It struck me forcibly, living in Oldham, that the riots and the problems that we had in the town were deeply rooted in the educational issues in the town. Having worked and lived in Oldham all those years, I was very sensitive to the concerns that people had about underachievement, particularly in the ethnic minority populations. That is why in my school, given the stark choices that we faced when the assisted places scheme finished—of becoming an independent school and going for the stockbroker belt or somehow trying to maintain our inner-city catchment—the Academy decision, the Academy project, was of enormous value to us and, I hope, to the city of Manchester as well.

  Q331  Chairman: We will drill down on that in a moment, Steve.  Patrick, it is always a problem when you have a representative of a sort of trade association in front of you. It is a difficult thing that a person sitting in that seat is doing, because he is answering for an amalgam of 1,200-plus schools, but you two have real knowledge of particular institutions, so that is what we will really value from this session. Did you get that feeling of unreality—that we were talking about your schools in a way that was not quite in touch with the reality of the situation?

  Patrick Derham: No, not at all. The most important point that came across is the huge diversity in the independent sector and how difficult it is to generalise from a particular school or viewpoint. I have been headmaster of a large day school just outside Birmingham—Solihull—and I am now headmaster of Rugby. Those are two very different sorts of school, but there are huge similarities between them. Certainly from our perspective, the original invitation was for me to come and talk to you about our commitment to widening access and the changes that we have made to our scholarship scheme. If I may, I shall put this in context for you. I shall briefly give some background to the school and perhaps say a little bit about my own story, which I think is important to understanding Rugby's commitment in this area. With 785 pupils, the school is fully co-educational and although 20% of the pupils are day pupils because of our founding commitment to the local community, many people would see Rugby as the leading co-educational boarding school in the country. However, the key point is that Rugby has been committed to widening access since its foundation. It was established in 1567 by Lawrence Sheriff, who was purveyor of spices to Queen Elizabeth I, as a free grammar school, chiefly for the boys of Rugby and Brownsover. Through that original Lawrence Sheriff bequest, we continue to offer local children means-tested awards of up to 100% and help with extras. That is for anybody who lives within 10 miles of the chapel bell, which is a peculiarity of our statutes. Currently, we have 44 pupils who are supported in that way. We also provide endowment to the boys free grammar school within Rugby, which the school started in the 1870s. So Rugby's founding tradition of widening access is integral to our approach, but my own story is important, too. For me, social mobility is not an abstract concept. I was a boy on board the training ship Arethusa, which was run by The Shaftesbury Homes, and I was destined to join the Navy at the age of 16. When the ship unexpectedly closed down in 1974, charitable support enabled me to be sent away to an independent boarding school, Pangbourne College. That opportunity transformed my life, and that experience has given me a passionate belief in the transformational power of education. It has been a driving force behind some recent initiatives that we have pioneered, aimed at sharing Rugby education as widely as possible. I shall give some brief examples. In 2004, we were the first school to restrict scholarships to 10%, and at the same time we made them augmentable to 100%, subject to means-testing, so money was being diverted where it was needed. I have already mentioned the Lawrence Sheriff bequest and the bursaries for day pupils, but in 2003 we established the Arnold Foundation for Rugby School to give the same opportunities to boarding pupils. The foundation offers 100% support with fees and extras to pupils who have all-round ability, but most importantly a real need for boarding. To help to find those who would benefit most from that, we have established pioneering links with charities in inner cities. I will mention just two. One, which I suspect many of you will have heard of, is Eastside Young Leaders Academy, and the other is Into University. Both are London-based. I will be happy to talk more about those in a moment. We currently have 20 Arnold Foundation pupils fully supported in the school—since the first boys and girls came, in 2004, 28 have benefited. Coincidentally, tomorrow we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Arnold Foundation. We will be announcing plans to raise £30 million, which will enable us to increase the number of Arnold Foundation pupils in the school to 40 over the course of the next decade. That will contribute to our overall aim and target, that 10% of the school should be funded, either through the Lawrence Sheriff bequest or through the Arnold Foundation. I think that we have learned some interesting and useful lessons about widening access in the work that we have done, which I would be happy to share with you. I have concentrated on bursaries, but there are other ways of improving links to the maintained sector, and it was interesting to listen to the earlier conversation. I would be happy to talk about two areas where we have direct experience. One is partnership and outreach work, which we are doing, but also our involvement in curriculum development, which might be of interest to the Committee.

  Chairman: We will drill down on those areas in a moment.

  Q332  Fiona Mactaggart: I was really interested to hear your progress in widening access, Patrick. One of things that I was wondering about was whether you had put in place any mechanisms to help those pupils there on scholarships and so on not to be seen as the odd ones out, socially and so on. I remember the students in Pimlico School who got there on music scholarships—a public, maintained school—being called by their fellows the melons. They were a completely socially separate group. I wonder what you have done about that in Rugby.

  Patrick Derham: One of the key lessons to making it work is that there has to be a real commitment. That is partly shaped by my own experience, of course. I was taken from a completely different environment and put into a school, which was like going to a different planet. I was very mindful of that. What we have done is work with these charities, which deal with the very real issues of underachievement and social exclusion. They help to identify people, but also provide pastoral support in the holidays, which is important. The pastoral relationship in the school is crucial. One of the great strengths of the independent sector is the amount of time and effort that we put into pastoral work. However, the boys and girls who come in on our Arnold Foundation have two additional tutorial support as well. What is also important is the whole family experience—we have a parent mentor, who works closely with the parents to help demystify the whole process. It was interesting that you mentioned that, because we have recently been inspected and one of our Arnold Foundation parents wrote to the reporting inspector, completely unprompted. I thought it would be relevant to read this little bit, given what you said:

"My daughter has never felt uncomfortable in telling her peers that she is an Arnold foundation pupil, and has actually received positive comments from other pupils about it. I have been very impressed with this, as I know of other schools in which parents and children in receipt of a bursary have been anxious to ensure that other pupils and parents do not know about it. I believe that it is Rugby school's obvious pride in the Arnold foundation and the way in which the school has given the foundation a relatively high profile which helps to foster this openness".

  To me, that is crucial. There is not a problem with them integrating. I am sorry to be giving you such a long answer. Again, picking up on something that Chris was saying earlier about the diversity of the sector, mythology surrounds a school like Rugby—but it is a remarkably broad church. There is no homogeneity to the pupil or parent bodies. An awful lot of our parents are making enormous sacrifices to pay the fees. We are very conscious and mindful of that. That makes it work. Coming back to where I started, there has to be a commitment from the school to make this work, if that is the line that they want to go down. Of course, it has to be what is right for each individual school.

  Q333  Fiona Mactaggart: Have any of your colleagues in the sector asked you about how they could model or develop a similar approach? I have not heard the same enthusiasm from the ISC, for example, or other schools.

  Patrick Derham: Yes. Schools are increasingly aware of what we are doing. What is important and what I say to them is that they have to believe in it. They must be doing it for the right reasons, and not to satisfy what they might see as the public benefit test. Ours predates it by years, as you heard in my opening statement. Schools are talking to us, and we are very happy to share that experience and the other lessons that we have learnt. The crucial thing is finding the right pupils who will benefit, and that has been the benefit of working with charities that are dealing with the real issues of social inclusion and underachievement. That has been enormously satisfying, and a corollary to that is my becoming a trustee of one of the charities, which has strengthened the link and is an immensely rewarding part of my job.

  Q334  Fiona Mactaggart: Stephen, how has your school changed as its status has changed?

  Stephen Patriarca: The most obvious change is that it is increasing in size. It is primarily a matter of finance to ensure that the school is viable in the long term and that we can offer the curricular richness that we wish to do. That has been very effective. Other than that, it is quite difficult to pinpoint a significant change in the sense that we have been able to achieve a continuity of values. You must remember that we are only in the very early stages. We are in the first year. I am not complacent; I am aware that it will be a struggle to maintain those values, but it can be done. The most obvious value is aspiration. Our parents are aspirational. If you have 880 applicants for 75 places, there is immediately among parents a sense of achievement if the child is admitted, even though the choice is made pretty much at random, through the banding and so on. There is still a very strong spirit of independence, and that is what I picked up from the earlier session and what is relevant now. Again, it is where I do not fully see the two sectors in the way that some of the earlier descriptions have suggested. I am not sure that the reality on the ground—certainly in areas like Manchester—is that there are two such divisive sectors. That is not my experience of working there over time. It is certainly not the case with the Academies movement coming in with the independent state schools. As for the philosophy of independence, you are as independent as the principal of an Academy is robust enough to be. There is strong aspiration for children and teachers, and the commitment to breadth is part of the independent sector DNA. For example, we have kept our combined cadet force, our Duke of Edinburgh scheme and our outdoor pursuit centre at Hardraw in Yorkshire. Children go in forms on a bonding weekend or session each year. We can sustain those values at the moment. I see no reason why we cannot sustain them as the school grows fully into an Academy.

  Q335  Fiona Mactaggart: The thing that I have heard from you that is most different from what I heard from at least one of our previous witnesses is that neither of you seems to feel bullied by anyone. Both of you seem to be confident in what you are doing; the stuff that the Government are doing or other schools are doing is not getting in your way and you think that you are doing it well. Have I got that right, or is someone doing something that you do not like, bullying you and getting in your way?

  Stephen Patriarca: The period of working through the Academy's project was a period of—bullying would be too strong a word—a good deal of robust debate and discussion. That was because nationally the template for Academies was based on the previous model, which was the failing school being brought into the Academies movement or reconstructed as an Academy. We were very lucky in that we could see some models like the CTCs that were transferred to Academy status. For example, we worked closely with Dr. Sidwell who was overseeing the Haberdashers' Academies in south-east London. They were much more like us, where successful CTCs had become an Academy rather than an Academy replacing "a failing school". Naturally, with those templates and a bureaucracy in place that did not fit us, we were struggling, but we had huge support from the Minister downwards—right through the Department, through our advisers and other people in the movement. I think we have made it easier for our successors and that other schools coming into the programme from our background will find it easier as a consequence of the lessons we have learned.

  Patrick Derham: We do not feel bullied and that is not arrogant or complacent; we are just confident in what we are doing. I spoke to Dame Suzi Leather—I was asked to talk to her before the second draft guidelines came out—and the point was made that there is some nervousness in the sector. It is difficult for me to generalise about the sector because of the lack of clarity about what is going to happen. There is a worry that there will be a one-size-fits-all approach. There has to be an element of proportionality and Chris made that point well in the first session. It is very different for schools such as Rugby. You cannot generalise from a microcosmic example and say that that is the right way; there are lots of different ways of achieving public benefit or of working with the maintained sector. This just happens to be the approach that we have adopted and that we think is right. Certainly, at no point have we ever felt bullied. We have felt very supported and people have been very interested in what we are doing—within Government and in educational circles.

  Q336  Chairman: There seemed to be a lot of language in the previous session about the cold war, ideology and bullying. You were both running schools in the system for, as you said, over 30 years, and did not recognise that sort of language. I was surprised at that kind of language.

  Stephen Patriarca: May I give you a specific example of that? During the project we decided to join the United Learning Trust, which came in as our educational sponsors. The United Learning Trust's sister organisation is the new United Church Schools Trust, which is made up of a number of leading independent schools. When we meet as principals, we meet both sectors—UCST and ULT principals meet termly to discuss educational issues. We have discussed year 7 curriculum and transitional issues from year 6 to year 7 in a room with 50% independent school heads and 50% Academy principals. I do not notice any division or any kind of artificial barrier; quite the contrary—we have a lively, dynamic discussion as a consequence of the so-called two sectors coming together. I simply do not think it is true that leaders from both sectors are not in dialogue; they are in dialogue at a national and local level.

  Q337  Mr Chaytor: Could I ask both of our witnesses whether they think that parents who pay fees to independent schools should get tax relief on their fees?

  Stephen Patriarca: That is a political issue that I am entitled to answer as an individual. However, if you are asking me to speak as a principal on behalf of my school or the movement, obviously I do not have a view. My personal view is that I can see the argument for it.

  Q338  Mr Chaytor: Would it be to the advantage of the education system as a whole in the UK if that policy were introduced?

  Stephen Patriarca: From the Academy perspective, I cannot see that it would make any difference to us.

  Mr Chaytor: I am asking you to look outside the Academies. That is why I am looking to you to answer as well as Patrick.

  Stephen Patriarca: I suppose that if you push me for an answer, I would say that anything that puts more money into the educational system and the education of children—whether it is put into the public or private sector—is valuable because in the end that money benefits all our children.

  Q339  Mr Chaytor: But that would not put more money in, would it?

  Stephen Patriarca: Well, yes it would because you are freeing up resources that parents are otherwise committing to school fees, which would strengthen the voluntary sector. When I was an independent school head, I would have found it much easier to go to my parents and ask for extra money for my outdoor pursuits centre or for the bursary fund to help underprivileged children and so on if they were spending less on school fees. That is common sense. Those are value judgements.

  Mr Chaytor: The answer is yes.

  Stephen Patriarca: The answer is I can see the argument that that would liberate resources.

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