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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-359)


7 MAY 2008

  Q340  Mr Chaytor: If tax relief would encourage more parents to pay fees, and getting more money into the system as a whole is an advantage, then the answer is presumably yes.

  Stephen Patriarca: Well, no. The answer is I can see the argument for it, but whether it is yes or no would depend on all sorts of other demands on the Exchequer, which are not within my remit.

  Patrick Derham: That is the answer to the question: there are arguments both ways. It is a political issue and I do not think that my views will influence it.

  Q341  Mr Chaytor: Could I ask Stephen about charitable status? On the issue of bursaries and scholarships, do you think, from your point of view now, that it would be valuable for independent schools to comply with the Charity Commission's guideline primarily by increasing the number of, essentially, assisted places? And would that be in the interest of your school now?

  Stephen Patriarca: Again, my perspective comes from the north-west. I am still associate member—or additional member—of HMC, so I have a lot of contact with independent school heads in the north-west. My experience is that almost all the charitable support that they give with fees is means-tested on a bursary basis. There are not many of the old northern grammar schools—now independent—that are giving scholarships that are not means-tested. Virtually all their resources are bursarial. That has been very much my background and that was how we worked when we were fee-paying. I think that you are preaching to the converted. In the northern grammar schools sector, we were already giving the absolute maximum that we possibly could with the bursary.

  Q342  Mr Chaytor: What I am saying is that, leaving aside geography, if an expansion of assisted places were the means by which more schools would be in compliance with the new guidelines, would you argue for an expansion of assisted places into independent schools?

  Stephen Patriarca: When you say assisted places, you are not referring to the assisted places scheme, but you are talking about something else. Is that right?

  Mr Chaytor: I am talking about bursaries, which as far as I can see are indistinguishable from the old assisted places scheme.

  Stephen Patriarca: Except that bursaries are not funded by the state, are they?

  Q343  Mr Chaytor: No, but it would be a means of obtaining the 17.5% VAT. Let us use "assisted places" as a loose term. Would you want to see an expansion of bursaries as a means of complying with the new Charity Commission's guidelines?

  Stephen Patriarca: Again, in my experience and that of the heads I know, independent schools devote as much of their resources to bursaries as they are able to. I think that that is already the case. I do not know anybody in the sector who is not committed to widening access in that way. Obviously in highly selective academic schools those bursaries are also related to ability, but there are plenty of independent schools with very broad-based academic entry that are offering the maximum number of bursaries they can. I think that it is a bit of a myth that that there are these pots of money sitting around.

  Q344  Mr Chaytor: If they are giving as much as they can then presumably they are in compliance with the guidelines.

  Stephen Patriarca: Well, exactly. I would expect that to be the case.

  Patrick Derham: Bursaries are just one way of doing it, that is the whole point. It goes back to what I said earlier about proportionality and the difficulty of generalising across the sector. What schools like ours are doing is just one way of doing it. We happen to believe in it. It goes right the way back and is part of our DNA back to the 16th century, so for us it is very important. I am involved with and know other schools well, and they will approach it differently because it may not be practical. It comes down to a question of resources within that school. All our fundraising now is devoted to providing those opportunities for people who otherwise could not benefit from a boarding education. That was our decision. It is not for us to say that that is what other schools should do; it is what we think is right and proper in the 21st century. I would not dream of suggesting that my colleagues should adopt the same approach. The interesting thing will be when we see on 11 July the next stage of the process. We just need to see a bit more clarity as to what schools need to do. There cannot be one size fits all.

  Q345  Mr Chaytor: I know nothing about the situation in Rugby. What is your assessment of the impact on the wider educational network in Rugby of having a hugely privileged long-established and high-achieving independent school in the area? What is the impact of bursaries on the intake of other schools and the overall levels of achievement for young people in Rugby as a whole?

  Patrick Derham: The great thing about Rugby is that there is a great deal of choice. There are two grammar schools—a boys' grammar school and a girls' grammar school—which are highly selective, as well as some very good maintained schools and ourselves. The thing that has really delighted me is the very close working relationship that we have with my colleagues. We do some fantastic partnership work with local schools and we learn a great deal from them as they do from us. It is very much a two-way partnership, which we have been involved with since 2003. We are benefiting from each other. Of course, as a school in a town, outreach and partnership is much easier for us than for a lot of schools in the independent sector which are not in that position. For us, on a Thursday afternoon when we do our outreach work, it is much more straightforward because everything is within walking distance. The maintained schools in Rugby are all within walking distance. That has been one of the strengths of our partnership work—that we are so close to each and can share things much more easily. In a sense, we have benefited from each other; we can still learn.

  Q346  Mr Chaytor: Is your assessment that the divide that we have—a divide between two sectors, and the emergence of a third sector trying to bridge that divide through Academies and trust schools—is an ideal way of organising a national education system? If we were starting from scratch with a blank sheet of paper, would you argue that the existing structure of 7% of pupils in the independent sector and 93% in the state sector and an emerging quasi-independent sector is the best means of raising national levels of attainment across the board? Or are there other models that would more effectively do that? That is a question to you both.

  Stephen Patriarca: I would have thought that the UK was unusual in that respect. There are many European models with a greater diversity of provision which we ought to be looking at. One of the great strengths of the Academies movement is that it has broken down the divide, because it no longer makes sense to think of all independent schools as being fee paying. Clearly Academies, as independent state schools, are not fee-paying. So you are beginning to enrich that provision, to increase the diversity of provision. But what we also ought to be doing is looking at diversity of funding, much on the European model, so that you break down the barriers further. My experience, certainly of working in cities such as Manchester and in the south Manchester area, is that there is very much a community across the so-called sectors. If you have an issue that you can get assistance with from an independent school, you might pick up the phone and talk to someone at Manchester grammar school, or if you needed some help from another Academy you would talk to someone at Manchester Academy or another Academy. My staff all have e-mail contact with their equivalents in at least one other Academy and one of the leading independent schools. That is just how we work.

  Patrick Derham: That is a very difficult question because it is so theoretical, and schools have such long history and tradition. But of course the basic principle is that parents have a choice, and I think that they exercise that choice for all the reasons that Chris mentioned in the earlier session. I just back up what Stephen has said. The divide is not there for us; we work very closely to the benefit of both types of school.

  Mr Chaytor: But—

  Chairman: David, I will bring you back in. Paul.

  Q347  Paul Holmes: You have already mentioned the independent/state school partnerships. Ofsted pointed out in 2005 that those partnerships seemed to be fairly successful but that not many schools had taken part. Why did you take part?

  Patrick Derham: Principally, because we felt that it would be of great benefit to us. We went into it as a genuine partnership between schools in the maintained sector and ourselves. Principally, we were looking at science, maths and ICT, and it was very much putting things on for teachers and technicians as well as pupils. Our pupils were acting as mentors and pupils from other schools were acting as mentors. We taught some maths to a local maintained school year 11 class and did mentoring in that way. We learned a great deal. It was a two-way process. We felt that it was important for us to play our role in the local community. It was based very much on my experience in Solihull, when I was headmaster there and we had enrichment classes for all the primary schools in the borough on Saturday mornings, again because I felt that it was important to provide that stretch and challenge, which my colleagues felt we could give. It has been a huge benefit to us, and we are continuing to work with it in those areas. In recent years, we have run a management and leadership conference for all year 12 pupils in Rugby. That is 600 pupils, and it is fantastic. Again, we think it is important and we want to make it work. Certainly, my experience, talking to colleagues involved with it, is that the benefits would be very much along the lines of what I said—that it is a genuine partnership and that both sectors can learn from each other.

  Q348  Paul Holmes: Do you have one or two specific examples of what you have learned from the maintained sector?

  Patrick Derham: It is very specific things in terms of the approach to teaching. We are very interested in creative teaching and independent learning, and we have learned a great deal from our colleagues about certain approaches in both science and IT. So there will be benefits in terms of teacher collaboration in that way—and, again, for technicians, of ways of working—and of pupils talking to each other. Yes, in very practical ways there have been benefits. It is all part of demystifying and breaking down the barriers, which are not as stark with us as they clearly are in other parts of the country.

  Q349  Paul Holmes: I have a question about diversity, which you both mentioned in different ways. In Rugby, Mr Derham, you said that your school, which is a fee-paying school, takes some of the best local kids on bursaries, and that you have grammar schools and so forth. What about the schools at the bottom of the pecking order in Rugby that do not take grammar school or fee-paying kids? How do they get on in this diverse system?

  Patrick Derham: We have a partnership scheme with one of them, and we work very closely with them. May I correct one point? We do not cream off the best pupils locally. That is just what we do not do under the original Lawrence Sheriff bequest. With grammar school entry, if children are successful in the 11-plus, a lot of their parents will obviously go down that route, which is absolutely right. That is parental choice, but at no point are we looking to cream off the best pupils locally.

  Q350  Paul Holmes: But to whom do you give bursaries? I presume that people sit an entrance exam.

  Patrick Derham: Yes, they do. It is clearly academically selective, but the entry is to a much broader church. I think that you would be surprised. We work very hard to provide the opportunity to as many people as possible, and we work hard with them when they are in the school.

  Q351  Paul Holmes: I presume that there are schools in Rugby that do not get the grammar school entrants, your bursary kids or the fee-paying kids, and they will have a more difficult job. The Ridings School in Halifax, which was famous, was right at the bottom of the pecking order. The grammar schools and all sorts of other public schools around took all the best kids, and the Ridings School had all the problems—and it is now to be closed. Are there examples like that in Rugby?

  Patrick Derham: One school has just been closed because of a falling roll. The other schools are doing well, and we work with them.

  Q352  Paul Holmes: Stephen, you mentioned diversity and having partnerships and links with independent schools and Academies. What about?

  Stephen Patriarca: You made a very interesting point—one that we are clear about in Manchester. Probably the most obvious example locally of a school that was seriously struggling was the predecessor school to what is now Manchester Academy. That school was regarded as one of the five worst schools in the country, by whatever criteria inspectors have for making such decisions. As an Academy, it has improved dramatically. Attendance went from 50% to 90% in year 11. HMI reports say that standard teaching and learning are satisfactory or good, and there is a big improvement in GCSE results. That surely is an example of a school that was failing having come into the community as an Academy; it is now working alongside us and other schools in the area with a spirit of independence. It is an incredible commitment to, and aspiration for, children in the most difficult circumstances. The student population is transient, with a lot of asylum seekers and a huge ethnic mix and so on—very much like ours. That example addresses your point. Working as a group, whether formally in a sort of partnership, as in Rugby, or perhaps less formally in a mixed environment with the independent and Academy sector and so on, as in Manchester, you can support schools that have those challenges.

  Q353  Paul Holmes: One criticism levelled at Academies is that they do not, as is claimed, always lead to a dramatic improvement in performance, as exam results and Ofsted show. You gave the example of your school becoming an Academy, which now has 880 applicants for 75 places. So, obviously, you are attracting the aspirational parents. You also have a banding system, but you are taking 75 of the most aspirational families and pupils out of those who apply. Manchester Academy is also very oversubscribed. Which schools in the area are not getting those aspirational parents?

  Stephen Patriarca: Sorry, just to correct you, I do not think that Manchester Academy is oversubscribed, although it is a good deal more popular than its predecessor school. It still has developments to make, but its achievements have been huge on any criteria. Our parents are a genuine mix. Clearly, whole year 6s from local junior schools are being encouraged to apply to our school, so you have whole classes applying and going through the banding system. It would be slightly disingenuous to say that that means that all the parents are aspirational—they are no more aspirational than any other parents. What I think does make a difference is that they get a sense of commitment to the school when the child gets a place, because obviously they are aware of the competition for places.

  Q354  Paul Holmes: When it is produced, I think that the record will show that you said that you were getting aspirational pupils and parents—I think that you used those words. That leads on to my final question, which takes us back to a point discussed with the previous panel: the DNA of schools such as yours. Lord Adonis said, "We want to extract the DNA of the independent sector and apply it to the maintained sector." I have listened very carefully over the past couple of hours, and, as far as I can see, the DNA that we are talking about applying to the state sector, in which I taught for 22 years, would involve doubling funding for the state sector, halving class sizes, paying teachers more, giving them longer holidays and being more academically and socially selective. What others bits of the DNA should we transfer?

  Stephen Patriarca: Well, again, I would not recognise much of that—

  Chairman: Can I give Patrick a chance to answer?

  Patrick Derham: I am not sure that I heard all that being expressed quite in that way in the first session. To me, it is absolutely clear what makes a greater and more successful school, in whatever sector: the importance placed on leadership, aspiration and values. It is crucial that we have the independence that Chris was talking about over things such as curriculum. It is crucial that we can choose what we think is right and appropriate for our pupils, based obviously on the national curriculum—national curriculum plus, if you like. Obviously, it is important to have control over admissions. Discipline is also a key issue with our pupils. That comes back to a concept that is very difficult to define: the ethos of a school, which is crucial to its success. That comes from a clear sense of vision and the educational values underpinning it.

  Q355  Paul Holmes: So, you are saying that the leadership and ethos is most important, not the class sizes of 14 or the massively increased financial resources that Professor Green talked about.

  Patrick Derham: No, I am adding to the list that you gave. It is a mixture of all those things. I was fortunate to be involved in a conference in America in 1992 where we looked at educational systems in countries just coming out of communism. We spent four days discussing what makes a great school. At the end of that, it came down to that word "ethos", which crossed national boundaries, however you wanted to define it. The school had to have that clear sense of vision. Obviously, the other factors that you highlighted will pay a part, but you asked me for things in addition to what you listed.

  Q356  Mr Stuart: Following on from that, Professor Green was convinced that the only reason for the improved performance in the independent sector was additional resources. For whatever reason, he did not see that the ethos and other elements were the key contributing factors. Is that because he is uniquely blind, or is there evidence to show that that ethos and leadership adds value over and above the points that have just been picked up? Otherwise, it is an assertion, rather than evidence. There is anecdotal evidence. When William Hague was Secretary of State for Wales, he looked at the school tables—another controversial subject—and saw that some schools went up the table rapidly. He would always ask what had brought about the difference and would be told that there was a new head teacher and that it was down to leadership. Is there something about the independence of the Academies programme that encourages better leadership and encourages leaders to come to the fore?

  Stephen Patriarca: Some of that comes back to the point about independence that we spoke about earlier. It is also related to the extra-curricular dimension that is so strong in the independent sector. One of the surprises that I had when we joined the maintained sector was how fewer state schools had Saturday morning fixtures, for example. We have now mixed some of our fixtures with the state sector and some with the independent sector, and that is routine for us. Probably 25% of my staff expect to be in on Saturday mornings supporting school sport, to be there in the evenings running practices or the CCF, or to spend weekends in term time running the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme. When you are working with children, particularly in an inner-city environment such as south Manchester, that is hugely valuable, because clearly when children are involved in structured extra-curricular activity, they are being kept off the streets and away from the kind of environment that is so threatening.

  Chairman: Graham, would you be indulgent for just a second? I want to call David for a quick supplementary question because he has to leave to ask the Prime Minister a question. I shall come straight back to you.

  Q357  Mr Chaytor: Chairman, I am very grateful. I happened to come out of the hat for Prime Minister's questions today. I just want to pick up on the issue that I asked about earlier and to respond to Patrick Derham's point about choice in all schools, particularly independent schools. Although we operate within the context of the rhetoric of parental choice, surely the reality in all independent schools is that it is the school that decides. All parents in Rugby might wish or aspire to send their children to Rugby school, but Rugby school may choose not to admit all those pupils. Is that not the central issue?

  Patrick Derham: But the same argument applies to the grammar schools in the maintained sector.

  Q358  Mr Chaytor: Of course. I am just challenging your assumption that we are all operating within a context of parental choice. Surely we are operating within a situation of institution choice.

  Patrick Derham: Well, yes. One of the key aspects of the independent sector is that we have control over admissions and can set our own clear and transparent policy on whatever the academic standard happens to be. That is absolutely right, and I am not disputing that.

  Q359  Mr Chaytor: Stephen, your decision for your school to become an Academy has been linked to your choice to go for specialist school status in languages, so you have the capacity to select 10% for languages. Is that 10% selection sufficient to maintain the ethos that you referred to earlier? I think that you said in your opening statement that it would be difficult to maintain the ethos, given your new status. What is the cut-off point, and to what extent can you be an open-access school and still aspire to the ethos that you had when you were a reasonably high-end selective school?

  Stephen Patriarca: On maintaining the ethos, my point was that we are not complacent. Clearly, I think that it can be done, but it has to be worked at—one must not be glib about that. With regard to the 10% MFL selection, I frankly do not think that it is relevant or that it has any significant impact on pupil ethos at all. I also think that pupils who are in the lowest academic band are just as likely to enthuse and work with the school as those in the highest, and I could give you stacks of anecdotal examples of that. I think that the issue is about not academic ability, but how you induct pupils when they come to the school, get them to sign up to that community and get the parents to do the same. As far as MFL is concerned, we were aware that it was an issue in Manchester and that there was a problem with language teaching, and well under 20% of pupils across the state sector achieved a GCSE in languages. I happen to think that that is a terrible thing for the future of this country, so I have a personal commitment. I am not a linguist, but I felt and judged that that was important. I do not know whether the FL test will be significant. We have only done it for one year. I am monitoring that and we will monitor the pupils over a period of years. I am very happy for this Committee to have the results of that pilot. We are using an American university's aptitude test. It does not simply take from the top band. Interestingly, two of the pupils who did very well on that aptitude test were in the lowest ability band on the reasoning test.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 5 May 2009