Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
29 MARCH 2010
Q20 Chair: Doesn't that show that
among local authorities in London with similar funding, some perform
very well and some perform awfully? Isn't it a question of political
leadership and of wanting to do something about education? Come
on, there are some bad authorities, aren't there?
Andrew Baisley: There are some
bad authorities, but there are some bad academy sponsors as well.
The difference is that with a bad local authority, there are straightforward
democratic mechanisms for making your views about failure felt
and standard procedures for working towards progress. Where you've
got a failed sponsor, what do you do? Where do you go? You have
to go to the Secretary of State, and he's very remote. Further,
his powers of intervention are very difficult for a funding
Q21 Chair: I can't believe you've
just described the Secretary of State as remote. We've always
found him very hands-on.
Andrew Baisley: I'm sure you did
here, but what was it he said about Carlisle and Richard Rose?
That you can't micro-manage a school; Carlisle is a very long
way from London.
Nick Weller: This idea that academies
can't be community schools I would refute. Just because they're
not called community schools doesn't mean they can't serve their
local community. There are exactly the same number of staff governors
and parent governors in both our academies as there are in any
local authority school and as I had in my previous local authority
school. The school we've just taken over
Q22 Paul Holmes: But parents are
not on the governing body of most academies, and staff certainly
Nick Weller: I can talk in detail
about five, and on all of those, they are represented. Again,
I'm not sure where you're getting that information, but I would
Paul Holmes: From all over the country.
Nick Weller: The school we've
just taken over was failing for 15 years. The 200 original academies
were the schools that were never going to get specialist school
status, because they just weren't going to attain the standards
necessary to get there. It's very much a movement about turning
around the very worst schools in the country. Surely the only
time you want cohesion in the system is if you agree that standards
are good enough. If you don't agree that standards are good enough,
there's no one to cohere around inadequate standards. You need
to do something to break that pattern. To have a few schools that
are trying to break that mould in their waythere are other
ways to do it. There are trust schools and various other ways
of doing it. They are showing progress, and I am sure that progress
will show increasingly strongly. Can I make a point about collaboration,
too, just to finish off? We are in south Bradford. There are three
academies, two trust schools, another school that's thinking about
becoming a trust and one local authority school. Of all the sections
of south Bradfordit's divided into three areaswe're
the most collaborative group. I think people do collaborate best
from a position of independence and strength rather than from
a position of weakness. I don't see that academies and collaboration
don't go together, either.
Q23 Chair: But this was in a local
authority that had had a serious failure in education for a very
long time as a local authority.
Nick Weller: That's where academies
have been focused.
Q24 Chair: Didn't they have to
have a private safety provider coming in?
Nick Weller: Indeed, yes. That
contract is just ending.
Q25 Chair: John, aren't you tilting
at windmills that no longer exist, in the sense that there have
been big changes in the academy programme? Local authorities have
much more bite on academies. Sponsorship is no longer necessary.
I would have thought that the campaign Andrew and you have run
has been successful. The Government's given you what you want;
you're just going through the motions because you can't help yourselves.
John Bangs: No. In fact, you've
got the education equivalent of an arms race in front of the next
Q26 Chair: An educational arms
John Bangs: Claims are being made
about who is more in favour of various exotic variants of free
school, for example. Education tourism has gone rampant. It's
not just Sweden; they're looking elsewhere, at the States with
their Knowledge is Power programme schools. As I said, Estelle
Morris was absolutely right about the direction of travel. The
fact that there are only 200 academies means that they provide
a basis for a wholly distracting debateI mean distracting
from the question of how you improve schoolsabout how new
and ever more exotic forms of structural change can, of themselves,
improve schools. What we've always said is that structural change
does not improve schools. Your point earlierthat's why
I came in, Chair, because I thought you were going to ask that
questionwas about academies tackling the problems of failing
local authorities. I couldn't think of a worse way of tackling
the problem of failing local authoritiesand I don't hold
up any candle for local authorities that failthan changing
one or two individual schools within those authorities. I can't
think of a worse way of doing it, because you actually make the
situation worse; you concentrate on the school, rather than the
systemic failure running across the administration of all schools.
Q27 Chair: That's not normally
the way it's worked, is it? If a local authority has been absolutely
dire, hasn't the Department generally sent in a private sector
provider? They did that to some extent in Bradford, Leeds and
John Bangs: They have, and the
picture there has been mixed, because those private providers
have poached off the best authorities to provide the personnel
to improve other authorities. Of course, the quality of the personnel
they poached has, by and large, been good, so the authority has
improved. I think this is about government looking to its own
resources among local authoritiesthe very best administrators.
We have had more than 20 years of denigration of local authoritiesit
has been 22 years of denigration since the Education Reform Act
1988and that has had an effect on the self-efficacy of
those going into local government. Post the electionone
can only wishthere should be a debate about how you actually
put flesh on the bones of a democratically accountable local authority.
Two years ago, we floated the idea of school boards, for example,
piloting that. There needs to be a debate about how you restore
pride in the administration of a local authority's education and
children's services and about how you provide status for people
and links between authorities and schools. That's where the debate
is. I feel a bit sorry for local authorities; they ploughed on
in a climate where there was complete denigration of what they'd
done from a number of parties.
Q28 Chair: Sorry, John, but can
I push you a bit on the denigration? I don't understand this.
I thought the Government had consistently applauded local authorities
that do a good job, whether providing good schools and good education
or protecting children in the way they are supposed to protect
them. The criticismdenigration is rather an emotive wordis
quite rightly for those local authorities that do not provide
a decent education for their children or which fail to protect
them. We've become a lot more sensitive about the performance
of local authorities when it leads to child murder and child death,
but we can't be complacent more generally if we're not delivering
a good service in a local authority.
John Bangs: Well, there's a general
description of the concept of local authorities and a general
pressure constantly to devolve. To answer Mr Timpson's question
about whether I'm in favour of the status quo, I actually think
community schools are about as good as it gets in the current
situation. The fact of the matter is that local authorities such
as Barking and Dagenham, Newham and Tower Hamlets, which I know
particularly well, have had their arms bent behind their backs
to have academies, despite the fact that they are successful local
authorities. Why, I have no idea. They've had tremendous problems
with their Building Schools for the Future budgets, because they
haven't agreed to academiesand they're successful authorities.
Q29 Chair: Okay. We've got to
move on. I have a quick question. There is a view that some of
the sponsors haven't actually stumped up their sponsorship money.
Nick, is anyone aware of this? Is it true? Is it untrue? If it
is true, how have they got away with this?
Nick Weller: I'm sure colleagues
sat to my left can give you fuller information. I only know the
case of one such sponsor through my direct contact with about
five academies. They were joint sponsors; the Church of England
was the other sponsor, and it came to an arrangement with the
DCSF to plug the gap. Most sponsors these days are educational
sponsors anyway, so to a certain extent, the question is possibly
no longer as relevant as it might have been.
Q30 Chair: Are you saying that
some of these people with a good reputation, such as the Arts
Foundation, haven't come up with their sponsorship money?
Andrew Baisley: I've got a list
here of all the academies, how much was pledged and how much has
actually been handed over to date.
Q31 Chair: Would you let the Committee
Andrew Baisley: Yes. I'd be very
Q32 Chair: What's the worst example?
Andrew Baisley: The worst is nothing,
of course. Bede Academy had £1.5 million pledged.
Q33 Chair: Which academy?
Andrew Baisley: Bede Academy.
The sponsor is the Duke of Northumberland, isn't it? I think he's
got some money. Harris Crystal Palace£1 million pledged,
nothing received; Harris Boys East Dulwich£1 million
pledged, nothing received; Harris Girls East Dulwich£500,000
pledged, nothing received; Harris Merton£500,000 pledged,
nothing received; Harris, Bermondsey£1.5 million pledged
Q34 Chair: So you're picking on
Harris are you?
Andrew Baisley: Well, I'm just
on the "H"s.
Nick Weller: Harris is an educational
sponsor; it wouldn't need to pledge any money. It may well keep
its money in a central foundation, presumably, or something like
that, but it is not obliged, like a private sector sponsor, to
hand over millions.
Chair: Harris Foundation is not a private
sector sponsor. I see. It's an educational foundation.
Nick Weller: It could be an educational
Andrew Baisley: But Lord Harris
Nick Weller: He does. It doesn't
stop people having a foundation.
Andrew Baisley: Why has he pledged
all this money? He's pledged, in total, £6.5 million, and
so far stumped up £750,000.
Q35 Paul Holmes: But the actual
overall figure is that, of 19 academies that were pledged sponsorship
money, 13 have not received a penny and one third of the total
that was pledged has not been received across the board. They
are the actual figures from December 2009. So that is the most
up-to-date summary. What about the extraordinary side-deal that
was done with United Learning Trust? It hadn't got the money to
pay the sponsorship it pledged, so the Department gave it the
money so that it could pay the sponsorship, and then said that
it could pay the Department back by knocking it off future payments
to the academies. I mean, what on earth is that about?
Nick Weller: I'm not sure that
money, and seeking sponsorship money, is the main thing that a
sponsor should do.
Q36 Paul Holmes: But the Government
said that was the whole point when academies started, as with
CTCs when they started. They all had to be bailed out by the taxpayer
Nick Weller: Well, I don't know.
At the end, I think the sponsor would have put in about £1
million for something like a £20 million build, or something
like that in those days. That wasn't the most important thing
that our sponsor brought to our organisation. Arguably, that was
just at that time another form of political donation.
Q37 Paul Holmes: But do you think
the side-deal made sense?
Nick Weller: You'd have to ask
Q38 Paul Holmes: For the Government
to say, "Sponsorship is important; you can't raise it, so
we'll give it to you and let you cream it off taxpayers' money."
What is the point?
Nick Weller: What I'm saying is
that I think the money is a side issue. Most sponsorship of academies
these days does not involve money, because it involves educational
organisations such as universities, further education colleges
and outstanding schoolssome of those are local authority
schools, for example. Some local authority heads are so keen on
academies, they actually want to sponsor academies. So I think
that is becoming increasingly irrelevant, really.
Q39 Paul Holmes: So, do you approve
of the side-deal that Ed Balls did with ULT?
Nick Weller: I have no knowledge
of that; I don't really have anything
Chair: I don't think it's fair to press
him on that.
Paul Holmes: It was all over the newspapers
not very long ago.
Chair: But I don't think Nick Weller
is responsible for that.
Paul Holmes: But he's here on behalf
of the Independent Academies Association, or whatever it's called.
He represents academies as a whole.
Nick Weller: In general, we don't.
We represent roughly 50% of academies. They tend to be the smaller,
more independent ones. We don't get a lot of membership from the
larger chains. The larger chains tend to prefer to put their own
systems in place, whereas we are about sharing good practice,
exchanging ideas and that sort of thing. We don't have as much
membership among the larger chains. So I wouldn't particularly
1 Not printed. Back