Publications on the internet
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 2nd March 2011|
Publications on the internet
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Sarah Thatcher, Richard Ward, Committee Clerks
† attended the CommitteeDavid Wootton, Chair, Independent Academies Association Dr Dan Moynihan, Chief Executive, Harris Federation Patricia Sowter, Principal, Cuckoo Hall Academy Mike Gibbons, Chief Executive, Richard Rose Federation of Academies Brian Lightman, General Secretary, Association of Schools and College Leaders Russell Hobby, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers Councillor David Pugh, Leader of Isle of Wight Council and Member of the Local Government Association Children and Young Persons Board, Vice Chair, LGA Matt Dunkley, Vice President, Association of Directors of Children’s Services David Smellie, Partner, Farrer & Co, Law Firm
The Chair: I have a few preliminary announcements. Members may, if they wish, remove their jackets during Committee sittings. Will all Members ensure that mobile phones, pagers and so on are turned off or switched to silent mode during sittings? As a general rule, I and my fellow Chair do not intend to call starred amendments that have not been tabled with adequate notice. The required notice period in Public Bill Committees is three working days; therefore, amendments should be tabled by the rise of the House on Monday for consideration on Thursday, and by the rise of the House on Thursday for consideration on Tuesday. There is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, and copies are available in the room.
Not everyone is familiar with the process of taking oral evidence in Public Bill Committees, so it might help if I briefly explain how we will proceed. The Committee will first be asked to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper, for which debate is limited to half an hour. We will then proceed to a motion to report written evidence, and then a motion to permit the Committee to deliberate in private in advance of the oral evidence sessions. I hope that we can take that formally. Assuming that the latter of those motions is agreed to, the Committee will move into private session. Once the Committee has deliberated, the witnesses and members of the public will be invited back into the room and our oral evidence session will begin. If the Committee agrees to the programme motion, it will hear oral evidence this morning.
Welcome to the Committee everybody, particularly Mr Walker, with whom I look forward to working over the next month. I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss the programme motion with Opposition members of the Committee yesterday evening. It is a generous allocation of time in Committee for a 79-clause Bill, and I look forward to the detailed scrutiny of each clause. The programme motion proposes that the Committee consider the Bill in the logical order in which it is drafted. It also sets out the details of all the witnesses from whom we will hear this week.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): The Minister described the programme motion as generous. I think it an adequate amount of time to give consideration to this important legislation. The Opposition are therefore happy to support it, and we look forward to constructive and thorough scrutiny of the Government’s policies.
The Chair: I welcome our witnesses. You are down to finish at 11.45. A lot of Members want to ask you a lot of questions, so may I please request that no matter how loquacious you want to be in answering a question, you resist the temptation—short questions, short answers?
Q 1 Mr Gibb: Thank you very much for agreeing to give evidence to this Bill Committee session. I wonder if each of you—because you are all involved with the academies movement—might say something about why the freedoms you have been given or have had in running an academy are so important. Perhaps you can also say something about the further removal of some of the bureaucratic impositions that have in the past applied to schools and academies, such as the requirement to have a SIP. What are your views about lifting those restrictions? Perhaps we could start with Mr Gibbons.
Mike Gibbons: Obviously the warning about loquaciousness means that my reputation goes before me. The academies I am responsible for are a result of the closure of three underachieving schools, which have been severely underachieving for I think 20 or 30 years. Therefore, the role now is to move as quickly as possible in order to ensure that those schools recover, improve and move on.
I am slightly puzzled by your question because I would think that the freedoms that one has to operate within are very much in the minds of the school leaders, too. Having run inner-city state schools and, indeed, an HMC school, as well as academies, I do not think I have changed my approach to sorting out the problems I
Patricia Sowter: From my perspective, having worked in a number of inner-city schools on school improvement, I have always had to work quite autonomously, think outside the box and push boundaries to raise standards for children quickly because they do not have much time to waste. In my experience, I have found that undue bureaucracy can hold things back. For example, phonics is now well thought of as a system for teaching children to read. I am a primary head, by the way. In the early days, when I first introduced phonics to my young children, I was told by local authority advisers that it was not appropriate and it was not part of a strategy at that time. I had to fight tooth and nail to implement a reading programme that I knew would work for my children. That is just one example.
In terms of a SIP, if your school is outstanding—this is not speaking from an arrogant point of view—I felt that it was a complete waste of my time to be sitting down with a local authority adviser or SIP five times a year to tick their boxes. I had much better things to do. I knew where my school was and where it needed to go next, and I did not need a SIP to come in to meet me five times a year.
Dr Moynihan: I look after a group of academies called the Harris Federation, which is a group of nine academies in south London. All those schools were failing, unpopular and seriously underachieving before we took them on. It is the freedoms that academies bring that have allowed us to transform them. Of nine failing and unpopular schools, four are now outstanding, two are making outstanding progress, one is good and two are making good progress. What is different? Previously, the local authorities concerned had done everything they could to turn those schools around. The things they had done had not worked, while the freedoms that we had over pay conditions, higher expectations, an expectation that performance will be better, more rigorous performance management and flexibility in all sorts of ways have allowed us to improve those schools rapidly.
Tony Blair said—I will be brief on this—that as the academy school belongs not to some bureaucracy or to Government but to itself, the school will be in charge of its own destiny, and that immediately gives it pride and purpose. That is the way it works. As a chain, we do not need SIPs—we provide that expertise ourselves—and we found them to be a bureaucratic encumbrance.
David Wootton: I am David Wootton, chief executive of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation in the north-east and chair of the Independent Academies Association. We represent independent state-funded education in the country.
I would welcome the deregulatory thrust. Many of the early academies were transformational academies and were in difficult realities and challenging circumstances. The freedoms in terms of structures, terms and conditions, time, flexibility of set-up, governance, and particularly the impact of sponsors, were important in making the movements that the academies have made. Any reduction
The same is true of my approach to SIPs. I think SIPs can be well replaced by school-to-school improvement, which can be brokered by the national college, by our national leaders in education and by teaching schools. Schools helping, supporting and challenging—I use the word challenging—is an important way to go forward.
David Wootton: I believe that all schools should become academies, provided that they buy into what I think, and what the academy movement thinks, are important characteristics, such a commitment to moral purpose and social justice and to narrowing the gap between the lowest attainers and the highest attainers.
Patricia Sowter: My initial view was that successful schools should be allowed to become academies, particularly primaries, because under the previous Government only secondary schools could become academies. Less successful schools may become academies, but there has to be strong accountability systems, where a stronger school takes responsibility for that school’s performance and the monitoring of its performance.
Mike Gibbons: Yes. The academies that I am now responsible for could not take the actions they do, or have decision making as near to the point of action and the front line as it is, without that academy status. If you are going to say that every school should become an academy, you must ensure that the leadership of every school in the country is of that quality to take action independently and fast, and to make a difference to that particular area.
Dr Moynihan: Yes. Some people use the argument that there is a limited supply of leaders. If someone had said in the 1950s that there was a limited supply of business leaders and therefore we could not have any economic growth or new businesses, the world would be a very different place today. Leaders emerge by having freedoms, and by having free schools and academies people will emerge and become successful leaders.
Q 7 Kevin Brennan: I have one more question. Patricia Sowter, you said in your views on the Bill that you had some concerns about arranging suitable alternative provision for permanently excluded pupils, particularly in primary schools. For the record, will you explain your concerns to the Committee?
Patricia Sowter: If a head teacher takes the very serious decision permanently to exclude a pupil, there would be a great deal of pressure on that head to find alternative provision for the child they decided to exclude. I therefore feel that one’s hands could be tied, in terms of doing the best thing for that child. Exclusion is an absolute last resort, but it is also a way of managing to get that child the specialist provision that they may need. If your hands are tied in terms of trying to find alternative provision for a child, that child may not get access to the services that they need. We have yet to see how this will work out. I understand that there will be some national pilots. I could see a positive situation where schools collaborate to commission specialist provision for children who may have to be excluded. I feel that could work, but if schools are working on their own and looking for specialist support, that would not work for that school or those children.
Q 8 Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Should academies have to commission independent careers advice? Is there a case for a statutory duty where the interests of the institution may differ from those of the pupil?
Dr Moynihan: Harris as a group is keen to employ a team of careers advisers centrally to service our schools, so that students can have individual careers interviews. I think that a requirement to buy in external advice would prevent us, in cost terms, from also having our own advisers. It is not clear to me why somebody external will necessarily be better or more independent. We give students clear advice on the options available, either to stay with us or to go elsewhere.
Q 9 Mr Stuart: To give an example, I have known schools that exclude further education colleges from their open evenings and from coming in and talking to pupils. I rarely meet a teacher who has set foot in a further education college. There are definite conflicts between the institutional interests of schools and the interests of the pupil. How do we ensure that pupils get access to genuine, across-the-board careers advice? Patricia?
Patricia Sowter: I come from a primary perspective. However, although we do not have any formal careers advice, in our day-to-day teaching we keep children informed as to the purpose of education, the lifelong learning of children and their real prospects. That is really important from an early age, but obviously that is from a different perspective to my colleagues.
Mike Gibbons: We have a warm alliance with our FE college. I do not see how you can face 14-to-19 issues without doing that. I am surprised to hear what you say; I thought those attitudes had moved on. In addition to that, we have quite a detailed strategy on careers advice and preparation. It is not just the advisers; each
David Wootton: It is very important that academies provide independent advice to students that is unbiased and that allows students to get to the correct destination. I also agree that it is important that advice is tempered with information from business and universities, so that students get a good understanding of the real world.
David Wootton: Many academies do have that independent approach. As to whether that needs to be statutory, in the light of what colleagues have said I am not certain, but I believe that independent advice is the way forward.
Q 11 Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): One aim of the Bill is to improve the framework for discipline within schools. I would like to hear, particularly from those who have been heads in secondary schools, quick comments about what you do to ensure good discipline, and about searching pupils and giving notice for detention.
Dr Moynihan: The provisions in the Bill propose giving teachers extra powers to search, particularly for items on phones, such as pornography. That is clearly an issue in schools. We know from the news media that growing numbers of youngsters are making films of teachers in situations in schools and putting them on YouTube. It is a big problem, so having the power to search for that is a good thing. It will assist teachers considerably, so we welcome it. The power not to have independent appeal panels overruling exclusions, in terms of sending a child back to a school, also seems to us to be good.
Q 12 Meg Munn: What about the specific issue of not having to give notice for detention? And what about male teachers being able to search female pupils, or female teachers searching male pupils, without anyone else being there? Would you do it?
Dr Moynihan: In practice, we would not have a male teacher searching a female or vice versa. We would ensure it was done by people of the same gender, with other people being present. That is how we would operate it, and I think that most schools would do so.
Q 15 Meg Munn: My specific first question was about how you create good discipline, rather than necessarily looking at what is in the Bill. What are the basic measures that you have in place to ensure good discipline in the school?
Mike Gibbons: No. 1 is so straightforward that it is hardly worth saying: it is good teaching. If you design your curriculum appropriately, if you have your teachers on the ball and able to engage the young people, if you benefit from one of the things that I benefit from—it is a new building, which is a privilege; it is beautifully designed and almost allows many children to be self-policing, because it is so open and there are no little corridors or back passages for there to be trouble unseen by the staff—all of those things contribute. But you start with the mission of the school, in terms of its teaching and learning, the quality of its teachers and the quality of its interaction. That is your starting point. You need other sanctions, and you need to be able to act when things do not work, but that is where you begin.
Patricia Sowter: There has to be absolute consistency across the whole school in terms of expectations, and that means high expectations not only for children’s learning, but for behaviour, including the behaviour of adults towards children. All children should know exactly where they stand, as should parents, and within that, there should be a caring ethos that comes through as a school’s absolute priority. In that way—and I agree about teaching as well—you rarely have issues with discipline.
David Wootton: For me, it starts with values. If you set values clearly with students, parents and the community, and you agree on those values and get their involvement in developing those values, you can set very high aspirations, standards and expectations. It is about values, expectations and aspirations, and following that up with clarity and toughness, so that you say what you mean and you do what you say. That sets up the ability for teachers to teach. Provided that the teaching is good, the structure is good and that you care about youngsters as individuals and involve them in the development of good discipline, most children want to come to school to learn to do well. It is about our job of putting the structures in place to allow that to happen.
Q 16 Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I have a couple of general questions about academies. The original legislation about academies was brought in by the previous Government. Do you see the Bill as a natural continuation of that, or is it a radical departure? Secondly, what is of most concern to parents is having a great teacher teaching their child. Will you tell us about your experience of academies and whether they have had an impact on enabling teachers to achieve their full potential?
Dr Moynihan: Certainly, I see it as a continuation of the previous Government’s policy. The idea is to free schools from bureaucracy, and to give leadership the chance to make decisions and be accountable for them, and to not be part of group-think where a local authority area suggests that only certain standards are possible. If failing schools have previously had such freedoms and have done well with them and improved, it seems logical to me that other schools should have the same freedoms and be able to benefit from them. It seems, therefore, to be a sensible extension of a successful policy.
David Wootton: I would agree entirely. It seems a logical development, taking things forward in a transformational way. It is about good teachers being able to teach and get on with the job, and it is about putting structures in place that allow that to happen, so that teachers can take a traditional or creative approach, providing that the structures are put in place by the academies. I think, therefore, that this is very much an organic development moving on.
Patricia Sowter: I would agree with that. As I said earlier, I was continuously disappointed in the past when primary schools were not allowed to become academies. I was very vocal about that, so I am pleased now that we are part of the academy initiative.
In terms of teaching, I do not think that becoming an academy has improved the teaching in my school, because I have always put a very strong emphasis on teaching, and I am pleased to see that that has a very high profile in the White Paper. These are early days for us yet, as we only became an academy on 1 September 2010, but what it has done is allowed us to look really flexibly at what our teachers also feel will work. There is, for example, a system at the moment called PPA—planning, preparation and assessment—which is where teachers have two hours a week, negotiated through the union, out of class. It is very difficult in a school such as mine, which is a very large primary school. I ask teachers, “Would you prefer to have a bit extra in your pay packet and forgo the PPA, or would you like to keep the PPA?” Unanimously, they said that they would love to get rid of PPA. They thought it was disruptive. They had to pick up the pieces when they got back to their classroom if there was a cover teacher, and they said yes, they would love to have a bit extra in their pay packets. That is the sort of thing that I am now able to do in an academy, which I was not able to do in the past.
David Wootton: May I clarify what Patricia said? I would say that teaching and learning has improved in traditional academies—the transformational ones that were in schools in very challenging circumstances—aided by things such as the development of the graduate teacher programme, but particularly by Teach First and the Teach First stable of options for leadership development.
Dr Moynihan: It is not a huge sample, but I have heard a number of heads say—this is my experience as well—that when they are part of a local authority and dealing with teachers who are not competent, you get very risk-averse human resource departments in local authorities, whose main criterion is to avoid risk rather than do what is necessary in many cases for youngsters. One of the advantages of being your own employer as an academy is that you can seek advice from elsewhere, and you are free to behave in a way that people would in the real world outside. That is a significant way of improving the quality of teaching.
Q 17 Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): May I ask about clauses 51 and 52, which extend academy status to 16-to-19 provision? What are your views on the weaknesses that they address? What value do they add to the Bill? May I ask you to refer to three specific aspects of that? First, is not current provision perfectly adequate? There is a wide variety of choice—school sixth forms, sixth-form colleges and general and specialist further education. What happens, in terms of the threat to existing providers, if new entrants come in, or is that
Dr Moynihan: I can give you an example. We have opened a number of academies in Croydon and Merton in south-east London, which has one of the lowest post-16 staying-on rates in the country. When we attempted to make the schools that we took on 11-to-18 instead of 11-to-16, we were opposed by everybody. Councils and learning and skills councils opposed us. They all said that it was not part of their strategic plan to have school sixth forms.
Four years later, in that area, we now have 1,000 sixth formers—thankfully, Government supported us, operating as one centre. Nothing else has changed locally. There are no other new providers. The plan delivered absolutely nothing. Having the freedom to open new provision where perhaps there is a need that has not previously been met seems to be a good one. That is a practical example of a situation.
Mike Gibbons: This is quite a hard question, because you probably need to relate it to the intention of the previous Government and this Government to have people remaining in education or training until the age of 18. It means there is a bigger market than there was for 16-to-19 provision, because there is no escape. I have worked in an area that traditionally had a “high employment but low wage” structure, so people could do stuff at the age of 16, but it did not really carry any sort of lifelong commitment to improvement. There is a need for 16-to-19 to become an even more dynamic sector of the market for that.
I also think that, if we are to reach people whom we have not reached before, we need a variety of provision in a way that we have not had before. To return to my very early answer about bringing in business and the local college to be part of the design of each section of our 16-to-19 part of the academies, that has made a huge difference. In our area of operation—a much smaller area of operation than Dan’s—we have moved post-16 numbers from about 150 between our two academies to 405 for next year. Those youngsters would not have gone anywhere else. The other thing that we are experimenting with, which we have found very exciting, is that we have been liaising with local Connexions, careers people and colleges to try to design a course to bring NEETs back into the system. We have designed a six-week course for NEET students, so that they can get back into readiness to learn. That sort of flexibility seems to be the sort of creative thinking we will need if we are to make a reality of 16-to-19.
David Wootton: Many predecessor schools to academies had very poor retention rates at post-16, and we took over a number of schools where children would just not travel and therefore became NEET. I think it is very important that as academies are formed, they have the ability to develop sixth-form provision, and that that is looked after with a wider plan.
You talked about weaknesses to address within the system. I do not think it is particularly a question of weaknesses to address within the system; it is that the transformational freedoms for academies can be applied to post-16 providers, and I would see that as a positive thing, providing that it is seen within a strategic overview of the current provision.
All of us—I think certainly the three of us sitting at this table—work closely with general further education providers, FE providers and other sixth-form colleges in getting the right mix of education for our students. I think there needs to be a strategic overview, but I would welcome the freedoms of academies to be transformational and different being passed on to post-16 providers.
Q 18 The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): Thank you for coming. I know Harris and Emmanuel well; I have visited both of them many times. Patricia spoke about the particular relationship between additional freedoms and being free from bureaucracy, and driving up standards. Iain has just asked you about participation, but what about the link to standards? Can you give us some particular examples, in addition to the ones Patricia offered on phonics, of the relationship between those additional freedoms and your desire to improve the offer?
Dr Moynihan: We have taken on a school where most children are refugees and do not speak English, and we have been able to vary the curriculum and provide many hours of literacy in the early years of secondary school, to bring people up to speed. That has had a significant impact. I can think of one particular school—Harris academy Bermondsey, in a very disadvantaged area. It quickly went to outstanding, within three years. Harris South Norwood did similarly, because we used freedom in the curriculum to focus on the basics, so that every youngster could access every subject. That has been very important. In our sixth form, we have a range of 25 A-levels and the international baccalaureate. Large numbers of students who were the first generation of their family to go to university are now progressing, so in terms of vigorous standards at the top end, we have been good.
We have been good at using the freedoms—as most academies are, I think—to vary teachers’ hours, so after school there are lots of extra classes in different subjects. In our extra-curricular offer we aspire to match the independent sector, because that is one of the real strengths it has. We offer Saturday morning clubs. In every school holiday there are teachers at work delivering extra classes. In terms of standards, the hours worked are a lot longer and the outcomes are rising.
David Wootton: In Emmanuel foundation schools, we focus very much on basic core education, getting English and maths right, good quality teaching and learning throughout, and focusing on the core. Other academies have been much more creative and looked at a competency-based curriculum, or other solutions that suited their particular needs. What I am saying is that the academies have been able to focus on their community needs to achieve what they want to achieve.
One of the things that we and many academies do is teach longer hours and make, as Dan does, an offer to our children of lots of clubs, lots of enrichment, and lots of opportunities and trips. Once the culture and climate are right in the schools, and with the community and parents, children desperately want to learn and do well. Being able to say that we teach five hours a week more than some other schools is something that our children value.
Patricia Sowter: I have been able to look at the flexible deployment of support staff. Over a number of years, we have developed in-house training programmes for our support staff, offering them enhanced career
Q 19 Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I have relatively recent experience of the impossibility—and I mean impossibility—of admitting children with special needs to academies. I know that each of you will tell me that that does not happen in your school, but parents and SEN groups will tell you that the practice is widespread, and more so in academies than in mainstream schools. If all good and outstanding schools are to become academies, does that not effectively close down good and outstanding schools to children with special needs?
Patricia Sowter: I honestly do not understand that because we adhere entirely to the national admissions code and are subject to the local authority’s arrangements for admissions. We do not have a choice regarding which children come to us. In my school, 35% of children have special needs, so that absolutely does not happen, or certainly not as far as I am concerned.
David Wootton: That adherence to the admissions code would be true of virtually all academies, and the statistics would show that there are significantly more youngsters with special needs in academies.
Q 20 Pat Glass: Is that not because academies are set up to take in the general population? Over time, however, statistics show that the number of children with special needs in academies decreases. I accept that in your four schools that does not happen, but you must accept that parents of children with special needs have these issues.
David Wootton: Yes, I accept that some of those issues are out there, but in one of my academies, for example, special needs are decreasing, and we are actively working very strongly and determinedly to get youngsters off the special needs register. If we can hit the right buttons to get the right jobs done with those children, we want the children off the register. In my academies, we reduce the number of children on the special needs register, if it is appropriate for the individual child. I hope that all academies adhere to the regulations and to the spirit of what we do, which is about addressing some of the difficulties in education for some of the most difficult and deprived youngsters in the country.
Dr Moynihan: It is more than hope; academies are subject to the code, so if the local authority names an academy, that academy is in exactly the same position with regards to a statemented child as is the local comprehensive. The school must take the child, and if it declines to do so, the case can go to a tribunal, which makes the ultimate decision. That process is identical for every school, so I do not understand the issue.
Dr Moynihan: No, because we are required by our funding agreements, and rightly so, to take students who are named in statements. If an academy refuses to do that, the same right of appeal exists as in any school.
Mike Gibbons: The head of one of our academies chairs the group that looks at provision in the area, and it is really important for us to have a long-term relationship with our community. If we got into the situation that you describe, it might temporarily ease pressures on the institution but the local community would soon catch up with what was happening. We would behave as you have described at our peril.
Q 22 Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): Do you find that as academies you work more closely with local communities? Do you find, as Patricia mentioned earlier, a frustration that primary schools were not involved in the previous Education Bill as being allowed to become academic providers? Do you find that you work more closely with your primary school networks?
Mike Gibbons: We certainly do and we enjoy that. One of our aims is to drive up aspiration in our area, and there are many ways of involving local communities in your institution in a way that will eventually spill over into improved education. So we are using some of the energy and contacts of our sponsors to find ways of bringing additional facilities to our sites, so that the community feels that not just an education is being offered but a whole way of life, in terms of transforming family life chances. We are in very close negotiations with the local medical people about building a new surgery, health and well-being centre in the grounds of one of our academies. We have made an application to Sport England to develop a sports village.
We feel that in our community there has been such disjunction between families’ previous experience of schooling and what we want to offer young people now. In the long term, raising standards will make that speak for itself, but in the medium term it is important that our local communities see academies as not separate from them but something for their benefit. I felt uneasy during some of the questioning about some of the things that you feel are going on elsewhere in the country, which I am sure we do not recognise.
The academies that we run are not institutions for themselves; they are institutions that provide a service, and they are only as good as the service they provide. The notion of independence and the notion of leadership near the point of activity in the community and near the front line is not in order to make the institution grander and separate; it is in order to make it more responsive to the community it serves.
Q 23 Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): You have talked about being able to vary national terms and conditions of teachers. Apart from that, I am interested in the specifics of what you can do as an academy, particularly in terms of teaching and learning, that you cannot do as a state school. It seems that a number of the things you have talked about are quite possible to do in the maintained sector. What specifically can you do in teaching and learning as an academy that you could not do as a maintained school?
Dr Moynihan: That is a great question, because the answer is nothing, but the reality is that the culture in many state schools prevents you from doing the things that you do as an academy. So it is a cultural group thing issue—all of the things that we do in terms of
All those things any school could do, but the fact is that large numbers do not. It is because we have that sense of freedom and independence, and there is an expectation among staff and their professional associations that things will be a bit more professional, and that there will be higher standards and things will be looked at in a new fresh way. There is more flexibility to go about doing it.
Dr Moynihan: It is set by the leadership. In our group it is set by the group of managing principals. We have an outstanding teachers’ programme; teachers give lots of extra time for coaching and mentoring to move themselves to our standing. We have a satisfactory-to-good programme for those teachers. People give up holidays freely; they work extra hours to improve their professional practice. Any school could do that, but lots do not.
David Wootton: Just to build on what Daniel was saying, it has been very much the case that many predecessor schools that changed to academies had been struggling for quite a long time. The act of becoming an academy means that one school ceases to exist and another begins. That act of redefining the culture and the climate makes that big impact, rather than a new head in an existing culture. I think that is more difficult. It is the complete break and the new start that seems to be one of the key transformational issues.
Mike Gibbons: I think that is very important. Your question implies that interested and interesting leaders are attracted to the academy structure and therefore you have good leaders and new freedoms. Those freedoms could be used in other schools in other circumstances. But I have found two things that are very different. One is what has just been said: the idea of the original institution closing and reopening with a fresh start and a new name has been hugely symbolic in local communities. The other thing is that things can be done more quickly because the chain of command between spotting the need and making it happen with the resources that you have is just that much faster.
Patricia Sowter: My example is this: we have evolved into becoming an academy. My school was in special measures 10 years ago and it became outstanding, but we were not an academy. I agree with you. I still had the same view about running a school that I have now. The difference between schools is that I have never had a dependency on any other authority that I would rely on to support my school because I knew that would not work. It is about school leaders and schools themselves taking the responsibility. School improvement needs to happen from within. It happens in lots of cases but in others it does not. But there is this false sense of dependency, if you like, that there is some power around you that will support and protect you. That is not the case. It is up to school leaders themselves to make a difference for the schools and for that community.
David Wootton: There are many teachers who were inside those schools struggling to teach who have blossomed in an academy structure. You would not have thought that they were able to do that, but once they were given
Q 25 Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of clarification on the points Pat was making, how many tribunals have you had within your academies where people have challenged admissions policies, particularly around special educational needs? You say that would be subject to a tribunal. How many tribunals have you had?
Q 26 Stella Creasy: Is there a way of collating that information? I share Pat’s concerns that one of the things that we have seen in our area with academies is a lack of willingness to take children with special educational needs because of the additional costs of providing for those children.
Q 27 Stella Creasy: But then you go to the tribunal stage. Bringing in academies is such a new process, so how are special educational needs tracked? Obviously the Bill includes some provision on admissions and makes some changes to the admissions process that will make it even harder for parents to mount a challenge. So you have no instances at all where people have brought tribunals against the schools that you work with?
Q 28 Stella Creasy: That is interesting. On the other question about working with the local authority, you have given us lots of examples where it has not been helpful, could you give us some examples of where it has helped?
David Wootton: Certainly, in 14 to 19 provision it has been very useful and in fact essential to work with local authorities. All the academies that I have been involved with have worked as part of that partnership in head teacher groups and in every way that you would expect to see head teachers engage with a local authority, as part of a family and a group of sister schools. It would be our view that our academies need to be part of that family, but an independent part of that family. So we engage fully.
Patricia Sowter: In any local authority there are individuals who are very effective in what they do and are very supportive. The issue that I have had in general is the overall bureaucracy around local authorities because somehow as organisations—I am not speaking about every local authority in the country—they lose sight of the fact that they are also responsible for children’s education and their job becomes separate from schools themselves.
Q 29 Stella Creasy: I appreciate you have examples like that, but where has working with local authorities been of benefit? I am trying to understand what has worked as well as what has not. I wonder whether you could focus on that side of the question.
Patricia Sowter: Where I have had relations with an individual—for example, in HR or school improvement—and they have been really on board with my ethos, my values and my vision, things have worked very well.
Mike Gibbons: I would say that the strategic decision that our local authority made that the schools that we now know as academies had to close and start again was not the result of pressure from anyone; it was the local authority itself saying, “We have to encourage something different in those catchment areas.” It was courageous enough to suggest the academy solution.
Dr Moynihan: I was going to give some. There are cases where we have worked closely with local authorities that have been very forward thinking. They have had schools that they have not been able to turn around or do anything with, and they have been very proactive in bringing in providers like us and running competitions so that somebody else could take these schools and work with them. So we have done that quite well. I can certainly think of one local authority where our principal chairs the hard-to-place protocol, and we give a great deal in that local authority. So we have some good examples of where we work with local authorities. In terms of where they add value, though, it is harder for me to give an answer.
Q 31 Stella Creasy: Taking the examples you have given, how can we ensure that they happen not just in pockets, but across the country? You have given examples of where having that co-operation has worked well, but how can we make that happen elsewhere?
Dr Moynihan: The Bill has a clause where there is a presumption that any new school should be an academy—I may have got the phrasing wrong, but it is something like that. That will be very helpful for many local authorities in being open-minded about these things.
Q 32 Stella Creasy: This is a slightly different question, though, is it not? You are talking about the partnerships you have been able to work with at a local level. If local authorities and councils are a bugbear, what about the police and safer schools partnerships? How can we maintain such relationships? We have a duty to look at not just your individual best practices, so how can we maintain such relationships across the board?
Dr Moynihan: I cannot see there being any problem with partnerships such as those with the police and so on. The schools that we have in areas where police are provided have those partnerships in the same way as other schools. Being an academy does not affect those relationships.
Q 33 Stella Creasy: But if you take away the duty to co-operate for well-being, which is the duty that has generated a lot of the partnerships that have made these things happen, how else can we maintain them?
Q 34 Mark Hendrick: Do you see local education authorities as unnecessary, desirable or essential? If you see them as desirable or essential, what role do you see them having, or what role would you like them to have, in the future?
Dr Moynihan: The appropriate role for me is a commissioning role, where they act clearly in the best interests of young people and where, when new places need to be commissioned because existing places are not good enough or there is no adequate supply, they act very proactively. I see too many examples of situations where places that are just good enough or barely good enough are defended when alternatives are available. There is a reluctance among local authorities to have competition with their own provision. Local authorities need to see themselves no longer as the providers, but as the commissioners and the people who make things happen.
David Wootton: I see two roles for local authorities. One would be a strategic role, where they have an overview and are able to see local needs and look at overall provision in an area. The second is the role that Dan was talking about, which involves moving from being provider to commissioner. Many enlightened local authorities around the country are embracing that role and approaching people to ask, “Can you develop an academy for us? Is this the way forward?” Those two roles are key for me.
Patricia Sowter: I would agree with that. They should have more of a commissioning role and be more open to looking at other possibilities for improving schools, instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, which has been happening too much.
Mike Gibbons: I have been so long in education that I cannot remember when this debate started, but it has been going on for 20 or 30 years. What is the actual role of the local authority? At the moment, local authorities are getting stranded between trying to provide and trying to commission. It would seem to me that moving towards a very assertive commissioning role would be pretty demanding on academies and on others if that was the situation.
Q 35 Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): We have obviously focused quite a lot on the role of local authorities with academies. I would like you to shed some light on the role of parents. First, how critical is it? Secondly, becoming an academy is a step change in terms not only of your structure but of how you deliver education. What has the initial reaction of parents been, what challenges have you faced and what has the feedback been?
My second question concerns co-operation. How do you co-operate with other schools as academies, and what would you say to those schools that feel that if they became academies they will be pitted against each other?
Mike Gibbons: This goes to the heart of the circle that we are trying to square in this debate. We have moved from parents being slightly distant about schooling in general to being avid supporters of what we do. When we opened as academies our attendance at parents evenings, which is a rough indicator of interest, was less than 30%, especially with the older years. Now we are achieving 90% regularly, and on one occasion with year 11 we had 100% of parents attend a particular open evening. It seems to me that that willingness to walk through the door and be part of what we are doing is a transformation for us. When we showed the plans for our new building, which will open in August, to our parental community two years ago, they said it looked
What we do not yet have is a relationship with our parents that makes them understand how they can best support their children. They want things to be good for their kids, but they do not quite yet know how to do that with us in terms of education. That is the next phase for us. Making parents be part of our school community, when they saw the previous failing schools as not being part of anyone’s community, has been a step change.
Patricia Sowter: My school is in an area with very high levels of deprivation in Edmonton, north London, and as I have said it was in special measures and was very undersubscribed and we could not fill places. I knew that the answer was to raise standards and to make that school a happy, safe place where children wanted to be. The buildings are very old, and they still are; because we were a converter academy we did not have new build. The school improved quite rapidly and I gained the trust of the local community, so they have been right behind me. We have had 300 applicants this year for our reception class and the school is moving to four-form entry.
We consulted widely with the parents on becoming an academy, and they were totally on board. They are very proud of the school, and it is the best thing in that community—it is an area where not much is going on for the local community—and they are very much behind the improvements that we have made.
David Wootton: In many areas where academies went in to support, challenge and replace failing schools, parents who had had a bad experience in education, or who were ill-informed or ill-led, were very anti those academies as they went in. That tended to make the newspapers, but actually if you were to go into some of the communities now that many academies serve in this country and say, “We are taking your academy away from you,” there would be a riot. I can think of an example of one of our schools in Doncaster, which was very strongly opposed prior to its opening. Within six months of it opening the aspirations of parents were beginning to change. The parents could see a future for themselves, their community, their village and their children. We are still involved in the process of developing and involving the parents in the learning. If you were now to go to that village and say “This academy is going to close,” there would be a huge riot. Parental support is strongly behind the academies that are open. That can be seen in the number of people who apply for places. Very many academies are oversubscribed. The second point would be that many academies manage to change the aspirations of parents and the community as well as the children involved.
Dr Moynihan: Your other question was about co-operation. There is no reason why becoming an academy should affect your relationship with other schools. Our schools have pretty much the same links and relationships that they always had.
Q 36 Mr Gibb: One of the things that we are determined to do, some of it through this Bill, is to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers. We are taking that seriously and there is a huge amount of work going on in the Department to streamline and simplify reams of guidance. Clause 18 abolishes the School Support Staff Negotiating Body. Clause 7 abolishes the GTCE. Clause 6 removes the statutory duty to enter into a behaviour and attendance partnership. Clause 50 abolishes the requirement for an academy to have specialist status. Can the witnesses comment on some of those reducing bureaucracy clauses?
Dr Moynihan: May I start with specialist status? Specialist status has been a really important feature in the improvement of many schools, but that is because it has allowed them to define their own ethos and identity. It has not been having the specialism per se; it has been because it has allowed them to differentiate themselves and build an ethos. Academies as independent schools is a mechanism for providing that certain ethos. I do not think that losing that specialism will have an effect. An academy can choose to have a specialism in the new world if it wishes to. It can change that specialism over time, as is appropriate. Under the old system, once you had a specialism, it was a hugely bureaucratic process to get it changed. I do not think anything would be lost through this change.
On behaviour and attendance partnerships, most schools work with other schools to improve behaviour. It is much better if schools can determine whom they work with, rather than having a local authority dictate it for them. Some of our schools are near each other, but in different local authorities. Under our funding agreement, we have not been able to work with each other.
David Wootton: In terms of specialism, I would agree entirely with Dan. On partnerships, it is important that if you enter into a partnership, you enter into it willingly. If you go willingly into a partnership, you are likely to make that partnership work. Very many academies are happy to be involved—as you have heard from the witnesses—in lots of partnership activity, but we applaud the fact that it is non-bureaucratic. We accept the Government’s decision to abolish the GTC. Our only concern is that we have accurate, up-to-date data on people who should not be working with children and that that would go back to the Department as it did with the GTC. On support staff, academies deploy a new support staff, as we heard from Patricia, in a wide variety of ways. We want the best terms and conditions, because we want the best people to work for us, so we would welcome the flexibility that that deregulation would bring.
Mike Gibbons: When the bureaucracy becomes the work rather than the intentions of the bureaucracy being the task, you are quite right. However, as you reduce what you see and what we see as the bureaucracy, I urge you to be equally determined to ensure that there
Patricia Sowter: I agree. I feel that there should not be any task that you would need to do that is a waste of time. There is just not enough time when you are in school to waste time and there has been too much time-wasting. For example, my school staff have had to rewrite our behaviour and discipline policies when we did not need to do so. We had to do it because it was part of a local initiative. It was just such a waste of time.
Q 37 Mr Stuart: There is a fear that a number of children who are permanently excluded have unidentified special educational needs. Would you support regulations that would trigger an assessment if a child is repeatedly excluded for fixed periods or is seen as being at risk of permanent exclusion? Would that be a useful way of ensuring that children are assessed prior to any exclusion? I will ask Mike to respond.
Mike Gibbons: I have on occasion been told by a local authority that the only way to get help for child X is to exclude them permanently, because that will trigger other types of interventions. I would rather that it was the other way round.
David Wootton: The idea of ensuring that we reduce exclusions and try to find out what is behind those children’s behaviour is a very positive one. It is quite an interesting idea to explore, whether or not a child has needs identified as they move through that exclusion pattern. It might help to break that pattern.
Dr Moynihan: I think that it is too late if the assessment is made when someone is about to be excluded. The answer is not to introduce more regulation but to see what we can do to improve statementing and treatment of special needs in the country.
Patricia Sowter: There are many situations where children slip through the net, not because the school has not picked up on their special needs but because it is very difficult to access specialist services through local authorities.
Q 38 Kevin Brennan: In answer to questions from Meg Munn, you said that you did not search pupils of the opposite sex without others being present, but can any of you give an example of a circumstance where it would be necessary or appropriate to do so, as is being introduced in the Bill?
Kevin Brennan: In my 10 years as a teacher, I could not imagine a circumstance in which I would use this power that is being introduced in the Bill as opposed to restraining the pupil appropriately. That is why I am interested to see if you can think of any examples.
Q 41 Mr Gibb: Thank you for coming to the Committee today to give evidence—it is very much appreciated. As well as reducing the bureaucratic burden on teachers in schools, one of the things we are determined to do is to shift the balance of authority in schools back to the teacher and the head teacher. We are determined to tackle the persistence of low level disruption and poor behaviour in our schools, as dealing with them is key to underpinning the raising of standards. In the Bill, we are bringing in new powers of search for things such as mobile phones and items banned by the school rules. We are also bringing in anonymity for teachers accused by pupils or their parents of something that might be criminal. I wonder if I could have the view of the two union representatives—the NAHT and the ASCL—on those two provisions.
Russell Hobby: Broadly, we welcome these provisions, particularly for the signal that they send. We feel that the number of circumstances in which some of them will be used will be quite limited. I am sure that you expect the same thing. For example, particularly around opposite sex searches and no-notice detentions, there will be times when such things are inappropriate. We hope that the guidance will clarify what the suitable situations are. We also welcome the introduction of anonymity for people accused of particular offences, but we would like to see protection from those allegations to be extended if possible to people who have left the school from pupils who have left the school. We would also like it to be extended to non-teaching members of staff.
Brian Lightman: We are very happy with the message that is going out. It is an important message. In many ways, the message that the Government support school leaders in maintaining good discipline is more important than any legislation that the Government introduce. That is probably the most important headline here.
We feel that the searches are very welcome and necessary. We simply do not believe that that will be abused or that it is going too far. There are many examples where this sort of additional opportunity to be able to search things is a last resort. But, occasionally, when a child refuses to co-operate and something needs to be dealt with urgently, you need those powers in order to be able to do things. For example, if somebody is using malicious
On anonymity, I echo what the NAHT is saying. We welcome it and it is very important, but there is a major omission from the Bill: the inclusion of support staff and everybody who works in schools. Those people are just as open to malicious allegations as anybody else.
Q 42 Mr Wright: There seems to be a paradox between the rhetoric of Ministers—we have just heard Nick talk about freeing up teachers and ending bureaucracy—and the centralising aspects of the Bill towards the Secretary of State. I think your written submission, Brian, highlights that. Could you put on the record for the Committee what your main points of concern are in terms of the centralising aspects of the Bill? How will that hinder parents and pupils and the wider education sector in achieving their objectives?
Brian Lightman: One of the characteristics of the Bill is that it gives a lot of new powers to the Secretary of State. There is a worry that there is not an element of independence or distance, which needs to be maintained in relation to some of those things. As for specific examples of the effect of centralisation, if you take the example of teachers who are dismissed and the fact that governing bodies are required to consider referring that to the Secretary of State, “considering” is not strong enough if someone has been dismissed for misconduct. If you are referring directly to the Secretary of State—it is so centralised in that way—we fear that there could be a deterrent factor. Governing bodies might think, “Do we really want to go that far at this stage?” In the interests of parents, whom you mentioned, that might be disadvantageous, because obviously, if a teacher has been dismissed for misconduct, we would want to make sure that that is properly dealt with so that there are not teachers like that in our work force.
Russell Hobby: A similar example would be the presumption that new schools would be academies within a local area. The measures proposed in the Bill mean that, even if a local community very much wanted a particular type of community school, it is possible for the Secretary of State to have determined what sort of school they would get and who will win the competition for the academy status, in contradiction to the wishes of the local community. That is another area with which we have some problems.
Q 43 Tessa Munt: I would like to focus on the fact that we recognise that parents need to have a full part in students’ education. I should like to know your views on 24-hour detention. I say that in the light particularly of rural students, who do not have a public bus service on which they can rely and must therefore depend on school transport. Many parents will have access to e-mail or at least to a mobile phone, so an e-mail or a text could be sent. I should like your views on that.
The second thing I want to ask about is students and searching students. How do you envisage that training and support will be given to teachers and support staff who will be dealing with students on the autistic spectrum,
Brian Lightman: As far as detention is concerned, you are absolutely right that, in the majority of cases, you would give information to parents. You would tell them in advance. In fact, our advice would always be to tell parents in advance about a detention. The problem has been that one of the messages of a law which requires these things to happen is what the Secretary of State has referred to quite frequently as the “I know my rights” culture: “You can’t keep me in detention because you haven’t given me 24 hours’ notice.” This is what we have to get away from.
The message that this is giving is that schools maintain discipline and, if a child misbehaves and the school decides to put that child in detention, it has the right to do so. Our advice would always be to inform parents, and certainly we would be very wary of keeping a child in on a winter night or anything like that. People just would not do that, but at the same time the message is that the school maintains discipline. Schools will send a text message or something like that, but it is a question of freeing things up. That is the point on detentions.
Searches of this kind are against the child’s will, because often a child would agree to show you the contents of their phone if you were investigating something. Such a search would only be carried out in my view by a member of the very senior staff in the school, the leadership team of a school. At any school that I was head of, I would not want my staff to be searching mobile phones or children. Given precisely all the sorts of risks you have highlighted—certainly a special needs child—that would be a ridiculous way of dealing with things. We are talking about an extreme case that would have to be dealt with by senior staff under very controlled circumstances. Those staff will of course have undergone training in how to deal with such things, and by the nature of their roles they will have had training in how to deal with autistic children and so on.
Brian Lightman: No, I would not go that far. We are talking here about the most recalcitrant and difficult children who are in serious trouble at school and have refused to co-operate in any way. Having another adult present is one thing, but I do not think we would want another child to be present. If you ask children about this, the vast majority want schools to be orderly and safe places. They know these things are wrong. They have a very clear sense of right and wrong.
Russell Hobby: These are powers that can be used only in extreme situations, and in fact, particularly with detention, I imagine that very few schools would issue a detention without notice. There is no real harm in giving someone a power they choose not to use. The difficulty is when you claim dramatic effects from a power that people are unable to use because it is less appropriate.
I also think it is very important to ensure that although you are sending messages to parents and schools, you are also sending messages to other authorities. For example, the police may take a different view of someone’s choice to use the power to search someone without witnesses, and staff in schools may find themselves getting into trouble for that because the police may disagree with the DFE’s interpretation of what a teacher’s rights are, so that would be a worry.
Q 47 Kevin Brennan: You mentioned, Brian, that you would do a search only with another adult present, and in my experience as a teacher that is exactly the normal circumstances in which it would happen. Can you give us an example, because when a Government legislate to do something, it is important that it is practical, applicable, does not get teachers into trouble, and does not cause more problems than it was meant for, even if it wins a few good headlines about being tough on discipline? Can you give me an example of a circumstance when a power introduced in this Bill for a teacher—not just a member of senior staff—to conduct a search on a pupil of the opposite sex without witnesses present would be appropriate or necessary?
Brian Lightman: To see a clause to protect people in that way. It is safeguarding, isn’t it? You do not want to create a situation where someone is wide open to those sorts of risk, but the right to search is really important, and that must happen; so as long as that is possible, that is fine.
Q 50 Kevin Brennan: Just to be clear, the Bill introduces a right for any teacher to search a member of the opposite sex without a witness present. Is that something that the Bill should include in your opinion, for the record?
Brian Lightman: Again, it comes back to the discussion that goes through a lot of what we are talking about in education policy at the moment: whether you need to legislate for everything, or whether you rely on professionals to have a common-sense approach to such things. As I have said, I have been a head for 15 years. I cannot imagine a situation where I would sanction any of my staff searching a member of the opposite sex without a witness present. In fact, I wouldn’t allow anyone to search a member of the opposite sex, full stop.
Q 51 Dan Rogerson: Good morning. This is just a little bit of an unhappy St. David’s day for you. On exclusions, what do you think about where the Bill seeks to strike the balance between the need to look at the issues of discipline that you have talked about, and the rights of children—I wanted to avoid the term “rights of children”, but we must acknowledge that—particularly with regard to the concerns that have been raised in evidence submissions for children with special educational needs, such as autism?
Russell Hobby: It is right that exclusion should be a last resort, and it should be made as difficult as possible. It is also right that children should not be reinstated after their head teacher has made a decision to exclude someone. Financial sanctions attach when it is considered to have been wrong, and we must bear it in mind that by fining a school, you are not fining the head teacher; you are fining the other students in the school. You may ask the school to pick up the cost of the excluded student, but if you are applying an additional financial sanction to that, you are taking away from the other students in the school, so I do not think that that is appropriate.
I also think that although it is not entirely clear in the Bill, if this is a first step towards holding schools accountable for the funding and outcomes of students who have been excluded, it would be inappropriate to do that without schools also having control over the alternative provision for those students. Many years down the line, you could find yourself accountable for the performance of a student you excluded several years ago. The alternative provision could change. You may have no control over the quality of alternative provision in your area. That would seem to be holding people accountable for things they have no control over. That would be a concern.
Brian Lightman: I agree with all of that. Exclusions are a last resort. There is always a tension in relation to the need to exclude. We need to put this in perspective. We hear lots of things about multiple fixed-term exclusions. Permanent exclusions, which is what we are talking about here, are a very rare thing. However, they have to happen, and we must not have any deterrents that prevent schools from excluding in those cases, because as a parent, I and, I am sure, you would want your child to be protected from having people in school who are so disruptive.
I am very concerned about the idea of schools being held accountable for pupils whom they have excluded, because many of those pupils are involved in criminal activity and all kinds of things where it is completely beyond the control of a school to be able to help. They have done everything they possibly can.
The final point is that what needs to go on the other side of all this legislation about exclusions is doing something about the preventive work to support students who are at risk of exclusion long before they get anywhere near needing to be excluded. In my years of headship, I viewed exclusion every time as a failure. Luckily, I had very few of them, but when I had to do it, it was a failure, because everything else we had tried to do to prevent that student from being excluded had failed. I think that is what the vast majority of school leaders would believe.
Q 52 Julie Hilling: I want to pick up on two areas. One is about school support staff and getting rid of the national negotiations. What are the positives and negatives of getting rid of the national body?
Brian Lightman: There are no positives at all to getting rid of the support staff negotiating body. Support staff are incredibly important in our schools. The development we have had in the number of support staff and the roles they are able to carry out in schools has been a major factor in the success of our schools system. Sometimes there is not enough emphasis on that success. Those people have brought about many improvements. Their roles are very different from people who perhaps have slightly similar titles but work in local authorities in other ways. They have very different jobs and at the moment they have no national pay and conditions, very few protections and very little clarity about their working conditions, so I do not think there are any positives about removing that.
It is really important that something is put in place to ensure that we can have those people working in our schools and to recognise the crucial role they play at all levels, right up to leadership teams—we have many support staff in our membership of the ASCL. It is important that something is put in place so that they really are recognised and we can make it attractive to work in a school, where you need a multidisciplinary environment. In a modern school, you do not just need teachers; you need a multidisciplinary team.
Q 53 Julie Hilling: The other area is careers guidance. We currently have Connexions, but that appears to be disappearing and being replaced by independent careers advice. What do you think the structure should be? Should there be a structure outside schools and, if so, what should it be?
Brian Lightman: We very much welcome the introduction of an all-age advisory service, but we are very worried indeed about the lack of progress in putting that in place at a time when Connexions services are being dismantled and, at the same time, there are the problems of the EMA and university entrance. There has never been a more important time for students to have access to high-quality careers guidance. We have a number of concerns, which we have expressed in our written evidence, about this part of the Bill, because we think a proper programme of careers education and guidance is absolutely essential for a school. We need that to be underpinned and supported by this new all-age service, which needs to be put in place quickly, and with clarity and information to school leaders about what it will entail.
Russell Hobby: I agree with that, but I would add that data on the destinations of students coming from a school is very interesting information. I think every school should know all about it. If we are heading towards a point in time when you will create a league table or hold schools accountable for the career destinations of students, it would be a negative step. For how many different things, including the aspirations of families and the health of the local economy, will head teachers be responsible? Although we should know about it and have high ideals, the information should be used to help schools to evaluate themselves rather than to hold them accountable.
Brian Lightman: That is really essential. It is a major problem at the moment. Sometimes the best applicants for jobs in schools in subjects that, by way of example, perhaps have more of a vocational bias are FE trained. They have QTLS rather than QTS, and are not allowed to work in schools. Conversely, qualified teachers can work in colleges. We think that that is a major anomaly. It does not mean that they will work in schools, but at least they can apply for a job and be considered. If they are the best candidate, they can be appointed. We very much hope that that will be addressed very soon so that we can appoint the best people to work in our schools. That is a management decision within the school that does not need to be regulated by the clause.
Q 55 Stella Creasy: I just wanted to follow up on your comments about dealing with exclusions and what you might do beforehand. What are your views on the Bill repealing the behaviour and attendance partnerships? Do you think that it will be a helpful move? What else could be put in place to deal with the early interventions you talked about before we get to the stage of exclusions being on the table?
Russell Hobby: I get the argument that requiring someone to collaborate does not work in that sense because you get the body but not the spirit. Some reasons why pupils with special needs and other additional needs in schools have a higher rate of exclusion is that the schools do not have the resources, skills or the access to specialist support to give those students what they need. If we want to minimise the rate of exclusions but also ensure that they are used in as sensible a way as possible, it should be beholden upon groups of schools to work together both to offer other placements to schools—pupils are not always going to alternative provision but often going to another school—and to ensure that every school contributes equally to that. We should hold all of those schools accountable for the outcomes of students rather than one school. If we can get jointly accountable local collaboratives with some influence, which could set up alternative provision and steer and control it to suit their needs, it would be a step forward. In many ways, we need to go beyond where attendance and behaviour partnerships were, rather than step back from them.
Brian Lightman: I would agree with that. The feedback we have had quite consistently across the country from members is that behaviour partnerships were a very good thing. They have enabled schools to do a great deal of very effective proactive work. Lots of our members will want to continue with those things but, clearly, there is an issue of funding, which needs to be available. The other thing is that every area needs to have high-quality pupil referral unit provision, and that is not the case. It is very patchy. The other major problem, which we hope the Green Paper will deal with in some way, is access to specialist provision. Many of these children really desperately need specialist provision, for example child and adolescent mental health services, and access to that is woefully inadequate, as has been well documented elsewhere.
Brian Lightman: I think that issue there is that local authorities currently have a role in local strategic planning. We can have a long discussion about how effective that is in every area, and it is clearly very patchy. One thing that needs to be strategically planned in an area is provision for pupils with special educational needs. We worry a great deal about the system being fragmented so much that everybody is working independently and there is not a strategic provision to deal with the sorts of needs that students have. Our members are committed to working together to try to address those matters, but you need some infrastructure to achieve that.
Russell Hobby: If I understand correctly, the Bill has some provision to allow academies to have different arrangements for exclusion if the Secretary of State should nominate that. I do not think that that would be appropriate; every school should operate under the same policies for exclusion.
Q 57 Stephen McPartland: Just two quick questions. First, can you tell us how you communicated with your members to discuss the content of the Bill? Secondly, on balance, would you say that they would welcome it?
Russell Hobby: We have consulted our members through our branches and committee structure. We have a series of roadshows planned over the next few weeks—the first is next week—to go into detail on the Bill’s content. I think that, largely, they welcome the elements of the Bill. They are probably more favourably inclined to it than to the overall White Paper that surrounds it, particularly at the primary school level. They have some worries about the academy provisions, which the majority of our members regard as some of the most controversial aspects.
Brian Lightman: Similarly, we shared lots of information, and we ran a programme of information conferences before the Bill’s publication, but we have had branch meetings and so on since then. We have sent information out to members and have various mechanisms for them to feed that information back in. We also had a full discussion of the Bill at our national council, which has 75 elected representatives and members from all over the UK, so we have discussed almost every aspect of the Bill.
I cannot say a lot more than what I have put in the summary that we submitted to the Committee. Our members welcome many parts of the Bill, but on the detail—the sorts of matters that I have discussed—there are areas of concern, and we hope to be able to influence the Bill as it goes through.
I have two questions—one for Matt and David Pugh, and a separate one for David Smellie. The first is about the White Paper’s vision for local authorities as the champions of parents and pupils. Will Matt and Councillor David Pugh say something about how they see that working in practice? How can we make sure that there is enough capacity and that standards are high enough in local authority areas?
Matt Dunkley: I will start on the role of the local authority. We warmly welcomed the definition of the local authority’s role in the White Paper as being a champion for parents and families, promoting a good supply of strong schools, supporting vulnerable children and championing educational excellence. It is a measure of our disappointment that thus far in the Bill we cannot see some of those roles being writ large in the legislation. We strongly believe that those are the right roles for a local authority. We believe that the local authority will make the transition from being a provider to more of a commissioner. If it is to be a true and proper commissioner in terms of an upholder of standards as well as of supply, we would argue that some of the levers that we require, in relation to commissioning strong school improvement, to intervening when schools are not quite at the point of failure but heading towards decline, and to having a coherent and community-and-parent-friendly admissions picture across an area, some of the clauses in the Bill are unhelpful and some are missing. We strongly support the role as it is outlined in the White Paper, we just have a sense of disappointment that the Bill has not really provided the levers that are necessary to deliver on that vision.
Councillor Pugh: From a local authority perspective, no council should have anything much to fear from this Bill or from the White Paper. Local authorities have not been running schools for many years. In my own local authority area on Isle of Wight, we are set to become, from this autumn, the first area to be an entirely commissioned secondary model. All our schools will be academies or trust schools, which we very much welcome. We will be holding all of those schools, including the academies, to account through our scrutiny process. We feel that that strengthens our role in looking at the standards, securing sufficient high quality places and making sure that what we are accountable to the public for through the ballot box is addressed.
The strong and strategic role of the local authority, as the Secretary of State has described it, is something that we and many other local authorities are keen to fulfil.
David Smellie: I was asked about performance management systems. The problem with the current performance management system in schools is that it is over wieldy and, as a result, it has created an obstacle to managing performance of teachers in schools rather than something that has helped heads to do it. There is a very good study, which I would recommend anyone with time to read, that was done by the Manchester School of Management in 2002. Heads of maintained schools are interviewed. One union leader said:
As for some of the current statistics, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology discovered that in one academic teaching year, only 1.2% of teachers in maintained schools had any form of action or discussion about their performance with their head teacher. One finding of the study suggested that that was because heads did not want to deal with the procedure. Indeed, two thirds of maintained heads surveyed by UMIST said that they had never handled a performance case through a capability procedure. One good idea in the Bill is that of simplifying the performance management and capability procedures to reduce their length and bring them more in line with the ACAS code of practice. A good ACAS code of practice was introduced in 2009. It has gone down very well with the rest of employers and employees in the country, and I do not think that the school sector should necessarily set itself additional obstacles to those by which all other employers are bound.
Q 60 Kevin Brennan: Matt, I was reading your submission to the Committee. It is quite critical of the Bill in a number of respects. Will you quickly sum up for us what you think is wrong with the Bill?
Matt Dunkley: Needless to say, our submission focuses on those elements of the Bill that relate to the powers and role of local authorities. There are aspects of the Bill that we have not covered in our submission and with which we are completely comfortable. It comes back to the issue of the gap between the aspirations in the White Paper and the levers that are available in the Bill, and the possibly unintended consequences that could flow from some of the provisions in the Bill.
There is the issue of the removal of various duties on schools in relation to co-operation with Children’s Trust arrangements, or the children and young people’s plan and the duty of well-being, and such things. In and of themselves, as one of the earlier speakers said, the removal of compulsion does not matter. If you have to compel someone, to some degree you have lost the battle. However, we have seen a change in the role of schools.
Matt Dunkley: Where compulsion has occasionally worked and been needed is where schools are particularly reluctant to engage and can sometimes limit the opportunities of youngsters in that school in a way that they perhaps do not understand or accept. To give an example, a local area might decide to highlight the role of young carers within its children and young people’s plan and trust arrangements. Young carers are often a hidden group within schools, and in the absence of any mechanism to require schools to focus on that, there could be a real mismatch between schools and authorities. Some will be good at addressing those needs, while others will be completely blind to them. It is a question of the family of schools and the local community working together to try and address issues that are of common importance and priority.
Q 62 Kevin Brennan: I do not want a long or extended answer as you have given your concerns about the Bill in writing. I have one question for David Smellie. I notice from your biography that as well as advising schools on employment related matters, you are also an employment lawyer for staff and pupil disciplinary matters. The Bill introduces some interesting new powers for teachers such as the searching of pupils, and the confiscation of various items of contraband, including mobile phones, and the right to look at and delete the contents of those mobile devices. As a lawyer, could you give some sort of feel as to whether you think you will be making money out of cases arising from these clauses?
David Smellie: I would guess that at the moment, most of the money made out of such cases stems from confusion as to the legal position and what teachers can and cannot do in certain situations. I must confess that I have not studied those parts of the Bill in great detail, but I guess that if clarity is provided on what schools and teachers can do, that is likely to reduce the amount of legal costs and lawyers’ fees.
David Smellie: Well, I suppose the issues are going to be data protection law and privacy law. There may even be some interception of communications law as well, but it seems to me that provided those laws have been
Q 64 Mr Wright: I have two brief points of inquiry, particularly to Councillor Pugh and Matt. The first is about careers and Connexions. In the light of budget pressures in the local government sector at the moment, presumably local authorities are laying off Connexions staff. Given the delay between where we are now—we could be four weeks away from redundancies—and Royal Assent to the Bill and the establishment of the all-age careers service, do you think that there is a risk that we will not be able to get the infrastructure and professional expertise with respect to careers that the Bill wants?
Councillor Pugh: I see this as an opportunity for local authorities to take a refreshed approach to careers advice. For too long, we have relied on schools to provide much of that advice. Notwithstanding the fact that we have had the Connexions service, too many pupils have focused on getting that advice from schools, where it has often been weighted towards staying in school or doing something where money follows the learner if the pupil decides to stay there.
Many local authorities, including ours, are looking to use the opportunity of the change, albeit within a tightened financial envelope, to provide a different type of service that draws skills from the schools but integrates them with other council services to provide the advice and expertise that young people need. Much of that is still developing, but I do not see it as a barrier to legislation of this nature coming forward. Connexions is quite separate from the Bill, but it is something that all local authorities are having to look at.
Q 65 Mr Wright: But you see this as an opportunity for local government. You do not see contained within other aspects of the Bill—it is essentially moving away from the local authority sector as part of the education family—
Councillor Pugh: We are not protectionist; we do not say that the local authority must run all careers advice itself. Other people can bring their skills and advice to the table, as we see around the country, as long as young people are getting quality, independent and detailed advice. That is what we want to see, and different solutions will work best in different parts of the country.
Q 66 Mr Wright: The second part of my question is about clause 69 raising the participation age, which is important but often overlooked. The Government have pledged to continue raising the participation age, but as part of the Bill, it is watered down immensely. Again, local authorities have other budgetary and strategic pressures. This is not important to you now, is it? That essentially means that raising the participation age in 2013 and 2015 will not happen. Is that a correct, fair and honest assessment?
Matt Dunkley: The short answer is that the picture is not the same everywhere. My authority is a trailblazer for raising the participation age, under the old scheme, for 2013, and we are certainly pleased that we can still continue with that, because it is a vital part of our work around economic regeneration to look at NEETs and
If I can very briefly answer your first question, I believe that the Bill correctly addresses a problem that needs to be addressed in its provision about careers and Connexions, but the risk you have identified of a gap is absolutely real, as the previous speakers said.
Councillor Pugh: Generally, we all want to see more young people get a good, high-quality education. Even in my community, we are seeing more young people choosing to take vocational or academic routes to a higher age, which is to be welcomed.
One thing that we welcome is the Government’s commitment to moving away from academic diplomas, which seem to be a duplication of what takes place with the more formal GCSE and A-level qualifications. There will be a good range, and we are certainly pressing ahead in our area with some more vocational diplomas; we are working with local businesses and bringing those opportunities forward for local young people. I do not see anything being a barrier to that taking place. Yes, there are the wider debates around EMA and what will be put in its place, but we are not seeing evidence of young people pulling back from participating and continuing to receive a broader range of education opportunities than before.
Q 68 Dan Rogerson: I particularly want to ask Councillor Pugh about something in the LGA’s submission; it is about the role of LEA governors and provisions made under the Bill to allow governing bodies to look at their structure and the groups that they represent. Would you care to illustrate?
Councillor Pugh: We are concerned at the proposal to remove the requirement to appoint an LEA governor to the governing body of a maintained school. We believe that it is a vital link, but there is also a role for local authorities to provide better clarity on what the LEA governor should do as a member of that governing body. All too often, that has been the case in our area. The LEA governor has not been there as an advocate for the local authority, ensuring that the local authority’s commitment to standards and what it is trying to drive through across the whole area is taken to that school and that the school is held to account for that. Often they become spokesmen for the school to the local authority.
Clearly, that relationship will be two-way, but all of us in the local authority feel the need to provide greater clarity. If we can offer that to the Government, perhaps they will review their proposal to remove the requirement for an LEA governor. If the local authority is to have the strong and strategic role that the Secretary of State has talked of, there needs to be that link to all schools. Even where schools sit outside the local authority family, such as academies and free schools, clearly we still need to link into them and ensure that they are providing the best opportunities for young people and the best choice
Q 69 Meg Munn: One concern about the arrangements brought in by the previous Government for children’s services is that safeguarding and child protection matters would be lost because of the predominance of education issues. I would be interested to hear your views on safeguarding and how the local authority role is to proceed, given the likelihood of a greater number of academies and the concerns about child protection that arise as a result of changes made under the Bill, particularly on searching pupils and the removal of notice for detention.
Councillor Pugh: Even with some of the changes that are coming forward, there is still a clear duty on local authorities to ensure the welfare and protection of children in their area, and that includes working with academies. None of us needs to be anxious about the role that academies may play; it will clearly be as much a priority for them as it is for us. I am sure that the Government are clear about that when appointing them as academy providers.
Under the arrangements for the post Children’s Trust, particularly with the changes proposed on that front, we see child protection sitting under the wider responsibilities of the health and well-being board, which has been brought forward at local level. Our local perspective on it is that there will be a children’s element that would oversee the safeguarding role and also link to the local safeguarding children board. I see no dilution of that role for the local authorities; nor do I see any of the school providers not wanting to play a part in that.
We could perhaps be too anxious about not so many duties being placed on local authorities and schools to do this, but the fact is that child protection is everyone’s business. That has been drummed into us, particularly given some of the tragic and high-profile cases that we have seen over the years., It is not that no one will want to take that role seriously. From our experience, all our new providers, and particularly the academies, are very keen to make that work and to be part of an integrated approach at the local level.
Matt Dunkley: I would only add that one of the things that has improved greatly in schools over the last five or six years has been the recognition of child protection and dealing with child protection issues. I would not want to see any of that trend reversed. A fair proportion of the big increase in referrals to duty and assessment teams in the past three or four years have come from schools, partly as a result of better training and better connection into child protection awareness and child protection actions. I would not want to see anything that diluted that.
The local safeguarding board has a critical role, in the relationship that it establishes with the health and well-being board in an area and in ensuring that all school providers have a basic minimum quality standard for child protection. That should be achievable if the governance structures are right at that level.
Q 70 Meg Munn: This issue was discussed with the last two sets of witnesses. Do you have a view about the advisability of teachers who are members of the opposite sex searching children or young people without another person being there?
Q 71 Meg Munn: The other thing—someone gave the example of carers—is that I have a particular concern about young carers who may not necessarily be known to schools, for all sorts of reasons and despite schools’ best efforts. No-notice detention could put young carers in very difficult and vulnerable situations.
Matt Dunkley: We have not discussed that as an association. My personal view is that, for some groups of children, that could be very problematic. I would expect a school to be very careful about exercising that power. Obviously, if it exercised it without the knowledge that someone was a young carer, that might produce a safeguarding issue.
Q 72 Mr Hayes: You have spoken of the necessity, in responding to the drive to increase participation to the age of 18, of an offer that is relevant. In those terms, how do you see the Government’s very strong commitment to apprenticeships? How do you see the local authority role for economic development and your role for young people in supporting that commitment?
Councillor Pugh: From our local authority perspective, we are very supportive of the apprenticeships. Providing opportunities for those work-based learning opportunities that have disappeared over the years is long overdue. The role of the local authority is crucial in that.
That ties in with the comment that I made earlier that, rather than having the money for post-16 opportunities channelled through a new funding agency, the opportunity to do that should be through the local authority, so that we can provide oversight—not control, but oversight. A commissioning role on how that is provided is crucial.
At a local level, we work particularly with our chambers of commerce in identifying businesses to provide those apprenticeship opportunities. We had a very successful fair, which we organised in conjunction with them recently, where businesses were champing at the bit to participate in the scheme, because they want new recruits. They see the opportunity of work-based learning, particularly in the current economic climate, as a way to bring people on at minimal cost to start with, to build them up and to develop their skills. That is particularly relevant in a community where we seek to raise aspiration and give more young people an opportunity in a community where that may not previously have existed.
Matt Dunkley: I would agree with that. The apprenticeship provisions are welcome. As I said, if the local authority is to play a meaningful commissioning role, it is very important that it should have the levers to do that commissioning properly. I am not sure that they do, in their entirety, at the moment. Local authorities are well positioned to co-ordinate the schemes. It is very important that they are not over-bureaucratised and do not become an impediment rather than a help. In order for those things to happen effectively, they have got to be commissioned properly across the whole range of post-16 opportunities.
Q 73 Mr Hayes: On a separate matter, you raised the subject of careers. I welcome your comments about the all-age careers service, and your points about its independence and the importance of creating more balanced advice. Of course, you know that local authorities retain their responsibility under the 2008 Act. How would you see that marrying with the new service? What are local authorities going to do to ensure that their responsibility for engagement, as defined in that Act, is married with the all-age service?
Councillor Pugh: I hope that the Government would give us the opportunity to do that in a flexible manner, as I touched on before. We want to ensure that sufficient and independent high-quality advice is provided to young people. Clearly, we are working within a challenging financial envelope, in terms of the money made available to local authorities.
Again, that links back to my point about channelling money through the local authority for post-16 education. We believe that that can be provided in a cost-effective way for the local taxpayer, but it needs to tie in with other things that we are doing at that level and it does not have to be provided directly by the local authority. A number of agencies out there provide good, high-quality advice to young people.
Tying that in with our approach to secondary education as a whole, we would be very much looking to commission that and invite tenders for people to provide that service, rather than necessarily providing it all in-house ourselves. We would still, however, retain responsibility and ultimately, accountability, for that quality of service and we would set out a clear specification for what we wanted from any such provider.
The first point is about the children’s trusts’ responsibility to improve well-being. Schools have taken that very seriously in recent years. There has been a significant rise in the number of child protection referrals to local authorities from schools and there has been a consequent reduction in the number of serious case reviews in the middle years—in those years between a child’s starting school and in year 8, where other risk factors become apparent.
My understanding—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—is that the major reason behind removing the duty to co-operate relates to reducing the bureaucracy for schools. On the balance of reducing the bureaucracy for schools and the consequent knock-on effect for serious case reviews, where would you say that that balance lies?
Matt Dunkley: Schools are on the front line of the child protection system, because they are a universal service and they see children every day. That is why it is so important that they are key players in the child protection system. In terms of the relationship between that and the wider children’s trust and well-being provisions, it is about establishing—or in this case disestablishing, possibly, through removing these duties—a landscape where schools are placed at the centre of children’s lives in relation to everything, not only their educational attainment. Safeguarding is one aspect of that.
Depending on the interpretation by schools and inspectors, there could be a negative effect, or there could not. It will depend on the interpretation at school level and by inspectors, in terms of the well-being provision. However, the message that it gives out to schools, and we are already receiving it at local authorities, is that, “We do not have to be so concerned with that stuff any more, because there is a Bill that says we do not.” That could be dangerous and it would be regrettable.
In the final analysis, there are lots of reasons why the partnerships will continue. In most authorities, they will continue with very willing people on a voluntary, rather than statutory, basis. The concerns, however, come when there are those outliers who really do not want to play with the system as it should be, and where there will be little or no power to require them to do so.
Councillor Pugh: If I could add this point. Just because there is not a bureaucratic duty to co-operate does not mean that there is not an expectation of co-operation. My experience is that we will not see schools not wanting to participate in the process. One of the benefits of having had a duty over the years is that it has perhaps embedded that culture within schools, and we can now release them from the shackles of being told to do that, with some of the associated bureaucracy, and actually move to a relationship where schools, as they have demonstrated over the years, will co-operate and take part in the early flagging up of particular issues and child protection concerns. We will continue to see that happening without a formal duty being placed on them to do so. I do not think that any provider or head would want, or even seek, to neglect that duty or responsibility.
Q 75 Mark Hendrick: My question is aimed at David Smellie. In response to a question from Kevin Brennan, you said that clarity in law was very important to make legal challenges less likely in future. On the question about teachers being able to search pupils of the opposite sex without another teacher being present, clearly representatives of head teachers, and, I think, Matt himself, said that that was a bad idea. Do you think that it is important, therefore, that that should be precluded in the legislation, so that such a bad practice would be less likely?
David Smellie: One of the first things that a local authority will think about when considering a child protection issue will be what remit the member of staff was working under at the time. Where a member of school staff is doing something that is in some shape or form inappropriate with the child, and where that goes outwith that individual’s duties, we are obviously slap bang into clear child protection policy.
I can see that there is a tension where a statutory provision allows a teacher of one sex to carry out a search of a pupil of another sex. Equally, one has to accept that given the sorts of things that can go on inside schools—the sorts of child protection issues that can arise among the pupil body itself, with electronic communication implements—there is a real need, actually, for schools to be able sometimes to search a locker or search a pupil, and there may not be an opportunity to stand back. I appreciate that it is a fine balance, but sometimes schools do need to be able to act quite swiftly.
David Smellie: Okay, for the sake of argument, a female pupil has a mobile phone in her hand with what appears to be a very compromising photograph on it of another pupil, which has been sent to her, and the teacher says “I’d like to have a look at your mobile phone.” That is still a search, in law.
Mark Hendrick: Well you made the point about this being obviously a very lucrative area for lawyers if it is not laid out quite clearly what is allowable and what is not. You seem now to be hedging one way or another.
Q 78 Stephen McPartland: Do you think teachers are prepared to have the power to say “I’m allowed to search you,” rather than actually having to restrain the pupil? Do you think they would prefer to have the power to say “We can search you; you’ve got to hand over whatever it is you’ve got”—like a knife—as opposed to having to restrain that pupil?
David Smellie: Do I think teachers would prefer to be able to search rather than restrain while someone else comes along to carry out a search? I honestly do not know what teachers’ view on that would be. I imagine the teachers’ unions would have a view on that.
Q 79 Mr Stuart: Mr Smellie, you said you welcomed the provisions that would make performance management easier to carry out. Can you tell us what those provisions in the Bill are, how you think they will help, and whether there are any other changes that need to be made by the Government to ensure that teaching can be performance-managed as effectively as what someone—I do not know if it was you or someone else—earlier called the real world outside?
David Smellie: I think that in general terms the Bill is seeking a simplification of the teacher performance-management and capability system, so as to reduce the amount of time being spent on such cases. I believe that under the current system it typically takes something like 18 months to go from the start to the end of a capability process. That in itself has been one factor in head teachers not being willing to go down that route. My understanding is that the Bill seeks to curtail that procedure and bring it more in line with the ACAS code of practice.
It might be relevant here just to explain one thing that the Government did four or five years ago. For employers at large, the then Government introduced a statutory disciplinary procedure that applied to all employers. That was quite a directive disciplinary procedure, and its intention was to simplify the handling of performance and conduct cases by laying it all down in quite some detail. Unfortunately, its effect was completely the opposite. Having put down quite detailed procedures, it resulted in a huge over-complication of the process and brought,
Q 80 Mr Stuart: The Secretary of State will keep a list of those who are guilty of serious misconduct. Should that list include those who have been removed for incompetence, particularly as so few actually are?
David Smellie: Incompetent? I personally do not think that it should. One of the findings of some of the research that has been carried out in this area has been that the process of requiring schools to refer teachers removed for performance and competency reasons to the General Teaching Council acted as a disincentive for head teachers to go down a performance process in the first place, because there is a natural human reaction to think, “I may be sacking this person, but I don’t necessarily want to remove their career in its entirety.” Hence, it created that disincentive. I think the Bill does the correct thing by not going down the incompetence referral route.
Q 81 Kevin Brennan: We heard earlier that powers are being introduced, which, although probably practically unusable in most circumstances, may send an important signal on discipline and behaviour. Is it possible that the removal of certain duties to co-operate, including the ones on safeguarding you mentioned earlier and those on admissions to schools, could also send a signal that might influence schools’ behaviour in the wrong way?
Matt Dunkley: I would say that that was possible. As to whether it is likely, I think the issue is about checks and balances. If you are going to introduce a range of new freedoms and take requirements away from schools, we still need someone to carry out a system of checks and balances, refereeing the system. At the moment it feels as if local authorities are being condemned to be referees without a whistle in the system.
Q 82 Richard Fuller: My colleague, Ms Munn, was talking about a large proportion of schools in a local authority area becoming academies. I would like to ask Mr Dunkley a couple of questions about his members. What conflicts do you think there might be for directors of children’s services as increasing numbers of schools under their local authority move to become academies or free schools? Do you think that there is a risk that they might go through the processes in slow motion? What guidance or best practice do you issue to your members so that the transition can occur smoothly?
Matt Dunkley: It is really tricky because of the way in which the funding reduction system works with the new academy status and new academy bills. The advice that we have issued to our members and that we have pressed upon the Secretary of State is to allow us, if academy
Q 83 Stella Creasy: I have a quick question for Councillor Pugh on a completely separate subject. Clause 59 makes provision for local authority owned land to be transferred. It essentially turns local authority assets that you might be holding for schools into assets to be sold off. I do not know whether you or your members have made an assessment of this and the impact it might have on the provision of school buildings either within the maintained sector or, indeed, on your book value.
Councillor Pugh: Each local authority has to look at its current school sites within its wider property portfolio, and it is up to those local authorities to determine at a local level how they wish to use those in the future. We made the commitment at a local level as part of our school reorganisation process that any capital receipts from school sites would be re-invested into services for children and young people, because we wanted to convince people that that is an approach that we are using appropriately for the needs of young people in the wider area. Ultimately, that has to be a matter for local authorities to determine—if there are wider powers in terms of the school sites.
Q 84 Stella Creasy: So you would be against that power being taken away from you and the Secretary of State having the power to determine where that land goes and where the money goes. It says that it will go to the academies. It will be directly transferred.
Councillor Pugh: Clearly, where schools become academies, those school sites then transfer out of local authority control. We have two school sites set to do that this autumn. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck. If schools are going down that route and the local authority is comfortable that that can work effectively under that academy set up, local authorities should be relaxed about that. There is a need to explore this particular area further, because if it does not tie in with an authority-wide approach to school sites and the wider property base, it could become disjointed. I am not saying that we are opposed to that.
Councillor Pugh: There needs to be the opportunity for the local authority to have a discussion with Government about how that is best used, so that we are not losing sites that are of particular value for educational purposes, or not getting best value for money out of the future use of those sites and any capital receipts.
Q 86 Mr Stuart: The ADCS says that, because parents and the Secretary of State will be able to request an inspection, so should local authorities if they are to have this role as champions of local people and commissioner in chief. Do you agree with that view, David?
Councillor Pugh: People should be able to make representations with regard to interventions in schools. Parents can make those points to the local authority.
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 2nd March 2011|