Session 2010-11
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Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 77



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Education Committee

on Wednesday 2 February 2011

Members present:

Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)

Nic Dakin

Pat Glass

Damian Hinds

Charlotte Leslie

Ian Mearns

Tessa Munt

Craig Whittaker

Examination of Witness

Witness: Dr Ian Craig, Chief Schools Adjudicator, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Dr Craig, good morning. Thank you very much for joining us today, following your annual report, which is the second since you took up office.

Dr Craig: Indeed, but from my first complete year as Chief Adjudicator.

Q2 Chair: Dr Craig, how much good does your office do?

Dr Craig: That’s an interesting first question. I think we do an awful lot of good. We are there to solve disputes between admission authorities and local authorities, whether they are the admission authority or not, and particularly parents. The one big message in the report this year, which the press didn’t run with, is that 92% of all of our referrals this year, particularly for admissions cases, were from parents. I think that is brilliant. I started off my press conference on 1 November by saying to the press, "If you report nothing else from this conference, please report that," and they didn’t. We resolve issues, we put right wrongs, and I believe that we are essential to put fairness into the system.

Q3 Chair: Why do you need to inject fairness into the system? Why isn’t it inbuilt? Why are the incentives not there?

Dr Craig: I think, inevitably, with 20,000-odd schools in England, of which about a third-6,000 or so-are their own admission authority, they all have their own ideas of how to interpret legislation, regulations and the admissions code. I don’t think there are many that deliberately go out of their way to evade the code, legislation or regulation, but there are disagreements about how some of the issues can be put into practice. We’re there when those disagreements can’t be resolved locally. Of course, most of the disagreements are resolved locally. They continue to be resolved locally. For example, we only carried out 151 determinations on admissions last year, again remembering that there are 6,000 or so own admissions authority schools and 152 local authorities. Most of those issues are sorted out locally.

Q4 Chair: Would you care to estimate how many schools deliberately try to flout the admissions regulations? Would you estimate that the number of schools seeking to do so is constant, diminishing or growing?

Dr Craig: Remember, as you quite rightly said at the beginning, I’ve only been in the job for 18 months or so, although I’ve been involved in admissions for much longer than that. I think successive codes have pointed out to everybody what is right and what isn’t right in terms of admissions, and I think there is less wriggle room now than there ever was before.

Q5 Chair: What’s your greatest frustration in your role?

Dr Craig: I don’t have too many frustrations in the role.

Q6 Chair: So if you became Secretary of State and you were in charge, and you inherited a departmental review of the role of your office, its powers, its limitations and its remit, there is nothing that you would change?

Dr Craig: There is very little that I would change from what we are doing now. I would certainly put in place the extension of our powers to academies and free schools, which, as you know, is in the Bill. Personally, I think that for the last 10 years we’ve worked up to a very good admissions code. I believe that needs to be more accessible, but I certainly wouldn’t water down many of the things in it. Basically, what we’ve got now, but with the addition of academies and free schools, only because I believe that parents and others have the right to have a single system and to know what the system is if they wish to object to any admissions criteria.

Chair: Thank you. Over to you, Nic.

Q7 Nic Dakin: Thank you, Chair. Taking into account what you just said, Dr Craig, what’s your reaction to the restriction of your powers proposed in the Education Bill published this week?

Dr Craig: I personally think that’s a pity-the suggested removal of section 88J of the 1998 Act, which is the bit that would remove our powers, when we have a referral, to go wider than that referral if we see other things that we believe to be wrong with admissions arrangements. Up until this point, since that power was given to us by the 2006 Act, we have been able to change other parts of the admissions arrangements. I think it’s a great pity that we won’t be able to do that.

Q8 Nic Dakin: So that’s been a useful power?

Dr Craig: I think it’s been a useful power.

Q9 Nic Dakin: Could you give us some examples of where that has been beneficial?

Dr Craig: We’ve used it in-as I understand from having done my homework for today-43% of the referrals that we had last year. We looked more broadly than just the referral, and we found other things wrong with admissions arrangements. In one particular school, we found 26 other contraventions of regulations within the admissions arrangements. I know for a fact that it was 26, because the adjudicator started by labelling them A, B and C and thought he was going to run out, but he managed to get to Z. That was rather extreme. Very often, it is just the odd one, and it is usually about fairness and interpretation. Most of our work is about interpretation of the code or regulations, which is what I said to the Chair initially.

I think the vast majority of admissions authorities-although you asked me to put a figure on it, Chair, I didn’t, because I don’t know-if they are breaching the rules, don’t mean to be doing so. Most admissions authorities have welcomed it when we point out something that we don’t think is quite right. Most of them turn round to us and say, "Thank you for that-it saves us being challenged later on." I believe that the removal of section 88J will just leave the way open for future challenges to those admissions authorities, year on year.

Q10 Nic Dakin: Going back to the Chair’s question, if you were Secretary of State, you would not be introducing those changes in the Bill?

Dr Craig: I wouldn’t, no. The only changes I would be introducing, as I said to the Chair, is the extension of our role to take on academies and free schools. I don’t think that I would be taking out any of the admissions changes suggested in the Bill.

Q11 Nic Dakin: What would the consequences be of those changes you welcome in relation to academies and free schools, in terms of your work?

Dr Craig: I believe that there should be one system and I have said that consistently in my past two reports. It seems strange. I remember writing a letter very early on to the previous Secretary of State using the word "daft", because I thought that would get his attention. Parents have used that term-a parent said to me, "This is daft," when we said, "I’m sorry, we can’t look at academy referrals, because they have to go to the Secretary of State," under the system as it was then; subsequently, they have gone to the YPLA. As you probably know, the previous Secretary of State put in a halfway house for us, which means that although referrals go to the YPLA, they have been, since last April, referred back to us for a recommendation back to the YPLA; if the YPLA agrees, it can do so on behalf of the Secretary of State, and if it doesn’t, the referral goes to the Secretary of State to make a decision on whether he accepts our recommendation. It is a vast improvement that all state-funded schools will now be treated the same, if the Bill goes through.

Chair: It just goes to show that being daft isn’t necessarily bad for your career, because he is now the shadow Chancellor.

Q12 Ian Mearns: The Bill also implies that there is no longer a requirement for a local authority to establish an admissions forum. Do you see that creating any particular problems for your role and for fair admissions across the board?

Dr Craig: I can answer that in two ways. As you can see from the recommendations in my annual report last year, I believe, and I committed myself to believing, that admissions forums are good things. It commits all admissions authorities in an area-however we define the area; it doesn’t necessarily have to be a local authority area-to sit around a table and talk over their problems.

Can I park that for a second and just refer you over to fair access? We only had 11 referrals last year on pupil directions because of fair access protocols, which is where local groups of admissions authorities sit around tables and sort out issues locally. They are resolving those differences at local level; they don’t come to us. In my view, that’s what admissions forums do when they are functioning best.

My report says that I have been disappointed that many admissions authorities don’t seem to have done much of that in the past. In my report this year, I named only one local authority, which was Devon, and that was to do with its admissions forum report. In my view, it was a model of not just looking at what was going on locally and co-ordinating local issues in terms of admissions and dealing with them, but of, at the end of the year, putting forward recommendations to the schools, the local authority, and indeed, the Secretary of State on how things could be improved. Unfortunately, although admissions forums have had the opportunity to submit a report to me annually, I believe only seven of them out of 152 did so this year. That is a problem. So the simple answer to your question is, I think they are needed more and more now as we seem to be having more and more admissions authorities. Unfortunately, the model that has been operating over the past few years has not been as successful as I would have hoped in many authorities.

Q13 Damian Hinds: Dr Craig, I want to talk about faith schools. To be clear, 97% of such schools are either Anglican or Catholic-with more C of E at primary level and more Catholic at secondary level. There is a feeling among some commentators that those schools exist as a way for parents to get their children into a selective school by the back door. That feeling is heightened by press headlines such as, "Faith schools ‘biased towards middle-classes’", "Faith schools ‘skewing admissions rules’", and "Faith school admissions ‘unfair to immigrants’". You will recognise those headlines from the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian immediately after the publication of your report. In your report itself, there is very little mention of faith schools.

Dr Craig: Correct.

Q14 Damian Hinds: But somehow, between then and the press stories coming out via the press conference, the story had become one about bell ringing. You are reported in those articles as saying, "You might have in a middle class area a lot of women who aren’t going to work who might be able to go in and clean the church… It may well be in a more working class area there isn’t that ability. We’ve come across some issues where that sort of thing, we feel, benefits the white middle-class area and doesn’t necessarily benefit some of the immigrant children that might live in the community." Now, some time after the event, do you regret either having said that, or that your comments were reported in that way?

Dr Craig: I regret the way they were reported. That comment, which I believe I did make-I cannot remember my exact words, but I am sure I used words like that-was part of a discussion that was taking place in a room full of people. I raised an issue about what I sometimes consider to be inappropriate admissions criteria and points systems. I refused to give an example; an example came from the floor from a reporter who said, "I have an example of a school that gave additional points for bell ringing." I said, "Well, I have not come across that, but if I did come across it, I would probably think that it was inappropriate." We then got into the discussion from where those comments arose.

Q15 Damian Hinds: But you did talk about volunteer church cleaners. I don’t know how many volunteer church cleaners you know, but of those you do, how would you describe their demographic profile?

Dr Craig: I don’t know many of them at all.

Q16 Damian Hinds: And how on earth did you conclude that recognition in a school points system for people who clean churches, for example, discriminates against non-white people?

Dr Craig: That was part of the debate-only partly reported in the press-about how some activities that were scored by some schools in points systems could be used and might differentiate between different groups of people, sometimes in favour of-to use the term-working class people, and sometimes in favour of middle class people. It may have been a bad example.

Q17 Damian Hinds: In terms of ethnicity, are you familiar with the ethnic composition of, say, the Catholic population of this country versus the average population?

Dr Craig: Generally, I think yes.

Q18 Damian Hinds: Are you aware that Catholic secondary schools heavily over-index on, for example, black children and other non-British white children?

Dr Craig: Indeed. In many areas, yes.

Q19 Damian Hinds: Would you say that it is true that-as your comments seem to suggest-children from Catholic families, for example, are more likely to be middle class and wealthy, or would you say that the opposite is true?

Dr Craig: Obviously, it varies from one area to another.

Q20 Damian Hinds: Given that journalists were obviously going to pick up on faith schools because they always do so when it comes to schools admissions, on reflection, and if you had been writing the press reports, what would have been a more representative headline to describe the faith schools situation today?

Dr Craig: It would be something about how, for some faith schools-I was not labelling all of them-we have evidence that they have inappropriate points systems in place that are not necessarily objective, which could relate to some sections of the community rather than others. I would not have used the terms middle class or working class, and I certainly would not have used eastern European.

Q21 Damian Hinds: Thank you. In the report itself, you say, "'Issues have arisen again this year involving Voluntary Aided schools and diocesan authorities"-that is my own emphasis-"using faith criteria and associated points systems that fall outside" the allowable definitions of the code. Specifically speaking of diocesan authorities, can you give some examples of that? Can you suggest who would be better qualified than a diocesan authority to establish what constitutes religious practice and observance?

Dr Craig: If I can give you one example, it is date of baptism. In this country, it is fairly common for some diocesan authorities, and certainly some Roman Catholic schools, to give additional points, where they have a points system, for baptism within the first three or six months. In some communities that is not the case. The point that I made at the press conference, which was not picked up on, was that this could be discriminatory. We have come across that in one particular school, where we had that discussion with the school and the diocesan authority, and they changed their points system to pull it into line.

Q22 Damian Hinds: Overall, who do you think is better placed to understand the religious practices and observances of countries other than this one within their own faith? Would you say that it was diocesan authorities, or the Office of the Schools Adjudicator?

Dr Craig: I think it’s a combination. I respect the diocesan authorities very highly-I think the faith authorities are doing a very good job in education at the moment-but at times, I think they need to be reminded of some other parts of the code and of regulations and legislation, which may need to be considered when they are putting their thoughts in process.

Q23 Damian Hinds: Obviously, denominational schools are often going to be heavily over-subscribed. Faith schools in general have CVA scores of around 1005. The standard is 1000, of course, and the average is 1000.9. Catholic schools are higher again at 1006.6. There will always be a lot of people trying to get into them. How do you think denominational schools should apply over-subscription criteria?

Dr Craig: Basically, objectively and relating, as legislation says, to membership and practice of the faith or denomination. It is how that is interpreted that is the issue. I have an issue that I want to tease out. I will use a different example from the one that you gave me, which is of a points system in a faith school that says that additional points will be given for "charitable works", with no definition of what charitable works means and no discussion on paper of how many points different charitable works will carry.

A different points system-this was for a Roman Catholic school-gave points for being "at the heart" of the church, being "attached to" the church or being "known to" the church. What the code and regulations say is that any points system, if employed, must be objective, and parents must be able to ascertain how easy it is for them to meet whatever criteria they need to meet. I would say that if you are not giving objective measures of being at the heart of the church, being attached to the church or being known to the church, that is not necessarily objective and it is not necessarily giving parents a real view of how accessible that school is to them.

Q24 Damian Hinds: Do you accept that if you talk about a denominational school, which is often attached to a church-they are in a sense, at the heart of the church-you are not necessarily looking for parents to change their behaviour in order for their children to go to the school? In fact, I would have thought that is perhaps exactly what they do not want. They are trying to identify children who specifically have not had parents who have changed their behaviour and tried to bend the rules, but actually are C of E, Catholic, or whatever and are practising in that faith and are part of the Church overall, as well as the physical church that is near the school. Presumably, it is one of the things that is rather difficult to codify and have a tick-box system, as though, if you do this, you are more attached to the church than not. Anybody who is in that church-a priest, a vicar, a teacher or a head teacher-will know it when they see it.

Dr Craig: It’s not objective, is it? The code and regulation very clearly say that the criteria, if you’re using the system, have to be objective. Remember that it comes back to membership and practice of the faith or denomination-nothing outside of that.

Q25 Damian Hinds: I’m almost done, Chair. Of all the cases processed by your office last year, what percentage was solely or primarily to do with faith criteria for admissions?

Dr Craig: Forty-five out of the 151 determinations on admissions related to own-admission faith schools.

Q26 Damian Hinds: So that’s about 65% to 70%.

Dr Craig: Yes. I can break that down a bit more. Of those, 23 were related to information on supplementary information forms, for example, so that is very clearly relating to faith schools and faith criteria; and 12 of that 45 were related to clarity and complexity of the criteria.

Q27 Damian Hinds: So that’s 12 or 23 out of 6,753 religious schools in this country.

Dr Craig: Yes.

Q28 Damian Hinds: Can I make a request, as my final question, that in next year’s report, given the publicity that was attached to this year’s report, the office makes strenuous additional efforts to put into context the extent of this problem, and the extent to which there is not a problem in clearly the vast majority of cases?

Dr Craig: I’m very happy to take that on board. Indeed, I have already written a note to myself before today. When the newspapers came out after the press conference, I wrote a note to myself to say that that is what I have to do next year.

Damian Hinds: Thank you very much.

Q29 Pat Glass: Before I move on to aptitude testing, can I quickly follow up on Damian’s points? Do you think that the issues around faith schools and admissions are geographical? I have managed admissions in different parts of the country and what I found was that some of the practices that I saw in Catholic schools in London shamed me, as a practising Catholic. Would you say that it’s geographical, or is that just my incorrect perception?

Dr Craig: I wouldn’t say that it was geographical, but I would only not say so because I haven’t done that analysis.

Q30 Pat Glass: Perhaps it’s something that you could look at, because I did not find that in other parts of the country.

Dr Craig: We could certainly look at that. It’s easy enough to pull those data off the cases.

Q31 Pat Glass: I would also say that my view was that the issues were about over-subscription.

Dr Craig: I’d agree with that. I think that my basic tenet is that most parents want a good local school-I emphasise the good and the local. Yes, some parents want faith schools specifically, but in general terms, parents want good local schools, and they’ll do their utmost to get into them.

Q32 Pat Glass: Moving on to aptitude testing, of the 387 cases that your office looked at in 2009-10, how many involved the issue of aptitude testing?

Dr Craig: Nineteen out of 151 were referred for aptitude.

Q33 Pat Glass: Right. Given the well documented difficulties in distinguishing between aptitude and ability-I understand that it is really difficult: a child can be generally good across all areas and have high ability, and yet still have an aptitude in one particular area-should aptitude tests be abolished?

Dr Craig: What I don’t want is for this to be taken as a comment about selection, because I have no view on that as Chief Adjudicator. However, if selection is to be in place, we find it very difficult to differentiate between aptitude and ability, so I would prefer that distinction to go. We adjudicate on whatever the regulations are, so if selection is in place we will use our offices to relate to that. Before coming here today, I looked up "aptitude"-I only had a Concise Oxford English Dictionary on my bookshelf, but it is quite thick, so it’s not that concise. It defines aptitude as ability-fitness, natural propensity and ability. If the Concise Oxford English Dictionary cannot differentiate between aptitude and ability, I find it really difficult for us to do that.

Q34 Pat Glass: But there is a definition in the code.

Dr Craig: Yes, there is.

Q35 Pat Glass: It is generally seen as a particular aptitude in one particular area, rather than a child who has abilities across the piece.

Dr Craig: Yes, our difficulty is that the tests put in place to test aptitude in a particular area usually test ability, so the testing cannot differentiate between aptitude and ability. For example, on musical ability, how would you test for aptitude while trying to screen out any prior musical learning the child has?

Q36 Pat Glass: So, whether the child has a talent?

Dr Craig: How do you objectively measure talent while screening out anything they have been taught up to that point? Somebody said to me recently, "Well, of course, what you do if you want to look for musical aptitude is give them an ability test in mathematics", because there is a well defined correlation between mathematics and music, but that is selecting by another means.

Q37 Pat Glass: Your general response is that if it is about selection, that is what we should call it and that is what it is. Otherwise, we shouldn’t hide it under the cloak of aptitude.

Dr Craig: That would be my view. It is very difficult, in my view, to differentiate practically between ability and aptitude in many cases.

Q38 Pat Glass: In those cases you looked at, was it absolutely clear?

Dr Craig: Not always, and, of course, that is why it wasn’t. Remember, as I said earlier, we only get cases that have already been debated locally. They come to us as the court of last resort. These are people who cannot get agreement locally.

Q39 Charlotte Leslie: I want to ask about the time scales in place. To start with a general question: on average how long does it take your office to process an average case? Is there a particular impact on children’s schooling when the case is received in July?

Dr Craig: Unfortunately, there isn’t an average time. I say that because some cases can be turned around almost immediately-within a week-but some drag out. Even cases within the same general area, such as admissions, drag out for several months depending how many people and admission authorities are involved, and what the issues are. We used to promise to try to meet a six-week turnaround from receiving the case in the office to publishing a determination. We were getting something like an 85% hit on that, but that wasn’t helping anybody, so we now promise that as soon as we have all the information we need, we will tell you and we will promise to publish a determination within three weeks of receiving all the information. We have found that there have been times when admission authorities have dragged out the time scales for providing the information to us.

The 31 July is a big problem for us, particularly because-I hope all members of the Committee realise this, and forgive me if you do-at the moment, admission authorities have to determine admissions for the following year’s admission round, which is 18 months hence, by 15 April each year. They have to publish those arrangements by 1 May. There is then a three-month period between 1 May and 31 July for people to appeal and for cases to be referred. What tends to happen-you’ll see it in the statistics in my annual report-is that most referrals tend to come in right up to the wire, in the last part of July, so you’re quite right. If they come in in the last week, we try to contact the school or the local authority, but on 1 August there’s nobody there, or the right people aren’t there. So, again, you’re quite right; often, we can’t start collecting the evidence we need-particularly if we want public meetings-until September. We’re then into the year when parents are beginning to choose their schools. Remember, this is the year before the September children go into schools in that admission round.

It would help greatly if we could have the deadline moved back to the end of June, which is what it used to be. There is a debate about that; there was certainly a debate with the previous Government, when I suggested this. They had extended the deadline from 30 June to 31 July to give parents, in particular, a longer period in which to object. You can’t really push back 15 April-that would be difficult-and we’re now having a debate with the Department about whether it would be better to push back the deadline to 30 June and to have just two months, but to publicise the admission arrangements far more than they are publicised now.

Q40 Charlotte Leslie: I’m just looking at appendix 1 of your report. There are your 2009-10 figures and your 2008-09 figures. Would it be possible to give us a bit more of a breakdown of what those are? I notice that 133 of the total of 520 referrals are outstanding from 2008-09, which means that there are 387 new ones. Can you tell us in more detail what those 133 are made up of?

Dr Craig: It will be mainly admissions, because they are the ones with the deadlines on them and the ones that tend to come in at the end of July. I don’t have the figures-I could go away and find them for you-but I would guess that at least 100, if not more than 100, of the 133 were admissions carried over from the previous year; they came in at the end of July, and it was not possible to publish the determinations by the end of August, when the report closes.

Q41 Charlotte Leslie: Can you provide any more detail about what the decisions upheld and not upheld might be?

Dr Craig: We have that detail and we could provide it for you. I have it here, but it’s in rather a large wodge of a printout.

Q42 Charlotte Leslie: If you were able to provide it for us, that would be helpful.

Dr Craig: We can certainly do that.

Q43 Craig Whittaker: We know that your office has about 15.8 FTE-10 full-time adjudicators and 5.8 FTE running the office.

Dr Craig: It’s fewer than that now in terms of the support staff; they’ve been reduced subsequently.

Q44 Craig Whittaker: How much, then, does it cost to run your office, including office costs and staff travel costs?

Dr Craig: If I can refer you to appendix 2 in the report, the total cost for 2009-10 was £920,000.

Q45 Craig Whittaker: So given the cases you’ve done, the cost per case is roughly £900 per case. Would that be right? It would be £927, to be exact.

Dr Craig: There were 151 cases last year that we published, but there were 520 that we dealt with during the year.

Q46 Craig Whittaker: Based on the 520-odd cases you dealt with, the cost per case is about £930.

Dr Craig: If you’re talking about the 500 into £1 million, you’re talking about £200.

Chair: It would be £2,000 in that case-£500 times 2,000 is £1 million.

Dr Craig: Sorry.

Q47 Craig Whittaker: Is that good value for money?

Dr Craig: I think we’re good value for money. We are a tribunal, legally. I think you’d go a long way to find a cheaper tribunal. What we do is good value for money because we deal with issues that can’t be resolved locally.

Q48 Craig Whittaker: Continuing in a similar vein to my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire, we are talking about 530-odd cases from a total of thousands of schools in the UK. Is that really the best way to spend taxpayers’ money?

Dr Craig: As I say, prior to the OSA being set up, it was the Secretary of State who made those decisions, and I would suggest that that is where those decisions have to be made, or certainly within the Department, if they’re not being made by the independent tribunal. My guess is that it would cost at least that to make those decisions elsewhere.

Q49 Craig Whittaker: Bearing in mind that we’ve seen an increase in cases over the past year, are you confident that your department has the capacity to deliver within similar budget amounts?

Dr Craig: I believe we do. Remember that the budget is on a different year to the report. The budget is on an April to April year-a financial year-so there’s a slight overlap there. We are well into this financial year, and we are doing well within that budget.

Q50 Craig Whittaker: So what you’re saying is that if the current trends continue you can quite easily increase your workload by about 20% or 25% in the same budget, which perhaps suggests that there is some slack there to start with-but I’m not being judgmental. Are you therefore saying that you will deliver far more for far less?

Dr Craig: No. Adjudicators are not employed on a salary; they are paid only for the work they do. They are paid on a call-off rate, and there hasn’t been an increase in that rate since 2007; we’re not asking for an increase either. So, it relates really to the complexity of the cases and to how much work adjudicators have to put into them. I can’t call for you the complexity of the cases that will come through next year. We could have fewer but more complex cases, which means that we’d have to spend more time on them. We could have more but less complex cases, in which case we wouldn’t be paying as much for our adjudicators.

Q51 Craig Whittaker: In simple terms, then, are you saying to us that the current £2,000 cost per case will not increase, but it should decrease because you should get economies of scale, or are you saying that it will stay the same but the actual physical cost of doing the job will increase?

Dr Craig: I’m saying that I don’t know. I think it should stay about the same; it depends on the complexity of the cases. If the code changes, who can guess what sort of cases we’re going to get and how many? They could be more complex; they could be less complex. They could be more, and they could be fewer. I find it very difficult to guess. The unit cost of employing an adjudicator has not changed since 2007, and I am not proposing that we should change it over the next year or two. The support staff have been reduced since 2007, and we are managing within the support staff that we’ve got now.

Q52 Craig Whittaker: Turning to the parental complaints that you said have increased over the past year, do you keep any information about what types of parents complain? I suppose that the follow-on from that is: do you think the system favours the articulate middle classes, who are more likely perhaps to complain than those who don’t have the ability to complain?

Dr Craig: I don’t believe we do. May I just look behind me to my office manager? No, I didn’t think we did, but I was just checking to make sure that there was no information in the office that I didn’t know about. We don’t keep a profile-if you like-of the types of parents who complain. Inevitably, the more astute parents are those who are going to refer. One would assume, although it is a big jump, that the more astute parents are likely to be the more middle-class ones. There has been a trend over the past few years of more and more lawyers getting involved in referrals, and that is why the unit cost has tended to go up slightly for us.

Q53 Craig Whittaker: How do you ensure, then, that as a service you have open and fair access to all parents?

Dr Craig: We do have open access, and we will deal with any case that’s referred to us-we have to. I work hard, and have been working hard over the past 18 months in my post, with organisations such as the Advisory Centre for Education, local authorities and Barnardo’s, to make sure that we are accessing all parents in the community, wherever possible.

Q54 Craig Whittaker: Let me phrase that a little differently. How are you ensuring, as a department, that those parents, who are not perhaps middle class, articulate, professional people, have the same accessibility to your service as those people?

Dr Craig: Our services are advertised, if you like. They are not advertised greatly, because of the cost. I don’t think I can answer you, other than to say we are out there. Parent support groups know we are there. They will put all types of parents on to us. Lawyers know we are there. More and more lawyers know we are there and refer parents to us. I think we get a pretty good cross-section, although inevitably parents who do refer will tend to be more articulate.

Q55 Charlotte Leslie: Can I come in very quickly? I am looking at appendix 2 in your report, which very helpfully gives a bit of a breakdown. I notice, which is very admirable, that your office staff expenses have halved in the last year from £11,000 to £5,000. So your office staff are doing very well on that.

Dr Craig: Yes.

Q56 Charlotte Leslie: Your publicity fees have doubled in that year. Can I ask what that is all about?

Dr Craig: Regulations changed. That publicity does not refer to us going out and having adverts everywhere saying, "Come to us, we’re good people to use." It refers to us putting notices in the local press to say that public meetings are taking place, or indeed that a determination has been published. The requirement changed last year, and we now have to publicise in all local newspapers when we publish a determination. That is essentially the increase in that publicity.

Q57 Charlotte Leslie: I notice that your consultancy fees have gone from £7,000 to nothing this year. Is that through a structural change, or a decision on your part to not to employ consultants?

Dr Craig: It was because the new Government from May decided that they wanted us to try and avoid consultants wherever possible. The previous year, we used an external consultant. We went out to tender to deal with our local authority reports. This year, I did it myself.

Q58 Charlotte Leslie: Would it be possible to include building costs and running costs of buildings in your expenses? Would you be able to provide the Committee with those figures?

Dr Craig: I guess we could do that. We occupy a space in a Department building. It is a very small space. We do occupy it. I guess the Department could cost that space for us. It would be fairly minimal.

Chair: Dr Craig, before your session, we had a session on the finances of the Department. With the Department spending £50 billion-plus, you will be glad to see us paying so much attention to the £920,000 that you spend. Pat, hopefully, is not going to talk about the budget.

Q59 Pat Glass: No, I just wanted ask, very quickly, a follow-up to Craig’s question. Local authorities have to send out to parents, whose child is in a transfer year, a brochure that gives the details of their admissions policy. Are details of your office in there? Do they have to give notice of your office?

Dr Craig: I don’t believe they have to do that. Good authorities do and I certainly, whenever I stand up in front of local authorities, suggest to them that they ought be putting us in them.

Q60 Pat Glass: Would that help with things like access?

Dr Craig: Yes it would. We can certainly talk again to local authorities following today.

Q61 Pat Glass: Every single parent gets that.

Dr Craig: Absolutely.

Q62 Chair: Is there variation between parts of the country? Are there some local authorities that are managing to communicate your offer?

Dr Craig: I think some local authorities are always better than others and communicate better to their communities.

Q63 Chair: Could you give us a sense of the scale of that? If there are areas of the country where parents literally don’t seem to know about it-and you were very proud at the beginning, rightly I think, to say that 92% of your referrals come from parents, so you are empowering parents, which everyone is in favour of-and if there are gross discrepancies between rates of referrals in different parts of the country, that would suggest a problem that needs to be addressed. Is there a gross discrepancy between different areas?

Dr Craig: I have those figures, but not literally to hand. Can I give them to you? Against every local authority, we have the referrals listed.

Q64 Chair: If you don’t have the exact figures to hand, how great is the disparity? Are there areas where you get hardly any?

Dr Craig: There are. Remember, out of 151, with 152 local authorities, there are going to be authorities where we only get one or none. Indeed, sometimes parents collect together and don’t put in just one referral, but separate referrals, so it will sometimes look as though we are getting more referrals from one local authority area than another. It will be the same case, just that it will be referred more than once.

Q65 Nic Dakin: I want to follow up Pat’s point quickly. Shouldn’t we know which authorities communicate information about your office to the local neighbourhoods and which authorities do not? Isn’t that something you should be monitoring?

Dr Craig: We should do that, yes. I agree.

Q66 Chair: Why does it take so long for the recommendations in your report to be acted upon?

Dr Craig: I have no idea.

Q67 Chair: Would you like there to be a formal mechanism for Government to respond? When we write a report and make recommendations, we have the benefit that the Government are obliged to respond to our recommendations within a certain period.

Dr Craig: Both Secretaries of State during my two years have responded immediately to my report and my recommendations, but they have not necessarily acted upon them. They have said, "Good idea," or "Bad idea," and we have then waited. I understand that this year, with new legislation and a new code coming through, the Secretary of State wanted to put most of the recommendations on the backburner, pending the new legislation. We now know that some of them are being bound up and that some of them are not.

Q68 Chair: Do you feel that you have had sufficient clarity from new Ministers on those of your recommendations that they agree with and those that they do not?

Dr Craig: Yes, indeed. I was due to meet the Secretary of State just before Christmas, but the meeting had to be delayed. I meet both Ministers-Nick Gibb and Lord Hill-on a three-monthly basis for me to talk through any issues I have and any issues they have with me.

Chair: Good.

Q69 Pat Glass: Moving on to the White Paper, we covered some of the issues earlier, but if the Office of the Schools Adjudicator is no longer going to carry out an annual compliance report and there is no obligation on local authorities to provide annual reports to you, how will your office continue to have an overview of the system? Will it become that much harder, and will you get a split picture of what’s going on?

Dr Craig: We won’t be able to maintain an overview. Our overview will be only of the cases that we receive. There will be no formal reporting mechanism to us, as you quite rightly say, and no formal mechanism for us to go out and check local authorities.

Q70 Pat Glass: What is the implication of that?

Dr Craig: The implication is, again, that we only deal with what is referred to us.

Pat Glass: So we’ll get a very fragmented picture in future.

Dr Craig: My office will certainly get a very fragmented picture. Local authorities will, as I understand the White Paper and the Bill, still be required to produce a local authority report, but not to send it anywhere. As I understand it, they will only have to publish it on their websites.

Q71 Pat Glass: So you will still be able to collect it from their websites?

Dr Craig: We will be able to access it. One of the recommendations in my report this year suggested that local authority reports should remain, but that they should be re-focused from year to year to hit areas that are of concern to either the Secretary of State or me. Obviously, that will not happen. I suggested as an example that we might specifically look at aptitude and ability next year, but that will not now happen. I think that local authority reports could be in danger of becoming even blander than they sometimes have been.

Pat Glass: But you would still be able, like any one of us, to go on individual local authority websites and pull those off?

Dr Craig: Probably, if I had more than £920,000 for the time to actually do it.

Q72 Pat Glass: And you would still meet Lord Hill and Nick Gibb, so you and those two would know what was going on, but the rest of us wouldn’t.

Dr Craig: We wouldn’t know. As you rightly say, we would have to go on to 152 local authority websites and pull off their annual reports. We would still have to find time to do the exercise-I don’t know how much it costs this year, but it costs several thousand pounds-of collating those reports, but we’d have the additional burden of going on to their websites to find them. So it would actually cost more than it costs now to collate local authority reports for us. I don’t think we will have an overview.

Q73 Pat Glass: Given the forthcoming changes, what do you think the Office of the Schools Adjudicator will look like after the Education Act?

Dr Craig: It won’t look, as I understand it, much different from the way it looked before the 2006 Act, because the main repeal that the Bill suggests is section 88J, which is this ability to look wider than just the referral. That was brought in by the 2006 Act. Co-ordination of local authority reports was brought in by the 2006 Act as well. I wasn’t Chief Adjudicator then, but as I read it and as I gather from talking to colleagues, we’re being put back into the position we were in before the 2006 Act. I see us operating exactly as the OSA did for probably its first eight years of existence, because those changes didn’t come into place until 2008.

Q74 Pat Glass: I was managing admissions before 2006, and it didn’t feel as though something was vastly missing from the system. Where do you think parents will lose out if we go back to a pre-2006 situation? I am looking particularly from the point of view of parents.

Dr Craig: Regarding 88J-this ability to look wider-many parents, when they think something is wrong with admissions arrangements, will just know there’s something wrong. They won’t necessarily know the entirety of where they don’t comply with legislation, or whatever. They will look at something and refer that one thing. What we’ve been able to do in the last couple of years is to look wider than that, and to put those arrangements right-in my view, make them fairer. That’s what we’ve done, I think; we have made them fairer.

Q75 Pat Glass: So you think 88J made things fairer for parents, and that’s what we’re going to lose.

Dr Craig: Yes. That is my view.

Q76 Chair: So, you are meeting on a quarterly basis with Ministers-sometimes two Ministers at a time.

Dr Craig: Sometimes Lord Hill, and always Nick Gibb.

Q77 Chair: You must have raised this with them; what is the rationale for returning to the pre-2006 situation?

Dr Craig: The rationale that you all know, and I understand that rationale, is to give more power to admission authorities wherever they exist and to put more trust with them to deal with issues themselves. I’m told that the issue is about trust, and I understand that. I understand the logic behind that. It’s trusting schools, trusting governors, trusting admission authorities and trusting local authorities to do what they have to do.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming and giving evidence to us this morning.

Dr Craig: Thank you for asking me.