Education Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 269

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Education Committee

on Wednesday 3 July 2013

Members present:

Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)

Neil Carmichael

Alex Cunningham

Bill Esterson

Pat Glass

Siobhain McDonagh

Ian Mearns

Chris Skidmore

Mr David Ward

Craig Whittaker


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor David Woods CBE, former Principal National Challenge Adviser for England, Professor Sir George Berwick CBE, Chief Executive, Challenge Partners, Sean Harford, Regional Director for East of England, Ofsted, and Kirston Nelson, Assistant Director of Education, Wigan Council, gave evidence.

Q113 Chair: Good morning and welcome to this session of the Education Committee looking at School Partnerships and Co-operation. We are delighted that we have such a distinguished panel, though mildly horrified at how little time we have to cover the ground, so I will ask members of the Committee and those on the panel for short, sharp questions and answers. It may not be possible to get answers from all of you to every question.

Let me start by warming you up, though. The pieces have been thrown in the air, and we heard last week how many flowers are blooming. Is a system of any sort developing in this arena, or do you think the Government is just hoping that self-improvement is something that takes off like a virus? Sir George?

Professor Berwick: I have not seen any evidence so I cannot make a judgment.

Chair: Does anybody else want to pick up on that?

Professor Woods: I think it is a very fractured landscape, and lacks coherence and cohesion.

Q114 Chair: Are those definitely demerits of the current situation in your opinion?

Professor Woods: You will have heard the merits of the "thousand flowers bloom" philosophy in the free market. I do not want to rehearse those. There is some evidence of school leaders stepping up to the plate and doing that. We will talk about that later. I would, however, judge that, of 23,000 schools, at least half are not in any partnership that we are talking about, and maybe the other half are. That is not a good way to run a whole-school system, I would suggest.

Sean Harford: I would say that there are green shoots, though, in terms of what can be, from the successful partnerships that we have seen. School autonomy is not going to go backwards, that is for sure; therefore, we need to learn from where it is being done very well and replicate that across the system to make a system, if you like.

Q115 Chair: Who would do that work?

Sean Harford: Essentially, it is up to the schools in those partnerships, but with clear leadership-and I am sure we will come to areas later on where that has been shown-and that leadership then leading through those school partnerships. It has to be, however, about schools working together.

Q116 Chair: The point is, however, as we just heard from David, if it is not coherent, great schools and great leaders in certain places will do a great job; the difficulty is that it does not spread like a virus. It does not necessarily appear that good practice is going to spread. If you have over half the system not participating in partnership or co-operation in any way, you have a bit of a problem, haven’t you? You either need incentives or leaders.

Professor Woods: You were at the Ofsted launch of the Unseen Children report the other week. What do we see? People might be aware that the report seems to make the point that, geographically, we are going backwards, arguably, in raising attainment and standards. In the other half of the country-and I would say that about London Challenge and City Challenge-we are leaping forwards. While I would not use the Disraeli "two nations" quote, although I have just used it, that Ofsted report seems to demonstrate that we are in danger of that. We have great evidence, of course, of autonomy and partnerships. Who is going to get hold of them in those areas of the country that I will not name again?

Kirston Nelson: Coming from a position where school-to-school support partnerships are working, embedding and beginning to have an impact, I would be very concerned if we entered an arena where that became prescriptive-i.e. the framework and mechanism in which that needed to materialise was imposed on partnerships-as opposed to reflecting the local nature of those partnerships. Coming from Wigan, from a local-authority perspective, we have taken a different approach to our role as a local authority in education, and we are beginning to see the benefits.

Q117 Chair: It can be a temptation for people in Government to reach for levers to pull. Ofsted decided this year to put a lot of pressure on local authorities. Local authorities were kind of fading out of the game. Ofsted has reminded them that they have to continue to be champions. While they will not be able to have the huge services they had before, they can broker and encourage. Do you think that is enough for us to see improvement?

Kirston Nelson: There are two arms to the role of the local authority in the future. I think it is something that, in Wigan, we have already embraced. One is in terms of providing and enabling infrastructure, which is about being able to identify, through performance data, the schools that may require support through the partnership. It is a commissioning and brokerage role, but we also have a role in terms of quality assurance. Our school partnership and the model that we have put in place reflects that, but it reflects a collective accountability with head teachers, all on the same driver in terms of moral purpose for system improvement for all children in Wigan. That is why it is beginning to have an impact.

Chair: Ofsted were fairly rude about my local authority, but I was pleased to meet the leader of the authority the other night and he said he thought it was a good thing, and they are getting on with it.

Q118 Ian Mearns: I am just curious as to how we are going to roll out good practice between local authorities if Ofsted, as a national model and overseer, is concentrating at the moment only on what they perceive to be weak local authorities, rather than going in to look at what this Government perceives as being good practice and sharing that across the nation.

Sean Harford: We have a survey that we are about to publish in the autumn. It will identify where we have seen good practice and what that looks like currently, which then balances where we are going to do local authority inspections and, in some cases, not see good stuff.

Q119 Neil Carmichael: I think it is important to define what we think the middle tier is, so I would like you to have a stab at that. Who would like to go first?

Chair: Sir Michael Wilshaw is often talking about the missing middle tier, Sean, so I am going to pick on you.

Sean Harford: I can say that we are not the middle tier at Ofsted. I think the ground, therefore, that occupies the middle tier is now becoming more diverse, clearly, with local authorities playing their part, as Kirston just said-they are key to that. We have multi-academy trusts playing a part in that, and federations picking up where schools are not improving quickly enough and, therefore, applying pressure to do that; and, of course, teaching-school alliances and the teaching schools within them. There are a number of players in this field but the key is that the quality of what they do is right for the situation. It may be more bespoke than we have seen in the past, but that may absolutely be the right thing because it tailors for the particular situations.

Q120 Neil Carmichael: If we do not know what the middle tier really is-and picking up David’s point that it is ad hoc provision and so on-several problems arise. One is its lack of accountability, which I think is something we want to probe in this session. Another one is, at the end of the day, if there is a completely mixed picture, you cannot really make judgments about the performance of schools in certain areas without knowing a little more about the structure. To my mind, then, the middle tier has to be something that does drive standards forward and makes sure that failing schools are identified. We were talking earlier, in a separate inquiry, about the need, for example, for interim executive boards to be put in place more urgently and so forth. Of course, the middle tier might have a role in that respect. Sir George, would you agree with that?

Professor Berwick: If you ask what the middle tier should be, bearing in mind I was also a senior county education officer as well, there is a basic issue about planning for provision: where does that sit now as this moves away? Talking as a teaching school head as well, that is an issue that surrounds us as these different things disappear. The second thing is about the democratic accountability of the system, which relates to how schools are funded. They are still funded through local authorities, so what is the accountability back to that? The ratepayer pays.

Then we move to the two other areas, one of which Sean and you have talked about, which is about challenging performance; the other area would be about how we spread best practice. It might well be that the roles are not compatible, as they were, for one organisation to carry out as they did in the past. The roles of local authorities encompass all four of those roles. What we are seeing is a change, particularly in the support element, and the challenge element is about the challenge not to have those roles necessarily sitting with the old incumbents. I think it would be a mistake to view this as purely a conversation about accountability for schools in terms of this tier.

Q121 Neil Carmichael: Sir Michael Wilshaw was talking about regional directors within Ofsted and empowering them. Implicitly he is saying, effectively, that there should be some sort of regional structure here. Do you think that the middle tier should be attempting to replicate that kind of style, though with different functions?

Professor Woods: That is possibly the best way to go, but Ofsted is stuck between "You cannot be a gamekeeper and everything else as well". I think it is stuck with inspection and improvement. You might argue that improvement comes with inspection, but it is difficult for Ofsted, which is regulating the system on a regional basis, to say: "We have just put you in special measures, and we will now switch to improving you through getting the national local leaders or the local authorities onside." It is not its role. While it is helpful, if we move to a regional model, which I think might be useful, we need something within that region to get the best local authorities onside and also to get the capacity of the system working for us. We have not quite got that.

Professor Berwick: I made that comment about evidence. This is an evidence committee, so I will present one piece of evidence. The evidence from City Challenge and London Challenge is that those two roles need to be divided very clearly.

Q122 Neil Carmichael: Kirston, would you like to see some form of regional commissioner, as has already been mooted?

Kirston Nelson: If we move to that model, we would need to be really careful that we are still engaged with the local intelligence. One of my fears would be the strength of the partnership that we have in Wigan, which is based on the locality and the family of schools working together, and working with a range of different providers. One of my concerns would be that we are then restricted from working with the large range of providers that we work with, because it becomes more prescriptive in terms of who our schools should or should not work with.

Q123 Neil Carmichael: One last question. Essentially, we are looking at two structures here: the Ofsted inspection, perhaps regionalised, as it is actually being regionalised; and another structure, which may or may not be regional but certainly consistent across the whole area of schools, with the capacity to drive and identify schools and so on. That is the kind of model you would like to see.

Sean Harford: The important thing is that, when we do our work, we have a body that is powerful enough that we can report to it, so that action can be taken. That may differ, depending on the structures within a region. It may be a local authority in some cases, or it may be a multi-academy trust, but we need to be able to use our inspection evidence-and I would argue that it absolutely has led to school improvement over the time Ofsted has been in place-to report to that body and say, "This needs to change now for these young people." Whatever that structure is, we need that body to report to.

Professor Berwick: I agree.

Professor Woods: I would accept that, but there is a lot of detail to be done on this new structure. I would question whether that is congruent with the free-market economy or free-market ideology.

Neil Carmichael: Even a perfect economy needs some sort of structure.

Professor Woods: It does. That is another debate for another time.

Neil Carmichael: Yes, it is an interesting one.

Kirston Nelson: I would agree that coherence is required, but not necessarily prescription. I think it needs to be flexible.

Q124 Bill Esterson: Talking of coherence, I would like to ask about geographical coherence, starting with Challenge Partners. It is a national organisation with local hubs. Last week, we heard about the importance of geography in supporting partnerships. Do you think that local-hub set-up is important in achieving good partnerships?

Professor Berwick: Challenge Partners was established to facilitate the governance approach to one of its strands for school improvement, which is to use teaching schools. It is also established to try to embed the evidence that we have had from the City Challenge into a system. I also have to say that this is in very early days, so, again, coming back to the evidence, we are talking about an organisation that is only two years old. Over-claiming is one of the problems I deal with all the time. The fact is that we are now slowly reaching the point that it is accepted that London Challenge has had some effect. We are still debating what. That is the first thing to consider.

The second thing to bear in mind is that we take £7 per student, so our contribution by schools is extremely small. It is about sharing best practice. Our interventions in schools are directly related to the school’s ability to function. There are, then, two sections: one where Ofsted would see that, according to their criteria, the schools are self-managing and, therefore, are not concerned. Therefore, they are in a collaboration that shares knowledge, best practice and different techniques. There is another area, called the edge of improvement; schools that fall into that category will be dealt with exactly, as I differentiated, where that intervention exactly exists.

One of the problems is in terms of very small distribution. The first teaching schools were set up by the Cabinet Office. I was asked to create the first one in 2003. We designated the first one in 2008. We got to 48 by the end of the last Government; we are now up to 400. Of those 400, how many can fully function as teaching schools would be interesting. It will emerge, because it takes a long time to build the infrastructure and the trust to do this.

First of all, you need a group of "outstanding" schools. It is, then, inevitable that, as you look at the distribution across the country of "outstanding" schools, there are not going to be a lot of teaching schools in an area where there are not a lot of "outstanding" schools. You have a natural mismatch now between the teaching-school distribution and where the problems are. We are trying to address that in Challenge Partners by the fact that we have put some of our sponsorship money away this year to go into these regions and try to stimulate those schools so that we get hubs in those areas.

What we have identified is that there is an issue, which shows in the figures. In the Manchester area and London, this has been going on for a period of time. The infrastructure and a relationship have been built. Trust has been built with Ofsted. We use all the Ofsted criteria, on which all of our work is based. Where that works, it now has a momentum, and I would argue, although this is not evidence-based, that it is making some contribution to the fact that these regions are moving along. We have whole sections of the country, however, that do not have that infrastructure.

Sean Harford: I would certainly back that up in terms of the two regions that I oversee: London and East of England. There is a clear dearth of teaching schools in the East of England, and what George said is playing out on the ground there. If you compare it with London, however, with a high density of teaching schools, things are moving on.

Q125 Chair: Sir Michael, in his speech the other day on unseen children, said that he would like to see more sub-regional challenges, effectively, built on the City Challenge and London Challenge model. You would expect Norfolk schools, which seem to be struggling a little, to be following that. What is going to turn that aspiration mentioned in Sir Michael’s speech into a reality on the ground in Norfolk, the East Riding of Yorkshire or anywhere else?

Sean Harford: I think the regional structure that Ofsted now has can help that. As a regional director, I am much closer to what is going on in schools and across our other providers as well. The local authority-and you have talked about Norfolk-will clearly play its part in that, but it is about going back to what we started with: the schools working with each other in really effective partnerships. The seed of that is around what George said: teaching schools and promoting good practice there.

Professor Berwick: The major issue that we have found with City Challenge is that you are asking schools to take a responsibility, in a teaching school, beyond their school, in an area where they do not own the problem. Without that infrastructure in place and that permission, it is very difficult. In areas like that, it takes time to build the systemic leadership, where people accept that a peer should lead the system. All these teachings schools are led by people who have been accepted by their peers as having some position; they are not accredited in any way, apart from the award. Someone has to stand up in that region and take moral responsibility for a wider base than their school. Rather like a school that is failing, staff take responsibility for their classroom and not the school. The same thing happens in an area where schools are failing, where a head teacher takes responsibility for their school and finds it very difficult to extend that responsibility elsewhere.

Professor Woods: It is not just the teaching-school geographical distribution; it is a pity we do not have a map to show you. The national leaders of education are the other arm of this. Again, they have to be "outstanding", so, again, they are all clustered. You are, then, back to my thesis of wastelands that do not have this capacity at all. Either you have to come with sub-regional challenges or you have to persuade nearby capacity to come alongside. In my view, if we let this system continue, we finish on teaching schools next year and there will only be a maximum of 500, unless the Government decides to do more. There are a maximum number of national leaders. We could finish by 2014/15, from a geographical view, to get to your point, with distinct, huge parts of the country with no capacity. There will be good schools within them but most will have nowhere to turn to.

Q126 Bill Esterson: What about where you have national chains of academies? Is that a similar problem?

Professor Woods: I do not know what the figures are in primary schools, but I doubt whether we have more than 5% or 6% of primary schools in academies. Andrew might tell us it is 10%, but whatever it is, I am back to my 23,000 schools. We seem to fixate on the 2,000, but 90% of primary schools, or maybe more, are not in academy chains. Probably 60% of secondary schools are, but then you have to ask a question of the variability. They could be the middle tier, but just as local authorities are variable, I can tell you that academy chains are extremely variable in what they can do with their schools. They seem to have escaped inspection so far, but, if they were inspected, I think we would understand that we have some issues there too.

Q127 Bill Esterson: Just on the point about national chains, is the lack of geographical coherence an issue for them as well?

Professor Woods: Yes, I think it is. One of the most successful chain federations is Harris, but it just stays in South London. Some are scattered around the country; many of them are geographically based. There are whole areas, however, where there are none. Take a coastal town with an isolated school in an academy chain: it might as well have been in the old local authority, because it is still isolated on its own, although it is supposed to be in a chain.

Sean Harford: Certainly, the evidence we have is that, as David just said, where they are focused in a geographical area, and if the chief executive does not have too many air miles to clock up in order to go round and see these places and be really in touch with what is going on, they have been more successful in their inspection outcomes and, indeed, their outcomes for children.

Q128 Ian Mearns: I am just not clear in my own mind what the vision here is. For instance, who is going to do pupil-place planning in the future? Will it be an academy chain or a local authority? Will the local authority have the relevant expertise left in order to do that work? Who is going to do that?

Kirston Nelson: From my perspective, I would be looking at it being retained by the local authority.

Ian Mearns: That is the right answer.

Chair: Thank you for satisfying my statist friend.

Kirston Nelson: I think a benefit of the change in the way that the local authority now works with its schools is around more transparency and more co-operation in terms of determining what things like school-place planning need to look like to be fit for purpose for an area. That has opened up a huge debate for us in terms of the local authority not sitting behind closed doors and making decisions around what that needs to look like, but sitting in partnership with its schools to determine what best fits for that locality. That might be a bit of a challenge on a sub-regional level.

Professor Woods: You cannot do pupil-place planning in London now. There are 33 local authorities and hundreds of free schools appearing just like that. I don’t know, I am not advocating that Boris takes it on particularly, but I don’t know who is going to do pupil-place planning in London. It would be very interesting to find out.

Q129 Chair: Is it necessarily the case that the system cannot work without it? If you were in Soviet Russia, you would wonder who was going to do supermarket planning to ensure that there is one available to everybody and who was going to do that organisation. In a way, once you have enough players, you would expect them to understand the demographics, assuming the data are at least available.

Professor Woods: We have a crisis of primary places in London, don’t we? Everybody knows that. I do not see, without planning, that we have a solution. We have an absolute crisis. Even the Evening Standard-not a great friend to the Government, maybe-accepts that we have a crisis of places.

Q130 Siobhain McDonagh: The evidence from City Challenge was that expert advisers had an important role in brokering effective school-to-school collaboration. Is there a source of this independent advice for all schools that need it in the new policy environment?

Chair: We know your answer already, David. Maybe you could just say "no".

Professor Woods: No, there is not, except, of course, in people like George: our very best head teachers. As George has said, however, they are struggling to run their own schools. They are the only resource we have now: the leaders and teachers in our very best schools. In terms of harnessing them and getting them to where they can have an extra impact, we will not rehearse the argument again.

Professor Berwick: It is a very interesting issue, because we have managed to replicate from London Challenge and City Challenge NLEs, national leaders of education, and national teaching schools. We were never able to replicate the adviser role. It is interesting: we do not have the same degree of advisers, for a number of reasons. Maybe they were not accredited, or whatever it is, but they are in short supply, basically because the way they were operated in London required three really important elements. There are lots of people around who can judge where a school is now, and that is done pretty thoroughly and tested in the courts etc. There is a smaller group who can decide what should happen next: "We know you are bad but what are the things you ought to do next to be better?"

The really critical issue, however, is how you lever that from the resources around. Some of that is short tracked in academy chains, because that is already there, but that person has to understand how to lever that. That is quite a sophisticated view of a strategy. In terms of what happened in London, schools were being categorised by Ofsted and they would be identified as failing. Someone like David Woods or George Gyte would go in, and that is the judgment they would make. Therefore, they took responsibility for the solution, but still ring-fenced it as a distinction. We would then come alongside and work, so it was very clear.

Without those three links, however, you are telling people, first of all, just to take the first one: "You have failed but that is your problem." If you take the second one, you are saying, "This is what you should do next but I do not know how you go about doing it." You need to have the joined-up bit if you want to rapidly transform the system; otherwise, there is this gap all the time. The gap is the really critical bit because children are suffering at that point in time. We do not have, in this country, enough people with those skills. It is a very small number. Even now, if you look at how the DfE is deploying its experts for academies that are failing, there are only two or three people who they are using consistently to do this work. It is one of the huge issues in the system at the moment.

Kirston Nelson: In addition to that, it probably raises issues in relation to funding, resourcing and sustainability. One of the concerns is the sustainability of the funding in the system to increase that capacity. We have just referenced having those leaders and advisers, but we have to have the sustainable funding to source the capacity to backfill those leaders to come out and do some of those roles.

Q131 Siobhain McDonagh: Families of schools was a key part of the City Challenge programme, and the Government has stated its intention to release tables of similar schools. Based on this idea, do you agree that this is a useful policy? What aspects of a school’s characteristics and performance would you expect the tables of similar schools to be based upon? What evidence is there that such an approach leads to forms of collaboration that have an impact on children’s learning?

Chair: There is a big one for you.

Professor Woods: In the 2010 White Paper, I was absolutely delighted to see-although it has not come to pass-a recommendation for national families of schools. Ofsted has a quintile thing, but that is far too crude, in my view. If you knew your exact clone in Hartlepool, Blackpool or Bognor Regis, in this age of information transparency, based upon your socio-economic make-up and your prior attainment, which is a fair test, and if you had a family of 40 or 50, occasionally you might visit, but in this age of email and video-conferencing, that would be perfect. That would stop denial, because that school in Hartlepool would be doing three times as well at Key Stage 2 and 4, with the same kids, more or less, and that was the London message. We did not just sit back; the head sorted it out. If you are on the bottom-left hand of the same family, you are drowning, not waving, and you had better get to a school that is walking on water on the top-right hand. It has not come to pass. I am afraid Sean might deny this-what is your system of quintiles called now?

Sean Harford: The governors’ dashboard.

Professor Woods: The dashboard, I think, is not the answer. Statistically, I cannot see the problem. We can put them in. There is no infrastructure needed; the schools will do the work; they will contact each other, and off we go. I cannot see why we cannot set that up.

Professor Berwick: I see school improvement as a knowledge-managed exercise. That has been my work all the time. The biggest issue about transferring knowledge is the contextual one that is put up in the system; in other words, "This school is doing this. I cannot do that; they have nothing to teach me, because it is a grammar school and I am a secondary school," and so on. Therefore, the family-of-schools work, when it was done, was to try to deal with that issue: to prevent people having this denial by showing a spread, but that is really critical. The more you do not fine-line the context, the more the people involved in it start withdrawing from what they are seeing. What we did in London, first of all, was to identify best practice. In terms of the London solution, although we have this variety of performance, someone in the inner-city family of schools was doing far better than a school that was failing. We trained those people to work with those schools, so there could be no denial of the context.

Siobhain McDonagh: Even in London, that denial is still out there, big style.

Professor Berwick: Yes, absolutely. I agree, but it is challenged in that sense. It is better than it was but I agree with what you are saying. You will understand exactly what I am saying: if the vehicle is about for accountability, you do not need to fine-tune it. You can use it as a rough guide, if you like. If it is about people sharing knowledge, however-"Why should I go to that school? I have nothing to learn because the context is not the same"-the danger is that you end up with a quite dynamic, tough system, which we have at the moment; in fact no one uses it, apart from accountability, because it does not deal with the context.

Sean Harford: Just to clear up the thing about the quintiles that David mentioned, that is one view of data, naturally simplified for governors to see, so that they can compare themselves. The whole idea of that is to generate and stimulate questions by the governors, so that they can get underneath the data that are rich in what we call the RAISEonline report, which is the full data for each school. They are, within these families of schools, shareable. Therefore, you can get under the data to that extent and see how other schools in your family are doing, if that is how you choose to organise them. The dashboard is just a first look into the data.

Kirston Nelson: From my perspective, I think it can only be a good thing, because it complements what is already there. It offers us additional opportunities in terms of the knowledge base and learning.

Q132 Chair: Has it changed the way you view schools? If you look at schools in terms of that family, you may review their performance in the light of the fact that, compared with the family of schools, although the data are not great in that family of schools, they are well above halfway, say. Does it inform the findings on schools?

Sean Harford: It is a first check, but the point is that an inspection team would use the RAISEonline data, which give the full picture. As I said, to just reiterate, the dashboard is about making sure that the governors can have a quick view and then really ask the school questions to do their job as governors well.

Q133 Chair: Does the RAISEonline data provide the context of families of schools, or is it just the raw data on the performance of the school? It could look very bad in a local area because other schools are doing better, but once you took into account the socio-economic background of the children, coupled with their prior performance, and then in the context of a family of schools, it could be that that school does not look so bad.

Professor Woods: The key thing, which is a principle across Government, is the best benchmarking. We want to benchmark that family who are the most deprived in the country-the 80% or 90% free school meals or whatever-and see what is possible. We also want to benchmark, by the way, our most privileged schools, because some of them should be doing far better, but no one picks on that very often. The key thing is fine-grained benchmarking, which national families of schools would give you.

Sean Harford: We are very clear that benchmarking is done around prior attainment, without taking into account what used to be called contextual value added, which included those socioeconomic factors. You can provide excuses, and London is an excellent example of where those excuses, in many places, have been stripped away. It is about what a child has achieved.

Q134 Chair: Prior attainment, though, is not all that useful. There are so many children at Level 5 now that you cannot differentiate at the top. Also, if you analyse the data on grammar schools, or even faith schools, they do find some subtle forms of selection. They might appear to have children of the same prior attainment as this school, but in fact they have selected out those who are going to do better. There is no way of cutting the data that does not make these schools look as if they are doing better, and that has to be because of the kind of children they get, even though the prior attainment is the same as somewhere else.

Sean Harford: It is more fine-grained than just the single level. At whatever level you cut it, you are going to always have a boundary issue anyway.

Q135 Siobhain McDonagh: Without the guidance and encouragement provided to families of schools in City Challenge, will the tables of similar schools be useful to underperforming schools?

Professor Woods: I think they will be very useful, because they tell us where they are. It is a fair test, isn’t it? You are comparing like with like. If you are trying to recruit a head in one of the most deprived parts of the country-and nobody denies that we have proved that you can do it in London and Manchester-what is the point of comparing them against the most privileged? You have to compare, to some extent, like with like. They have to meet a floor target, of course-they have to meet attainment-but let us give them credit for, if you like, success against the odds. We need our schools to prove that deprivation is not destiny. Families of schools prove it for us, which is what Ofsted’s Unseen Children is showing: unfortunately, in certain parts of our country, deprivation is still destiny.

Q136 Mr Ward: There were a couple of questions on governors, but I have just a couple of questions before the couple of questions. The first one is something that I raised at an earlier hearing: what exactly is new? For 20 or 30 years, I have been used to collaborations, consortia, cluster arrangements and schools working together. What, then, is new? Secondly, a head teacher took a good school to being a very good school in Bradford. They he got a bit bored, I think, so he lent himself out to two schools that were in special measures, which then became successful. One became an "outstanding" school. He then moved on. His original school is now in special measures. Is this just about good people? You cannot beat good staff. The collaborations are really filling a gap that exists because there are just not enough good staff providing this leadership.

Professor Berwick: If you look at London Challenge and City Challenge, the two strands were to improve the quality of leadership and to improve the quality of teaching and learning, running side by side. The children should have a quality experience for the whole time they are in school for that to happen. Teachers need to teach their students well, with purpose. Secondly, we should have the best leadership we possibly can, and there is no doubt that anything would logically say, at the moment, because of the baby boomer situation and so on, we are likely to have less leaders.

Chair: Or even fewer.

Professor Berwick: Thank you. Some of it is quite sensible. Again, the Challenge approach was to reduce the size of the problem, so you do see the same structured arrangements going in, so that there are head teachers now running several schools and so on, because there are just not enough outstanding teachers. As the situation becomes more and more high-stakes, which it is becoming, we know from the facts that fewer people are choosing to do it. It is a very strange profession that you opt to base your career on the fact that you will be judged, within possibly three months, on whether you are a successful participant. If your school goes into special measures, you will be removed. It is quite an interesting risk. I do not know how many other professionals would allow themselves to be in the same position, but that is where we are at the moment.

Mr Ward: Football managers.

Professor Berwick: Football managers are the only other group, yes. It is that profile.

Professor Woods: Their scale of remuneration is somewhat higher.

Professor Berwick: It is a public exercise as well, because it is printed and it goes across everywhere. We are seeing, quite rightly, people becoming extremely nervous about whether they want the job.

Q137 Chair: That is your fault, Sean, because you are rushing to judgment; people go into the toughest schools and they have easily the higher chance of being found wanting by you than somebody who goes to some leafy school and goes along complacently.

Sean Harford: We recognise where leaders have gone into tough situations through the report. The main judgment that George was talking about there is the leadership management judgment, and that is a number. The report itself, however, will of course tease out where a leader has made a difference. If it is a three-month tenure so far, the report will reflect that and look to see what that leader has done in that short amount of time. The judgment as to whether that head teacher is removed or not is determined according to whatever governance arrangements there are. We do all we can to recognise where leadership is having a good impact in tough situations.

Professor Woods: Where I think we could improve the system, however, is to incentivise these people taking on more than one school and taking the higher risk. Many an Ofsted report will not acknowledge that they did that or reward them in terms of that, while inspecting their own school, or indeed inspecting the school that they are taking on. If you are not getting money, you would at least like some incentive for having said, "I am a system leader. I stood up and I took responsibility for 3,000 or 4,000 children, not my own 1,000," but it is very hit-and-miss.

Sean Harford: What we are doing now, for example, is that Sir Michael writes to every head teacher whose school has been identified as requiring improvement but the leadership management has been judged good to stiffen the resolve of that person.

Q138 Chair: David’s particular point was not about turning your own school round but the fact that there seems to be insufficient recognition of the person who steps out of their own school and helps elsewhere.

Sean Harford: I go back to the report. Where we find that is the case and the people are doing a good job, we reflect that in the report.

Kirston Nelson: I have two points. I want to agree with David on one. I was really disappointed that Ofsted decided not to include in the new framework a judgment that was based on a school’s capacity to support other schools and a recognition of what had happened. Whether that is something that is in a new framework in the future, I think, needs to be considered.

Q139 Mr Ward: Very quickly, I will clump two together on the role of governors. Where do governors fit in to these collaborative arrangements?

Kirston Nelson: I am going to jump in there, if that is okay. We have invested, within our model, a lot of time in how we develop governance to be part of the school-to-school support system. We now have a mechanism where we identify outstanding governance and those outstanding governors, like the National Leaders of Governance programme, are supporting the governance of other schools. In addition to that, when we look at partnerships of schools, we have also partnered up those governing bodies, so that chairs of governors feel that they have a forum in which they can debate school improvement.

Chair: Thank you. Do you have any thoughts on governance in the new world?

Professor Woods: I am a governor too and I would agree with that. We have the National Leaders of Governance system. Governors are still the unheralded part of the system, and they need to be incentivised. I would agree entirely that we need to get governors’ bodies working together. There are some good examples of this happening. We are back to brokerage and commissioning, of course. In Wigan, we have strong brokerage and commissioning, but that is not to say it is elsewhere.

Q140 Chair: We had mixed evidence last week on whether teaching-school funding needs to go on, and we talked about funding a bit earlier. One of our witnesses said, "No, the whole point is that it is pump-primed, and we should be able to fund it from providing services that schools pay for." Does teaching-schools funding need to go on or not-yes or no?

Professor Berwick: I would love to give you a black-and-white answer, but the answer is that there needs to be a market created where schools trade between each other. It is very early days. This is a very early part. Some money needs to take place because a school cannot take responsibility legally, I would not have thought, for spending its money on supporting another school. That is not how it is given the money. We have an issue if something is not put in place.

Secondly, does a school have a right to create a new enterprise from its existing budget? That is an interesting issue. Who pump-primes any change to move the system forward? Because teaching schools were designed around the system in the health service, there are certain things in the health service that exist to regulate the market, like NICE, but they do not exist, so we have a very immaturely structured market for trading.

Professor Woods: I would say carry it on. It is only £60,000 for an infrastructure of 15 to 20 schools. That is seed-corn funding. I would not say fund the whole thing, but that is more of an incentive to say, "Let us create a bit of a breathing space for our infrastructure for pulling people together." £60,000 sounds like good value for money to me.

Q141 Craig Whittaker: Kirston, I think you said earlier that you would not be in favour of tighter, more formal partnership-working and more localism, but our job as a Committee is to put recommendations forward. What forms of partnership work best, and what would you recommend that we recommend to Government?

Kirston Nelson: I was talking about sub-regional committees at that point. From a local perspective, in local authorities that are effecting school improvement at the moment, there are already formal structures that are in place and operating effectively with school partnerships. It is a case of not throwing that away to implement something new that possibly loses something that is working really well. That was the concern that I was raising.

Q142 Craig Whittaker: As part of your system, which I think is recognised as working quite well, how big are converter academies?

Kirston Nelson: There are very few.

Craig Whittaker: Let me ask you, then: how do those very few fit into your model?

Kirston Nelson: We take a status-blind approach to the way in which we operate as a family of schools. They are all Wigan children and, therefore, we are collectively accountable for children and young people.

Craig Whittaker: So it works well, they fit in and there are no problems.

Kirston Nelson: It works well. They are engaged.

Q143 Craig Whittaker: What about everybody else? In your experience, is there a problem nationally with converter academies not engaging enough?

Professor Woods: I think converter academies are a problem nationally. We are not talking about sponsored but about converted. It is still the policy, I think, that they were supposed to be allowed to convert-the civil servants might contradict me later-on the premise that they would definitely enter into hard-edged partnerships with support schools. That has happened here and there, and not happened here and there. The Department cannot monitor every one of these and ask what they are doing, so the answer is that we do not know. Some do. Some are incredibly selfish, frankly, and just mind their own place. Some are incredibly full of moral purpose and do help others. Even at the best times of the London Challenge, there was still an element of, "We do not care about London children. We only care about our own." I am afraid that, if we did an evidence trail, we would find that it is a very patchy story about what converter academies are doing in the system.

Q144 Craig Whittaker: Is that no different from the rest of the school system? I could take you to a dozen head teachers in my local authority and region who take exactly the same view, but are not academies.

Professor Woods: Yes, but they did not go to be converter academies on the premise that they would help other schools. They stayed as community schools, and I hope, as community schools, they are community schools. That would be my quarrel, if they had not taken the King’s shilling, as it were.

Craig Whittaker: Sean, do you have a different view?

Sean Harford: No, I think it is patchy.

Q145 Craig Whittaker: Could I then just take you back, David? You talked about the isolated school and sponsoring academies sponsoring other schools. On the whole, do sponsored schools receive sufficient support from their sponsors?

Professor Woods: To be absolutely fair, the first philanthropy sponsors put in their £2 million in the old days. They were not in schools’ employ; they were philanthropists. They said, "Here is £2 million to get set up." You have, then, a range of very small sponsors-almost one or two schools-who may not be in the business of school improvement but were that. We have others that are in academy chains of 100. In some of the coastal towns, you could trace some-and I have visited some of these-that are very isolated. They are technically sponsored by a philanthropist, although I had better not name them. Good for them, but those people have no capacity to help them improve, and no intention to, in a sense, because that is not what they were doing. We have lots of opposites, I know, but there must be hundreds and hundreds of very tiny sponsored schools that are not getting the benefit of that capacity of improvement.

Q146 Craig Whittaker: Do you have any evidence to support what you said?

Professor Woods: I do.

Craig Whittaker: Could you send that into us?

Professor Woods: I do not have the arithmetical balance but I could quote examples.

Q147 Pat Glass: We have heard about Wigan but, in general, how are local authorities interacting with these new middle-tier organisations that are springing up around the country? We have heard about Wigan, but what about the generality? Are other local authorities taking a role in the same way?

Sean Harford: I think it is as variable as all the other areas that we have looked at so far. You will also see local authorities that do exactly the same as Wigan but do not have the success that Wigan has had. It is about where the authority has come from, its history, its relationships with schools, and building upon that and making the approach that they then decide upon right for that area. We could easily give evidence to show both sides of that coin, so it is variable.

Pat Glass: So a mixed picture.

Professor Woods: If local authorities are fortunate enough to have a teaching-school alliance-and they may not be; many local authorities do not have teaching-school alliances-they are, in my view, and I travel the country a lot, trying to harness that and the national leaders of education. However, local authorities cannot necessarily persuade academy chains to work with them. The academy chains, quite rightly, want to harness their own teaching schools and leaders, so you then have a bit of a push-pull in the system, don’t you?

Professor Berwick: In Challenge Partners, we have the whole range, from hubs working with teaching schools that have no connection with the local authority whatsoever, apart from the provision of places and funding, through to ones that work very closely with the local authority, because it is historical. I think the picture is around the range: there is not one definitive group.

Q148 Pat Glass: Is it about the local authority or is it about the chain?

Professor Berwick: One thing that is happening is that we have moved the whole system to school-to-school support for providing support around how we improve schools. Those local authorities that have adapted to that framework have continued to provide those services, because it is about trust, and they have seen their role as facilitating that. Where local authorities have chosen not to do that in terms of school improvement, they are in that middle ground and are judged purely on the quality of the services they provide. In Bromley, where Ravens Wood is based, we have always used the local authority. We were a grant-maintained school right from the outset, so we have been independent for years. We have used the local authority’s HR and finance resources. We would never change that. We would never go there for school improvement. That is what the picture is. I think it is difficult to put kite marking in, but what is definitely happening is that, predominantly in this country, we have moved school improvement to a school-to-school-based service. Where local authorities have learned how to facilitate schools to do that and embrace that and work well with that, it is working fine; where it is not happening, there is this divide occurring, so they are being judged now as a service provider on the quality of services, competing with other people.

Q149 Chair: Was there an evidence base for a move to school-to-school support as being the route to school improvement?

Professor Berwick: I do not know, but the answer is that it is one unique aspect of the British education service that should be celebrated. We are unique in the world that we have embraced this whole area. No one else is at the forefront of this.

Professor Woods: The only evidence base is the three City Challenge initiatives being evaluated.

Q150 Pat Glass: Before we celebrate it, is it working?

Professor Berwick: Yes, it has worked in London. That would be fair but, again, you asked about evidence. If you asked me to bet my family house on it, the answer is no, because I think it is very difficult to prove any impact in education. Secondly, in terms of the timeframe, we have only one that has worked through one generation. Saying that it has clearly worked outside of that would not be ethical. Also, it is extremely difficult in school improvement to prove anything regarding impact, and it is extremely easy to disprove everything. We are, then, on difficult ground.

Q151 Chair: If it is so impossible, we need to put aside all this evidence-based policymaking malarkey and just stick to ideology, because there is no evidence anyway.

Professor Woods: You may say that, but we could not possibly comment.

Professor Berwick: We could not possibly comment on that.

Pat Glass: We have a very mixed picture, then: it is fractured across the system, some things are working well and some things not very well, and we are not really sure what is and is not.

Chair: Sorry to interrupt your flow, Pat, but Bill was desperate to come in.

Q152 Bill Esterson: Sir George, you said that school-to-school improvement was driven by local authorities. Are local authorities in a position to do that and, if not, who does it?

Professor Berwick: No, and that is why I said there was a shift. If you look at the structure before this, local authorities intervened in schools that were failing-that is what they did. They did not facilitate the growth of the system, although some of them did. Over a period of time, some local authorities changed their role. Harrow passed the whole analysis of school improvement and they facilitated that for a long period of time. Wigan would be another example. There are other examples where local authorities have worked to create this environment, and that is why it has worked.

Q153 Pat Glass: Moving back to the role of local authorities, we have heard about the problems with them taking a role in school improvement. We talked earlier about planning school places. What about areas like the pinch points within schools such as special needs, admissions and exclusions? Who is holding the ring around that at the moment, and should that be a role for the local authority?

Sean Harford: Local authorities still have a statutory duty to do that. The Chair earlier on said that we have been putting pressure on local authorities in the last few months. It clearly remains one of their duties to make sure that happens. The answer to your question, then, is that they hold that ring. Their children are being educated by schools in their area.

Q154 Pat Glass: In my constituency, all secondary schools are academies. They do their own admissions. There are children who end up with nothing.

Sean Harford: It is still the local authority’s statutory duty.

Professor Woods: The local authority has a statutory duty for the welfare of children and young people, which encompasses some of those issues you mentioned.

Kirston Nelson: And to commission those places.

Professor Woods: There may well be a push-pull debate going on, and I think there is, but it is still a statutory duty of the local authorities.

Q155 Pat Glass: Does that cover exclusions and special needs?

Kirston Nelson: It still sits with the local authority.

Q156 Chair: Pat’s point is whether they have the capacity and the power to intervene, in an entirely academised system, to protect those children?

Professor Woods: That is a slightly different question.

Kirston Nelson: Yes, it is, and it goes back to effective partnerships, doesn’t it? It is how, as a locality, you work in partnerships.

Pat Glass: If there are no effective partnerships, kids sink.

Kirston Nelson: One of the things I would like to point out, if that is okay, is that Wigan does not operate as an island. Part of what we are doing is the legacy of the Greater Manchester Challenge. We are one of 10 authorities that work together. We effectively do have a sub-regional school-improvement board. We meet as 10 authorities. We analyse each others’ data. We provide challenge to each other. I think there is something about the scope for branching out that role into things like provision-planning and school places. You talked about London and the school-place crisis there. That is happening up and down the country. If localities do not work together to look at what is being provided on either side of the border, we could be duplicating provision.

Q157 Chris Skidmore: To finish off this section, I wanted to focus on the role of Ofsted. In particular, Sean, I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about the concentrated inspection in the Norfolk area in March. What did you learn about local authorities’ new roles through your inspection of their school-improvement services? What did you actively discover and what recommendations would you make from that concentrated inspection?

Sean Harford: What we learned, as we set out in the published letter, was that there was some confusion in schools when they were asked about what role the local authority was playing, and they then went on to talk very specifically about certain things. The issue there, as the letter points out, was that Norfolk had, at that very point, agreed an approach to school improvement through their cabinet, which was just starting to be implemented. Clearly, the outcomes of that are rolling out as we speak.

What did we learn other than that? We learned much of what we have spoken about this morning: that some schools were embracing the school-to-school-support agenda, and others were not. The tipping point probably has not been reached whereby sufficient numbers of those schools are working together for the good of the children across that county.

Q158 Chris Skidmore: In terms of the agenda, and I know we spoke about how we defined that agenda this morning, implicit in that is that, if Ofsted is going in and examining, investigating and checking out whether this agenda is being implemented, what role do you see Ofsted having in actively driving school relationships? As a director yourself, how would you go about implementing and promoting the agenda?

Sean Harford: It is at a number of different levels. We are in dialogue with the local authority. We carried out a local-authority inspection of Norfolk too, following on from the focused inspections in March. We have a team of Her Majesty’s Inspectors who are inspecting those schools but also working within groups within those schools. For example, at the ground level, some of my inspectors will be working with a school that is in special measures as well as with the two primary schools that are feeding into that secondary school, and being more coherent in that way. There are then senior HMIs in my team, one of whom is linked specifically with Norfolk and will be in constant dialogue with the local authority about what is going on and what is improving, and testing that out.

The part that we can play is that we bring that objective eye, if you like, through our inspection work and the expertise of our inspectors, to be able to point the schools in a direction, saying, "We are seeing this and you might want to think about doing it this way." The local authority there, and the other people in the middle tier, as we said earlier, are working within that too, because we know that we are clearly not an improvement agency, so we need to give that objective look on this and to give direction, but other people need to do the work. That is the way it should work, and we need to maintain that.

Q159 Chris Skidmore: Just quickly, on that element, you are treading a fine line, aren’t you? As an inspection agency, how do you ensure that you maintain your impartiality, having then given advice about what you think should work, if schools are then inspected? You almost have ownership, don’t you, going in and taking on this improvement-agency role?

Sean Harford: I understand, absolutely. It comes back to the fact that the advice we give is always through our inspection evidence. Therefore, the inspector who goes back and inspects that school once they have gone through that period of monitoring would not be the same inspector, so we would keep an arm’s-length relationship in that way.

Q160 Chair: Can I thank you all very much indeed? As mentioned by Craig earlier, we conduct our inquiries, write our reports and make recommendations to Government. Following today, if you have any thoughts on recommendations you would like to see in our report, please do write to us and let us know what they are. Thank you very much indeed for being here.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, and Andrew McCully, Director General, Infrastructure and Funding, Department for Education, gave evidence.

Q161 Chair: Good morning and welcome, to you both, to this meeting of the Select Committee, as we come to the end of our sessions on School Partnerships and Co-operation. I am afraid I missed your last appearance before us, Lord Nash; it is a delight to be here with you this morning.

Lord Nash: It is very good to see you back.

Chair: Thank you. Your vision is for a selfimproving school system. Do you envisage this meaning that every school becomes involves in a partnership or federation of some sort?

Lord Nash: I do not know whether it would be every school, but the majority of schools, yes.

Q162 Chair: That leaves room for quite a large percentage of schools not to be part of any form of co-operation or partnership.

Lord Nash: Our vision is for a schooltoschool support system with as many schools as possible being "outstanding" or "good". In theory, you could get to that without having every school involved in schooltoschool support but, in reality, virtually every school, all the way through to academies, would be involved in some way-whether that is through peertopeer support from one head teacher to another head teacher, sharing subject specialists or whatever. Many schools already are involved.

Q163 Chair: However, many schools are not involved. I was trying to tease out whether your vision is that they all should be. You have the opportunity today to send that signal. We know that signals sent by Ministers can have an impact on the ground.

Lord Nash: Yes, we expect all schools to be involved in some form of peertopeer support. You asked whether, ultimately, they would all be. It is unlikely they would all be but, yes, that is the message we want to send.

We trust head teachers and teachers to manage the system. All of the evidence is that autonomous systems work best; we have the best generation of teachers we have ever had; and we believe the system is working.

Q164 Chair: We have had the academics in; we have had practitioners in. The evidence is not necessarily clear that it is working, is it? It is working in some places, but, then again, there is not an initiative in education that we have seen that does not work for the early adopters. You would have to struggle to find one that does not initially succeed, if it has been carried out by people who have overcome an organisation as conservative as the education system. The question is this: when you get out of the first couple of deciles of implementation, what happens to all of the others? It is not clear yet that it is going to succeed, is it?

Lord Nash: It is still early days, but we have stimulated the system with the academy programme and our dramatic expansion of the NLE programme, the LLE programme and teaching schools. We already have 94 converter academies sponsoring 131 schools.

Q165 Chair: We heard from the previous panel of witnesses how many were converters. They were all pretty much agreed that converter academies were a problem. They may have signed on the dotted line to help other schools but, in reality, they are often not doing it.

Lord Nash: There might be a problem theoretically and academically, but in practice we have 256 converter academies either approved as sponsors or in the pipeline to be approved who are currently not sponsoring any schools at all. We have had a big push to find converter academies-"good" or "outstanding" schools with good results-to sponsor other schools.

Frankly, we have been very encouraged indeed by the number of schools that have come forward to say they want to sponsor academies. Our task, at the moment, is to find them enough schools to sponsor.

Andrew McCully: Earlier, I had the privilege of listening to David Woods. He said that we do not know this comprehensively and we do not have a schoolbyschool tally of what they are doing on a daybyday basis, but all of our practical evidence from talking to schools is very positive.

Mr Whittaker said that, actually, the variability around academies working with each other could be matched by maintained schools within local authorities. That is a very good point: you will always find some schools that sit on their own islands, but our practical daybyday evidence is that academies do maintain contacts on an informal basis.

Chair: Some schools stay as islands; most schools in England are islands, in these terms. Most schools in England are not part of any partnership, federation or chain.

Andrew McCully: All the evidence you have been collecting talks about the variety of different partnership models, ranging from the very tightly controlled partnerships-typically in a multiacademy trust, at one end of the spectrum-through to the much looser collaborations.

Q166 Chair: My point was that most schools in England are not part of any of those. Whatever variety there may be, they are not part of it. You said a few schools are staying as islands. As of today-I know it is early days-the truth is that most are still in their splendid isolation. Whether they are luxuriating in outstandingness or otherwise, they are by themselves.

Andrew McCully: I am not sure of the evidence that most schools are not in any partnership.

Chair: If you have evidence to the contrary, I would be delighted to see it.

Andrew McCully: We see a variety of evidence for different sorts of relationships.

Chair: So you have evidence that most schools are, in fact, part of a chain, federation or other partnership.

Andrew McCully: Across the full spectrum-ranging from the tightly governed collaborations right the way through to the loosely governed-you will find a wide variety of schools.

Lord Nash: Even if most schools were not, it would not surprise me. It is early days, as you say.

Chair: I was trying to tease that out; Mr McCully seemed to be suggesting I was incorrect to think that most schools were not.

Andrew McCully: We do not have the evidence; we all agree on that.

Q167 Ian Mearns: The problem I have with this is that it sounds like there is a bit of an ad hoc element in terms of how the evidence is collated. What lessons are we learning from the evidence? It seems to me that somebody needs to get their foot on the ball regarding this issue and start some systematic analysis on what the evidence actually is. What is the evidence base? We can then start to analyse that and learn some lessons from it. It is sounding a tad anecdotal at the moment.

Lord Nash: Our evidence is that schools supported by an LE in the 201011 academic year increased their Key Stage 4 performance 2.6 percentage points more than a comparator group of schools. Between 200809 and 2010-11, the proportion of pupils gaining five A*C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, increased by 15 points in chains of three or more academies, compared with 12 and 11 percentage points for standalone and twostrong academies.

Evidence from the London School of Economics also supported this and, indeed, showed that, in areas with significant academies, competing schools also had increased performance. The evidence we have is fairly persuasive. Certainly, the evidence on the ground across the country, where we have academy chains taking over underperforming schools, is that we are seeing dramatic increases in performance, sometimes quite quickly, by well organised, tough academy groups in local clusters. We have plenty of evidence from the ground.

Q168 Chair: My opening question was really not trying to say that there is no evidence. We had people in the London Challenge hesitating to say how strongly it had contributed to the improvements in London, but the outlook is pretty good. The chains look pretty good. I suppose, as I said, most initiatives in education are picked up and do quite well in a number of places. The big question is whether you can get that to happen across the whole country.

Lord Nash: We believe we can. There are pockets of areas where it is less easy than in others but, as I say, in a topdown analysis, we have more sponsors than we have schools that need sponsoring at the moment.

Q169 Pat Glass: Can I ask about the research that has been commissioned by the DfE? What have you commissioned or analysed that throws light on this and shows the importance of schooltoschool support?

Andrew McCully: When the National College was the National College for School Leadership, which is now, obviously, a part of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, it commissioned a number of important pieces of research that looked both at the international picture and took evidence on the effectiveness of collaborations and school-to-school support. I particularly point to the work of David Hargreaves, who I know has appeared before this Committee on other occasions, as giving some very powerful evidence of collaboration.

Q170 Pat Glass: Were those only international studies, or do you have anything on how it works within Britain?

Andrew McCully: I point, again, to work commissioned by the National College. I point to Robert Hill’s work about the effective impact of collaboration, particularly in academy chains. He drew a number of conclusions, including that the improvement was greater in academy chains than in some of the early sponsored academies, which had lacked the capacity to look across a number of schools. A number of your witnesses in the previous session were making that comparison. There is a good body of evidence there.

Q171 Pat Glass: One of the vacuums or areas of concern that we picked up on was this issue of what works and spreading good practice. Is the Department considering looking at commissioning any further analysis of what is working in school partnerships and disseminating that across what is a very patchy geographical picture?

Andrew McCully: We cannot ever do enough to identify and disseminate good practice. The Department continues to do that, but a lot of our representative organisations also do this. I would point to FASNA, the Independent Academies Association and the Schools Network. They are all organisations that are helping with this growing body of practical evidence and good practice.

Earlier this morning, I listened to Ofsted colleagues talking about their intention to continue polishing their evidence base of good practice. There is a lot the sector can draw upon and will be able to continue to draw on.

Q172 Ian Mearns: What does the Government regard as the main lessons to be learned from City Challenge? How are you taking these forward in your current policy on collaboration and sponsorship?

Lord Nash: City Challenge was very successful, particularly in cities-and London. We think the natural extensions of that are national leaders of education, teaching schools, teaching alliances and academy chains. On a national basis, we think the academy programme is the extension of that. However, we still support the London Leadership Strategy and other similar organisations.

Q173 Ian Mearns: In light of that answer, Lord Nash, wasn’t it a scary decision to abandon the London Challenge when the new Secretary of State took over?

Lord Nash: Abandon is rather a strong term. We believe, as I say, that the development of the London Challenge was in the way I said: academies, LLEs and teaching schools. They have continued and they have continued well. We recently agreed to support them with money.

Q174 Ian Mearns: What will the proposed tables of similar schools be based upon? Is there any significance to the change from families of schools to tables of similar schools? Why would you ditch a recognisable name and a seemingly successful policy?

Andrew McCully: There is no significance in the change of the name. Families of schools had their particular point of creation in London. We are keen not to take away that unofficial copyright, but there is a commitment to provide that evidence base in the tables this year. That is what the Department will be publishing later this year. It is precisely the kind of information that was so powerful in the London Challenge.

Again, I was able to hear this morning how everyone thought that made such a difference-and we agree.

Q175 Chair: Is it too late to reconsider that? I would have thought that, if they had run the London Challenge and you copied an element and used the same terminology, people would be delighted that such recognition came their way. Did someone threaten you? Did they not want you to do it? Why did you come up with a different terminology that lots of people do not recognise when they have learned about families of schools? I do not understand; is it too late to change your mind?

Andrew McCully: I am happy to look at that.

Chair: That is excellent.

Andrew McCully: I am, however, unsure how much faith you should put in a name.

Q176 Ian Mearns: Will schools be in a good position to use similar schools’ information without the expert guidance from an independent standpoint that went alongside City Challenge?

Lord Nash: I would have thought they would. We intend to make sure that, in each comparative similarschools group, we have a better performing school within a reasonable travelling distance with which they may want to collaborate. As I said, we will be encouraging all schools to collaborate-particularly where they need to do so.

Q177 Chair: What is a reasonable travelling distance? I represent rural East Yorkshire. Reasonable travelling distance from Hornsea or Withernsea is quite a tough concept to deliver.

Lord Nash: It is. A reasonable travelling distance in London might be much closer but, personally, I think-and I have sent this message to all the academy chains-any cluster where people have to travel more than an hour is too far. Much closer than that would be better. However, there are some counties, like Norfolk, in which communities are very geographically dispersed, where one might want to travel further. I still think an hour is probably the maximum, and the closer the better.

Q178 Mr Ward: I do not know if I heard that correctly; did you say that you would be encouraging schools to collaborate where they do not want to?

Lord Nash: If a school is performing poorly, yes.

Mr Ward: The success of collaboration is through a supportive network of schools that want to, isn’t it?

Lord Nash: Yes. Sorry, I do not understand the question. We want our schools to improve and, if schools are not performing well, we will do whatever is necessary to encourage them to improve. We are not going to mandate it; we do trust teachers and leaders to deliver the system. However, where there are schools that are unco-operative, because they either have governing bodies that are putting adults ahead of pupils or a few senior leaders who are recalcitrant, we shall encourage them to collaborate in any way we can.

Chair: What does "any way we can" mean?

Lord Nash: Obviously, if they perform really poorly and they go into special measures, we have certain intervention powers.

Q179 Chair: Going back to where I started, the evidence I have seen-despite what Mr McCully says-seems to be that most schools are not in any of these more formal partnerships and are, therefore, sitting in their little islands. If they are not in special measures-most schools do not end up in special measures-I wonder how these schools are going to be brought over. There has been plenty of encouragement so far, and yet most schools are not doing it.

Lord Nash: If you have a system that is populated by a fixed number of excellent people, one of the things you have to do is encourage them to do more. We must continue to send the message that we do expect schools that are not performing well to collaborate. Clearly, there are good models of collaboration and they clearly work, and if schools are not using them, they should be. We should continue to send that message.

Q180 Chair: We heard before that clusters are where these national leaders in education and teaching schools are. If the Government sticks to 500 as the upper limit, we heard, from the last panel, it will leave vast swathes of the country without a teaching-school cluster to help drive improvement; certainly, there will be areas well over an hour’s drive from one another. That is what we are concerned about. I know in Yorkshire, Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that all the national leaders in education are in the areas that least need national leaders in education. The areas that need it most tend not to have any.

Lord Nash: We are looking at that.

Q181 Chair: We would like to find out what you are going to do about it.

Lord Nash: We are looking at incentives to encourage NLEs to go to places where there are currently shortages.

Chair: Do you mean even if it is more than an hour’s drive? It will take more than an hour’s drive from almost anywhere to get to Withernsea. It takes me an hour to get there from Beverley; I have to allow an hour, anyway.

Lord Nash: You are possibly making a little too much of this hour’s drive point. We will get to a point when we have enough NLEs incentivised to do this. We have an 89% geographic coverage from teaching schools. We could do you a very detailed analysis on an hour’s drive.

Q182 Chair: Lord Nash, you came up with the idea of an hour’s drive. Last week and this week, we have heard about the importance of geographic coherence. I happen to represent a rural area, where we have an insufficient number of good and outstanding schools. I happen to have schools sitting on the coast relatively isolated, and I am struggling to see how this policy is going to deliver the kind of coherent support we all want. I am not trying to mock it or anything; I am not trying to pick on the idea of one hour. I am talking about the realities of getting people to leave schools within the school system. If you have someone in Wakefield whose job it is to go around the whole county of Yorkshire, they can drive miles. However, with someone doing schooltoschool support, there are some issues when there is geography such as I have in my constituency.

Lord Nash: We are seeing groups like ARK going to places like Portsmouth and Hastings. When those groups build critical mass in these areas, these gaps where there is more than an hour’s drive will reduce. However, we are not talking about a very large number of schools. I am well into the hour’s drive model, and we will do whatever we can to encourage NLEs to fill in the gaps.

Q183 Bill Esterson: On this point, you are making the distinction between the academy chains being in a position to travel, whereas the policy is about developing schooltoschool improvement. That is the issue: how do you get head teachers and teachers to go and collaborate when there is the big disincentive of the time taken out by an hour in one direction and an hour in the other? That is a huge disincentive to visiting and providing that support. How do you overcome that problem?

Lord Nash: I am talking about academy chains in certain areas. They all tend to have good leaders and they all tend to have clusters of schools together, which must be the only sensible model. The leadership there will be travelling around amongst those clusters.

Q184 Craig Whittaker: Can I talk to you about the subject of incentives to collaborate? It has been said many times: "The mutual suppression of mutual loathing in pursuit of Government funding." Are financial incentives right-or are they the only way to encourage schools to collaborate?

Lord Nash: They are right, though a lot of what are described as incentives are, in fact, grants. We have grants available for when schools sponsor other schools, because, obviously, it is an expensive job. We have a primary chain grant to encourage primary schools to collaborate, of £50,000. We have the Sponsor Capacity Fund and an NLE development fund.

However, there are many benefits to collaboration: career progression for both schools, for example. The evidence is that both schools-the good school and the poorly performing school-perform well. There can be very good benefits in terms of transition where secondary and primary schools collaborate. There can be benefits in terms of subject specialisation. There are models where secondary and primary schools share sporting facilities. There are a lot of nonfinancial benefits in the system. If you talk to heads who are involved in this, you get a fairly consistent message: it is a twoway street.

Q185 Craig Whittaker: That is excellent. What other financial incentives do the Government offer, apart from the Sponsor Capacity Fund?

Lord Nash: We have recently improved the amount of the primary chain grant where three or more primary chains cluster together, from £25,000 to £50,000. We have the NLE development fund and, as I say, where a sponsor sponsors an underperforming school, there are various grants available there, because it can be quite an expensive exercise to invest in a school in order to turn it around.

Q186 Chair: If I may, Lord Nash, how successful are you being with the primary schools? Are these grants actually leading to greater takeup? Is it still around 5% or 6% of primary schools that have become academies?

Lord Nash: Just over 10% have either become academies or are in the process of becoming academies.

Chair: Do you feel the policy is working in the primary sector as you hoped it would?

Lord Nash: Yes. It is always going to be the case that primary schools, which are more local schools, are possibly going to be slower to react. That is one reason why we are increasing the incentive.

Chair: Sorry, why would they be slower to react?

Lord Nash: A lot of primary schools tend to be quite parochial. Personally, I think primary schools are subcritical mass. That is not to say that small primary schools cannot work, but they would work better together in a group: with better financial controls, better processing power and better career structures.

Q187 Chair: Would you consider changing the policy so that primary schools-certainly those below a certain size, for instance-could not become academies without being part of some co-operation or chain?

Lord Nash: Yes, we would be very reluctant to allow a very small primary to become a free-standing academy, but that is not to say we would not.

Chair: I was asking about more formal rules. Would you consider changing the rules? At the moment, any school can apply, no matter how tiny it is. Is that right? You get small schools, for instance, that are threatened with closure by the local authority because they are seen as nonviable. They could then seek academy status, could they not?

Andrew McCully: Any school can apply, but the Secretary of State makes a judgment about whether or not to enter into a funding agreement with the school. As Lord Nash was saying, we need to look very hard at the capacity of that school to ensure it could take on the expectations of academy schools.

Q188 Chair: Do you expect a school of 50 pupils would have that capacity? You could send out a signal today. They have very little capacity anyway. If they spend their time applying to be an academy-because every school can apply to be an academy-and they all get turned down, it would be a shame that you had not just told them today. We could publicise it; Times Educational Supplement could put in next week’s edition.

Andrew McCully: Some have.

Lord Nash: We are not exactly inundated with 50place primary schools applying to be academies.

Q189 Chair: You have 10%. It is possible that you will get to a critical mass and it will become the thing to do and schools will start to apply. I am trying to tease out who you think would be appropriate and who you think would not be appropriate, so that they do not waste their time filling out forms in order to be rejected.

Andrew McCully: It is about the quality of the provision. If the Committee would like an example, Delamere School in Cheshire, an outstanding school in the heart of rural Cheshire, initially only had 70 pupils on its roll. It is now growing and is a victim of its own success. It is at the centre, now, of a teaching alliance in the area. The quality of that provision and the relationships it had enabled it to take on the responsibilities of academy status-and very successful it is. It is a question about the capacity of the school.

Q190 Craig Whittaker: In 2010, the Schools White Paper promised £35 million a year for collaborative working. What happened to that?

Andrew McCully: My memory is failing me. I do not quite recognise that particular bit of the White Paper. There are a variety of pieces of support for collaborative working, and Lord Nash identified a good many of them.

Lord Nash: They would have added up to at least that figure.

Craig Whittaker: Rather than a lump sum being available every year, it is coming in the form of other things.

Andrew McCully: That is precisely it.

Q191 Craig Whittaker: In the past, we have heard from the HMCI about the steps he would like to take to encourage school leaders to work with other schools. Is the Government supportive of Ofsted’s plans in this area? Specifically, will the Government support Ofsted’s moves to deny an "outstanding" judgment to schools that are not working in collaboration with other schools?

Lord Nash: We have discussed the idea that Sir Michael has of a category five, as it were, for your point. It could be confusing, because parents might see a category four, which is in the current terminology an "outstanding" school, as not as good as category five, when, in fact, it would be providing as good an education for their children. We are considering whether that is one alternative or whether it might be better to keep just four categories and keep "outstanding", but have a star rating for the leadership of the schools involved in system support. Those are the kinds of issues; we do not want to send confusing messages to parents.

Q192 Craig Whittaker: What about the proposal about denying the school an "outstanding" judgment if they are not working in collaboration with other schools?

Lord Nash: That is not our current thinking.

Q193 Chair: That is up to you, rather than Ofsted, to decide, is it?

Andrew McCully: Ofsted sets the framework, but Ofsted, in the way in which it communicates and consults on all of this, would take huge account of things that the Government said.

Chair: What is the answer to my question?

Andrew McCully: Ofsted sets the framework; Ofsted is the ultimate decisionmaker on the framework.

Chair: They can decide to go to five, even if the Government does not want them to.

Andrew McCully: Ofsted is independent, yes.

Q194 Ian Mearns: How many applications to become academies are rejected? How many schools are thought to be unsuitable to take on the model? How many formally make an application and have it turned down?

Andrew McCully: We do not keep that data. It is often the case that what we say is, "Go back and think again." It is not, "You shall never darken our doors again." One of the key parts of the information that we look at is the strength of the school and its performance.

Chair: We understand that; stick to the question.

Lord Nash: We do not keep that data.

Chair: That seems extraordinary.

Q195 Ian Mearns: If you do not keep the data, how do you know if a school has previously applied?

Lord Nash: We know all that.

Chair: You must have the data. The central policy of this Government is promoting academies. If they apply, how hard is it to work out to which ones you have said "Yes" and to which ones you have said, "Not now"? It cannot be that difficult.

Lord Nash: It is not difficult at all; the question is whether it has any validity. We could probably calculate it, if you want the answer. We could probably go away and calculate it.

Chair: That is excellent. If you do that and get that back to the Committee, we would be very grateful.

Lord Nash: What value will that have to the Committee?

Chair: That will be something for us to decide, Lord Nash. You only need to decide whether you are going to provide the information or not.

Andrew McCully: I am sure we can find that information. The point I was making to Mr Mearns is that sometimes it is not a blackorwhite answer.

Q196 Chair: No. There are schools that are very small. If it turned out that 95% of primary schools with fewer than 100 pupils were turned down, I would think that was quite pertinent information for me to have if I were head of a primary school.

If I were another head, I would quite like to know what the chances were of my getting permission or not. Indeed, I might be able to divine from the figures some idea about who got through and who did not, and whether I should bother applying or not or whether I needed to fix myself first.

Lord Nash: That would be extremely valuable information if we did not send out any signals to schools as to the kind of criteria that we would apply in order to decide whether or not they could convert. Given what we do, I personally do not think it will be of much value to you, but we will provide it.

Chair: That is terribly kind of you, Lord Nash.

Q197 Alex Cunningham: I want to go back to the question of the £35 million a year, which was promised in the White Paper to aid or support school collaboration. It appears that the Minister was not aware of the £35 million. I would like to know, now, what is going to happen in the future with that sum of money a year? When is it accounted for? In an answer to a parliamentary question, Minister Laws confirmed that none of it had been spent. He said none of it had been spent "using the model originally envisaged". What is the new model? Where is that money accounted for? Has it gone, been absorbed or cut? Maybe the Minister could answer the question.

Lord Nash: You are saying that the £35 million we have just heard about-

Q198 Alex Cunningham: You promised an annual sum in the White Paper.

Lord Nash: David Laws has said we have not spent it.

Q199 Alex Cunningham: He said none of it had been spent "using the model originally envisaged". What I want to know is this: what is the model, now, for spending that money? Does it not exist? Has it been cut considerably? What has happened to the sum of money that was promised in the White Paper?

Lord Nash: We have spent considerable sums of money-I am sure they would add up to more than that-in the way of incentives and grants that we have already discussed.

Q200 Alex Cunningham: You do not know what has happened to this figure of £35 million. You do not know whether that money has been taken from that pot or not. The Minister has said that none of that money has been spent "using the model originally envisaged", but we do not know what the new model is. Can somebody please tell us what the new model is?

Chair: I am sorry, Lord Nash, but it would be most helpful if you wrote to us and were able to spell out the detail and history of that. If it has been reabsorbed and you have done alternative models, you could lay out the expenditure there as well and we would have a full picture. Would you be happy with that?

Lord Nash: Absolutely, yes.

Chair: Marvellous.

Q201 Neil Carmichael: Good morning. It is nice to see you again. On the question of converter academies supporting other schools, we have had a bit of evidence already suggesting that that is not necessarily going as well as it might and raising the issue of enforcement, if you like. Have you been considering how that might be done?

Lord Nash: We do not think that, as Mr Ward said, enforcement is the way forward in a schooltoschool model. Actually, in time, we think we will be able to spread the number of schools that engage in schooltoschool support. Teachers are very noble people; they are very publicspirited; and all the evidence is that they are, frankly, up for this.

We do exhort all converters to get involved in schooltoschool support. Our survey shows that they all do, in some way. We will continue to exhort them. However, as I say, we already have over 250 converter academies approved or, we believe, in the process of being approved, for which we have not yet found schools to sponsor. At the moment, apart from in particular areas-some of them are remote geographic areas like the Chair referred to-we do not see a big problem with this.

Q202 Chair: Who did you survey?

Lord Nash: We surveyed 21 schools and asked them what they were doing.

Q203 Chair: You surveyed a small number of converter academies and asked them if they were doing what they promised to do.

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q204 Chair: That is the evidence you have that they are doing what they promised to do. Could I suggest that, perhaps, a slightly wider survey of those whom they are supposed to be helping might be more useful? If the recipients of the help were to grade the quality of that help, it might give us a more definitive view. It is very hard to imagine that a school that has signed on the dotted line to help others would say they had failed miserably in doing so. Is that fair?

Lord Nash: It is very fair.

Q205 Neil Carmichael: In your written evidence, you did mention the possibility that you were considering putting in place additional monitoring steps, in this regard.

Lord Nash: Yes.

Neil Carmichael: What would they look like?

Lord Nash: Along the lines the Chair mentioned: to survey more widely and to see, in more detail, precisely the kind of schooltoschool support there is and the evidence it is working. The evidence we have from the limited survey is that it is working in terms of the improvement in the schools they are supporting.

Q206 Neil Carmichael: In the session before this one, we were discussing the middletier concept. We were exploring Ofsted’s regional structure. We were saying that it may well be simply the inspection process, if you like, but all four of our panellists basically did agree that it would be useful to have something in parallel to help schools drive standards and monitor what was going on. Have you been thinking along those lines?

Lord Nash: Yes, we are constantly thinking about that. At the moment, the schooltoschool support model is working well. I accept that it is early days, but we have only been at this for a limited period of time. As has been indicated, the system has been quite conservative. We are watching closely to see how it develops. If we think it needs more support, stimulus or incentives, we will provide those.

Q207 Neil Carmichael: Broadly speaking, the previous four panellists concluded that the process is a bit ad hoc at the moment. That is what their opinion was.

Andrew McCully: Listening to the evidence, they were all questioning the single idea of a middle tier. All of the colleagues earlier were talking about different roles played by different players. We see that growing all the time. Sir George Berwick was talking about schoolbased schooltoschool support and how this country is leading the world in that-I would certainly agree with that-whereas our colleague from Wigan was talking about how place planning could only be effectively done through a local authority lead. You are seeing a variety of different roles played by different players, and I am sure that must be right.

Q208 Neil Carmichael: You prefer the mixedeconomy model, if you like.

Andrew McCully: That is what we are seeing over time.

Q209 Alex Cunningham: What effect will the Secretary of State’s plans to privatise state schools to allow them to be run for profit have on collaboration?

Lord Nash: We have no such plans.

Q210 Alex Cunningham: There are no such plans. State schools are not going to be run for profit under this Government’s policy.

Lord Nash: We have no such plans for that to happen.

Q211 Alex Cunningham: You are denying the speculation in the newspapers suggesting that Michael Gove has said he wants to move towards a situation where schools can be run for profit.

Lord Nash: We have no plans to do that at the moment, no.

Q212 Ian Mearns: Has there been any policy discussion within the Department about that? I know you are saying there are no proposals at the moment, but has there been any policy discussion about going down that line at all within the Department? Lord Nash, I have actually seen what I believe to be a DfE paper, in which this has been discussed.

Andrew McCully: There was a lot of interest, in yesterday’s press, in such a paper. I know what that paper was, because I was part of the discussion. I am going to bore the Committee now. It was talking about the accounting classification of academies compared with further education colleges, universities and other types of school. The accounting classification, which is set by the Office for National Statistics, determines that academies, rather bizarrely, are nondepartmental Government bodies, which carries all sorts of strange implications. In that paper, we were discussing whether there was merit in trying to take action there to persuade the Office for National Statistics to have a different classification. That is a very, very long way away from questions of privatisation.

Q213 Chair: Are you are sure you know which paper it was? In the context of what you said about ONS classification, the word profit would not appear.

Andrew McCully: All academies are charities and a charity is private.

Q214 Chair: Did the word profit get used? I know it is a bit of a difficult question to ask, whether the word profit appeared in it, but it seems like an enormous leap for the press to suggest there was a paper looking at the viability of forprofit schools and you are suggesting the paper did no such thing.

Andrew McCully: I do not want to put words in Mr Mearns’ mouth, but if it is the paper that was addressed in the newspapers yesterday, it was a paper that examined the accounting classification.

Ian Mearns: Andrew, if you show me yours, I will be able to tell you.

Q215 Alex Cunningham: Lord Nash, when you answered me the second time there you qualified your answer. You said "at the moment"; does that mean it is either a midterm or a longterm ambition of the Conservative Party in Government to have schools run for profit?

Lord Nash: Demonstrably, I am a capitalist. I spent 30 years in the venturecapital business.

Alex Cunningham: That is a yes.

Lord Nash: I have been in the Department for six months and at no stage have I discussed with anybody the idea of schools being run for profit. I will probably only be in this job for a maximum of two years; I cannot predict what any future Government might say, but we have no plans for the moment at all. I have had no discussions about schools being run for profit.

Q216 Alex Cunningham: I am sure you would agree with me that the danger of a focus on profit might result in creditors, rather than collaborators, in the system.

Lord Nash: Actually, I would not. People are quite happy to buy their food from Tesco and go to hospitals that are run by the private sector, even though they are funded by the NHS. We probably should not get into that, because it is not going to happen, as far as I can see, any time soon.

As far as the idea of collaboration not happening because of competition, we see no evidence for that. As I said, the teaching profession seems to be incredibly public-spirited.

Chair: Alex is doing a very fine job of getting as many words as possible that could be used to suggest that it is a future plan. It seems to me that Lord Nash has been quite clear: he has never discussed it; there are no such plans. Could we move on?

Q217 Alex Cunningham: As Lord Nash said, at the moment. We will continue to pursue this at a later date.

Lord Nash: I am sure you will. If we all live 100 years, I would be amazed-unless capitalism collapses, which it might-that we do not have state schools run for profit. However, we have no plans for that to happen at the moment.

Alex Cunningham: That is perhaps a much longerterm view than a shorter one, Lord Nash. We will leave it there.

Q218 Ian Mearns: Seriously, though, for certainty, could we actually see the policy paper that Andrew was talking about?

Chair: Would it be possible for that to be released to the Committee?

Andrew McCully: Given that it is already in the public domain through a leak, lots of people have a hold of it.

Q219 Chair: Please see if you could formally send it to the Committee. Would you be happy for us to publish it, or could you send it to the Committee and we do not publish it?

Andrew McCully: As you know, the policy of leaked papers is not one we want to encourage.

Q220 Chair: Though, on repeated occasions, the Secretary of State has expressed his extraordinary comfort levels with leaks as a fact of political life, which has rather frustrated the Committee on occasion.

Andrew McCully: Comfort is a-

Chair: Will you send us a copy?

Andrew McCully: I do not think I can promise that.

Q221 Chair: After all, you advise; Ministers decide.

Lord Nash: We will consider it.

Chair: Thank you.

Q222 Alex Cunningham: Are you confident that sponsored academies receive sufficient support from their sponsors or are there some you have some concerns about?

Lord Nash: By and large, we believe they do. It is inevitable, when you have a system that has been opened up to the extent it has, that not everything is perfect. We do have concerns about some, yes.

Q223 Alex Cunningham: What is happening in the system that is giving you those concerns?

Lord Nash: A number of very underperforming schools that have been taken over by sponsored academies have not turned around quickly, which is perhaps not surprising. Where we think it might be due to the academy sponsor, we have active discussions with them, we are aware of where those issues are and we are doing all we can to encourage the sponsors to improve the performance of those schools.

Q224 Alex Cunningham: Can we expect some sort of broad report about where the system is falling down some time in the future?

Lord Nash: We do not think the system is falling down; we think it is doing well, actually.

Q225 Alex Cunningham: Some schools are still vulnerable.

Lord Nash: We inherited a system with a lot of vulnerable schools, yes.

Q226 Alex Cunningham: Can we talk a little bit about academy chains? Michael Wilshaw has indicated to the Committee he expects Ofsted to get the powers to inspect academy chains, rather than individual schools; will they get those powers? If not, why not? If yes, when?

Lord Nash: We are thinking about whether or not Ofsted should have those powers. Right at this moment, we do not feel they would be of any benefit to the Department. We would rather Ofsted focused on its other activities, which are extensive. We have plenty of evidence on the performance of academy chains from Ofsted’s detailed inspections of the underlying schools.

We actively are in dialogue with all academy chains and their management on a regular basis. Our education advisers visit schools that are performing poorly, and we have plenty of intervention levers. At the moment, we do not feel that Ofsted inspecting the chain, as opposed to the underlying schools, would give us any information we do not have materially at the moment.

Q227 Alex Cunningham: Does the Chief Inspector not know whether or not he is getting these powers? He seems to think he is going to get them. Do you have any idea why he thinks that? Is he just misguided?

Lord Nash: No, I think he would like to have those powers.

Q228 Alex Cunningham: It is a case of his liking to have them, rather than you being prepared to give him them.

Lord Nash: We are in discussions with him, but, at the moment, we need to be persuaded that they would give us more information than we have at the moment.

Q229 Alex Cunningham: It certainly sounds as if his expectations are greater than your intention to give way to him. Can you tell me in what circumstances you could see a school within a hard partnership, such as a chain, wanting to leave it?

Lord Nash: We are now in the realms of hypothesis, which, at my age, I try not to engage in.

Q230 Alex Cunningham: I will give you a different question instead. Do you accept the need for schools to be able to leave as well as enter hard partnerships?

Lord Nash: Schools can leave hard partnerships by consent of their partners. If a school is in a hard partnership or an academy group and is failing to the extent where we could use our intervention powers, we may well seek to change sponsor.

Q231 Alex Cunningham: One could also see a very successful school deciding, "We want to leave this partnership, because we think we can work with other schools and maybe create a new group." They might feel as though they are not able to help to the extent they would like to, because they are tied into a chain.

Lord Nash: That would be unlikely. It might be possible, but, if we are going to hypothesise, we could have a situation where a school comes in to a chain because it is performing poorly. As a result of the support it gets from the chain, it performs well. The chain would then expect it to put back into the system and do just what you have outlined, which it would be perfectly capable of doing within the chain.

Alternatively, you could have a situation where a school was not performing terribly well and the academy chain was trying to get it to do certain things, which it did not like; if it could suddenly walk, this really would not work. We do not have any plans for schools in chains to be able to make a UDI, but they could do it with the co-operation of their partners. Where we had a relationship which was not working, we would seek to broker an improvement in that relationship.

Q232 Alex Cunningham: Does it not fly in the face of the Government’s idea of schools having the freedom to choose and develop in their own way to say, "You are part of that chain; you are staying there"?

Lord Nash: They have joined the chain willingly. It is pretty unlikely that, if a chain was doing well, this would happen. If it was a breakdown and we thought it was caused by the chain, we would try and do all we can to make sure that the chain improved its performance.

Q233 Alex Cunningham: Maybe Mr Wilshaw should have those powers. I’m finished, Chair.

Lord Nash: He could have the power to inspect, but he would not have any power to change our intervention-unless we took it.

Alex Cunningham: I understand.

Q234 Ian Mearns: There is a problem, inasmuch as the chains themselves are an organic process and they grow. When a school joins a chain, it may be at a fledgling stage of the chain. As the organism grows, they find that the relationship that the school has with the chain itself becomes quite different. That might actually make the school decide they want to change the relationship.

I have already had an example, in my own locality, of a school who decided, having had discussions, that they did not want to be part of the chain they had signed up for. They stood back from the chain, but they were unable to stand back from the contractual relationship they had entered into with the chain on the delivery of a whole range of services. They were very unhappy about that and they wrote to the Secretary of State about it. I am sure that this sort of stuff is happening; I am a little surprised you feel it has not been happening.

Lord Nash: I do not think it is happening to any great extent and, where it is happening, we would see that one party must be at fault. Either the school itself is deluded in some way or the academy chain is not doing its stuff. Where it is the latter, we would expect to discuss that with the academy chain.

Q235 Chair: Lord Nash, I would invite you to give this a bit more thought. I do not think your conclusion that someone is at fault is necessarily true. As Ian has just said, it can change organically.

Last week, we had the example of the Torbay partnership. There were four schools: three grammar schools, if I remember, and one chain school, which had not joined in. At the end of the session, we were told that the chain school had decided that they would come in. If they come in and find the chain is doing great things for, most of all, the schools with the biggest problems-that is where you would hope they would concentrate-and this school is going along very nicely without much intervention and a lot of support in Torbay, why would you not want to allow them to secede from the chain and join and strengthen the Torbay partnership, if that is the right thing to do?

I would have thought this was exactly the kind of organic freedom you would want in the system. Neither is at fault, are they?

Lord Nash: You did not like my use of my expression "at the moment" earlier, Mr Cunningham. I will give it more thought, but we have no plans to allow it at the moment.

Q236 Chair: How many new chains are emerging?

Lord Nash: Quite a few.

Q237 Chair: Can you give us any numbers?

Andrew McCully: About 45% of academies are in chains of either a multiacademy trust or what we call an umbrella trust, which a small class are in.

Q238 Chair: How many trusts or chains are there?

Andrew McCully: I do not have that figure to hand; I am sure we could give you that figure. There are 391 multi-academy trusts, and that is a total that climbs all the time.

Q239 Chair: Where do they tend to spring from?

Andrew McCully: The biggest source at the moment is schools: outstanding schools who first convert to become academies and want to expand their schooltoschool support activities. The biggest source of sponsorship is other schools.

Q240 Chair: To link it back to an earlier point, I can see how, as a particular chain grows, an outstanding school might want to go off and set up a new chain. Again, you would not want to restrict that dynamism by saying, "You guys are together and one of you must be at fault, so I am going to come along and bang the head of the person who is at fault until you go back into your box."

I would have thought we would have wanted them to come merging out and creating new chains. In business, if a part of the business grows successfully, you do not necessarily see it as a disaster if it goes out on its own, rather than staying as part of the group. Does that not appeal to you?

Lord Nash: I would not want to stretch that analogy too far, but, as I said, we will give it more thought.

Q241 Mr Ward: I think it was the Netherlands where we asked a question about their equivalent of the chains and what would happen if one wanted to leave. The view was that it should not be allowed to happen. I suppose what we are trying to find out is the relationship that exists that between the member of the chain and the chain itself. Could someone say, "Actually, I am doing very well, thank you; I am going off on my own"?

Lord Nash: At the moment, they could not. If we had a situation where we felt that for some reason a school doing very well in a particular area wanted to sponsor schools in the area and was not able to do it as part of the chain-they should be able to do this, which is why it is slightly hard to imagine this happening-I am sure we could discuss it with all parties. In a thriving schooltoschool model and with everybody having very public-spirited interests, it may well be possible to break it. However, I do not see how the organisation of the chain group can work if people can, frankly, come and go at their will.

Q242 Siobhain McDonagh: Lord Nash, I am so pleased to see you here this morning and I am very pleased that Alex has let me ask the next question, because you will be looking at something directly of relevance to this question in my constituency in the next few days. We have heard several times in this inquiry that geographical coherence is important for effective partnerships; is this taken into account when academy sponsors are sought?

Lord Nash: Yes. It is not taken into account in the sense of when we approve a sponsor. Somebody has to apply to us to be a sponsor, and that would not be taken into account. If we were then looking at them sponsoring a particular school, we would not want them to be sponsoring a school that was too far from where they are-so yes.

Q243 Siobhain McDonagh: That is great. Can I just ask whether past performance of the chains is taken into account when looking at whether they are the right sponsor for a failing school?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q244 Siobhain McDonagh: Those chains that perform better get a greater chance of taking over a school.

Lord Nash: Yes, if we are satisfied they can handle the capacity to expand.

Q245 Ian Mearns: You have already touched on this, Lord Nash, to a certain extent, but, just for the record, do you think that schools that are meant to be competing with each other are less likely to co-operate?

Lord Nash: There is no evidence for this. It is a good theoretical argument, but we do not see it in practice. Indeed, there is evidence that, where there are quite a lot of academies in the area, nearby schools have raised their game. The rising tide does lift all boats.

Q246 Ian Mearns: If Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s are all competing with each other in an area, they say, "I will not go there, because that is your territory. We will not go there."

Lord Nash: I was not thinking so much of that. I was thinking of the fact that, if Tesco were somewhere, the other shops would have to raise their game.

Q247 Ian Mearns: Do you think there are any inherent tensions between competition and collaboration or is this a false dichotomy?

Lord Nash: No and yes.

Q248 Ian Mearns: If there are tensions, are these positive, negative or can they be eased by the way the system is structured?

Lord Nash: A certain amount of tension is healthy.

Q249 Chair: You just said there was no tension. You are asked about what you would do about the tension and you say it is a very good thing. I am confused.

Lord Nash: I was confused.

Chair: Do you want to answer those questions again?

Lord Nash: I do think there is a tension.

Chair: So there is a tension between competition and collaboration.

Lord Nash: There is a certain amount of tension, but it is not caused by collaboration. The fact that there are schools in the area that are doing better and are collaborating may well cause tension among those schools in the area that are not doing well and maybe not collaborating. That is healthy, because it might encourage them to collaborate. Chair, you should be pleased with that, in view of your drive for greater collaboration.

Q250 Siobhain McDonagh: Do you think those schools that have got attention because others are doing well might try to keep the sponsor out because they are frightened it will show them in a bad light?

Lord Nash: Yes.

Q251 Ian Mearns: The Government is currently undertaking major changes to the school accountability system. As part of this, what steps will you take to reduce the current disincentive for partnership working inherent in individual schoolfocused accountability measures?

Andrew McCully: We have a publication forthcoming; I cannot give a date. As you know, we have been consulting on both the primary and secondary accountability measures and, indeed, post16. The Secretary of State is considering the responses to that consultation at the moment. I would hope that we will be able to publish something very soon.

Q252 Chair: The Government put out proposals and there is nothing in it to reward or incentivise co-operation with other schools. It came up in the previous session, when we were talking about the fact that Ofsted tends not to give any credit-I do not know what form it would take-to people who are collaborating elsewhere. In a co-operative, selfimproving system, as schools tend to be driven by the accountability measures, you might think you would create incentives to co-operate within those hardedged accountability measures. It might primarily be as a helper of others or it might primarily be as a recipient of help, but, either way, you would think you would try and align the accountability with that policy objective.

If there is one thing we have learned in the last couple of years, looking at exams and the way schools behave, it is that they are absolutely driven by the accountability system-particularly the schools that are struggling. The great schools do great things regardless of what we in Government do, but other schools tend to be more driven by it. Does that need to be reflected on more? I do not think we have any idea of what that would look like. Of course, anything you do put in tends to have perverse outcomes as well, but, at the moment, there is no suggestion of doing anything in that accountability system to encourage the very co-operation that you think is fundamental to school improvement across the board.

Andrew McCully: I agree very much with some of the statements made this morning about the whole variety of different ways. Mr Chairman, you talked about both levers and incentives. The Minister has already talked about a range of incentives-and there may be more-to collaborate. Our Ofsted colleague was talking about the importance of how the inspection reports flag up the role of leaders. That is something Ofsted want to do more of; I think that would be very powerful, too.

We talked about the families of schools, if we are using that phrase. In the information and performance tables, there is another piece of information that serves as both a check and an incentive to think about the relationships with other schools. There is a whole variety of different incentives.

Q253 Chair: That is a fair point. Obviously, Ofsted have a critical part to play in accountability, but there is nothing in the league table measures and the minimum thresholds and the like, at the moment, specifically about co-operation. I wondered whether the Department had considered it. Are there any models you have thought of?

Andrew McCully: We will keep on considering it. The accountability system develops over time, but, as you said, there are downsides to making the accountability system too complex. It can stop having the incentive effect.

Chair: Fair enough. Thank you both very much for giving evidence to us this morning.

Prepared 5th November 2013