Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Ms Ruth Harker (EB 09)



  1.1  Excellence in Cities is intended to support schools in addressing the problems of the major cities. Progress has been made. Despite support for the government's education agenda and appreciation of the additional resources, there remain significant issues including staff recruitment, large numbers of disengaged or dispersed pupils, high student turn over, large numbers of pupils in the SEN register for learning and/or behavioural/emotional difficulties. These issues need a broader strategic approach.

  1.2  In Birmingham as in other LEAs the EiC planning and the budget were largely devolved to the Headteachers. Whilst this was welcomed, it also required a significant amount of time out of school, especially in the first year of EiC.

  1.3  Schools exist in an accountable society where they are increasingly subject to external scrutiny and Headteachers have long been aware of the need for accountability Many schools have data which shows that targets have been met. At times, however, the emphasis on the measurable and verifiable masks the individual success stories which all schools could tell.


2.1  The strands: Gifted and Talented Programme

  2.1.1  In 2001-02, 414 pupils from across the 11-16 age range received support through the school's Gifted and Talented programme. This amounted to 32 per cent of the school roll. Analysis shows that the ethnic breakdown of these students reflects that of the school as a whole.

  2.1.2   The programme has been a particularly successful aspect of our EiC work and evidence from schools in the South West EiC Partnership suggests that this is reflected across all the eighteen schools. It is intended to raise aspirations, particularly in relation to post-16 and post-18 education and raise standards, especially amongst the most able. It brings together Gifted and Talented pupils from across the school and on occasions from across several schools. All Year 10 G&T students from the 18 South West Schools attended a "Raising Achievement" evening. Many students visited universities and attended their residentials. Many students attended school based extension classes. Staff also worked on extending learners in the classroom.

  2.1.3  It is difficult to ascertain which of these strategies was the most effective but cumulatively at Bournville, there has been a significant impact. In 2002, an increased number of pupils achieved the higher (A*, A and B) GCSE grades, an increased proportion of boys achieved 5+ A*-C GCSE Grades (49 per cent in comparison with 47 per cent overall). From a position several years ago when we were below local post-16 continuing education rates we have made rapid progress and are now well over 70 per cent, in line with other 11-18 schools locally. This year an even higher proportion of students carried on with their education post-16 (which included over 50 per cent staying on into the school Sixth Form).

  2.1.4  At local level, some G & T "clusters" have been more successful than others. Some staff found the additional work to be too much. Time out of school and the difficulties of cover are additional concerns.

2.2  EiC Strand: Learning Mentors

  2.2.1  EiC funding along with other standards funds has allowed us to appoint a Learning Mentor and an Assistant Learning Mentor. They work from a Pupil Support Base (PSB), funded through EiC Year One funds, with additional support from school budget share. In 2001-02 Learning Mentors worked with 162 students mainly from years 8-11, (12.5 per cent of school roll). The largest group is white working class boys (46 per cent) a figure which reflects the preponderance of white working class boys in the school as a whole. Over 40 per cent of pupils who have received support are entitled to free school meals, which is proportionately more than the 25 per cent across the school.

  2.2.2  Learning Mentors often have a direct link with parents/carers and have provided practical help and advice for them on a range of family and social issues, going well beyond their brief. This is partly a result of the difficulties which affect Social Services which restrict their involvement to all but the most serious child protection cases. In 2001-02 there was a long period when we had had to pay for food and clothes for one homeless Year 11 girl (one parent in prison on drugs offences, the other, an alcoholic, threw her out without any clothes). We had to involve the Police. Despite our continuous efforts Social Services did not get involved for six months. During this time, the PSB became her "home". Her attendance improved from around 50 per cent in Year 10 to 85 per cent in Year 11, she achieved a creditable set of GCSE results and despite being refused a college place, with support from Learning Mentors, she is now undertaking a course at the College of Food.

  2.2.3  Individual students who are identified as having barriers to learning (social, physical, intellectual, cultural, emotional, behavioural for example) are offered additional support. This might take the form of:

    —  Carefully structured group work, aimed at rebuilding self confidence or improving social skills.

    —  Personal Development Workshops focusing on anger management, conflict resolution, bullying, self esteem or offending behaviour, Individual work, including counselling.

  2.2.4  There is a focus on poor attenders. Comparatively high previous unauthorised absence rates are seen in students working through our Pupil Support Base. We use a standards fund to pay for a teacher to work with these students, bring them into school and support them through the reintegration process. A particular success in 2001-02 was a College Link course for disaffected KS4 students, with shared provision, school based mentoring and a great deal of personal development work. Although demonstrably successful, the practical difficulties and significant costs have led us to reduce the provision for the coming year.

  2.2.5  The social inclusion agenda is of such importance that we have supplemented the EiC funds and created a new Assistant Headteacher post. Her brief is to develop a whole school—community approach. Schools alone can only make limited difference to the quality of life, self esteem and life chances of children in difficult and challenging circumstances, as there are usually much wider family issues.

2.3  EiC strand: Learning Support Centres

  2.3.1  Headteachers from South West Birmingham Schools realised too late to do anything about the first Learning Support Centre in the network, that the 100,000 would provide a major resource for one individual school and possibly its community, but would provide little for the remaining seventeen schools. When the opportunity came to fund a second centre (albeit with half the money) we decided to do something different. The resulting partnership with two local Pupil Referral Units showed us the way forward. This success of this initiative was demonstrated when exclusions in the area fell dramatically. However, the initiative was stalled by pressure on the PRUs from exclusions from elsewhere. As a result, exclusions across the schools rose.

  2.3.2  One initiative which is not supported by schools is the exclusion "dowry". This is not because schools exclude "lightly". School budget arrangements and especially the manner in which staffing is funded make it impossible to manage when one or two students are excluded. Despite the EiC funding budgets have not kept pace with inflation in real terms, the situation in many schools is very tight and the loss of several thousand when one or two students have to be excluded can cause real difficulties, despite taking excluded pupils from other schools.

2.4  EiC Strands: City Learning Centres

  2.4.1  Headteachers from the EiC network planned the City Learning Centre based at Frankley High School. The focus is upon the technology curriculum. The high-tec equipment would not be affordable by the individual schools. There were some initial reservations about pupils having to travel some distance to it but it has developed into one of the most well used CLCs nationally.

  2.4.2  In 2001-02, 228 students from Bournville used the CLC. This was the whole of our Year 9. Technology teachers spent time at the CLC planning lessons before taking the students to the CLC, teaching them and then following up the project work in school. Students found it motivating and they were able to plan and develop projects and use equipment which would not have been possible otherwise. The experience demonstrated the relevance of technology to today's modern, high tec world and raised pupils' expectations about the subject. The professional development for staff was also very evident.

  2.4.3  The Headteachers' Group receives regular reports allowing us to monitor the CLC use. These show that most, but not all schools in the network have used the CLC.

2.5  Inclusion

  2.5.1  Twenty eight pupils with varying degrees of visual impairment, some of whom are registered blind and have complex learning needs, are fully integrated into Bournville School and work alongside their sighted peers. The school has worked extremely hard to address a range of issues relating to inclusion. A Resource Base provides the expertise and facilities to support the children as they move through the school, enabling them to follow the National Curriculum. With training and support, teachers are able to include Visually Impaired pupils in their classrooms and even those who have been in Special Schools at the Primary Stage, generally achieve well. I am a member of the LEA's Strategic Management Group which plans and co-ordinates the provision for Visually Impaired pupils across the LEA.

  2.5.2  Most Headteachers would support the aim of including as many pupils in mainstream schools as possible but this has to be balanced by the impact upon the rest of the school population from pupils who by definition are often severely disruptive and very demanding. The inclusion of significant numbers of pupils with an increasingly challenging range of behavioural and emotional difficulties is very different from including pupils with visual or hearing impairments or even speech and language problems. There appears to be a significant underestimation of the behaviour patterns presented by many of these pupils and their impact in the classroom and on the school. The difficulties cannot be resolved by short term training for teaching staff, adjustments in the classroom environment or some, usually limited, support from another adult.

  2.5.3  There is no doubt that the inclusion agenda is at times, in conflict with the imperative to raise standards. There are some pupils whose behaviour and/or needs are such that inclusion in mainstream schools is not possible. We are all working in a climate where behaviour in general has got significantly worse (even reported as such by one of the local Grammar Schools in my Link Adviser visit). A significant number of parents are not supportive (condoned absence is the attendance issue which we cannot "crack"). Increasing numbers of parents resort to litigation as soon as a difficulty arises, often wasting hours and hours of senior staff and Headteachers' time). Despite training and intensive support, those staff who could just about cope with pupils whose behaviour was generally good, cannot cope under these circumstances, leading to resignation from some schools, and competency issues.


  3.1  11-18 schools in Birmingham established a School Sixth Form Partnership early in Autumn 2000. This includes the LEA. The partnership builds on a previous group which established a post-16 guarantee and looked at a range of funding models, but did not have a strategic role. Solihull 11-18 Schools joined the partnership in Spring 2001. The partnership has established a steering group, which I chair and which includes Head Teachers from a range of 11-18 schools in Birmingham and Solihull.

  3.2  Even before the recent Area Wide Inspection, the partnership had begun to review existing provision and had started to identify the issues which will need to be addressed in the light of recent legislation. The group is developing a strategic role and a self review strategy. It has identified the need for shared planning in terms of the range of courses, resources and support for learners.

  3.3  The Area Wide Inspection was very positive about Sixth Form teaching in Birmingham and Solihull. Currently approximately 50 per cent of students in the 16-19 range are in 11-18 schools locally. This is in line with the national figures of around 50 per cent of the post-16 cohort is educated in school sixth forms.

  3.4  Curriculum 2000 was introduced in 1999-2000, although schools struggled without the additional funding. Most students in the schools are taking `A' level courses, although some schools offer several GNVQ courses. The partnership has identified the need to expand the range of vocational courses offered within schools as well as across the area.

  3.5  Students are achieving well across the partnership and retention rates compare well with national averages. Students in 11-18 schools obtained 18.2 average point score in 2001, close to the national figure of 18.7 in maintained schools nationally. This compares with 17.2 in Sixth Form Colleges and 14.8 in FE Colleges.

  3.6  In Birmingham 14 11-18 schools have over 200 students, 19 have 100-200, 5 have 50-100 and 3 have below 50. In 2001-02, school sixth forms in Birmingham received 2,882, a figure which partly reflected the City Council's commitment to education but which also reflected the "disadvantage" factors in the city. The complexity of the funding and its impact on comparatively small institutions is a concern for Headteachers, despite the assurances which we have been given.

  3.7  All schools operate some form of value added analysis. There are a number of collaborative arrangements in place to broaden opportunities. The Sutton Partnership links all schools to provide a wider range of options for the students. There is some collaboration between schools elsewhere, again broadening the range of courses offered to students and some schools have established links with other providers, including colleges in order to meet the needs of their students. Both OFSTED and the partnership identified the need to review and build upon existing links and to address the issue of cost effectiveness.

  3.8  A plan of action has been worked out with the LEA in terms of consulting with the CEO and LSC. Schools have attempted to prepare for funding convergence but there remain a number of uncertainties. It is not clear whether the LEA will have a strategic role apart from the partnership or will simply passport the funds to schools, although it is clear that LEAs will have to put bids into the LSC. It is also clear that there will be increased administration and other practical difficulties for schools when we have the LEA, the DfES, and the LSC to deal with.

  3.9  The Partnership is now planning to use the existing Sixth Form Guarantee, one of several "Guarantees" within Birmingham LEA, as a basis for the development of a Quality Framework across the schools.


  4.1  In September 2000, Bournville became the first co-educational school in Birmingham to become a Beacon School, the only other Beacon Schools at the time were girls only selective schools—a situation which remained until this term. This is one area where Birmingham LEA has had comparatively little involvement although this might change now Colmers Farm School, an 11-16 co-educational comprehensive and Selly Park Technology College for Girls have been awarded Beacon Status.

  4.2  When the DfES first invited us to apply for Beacon Status in 1999, I was dubious about the whole initiative and declined the offer. We were invited again in 2000 and decided to make an application. We were already receiving many requests for visits and decided that the beacon funding would help offset costs.

  4.3  It was the concept which concerned me and to a certain extent it still does. There are two aspects to this.

    —  Until fairly recently the data and research has highlighted the differences between schools. There is, however, increasing evidence that the differences within schools are at least as great as the difference between schools. There are few schools which are uniformly good—or for that matter—uniformly poor. As a Beacon School we have many strengths however, these areas can fluctuate—the head of an excellent department and his or her staff are likely to gain promotion. With the current staff shortage our staff are very likely to get the jobs they apply for. Some have even been contacted directly by other schools before making an application.

    —  As a school we have learned a great deal about school improvement. There are few quick fixes. It is clear that some colleagues from other schools gain a great deal from visiting us—we often learn from them as well—but change certainly does not happen overnight. It concerns me that on occasions we are visited by colleagues from other schools who look at something which works for us and take it away with them, however, without the ongoing professional development, commitment from other staff or a whole raft of other supportive conditions, improvement is not guaranteed.

  4.4  There are, however, circumstances where our work as a Beacon School has clearly made a difference to others, as a research project by Warwick University is about to demonstrate. The LEA encouraged us to work with and support George Dixon International school. It had been in difficulties for some time and the LEA appointed a new Headteacher and was providing a range of support for it. It was in difficulty with its curriculum. After an initial meeting with senior staff from the school we have continued to offer practical help and support for a new curriculum model and timetable, including new subjects. Most recently this has resulted in pupils from the two schools working on a joint Business Studies tendering project with National Westminster Bank.


  5.1  There have always been concerns over the standard of children's literacy and literacy has long been a priority in Birmingham as it has been at Bournville school, given the predominance of boys and the "creaming off" of girls.

  5.2  When I first went to Bournville School in 1996 it was clearly underachieving. I wanted to establish the potential of the intake and to identify where we needed to focus our improvement efforts. At that time SATs were not well established as secure predictors of GCSE attainment. KS2-3 baseline data was patchy and we struggled to collect the data from the 40+ feeder schools. I introduced the NFER Cognitive Ability, Literacy and Numeracy tests which we have continued to use as baseline data since then.

  5.3  In 1997 the LEA invited us to joins a cross phase, cross city Literacy Task Group. We had identified literacy as a priority. The Task Group developed a transition KS2-3 module, "Moving on Up", designed to introduce pupils to the literacy demands of the secondary curriculum. Like the more recent national transition modules take up was patchy across the LEA. However, at Bournville, we went on to develop it further. Due for revision this year, the project forms the centre of a week long induction programme for new pupils.

  5.4  Although the National Literacy Strategy has been a demonstrable success, in many ways, its potential has not been fully realised. It was introduced far too quickly, resulting in teachers not having the time to really get to grips with it and explore its potential. At secondary level at least, in practice it is centred upon English departments. Ironically, the work of Lewis and Bray, upon which much of it is based, was aimed at helping children to read (and write) across the curriculum).

  5.5 Over the last five years or so, we have developed our understanding of the link between language and learning. We started by looking at language and used the Lewis and Bray EXEL (Extending Interactions with Texts) Project at Exeter University to help staff understand the writing demands of the curriculum. We created a "Language for Learning" pupils' booklet, which teachers used as an aid to guide them through the language of the secondary curriculum and developed a range of both "integrated" and discrete literacy programmes. For the last two years, one of the main areas of our work as a Beacon School has been in sharing our approach to literacy development.

  5.6 Once we started to focus upon language, we realised how inextricably linked language and thought are. If we want young people to progress at KS3 and beyond, they must be able to use the higher order thinking skills. Focusing upon literacy or texts without helping young people to understand, access and use the thinking skills needed to gain access the higher levels of the curriculum at each key stage, is likely to restrict their development and achievement.

  5.7  Across the LEA there is evidence to show that the KS2 Literacy Strategy has made a difference, our intake at Bournville has improved. But there also seems to be a cost. Cognitive ability tests show certain cognitive skills (especially non-verbal and listening skills) have improved relatively little. Overall the improvement in our intake as assessed by the NFER Tests is not as great as would be implied by the SAT results.

  5.8  Our focus at Bournville has moved from "Language for Learning" to "Language for Thinking and Learning". Staff were convinced when we undertook an analysis of the GCSE and A level question papers. Almost regardless of subject discipline, success at the highest levels required pupils to use the higher order skills: evaluation, synthesis, hypothesising. Whilst they have much in common different ways of thinking are also determined by the subject itself. Our "Language for Thinking and Learning" programme also introduces pupils (and staff) into the ways of thinking of each subject "discipline". Students are taught the language of the curriculum and the language of examinations.

  5.9  There is a great deal of interest in thinking skills in the LEA. Tim Brighouse has a passionate interest in learning and he has brought leading international speakers to the city. He has personally encouraged our work at Bournville as he has done in all the schools. As a result, our staff have made contributions to major conferences and other INSET sessions, developing their professionalism, their confidence and their self esteem.


  6.1  The improvement of teaching and learning has been a major priority for Birmingham LEA since Tim Brighouse arrived.

  6.2  Historically, most teaching has been undertaken by those who were best at the subject, but that person may not be skilled in the principles of teaching. In the last ten to fifteen years, psychologists have begun to discover more of how the brain really works. Dozens of universities, research psychologists and educators have contributed to the body of research. Psychologists have begun to define the principles behind learning and leading multi-national companies as well as schools are using strategies loosely called "accelerated learning" in order to present information in new ways that actively involve both the left and the right brains. Howard Gardner's work has been seminal. His studies into children's aptitudes and intelligence have been used to show how ill suited our natural patterns of learning are to current educational materials and practice. Tim Brighouse has taken much interest in his work and he has made this accessible to us in Birmingham partly through his video link ups with him. Other leaders in the field, including Daniel Goleman have challenged our thinking about intelligence.

  6.3  The emphasis at Bournville has been upon updating teachers, many of whom were trained before current thinking developed and translating new knowledge about learning into classroom strategies. Work is being done to help pupils to understand the different ways in which they learn. Through the curriculum and our Key Skills programme pupils:

    —  analyse their preferred learning

    —  learn about the language of learning

    —  learn about how they learn

    —  are shown how they might use this knowledge to support their own learning

    —  are taught about the language of the curriculum and examinations

    —  are prepared for and involved in target setting.

  6.4  Pupils are taught thinking skills. Thinking skills started when we looked closely at where children were having difficulties with the curriculum. Thinking skills:

    —  Developed within the subject disciplines

    —  Provide a framework to help learners understand their learning

    —  Move learners on and up in their learning

    —  Are inextricably linked with language

    —  Require self knowledge—emotional intelligence

    —  Include strategies such Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic learning and

memory skills

    —  Help learners make links across their learning

    —  Help learners plan and evaluate their learning

  This is also about changing the way we teach.


  7.1  In the early phase of our improvement programme at Bournville, members of Birmingham's Advisory and Support service worked with some departments and some individual members of staff to help them move forwards.

  7.2  In recent years, an extensive, school based programme has been designed to move the whole staff forward together in order to develop a shared understanding of effective teaching and learning. The wide ranging programme has enabled departmental teams to focus on areas of learning within their subject disciplines, whilst providing opportunities for staff to extend their learning to cross curricular and inter-disciplinary issues. Much of this work has already been shared with local schools. Colleagues have become confident and competent INSET providers. Many have led workshops within the school and have shared their work with colleagues from across the LEA and beyond.

  7.3  This (or any other) strategy would not be successful if we were not able to send staff out of the school to attend key conferences and courses and visit other schools. The quality of supply staff limits this.

  7.4  I fully support the strategy of providing enhanced support to schools in challenging circumstances. As a "light touch" school, we receive only a limited amount of advisory support from the LEA. The Birmingham Advisory and Support Service (BASS) initiative, introduced last year, of using Headteachers to act as Link Advisers, has been extremely successful. I act as a Link Adviser for on of the Grammar Schools and a Headteacher from an inner city school acts as my Adviser, the process is supported by the LEA. It is constructive, challenging and supportive and I know that it is valued by all those involved.


  8.1  This year, Bournville was one of six schools from South West Birmingham to form The Oaks Collegiate Academy.

    —  Bournville School—Beacon/Specialist Business Enterprise

    —  Dame Elizabeth Cadbury—Technology

    —  Frankley Community School

    —  Harborne Hill School

    —  Lordswood Boys

    —  Selly Oak Special School—Beacon

  The concept is that of a confederation, with each maintaining and developing its own identity.

  8.2  The concept stems from Tim Brighouse. It has now become one of the DfES Pathfinder projects and is partly funded by them. In the South West of the City, six Headteachers came together within our EiC Partnership, a strong partnership of eighteen schools in the South West of Birmingham. Bournville and Dame Elizabeth Cadbury already had a long standing post-16 partnerships. All schools believe we all have things to offer and to learn. We have a belief in a city wide view of entitlement. We are committed to working together and believe there will be strength in numbers to tackle the issues and problems evident in some communities. There are schools in very different circumstances and with very different pupil populations and a range of communities will be supported by the collegiate.

  The aim is high expectations and raised standards for all schools, by is to broadening learning opportunities, extending the learning experiences of students and sharing approaches, resources and practice. Ultimately there will be a wider choice of learning routes and experiences for our students. Out of hours learning will be available.

  8.3  We have appointed a Collegiate Co-ordinator who is managing our shared INSET programme. We are currently working on developing and sharing the best practice. The confederation will also enable us to meet the 14-19 agenda more effectively. Commitments for Year 1 include:

    —  Shared CPD time slots

    —  Joint Training Day 2002-03, others to follow

    —  Collegiate web site including most of the existing curriculum

    —  ICT INSET for subject departments

    —  Management by a Board of Heads

    —  Identified link Governors

    —  Two Advanced Skills Teachers and one Consultant working across Science, Mathematics and ICT Departments.

  8.4  There will be additional funding for the next 3 years

* DfES—100k for collegiate use

    —  0.5 per cent of budget share from each school

    —  Funding from the Gatsby Foundation for 3 ASTs

    —  Funding for Chamberlain Scholarships for students

    —  April 2003 delegated ESW & Educational Psychologist funding

    —  Other possible delegated funds in the future

  8.5  We are planning:

    —  A curriculum which can be accessed by all schools

    —  Joint curriculum development through a collegiate week/day

    —  Common curriculum patterns

    —  Common schemes of work at KS3

    —  A home-base approach with possible moves at KS4

    —  The collegiate will offer additional opportunities for staff, including the opportunity to become an Advanced Skills teacher and work across the schools

  8.6  We have not committed ourselves to

    —  Common admissions

    —  Staffing transfers to the collegiate

    —  Common Governance

    —  A common budget

  8.7  Individual schools can not make enough difference on their own. This is one reason for my involvement in The Collegiate. Even so, this will need strategic support for what are often isolated areas and complex issues, going well beyond the boundaries of individual schools or even groups of schools.

Ruth Harker

September 2002


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