Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witness (Questions 40-51)

WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2001

RT HON ESTELLE MORRIS MP

40.  We must push on to one more thing. That is, that it seems to be the fashion that is emerging through the Green Paper and the White Paper that it is believed that faith schools are superior to regular schools. In terms of whether that is accurate data, is it actually true that faith schools are so much better than what I would call the regular comprehensives, the regular system? Is there not a concern, when one looks at the evidence, say, of the National Association of Governors and Managers and their real disquiet about this belief that educating children differently and separately from their peers is of itself a good thing? Some of us who represent constituencies with a reasonably high minority population would feel very concerned and very worried if everyone of a different faith was going to be educated separately over these next five, ten, 20 years. If we look at Northern Ireland, it draws other conclusions and they are the answer, but in fact for some of us they will be a great concern.

  (Estelle Morris) I understand the sensitivities around this, of course I do, and I know why Members are concerned about what will happen. Let us put it in context. I think that we have had a proud tradition in this country of tolerance and acknowledging a parent's right to have a faith-based school if that is what they want. It goes right back for centuries and centuries and centuries, and that is the way we are. My starting point is that I am not about to take away from Roman Catholic and Church of England parents their right that they have enjoyed over centuries as a tolerant society to exercise that right to have a faith-based education. Given the sort of society we are in now, it is intolerable that you do not offer that sort of choice to those from minority faiths as well. My constituency is Birmingham. One of the things which you get there is that Muslim parents actually say, "Why should Roman Catholic parents have that choice if Muslim parents don't?" It is not an easy solution. It is not easily solved. I will say two more things. Parents are exercising that right anyway; whether we want them to or not, they are exercising that right. In Bradford, I think I am right in saying, there are 18 Muslim schools in the independent sector. Prior to our announcement before the Election, there was not one in the state sector. So not having faith schools does not mean that parents do not access it if that is what they really want. I will be honest, I would sooner have them in the state sector than in the independent sector, because they are accountable for the national curriculum, they are inspected by OFSTED and I can make sure that there are equal opportunities for girls as well as boys, which goes right across all the religions, when we actually grant them. So I think you have to be careful about that—that there is a check. We have the minority-faith schools, we have lots of them, they are just not in the maintained sector. The next point is, my constituency is in Birmingham, Birmingham which is the most multi-racial city outside London. When I go into schools generally they are predominantly white. I can go into classrooms and not see a non-white face, in Birmingham. If you are really worried about children from different faiths being educated separately, do not pile it all on the heads of the traditional-faith schools. It is about racism, it is about urban development, it is about housing policy, it is about how our urban centres have grown, because you can go into inner-city Birmingham and find a maintained non-faith school that has got 99 or 100 per cent Muslims. That is what we are really worried about. Let us get down to the roots and let us see what is happening. My final point, and what I think the Committee will most want to hear, is that we are not, actively or proactively, about to launch a campaign to get lots more faith schools into the state school system. We are not about to do that. The mechanism will be the same as it is for the opening of every school. The School Organisation Committee will locally make that decision. That means that the family of schools at the heart of the community will take the decision as to whether a new faith school, from whichever religious background, is allowed to join the sector. We have got faith, it is important in this country, it is important to lots of individuals. If we tie it up with the churches and say, "Faith is okay, but don't let it leave the churches", we are a strange new tolerant society. I think that we look for levers of co-operation and integration, inclusivity, at the same time as acknowledging people's rights to pursue a different faith. That is the message I have from the leaders, from the mosques, from the temples and from the churches, and that is the way I want to go forward.

Mr Chaytor

41.  In the White Paper it refers to the need for clear local agreement before establishing faith schools. My first question is, does that mean the School Organisation Committee?

  (Estelle Morris) Yes, through guidance which we shall issue in due course.

42.  It also refers to the concept of inclusiveness in faith schools. Is not that a contradiction in terms?

  (Estelle Morris) Yes, it is if you only commit yourself to admissions arrangements. Going back to the Chairman's question to me about the pattern of schools, one of the things which I want schools to change over the next five years is for schools to be hugely individual and accountable for their own performance, but to be part of the family of schools and cluster of schools. One way to be inclusive is actually to ask schools to point out in their application to join the mainstream, in what ways they will work with the family of schools. So that is the nature of the inclusivity with which we would work, how open they are, how well they work with neighbouring schools.

43.  Is it likely, for example, that a new Muslim school or a new Sikh school would admit a large number of Catholics?

  (Estelle Morris) I think it is very likely. My feeling is that that is what happens. Church of England schools do, Roman Catholic schools do, they are multi-racial. We now have quite a lot of plans to change the admissions framework.

44.  Are you saying you have or you have not got them?

  (Estelle Morris) I have not announced the plans to change the admissions framework.

45.  But there is a plan to do that?

  (Estelle Morris) All I would say is that there are more ways of making schools mutually inclusive than actually having a quota of meeting 10 per cent of Muslims or whatever. I do not want to move along those lines. What I do find, which is hugely heartening, is that if you go to those that run faith schools in the maintained sector they are some of the most progressive within their faith group, some of the most progressive. They understand that at the heart of their religion is tolerance, understanding and co-operation with others. I am wary, Mr Chairman, that I am about to get myself into trouble before I have issued the guidance which is not fully worked out yet, but that is what we want to do, to respect the ability of a faith, but actually find a myriad of ways in which we can check that schools are being inclusive as members of the family of schools.

Mr Shaw

46.  How many of the proposals in the White Paper will require primary legislation? Will there be, as we saw in the School Standards and Framework Act, a lot of regulations? When do you expect that to come before the House?

  (Estelle Morris) Funnily enough, the Key Stage 3, and specialist schools strategies rarely need regulations. We need to make some changes to the national curriculum and things like that to free up our teachers. I think it is Chapter 9 of the White Paper which outlines the legislative implications of the White Paper proposals, but there is a lot that can be done without legislation. The draft Bill looks quite strange because it is not a reflection of the White Paper, but it does not need to be. It is quite a weird Bill in that sense. We have just picked out for legislative change what we want. We want a lot of things. We said we want to make some sense of education law. There is an incredible amount of primary legislation. We have got all those in the draft at the moment. It will have Second Reading in the House of Commons before Christmas.

Bob Spink

47.  On performance management, we are coming to a crunch time for head teachers who need to plan TUPS—the Teachers' Upper Pay Spine. For those staff who go through the threshold to TUPS, could the Secretary of State tell us what proportion of TUPS funding be met?

  (Estelle Morris) I think a first issue is that the threshold payments are demand-led. Whoever gets through will be paid. Because of that, it has been very important that we put in checking measures at the threshold level, which is why we have got an assessment system and head teachers making the decision, and then we have got national standards which are observed or are monitored by our assessors. We never wanted the performance principle of the threshold to be demand led. One of the consequences of having done that would be that we had to put in a similar checking system for every performance point that was above the system, because there would be no incentive by the head teachers not to give out performance points. Because of that, we are not fully funding it, and we never ever said that we would. I think the figures—and either you will correct me or I will correct myself if I am wrong—are that we have provided funding for about 50 per cent in the first year.[7]

48.  Yes, that is the perception of the headmasters I have spoken to. How would the headmaster then decide which 50 per cent would get the payment or not, or would 50 per cent go to some schools, or can some schools get 100 per cent and some schools get nothing? How will the apportionment be determined?

  (Estelle Morris) It is up to him or her. This is serious stuff. This is not niceness, this is not a sloppy way of paying teachers more. This is a determined effort to value teaching and make sure that those who teach well, whose children progress and who make a wider contribution to the school get money. I have become very involved in designing that at threshold level, a thing I had to do. I want to be much more hands off, and that will mean that heads will act professionally on the basis of performance management information as to who is to get performance points.

Paul Holmes

49.  Linking what you said on faith schools with what you said on specialist schools, the latest research has shown that specialist schools are now making use of the ability to select in greater numbers than they were a few years ago when, as you said, it was going the other way. Specialist schools and faith schools do select, not necessarily by ability but certainly by aptitude. On average, all the figures show that they take below the national average of pupils who have special application need status, who qualify for free school meals, so they do select by aptitude and they select by ability. If you have got 50 or 55 per cent of schools by the year 2005 have not achieved specialist status, which is what your ambitions are, how do those schools avoid going into a spiral of decline whereby they become sink schools because they then have to compete with their neighbourhood technology colleges, state schools, who have extra money, extra resources? How do they apply that without the possibility of becoming sink schools without undergoing quite a considerable change?

  (Estelle Morris) Our knowledge is good. We are educationalists and we get very hung up on the detail of education policy, quite rightly. I think parents want good schools, and there are a lot of good schools outside the specialist school movement. I know the figures you are talking about. In terms of specialist schools, what they show is that for some schools, when they have got specialist status, the number of children on free school meals who go to the school has gone down, and what is true for some schools who have specialist school status is that the number of children who get free school meals has actually gone up. So it is not right across. I think it is very complex. I tend to think what happens is that when they are specialist schools, for lots of reasons—not because they are specialist schools, but because of the process they have had to go through to get to be specialist schools—they are actually better schools, and parents, maybe from a locality who are moving away from a local comprehensive school before there were improved schools, are now going to the school. I do not think parents choose specialist schools. I think parents choose good schools, and specialist schools support schools in becoming good schools. That is all it is. In terms of faith schools, there are no statistics. I thought I heard somewhere and I remember once talking to my own Director of Education of a Roman Catholic diocese in Birmingham, who said that his percentage of free school meals was no different to neighbouring schools. I think we need to look below the figures, and parents will choose good schools, wherever they are. I do not believe a good school, if it is not a specialist school, will suffer in terms of recruitment, I really do not. What we need to do is to make sure that they stay best schools.

50.  I could give you all the statistics on the breakdown of the Roman Catholic, Church of England, Jewish and Sikh schools, and they are all below the national average in terms of those who have free school meals, so the figures across the country do not bear out what you have said. How do the schools that do not have the extra £½ million over so many years, that have specialist status, compete with the 50 or 55 per cent, on your figures, who have not achieved specialist school status?

  (Estelle Morris) All I am saying is that some of them will be good schools. It is as simple as that. I can name you schools that are not specialist schools that perform exceptionally well and are grossly over-subscribed. The question is about how we see schools, because there are always some schools which take additional pressure, who take children in challenging circumstances. I think that that opens up the whole agenda in terms that they need access to extra resources because they take children who have those difficulties. If you actually look at, and let me name one, our policy on the eight schools with good leadership in the most challenging circumstances, to whom we have just given £250,000, actually to support them, if you take a school like that that is in a city, in an education action zone, is in our group of schools with challenging circumstances, if you take the bias that is in the Standards Fund and if you take what money they are getting, it far exceeds any money we are giving to a specialist school. So we need to look beyond that. What I would say is that I am not ever going to fall into the trap of saying that the only good schools are specialist schools, or that you have to be a specialist school to be a good school. What I feel most of all about specialist schools is that they are actually a huge engine for school improvement, they motivate schools to improve to get to the status, they are engines for innovation, and I want our good schools to be developing the next round of school improvement. There are lots of things that can be developed in good specialist schools, because they have had the capacity to do them, that now can be transferred throughout the system.

Mr Pollard

51.  In my constituency you cannot get a plumber or a painter and decorator for love nor money. Whilst I applaud the aspirations of getting everybody through to university, there will be some children who will never ever go to university, who will need the basic skills in our economy, there is no question about that. Can you say something about that?

  (Estelle Morris) Thank goodness we do as well. We have just got to value their skills. At the moment, if you choose, or you are good at, application skills, there is no message from society that you have achieved at a high level. I think that we have got the building blocks in place in terms of vocational GCSEs, vocational `A' Levels as a foundation. I would say to the whole of the Committee as well, let us attempt to get this vocational thing right. The Conservative Government are always given recognition for the work they did with GNVQs. I think they tried valiantly to get this thing there, and it did work. I want to work steadily and carefully and to bring those in. It will not happen until we, just as a nation, acknowledge that there are accreditation systems that give cause to the view that we value that. That is why I want an over-arching qualification at end of school, so that that gives us an umbrella qualification in which to value academic qualification.

  Chairman: Secretary of State, thank you very much. You have given us a lot of time and more than compensated for your slight delay in arriving. Can I thank you for the full way in which you have answered our questions. Thank you for being the first in a corps of Ministers and others who are going to speak in what we hope is going to be a positive but good relationship between the two bodies, the Department and this parliamentary Select Committee whose job is really to keep an eye on you. We will be watching you. Thank you very much indeed.


7   Note by witness: I am proposing to make £100 million available in 2002-03 and £150 million in 2003-04 to support performance pay progression. We estimate that this would cover the cost of about 50 per cent of teachers eligible for performance pay progessions receiving a performance point in September 2002. The extra funding will be provided through a new special grant. This ring-fenced funding will be a contribution to the cost of performance pay progressions which schools will be able to supplement from other sources if they wish. Back


 
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