Examination of Witness (Questions 200-219)|
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
200. Minister, are we also achieving in another
area of inclusion. When we went to Denmark, we were very interested
to look at some of the inclusion techniques they have for including
new arrivals in the country from ethnic minorities, refugees,
and so on. And they have a very different approach to inclusion
in Denmark than we have here, in terms of very seriously taking
the education of new immigrants and those who do not have Danish
as their first language, they make a very serious effort both
in terms of supporting those children, and, in a sense, much more
vigorously than we do in this country, to make sure they turn
into good little Danes, but also encouraging quite stiff measures
for parents. Parents, for example, as I understood it, in Denmark,
their benefit system, their benefit support, depended on them
learning Danish, the home language. Are we building up problems
for ourselves? How much research is the Department doing on the
amount of exclusion in ethnic minority communities? Someone like
myself, with a fair, but not the largest, percentage of ethnic
minorities in my constituency, a fair number, whose one real concern
for a very long time has been parents taking young women out of
the education system, sometimes at about 13 or 14, taking them
right out of the education system and not bringing them back in
until the education process is over, it is a real concern certainly
of mine and many of our colleagues who face a serious problem
in their own areas, girls' education particularly. As a bundle,
are we taking that seriously; could we learn from the Danes and
(Mr Timms) I am sure we could learn from the Danes.
I think we are taking it seriously. The White Paper has some figures
in it about ethnic minority achievement by comparison with the
rest of the population, and what that suggests is that we are
making some headway, that the gap is diminishing, in that there
is still a gap, and there is still a good deal of work to be done,
and I think that will require addressing all of the issues that
you described. But we have made it very explicit that we do want
the levels of achievement in the ethnic minority population to
match, over time, the levels of achievement in the rest of the
population, that is an explicit objective of ours, and the indications
are we are making progress in that direction, although there still
remains a good deal of work to be done.
Chairman: I look forward to talking to you about
that in a year's time. We now actually are moving on to specialist
201. Minister, can I ask specifically about
the question of the specialist schools' capacity to select by
aptitude, and can you tell us what you understand to be the difference
between aptitude and ability?
(Mr Timms) Yes. Aptitude is about potential and ability
is more about achievement, and the key thing, I think, is that
aptitude relates to a child's potential rather than being something
that one can study to acquire.
202. But if a school wants to exercise its option
to select by aptitude, how does it test that potential, and are
there accepted external tests that exist, or would it be largely
through interview, or would parental interviews be involved; how
will you envisage the testing by aptitude to develop?
(Mr Timms) The School Standards and Framework Act
sets out the arrangements for this, and it is only permissible
to introduce selection by aptitude in a number of areas, which
are prescribed in regulations under that Act, because it is not
possible to test for aptitude in some areas; in others it is.
203. Could you tell us which areas it is and
which it is not, because I am not clear about that?
(Mr Timms) Yes. The current regulations prescribe
design and technology, information technology, modern and foreign
languages, performing arts, visual arts, physical education and
sport as the areas where aptitude testing can be carried out.
204. But we have now designated maths and science
as a form of specialism, and that is not included in the list?
(Mr Timms) That is not included, that is correct,
and we do not have proposals to introduce new regulations to designate
the new specialisms.
205. So what does that mean; that means that
a school that wishes to become a maths and science specialist
school is not able to select by aptitude?
(Mr Timms) Not quite. As you know, the incidence of
schools actually taking up this opportunity is actually very modest;
but it would be possible, to take your example, for a maths and
computing specialist school to select by aptitude on the basis
of the information technology aptitude test.
206. But if I am the headteacher of a maths
and science specialist school and I want to recruit children for
that specialism, you are saying that I cannot do that but I can
recruit children specifically because they have an aptitude in
(Mr Timms) It is a maths and computing specialism;
that is the specialism we are introducing.
207. Is it maths and computing, or maths and
(Mr Timms) Maths and computing. So it would be not
unreasonable to look at the information technology, which is
208. But on the maths side, you are saying there
is therefore no mechanism by which a specialist school can select
by aptitude for mathematics?
(Mr Timms) That is true, yes.
209. But just pursuing the point about this,
is it not inevitable though that this capacity to select by aptitude
will lead to further divisiveness, because, for every school that
selects its 10 per cent, or 6 per cent, or 7 per cent, by aptitude,
these are children that were taken away from the potential pool
of talent of neighbouring schools. So is not the specialist school
programme inevitably leading to a two-tier system, as some schools
will gain strength and will recruit more able children, or more
motivated children, and other schools will become weaker as they
lose the pool of able and motivated children?
(Mr Timms) No, I do not agree with that, because,
as you said, the limit is 10 per cent of the cohort being selected,
and we know that at the moment only about 7 per cent of schools
that could take that up are doing so, and most of those were schools
that selected before they became specialist schools. So if you
multiply 7 per cent by 10 per cent, we are talking about less
than 1 per cent of the pupils at a specialist school having been
through any kind of selection of this nature at all; so I really
do not think that, on that basis, you can say that we are developing
a two-tier system here. What I would say though is that, take
the sports example, we know that schools having the distinct sense
of identity and character that comes from specialist designation
is a powerful lever in raising standards across the school system.
I think that a school being able to select a small proportion
of its children on the basis of a sporting aptitude is that contributes
to the sense of ethos of the institution, which benefits then
all the children in the school. Being able to do that, I think,
is a valuable opportunity for the school to take, given that it
is such a constrained ability from the start.
210. If I could just move on to the question
of the evaluation of the performance of the existing specialist
schools, the evidence is that their increase in GCSE performance
is greater than that of non-specialist schools. But can I ask
two things about that. First of all, in making that judgement,
how do we separate out the role of the specialism as against the
role of the additional money, both in capital and revenue terms,
that they have attracted, as against the role of the management
team that has decided to go for the specialist school status in
the first place? It seems to me we are drawing conclusions on
only one of the variables in the equation?
(Mr Timms) It is a very important feature of the specialist
school scheme that the extra funding is for some specified improvements,
and there is a very demanding process that schools need to go
through in terms of setting plans and targets in order to become
specialist schools, and then, once those plans and targets are
agreed, there is funding that is provided to help them achieve
that. And I am quite sure that that process of planning and the
effort that goes into that is a very important part of the reason
why specialist schools are doing better. Now not every institution
is in a position to go through that process; where they can, I
think, it is in all of our interests that they should, because
of the improved levels of achievement that result. So, equally,
I think, the evidence is, and to some extent, I guess, this is
a bit anecdotal, that I think it is the case that the clearer
sense of identify that comes from being a specialist school, the
fact that one of the benefits of the specialist school system
will be that every specialist school will be able to be the best
school in its specialism in the area, I think, that is actually
quite an important benefit, in terms of raising the levels of
esteem, on the part of youngsters, pupils and teachers in the
school, and therefore raising the levels of achievement.
211. But in the White Paper the argument for
specialist schools is very firmly located in their GCSE performance.
Now what I find curious is that the indicator is something that
has almost been rejected by the Government in its move to value
added indicators and performance, because with the existing specialist
schools we are just taking an aggregate GCSE performance of three
years ago and comparing it with the aggregate GCSE performance
now, and we are saying that that proves their improvement. But
that is not the method we are using to develop value added indicators
in specialist schools, is it, because there we are looking at
the measure of the individual student performance from Key Stage
2 to Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4? So has some work been done, or
is work in progress, about the value added achievement of specialist
(Mr Timms) Yes. As you know, we are doing quite a
lot of work on the value added measures at the moment, and later
this month, I think on 22 November, we will be publishing the
first pilot of value added measures, and then those measures will
212. The first official report?
(Mr Timms) Indeed.
213. Because a number of colleges, including
one of mine in Huddersfield, Greenhead College, have actually
piloted value added and led the way, in fact, in measuring value
(Mr Timms) Right. Well we are still at the pilot stage
nationally; but from next year that information will be provided
214. But the Department seem to be getting cold
feet about value added; lots of difficulty, lots of problems:
are you getting cold feet about value added pilots?
(Mr Timms) No, no certainly not; 22 November we will
be publishing the pilot data, and it will be national from then
215. So on 22 November it will be possible then
to compare the value added achievements of the existing group
of specialist schools with non-specialist schools?
(Mr Timms) For those in the pilot group, I imagine
it will. This has been looked at in lots of ways, including the
value added measures, and I think the indications are actually
pretty clear. Professor Jesson's research is instructive on this,
that the specialist schools scheme does allow significant improvement
in schools, and that is why we want to spread the specialist scheme
so much more widely, as we have set out in the White Paper.
216. On the monitoring of performance of specialist
schools, the Ofsted report recently criticised specialist schools
for not fulfilling one of their objectives, and that is the community
involvement and the spreading of good practice, and so on. What
is going to be done about that? And, secondly, is there not an
argument to say that, for many existing comprehensive schools,
their community role is, in fact, a specialism, and is there an
argument to be made that the community role of the school ought
to be designated a new specialism, for which many schools would
then apply? Schools that are particularly good at developing parental
involvement and developing pre-school activities, to opening up
the school to a range of community activities, running adult education
programmes in the evening, is this not in itself a valid form
of specialism, and would the Government consider including this
on its existing list?
(Mr Timms) I guess the extended hours school model
that we talked about in the White Paper does open up opportunities
for developments of that kind.
217. But that would not attract the additional
capital and revenue funding that specialist schools do, necessarily?
(Mr Timms) No, it would not be part of a specialist
school model, but there would clearly be some resource implications
for it happening; nevertheless, you are right. Ofsted produced
a very positive report, I am glad to say, about the contribution
of specialist schools, and I think they said that 80 per cent
of the schools, if I remember rightly, were taking good advantage
of the specialist school scheme, and that it was incentivising
improvements of the kind that we need. They also, rightly, drew
attention to their concern that amongst the schools they looked
at the community element was not being delivered as effectively
as we would wish. Now, to be fair to the schools here, this is
quite early days for the current form of the community element
in the specialist scheme. We have, I think, since the research
was carried out, improved the guidance on this and promulgated
more information on best practice in this area; and, together
with working with LEAs and schools, I hope we are going to see
improvements on that front. But the Ofsted report as a whole was
a very strong indication of the benefits of the specialist schools
218. Will you give the Committee, if you cannot
give it now, an indication of how many, on specialist schools,
are in deprived environments, and how many in more leafy, affluent
(Mr Timms) Yes. I can certainly drop you a note with
219. We would be more concerned if the specialist
schools were not being used to good effect in those areas of social
(Mr Timms) That is very important. One point I can
make is that, if you look at the specialist schools that have
been designated this year, the free school meals proportion in
those is above the national average. But we certainly do have
figures for how many specialist schools are in Excellence for
Cities areas, for example.