Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 680-699)



  680. Would you Department be able to tell us how many asylum seeker children are taught in schools in England?
  (Mr Twigg) I am sure we can but I cannot tell you off the top of my head.

  681. Will you send a note on that?
  (Mr Twigg) Of course I will.[1]


  682. Minister, are you not being politically incorrect in one of your answers in the sense that we are looking at the figures here and approximately 29 per cent of pupils in London's maintained schools speak English as an additional language, rising to 42 per cent in Inner London. When I visit schools, I am told that it is very difficult to teach a class when you never know who is going to be in that class and when six children from an Iraqi background arrive, who do not speak a word of English, that suddenly places on the school and on that class an enormous burden. Surely there are enormous burdens for a large population which does not speak English and which has to be given the rudimentary notions of English, even before they can start to learn. There is a real problem here, is there not, that we cannot gloss over?
  (Mr Twigg) I think there is a real issue. Part of the issue, as I said in answer to the previous question from Jonathan, is about mobility, the unexpected arrival of pupils in a school on a Monday morning who were not there on Friday. That is definitely an issue, which is why I emphasised mobility as one of the three issues in your earlier question, Chairman. Yes, of course, if there are then language barriers, that becomes a factor as well. I accept that. Perhaps I became slightly over-enthusiastic in giving positive answers earlier. The primary issue is about pupil mobility. Whilst that will often be equal with additional languages as well as English, it will not always be. Sometimes it will be about people who are being moved around because of the nature of the housing situation.

  683. This Committee has to bear in mind that the Government, of which you are a member, set all these tasks and standards and the meeting of the standards. Presumably it is a little bit easier to meet the standard outside London where the national average figure for English as an additional language is 8 per cent compared to 42 per cent? It is a very uphill struggle to reach standards when you have that mobility and those language difficulties.
  (Mr Twigg) Absolutely, and I do not think we are disagreeing. Part of the reason why we are having the London Strategy for Schools, part of the London challenge that Estelle Morris set out, is to do with the diversity of London. All I was seeking to say, in answer to questions, was that whilst that diversity can bring difficulties and challenges, it can also bring some great benefits, and that is what I see in London schools in my own experience.

  684. Should you not be encouraging parents who arrive in this country to learn English so that they can help their children in schools?
  (Mr Twigg) Yes. I do not think there should be any contention about that. The ability of people newly arrived in this country to speak the language is in their interests as much as it is in the interests of schools and others. That is absolutely right.

Paul Holmes

  685. Looking at your experience not very many years ago as a senior councillor of Islington and now as an Education Minister, if you look at Inner London, 44 per cent of children qualify for free school meals. Given the flight of parents through their aspirations to send their children to schools in neighbouring authorities, that can often mean that the schools that are left have a free school meal intake of 60 or 70 per cent rather than 44 per cent and the national average is 17 per cent. Do you think there is any correlation between the sorts of results that those schools obtain in various league tables that your Department publishes and the amount of children they have coming from backgrounds where they qualify for free schools meals?
  (Mr Twigg) Of course there is a relationship and it is well researched and well documented that the social and economic background of people going to schools is a determinant of the outcome but it is not the only determinant. If you look at schools in London or in other parts of the country that have a broadly similar intake in terms of free school meals or whatever indicator we choose, quite different outcomes can be produced. You are definitely right; one of the challenges, particularly in Inner London but it also applies in some parts of outer London as well, is to find ways in which we can make the local schools attractive to a broad range of the people who live in those areas. It is not an easy challenge but one that we have to meet if we are going to change some the difficulties referred to in the questions and by me.

  686. We are looking at the role of the new education czar or commissioner once he or she is appointed. How interventionalist would he be? For example, if he looked at one Inner London authority and he could see clear evidence that surrounding authorities which have lots of specialist schools, faith schools, technology colleges, et cetera, were actively selected 10 per cent by aptitude or ability and that was draining all those more motivated and able pupils away from an Inner London authority that stands by them, what would be the response of yourself and the education commissioner? How would you deal with that?
  (Mr Twigg) I certainly hope we are not going to get to a situation like that. With the new City Academy Programme, I hope that we will see some of the boroughs, including I would hope Islington, actually having those city academies and being able to attract local parents to send their children to those new schools that would be formed. If we were to reach a situation such as the one you have described, we would have to take a look at that. I am sure the Commissioner would have a view, but in a sense that would not be anything different to what we would donow or what the previous government did. We would sit down with the local education authorities and take a look at it. One thing I do think the Commissioner can do, whoever he or she turns out to be, is to work with some of those schools directly, with the local education authorities but also directly with some of the schools that are not performing very well, to try to raise their performance so that we do not get to the kind of situation you have outlined.

  687. Is one of the things that a school in that sort of situation can do to become a specialist school so that they have extra money and extra facilities? They do face problems in achieving that. Last night I was in my constituency in Chesterfield, giving award at an end of year event. This is a school which the local education authority was going to close down three years ago. Three years on, it has gone from being a school on the verge of immediate closure to quite a successful, vibrant school. The year 7 intake is becoming oversubscribed for the first time in 20 years. They are keen to move on from that and they desperately need more facilities: a bigger sports hall and IT facilities. They are now looking at trying to apply for specialist status. I talked to the Head and the senior staff last night after the event. They are very concerned that to raise the £50,000 they need to qualify for specialist status is going to be incredibly difficult for them compared to the school less than half a mile up the road that is going for specialist status and is attracting money quite easily because of the nature of the children's backgrounds. Do you think you ought to look at the £50,000 threshold and perhaps at removing it altogether?
  (Mr Twigg) It is too early to say that we will do that because it is important, as part of the Specialist Schools Programme, that there is that challenge for schools. I take your point that that can be difficult for schools in less well-off area. We do need to keep an eye on how that is developing. I do not think we are in a position at the moment where we can say that it is a fundamental barrier to schools achieving specialist status. Were it to become so, then it is something we could re-visit. We are seeing across the country in specialist schools, and again I hate to cite examples from my local area but it tends to be the area I know best, the Lee Valley School in Enfield, which has just been granted sports specialist status. It is in one of the more deprived parts of the borough. It is one of the schools that is doing less well, and they have succeeded in raising the status to match the money. So they have done it. It can be done. I take your point that that might not always be the case.

  Chairman: May I remind the Committee that it is getting towards the end of the term and some of you are lapsing into rather long questions. Can you be more disciplined!

Mr Pollard

  688. I have two questions to ask, following on from what Paul Holmes has asked about specialist schools. We are desperately short of children going into apprenticeships. I wondered if you have a view about how we might promote that, particularly with your role as careers czar.
  (Mr Twigg) That is the first time I have heard the term "careers czar". One of my responsibilities is for the Connexions Service. I do think Connexions is a very exciting and innovative programme. I have had the opportunity to visit some of the best of Connexions. I know that Connexions is variable in its quality and that work needs to be done to ensure that the standards are the best and matched across the whole country. When Connexions is a universal programme for next year, the Careers Service will become part of Connexions. It is vitally important that that service is available to the whole cross-section of young people. There is a focus within Connexions on those who are most at risk, those who have had more problems at school, but there needs to be a universal element as well. We have targets to raise the number of modern apprenticeships, to encourage more people to stay in formal education and training after the ages of 16 and 17. Clearly the quality of advice that is provided by careers teachers and persons advising in Connexions is one of the ways in which we can deliver that. You are right to identify that.

  689. Would you envisage boys and girls, particularly at 15, say, going into industry and commerce on one or perhaps two days a week so that the transition from school to work is easier and so that those who might not want to stay on are able to stay on but would benefit from early work experience on a sustained basis?
  (Mr Twigg) Yes, and that is an important part of the changes that we need to make to the 14 to 19 phase of education.

  690. On qualifications, Bengali boys particularly are now achieving much less well than any other group in your responsibility; 47 per cent only achieve typically five A to C grades, which is about two-thirds of what the Bengali girls are achieving, so it is not a question of their not being as bright but of encouraging them to aspire. Have you any views about how we might take that forward?
  (Mr Twigg) We need to tread carefully with these statistics. There is definitely an issue with some minority ethnic communities—the Bengali, Pakistani and Afro-Carribean communities. There is definitely then a gender aspect to that, a boys' and girls' aspect. That might not be a politically correct way of putting it. I think there is still fundamentally a social class aspect to all of this. The Bengali community tends to be a very poor community. I have asked for these statistics to be broken down to try to take that into account. There is some very good practice. In answer to Jonathan's question, I mentioned the school that I visited in Tower Hamlets, which was almost entirely Bengali. For example, they have put youth workers into the school, learning mentors and other people who can provide positive role models. They had a particular issue of truancy, which they are dealing with by employing people from within the Bangladeshi community of Tower Hamlets to work with the families. I think a lot of this is about family connections and parental involvement in schools. There is an onus on us to look at ways in which we can encourage all parents to become involved, but particularly perhaps those from communities whose young people are not doing so well in school.

Valerie Davey

  691. Perhaps it is an insult to say that you go back to the GLC; I am sure you do not, Stephen, but there are aspects of that which are reflected here. I particularly want to bring out the London Centre for Gifted and Talented Children. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Gifted and talented in what?
  (Mr Twigg) Essentially this will be an offshoot of the national programme for the gifted and talented. We are establishing a national academy at Warwick University. I do not know if you have had their representative to speak to the Committee. We want to ensure that there is a London focus on that. This will be to assist those young people who excel in school across the board. It is not simply looking at the more academic subjects, though obviously that will be an important part of the work that is happening in trying to ensure that those young people are getting, if you like, their fair share of the education service in London. Certainly one of the issues that does come up is a sense among some parents of more able children that they feel that their offspring will not do so well in London schools and therefore they try to escape. If we can find a way of ensuring that there is a genuine equality of education that is available to young people of all backgrounds, then we think that will assist them, most importantly, but it will also be an important part of improving education in London.

  692. I am sorry, I was not aware of the Warwick work. Are you saying that if this were successful in however large a unit, and this would be in London, it is something which other parts of the country could do? We did a report, as you probably know, in the Select Committee on gifted young people. I am interested in this aspect. Would it be good practice in London that could go elsewhere or is it happening elsewhere?
  (Mr Twigg) It certainly is. As I understand it, a lot of the work has already happened on this in excellence in city areas across the country. This is not something completely new to the London Strategy. We simply highlighted that as part of the London Challenge because it is a particular question in London. Yes, I hope there will be lessons for the rest of the country but I am in no way suggesting that London is trailing a blaze here. We are not. This is something that is happening already.

  693. One very practical question on this: is it being funded centrally and not from the 33 LEAs?
  (Mr Twigg) There is certainly central funding for it. I would have to come back to you, Valerie, on whether there are requirements for some local contribution. There will certainly be some central departmental funding for it, yes.

Mr Baron

  694. Minister, moving on to behaviour in schools, OFSTED has stated recently, and it was reinforced by others, that bad behaviour in schools is one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, why teachers are leaving the profession. When visiting schools and speaking with head teachers and teachers, they do say, certainly in a non-political way, that they see a connection between the Government's policy of making exclusion, which should always be a last resort—and everybody agrees with that—more difficult and the rise in bad behaviour in schools? They see a link there. Do you think they are right or wrong?
  (Mr Twigg) When we came to office in 1997, one of the priorities that we set is still a priority, and that is inclusion in schools. There was a real concern, and I think that is reflected in schools as well, and I do not think that was simply us as a government, about the high level that exclusions had reached. That was why we set targets at that stage to say we wanted to get the number of exclusions down, but absolutely there was no desire on the part of government for those targets to lead to a position where heads are no longer able to deal with those who are disruptive in the classroom. That is why we no longer have such a target. We have to learn from experience about these things. You are absolutely right, and this was stated by me in the debate last Friday, that the statistics suggest that nearly half of those who leave the teaching profession are citing poor behaviour in the classroom as the main reason. The Chairman has made the point in the debate, quite rightly, that behaviour is still generally good in the vast majority of schools but there are too many schools where behaviour is not generally good. That is why we are saying, as you say, that exclusion is the last resort, but, where necessary, then exclusion must be the weapon that can be used by the Head. That is why we place so much emphasis on the new behaviour programme on which I am now working to provide full-time alternatives for those pupils who are excluded. In the statement yesterday, Estelle Morris was talking about ensuring that there is a learning and support unit in every school that needs one. What we do not want, and what is not in the interests of wider society, is for those young people who are excluded for their appalling behaviour in school transferring that appalling behaviour into housing estates, the local shopping centre and the streets. That is why we are working on alternatives for those young people.

  695. I do believe more resources need to be committed to this area to help those excluded to learn from their lessons and then move forward. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think you are saying that you broadly agree with teachers, that there has simply been some sort of causal link. If that is the case, is the Government going to relax this business about setting targets and trying to reduce exclusions, because the teachers certainly seem to be very frustrated by this particular issue?
  (Mr Twigg) I was not accepting the suggestion that there is a simple causal link. I think we are talking about a much more complex situation. Indeed, as speakers from all parties said in the debate last week, you have to look at the wider situation in society, and at some of the decline in respect and discipline, and so forth, in wider society. I am accepting that to continue with a rigorous target of reducing exclusions is not any longer appropriate in light of the fact that the number of exclusions has actually fallen very significantly since 1997. We are not saying to schools, "You must avoid exclusion at all costs". We want to look at what works in different areas. For example, as part of the £66 million programme announced by the Chancellor in the budget, 34 local education authorities have new behaviour improvement plans funded by central government. There are the 34 local education authorities where you have a combination of high street crime and high levels of truancy. This starts with summer activity programmes run by Connections from next week, and we will be working with schools from September. Some of the local education authorities are choosing to pilot a "no exclusions" policy as part of that. We are not directing them to do that but a number of authorities, especially Reading, have said that they would like to pilot that. We want to learn from that pilot.

  696. First, I welcome this initiative because I think it is good news. I also welcome what I perceive from your answers to be a slightly more flexible approach with regard to the policy of exclusions because there has been frustration in schools. If you can get away from rigid target-setting to a reduction, and that needs some financial incentives, and away from that policy, that would be very welcome to the teaching profession itself.
  (Mr Twigg) I think that move has been made clearly by working on the guidance as regards appeals. That is clearly a factor in terms of the ability of an exclusion to stand. There will be announcements on that later this year.

Meg Munn

  697. The Government, in my view, has rightly recognised the importance of good leadership in schools. Last Friday I went in to my old school in my constituency, Meadowhead School. I met the Head and senior staff members there. The Head said to me, "If I have the resources, I can resolve almost any problem within the school". For example, the additional resources they have as part of the specialist language college means extra staff, which helps with issues about pupil behaviour. Do you think that is the right way to go?
  (Mr Twigg) I think it is the right way to go. What we want to do, and this is really what the announcements over the last two days and our reform paper are about, is to recognise that there is a need for extra resources for all schools to assist them in their basic task and in leadership, but there is then a greater need in certain schools in certain areas for more support. That is why we constructed the combination of resources and reform in the way that we have over the last two days. I have absolutely no doubt that effective leadership in a school is crucial to making a difference. Whether we are talking about the London Challenge, where there are particular issues about leadership, or any other schools in the country, it is about providing support for that leadership. That is why Estelle Morris placed such great emphasis on that in the statement yesterday.

  698. Looking at the whole issue of exclusions, and I have been on the side of trying to reduce those in the past, having worked with some very vulnerable young people, how good do you think schools are getting at early intervention techniques which stop them getting to the point where the only answer to deal with that behaviour is exclusion?
  (Mr Twigg) I think schools are getting much better at this. I have seen a lot of good practice in my first months or so in this job. I keep saying to the officials that I want to see some bad practice as well. There is always the danger that we only see the good things that we want to show people. I have seen some good things. I keep mentioning the school I went to in Tower Hamlets. They have a youth worker and learning mentors. I think that is the kind of early intervention that can make a difference. I went to a couple of schools in Coventry where the Connexions Service is based as part of the school. Some of the younger people who were previously either excluded or liable to be excluded are now working with Connexions. In talking to those young people, I got a real sense that it was making a difference to them, that they actually felt that they could identify with something within the school in a way that perhaps they would not have identified with something that was in the school before. We have had the initiatives where 14 and 15 years-olds, who are in school but having difficulties staying in school, can spend at least some of their time going to a local FE college where perhaps the culture and the nature of what is on offer is of more interest to them. Part of the deal is that, provided they go to school for the rest of the week, they can go to the FE college on the day of the week that is allocated. Those sorts of initiatives and early interventions will pay off, I think. Obviously it is early days to judge but you do need schools to take a whole school approach to these matters. I had the impression, and this is only an impression, that this is far more widespread in schools across the country than it was even two or three years ago.

  699. If we look at the whole approach that the Government is trying to take to a number of issues, whether it is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime and tough on behaviour, which is the most important thing, and if we look at some of the life experiences that children who are disruptive have had, how do you think you should be trying to develop that involvement in schools? I am particularly concerned with the child and adolescent mental health services which have been so under-funded in the past but which, with early intervention, could actually help a number of children who are disruptive because they do not know how to engage in school, and not because they want to be disruptive per se?
  (Mr Twigg) I think this issue of the child and adolescent mental health services is very important. If we are going to take this behaviour project forward in a positive way, that is going to have to play a more central part. Certainly, in some of the initial discussions that I had with Connexions partnerships, there does seem to be a fairly widespread concern about the weakness of CAMs at the local level and how that can thereby undermine the ability of Connexions to provide the fully coherent service that I think we expect Connexions to provide. I think you are quite right. How do we do that? Connexions is part of the extended schools idea that Estelle Morris was talking about yesterday. That may be part of it but certainly parts of the health service could have some sort of location within a school site. That is a possibility.

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