TUESDAY 17 SEPTEMBER 2002
Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
MS SANDRA OLIVER, Education Officer, Birmingham Partnership for Change, and MS JOY WARMINGTON, Director, Birmingham Race Action Partnership, examined.
(Ms Oliver) In terms of the city, I think that Timbury House in particular has been cooperative and sensitive to the work that Birmingham Partnership for Change is doing. There are challenges presented to us around achievement, particularly by African Caribbean boys, and girls are also affected by under-achievement. I also feel that we have an important role to play as a strategic organisation in Birmingham working alongside the Education Department and school advisers. We ought to be recognised as an important organisation in Birmingham. At times, we may not be taken as seriously as we would like to be. I am concerned about the lack of black teachers, African Caribbean teachers, because we are an African Caribbean organisation in Birmingham schools. I am also concerned about the recruitment around governors in schools. I am concerned about the supplementary schools and lack of support that there is currently.
(Ms Warmington) Birmingham has some unique challenges. The demographics alone present significant challenges to the city in terms of patterns of achievement and attainment of pupils. What we are looking at over the next ten years is a significant growth in the Bangladeshi population but they are one of the lowest achieving groups in Birmingham, especially Bangladeshi boys. Where we are getting improvement in terms of girls, we are seeing some retrograde steps in terms of certain particular ethnic groups in Birmingham. Overall, it creates a very dissatisfied feeling about the state of education, especially when you get to secondary school education. Having worked in a previous life looking at parents and partnership work, I have worked in about 50 schools in Birmingham over four years or so, delivering a programme called School Wise which was designed to help parents understand the national curriculum and support their children in terms of their education. At primary school level, there are obviously lots of opportunities for participation and opportunities for real partnership working. That is borne out in terms of the achievement but when you get to secondary schools you get the same in lots of other big cities, where parents are at a loss as to where to direct their child to. Can you be confident that if you send your child to X or Y school they are going to get a good outcome at the end of the day? That is where you see the mirroring patterns of deprivation and school achievement in Birmingham being borne out. It is a very mixed city. We have some very high achieving schools and we also have schools that, although making progress, are not making progress quick enough in terms of the needs and aspirations in the communities that they predominantly serve.
(Ms Warmington) Yes. The organisation I represent has done a small scale survey called Beyond Racial Identity of 17 to 30 year olds in Birmingham. We deliberately wanted to look at the views of that particular group of people. We looked at African Caribbean communities, people from mixed communities, Vietnamese, Irish and there were some extremely diverse mixed communities. One of the things that came out quite strongly was that they constantly felt that ethnicity was more of a problem for other people than it was for them and that they were being defined within their ethnic boundaries and the packaging, whatever that may be, that went with it. It is certainly something that has come across from our research but we do tend to operate to reinforce those boundaries.
(Ms Oliver) Pupils have expressed recently at a meeting I attended that they are treated differently. Teachers do not care for them is what I was hearing, and they are concerned and want to be treated as individuals rather than as a black child in a school. I think that is very important. They recognise themselves as being black in a white society. They want to be an individual within a society rather than being a black child in that society.
(Ms Oliver) Birmingham Partnership for Change is a strategic organisation in Birmingham. It was established in 1995 after a piece of research by the then TEC, currently the Learning and Skills Council, looking at the issues around employment and education for African Caribbean people and the reasons why they were disadvantaged in the education and employment arenas. It is still a strategic organisation. It is currently working alongside the local education authority. It works with the community, with faith groups and with the DFES and various agencies.
(Ms Oliver) Yes. We are still working in partnership with a lot of other agencies. Joy and I work in partnership and we have collaborated on this report.
(Ms Warmington) Birmingham Race Action Partnership is I suppose the equivalent of a race equality development agency for Birmingham. We focus primarily on race and racism and how it manifests itself within some of the key institutions of Birmingham. We work with the institutions to try to put together practical interventions that can help to bring about mainstream change. We have been established since 1999 so we are a relatively new organisation but what you will know about the Race Relations Amendment Act is that it talks about mainstream. That is where the change has to be. In 1999, when Birmingham Race Action Partnership was developed, it was also talking about mainstream and saying that in order to really bring about some lasting changes in intervention we need to look at how we can work with key institutions to get them to change their policies and practices within the mainstream. We do not just work in education. Education is one of our themes, if you like. We have a joined up strategy around race equality so we work in health, looking at issues of health and equality. We connect with the four primary care trusts as well as some of the acute trusts. We work with the ISC on their strategies around some very innovative ideas about how they try to address some of the systemic disadvantage of being in the communities. The partnership is made up of some of the institutions that also are concerned about delivery. We are funded and supported by them to challenge them. We are not owned by any one partner. We do not get embroiled in the politics of having to bow to the master or the person funding us.
(Ms Warmington) We work quite closely with Job Centre Plus. Job Centre Plus are one of the organisations we are working with but we work in strategic ways so we are not looking at hands on, this is how we bring communities on board or whatever. We are looking primarily at how institutions interpret what they do and how they tackle that because unless you can get that right you can be bring all communities in and you can listen to them and commission research or whatever, but it is the responsiveness. That is where the intervention is needed and that is where we try to make that change. In terms of the work that we do with Birmingham Partnership for Change, I know you will be hearing from David later on, we commissioned him to examine the LEA policies with regard to race equality and education in Birmingham, and Birmingham Partnership for Change, because of their specialism around African Caribbean communities. We work across communities, not just with one.
(Ms Oliver) I am the one focusing on African Caribbeans.
(Ms Oliver) Yes.
Mr Pollard: I do not see Bangladeshis mentioned and I am curious as to why.
Chairman: Sandra works for an African Caribbean organisation but Joy has said a moment ago that she covers the whole piece.
(Ms Oliver) We work with the African Caribbean communities. I do not know whether the paperwork you have in front of you refers specifically to the African Caribbean community. That is probably my bit of paperwork. In Birmingham, the African Caribbean boys in particular are the lowest achievers, 17 per cent starter C grades.
(Ms Oliver) Far lower. Hence we have a need in Birmingham to address the African Caribbean community, specifically African Caribbean boys. We work with an organisation called Black Boys Can which has recently been established. I met them yesterday with another member from one of your departments who was working with children who would be disaffected, taking them from the streets. They are intending to keep them on target, to pull them back on task, getting them motivated, raising their self-esteem empowering them. They have four pillars, one called empowering boys, then empowering communities, working with schools and there is a fourth one which I do not recall at the moment. That organisation was started up not with funding but because people had a passion for the work. They felt there was a necessity to do something about these boys on the streets. Far too many of our boys are in prison. If you look around Birmingham you will find that some African Caribbean boys are on the street but the majority of them are in prison. It is extremely disturbing for our community; hence, there is a real need to address the issue of under- achievement among African Caribbean boys in the schools and to do it extremely early rather than leaving it until later.
(Ms Warmington) There are some more acute issues. One of the things that you will know that has come out of some of the work that the Learning and Skills Council is doing is that Bangladeshi communities on the whole are lower in terms of key levels of achievement. That means that the ability to access jobs that progress them into whatever is also diminished. When you couple that with under-achievement in schools, you have a recipe for disaster because you are not in a position to move those base lines along very much. In Birmingham, this will be an acute problem because you are getting a decline in white communities of working age over the next ten years but an increase in the Bangladeshi community and population of a working age. You are increasing a community where the skills levels do not enable them at the moment, unless we do some serious intervention, to equip them to do the jobs that are necessary within Birmingham and its communities. There are some real tensions there and challenges.
(Ms Warmington) It needs to be far more fundamental than that. We are challenging organisations in conjunction with other organisations to be more fundamental and radical in terms of how they think of this. Role models, peer intervention and all those sorts of things are extremely good strategies but we need to ask ourselves what is happening at the root of this. What is creating this outcome, time and time again? In some respects, we might know the answer but it becomes too difficult to deal with and it becomes a challenge that passes on from report to report.
(Ms Warmington) In terms of the specifics of your question, we work with a lot of organisations -- for instance, the Bangladeshi Youth Forum in Birmingham do a lot of work with Bangladeshi youths. They may have a better understanding of what those communities think and feel but the over-arching sense of what is happening in Birmingham in particular is that younger communities are being locked out of opportunities. That is not being shifted as time goes by; it is possibly even getting worse. We need to do something about how we can connect people up to opportunities.
(Ms Oliver) Some of the reasons I hear from the children and they are saying, "Teachers do not care about us." There are low teacher expectations of pupils in schools, most definitely, I think perhaps around an understanding of the children's culture -- where are they coming from? -- and an understanding of their social, economic backgrounds in Birmingham. Have they been at home with mum and dad? Have they had a difficult period at home with an argument that they come into school with, to be told, "Sit down. I have told you to do that"? They are carrying quite a lot of baggage with them in schools and I think also it is the lack of support for African Caribbean parents, raising their awareness of the education system; schools opening their doors to parents in order to be able to access schools in order to support their children.
(Ms Oliver) There are schools within Birmingham that are helpful. We have worked with a number of schools around the personal academic development of African Caribbean pupils. That was a year 11 programme that we undertook with four secondary schools in Birmingham. The schools that gained the most from the programme were those who were more open, more ready to work with the researchers and the pupils etc., and those coming in. It is difficult to assess at the moment but I think parents are extremely concerned that they do not have access to the schools.
(Ms Oliver) I think there are a number of issues. In some schools, you may find, for instance, in the Atwood Green area, schools with a lot of single parents with young children, perhaps without fathers. There would be issues around how do we support mum; how do we support the children when they come into schools, but you could say that is probably common to all communities because there are single parents in all communities.
(Ms Oliver) One of the issues that I am most concerned about is school exclusion, the exclusion of African Caribbean pupils. They are five or six times more likely to be excluded than their white counterparts in schools.
(Ms Oliver) It may be the national picture but I am also very concerned about the unofficial exclusions: go into the corner. They are not learning when they are turning away from the teacher. Go downstairs to the head teacher; go out of the classroom and stand outside. How many of those have gone on with schools that parents do not know about and that are not recorded? For how long? This would have an impact on the educational attainment of African Caribbean children.
(Ms Oliver) I think it is understanding the child. One child said, "We might sound loud but that is not being rude."
(Ms Oliver) There are not many in Birmingham schools and I have spoken to a number of teachers who have left the profession because they feel that they are not being treated equally in the schools. They also feel they are being overlooked in terms of promotion. They do not feel they are able to manage within the system because of issues around racism.
(Ms Oliver) We have not done any work in that area. We have encouraged the community to train as teachers and we have encouraged mature students to become teachers, to leave their professions perhaps and turn to teaching. We have not been successful.
(Ms Oliver) I think it is extremely important, incredibly important, to have role models.
(Ms Oliver) That is extremely difficult. I think, in terms of male role models within schools, that is a priority, black teachers who can support the school, the community and the children. It is vital.
(Ms Warmington) I think it is a trend for Birmingham. Birmingham is very segregated. 70 per cent of the black ethnic minority population live within the nine most deprived wards in the city. They tend to be in the inner cities. What you are looking at is a pattern where, within the inner cities, there are quite a lot of ethnic minorities and as you go out to the suburbs it gets fewer and fewer. It is worrying, but what your other colleague was alluding to, which I wanted to comment on, was the ethnicisation of the problem. I do not think issues that you are talking about are solely found within these groups. One of the things that we debated when I was in education was some of the issues around working class communities in the suburbs of Birmingham, white working class communities that were experiencing some of the same sorts of problems in terms of deprivation, attainment and the idea of expectations and how these are realised through their children and the kinds of lives that they have. The danger is to say that it is hard to deal with particular issues in communities without labelling those communities, but there is a danger to say that these traits are common within particular communities and therefore that is the kind of strategy. I think there is an opportunity to look at some of those factors and how they run across communities and how they can be dealt with more generically. In doing that, it would help to not reinforce strategies that, by the nature of the way they are devised, ethnicise communities again, because I do not think we can carry on like that for long. We have a figure here which is about mixed race exclusions and the increase of mixed race exclusions. How can you explain that in terms of African Caribbeanism or in terms of Asian or Indian people? Ethnicity alone is not an explanation for some of these complexities. Possibly the way to deal with it is to think about how is the system perpetuating expectations of students; how are teaching strategies being employed to disadvantage groups of students, because that seems to be what is happening. It cannot simply be explained in terms of particular groups and categories of people, not when it also happens to white working class boys.
(Ms Oliver) Joy has covered most of the issues I would be discussing. I agree with you. In the Atwood Green area, for instance, and the Ladywood and Aston areas the majority aare African Caribbean and mixed race heritage families. At the moment, we have quite a number of interrelated issues, economic, social and all sorts to deal with.
(Ms Oliver) I do not think it is happening equally across schools. In terms of African Caribbean community, David Gillborn has said in some research that he conducted that African Caribbean children start compulsory schooling above all other children. By the age of key stage two they start to drop off and by 16 they have fallen off totally, so they are coming out with nothing. There must be other factors. I know this new key stage three strategy has just come in place, a bit late for some of our children, I am afraid. The earlier literacy and numeracy strategies have supported some children but it has also gone along with parental support. It is those parents who are aware of the system who will support their children in terms of homework, in terms of follow-up, going to parents' events. If there are exclusions, they will challenge them. It is those children who will get the best out of the system, but single parents who are on low income, for instance, working all hours, who have three children -- where do they find time to get to a parents' evening and challenge exclusions? It is difficult.
(Ms Warmington) I honestly cannot, not because there are not any but because we do not have that kind of linkage. It depends on what you think the problem or the issue is in terms of the understanding of good practice, because there are lots of things that are signposted as making a difference. The issue is whether or not you feel it is enough of a difference and whether there are other things to tackle. My sense is that you are trying to unpack some of this to see whether there are some other issues that need to be addressed within the system. What we have not talked about in great depth is how some of the teaching and national strategies disadvantage some groups and appear not to be working to the success of particular ethnic minority communities. When you look year on year, you can see some groups achieving and some not. What we are not looking at is differential teaching activities and strategies in terms of race and racism within the city. That, to me, would be a way of ensuring that some of those strategies are more harmonious and addressed very comprehensively, rather than having initiatives that may support. There is something fundamental we need to do in terms of our education system.
(Ms Warmington) The research that we did with Professor Gillborn was with some focus groups with parents in Birmingham. I do not pretend that they are representative views of all parents in Birmingham, but it did show that there was a high investment of parents in trying to support their children where they could, but they did not feel that there was the acceptance and willingness of the education service -- schools in particular -- to meet them half-way. In terms of parental strategies, having worked on parental involvement strategies quite recently, one of the things that is not clear is how that is to be accomplished. Quite often, there is not the money or the joined up funding to enable you to do work with parents that then helps you to meet directly the needs of community groups. What you are trying to do is juggle different types of criteria to enable you to run a parent class on an issue or to join something up. What I experienced, especially in the Shard End & Kitts Green area in Birmingham, is that the education system was failing parents, the majority of white parents in particular, and was in danger of failing their children for the second time round. There was this feeling that the education system was not going to deliver the results because it had not come up with the results for those parents concerned.
(Ms Oliver) I feel parents are committed, but some parents we have spoken to are not aware of what is happening. Lack of awareness will prevent them supporting their children in schools but there are those parents who have young children, who are not aware, but they are torn between the support they give to stay looking after young children at home and going to a parents' evening. They need to understand the importance of attending parents' evenings, the importance of feedback from teachers, the importance of looking at their children's homework diaries and general training is vital. The city is looking at keeping up with the children, workshops and other things, but how many parents in Birmingham know about keeping up with the children? The PPC, as the strategic organisation, will disseminate information to supplementary schools who will then disseminate information to parents but it will take funding for them to organise classes. I know there is some funding available for keeping up with the children and inspiring workshops but when it comes to the immediacy of the problem it takes some time for them to access that money. By the end of a period of, say, four months when they have organised everything, it is often too late for some children. It is very important that funding is also put in place to support training and development of parents to build their capacity to support their children.
(Ms Oliver) I would suggest initially working with large organisations such as the faith based churches, supplementary schools that we currently work with. They are able to access a large majority of people. I would use the radio but we did a recruitment campaign for African Caribbean governors in Birmingham using the radio and we found it was not as effective at all. We found that word of mouth was the most effective way of communicating with people, especially in the African Caribbean community. You tell someone, perhaps if you are walking through the Birmingham market, for instance; you mention it to someone and they will go and say, "So-and-so is recruiting for African Caribbean governors. Would you like to turn up at the Council House at such and such a date because we are having a meeting?" Word of mouth is vital within a community. You can also use radio in conjunction with that but I do not feel it is as effective and it depends on the audience you are targeting.
(Ms Warmington) I have forgotten the question.
(Ms Warmington) It would not be just one strategy. There is a need to look at outreach because some communities, especially younger people having children, are very isolated. Some of the schools that I have worked in have some real problems with parenting and approaches to parenting, especially for younger members of the community. You can advertise and do radio and all the rest of it, but that would not work that particular section of the community. I think there is something to be said for getting small groups of people together. We took parents through the literacy hour so that they understood it. We do the same with numeracy. We talk to parents around tiering in terms of GCSE. Some of the strategies that are employed parents do not understand. I have had parents come up to me and say, "I think my child has an opportunity to achieve an A or a B", but they have been put in for an examination where they can only achieve a C or something like that. The complexities of the exclusion system parents are quite ill informed about that. I think that is parents generally because the strategies that are being employed by schools are obviously around safeguarding ultimately their achievements. It is not always the parents' fault that they do not understand the way in which the system is employed.
(Ms Oliver) I do feel what I am doing is successful because parents have said, "We did not know. Now we know about it", but the barrier for us is funding. I have to think: where is the next bit of money coming from for development? Am I secure doing this job? We are not funded on a long term basis so we are doing it year by year. There is a great difficulty around funding.
(Ms Warmington) There is a stop/start nature. Quite a lot of things I ran in the past I tried to mainstream but in doing so you have to meet mainstream criteria which might have said something like, "In order to run a parent education course you need a minimum of 12 people." Those things may be important outputs for particular funding bodies but they are not particularly good outputs if you are wanting to try to do things that really help and support parents in understanding the education system. There is a need to look at appropriate funding sources for some of these strategies to sustain and help, but yes, I think they do help.
(Ms Warmington) That is a very hard question. From what I have seen in some selective schools, the pattern is changing. There are more parents who are more tuned to understanding the selective school system. I know in Allen Rock and Saltley there are lots of tutors trying to gear children up from that community to pass exams. People recognise selective education as a way of jumping through that hurdle. One of the issues I am unclear about is where the government stands on faith schools and selective schools. I know from the Cantel Report one of the recommendations there was that there should be a mix of particular communities within a school and that having schools from one community, whether it be an Islamic, Moslem or a white community, did not work to advantage in community cohesion. I think there are some issues around how the patterns, as you describe them, keep particular communities locked in, whatever those trends are, and it is worrying.
(Ms Oliver) African Caribbean parents aspire greatly. They want their children to gain the best from the education system and I had one mother speak to me recently, saying, "What am I going to do if my child does not get into this school? Where am I going to send her?" I was extremely worried and concerned for her. She thinks she has three years before she goes into secondary education and she is thinking that she must pass this exam to get into a selective school. She wanted me to offer her some advice as to where to send her child. It was extremely difficult. I do have issues around how faith schools, selective schools and special schools will impact on the community in Birmingham. Eventually, it could divide our communities in Birmingham.
(Ms Oliver) That is a difficult question for me because I do not work with Bangladeshi children or Indian children. What I would like to see personally is the faith based African Caribbean organisations being consulted about these issues, the big churches in Birmingham, headed by various of our black bishops. I think they should be called to respond to these questions so that they are responding for their community in Birmingham and also nationally. I think you would get a better picture from them.
(Ms Warmington) Some parents see the faith schools as a way of improving their child's chances, especially in terms of educational achievement. The issue is bigger than that. It is what is it about a faith schools, for instance, that contributes to overall improvement in achievement and whether that could be replicated elsewhere in the system. There are lots of different types of research that talk about the fact that with religion comes improved attention to education and teaching and discipline and all that sort of stuff and that what faith schools reap are the benefits of that. Not that I advocate more research but what might be interesting is whether that is something that can be replicated elsewhere in the system -- for instance, in selective schools. Is it because you are taking a particular characteristic like the ability to pass the IQ test, putting that all together, and is that the strategy that is being employed there that reaps particular benefits and outcomes? There are a number of different things here and when you start to unpack your question it is not just an issue of whether faith schools are the way to go or not, because there are some who would say that faith schools are not the way to go and that by advocating faith schools you engender wider issues of communities not understanding each other, not belonging and feeling a sense of identity. There is some more questioning that needs to be done around those parameters, if you are going to try to get to the answer that you want.
(Ms Warmington) I would think it is a very sad detriment in terms of the opportunities for my child.
(Ms Oliver) I would be extremely concerned. If you were to go along to the grammar school in south Birmingham and you saw the children you would not know whether they were Bangladeshis or Indians or Pakistanis, but you would be quite encouraged by the fact that a large number of those children are from ethnic minority backgrounds, so that would be a hope for the future.
(Ms Warmington) There are some particular questions that you could be asking there about why some communities which have been in this country longer are still experiencing deprivation and disadvantage within the system. It is not as simple as saying there is an issue about the Bangladeshi community. It is something very fundamental happening with African Caribbean communities, for instance, and we keep having that conversation over and over again. We still appear not to have cracked the problem.
(Ms Warmington) I am looking at a school I know quite well which is a selective school and I do not see that picture. I do not have any stats on the school but I think it is quite a mixed selective school. I am not sure about the population in detail in terms of the different ethnic groups but in terms of what I visibly see it appears to be an increasingly mixed selective school. Dave has often talked about and written about selection and what happens through the selection process, through streaming and some of the strategies that we employ. There does appear to be something inherent in terms of the things that we do that means that we shake out some groups within our society and promote opportunities for others. If you are suggesting that there is a way in which the selection process is disadvantaging members of the community, I would have to say there may be something but I am not sure about it. There may be something there that is worth investigation.
(Ms Oliver) I have been concerned for some time about black pupils being educationally subnormal in British schools. The tiering of our children is a way of making them educationally subnormal because if they are all in the bottom tier the opportunity to move up is going to be less for each year of their secondary schooling. I think it is very important that schools examine carefully their strategies when tiering our children, because they can tier them for failing totally.
(Ms Oliver) I would go back to raising the funds for the programme that we are doing in Birmingham. It is raising expectations of achievement and the literacy for children in African Caribbean backgrounds. We do meet in collaboration with a partner in Dorset. It was very difficult raising funds for this programme. We are working with three primary schools in Birmingham but this is also to raise the achievement of children when they get to the secondary stage of education. It is putting that intervention strategy in very early for them, starting with year five pupils, raising their levels of literacy, using a high level of information technology, some more computers, working with the parents, working with the children, working with the community, bring in various outside role models. These are all black role models, bringing in schools. We are still at the stage where we are raising funds for this very important programme and we feel that within those three primary schools there are quite a high percentage of African Caribbean pupils. We would like to think that we do not have to scrape around for funding. There is a lot of money in Birmingham but when it comes to accessing funding for small organisations it gets extremely difficult. We would like to think that you would be able to support us in some way -- we do not know how -- but we believe REAL will be a resounding success. We are hoping to follow the children through from year five to year six and then into year seven and to look at children with special educational needs also, but again we need funding to do that.
(Ms Oliver) Is that Excellence in Cities?
(Ms Oliver) I am not in touch with her.
(Ms Oliver) Yes.
(Ms Warmington) I think there needs to be some sort of examination of national policy, identifying within the core of what has been delivered in the curriculum how you can make the curriculum racism proof. How can you avoid the sorts of strategies that will perpetuate inequality in our society? There needs to be a look at the delivery mechanisms as well, how teacher training is conducted. As a past teacher, I know that there was not an awful lot of time and energy spent on understanding some of the teaching strategies that we were asked to deliver and how those related to the needs of particular individuals within our community. I feel that there needs to be an emphasis more in the roots of the system and we cannot continue to fragment the system to respond to ethnicity as an issue, not with the growing numbers of mixed race population, not with 43 per cent and growing numbers of ethnic minority groups in Birmingham. We need to provide a comprehensive, quality, mainstream service that caters for the needs of all our children. As an individual, I do not really care whether my child is taught by whoever; what I want is really good quality teaching that does not disadvantage the opportunity to achieve.
Chairman: That is a very good note on which to stop. May I thank you both for being so patient with us and putting up with all these strange questions?
MS JULIA BLOIS, Wheeler's Lane Boys' School (NASUWT), MR ROGER GITTINS, Head Teacher, John Willmott School (NUT), and MRS LYNN EDWARDS, Saltley School, examined.
(Mr Gittins) I have been in Birmingham for two and a half years. I have worked in seven local authorities over my career of 30 years. I have found Birmingham a very interesting and supportive local education authority to work in, in lots of ways. I found it quite consultative in terms of how it tries to determine policy. I have worked closely with teachers on that. It is a very mixed city. My own school is in Sutton Coldfield, in the north eastern area of the city, which most people who know the area would suggest was the more affluent part of Birmingham. The schools within it are quite diverse. There are two grammar schools. As in all the city, pupils have the ability to be selected to the King Edward Foundation Schools, of which there are five. There is a former grant maintained school and foundation school right across the road from mine and there is huge pressure from parents, as there is I am sure all over the country, to migrate outwards in terms of admissions. I am a member of the Admissions Forum and we have new admissions criteria for the whole of Birmingham this year. I have spent most of the last two weeks discussing with anxious parents what the impact of that process will be.
(Mr Gittins) I am sure someone could provide one. In terms of the LEA, the LEA part of the funding formula is funded as additional needs so more money would go into what would loosely be termed disadvantaged areas within the city as opposed to the sort of area I work in. That is certainly true in part with Excellence in Cities money as well. That is not an issue as far as I am concerned and as far as teachers are concerned, but there is a significant amount of differential funding per pupil organised in terms of need through the LEA. The LEA has a very large advisory service which most people find very supportive of schools.
(Ms Blois) I have been a teacher for 28 years, full time. I have worked in Birmingham for ten years. Prior to that, I worked in what was originally Herefordshire and Worcestershire, in the Herefordshire part of it, in a rural community and prior to that I worked in Bury, in Lancashire. I have worked in mixed education schools until I came to Birmingham. I work in King's Heath, in what was formerly a boys' school, which is now a technology college and we got technology college status two years ago in partnership with one of the King Edward independent schools, the Camp Hill site, which you will have heard of.
(Ms Blois) You will hear all about the technology college and their unique partnership. It is an exciting and challenging LEA to work for, probably the most exciting and challenging I have ever worked for. They are at the forefront of a lot of initiatives launched by the successive governments. They want to take on board everything that they can and try it out here. It has the advantages that you get to use the initiatives and the disadvantage side is that a lot of them are short term so you put work into them and find that the funding dries up and the initiative fizzles out, which is very frustrating for all the people concerned who have put time and effort into it. It is the centre of national education development. It has been very supportive of me. When I first came to Birmingham it took a long time to settle into the education authority. I had come from education authorities in schools where you did not speak out. If you had views to express, you either kept them to yourself or discussed them with colleagues in the staff room. In Birmingham I found you were encouraged to say, "I do not feel this is working and these are the reasons" or, "This is a brilliant initiative. We really ought to push this" and people would listen. The support service would listen. They were interested in what you thought as an employee. In our wage slips there were always phone numbers: "Do you want help with this? Ring up and talk to us." I was not used to that. Some of the initiatives are a little too quick to be taken on without the necessary resourcing and training that staff needs.
(Mrs Edwards) I work in an inner city school, Saltley School. I was educated in Birmingham except for the time when I teacher trained. That is the only time I have not been under Birmingham's education authority. I came back home because it is a good authority and that was 20 lots years ago. I have worked at the school now for 13 years and that is after six years doing relief work around many different secondary schools in Birmingham. The main problem seems to be how long funding is going to last for. You start something up. Will it be there next year? Will it be there financially five years away. That causes tension. There is also a lack of flexibility with where the money can be spent. Whilst it might be needed for a new computer room, it has to go on some of the special educational needs stuff. While it might be needed for special educational needs, it is tied into a computer suite. That is causing some problems in the school I am in where there is a tying in with what the money can be spent on. Presumably, if it is causing problems for us, it is causing problems elsewhere.
(Ms Blois) I can understand that. After I had written this when I was looking through it again to make any extra notes to bring to the Committee, I got to thinking what I do not want to do is to whinge unmercifully about it. There are good and bad sides to every job. You have to do it and you then understand the pressures. There are pressures in every job, but if you have ever written one of these reports that is how it is. I am a northerner through and through and in the north we call a spade a spade, pardon the expression. This is how I perceive the role of a teacher in the job. NASUWT is a proactive union but that does not mean to say that I think everything that any union says is wonderful. There are things I would adopt from the union and things I would not. This is written from the heart, from how I perceive it. It is a brilliant job. When you are in a classroom with children, you are educating children, you can see the learning process taking place, you can help those who have not quite got the message and you can see the others who have the message doing well, it is brilliant. It is when the doors open and everything else rushes in past you as the pupils leave that you begin to question why you are doing the job. I suppose you can always say, "It is not the job I went into" if you are a 20 something year old going into teaching now. If you are 28 years down the line, it is not the job you came into, but we are educating tomorrow's citizens. 50 years ago, when you talked to teachers who taught 50 years ago and said to them, "What was it like then?" it is a completely different planet, let alone a completely different world. It was written from the heart; it was not designed to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. It is how I perceive teaching.
Chairman: We thought it was excellent.
(Mr Gittins) I have two members of staff who have been off with long term stress for nine months and the figures show increasing amounts of that. We talked earlier about funding. Significant proportions of the funding at my school, probably as much as ten per cent a year on a £3 million budget, come from separate bids, separate initiatives, all of which have separate targets, separate monitoring. Those are some of the things that come through the door. People are accountable for all different things in all different ways and teachers feel that is a real pressure. They want to take part in that. They want the money because some of the things that happen to it benefit children's education, but each of them produces extra work. Teachers set incredibly high standards. They are not happy with 96 or 97 per cent. They do go on about the three per cent because each of those three per cent is a child who is not achieving what we would want them to achieve. In that respect, teachers bring pressure onto themselves by their very professionalism. In terms of the effect on recruitment, we do want to shout from the rooftops what a great job it is and we must think it is a great job because I cannot see any purpose for doing it otherwise. We do not do it for the pay or the status; we do it because we love it and we love young people. In fora like this, teachers have a responsibility to fight for a better deal and say, "This is a problem", because I do not think anyone would disagree on the main objectives of raising achievement and the social inclusion agenda and getting everybody involved in reducing disaffection. Therefore, when we do whinge, it is because we feel we have a responsibility to improve the situation, not for ourselves -- I do not think teachers do it for that -- but for the children in the schools.
(Ms Blois) We do a great job, as a profession. If you look at the rising standards, particularly in Birmingham as an improving authority. Birmingham schools are improving. We do a great job but without the points I have raised we could do an even better job. It is the little, niggly things that bring practising teachers down that are the problem, not the job itself. These things bring my job satisfaction down. If I had some support to do some of these, I could do an even better job than I am doing now.
(Ms Blois) You said yourself it was a well funded school. In some schools that are not quite as well funded, it is a big issue as to who does it to try and take the workload off teachers.
(Ms Blois) A lot more is expected of us. We have looked at our professionalism and said, "This is brilliant. This is good. This fulfils us. This is challenging. This is what we all need", but do we need to stand by the photocopier and fill in forms?
(Mrs Edwards) They exist but they are helping with individual children within the classroom. You cannot send them to do things like photocopying. It is not part of their job.
(Mrs Edwards) Some of it is going on but it is no everywhere yet. We are having to appoint an administrator at some point because of the paperwork coming through purely to do with the examination system. Forget the internal sort but the external sort, the GCSEs, the GNVQs, the course work, the bits of paper flying around. I was talking to the deputy head yesterday morning prior to coming here and he said a stack of paper had arrived that big from GNVQs to the person who has just taken that role over.
(Mr Gittins) In terms of recruitment, I have already outlined the fact that my school is in a more "favoured" area. It is easier to recruit teachers in the area where my school is than it is in some parts of Birmingham. Having said that, I advertised for an English teacher in April and got not a single applicant in a school with an excellent record of professional development, support for newly qualified teachers, that pays its newly qualified teachers from 1 July rather than 1 September to try and get them in. When you look at the age profile in terms of teachers recruitment is a huge issue. The quality of the people coming into teaching is excellent. It is getting enough of them. The situation is masked by the use of agency staff. We are not sending children home because they have not got a teacher in front of them. I use the word "teacher" loosely. When you have a situation where the supply agency you are paying £160 a day to sends you someone whose first experience in a school is walking through your door that morning, that is very difficult. As far as morale is concerned, I think that is mixed in terms of people feeling pressured. The issues of stress are there. You said there were a lot more administrators. I would say there is a lot more administration as well linked in with this whole issue of big culture and monitoring and monitoring and targets.
(Mr Gittins) There are. In primary schools there are more teachers. My pupil/teacher ratio at school is roughly the same as it was two years ago. More teachers will produce smaller class sizes which will raise achievement. I do not think that should affect how we do things. That would be the way it would work if you could afford more teachers to reduce class size, rather than necessarily reduce contact time or whatever, although from a teacher's point of view they may prefer it to be that way round. It is an interesting question. Teachers work very hard. They carry on what they are doing because of the pleasure they get from the achievements of young people.
Chairman: No one on this Committee would deny that. We were talking to a head of English this morning who said she works twice as hard now as when she did when she first came into the profession.
(Ms Blois) The teaching assistants have a very woolly job description. It is actually not a teaching assistant; it is a technician who said, "That is not part of my job description; I am not doing it." The fact of the matter is I am well paid for being on my knees in front of the washing machine and tumble drier X number of times a day as a food technology specialist. I perceive that my time could be better spent with pupils. I did one of these studies of how long I spent teaching pupils and how long I spent administering the lesson and the technicians. In a 50 minute lesson, it amounts to spending ten minutes with the pupils and 40 minutes on everything else. Is this a good use of my professionalism?
(Ms Blois) Our technician will tell you that he already does a full week and he has more than enough. He does not take his supply of holidays. He will come up with all sorts of reasons. The bottom line is: in the department we need another technician. As long as that is a need, it is not being fulfilled in my area particularly. I have to do the jobs myself because there is not enough money to have another technician.
(Ms Blois) Yes.
(Ms Blois) I cannot be the only one with a technical problem like this. There must be lots of schools in the area that have the same logistical and technical support problem.
(Ms Blois) Yes, and maybe that is another issue, that the management in schools is not as it should be, but I cannot criticise my management. We have just had a new head so it would be totally wrong to say it is the head's responsibility. Yes, it has been raised more times than I care to remember.
(Ms Blois) Yes.
(Ms Blois) There are a lot of our members of staff who are not computer literate.
(Ms Blois) Teaching is not about using a computer, surely?
(Mr Gittins) To some extent, that is addressed through the NOF training that is coming in for ICT skills for existing teachers and new teachers coming into the profession, but that training does take a long time. The majority of that training is done in the teachers' own time. I have watched my wife complete the training and I have seen the considerable number of hours she has spent doing that at home. I think teachers would recognise that that is something they want to take part in but it is not an overnight issue to bring your skills up to that level.
(Ms Blois) Most families of the teachers I work with have computers at home for their children but cannot access them because they do not have the time.
(Ms Blois) They do not have access to them. We certainly do not have access in school.
(Mr Gittins) It is difficult because that would vary from school to school. We talked about increased funding but there are increased demands as well. For example, we as a school try to work forward to a situation over the next two years where every teacher in the school has a laptop. There is a government initiative coming in and we should recognise that. It is very slow in terms of the speed at which we want to do that, but that is a useful development that will start to answer some of the problems, once the training comes on board as well. As a school, for example, we have just received £21,000 for electronic attendance. That will buy the software but in order to make it work the whole school needs to be networked and part of it is not. Every teacher needs a laptop. The cost to the school of introducing electronic attendance by next September is £70,000. As in most walks of life, if you need a laptop, you generally have a laptop but speaking as a head teacher when you are trying to allocate that expenditure, whether it be to that or to the technician who is washing the tea towels, you always look to see what the impact is on children's learning. Some of it is more diverse than others.
Chairman: This Committee would profoundly agree with you that what matters in education is the quality of teaching and learning experience in the classroom.
(Ms Blois) That is right.
(Mr Gittins) Mine would have access at school, the majority most of the time but I would not be able to comment about at home.
(Ms Blois) We have an ICT suite and we have a technology suite which is fully equipped with computers. We have now the arrival of laptops for each member of staff but they are not networked because the cabling is not in. We have overhead projectors that are in school but not in place because the cabling has not been done and we all still do not have access to laptops.
(Mrs Edwards) The only way we have access to computers ourselves at home is if we bought them but we are using them as a tool for our job. We do have access in school. There are four machines now in the staff room plus the computer suite. We have the usual problems with the network system: "Oh, the network has crashed", despite improvements upon improvements.
Chairman: We all live with that at times.
(Mrs Edwards) We do not have specialised technology but I think we are looking at specialised science.
(Mr Gittins) It is an interesting point to give you an insight into Birmingham because most of the children who come to my school live within Sutton Coldfield. There is a very well endowed charity called Sutton Coldfield Municipal Charities that finds sponsorship money for any secondary school in Sutton Coldfield that wants to apply for specialist status. I wrote a letter; I went to the trustees and I got £100,000.
(Ms Blois) Ours is a unique partnership with King Edward's Camp Hill so it was a 50/50 partnership. We are going to technology college status but it is never explained exactly how the funding came about. It was senior management staff who put in the bid and knew anything about the nuts and bolts of it.
(Mr Gittins) I do not think it has affected it in terms of having an impact on admissions. I do not think there are any community specialist schools in the country that I know of that exercise their right to change their admission criteria, although there are one or two foundation schools that do. We do not differentiate in terms of admissions. It has brought us additional resources. It has answered some of the ICT type questions. Two years ago we had 65 computers in school; now we have 225. We have had rooms refurbished and we have been able to use it to lever in other money from a whole range of places. It has hugely increased the number of different targets, criteria and so on in that respect, which has led to a certain amount of confusion. It provides an identity for the school. Technology is an interesting one, perhaps a little separate from others. Because of the involvement of ICT, along with maths, science and DNT, it impacts far more right across the curriculum.
(Mr Gittins) I would suggest it is a key issue because the workload involved is enormous. The application started the day after I took up post in January 2000. It took something like 45 person days of members of my senior staff and other heads of department to put that together. Were the resources attached to it not very significant, schools would not go through that process.
(Ms Blois) We now have the ability to pay a colleague to become manager of ICT.
(Ms Blois) We have a lot of the hardware turning up in school now which we would not have had if we had not technology college status. It also links closely with our independent school because we have meetings with similar colleagues in the independent sector to start planning forward. Our feeder junior schools have benefited. We are running all sorts of joint projects with them to bring in the feeder schools into our technology department so that they have access to the equipment. We try to network all schools so that they can produce some of their schemes of work in junior schools which we can then print out for them or make up for them from their designs, which takes the stress off members of staff in the junior schools and means that we are using our specialisms to the full.
(Ms Blois) The process is not infinite. We are not a technology college for ever. When the review cycle comes round, you have to show that you have achieved what you set out to do and we have worked very hard in the school to do that. It is rewarding to see the junior schools in. We have done a lot of staff training in the department and we have pupils who come in and work for that as well. It has given us the flexibility to do that.
Chairman: Does not the whole ethos of the specialist school breed a kind of "I'm all right Jack" attitude? Two of you are in this rather privileged category but everyone is not in that category. Some of us are getting a picture of Birmingham that it is all right if you are in the more affluent bit or even the 50/50 bits of Birmingham but what about the most deprived parts of Birmingham and the comprehensives that have no special status?
Ms Munn: Looking at the other group which went to different schools this morning, we did go to a school in a less well off area which has specialist status, where the head and the staff and the pupils were very positive about that. Although they found the process demanding and had been turned down once, the head said that, having got through a second time she could see that the second plan they produced was better and now, having got to that stage, they thought the process was more rigorous. I think it would be unfair to say that all of the Committee had not seen that.
(Mr Gittins) Because Birmingham is an Excellence in Cities area, the majority of the specialist school bids go in through Excellence in Cities. It is a slightly ring fenced area with greater chance of success. There has been huge cooperation and discussion at the EIC partnership meetings about which schools should be supported. The LEA put a huge amount of time and resources into supporting those schools. It was quite a democratic, consultative process. Other schools have got it individually but the vast majority have gone through that process. The LEA supported that. As a head teacher coming into Birmingham from outside, within the funding formula for Birmingham, there is quite a significant move -- others would know the figures better than me in terms of percentages -- of more money following additional needs in terms of the way the funding formula is worked out. Within Excellence in Cities, there is a considerable additional needs element in the funding. My school, whose additional needs are nowhere near as great as some of the inner city schools, receives £42,000 a year Excellence in Cities money for 1,100 students. A school in the inner city with perhaps 600 or 700 students may receive anything up to ten times that amount. It is a huge, significant part of the budget. You then come back to the issue about whether that is a transitional part of their budget or whether it is going to be there for ever, because for them it is probably as much as 25 per cent of their budget.
(Mr Gittins) That was not a decision in principle. I was asked earlier if we would go for that without the resources. It is a decision partly of pragmatism and goes back to that bidding culture. If all that money comes out of the education budget and 20 per cent is top sliced and put into diversity and so on, if you do not bid for your share of that 20 per cent, whether you agree with the principles or not ----
(Mr Gittins) I do not personally agree with the whole issue of city academies.
(Mr Gittins) I feel each school has the ability to develop its own curriculum and its own strengths in any way it wishes and does not necessarily need to be constrained by what is quite an artificial bidding structure. I meant to bring my bid with me and I have not, but it is that thick and it has 500 separate targets in. The monitoring of that is huge. If you want to go down that road, yes, you can achieve wonders like that in an individual way for a very small number of children. The impact that has is, to me, really quite large and I do not think that is taken into account. What we should be doing is raising standards right across the board rather than separately.
(Ms Blois) Prior to the admissions system being changed, parents could apply for places in the right number of schools. We would be over-subscribed, pre-technology college status, because our staff and our head teachers worked hard to raise the profile of our school in all sorts of ways that were not particularly blindingly educational. We have a uniform. It is strictly adhered to. If you come to our school, this is the standard of dress you are expected to have. That impresses the parents. If you are strict on a minor issue, you are bound to be the same in their minds on the major issues. A lot of the admissions would be creamed off by King Edward's. The question you are asking is applicable to our school, so we had to look at what was available to us at the time to say is there a way we can raise our standards to the benefit of our pupils. That was one of the ways with the technology college bid. It is to do with the finances, yes. It brought a lot of equipment in and a lot of support for us and the fact that we could do it in partnership with our biggest rival, the independent school, was an added bonus. Yes, it has improved our situation. We have a boys' school down the road that is not doing as well as us.
(Mr Gittins) I went onto the Admissions Forum about half-way through the discussions about the change and the thrust of the change was trying to allow a greater agreement of parental preference and also to try and provide a level playing field for all the schools. I am sure in every town and city of a reasonable size, there is a view among parents for whatever reason that they may migrate outwards. The situation was hugely difficult to explain how it worked previously. I have 180 places at school and 450 first preferences. I have to make 350 offers to fill 180 places because, under the old system, parents could have four first choices, one at King Edward School, one at a grammar school, one at a foundation school and then their first choice community school. In the area I was in, unless parents picked the right community school, we only offered to first choices. What they are able to do now under the new system is rank schools in order and the highest of the five where they meet the criteria, which may be selection or distance, is the one they get an offer for. The agenda of the LEA is to raise standards in all schools and persuade parents that all schools are good schools. That is certainly the message I send. However, there are still parents who would rather move their children three or four miles to the outskirts of the town than go to the school in the centre of town, irrespective of how good a school it is.
(Mr Gittins) As a head teacher, I am at the sharp end of that when it comes to making decisions. I would have to say that the support that I have had in two and a half years from the exclusions office, a dedicated office within the LEA to provide advice for head teachers as well as support for parents and pupils in that situation, has been absolutely superb, much better than any other local authority I have worked with. The quality of staff and advice is absolutely excellent. The provision for prevention of exclusion and for dealing with young people who are excluded is, in my view, really very good.
(Ms Blois) Yes. We can buy into various schemes that the authority provides for college places on a 20 per cent day time, so some of our pupils feel the education system, they perceive, is not doing what they want. They can go to college. We have a specialist worker assigned to us by the LEA who comes in to discuss problem cases before they ever become a permanent exclusion.
(Mrs Edwards) We have just set up a teaching and learning centre for the individuals who would otherwise end up being repeatedly excluded. That is within the school. Before they go to the behavioural units, there is something in school so that we can take them out of particular lessons. Kids who otherwise would be suspended, excluded, permanent exclusion, looking for a new home -- they stay in the community with the people they know. Hopefully it will work and they will become school members all the way through school.
(Ms Blois) When the pupils finally do leave us because they are excluded, some of them end up at various centres. Because of my work with COMPAC, the business and education partnership, I meet with a teacher from the centre. He takes great delight in telling me about our pupils and how well they have done. I can relate that back to school. That is a triumph for them and we are always pleased that, when they have moved to other centres, they have blossomed, so when you exclude a pupil it is not always the end of the line for us. We always find out what has happened to them.
(Ms Blois) There are always pupils for whom you are concerned. We deal with them as best we can in school. The criticism would be of management then. I am aware that I am trying hard not to criticise too much the management but the management of the discipline policies in school has been up for criticism by a large number of my colleagues. These pupils who persistently disrupt lessons are still in school and we do not go for exclusion unless it is an absolute last resort. We are coping with pupils like that as best we can.
(Ms Blois) In some cases, yes.
(Mr Gittins) There are two conflicting agendas here, the social inclusion agenda and the issues about effective teaching and learning in classrooms. They are sometimes seen by members of staff to be in conflict. What is trying to happen in Birmingham through Excellence in Cities and so on is the introduction of initiatives like learning mentors and so on to provide additional support for teachers and work with specific individuals to improve their behaviour and deal with the problem within school.
Chairman: I am going to halt the proceedings now. Thank you very much indeed.