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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1102-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Wednesday 24 April 2013
Professor Christine Gilbert CBE, Professor Chris Husbands and Professor Becky Francis
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 61
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Taken before the Education Committee
on Wednesday 24 April 2013
Pat Glass (Chair)
Mr David Ward
In the absence of the Chair, Pat Glass was called to the Chair.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Christine Gilbert CBE, Chair, Professor Chris Husbands, Commissioner, and Professor Becky Francis, Director, Academies Commission, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning and welcome. We want to hold this morning’s session as a discussion. It is not the usual Education Select Committee Christine has known in the past; I remember you telling me that you stayed awake most of the night before, getting everything right. It is not like that today. It is a discussion. We want to try to get as much as we can out of this morning’s session. Thank you for coming.
The report is very detailed. It got a lot of publicity; a lot of people took what they saw as endorsement of their views out of the report. There are a lot of recommendations: 25. What do you think are the most important ones that you would like to see taken forward?
Professor Gilbert: The most important message of the report for me, and I think for all of us, is that structural reform is not of itself going to generate improvement. I think we said this word for word in the report: academies are not panacea for improvement, other things have to happen as well. That is the biggest message from us. You are right; it attracted a great deal of attention and people took from it what they wanted to take. On the day, we were concerned about the emphasis on admissions, because the big message is really about improvement. Just creating a number of academies without doing some other things too is not going to generate the sort of improvement we all want.
Q2 Chair: A Government policy of school improvement through conversion to academies is of itself not going to deliver what we need.
Professor Gilbert: Yes. The job of the Commission was not to pass judgment on whether academies were a good or a bad thing. The idea originated with the RSA, and when they approached me to chair it, the idea was to look at the impact to date of academisation-I could not even say that word then, but now it just slips in-but there was also a real focus on looking to the future to see what we could suggest and propose to make a world of academies work as well as it should. Of course, as we worked, we could see that it was not about now and the future. The real difference was how you also dealt with increasing academisation.
Q3 Mr Ward: Thank you for your report and also the blinding flash of the obvious that surprise, surprise, structural change on its own is not the answer. We are delighted that Mr Gove believes in evidencebased policy, and I am sure he enjoyed your report. Can we just talk about the Commission to begin with, please? Why was it important to set up the Commission and why did you all want to be involved in it?
Professor Gilbert: As I said, the idea originated with the RSA. Becky was then a Director of Education at the RSA, and she might want to say something about that.
Professor Francis: Obviously one of the key reasons for thinking about designing the Commission was the speed of academisation at the time, notably with the impetus for academy conversion. It was the knowledge that despite the speed there was very little commentary and analysis either on what was happening on the ground or, indeed, the implications of it. We wanted to design a very forward-focusing inquiry or commission, focusing on outcomes for young people and school improvement, looking forward to a massacademised system or even the notion of total academisation. We were of course very lucky in our commissioners, having Christine to chair and, the missing commissioner today, Brett Wigdortz of Teach First.
I moved to the Pearson think-tank, seconded from King’s College, which was also very keen to be involved. Again, the RSA, as you know, is involved in academies. It has a family of academies. The Pearson think-tank was aware of the lack of analysis in this area, and we were really keen to do a forward-facing review, but with the impetus and focus on school improvement and how we could provide a constructive commentary.
Q4 Mr Ward: Why did you want to be involved?
Professor Gilbert: Because I thought it was a good time to take stock of what had happened and to try to look forward. I thought it was important pragmatically to make some recommendations for improvement. My personal view is there will be no reversal of this. It would be very hard for any political party to reverse academies as such, so it is really important to get into the sort of discussion, learning and planning we are having about the importance of doing things other than just giving someone the status of academy. For me, it was a really interesting opportunity to sit back and look at the impact, but also to try to make some specific recommendations to ensure that improvement would really happen.
Q5 Mr Ward: Can I lead you to another area? Even researchers rely on opinions, so-to all of you-did you start with preconceived, intuitive views? Did anything come up that you were surprised about?
Professor Gilbert: I am not an academic, but personally I was surprised that I could not find more evidence to demonstrate improvement. I thought it would be clearer than it was. We had to work hard in the chapter on impact because we are absolutely clear that there are some stunning successes. We are also clear that in certain areas successful academies have raised the level. Overall, though, I was very surprised not to see more impact being demonstrated by the evidence. I thought there might be issues about low numbers and so on, but it was bigger than that. I suppose that was the biggest surprise for me.
I was also surprised by the emphasis on governance that emerged. Certainly, when we published our report, I was anxious at the launch that what we were saying might sound as if it were a criticism of governors, who in many cases give unlimited time to their schools. In fact, governors were really pleased to hear what we were saying and to be engaged in the debate. That was an issue for me, too-that governors emerged so strongly.
Professor Husbands: I am an academic, and I spent quite a long time looking at the evidence locally and nationally. I had also been fairly closely involved in the programme over the last 10 years. I have been a Secretary of State’s appointee to an academy trust in London and I have been involved in the development of academies in Norwich. I was aware that there are indeed some strikingly successful academies, where imaginative leadership, reconfiguration of curricula and investment in capital have produced striking improvements for children, particularly in some very disadvantaged areas. I was also aware that some academies, almost despite that, had struggled.
What interested me was that once you start taking this to scale, it is not a question about individual academies but what is happening in an academised system. That was the question I came in with. A number of things that come out of that are slightly surprising. Certainly there is the emphasis on governance, but also-we may talk about this later-some of the complexities that have been created around lines of accountability and reporting. You have institutions that are doing largely the same things with largely the same amounts of money, and largely the same amounts of public money, that actually now have quite different routes in terms of accountability when things do not go quite according to plan. That is an area of public policy where we are going to need to do some sorting out. I suspect we will come to that later.
Q6 Mr Ward: Do you feel you are whistling in the wind? Do you feel that anybody is going to change their views as a result of this? Are views fixed now, whatever the research?
Professor Husbands: It depends where you want to look in the system. One of the really interesting things about the response to the report from head teachers and managing directors of academy chains was that they said they thought we had captured issues that had caused them grief for quite a long time. That is important. We highlighted a number of issues. Christine is absolutely right that we now have a secondary education system that is majority academies. It is a line that I do not think any Government will reverse. Whether we move to a wholly academised secondary system and whether we move to a majority or wholly academised primary system are the questions still to be asked. Nobody is going to go back on the sense that academies are part of the educational landscape-certainly in my professional lifetime.
Whistling in the wind is not quite the question. We tried to get away from the question of whether it is right or wrong, and ask what you need to do if you are going to make a success of it. What are you going to have to do if you are going to make a success of this for all children?
Professor Francis: I hope that some of our findings will be listened to and that they will have an impact. You asked about what surprised us. One of the things that surprised me was how surprised the DfE seemed to be by the speed of academisation and the rapid catch-up they were having to play in order to hone and tighten their systems to deal with this massive and quite unanticipated uptake. Those systems are being tightened, but we argue in the report that the work needs to be speeded up.
Fundamentally, what also tends to be missed by commentators is that now converter academies comprise over three-quarters of all academies. We still have this attention on sponsors, which I am sure is right, on the one hand, but the huge landscape of academy conversion tends not to be investigated or dived into. Yet in the system for school improvement, we are relying on the commitment that converter academies make in their application to convert to support struggling schools in the vicinity in terms of improvement. Worryingly, we were not convinced that that was always happening, and there do not seem to be methods of accountability to make sure that it is. That was something we think is really fundamental coming out of the Commission.
Professor Gilbert: In terms of impact, if I go back to the governance point, it has raised considerable awareness amongst governors. For me, that is a real plus. I could spend my week responding if I went to every invitation from authorities or governors to speak about the issue and the report. One of the really significant things was raising their responsibilities. We do not have set answers, but the debate itself and the governors’ increasing understanding is really useful.
Q7 Mr Ward: I will be blunter. In terms of the DfE, which you have referred to, is this now a juggernaut? Is it a question now of implementation and changes to try to deal with the scale of this, or was there a receptive, "Very interesting; we’ll look at your findings"?
Professor Gilbert: There are two different questions. The DfE’s commitment to increasing numbers is as strong as it ever was. I see that up and down the country. We were not assuming or even recommending that it be slowed down; we were saying that other things needed to happen as well. In terms of the DfE’s particular interest in the report, we are unaware of how much they have discussed and taken on recommendations.
Professor Husbands: Could I make a footnote on the first point? We distinguish in the report between quite different types of academy: mark I, mark II, mark III and mark IV. To simplify that a bit, the first phase of academies introduced by Labour focused on transformational change for schools in areas of severe disadvantage. It went through a series of models over the eight years following 2002. The first converter academies, following the 2010 Act, focused on good and outstanding schools that were able to convert. The Department’s emphasis has now turned to academisation as a solution to schools continuing to require improvement.
Those are three quite different groups of schools. There are different demands in each of those different sorts of academy work. Somewhere, we have to get that right. The danger is that we think of this as a single word, and one of the things that came out for us is that if you begin to pull apart the strands, you can get to some sensible interventions and policies.
Q8 Craig Whittaker: Becky, could I just take you back to the comment about collaboration with other schools and that you saw no evidence? I am sure I have seen evidence somewhere that in Ofsted, for a school to have an "Outstanding" grade, they have to show very strong evidence of collaboration with other schools. Are you saying that is not a good enough incentive for schools to do just that?
Professor Francis: My colleagues will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that that is not the case yet. It is being discussed by Ofsted and it is something that we would obviously support. One of our recommendations is that leadership cannot be judged outstanding unless the school can demonstrate that leadership is involved in supporting another school. We think that might be an incentive, but am I right that it has not happened yet?
Professor Gilbert: As far as I am aware, it has not happened yet, but my understanding is that they are intending to go more strongly than we were suggesting. We were suggesting that there should be an impact on the leadership grade if they could not see the impact of school collaboration or system-led improvement. Ofsted is talking about making the overall judgment not outstanding.
Q9 Craig Whittaker: Would that be sufficient, though, to ensure collaboration between schools? In my area, before academies we did not have collaboration between schools, but since academies we have seen a big uptake of that. Will that spread it more widely?
Professor Gilbert: I think it will spread it more widely, because schools take note of what Ofsted wants. A number of them will be influenced by that. The danger is that they are influenced by it and it is not rooted in improvement, so it diverts them from a real focus on teaching and learning. We felt it needed a number of encouragements from the system, and we thought that would be a really key one.
Q10 Chair: One of the criticisms that is often made of current education reforms is that they are based on belief and not enough on evidence. Has there been no formal discussion with the DfE over what is clearly a good piece of research and evidence? Has there been any engagement with Ofsted on this?
Professor Gilbert: No, there has been no formal engagement with either about the report.
Professor Francis: David Laws recently invited me to have a meeting with him to discuss the report.
Chair: Good, so there could be formal discussions.
Q11 Siobhain McDonagh: Connecting to something you said, Chris, given the many different types of academies and the rapid expansion in numbers, is it possible to draw general conclusions about academies? Should there be conclusions on the different marks? I say that as a real evangelist for the type I academy, because the Harris chain has come in and transformed the lives of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged kids in my constituency. Would you agree with the editor of the TES that the label is "taxonomically useless"?
Professor Husbands: I always agree with the editor of the TES. I find it makes my life a lot easier. There are two background things. The first is that there is a degree of frustration-I think Christine at times expressed this-that almost by definition the evidence comes too late. We like our policies on academies to be evidence-driven. We cannot look at their effects until they are there, by which time it has happened. There is a real challenge in understanding what the evidence on the performance of academies is telling us and how we get that into policy. The international evidence on school autonomy is reasonably clear: there are types of autonomy that can drive systematic system improvement when they are accompanied by the right accountability indicators. It is more complicated than that, but that is there.
In terms of whether the academy label is taxonomically useless, we are moving towards a system where the majority of our secondary schools have academy status and there is a bewildering range of types of academy. If we just unpick the New Labour academies, we have single-sponsor academies, group-sponsor academies, notforprofit institutions like universities, and local authorities themselves coming in as academy sponsors. There is a bit of complexity. We have the converter academies, some of which delivered on a commitment to work with other schools and some less so. We have the new sponsor academies, where successful schools are sponsoring struggling schools, where there is a lot of potential if we can get that right. We have the emergence of multiacademy trusts and we have co-operative trusts. It is a really kaleidoscopic landscape. It is a very diverse secondary education system, which was prefigured in the 2005 White Paper. In that sense, what is the difference now between an academy and a secondary school? There almost isn’t one because they fold together.
The implications for us in terms of policy are how you manage a very diverse secondary system in ways that deliver on overall system performance, outcomes for the most disadvantaged and equity in admissions. There is a very interesting question about curriculum policy. We are seeing the publication of a new national curriculum, and half the secondary schools in the country will not be obliged to follow it. It is a very complex picture. It is probably becoming taxonomically useless.
Professor Francis: Nevertheless it is really important to carry on tracking, so it is difficult. In the school improvement chapter we counted seven different types of academy, and there may well be more. Certainly, I think trying to differentiate between sponsors and converters, those in chains and not in chains and so on remains absolutely fundamental in terms of trying to improve the system and draw lessons from it.
Professor Husbands: The emergence of chains or groups is the important development. I suspect a lot has happened very quickly since we put a stop on our count. There is a table early in the report with the number of academies in groups, and that is almost certainly out of date now. One of the little ironies is that a policy that begins with school autonomy actually leads to schools working in chains and groups, rather than individually. That is something that perhaps needs teasing out. I do not think that we will move to a system where we have three or four chains across the country, but chains of 20 or 30 schools with a reasonable geographic footprint are going to become rather more common.
Q12 Mr Ward: This is not completely new though, is it? I know within my constituency a few years ago we had grant maintained, we had CTC, we had voluntary aided, we had voluntary controlled and we had maintained schools. Each of them had their own admissions authority, and it was pretty difficult, particularly on admissions-the issue we are coming to later-to get an agreed position across those. In itself, the fact that there are different sorts of academies is not a new thing.
Professor Husbands: I agree with that. It is bigger and more complex. By comparison with most countries, not all, we have always had a relatively diverse secondary education system. It remains the case that we still have more faith schools than academies. We talk about the academised system rather more often than we talk about a faith-based system. If you compare us with Germany, France or Singapore, our schooling system is pretty diverse. It always has been and we have always lived with it, but it has become more diverse. Is there a point where the qualitative increase in diversity leads to some policy challenges? The answer tucked away in the report is yes.
Professor Gilbert: However complex the system, the common thing is outcomes for the children and young people in those schools, and the quality of education in those schools. That needs to be our focus. We should forget schools that are not academies either, to see what is happening there. Those are the two most important things: quality of education and the impact on pupil outcomes.
Q13 Siobhain McDonagh: In that regard, would you agree with Gerard Kelly of the TES that not a lot has changed as a result of the academies programme in terms of the overall performance of schools? Has there been a revolution or merely a rebranding amongst schools who have changed status?
Professor Gilbert: Even though the impact overall cannot be evidenced, I do think that they have raised expectations of what can be achieved in the very poorest areas. You have given the Harris example, and I could give you countless examples in the same way. They have raised expectations; it is far more difficult now to say, "Look at my intake. Look at the cohort. That’s why the results are as they are." It has helped raised expectations across the system, and for me that is crucially important. If you raise expectations and really believe that children can achieve, ways will be found of making them achieve. Expectations are fundamental.
Professor Husbands: I agree. Where you are looking at performance in individual schools-and the transformational impact of Harris on performance in some of those schools in south-west London is absolutely phenomenal-it is worth having. If you then put that into overall system performance, it tends to be washed out at system level. The difficulty is that as potentially all schools become academies, do we have levers that will continue to drive improvement for individual schools? That will lead to issues around admissions because there is a low road. We say in the report that there is a low road to school improvement, which is around the management or manipulation of admissions and other approaches too. That is not the way to promote system improvement. The high road to school improvement is through high expectations, improving the quality of teaching and learning, collaboration between successful and less successful schools, harder work and more fine-grained work, which will ultimately drive system performance.
Professor Francis: Absolutely. It comes back to the impetus in the report for trying to firm up systems and mechanisms to drive forward improvements across the board. Obviously if converter academies were outstanding and good schools in the first place, we would expect their performance to be high and hopefully to remain so. The evidence on sponsored academies really remains quite mixed in relation to their comparator schools. There are brilliant examples, as we have heard, both in chains and in stand-alone academies, but some are not so good. As Gerard Kelly is arguing, when you start disaggregating and comparing across the board, we of course have some outstanding exemplars in the non-academy sector as well. Our focus and the impetus of this report is really on how we can learn from the best-how we can learn from what is working and scale that out across the system.
Q14 Siobhain McDonagh: The evidence on the ability of academy status to bring about school improvement is itself patchy. As I said, from my perspective, that seems amazing. I cannot understand why it is patchy because it is not patchy in my constituency. The sponsor is all. A good sponsor transforms a school; a less radical sponsor maintains the status quo. I am amazed that that was the outcome. Is there any evidence that mark III academies are making a difference to the performance of their pupils as a result of the change in status?
Professor Gilbert: It was probably too early to say with most of them, but we did not see marked improvement. We did see an impact in some chains, as you have described with Harris. We did not see an impact in all chains, and nor were we convinced by the evidence of some that they were sufficiently closely focused on school improvement to make the difference that needs to be made.
Q15 Siobhain McDonagh: Regarding the recent paper by Stephen Machin and Olmo Silva, have you seen any evidence on whether academies are improving performance across the ability range or only for certain groups of pupils?
Professor Gilbert: I do not think there is much to say other than what I have said already on this. I think we said in the report that we did find that the very early academies had made a difference over time. Generally, though, we could not find a marked difference, or not enough to comment on anyway, other than in terms of really terrific examples of individual schools or individual groups of schools or chains, whatever they might want to be called.
Q16 Siobhain McDonagh: To build on that, is the message from the improved performance of the early academies really that change takes time, as you state, or rather that these schools reaped the benefit of additional investment and a change in leadership, which are not necessarily a component of the mark III academies? Could there be another explanation entirely?
Professor Gilbert: Certainly with the evidence I would have seen at Ofsted, it was rare for resources to make the key difference. Though I think the very early academies were extremely well resourced, that did lessen over time, even with the previous Government. For me the issue is not one of resources, and this takes me back to the beginning, when I talked about the key message. We felt really strongly that there was a common assumption that you waved a wand, a school became an academy and it was transformed. What we are saying is that it will not happen unless a number of other things happen. It needs sponsors absolutely fixated on improvement, not just efficiency and management. Their role in that needed to be clear.
Governors absolutely fixated on that are absolutely crucial. Time and time again people talk about the Secretary of State’s role, and I feel that needs to be reversed. You need to be looking at the locality and the governance of the individual school or group of schools. That is the real arm that is going to support improvement. Then, of course, if those things are right, the focus in the school on teaching and learning, on the quality of the teachers in that school and on the detail of classroom practice is really key. Therefore, it is not just resources or time; it is doing a number of other things as well. We felt that collaboration across schools was a way of improving teaching and learning more quickly than it might otherwise be transformed.
Professor Husbands: I have three very quick points. The first is on sponsor performance. There is some evidence that some sponsors are producing transformational change in schools where there have been persistent challenges. That is absolutely worth having. The caution is that we will not succeed if we replace variably performing local authorities with variably performing sponsors. That seems to me to be a zero-sum game, and it is one that we need to watch out for. Sponsors who are focussed on school improvement are absolutely critical.
The second is that across the English education system, just as is the case in every other system, the key to overall system improvement is raising the performance of the lowest performing pupils. If you look at the PISA data, they are crystal clear. The difference between performance in this country and Finland/Singapore is not the performance of the median and upper performing pupils. We absolutely have to focus on bringing all our learners up to adequate international levels of performance. The academies that I think have been most effectively transformational have brought up performance and expectations for all rather than, as some may have been tempted to do, gaming accountability systems to look at appropriate thresholds.
Q17 Charlotte Leslie: I have a quick and quite hypothetical question. I was a supporter of the initial academies programme, but I always remember being slightly frustrated that there was no mechanism to isolate whether it was the huge extra resources that went into the new academies at that time or the dramatic change of leadership. It is a very hypothetical question. In hindsight, and perhaps with a view to going forward, would it have been useful to try to isolate those two factors to work out which one was beneficial, or is that not realistic? Do you think it is worth isolating factors as the academisation process moves forward?
Professor Francis: I think trying to do more in terms of identifying different factors and then monitoring is really important and must not be lost sight of in relation to the previous questions about diversification. It is fundamental. The evidence we have from the DfE on the longest standing academies actually comes down to just 33 schools, which is a very small sample on which to make judgments, so it is really important that that monitoring goes on. It might be argued as well that given the very slight differentials that we see in some cases compared with the amount of resourcing that went into academies, the difference in outcomes is surprisingly slight. I think it is a matter of maintaining and developing the monitoring. The different facts and figures that are wielded are often very confusing, especially as we tend to see figures about rates of improvement when many sponsored academies are coming from a very low base. We would expect to see high rates of improvement, but what that improvement looks like and what is underpinning it is really important.
Q18 Siobhain McDonagh: It is not hypothetical. I can show you two schools that were in the bottom 5% of schools in London. Two different sponsors took them over as academies. They are half a mile apart; they have the same sort of pupil intake, and they have both had beautiful new buildings that the local authority had built, but it could not bring about improvement in the schools. One sponsor transformed the school in a matter of months. Another sponsor has taken years and the difference was revolution or reform. The sponsor that came in with a revolution of change and improvement that was quite brutal was enormously successful. The sponsor that came in that tried to be good, be wholesome, hold hands and hum-I know it is quite stark.
Professor Husbands: It is always interesting to try to isolate. As an academic I am quite keen on that. Schools are very complex organisations. The danger is often when we say that factor X is more important than factor Y, and that means that factor Y is not important at all. The way these things interact is quite important. I taught in a school that has now been rebuilt and academised, and I remember the challenges of teaching in that school when the estate was not fit for purpose. It is now fit for purpose. These things interact. Yes, we need to isolate at system level, but locally, as you just said, the leadership and the buildings interact.
Professor Gilbert: I did start by saying that I am not an academic and I am probably pragmatic. For me, it might be interesting to do that-I should also say that we did not always agree. For me, the real focus needs to be on school improvement itself, at a very precise level. What generates improvement across schools and in schools? It is really only in the last couple of years, for instance, that we have seen evidence that it is the detailed interaction between teacher and child that is having most impact. There is a loop between teacher and child in terms of their learning. I think our efforts would be much better placed there, because although we are talking about academies, most of our primary schools are still not academies, and we really need to accelerate improvement there. There is a real debate about the precision of school improvement: what works effectively and what does not. You can see all sorts of what I used to call Elastoplast solutions that move a school forward and get better results, but do not ultimately and intrinsically alter the quality of learning. That is a healthier debate, but as I said I am not an academic, even though it says "Visiting Professor".
Q19 Mr Ward: On Siobhain’s point about the two different sponsors, the same sorts of schools and the same types of communities-one going there and one going there-if you replace the word "sponsor" with "head teacher", I could give you dozens of examples of maintained schools with exactly the same circumstances; they were exactly the same schools, but one had rapid improvement and one continued to fail. Is there any evidence that the academies are attracting better leaders?
Professor Husbands: Oh, gosh. I am not aware of anything that has looked explicitly at that.
Q20 Mr Ward: Do they pay more money?
Professor Husbands: There is evidence that, consequential on the early academies, senior staff salaries increased. In some instances, that is because you had to pay to attract really good people to what were very challenging jobs. It is not necessarily pay inflation; it is the recognition that the head teacher labour market has some dynamics. Since 2002, attainment has been on an upward swing across the system. Local authority maintained schools have improved and non-local authority maintained schools have improved. That is good. The 2010 Steve Machin evidence is that there is an academy effect on attainment in the early New Labour academies. I do not have the details. You may remember the details of that research better than me, but if not, I am sorry to land you in it at that point.
Once you bring in already outstanding schools as converter academies, to that extent-back to Charlotte’s question about isolating factors-you are complicating it because you are now comparing schools that had been on a very upward swing. They were outstanding as local authority maintained schools and they are now academies, and you are comparing them with schools that have struggled as local authority maintained schools and, in some cases, have also been transformed as academies. In terms of that performance, it is difficult, but the head teacher salary issue, as I have said, is an operation of the labour market.
Q21 Ian Mearns: On that point, the eminent economist J K Galbraith when talking about the chief executives of large corporations said, "The salary of the chief executive of a large corporation is not a market award for achievement. It is frequently in the nature of a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself." I am not absolutely convinced that the burgeoning salaries of head teachers are to do with the market economics of who is best for what job in what place.
Professor Gilbert: I will come back to the salary issue. I agree with the point about the importance of a head teacher in any sort of school, but evidence we heard from chief executives of chains was that it was much easier for them to remove a head teacher when that head teacher was not succeeding than it would previously have been in a local authority. We heard that clearly from some very strong chains. They would take action more quickly than might have happened previously.
Q22 Ian Mearns: Isn’t that more to do with inertia within local authorities? Within local authorities, some of the greatest improvements that we made in Gateshead came about because we basically got tough with head teachers during the 1990s and into the 2000s. I am afraid to say that sometimes head teachers have to be shown the instruments of torture and then do the right thing.
Professor Gilbert: That does happen. It did happen and continues to happen, actually, up and down the country. The point being made by the chief executives, though, and one was chief executive of one of the chains that we would all think was very successful, was that the speed at which they could move was quicker than a local authority. You can see evidence of that.
Q23 Chair: It is less about the money and more about the ability to move.
Professor Gilbert: That is what they told us. In fact, money did not come through as a real factor in any of the evidence or the discussions, other than higher salaries pushing up salaries.
Chair: It is the ability to manage underachievement.
Professor Husbands: Can I cut in? Part of it is whether the head teacher contracts are being held by the group or the individual school. It can be easier for chains to act in that way if the head teacher contracts are held at chain level whereas, of course, local authorities often have to work through governing bodies. The system makes it easier to deal with poor performance.
Mr Ward: Presumably it applies to underperforming staff as well as head teachers.
Q24 Neil Carmichael: I will pick up the theme of school improvement and echo Christine’s point about the underlying importance of school improvement, but turn it slightly on its head for a moment. The programme for academies could of course stop improvement or discourage it through, as your Commission noted, effectively complacency on the one hand, where schools are already very good, wonder what they really need to do and just carry on as they are, or the problem of competition, where good schools will be reluctant to take on less good schools simply because of the reputation of the good school being potentially damaged. Out of those two, which do you think is the most serious and what can be done to stop both of them from gathering pace?
Professor Gilbert: Do you mean in terms of schools co-operating and collaborating with one another?
Neil Carmichael: That is certainly where I am going to go, but first of all it is this question of complacency versus the impact of competition. Which do you think is the most serious?
Professor Gilbert: For me the issue is schools believing that it is going to divert them from their core purpose if they work with other schools. I do not see a lot of real complacency in the overall system. Even though outstanding schools are not being inspected as routine by Ofsted, they still feel they might be part of a sample of whatever it is, so there is some anxiety.
The real focus in the report was on converter academies who had, in their applications to become academies, committed to supporting or helping other schools in terms of school improvements. Where they are not doing it, we felt they were complacent about their performance. They were good or outstanding, had converted easily to academy status and did not feel they needed to do anything else. We thought there needed to be other things put into the system to encourage them to do other things. For instance, we would have wanted the agreement with the DfE to be more specific about that, and on the point that was made earlier about Ofsted, we felt that could encourage people too.
The issue of competition and collaboration has been there since I started teaching. Even as a history teacher, I would want to know, usually by the end of that afternoon, what the school up the road was doing in terms of its history results. Certainly as a head, by five o’clock I was always very pleased if the schools did not phone back and tell me, because I knew that meant their performance was not very good. Competition has always been there, and I think collaboration and competition can sit very neatly and very energetically together as long as one does not get out of sync with the other. They are both helpful support and drivers for improvement.
Q25 Neil Carmichael: How big is the field you operate in? You said that as a history teacher and a head, you were looking at other schools to see how they were doing. How far did you look geographically or comparatively?
Professor Gilbert: I was a history teacher a long, long time ago, and the focus would have been on the school. I would have wanted the history results to be the best in the school, and then I would have wanted the history results to be the best in the local authority. Obviously, now, people would compare using league tables, because it seems to me it is no longer enough simply to focus on locality.
We tend to forget how strong the accountability measures are in this country. Yes, our schools have more autonomy and independence than most other places, but we have very strong central accountability measures. We have common tests and examinations; we have league tables; and we have Ofsted inspections. Those are really strong in terms of the stranglehold on schools. My plea-not just through this work, though it is in here, but in work that I am doing in other areas-is that schools become less timid about doing things differently and really taking ownership themselves.
Although you asked me how much bigger it gets, the real core of accountability for every teacher coming into a school is first of all the individual child-demonstrated by research that we know and have looked at as part of this. In the report we call the accountability to that child "moral accountability". Beyond that there is professional accountability to your colleagues and so on. Those things have to be at the core of anything that is going on. Schools need to be braver about those things and taking ownership through the things they are doing in the school and things they are doing across schools.
Professor Husbands: I was also a history teacher. Unfortunately the world is full of ex-history teachers. Collaboration is a really interesting word. Any of us can stand up in front of audiences of head teachers, and the word collaboration is a nice comfortable aerosol word that can be sprayed at almost any problem: "Things would be better if we collaborated." In practice all schooling is very local. Head teachers are governed by what is in the interests of their own school and the children that they teach. As parents, that is what we want. We want the head teacher to be absolutely driven in securing the best possible outcomes for our children.
Competition-"I want to do well; I want to do better than the people around me"-is a really important driver. Lots of things in the accountability system drive that. Collaboration needs to be a driver that further improves outcomes for children. The thing that worries me a little bit around some of the outstanding academy converters is that they have been slightly diverted into slightly less hard measures on accountability. The schools can do all sorts of things. They can do joint professional development; it does not really cost anybody anything. They can do some joint debating competitions. They can make some of their sports facilities available to other schools. They are all fine and it is great, but they are not getting to the heart of it: am I willing to really take on the challenge of getting my teachers’ hands dirty to bring about systematic improvement?
Q26 Chair: Chris, how do we do that? If we have a funding arrangement that says, "You will work with schools that need support," and your evidence is saying that is not happening, how do we do that? Should we be holding academies that are getting public money accountable for the results in their area-not just their own? Should we in some way have something more sharp-edged?
Professor Husbands: The problem in the 2010 Act is that there were no subsequent measures to hold people to account for the commitments they had made on working closely with others. There is nothing in the accountability system that reinforces that. Head teachers are like everybody else-we sometimes need to be held to account for the commitments that we have made. I think the proposal that you cannot be an outstanding school, either for leadership or overall, unless you have demonstrated that impact on performance elsewhere would be a really rather powerful driver. This morning at the Academies Show the Department is announcing some additional resource to encourage academies to work at improving other schools. There is a carrot and a stick. The carrot is that there might be some resource available. The stick is the Ofsted. Normally in these systems getting your carrots and sticks working together is a sensible thing to do.
Whether you can hold academies responsible for schools in their area is a really interesting one. I am sort of interested; if we take something that is an important outcome around the number of NEETs, it is quite interesting for us to ask how the schools of Gateshead, Bristol, Mitcham or Stroud are working together to reduce NEETs. If you can develop some indicators at area level and hold people accountable for that, I think you can start to do something. It is not directly related to academisation, but if you want the behaviours to happen, you have to produce the performance indicators.
Chair: In general we just have to get sharper on this.
Q27 Neil Carmichael: Are you also thinking in terms of a duty to cooperate?
Professor Husbands: A duty to co-operate with each other or a duty to cooperate with other parts of the children’s services landscape? I do not think we have ever talked about this, but my personal view is that I would put in a legal duty to cooperate. I know from experience, though, that legal duties to co-operate need to be backed up with things that actually make it happen.
Professor Gilbert: It would be very difficult to force people to cooperate. There are various things in the system legally under which schools have to cooperate now, but if we look back-and I am not excluding any Government from this-there is a lot of imposition. Enabling schools to do things is healthier. I visited a teaching school in Barnet, for instance. It is a really very good school. They felt responsible for the results of the schools that they were working with, because they knew the children, they knew the school and they told me that on results day in August there was somebody in that school seeing what the children were achieving. They felt moral and professional accountability because of the quality of the collaborative work between those two schools.
Could I go back to what the Chair said at the beginning? One of the things we struggled with was that we thought for ages that it was on converter schools’ agreements that they had to support other schools. It is not in the funding agreement, but we made a distinction. It was in their application to convert-that they would support another school-and several named schools that they had not gone on to support. However, it was not in the funding agreement, and we felt that was a really key point. It should be in the agreement, and they should be held to account for it.
Q28 Neil Carmichael: Your report talks about a detailed implementation plan for school improvement. What would that look like?
Professor Gilbert: It would be the Government thinking holistically about what it was doing. There would be a number of things; for instance, the sorts of things that the Secretary of State says. He has made a number of very public commitments to school-led improvement, school-to-school collaboration and so forth. We felt there should be a number of things to make that more of a reality. There should be an encouragement to work together in different ways with seed-corn funding and so on to do different things, such as using the initiatives running from the National College to do more things around, for instance, the role of National Leaders of Governance and so on, using Ofsted to support the system. It is to use a number of things; we have talked a lot this morning about using the converters, and being really specific about their role. In January, 75% of our academies-it is still probably much the same-were converters, so it is holding them to account, just as you said a few minutes ago, for their support for improving other schools. A number of things like that would form a plan.
Q29 Neil Carmichael: Including collaboration of course.
Professor Gilbert: Yes, the various initiatives I am thinking about would be the Government, the National College and so on encouraging through money, support, celebration and all sorts of things.
Q30 Neil Carmichael: Is the Department for Education thinking along those lines?
Professor Gilbert: I am not aware of that. I do not know in detail. A number of the things they are doing are supportive, but we think they can do far more. On the converter role, I understand why that did not happen in the beginning, given what Becky was saying about the speed of change, but there is time now to build it into agreements.
Q31 Neil Carmichael: Who would be responsible for making sure the plan was being implemented to a sufficiently rigorous standard?
Professor Gilbert: Obviously a plan would have people owning different bits of it, but it would be steered overall from the Department to make sure that the focus on school improvement was going hand in hand with academisation. We have not talked about the selection of sponsors, but we made quite a bit of it in the report, and Becky did a good deal of work on it. We felt that too was absolutely fundamental: choosing the sponsors in a different way from what currently happens.
Q32 Neil Carmichael: What about excellence networks? More particularly, how do we encourage schools to find out about them and engage with them?
Professor Gilbert: We had quite a bit of debate about the different models that are around at the moment. As I said a few moments ago, I feel so much has been imposed that it is important to use the energy that is out there to try to capitalise on teachers themselves to do some of this. The work I have been doing over the last years has involved looking at the performance of really good schools and what they are doing with other schools. For instance, I have looked at a number of teaching schools in the Teaching School Alliances. We think there are a number of things going on there. There is work going on in some of the chains themselves; there is work going on across groups of schools; there is work going on in the Teaching School Alliances, but all of that could miss certain schools.
Q33 Chair: How do people find out about these things? I stumble across them. I have come across trusts of a city and some strong, organic stuff, not coming from the top but from schools themselves, yet nobody seems to be sharing it and publicising it.
Professor Gilbert: That is where the notion of networks came from: they should not be a heavy structural, bureaucratic imposition. When you look at the really successful collaborations, as a bureaucrat it is quite hard not to be thrown by the messiness of them. All those sorts of things are not always in neat geographical areas, but it does need some sort of framework to operate and pick up the schools that need to be supported, or would benefit from collaboration.
Q34 Chair: Should that be coming out of the Department? We had national strategies that did this in the past-or at least attempted to.
Professor Gilbert: It could form part of the plan that was mentioned a few minutes ago. The country is divided by the National College into very large areas that are going to be given a licence for professional development, leadership and management, so NPQH and so on is now run by these consortia. These things would not take on the role of local authorities or anything else; they would spot schools’ poor performance and schools that were not engaging, and broker support, using the alliances and so on to move things forward more efficiently.
Q35 Neil Carmichael: We have talked about collaboration, structures, frameworks, plans and that sort of thing. By listing all those things, you are talking about a lot of different models, systems, bureaucracies and all the rest. How do we expect those to be easily monitored and assessed? If they are all different, you are going to be looking at different things and different parts to find out the same thing: are they improving schools or not?
Professor Francis: It comes back to some of the points you made earlier, which raise questions about locality, the potential patchiness in the present system as it is evolving and how we make sure there are no gaps. Struggling schools are identified by Ofsted as "requires improvement", but then they need to know how and where to get quality improvement services in the new market. The emphasis there is on quality, not snake oil. This is where we were looking at the notion of excellence networks that could go across a region. I do not know whether we are going to get on to the dreaded notion of middle tier, but the challenge is about a clear vision at the top. We recognise, and I think support, the bottom-up impetus with schools’ autonomy and school-to-school provision of school improvement services, but the big challenge is how to ensure that spreads to the schools that need it most at a local level.
Q36 Neil Carmichael: I absolutely agree. You can look around-I was probing your history example before-and say things are looking pretty good locally, but if that is as far as you go, you are in real danger.
Professor Francis: Yes.
Professor Husbands: I did say that it was local. We know there are communities where there are still embedded difficulties around performance when you benchmark them more generally. As a whole, I do not want this to be too centrally driven. There are things emerging all over the place.
Q37 Ian Mearns: I think concern was being expressed about the way some schools become academies. The sign above the door changes and the funding mechanism changes but nothing else changes within the school. Do you think it is wise, therefore, that Ofsted should adopt a regime of selfevaluation rather than inspection for good academies that differs from what it uses to monitor other types of school?
Professor Gilbert: We thought about this in the group and discussed it a lot. We came up with a recommendation that has not attracted the same attention as the one about leadership, but it is really important. If Ofsted signalled that they valued these sorts of things, it would be really helpful. Ofsted does value self-evaluation, even though the form is no longer there. The school will only be as good as how well it knows itself and what it is doing about its weaknesses.
We proposed that self-evaluation remains absolutely key but that every attempt be made to make it more rigorous, so in academies in particular they should devote a lot of time to thinking about how they are accountable within the school, to the school community and so on, even using people from outside the school to make their self-evaluation better and more rigorous, and if Ofsted came to inspect, they would spend some time looking at that selfevaluation. If they were convinced by the rigour of the self-evaluation, which could be done in two or three hours, they would endorse the school’s judgment of itself and write to say so, and then save themselves one and a half days’ inspection time. That would be a great driver in the system for people to pay a lot of attention to the quality of their self-evaluation.
I know you are going to be doing a study looking at collaborative work across schools. One of the initiatives of recent years has been a group called Challenge Partners. I think it would be very valuable for you to take evidence from them. Initially, this was a group of outstanding schools, predominantly in London but also outside, and in just 18 months to two years it has absolutely expanded. As part of their work, they have a system of peer review. They engage an inspector trained in the Ofsted framework, and that inspector trains the teachers involved and writes the report, but the schools focus on whatever aspect of teaching and learning they want. They spend two days in the school. Teachers involved have described it to me as the best professional development opportunity they have ever had. They are working across schools but also touring their own expertise in observation and so on and coming up with a report. That is fundamental to good collaboration, so across the whole collective of schools there is a base for the development of schools that operate in hubs.
Q38 Ian Mearns: Even in very successful and self-confident organisations, peer reviews, because they offer a fresh pair of eyes, often spot some really interesting things. I am not here to recommend things to anybody, but I would certainly recommend anyone to use that as a self-management tool.
Professor Francis: Ofsted is never as hard on us as we are on ourselves.
Q39 Ian Mearns: Indeed. To go back to my day job, what response have you had from Ofsted and school leaders to your recommendation of linking outstanding judgments to system-led improvement, and how does this fit with Ofsted’s duty to provide an all-round assessment of the effectiveness of schools?
Professor Gilbert: School leaders, and almost all of the teacher unions, have been very positive about the report and have been invited to various conferences and so on to speak. Generally, there is a very positive reaction and interest in developing themes and issues. We have talked a lot this morning about collaboration, but it is very difficult to undertake meaningful collaboration that has a real impact. The exciting developments of the next few years will be what is going to emerge, what works well and can be used more quickly across the system, if we know it is working well. I do not know if our work influenced what Ofsted is saying now about considering the contribution to system-led improvement in terms of the "Outstanding" grade. We have had informal discussions when we have seen one another at meetings and conferences but not a formal dialogue about the report.
Q40 Ian Mearns: I read in The Times Educational Supplement last week that one academy chain had been reprimanded for financial mismanagement. Given the concerns you expressed about the performance of some chains and their influence over the schools within their group, why do you argue against the inspection of chains? Why should the DfE be responsible for monitoring this and referring any difficulties to Ofsted?
Professor Gilbert: I do not know if we all agreed on this, but we had a debate about it.
Ian Mearns: Some of it must have been fun.
Professor Gilbert: The word "debate" is substituted for "fierce argument". We discussed this quite a lot. My personal view is that for parents the key is the individual school and the impact of that individual school on outcomes in its broadest sense: the experience and behaviour of the child at the school, and all those sorts of things. The school is the fundamental measure. That is not to say that if three schools in a particular chain are all judged to be inadequate, it does not need a more fundamental look, but you look at the quality of the individual schools, however you do it.
The first point you made about financial management seems to me almost a different point, because I do not think Ofsted would itself believe it was equipped to look at the financial management of schools.
Ian Mearns: Here come the auditors.
Professor Gilbert: Well, before the auditors. This takes me back to governors. Governors need to be on top of the financial management of a school. We heard from governors themselves that many of them have seen their role as supporting the head. Of course, there has to be a very constructive and positive relationship between head and chair if the school is to work well, but they also have a role in challenging and scrutinising, because school-led improvement is not just about head teachers; it is about all of the school, but the way the school runs has to be down to the governing body of the school. They have real responsibilities for knowing what information to ask for and how to scrutinise that information effectively.
Chair: As a Committee we have just carried out an inquiry into governance. Every single witness who came before us told us exactly that. The governors are there to hold the head and school to account on behalf of the community, yet it still happens in many cases that the governing body sits fairly and squarely behind the head.
Q41 Charlotte Leslie: I have been advised that I should declare an interest. I am working with Chris on a pamphlet about a royal college of teaching, which I might come to in my questioning. First, I want to talk about freedoms. When academies first came on the scene an Armageddon scenario was painted in which all these freedoms would completely disrupt the entire schooling system and, lo and behold, it hasn’t, but there is some debate as to the extent to which academies actually have freedoms, given the other drivers of their performance and daily way of managing things, and also the extent to which they have freedoms but are not using them. What is your assessment?
Professor Gilbert: We found there was not much use of the freedoms, and in a chapter we suggest a whole series of reasons. What came through strongly from the evidence from head teachers-we say this in the chapter-was that it was almost freedom from their local authority rather than freedom to do certain things. For a number of things, the freedom was already there. A number did say to us that they were not using X or Y freedom now but would in time.
The most striking thing for us-we all felt this really strongly-was the constant reference to mindset. Becoming an academy was a different mindset, and it gave you licence to do a number of things but also made you responsible for a number of things. One very strong, effective head teacher, whose school had just decided through federation with another school to move to academy status, said that while he worked in a local authority, with whom he had very good relationships, it was a bit like being at university and taking washing home to your mother at weekends or holidays, whereas becoming an academy meant having to do your own washing. We heard that analogy, and that it was really full-blown independence.
We heard a lot from primary schools-this was really strong-that the local authority was a back-up, a comfort blanket, if something went wrong. That was why a number of primary schools felt unable, given their size, to move beyond it. We found very little evidence of widespread use of the freedoms, and a number of reasons are set out in the chapter.
Professor Francis: I think the balance between innovation and accountability can be a tension for schools, and there can be some potentially contradictory messages to schools around innovation versus traditional tried and tested approaches. We had a range of explanations why freedoms were not being used perhaps to the extent envisaged; some of them were around English schools having quite enough freedom already. We already have a very autonomous system in relation to many other OECD nations. What is the vision for mobilising this innovation, and to what end? We did feel there needed to be better articulation of what is envisaged. In our conclusions we tie that to evidence-led practice, but with the focus very much on innovation in teaching and learning, which we think ought to be at the heart of this. How can teachers work together to share best practice and build that professional excitement? That leads to our recommendation about a royal college of teaching.
Q42 Charlotte Leslie: I suppose that in a sense innovation is very scary if you are just doing it on your own, and it may not be constructive if there is not a substantial body of evidence behind it. Do you foresee a royal college of teaching, which I shall talk about in a second, enabling teachers better to connect with research and a body of work? There seems to be a gulf between those excellent academics like Chris over here and teachers trying to mark homework and get on with their daily struggle. We have not become good at utilising the research out there and linking it up with the coalface. Is that a fair assessment? What can we do to improve it?
Professor Husbands: Can I say that Becky is a very good academic as well?
Professor Francis: For me, that would be an absolutely fundamental purpose, and also to get teachers together as professionals. All the evidence shows that it is about working together in mutual peer review. That is what is effective, but as a professional it is exciting to be involved in that work. This is the impetus we need.
Q43 Charlotte Leslie: The QTS is the beginning of the story, as opposed to a stamp of approval and that’s it?
Professor Husbands: Absolutely.
Professor Gilbert: That is right, but the point you make about making that connection with teachers, given the busyness of their day and evenings, is really key. It was my job initially to look at the impact. I felt I was going mad when I looked at the different studies about the impact of academies, so I do not mean that sort of research. The useful research is the sort of work that is coming out of the Education Endowment Foundation. If you look at their website, there are some practical things that have worked really well that teachers could more or less lift intact and build into their work and customise in that way. It is making it a feature of their training and work in schools, but it has to relate to what they do day in, day out in classrooms.
Q44 Charlotte Leslie: I note that in the recommendation about a college of teaching there is talk of pump-priming it with Government money. It is probably very difficult to answer, but what kind of amount were you thinking of, if any? Are you concerned that one of the merits of a royal college would be independence from Government, and that it would be perceived by teachers to be, and indeed would be, for teachers and for teaching? Is there a risk that if you have Government money, there are strings attached and it loses some of the merit of that independence?
Professor Gilbert: There is, and we were worried about it. We were not sure about saying that at all, but we felt it needed something to get it going. This came in as quite a late recommendation. We were trying to find something to pick up a number of issues that we have been talking about this morning, which is why it is called different things in the report I noticed last night. We did not talk about the sum of money, and we were unsure about saying the money should come from the Government. It certainly does need something. We have not talked about it this morning, but it would be terrific to get the unions, professional associations and, indeed, the media engaged in a meaningful way in some of the dialogue around this.
Professor Husbands: As Charlotte said, she and I, with others, are piloting a pamphlet on this in the next few days. What is the connection between academisation and the idea of a royal college of teaching? It was not where we started; as Chris said, it came in quite late. If you have a more diverse school system-a positive statement of that diversity-and one that is potentially more disintegrative, what are the things that will hold together professional practice, professional expectations and professional development? Something that emerges from the profession and is not imposed becomes a tool to enable that to happen. That is the connection, and that is why it has a small but significant part in the report.
Q45 Charlotte Leslie: On the two names, a college of teachers or of teaching, there is a distinction that the Royal College of Nursing has been looking at: whether such an organisation would encroach upon union functions and should look at the welfare of the practitioner, which would be a college of teachers; or whether it should look at excellent practice in isolation from union functions, which would be a college of teaching. What are your thoughts?
Professor Husbands: The report was written against a deadline and there might be the odd proofing issue in parts of the report. It is "teaching".
Q46 Chair: It is a college of teaching.
Professor Husbands: Yes.
Q47 Craig Whittaker: Chris, earlier you referred to academies taking the low road in manipulating admissions for improvements within the school. Did you take at face value the accusations of those who were against academies per se, or was there some real hard evidence to suggest that was the case?
Professor Husbands: That is a very good question. I should probably say that this is a reasonably good report written on quite small resources. We did not look in detail at individual practice. We did have sufficient reports from witnesses who spoke to us to say that the temptation is there. We use the phrase "the low road to school improvement". We are saying what we think the low road is. I am trying to remember exactly where in the report we use that phrase, but it is to do with schools succumbing to the temptation to manipulate admissions. It was picked up in the Children’s Commissioner’s report that I heard on the Today programme this morning, in that schools are encouraging parents to remove their children from the school.
Q48 Craig Whittaker: For absolute clarity, this is not based on evidence but hearsay.
Professor Husbands: Not hearsay; it is based on evidence from witnesses, but we have not had the opportunity to hear from a sufficient number of witnesses to say that it is there.
Professor Gilbert: The response we had from parents about admissions made us give this more prominence than we had intended at the beginning of the piece of work. It was a lot of anecdotal evidence from parents. We had difficulty unpicking whether they were complaining about the admissions process generally or admissions in terms of academies, because this is a complex area that we struggle with in some respects. We heard anecdotal evidence, but there is plenty of evidence to show that when schools are their own admissions authority-there is a lot of research on this, which Becky is probably more familiar with than I am-there is some distortion of intake. One of the interesting pieces of evidence we saw was the work of the Schools Adjudicator for 2011. I think there were only about 4% of academies in the system but 17% of the complaints about admissions came from academies. It is a mixture of anecdote and looking at research.
Q49 Craig Whittaker: One of my local high schools recently had a public discussion about becoming an academy. They invited the Anti Academies Alliance to come and speak to parents. As a consequence, I have a mailbag full of letters based on half-truths part of the time. It is okay taking evidence from people. I can give you loads of evidence from my constituents that academies are a bad thing, but it is not particularly based on facts. Let me just drill down to find out where your evidence is coming from.
Professor Husbands: Start with the point about schools as their own admissions authorities.
Professor Francis: Yes, there is an association between schools becoming their own admissions authority, which all academies do, and an increase in social segregation. That extends beyond academies to other schools that control their own admissions.
Q50 Craig Whittaker: Without the academy process, I already have 48 different ones in my constituency. Therefore, it is an issue that has been around for a very long time.
Professor Francis: Given this established association, with the explosion of the number of own admissions authorities that academies represent, are these practices going to be extended? We know that for schools that are oversubscribed, the issue about cream-skimming, as it is called, in terms of pupil intake is a strong one in the English system. That is not limited to academies, but given the number of academies and therefore the number of own admissions authorities, we think it is a risk.
There are also a number of different mechanisms that distinguish academies from other schools, sometimes overlapping with voluntary-aided and foundation schools and sometimes not, for dealing with appeals, complaints about maladministration or arrangements for admissions. As a Commission we think that some of these different arrangements and the lack of transparency therein often breed suspicion, perhaps unnecessarily. That is the impetus behind our conclusion that systems ought to be brought into line, both in relation to the Schools Adjudicator and the Local Government Ombudsman.
Q51 Charlotte Leslie: Can I ask about your 4% and 17%? Did you look at whether the complaints are higher because when a school becomes an academy it becomes oversubscribed and popular, and people are more upset that they cannot get in? Is that a factor or not? I am interested in the data.
Professor Francis: We do not know the answer, but we make the point that over time-Machin and many other studies are very clear on this-the demographics of sponsored academies have changed; for example, there is less representation of kids on free school meals. Although that sometimes leads to the assumption that it must be to do with poor admissions practices, it may also be that they are becoming more representative of schools in their locality as more middle-class parents become prepared to send their children there. We have not been able to disaggregate that.
Q52 Craig Whittaker: We do not know for sure; we are just surmising that this is, or could be, a risk going forward. Is that correct?
Professor Francis: Yes, but we think there is evidence to say both that it is a strong risk and that some of these practices may be concentrated around academies.
Professor Husbands: I want to give a specific instance of the sort of practice described to us. I am not going to suggest for a moment that the practice is widespread or systemic; it is an example.
Craig Whittaker: Chris, before you go on, I can give you a load of examples about lots of things, but you guys have taken evidence from people who have said this. What you have not done is gone away and investigated to see how widespread or true it is.
Professor Husbands: How widespread it is we do not know. What we do know at system level is the impact on social segregation consequent upon schools becoming their own admissions authorities.
Professor Gilbert: I am also clear that the majority of heads who spoke to us were committed to social inclusion and had policies and practices that reflected it.
Professor Francis: That said, interestingly I cannot think of a single instance when head teachers did not say-
Professor Gilbert: You can, because we interviewed one.
Professor Francis: I was going to say that a head teacher debated that this goes on in academies and across the system more broadly; it is a common problem. Academy head teachers, like other head teachers, recognise that it is a common problem. In terms of the parameters, it is very difficult to distinguish. As I say, any school that becomes oversubscribed is in a very strong position potentially to play these games.
Q53 Craig Whittaker: Becky, you mentioned the appeals service. One of your recommendations is for an independent appeals service. Why would you recommend a new quango? What is wrong with the system we have already?
Professor Francis: It is against the principle of natural justice that schools sit in their own judgment as own admissions authorities. This would not be just academies; we would apply the principle of no own admissions authorities at all.
Q54 Craig Whittaker: What is wrong with the system we have?
Professor Francis: They convene an independent panel, but I tentatively put inverted commas around "independent". If a panel is dealing simply with one school and we do not know the processes by which the members of the panel are selected, questions can be raised about the full independence of that panel. That has been a very strong concern for other organisations, both those that gave evidence to us but also those that supported us after our recommendations, including the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council-the judges.
Q55 Chair: Is it an issue about the admissions process or admissions appeals? Before the time of academies, I worked in an authority where an awful lot of schools-not half-were faith schools. They took the decision collectively that they would manage the admissions process, but the appeals process would be handled through the local authority maintained process. That gave it a degree of transparency and independence, and they felt it gave them clean hands. Is it about the appeals process, where schools are their own admissions authority and their own appeals authority, or is it both?
Professor Francis: Both. That is fundamental. We recommended that, quite aside from the potential for creating a new quango, which we realise may not be a popular move, local authorities are already very well equipped and set up to deal with this in terms of providing an appeals system. But separately in terms of complaints, both around the arrangement for admissions and the particular processes for those arrangements, there are inconsistencies in relation to how an individual parent, or local authority directions, are approached with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator or Local Government Ombudsman. Those inconsistencies may simply be serendipitous in the way they have been set up, but they create difficulties for parents in both complexity and lack of transparency, and because of this lack of transparency and the seemingly different treatment for academies, it raises suspicions that things are not being done fairly.
Q56 Mr Ward: I am sorry if I missed this, but can we talk about the other things: the cost of school uniforms, pre-application tests, interviews for parents, commitments to go on skiing trips and so on? What about all those areas?
Professor Francis: We heard evidence about that both verbally and in written submissions, but as an academic who knows this area a little, I am very aware that those processes go on as well even in schools that are not academies. It comes back to my original point about the emphasis on competition as both a driver and the impetus to keep up your results.
Mr Ward: I smile when you talk about collaboration and competition, because my experience is that collaboration is welcomed until competitors start to catch up, and then they are too busy.
Q57 Craig Whittaker: Earlier we mentioned briefly socio-economic data. Can you outline in more detail your proposals on the collation of this data? For example, who would the information come from, in particular given the rejected cases from primary schools, and what action do you envisage being taken if the Schools Adjudicator identified a growing risk of socio-economic segregation in a particular area?
Professor Francis: We drove this recommendation from the work of Professor Anne West, who has made this recommendation in various forms as a disincentive towards social segregation. The idea is that schools would need to publish data both on who applies and fundamentally who gets in to enable transparency on any discrepancies. As you rightly pick up, that could trigger the interests of the Schools Adjudicator as well. In terms of the detail of how the Schools Adjudicator could treat it, I do not think we discussed what should happen, but the notion underpinning the recommendation was a level of incentivisation to schools to remember the moral values that are supposed to underpin the state education system-a quality education for every child. All educators believe that when they go into education, but some of the incentives in the accountability system can make schools very individualised in their practices. We think that this would be a good reminder to schools in terms of making this transparent.
Q58 Craig Whittaker: Does it surprise you that the DfE does not collect or retain detailed data on derogations from the admissions code?
Professor Gilbert: Yes.
Chair: I was not just surprised; I was stunned.
Professor Francis: There were various gaps in the information the DfE were able to provide. That comes back to my earlier point that we are very aware, from the evidence the DfE provided, that they recognise the need to tighten the systems. They argue that they have the capacity to tighten the systems, which might be more of a question mark, so we know that work is going on. The answer is yes.
Chair: Dereliction of duty came to mind.
Q59 Craig Whittaker: Can I ask you about the Education Funding Agency? It is intended to be the vehicle for dealing with complaints about academies. Your report criticises its role but does not make any specific recommendations to address it. Why was that?
Professor Gilbert: We did make a number of recommendations on how it should behave. They need to do more routine visits to schools and so forth, and the evidence from those would be helpful to governors in discharging their responsibilities. We did make a number of points, but not about complaints as such.
Professor Francis: You are talking about complaints in relation to admissions and so on. The evidence we heard from different organisations, particularly those representing children with special educational needs for example, is that the EFA may not be equipped both in terms of expertise and capacity to carry out or investigate complaints. There seemed to be an impetus almost for capacity to process complaints rather than address the content. That was what these organisations were concerned about.
Chair: We are almost out of time, but we want to cover at least one quick question on the role of local authorities and the future landscapes.
Neil Carmichael: What about covering governance?
Chair: We are running out of time.
Q60 Mr Ward: Could you give a general overview on the concept or role of local authorities as champions for children, and maybe also the reduction in the resources available to the local authority because of academisation and the possible impact on primary schools, which so far are not academising to the same extent?
Professor Gilbert: We thought they had a continuing role to play. I will not go into the detail about school places, planning and so on, which is probably generally accepted. We felt that they needed to think more innovatively and creatively about their role as guardians and champions, and perhaps engage more with parents about the quality of schools and chains in their area and feed back information in an annual report to the DfE. The Secretary of State for Education might hopefully find that useful, particularly in making judgments about the quality of some sponsors.
The danger of waiting for results all the time is that you are behind the curve in terms of improvement. We felt that local authorities, not just because of the importance parents attach to education but the importance of education to the whole life and regeneration of an area, would always feel they had responsibilities in this area, but they may need to think more imaginatively about how they are discharged. The focus should not be entirely on providing school improvement services but on a range of other things. For instance, I have been talking to a local authority about picking up the number of mid-year admissions. Students moving from one school to another in the year may be an indicator of something happening in that school. We were trying to encourage them to think more broadly about their role.
Chair: Neil, did you want to ask something specifically about that?
Neil Carmichael: No, since the bell has gone, so to speak.
Q61 Chair: We have a couple of questions about governance and the role of central Government, so could we write to you with those and you can give us the answers?
Professor Gilbert: Please do.
Neil Carmichael: One of the key issues that worries me is the argument about skills versus stakeholders. Your Commission has looked into that. It is worth probing whether or not we need more emphasis on skills. If we have stakeholders on a board of governors, ironically they are less inclined to think about stakeholder management, because they think they are all part of a good story, when as governing bodies they need to be reaching out. I would ask you to comment on that in written form.
Chair: But we will write to you. Thank you for coming. It has been a really helpful session. I hope it was not too onerous and that it was a discussion, not us firing questions at you. Thank you very much.