Examination of Witnesses

Education and Adoption Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:28 am on 30 June 2015.

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Malcolm Trobe, Sir Daniel Moynihan, Richard Watts and Emma Knights gave evidence.

Q 20

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Good morning. Thank you for coming. Will you briefly introduce yourselves?

Malcolm Trobe: I am Malcolm Trobe. I am a former secondary school headteacher and I am currently Deputy General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: I am Daniel Moynihan, chief executive for the Harris Federation, a group of 36 academies in and around London. I was previously the head of two secondary schools.

Emma Knights: Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors’ Association. We are the membership organisation for governing boards of both maintained schools and academies and we exist to improve the effectiveness of governance in schools.

Richard Watts: I am Richard Watts. I am the leader of Islington Council, speaking on behalf of the Local Government Association.

Q 21

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I will ask one question and then pass it over to colleagues, as they will not otherwise get a chance to ask questions. In dealing with an inadequate school, is academisation the only way to bring about satisfactory improvement—why is it that the Bill says that Ministers must, when they find an inadequate school, organise its academisation? Could you each offer a short, “Just a Minute” type answer—in fact, one word will do. Start with one word each.

Malcolm Trobe: No.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: Yes.

Emma Knights: No.

Richard Watts: No.

Q 22

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Three noes and one yes. Could Sir Daniel perhaps explain why it is the only way?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: Maintained schools are under the remit of their local authority and the local authority has responsibility for their improvement and their monitoring. If a school fails, it will not normally be because of something that has happened overnight; it will be because of a gradual decline in performance over a period of time. The local authority should have picked up on that and used its resources to do so and my view is, therefore, that somebody else should be allowed to take on that school and improve it under the guise of an academy.

Malcolm Trobe: We clearly want all pupils to be in a good school. We want all local schools to be good schools. What we would say, however, is that changing the status of a school, in itself, will not necessarily change and improve the quality of the education in the school. What is required is a detailed, well thought out plan and a support system to go into the school. You need to understand the context of the school. One must understand resources; one of the critical things happening in a lot of schools that are in significant difficulties at the moment is that they are having major problems with teacher recruitment. One thing that we believe the Government need to tackle very urgently is ensuring that there are high-quality teachers available for these schools.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

I am interested in this definition of coasting. My daughter is six and goes to a primary school. It is self-evident to me and my constituents that the differential between some schools is often the amount of time that is allocated to children out of school. There are the parental and social contributions and networks that children attend in some of the more affluent areas. How are they measured in this coasting measurement? Clearly, the same amount of time is not allocated in some of my poorer areas. There are challenges in life. How is that not part of the school day?

Richard Watts: Islington, which I represent, has a fair number of affluent people and we have more than our fair share of poor people. We see enormous differences in our schools, depending on people’s home circumstances. It is really important that schools do their best to compensate for that, but that is not wholly possible. No one should make excuses—

Q 23

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

That was not my question. It is straightforward: how do you measure it?

Richard Watts: It is extremely hard—

Q 24

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

That is the answer, then: extremely hard. We are not measuring it is the real answer.

Richard Watts: No, we are not—not adequately.

Q 25

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

Thank you all for coming today. I will jump straight in because we are pressed for time. Sir Daniel, in your answer you talked about failing schools, yet we are talking about coasting schools. What tools are there for tackling coasting, not failing?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: Clearly, with a coasting school, the legislation is not looking at an immediate conversion, but seeing whether the school can put an action plan together to improve itself within a reasonable amount of time.

Q 26

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

And you think that academisation is the only response to coasting, not failing?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: No, I answered in response to inadequate. In response to coasting, those schools may not realise they are coasting. They may be complacent, and if that is pointed out they may be able to get their act together and improve themselves. But there are clearly—

Q 27

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

Okay. That is the answer that I was curious to know.

Mr Malcolm Trobe, did you hear the previous evidence session?

Malcolm Trobe: Yes.

Q 28

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

It was interesting that throughout that evidence session, all of the witnesses spoke about schools per se; they did not make the distinction between maintained schools and academies. When it comes to coasting, do you think there is a difference between academies and maintained schools in coasting indicators?

Malcolm Trobe: No. All schools should be judged effectively on the same range of indicators.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

If you ask a question, you must let the witnesses answer.

Malcolm Trobe: I think you then have to examine whether the most appropriate indicators are being used. One of the concerns that we have is the initial use of attainment indicators, effectively for the first two years, in making the judgment before we move to a progress indicator. We believe a progress indicator is the most effective indicator for this system, because it looks at the progress that each individual child makes and is therefore dependent on their starting point.

We have a major concern, however, regarding secondary schools where even progress 8, which is a progress indicator, has a cap on it. Because the use of comparable outcomes to determine GCSE results is linked to key stage 2 schools, this means that even with a progress indicator, you can only improve to a certain level, because the number of youngsters achieving certain grades in all subjects is essentially fixed by the GCSE comparable outcomes system. This will therefore cap the system. The only way that some schools can improve effectively is for other schools to—on a measure—go down, so there is a need to have a better, closer look at the use of the progress indicator.

Q 29

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

If the problem affects all schools, is it not strange that the Bill focuses only on maintained schools and not every type of school?

Malcolm Trobe: As far as I am aware—the Minister will be able to answer the question—the term “coasting school” will apply to all schools.

Q 30

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

No, it will apply only to maintained schools.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

We will use the definition when we assess academies.

Q 31

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

The legislation focuses just on maintained schools. Does that not strike you as odd?

Malcolm Trobe: I think we believe in fairness and equality and, therefore, all schools should be treated the same, whether they be academies or maintained schools.

Q 32

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Conservative, Romsey and Southampton North

I have a question on teacher recruitment specifically for Sir Daniel, but I am sure that others will want to chip in. Do you think that academies and multi-academy trusts find it easier to recruit good teachers and leaders?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: It is certainly the case that teaching schools—the Government set up a teaching schools scheme—like medical schools, can train their own teachers. Increasingly, multi-academy trusts have teaching schools within them, which are training large numbers of teachers outside the university system. We have got 94 trainee teachers for next September and we will be producing teachers not just for Harris schools, but for London schools. So in the sense that we now have the freedom to take teacher training into our own hands and deliver qualified teachers, it is easier to that extent.

Richard Watts: Although I would note that that power is open to all schools, I think that teacher recruitment is much more about geography and somewhere being an interesting place to come and work than about the governance status of the school.

Malcolm Trobe: One way in which multi-academy trusts and chains have a big advantage is that they work collectively, effectively to have continuing professional development programmes that run across the trust. They are able effectively to grow their own leadership and develop their own leaders and that, therefore, enables some movement of staff into key positions. So if you have a school in a multi-academy trust that is hitting certain difficulties, you have often got some flexibility to move teachers around.

The biggest difficulty is in schools, particularly those in coastal regions, that are isolated and do not have access to teaching schools. One might call these areas teacher education deserts: there is no provision for young teachers coming into them.

Q 33

Photo of Suella Fernandes Suella Fernandes Conservative, Fareham

This legislation, through guidance, aims to address the problem of latent stagnation in schools. It does that by identifying the standard for coasting and raising standards by offering those coasting schools the opportunity to work with some of the best experts in education to design a path to improvement. What should those plans include? What programme of improvement measures should there be for schools of that type?

Emma Knights: I think that, actually, pretty much every school in the country has a school improvement plan—it is part of what we do. It might be called something else, such as a school development plan, but that is actually what the governing board of the school is doing. I would not want the Committee to think that some schools are just bimbling along, not thinking about how they improve teaching and learning and outcomes for children. A huge change has taken place in schools over the last 10 years in terms of schools actually taking responsibility for that. We see, in fact, that a lot of schools do manage to improve without having to have what is called formal intervention.

I do not want to leave this room without mentioning interim executive boards, because there is more than one type of formal intervention and so far the Committee has asked only about sponsored academisation. We actually have very little evidence about which different types of formal intervention work best and that is a bit of a worry for me. This whole Bill has come into place when actually we are guessing.

The main bit of evidence was produced by the National Audit Office last year and it showed that 60% of schools deemed inadequate did improve without any sort of  formal intervention because they had exactly that: a school improvement plan, and that worked in 60% of cases. Sponsored academisation worked in 44% of cases and IEBs worked in 72% of cases, so I really think the Committee needs to think about other interventions and please do not overlook interim executive boards.

You may think it is slightly funny that I am saying that as the National Governors’ Association, because obviously an IEB is put in place when the governance fails. But, if the school is failing, that is needed and we should be doing that.

Q 34

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

If I may say so, that observation seems to be in direct contrast to what Sir Daniel said earlier. Sir Daniel, would you care to come back, rebut and destroy the points made by the representative of the National Governors’ Association?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: IEBs are an effective solution and in many cases IEBs precede academy conversion. In a number of the schools that we have taken on which have been—

Q 35

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I apologise for stopping you, but briefly, the Bill says “must” and that was the question I asked you earlier. It does not envisage an IEB as a possible tool to be used in those circumstances.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: No, but IEBs have often been used in those circumstances, so part of the success of the figures that we have just heard is that of IEBs on their way to delivering an academy solution. I know all academies are not successful and I am not claiming that they are, but not all treatments for any problem are successful and it does not mean that you should not have the treatment. In many cases, sponsored academies are doing an amazing job.

Richard Watts: One thing I would add is that local authorities face some bureaucratic hurdles in trying to place IEBs on schools that we think need some intervention. One of the changes to the Bill that we would like to see is to give local authorities the power to introduce IEBs without having to go through the process of applying to the Secretary of State, as that allows us to tackle problems more quickly.

Malcolm Trobe: Coming back to the original question, I would urge members of the Committee to look at the ASCL blueprint for a self-improving school system. We believe that school leaders are very committed to having a system in which there is school to school support, whether that be through federations, schools working together or through multi-academy trusts. The expertise to improve schools is within the profession itself and we believe that it is by schools working together that we will see a continuing improvement in our education system.

Q 36

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

Following on from that, clearly the problem is coasting. Everybody wants the problem of coasting addressed. The only solution in the legislation is academisation. Apart from changing governance and headteacher, which often follows with academisation, what do academies have in their toolkit to address the problem of coasting that an LEA does not, and vice-versa? Councillor Watts, could you begin?

Richard Watts: My take is that actually governance status is not a very good indicator of any organisation’s capacity to change. There are some very good academy  conversions—Harris is an extremely good chain—and there are some very poor academy conversions. Governance status is to my mind a distraction in all of this. There is a set of toolkits which are about getting outstanding leadership and teaching into schools, and any middle-tier organisation, be it an academy chain or a local authority, should have the powers to do that quickly and decisively. Primarily, good schools are made up of outstanding leaders, good teachers and a capacity to improve internally, working with partners. That is the only proven record across the piece of driving up schools.

Q 37

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

Following on from the earlier question, would a local authority have more difficulty in doing that than an academy chain?

Richard Watts: We are somewhat hampered by regulation at the moment because we have less capacity to intervene than academy chains do in their own schools. Were that playing field level, I think we could do it just as well.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: What does an academy chain have? It is important that any schools that are taken over are taken over by groups that have a good record. That is the first thing. Academy chains have freedoms in terms of how they operate outside the local authority. They have resources of excellent teachers in their schools, they have the ability to move budget around to help schools within their groups. They have all of those kinds of freedoms. A local authority is removed from its schools, whereas an academy chain can build networks for school improvement and deploy resources rapidly and directly.

Q 38

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

Local authorities lack the freedoms necessary.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: Local authorities often do not use the freedoms that they have. There is nothing that we have done in any of our schools that were failing that a local authority could not have done. In every case, the local authority simply did not do it and it had to have someone else take it over and make it better.

Emma Knights: I think that is the absolutely pertinent point. There are some local authorities that have done it and some that have not. There are some chains that have, and some that have not. There are some governing bodies that have, and some that have not; some school leaders that have, and some that have not. I completely agree that this is not about legal status. It is about good people and harnessing the good people at all levels of the system.

Q 39

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Emma, you represent school governors. I forgot to say that my partner is a school governor. Why are school governors not intervening in all of this? Where is their role in this? Why does the Bill not address school governorship, which you say could do everything an academy could do in terms of a transformational agenda? Where is the role for governors in this and why are they not succeeding in some schools as well as in others?

Emma Knights: You are absolutely right to say that governing boards are at the heart of this. If the governing board was doing its job right we would not be seeing failing or even coasting schools. Our job is to improve school governance and some governing bodies have absolutely driven school improvement while some, quite frankly, have not had the capabilities to do that.

Q 40

Emma Knights: Why? A whole range of reasons. In some cases it is partly about recruiting people with the skills for the job. In some cases it is about people actually understanding their roles and not getting distracted by other things. In some cases it has been people supporting challenged senior leadership teams too much and not necessarily raising the bar. There is a really difficult balance between challenge and support. I could talk at huge length about this but I am sure the Committee has other things it wants to talk about. Governing well is an incredibly skilled job and we need to do it better in those schools where we are failing.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

A brief note on that might be beneficial—to me, at any rate.

Q 41

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I have a question for Sir Daniel. You will be aware that the Bill tackles maintained schools, because the Secretary of State already has the ability to intervene in failing academies through her funding agreement with academy chains and academy trusts. You will also be aware that academies that have been sponsored academy secondary schools for four years have improved their results by 6.4 percentage points, compared with 1% for those schools in local authority control over the same period. Can you inform the Committee what it is you do at Harris, in terms of school improvement, that is so different from what happens in a local authority? We touched on it a little, but can you go into a bit more detail on the kind of things you do?

The second part of the question has to do with Downhills primary school, which your academy chain took over a few years ago. Can you tell us what has happened to Downhills primary school since your academy chain took it over?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: Starting with Downhills, that school went into special measures in January 2012 and was the subject of a fierce anti-academy campaign, led by the Anti Academies Alliance, David Lammy and Michael Rosen. There were many protests and it was felt that the school should stay with the local authority. The local authority at the time had very little capacity for school improvement. It had massive staff turnover and just did not have the wherewithal. It was not able to put up a credible plan and, in the end, it said that it was unable to deliver what was needed for the school. The situation was highly politicised—people were talking about privatisation and saying that the school was not failing and that Ofsted was wrong, but the inspection outcome was that there was inadequate progress, weakness in reading and poor progress at all levels. Two years later, it was judged by Ofsted to be a good school with outstanding leadership and management, no longer failing and with the third highest pupil progress in Haringey. So it has been transformed. Some 98% of parents were against the conversion; now the vast majority of parents are fully supportive. Sometimes you have to weather that storm to bring about improvement. That is Downhills.

As a network, we share good practice across the group. We have many programmes that are designed to coach teachers who might be satisfactory to become good, and those who might be good to become outstanding—we invest heavily by bringing the resources  of the group together. For us, a good academy group is about being geographically proximate, so all our schools are close by and we are able to leverage a lot of resource. We have policies for discipline and for pupil tracking that are proven to work, so we can quickly fix discipline at a new school. We have our own internal review team that does mini Ofsted-style reviews, which will be more rigorous and detailed than Ofsted’s and help our principals to improve their schools. It is a huge investment in professional development, it is regular training together and a set of tried and trusted policies that work relatively quickly.

Q 42

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I think education is about the individual pupil. Can you describe the change in pupils’ life chances at Downhills primary school as a consequence of Harris taking it over, compared with what would have happened to those children had you not intervened?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: At Downhills, the school was failing. Around 70% to 75% of children were making expected progress, so a quarter of children were not making the progress we would expect. In our most recent year, 2014, 100% of children made expected progress. No child underachieved. The number of children reaching secondary-ready standards in reading, writing and maths has improved dramatically. They are better prepared for secondary and will be successful as a result.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Emma, I can see that you want to come in on this one.

Emma Knights: I do. Obviously, what has been done in certain chains has been absolutely fantastic for those pupils, but equally, this is one anecdote. We could be talking to a sponsor from a chain from which you have removed schools, so this is not giving the whole picture. You can do the sorts of things that Dan is talking about among other groups of schools. Malcolm mentioned the word “federation”. Federations are a similar model to multi-academy trusts but they are maintained schools. All those things about tracking, discipline and CPD for staff, which is incredibly important for school improvement, can be done within federations as well. We must not get obsessed with the legal status.

Q 43

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

Did the governors at Downhills oppose the school’s conversion to an academy?

Emma Knights: Downhills was not related to us at all.

Q 44

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

Did Downhills not have governors?

Emma Knights: Their governing body was not a member of ours. We checked at the time to see whether they were, and they were not.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: It is true that we could be talking about academy chains that have had schools taken off them, but the point is that where schools—whether they are academies or local authority schools—are inadequate, a change is being made. For generations, that has not happened. It is not a bad thing for academy chains that do badly to lose schools—so they should, and someone else should have the opportunity to fix them. That is right.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Can we put on the record, Mr Chope, that that is a point of agreement, I think, across the Committee? Where schools are inadequate, action should be taken.

Richard Watts: Two points—the danger of policy making by anecdote is that it leads you down a whole range of dangerous roads. I could cite two or three examples in my own borough where fantastic conversion journeys—improvement journeys similar to Downhills—have been taken within the family of local authority schools. I do not think that governance status is the defining thing here. It is about decisive change to a school.

The danger of education statistics is that education is such a data-rich environment that you can essentially find a statistic to prove any point you wish to make within the education system. The danger is a reliance on individual, selectively chosen statistics.

Q 45

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

So you are saying, “Don’t use data and don’t use anecdotes.” What would you use?

Richard Watts: No, I am saying, “Do use data,” but I think one has to be very—I have a number of bits of data here showing, for example, that sponsored academies are twice as likely to stay inadequate as maintained schools. One can pick and choose data. I am saying that one has to use a whole range of different bits of evidence.

Q 46

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

On that point, Councillor Watts, the Minister used a piece of data at the beginning. He said that sponsored academies have improved more quickly over the past four years than all local authority schools, which is hardly surprising, is it?

Richard Watts: I am sure it is not. Some of the most interesting comparisons are like-for-like ones. Putting to one side the politics of this, I urge the Committee to consider the Sutton Trust report on this, which looked at the capacity of schools. It found that of the 20 academy chains considered, three produced above-average results, including Harris—on which, enormous congratulations to Daniel—and that of 100 local authority schools, 44 produced above-average results. As I say, you can pick data that show any point you wish. I do not think there is any overwhelming data that show the governance model to be the defining thing in the quality of a school.

Q 47

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

Should high-performing local authorities be allowed to take over coasting academies?

Richard Watts: There is a real challenge that the Government will face in pushing through this legislation: the capacity of high-quality sponsors to take on more schools. There are some excellent sponsors and there are some not so good sponsors. We have seen that capacity problems can develop where sponsor chains expand very quickly. The Department for Education has rightly intervened in a number of those rapidly expanding chains. If you are going to expand the pool of high-quality sponsors, it is common sense that good quality local authorities, or even outstanding maintained schools, should be able to become sponsors.

Q 48

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

Sir Daniel, do you agree that local authorities should be able to take over if they are high performing?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: I don’t, actually. No.

Q 49

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

Okay. So we are not interested in high quality.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: It depends. How do you define local authorities as high performing? They are not directly responsible for the management of their schools, so what does that mean? If the schools in a local authority are doing well, does that mean the local authority is high performing? I think the headteachers of those schools would have something to say about that; their view would be that they have delivered.

Emma Knights: Or the governors.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: So if those heads and governors could take over schools, yes, I would agree with that.

Q 50

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

While we are talking about data, the Local Schools Network has managed—incredibly, given the lateness with which the Government made public the regulations last night—to crunch the data and has found that 814 secondary schools would be defined as coasting under the Government’s regulations. Some 342 of those are academies, a high proportion of which are converter academies. That is surprising given that, as the Minister points out, those would have been good or outstanding when they were converted, but 125 of them had a progress 8 value added measure. Is progress 8 wrong, or is the Government’s definition of “coasting” wrong?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: Do you mean that they had a positive progress 8 measure?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: I think Becky Allen was correct in the sense that in a well-to-do context where lots of children are affluent, it is probably easier to get a good progress 8 value. What should probably happen is that schools should be benchmarked according to the progress 8 value of schools very like them. At the moment, there is a “families of schools” section on the Department for Education website, where schools are compared with 55 schools with a similar intake. Probably something needs to be done to make progress 8 more sophisticated in order to take account of the context. It is too easy for some schools to look as if they are doing well with that, given their intake.

Q 51

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

Do you agree with the evidence in the previous session that it should be based solely or at least largely on progress rather than on a fresh value?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: Yes. The proposal for secondary to be 60% means, I think, that we are going to miss a whole range of potential coasting schools—there are coasting grammar schools that will not be picked up by the 60% threshold—so progress needs to be the driver. That alone probably is not enough. It may well be that it is a signal that somebody needs to go in and take a further look.

Malcolm Trobe: It is also important that we realise at this stage that coasting is a situation judged over three years. At the moment, we do not know where progress 8 will end up, because schools’ curriculum models will be changing, so progress 8 as an indicator will change with time. I think it is a little dangerous to go in there. I would ask the New Schools Network how it knows where the measure is of being below progress 8. As I understand it—hopefully I have this bit of legislation right—that has not yet been determined, because the data have to be crunched. Quite logically, we do not  know where progress 8 as a measure will end up, because of changing curriculum models in secondary school, so I think it is a little dangerous to throw numbers around at this stage.

Q 52

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

Do you think that it is dangerous to enforce this progress measure retrospectively?

Malcolm Trobe: I think it is important that we move very quickly on schools that are not improving. Therefore, it is important that we identify schools that are not improving, and that work is done and support programmes are put in place to ensure that those schools improve, because that is surely the ultimate objective of everyone in this room.

Q 53

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

But given that progress 8 is not due to come in until 2016, is it right that it should measure schools back to 2014?

Malcolm Trobe: What they are having to do—I have a concern about the measure that will be used in 2014 and 2015, because that is essentially an attainment measure. We have our concerns that you have not got a consistent measure. When progress 8 or an alternative version is in place for three years, you will be measuring progress over the three-year period, but we have concerns that what you essentially have is an attainment measure for the first two years, to deem whether a school is coasting or not in those years, and then the progress measure does not come in until the third year. So an element of caution needs to be urged in the first year.

We support what is in the notes: a very clear statement that academisation is not considered the first step in coasting schools. It is looking at the work of the regional schools commissioner. However, that highlights the capacity issues. You might ask Tim Coulson later about the capacity of the regional schools commissioner to look at the context of schools that, under this measure, particularly in the early stages, are designated as coasting because of the nature of the ’14 and ’15 indicators.

Richard Watts: If I may say so, I think there is a real danger about the risk of clashing accountability systems. I can think of one school in my patch that probably falls under the coasting definition as published last night but has had two successive outstanding Ofsted judgments and is the most popular school in my borough for people to send their children to. It would not command public confidence for that school to be described as coasting. They have people queuing round the block to get into it. I feel for heads in circumstances in which they can be judged as outstanding twice in a row and then be condemned as coasting under these things. More definition is needed to work out the priorities within the accountability system and to send a clearer set of messages to schools about what is expected of them.

Q 54

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Portsmouth South

You have commented a bit, but I ask each member of the panel: which criteria would you use to identify a coasting school?

Richard Watts: I would be happy with an Ofsted measure. If we have Ofsted for a reason, we should respect its judgments. If we are saying that Ofsted needs serious reform, let us get on and reform it. If we have a schools inspectorate, it should be respected to some extent. It has to be about more than just progress. My  borough is traditionally a highly deprived area that has seen very high levels of progress, but we are still not getting the final results. Employees never ask what your progress measure is; they ask what your GCSEs are. We need some measure of final result.

Emma Knights: I think we are in huge danger of over-complicating our accountability system. Schools are held accountable in so many different ways. I agree that layering this on top of Ofsted seems the wrong solution. We need to sort out Ofsted if we do not think that it is telling us what we need.

The real thing that will improve schools regards capacity in the system. Those of us who want to improve schools should all be worried about that. We have not talked about the regional schools commissioners and their capacity. At a time when the Department is having to undertake cuts, is there enough capacity in the system to identify these schools and work with them to improve? That is the real problem that we all face.

I cannot tell you how much governing boards want to recruit fantastic headteachers. That is what we want to do and that is what will change our schools. We are not getting applications from fantastic candidates in a lot of parts of the country. That is the real problem that we need to worry about, rather than layering measure upon measure and increasing the fear in schools. We think that one reason that some school leaders are not coming forward for headship is because they are already scared and drowning under the accountability system. We need to seriously change the culture.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: Going back to Richard’s point, there clearly are schools that are judged to be outstanding and have parents queuing round the block. The problem is, that if the children in them are not making the amount of progress that similarly good schools elsewhere are making, it is not wrong to jolt the school and possibly upset parents by saying, “Hang on a minute, these children are being short-changed. In other places—look at those—they are doing much better.”

Q 55

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

But does not that tell you that the school is not outstanding in the first place?

Sir Daniel Moynihan: It could well do. Some 80% of schools are judged to be good and outstanding. What is intriguing is that, in some of those judgments, there are schools with enormous gaps between pupil premium and non-pupil premium children. That cannot be right. How can a school be outstanding with an enormous gap there? A number of schools with those judgments from the past have very low value added, so there are issues to be looked at.

Progress has to be the driver. Progress alerts you to a school; you have to look at it in a bit more detail to judge whether it is coasting or not. You would have to look at destinations to find out where those children are going: what kinds of universities, apprenticeships and jobs they are going to, and what attendance is like. Progress is the first stop but you have to look at other things to get the picture.

Q 56

Photo of Margot James Margot James Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I have two brief questions. First, Councillor Watts, you mentioned a concern you had about the capacity of high-performing academy chains to take over coasting schools. Earlier, we heard that, in a lot of cases, a school once defined as  coasting will, in fact, be able to put its own house in order. Does that not alleviate your concerns about the capacity of these academy chains and high-performing groups?

My second question is to Sir Daniel. When you were answering the point about the measures that the Harris chain put in place to improve schools, you mentioned pupil tracking and discipline. Do you have your own pupil referral unit within your group? Could you comment on the issue of recycling disruptive pupils from school to school? To my mind, that is a real issue among the underperforming schools, particularly in areas of lower socio-economic status.

Richard Watts: However you cut it, the Bill envisages quite a significant increase in the number of schools that are converted to academy status to address performance problems, whether they are failing or coasting. If there are ways that we can address coasting schools without relying on high-performing sponsors, great. I still think there is an issue that the Committee needs to consider about whether there is the capacity in the sponsors’ market to take on the kind of increase in sponsored academies that the Bill envisages.

Sir Daniel Moynihan: To answer the question on PRUs—pupil referral units—we do have our own pupil referral unit called Harris Aspire. It has roughly an equal number of Harris students and non-Harris students. It is available for everybody. Our rationale for starting it was that sometimes a student does unfortunately have to be excluded. Sometimes it has to happen.

We would rather be responsible for them into the future than just unload and forget about them. If parents are content, after an exclusion has happened, students will go to Harris Aspire. There are other times when a student needs a respite period to overcome a problem. They might go there for six weeks and then return very happily into a school. It has both those types of provision. There is a definite need for more of those. We have opened that as a free school, and that is great route to introduce more PRUs and introduce a market and have some competition. Existing PRUs sometimes have a monopoly locally and the provision is quite poor, and heads do not have a great deal of choice sometimes.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Any more questions? No. In that case, I thank the members of the panel for co-operating, and that has got us back on time. Thank you very much for your help.