Examination of Witnesses

Education and Adoption Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:51 am on 30 June 2015.

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Dr Tim Coulson, Zoe Carr and Lee Elliot Major gave evidence.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 10:33, 30 June 2015

Good morning. Thank you for coming along. Please introduce yourselves, starting with Dr Coulson.

Dr Coulson: Good morning. I am Tim Coulson; I work for the Department for Education as regional schools commissioner for the East of England and North-East London.

Zoe Carr: Morning. I am Zoe Carr, CEO of a multi-academy trust in Tyne and Wear. We have four primary academies. I also sit on the Headteacher Board for the North of the regional schools commissioner.

Lee Elliot Major: Hello. I am Dr Lee Elliot Major; I am chief executive of the Sutton Trust and a trustee of the Education Endowment Foundation, two foundations dedicated to improving the outcomes of disadvantaged pupils in particular, and spreading good evidence of what works in the education system.

Q 57

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I welcome everybody to the Committee. I ask Dr Coulson, as a regional schools commissioner, to describe for the Committee your operation: what your office is like and what you do. How will you use the capacity you have to deal with all the schools that will be deemed “coasting” in your area as a result of this Bill?

Dr Coulson: We have an office in Cambridge in the centre of the East of England region. We have a small office of half a dozen civil servants and we have education advisers who are experienced in school improvement. They work with us on schools that are thinking about becoming an academy, and we visit academies where performance does not look good. We spend our time looking to do three things. We forge as many partnerships as possible to address the issue of capacity—we work extensively with the local authorities, teaching schools and significant academy trusts in the area. Secondly, we spend significant time looking to be very clear about addressing failure in academies and calling academy trusts to account for where they are not ensuring success. Thirdly, we look to the best schools in the system to form multi-academy trusts. You have just heard about the Harris trust, one of the large and famous trusts. The huge growth in our region, as across the country, is in trusts, which you will probably hear about from Zoe. There are excellent schools and relatively small multi-academy trusts. The very best school helps the failing—or in future coasting—school that requires improvement and really needs support.

Q 58

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Just to be clear, the operation consists of you and six civil servants. How many advisers?

Dr Coulson: We have four advisers.

Q 59

Dr Coulson: Broadly; not quite.

Q 60

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

To finish, because I want others to get in, do you think you would need extra resources to deal with the extra responsibilities being given to you in relation to the coasting schools in the Bill? Or is your current operation adequate to take on and deal with the new responsibilities in an outstanding way?

Dr Coulson: The bit of capacity that I did not refer to is the wider DFE resource. Within the DFE is the academies group that manages and administers the academies system for Ministers. We draw significantly on their capacity. In the coming few years, when the Bill comes into operation—assuming it goes through and we plan for 2016 and the increase in looking at coasting schools—we will need to look carefully at our capacity to understand schools. In terms of coasting schools, we are not expecting all of them to become academies, but we are expecting to look at whether all of them have a strong plan. The bit of capacity that we are particularly looking to increase is the national leader of education capacity. So, before thinking about whether schools need an academy trust, we need the support of national  leaders of education. The Government have recently announced that they expect a further increase in capacity in that area.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

So to do an outstanding job you will need a little more extra resource is what you are telling us.

Q 61

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

May I also place it on the record—I should have done it before—that I am chair of governors of an academy?

Zoe Carr, based on your extensive experience, how important is parental involvement and community engagement to the long-term improvement of a school?

Zoe Carr: I think it is absolutely vital. The four schools that we serve are all in areas of very high deprivation, ranging from double to three times the national average. We have had success for a number of years and have employed our own staff to work specifically with parents. If you engage parents appropriately and get them involved and interested and upskill their knowledge and understanding of the education their child is having, that absolutely pays dividends in supporting the child. It is vital, particularly in areas of high deprivation, to break down the barriers. Often parents themselves have had a negative experience of schools, and the thought of going into a headteacher’s office can be daunting. We have staff to go between the parents and the headteacher, who the parents see as being on their side and wanting to get them into the school.

Q 62

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

Thank you. That is an interesting response. Conversely, removing parents and the community from the discussion about the future of a school could presumably hinder improvement in the long term.

Zoe Carr: I disagree with that point. The situation that we are talking about is where schools have failed and are inadequate. In my experience, the need to move quickly in relation to getting—

Q 63

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

May I make a distinction then, before we carry on, because time is pressing—I am sorry for interrupting you—about failing schools? The evidence from the previous panel was clear on this, as well. The shadow Minister put on record that the Opposition agree that, with a failing school, the price of removing parental engagement is worth paying for the short-term improvement and benefit that can result from academisation. Many of us have experience of that. When it comes to coasting, do you think the price of removing community engagement and parental involvement is worth paying for the potential increase in outcomes that academisation will deliver?

Zoe Carr: On coasting, it is about determining whether that school is fit to improve itself. In my experience, it always comes back to the leadership aspect. Sometimes parents have a certain view of the leaders of a school that may not always be accurate. As we have heard with governors, parents might not be able, because they do not have enough contact with the leadership, to determine sufficiently whether the leaders are suitable in turning that school around to lead to better outcomes for their children.

Q 64

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

May I put the same question to Dr Major? Do you believe that where a school is coasting—not failing—removing consultation with parents and the community is likely to produce beneficial outcomes?

Lee Elliot Major: It is difficult to say. I always come back to the evidence on that, and we have very little evidence. We know that parents have a huge impact on children’s outcomes, but we have little evidence of what interaction is supportive and what works and what does not work. It is not a fudge, but there is no evidence to know which way it would go.

Q 65

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

As a final question, I invite you to put forward other tools that could be beneficial in challenging coasting schools, in addition to academisation. Is there any other way that engagement could be brought forward to provide the jolt that is needed?

Lee Elliot Major: There are some brilliant academy chains that do transform lives. There are also academy chains that have not done so well. One thing I would say is that you have to be careful about which academy chain you engage with. There are other options that the Government are considering on coasting schools, such as working with the leadership to begin with—I would totally support that—and, as I understand it, looking at a number of options before going into the discussions on becoming an academy.

Q 66

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

We heard from the last panel—apologies, but this is again directed at Zoe—that geography is important when it comes to multi-academy trusts and that the region had an impact. It was easier to manage academies if they were in close proximity to each other. From your experience, what do you think there is by way of capacity in your area, were a number of the primary and secondary schools to be required to become sponsored academies? Is there the capacity there in the shape of sponsors?

Zoe Carr: One of the successes of the regional schools commissioner board for the north of England has been to increase the number of small sponsors coming forward who are prepared to take on one or two more schools. That has been a real benefit of the work that our regional schools commissioner has been involved in with the wider board over the past year that they have been in office.

I certainly see proximity as an important factor. We have staff who I know personally, because I have worked in each of the four schools. If I see a particular need on leadership in a school, we bring together our teachers and our leaders at all levels to work together to solve the problem, or to coach or to mentor. In that way, I have seen the rate of improvement in our schools go up much more quickly than if we did not have that talent bank within our organisation to draw on.

It is important that, within that local context, you stay connected to the local area. One of our schools is a teaching school, and we have lots of schools within the alliance that are both academies and maintained schools. It does not make any difference to me where the support comes from. We work with outstanding maintained schools and with outstanding academies to serve our own ends. Wherever the support is most appropriate, that is where the support will come from.

Q 67

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

Dr Major, the evidence that the Sutton Trust came up with suggested that, overall, multi-academy trusts—chains of academies—are not performing as well as local authorities, when it comes to looking after the schools they are responsible for. Given  that academies are increasingly where we are going—and this legislation is going to accelerate that process—what is the answer? How do we make sure that sponsors improve so that they are outperforming the existing system?

Lee Elliot Major: We found that overall there was a variation. Some academy chains were doing incredibly well and improving attainment progress and others were not. We tried to look at the factors behind that. Basically, they are the things that we all know about: good leadership and a focus on teaching in the classroom. All our evidence suggests that that is the one major issue in schools. If you have good leadership that focuses on that, you will get results. It sounds simple, but that is the basic issue that the evidence throws up.

Over and above that, we found that the successful chains had steady growth. They were not taking on too many schools too quickly. They had a clear strategy for school improvement. They had geographical clusters of schools, which I think you were alluding to earlier.

What should you do to encourage that? I am in favour of Ofsted inspecting chains of schools as well as schools themselves. We are heading in that direction. We may come to this point later, but I think the accountability measure should explicitly look at disadvantaged students as well. When we talk about thresholds of 60% or 85% being over a certain grade, or progress measures, we should apply those to children as a whole, and also to those children from poorer backgrounds. I would therefore measure academy chains alongside those data.

Q 68

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

Will you say a bit more about the accountability measure you are looking at for disadvantaged children?

Lee Elliot Major: Our argument would be that the accountability measures that we are discussing here, for example, for coasting schools or for inadequate schools are as follows. At the moment, you have general accountability measures, which say that children need to get over a certain proportion of grades to be successful. We would say that you should have an explicit separate measure, to which schools should be accountable, which would measure that for disadvantaged children—those on free school meals.

Q 69

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

You mentioned the quality of leadership and teaching. Emma Knights mentioned that the accountability measures and the increasing complexity are not helping governors to recruit school leaders. What are your thoughts on what Emma Knights told us?

Lee Elliot Major: There is some real challenge here. I would argue that one of the biggest challenges facing schools now is recruitment. You will all know about the situation with both maths and English teachers. We all need to think about that. One of the big challenges is getting good teachers into the system. The second challenge is how to develop teachers. I still do not think that we have a strong enough system in this country to develop teachers to observe and appraise each other. The biggest variation in teaching is within schools, not between them. It is perhaps outside this Bill, but we need a stronger programme of development and learning for teachers and we also need the leaders. We need more leaders and I think that will come from the system.

Q 70

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

Coming back to the point about accountability measures and the changes that the Bill will bring about, are there things that you think we should look at as we examine the Bill line by line? Are there things we should look at changing to reduce the concerns that Emma Knights raised about recruitment?

Lee Elliot Major: It is difficult. I think you have to go outside the Bill. I totally agree that you have to have strong accountability measures, but they have to be counterbalanced with very strong professional development of teachers. All the international evidence suggests this. The countries that do best in education have strong autonomy and accountability, but also a very strong sense of how they are going to develop their teachers. I am not sure whether that is in the scope of the Bill, but I would say that you need that counterbalance.

Q 71

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

A question for Tim Coulson. Where will the additional sponsors come from to meet the expansion in the number of academies?

Dr Coulson: The additional sponsors will come from schools that Zoe has described. The really big trusts such as Harris have limited additional capacity, although they are terrific and we are delighted when they do agree to take on another school. However, even in the last couple of months since the direction of the Bill was announced, I have been encouraged that I have been contacted by more schools in the region I work in which are interested in stepping up and starting to set up their own multi-academy trusts. For me, the big capacity to generate is, locally, the very best school in an area, to set up a trust that is capable of running three or four schools. That is the main area of capacity that we need to grow.

Q 72

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

How will you assure the quality of those sponsors? We have seen some high-profile problems. How will we avoid those?

Dr Coulson: There are two things. One is that the system is learning a bit about sponsors—those that have been successful and those that have been less successful. The work that Zoe described about headteacher boards has brought greater scrutiny by headteachers of those kind of decisions. That has been a very helpful development in the last year. When someone wants to be a sponsor, they have to go through various processes when they apply. Potential sponsors now have to go into a level of detail, and they have to demonstrate why they would be any good at this, what the governance is and all those kinds of things. Certainly on this the bar has been raised very significantly, even in the last 12 months.

The second thing is the work we have begun to do in the last year to hold academy trusts accountable much more quickly when schools do not appear to be doing as well as we would expect. There is also the use of mechanisms in the funding agreements that allow us to give warning notices and pre-warning notices to academy trusts, which make clear that, unless things change, we will have to move schools from one trust to another.

Q 73

Photo of James Berry James Berry Conservative, Kingston and Surbiton

I should say that I am a primary school governor. Dr Coulson, there are different tools for improving academies. Could you briefly explain a little about those? I understand that the Government will extend those methods to failing and coasting schools.

Dr Coulson: In terms of improving academies, when those academies that I have got to know in the last year have not been going successfully, crucially, the kind of measures which led to improvements have brought much greater local support. Typically those schools that have struggled are rather dispersed from other schools in their trust. They are schools which do not really have a local understanding of their area, and have struggled to succeed in the progress debate of the children, who typically are in quite low attaining schools. It has been about leadership, as you have heard many times. It has been about the academy trust being able to draw on the local leadership capacity that perhaps they had not previously had. It has been about bringing in fresh leadership to have a fresh look, and sharing some of the key people, whether they are heads of English or heads of maths. This gives a fresh look at departments where children have not been making the kind of progress which you would expect, certainly in these key subjects.

In terms of the second point about failing and coasting schools, there is a big distinction between failing and coasting. In failing schools, I would absolutely expect to see the kind of measures I just mentioned, so an academy trust would immediately take responsibility for the school and do the same kinds of things. In coasting schools, I think that there is a considerably wider group of possible interventions, of which joining an academy trust is one. There are some of the things which Emma Knights talked about, such as interim executive boards; some of the other measures that the Bill mentions, such as insisting on joining up and making arrangements with strong partners for support, and making use of teaching schools and national leaders of education. All those kinds of things are some of the measures we would expect to see a coasting school engaging in. The important thing about the Bill is that there is an expectation that the plan works, one way or another, and that we use every single tactic until we have made sure that it does. That then might include moving to academy status if necessary.

Q 74

Photo of James Berry James Berry Conservative, Kingston and Surbiton

In your experience, how do headteacher boards use local knowledge to advise on decisions?

Dr Coulson: The headteacher board I am familiar with has members drawn from Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Essex and the London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Redbridge. So across the region we do not have someone who can speak for every single part of the region—we do not have complete, comprehensive knowledge—but we have a pretty wide knowledge of two things. One is an understanding that Norfolk is not like east London, what that means in practice and the kinds of issues that schools are facing in dealing with that. The second is that headteachers of outstanding schools have quite good knowledge of the local players in the field and of who might be the kind of people to draw on in trying to solve a problem. Those are the two things that they have brought.

Q 75

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

My question is to Dr Major. You mentioned parents and you also mentioned variation in schools. I am a bit concerned that sometimes the debate is about deprivation when actually, from my perspective, affluent schools are more likely to be coasting. Affluent areas really concern me. I want to come to the differential  within schools and the role that parents play. What do you think the definition of coasting should be, considering the comments you have made and my concerns?

Lee Elliot Major: I would have liked to have something in the definition of coasting schools explicitly about disadvantaged children. We have seen some schools that are doing very well overall, but when you dig beneath the data you find that the poorest children in that school are not progressing that well. You will all know that the attainment gap is the biggest challenge, arguably, that the education system faces. I have come round to believing that we should be much more explicit about those data. We spend a lot of money, £2.5 billion, on the pupil premium for those children, quite rightly, but I think we need to measure how well that is being spent and how that relates to their outcomes.

Q 76

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

That is fine for schools as a single issue, but within schools? There are many affluent schools where there are affluent parents doing home teaching and those kids are moving on, but within that affluent area, within that single school, there are, as you say, variations, so that there are pupils whose parents are not allocated as much time, who are not succeeding as well, but that school is not deemed to be coasting. How are we going to measure failing pupils within a school? Predominately this is within affluent areas, but not exclusively. How are we going to measure that within schools? How are we going to deal with that issue in the legislation?

Lee Elliot Major: It is a good question. I am not sure whether it will solve all these issues, but—I keep coming back to this—in the measures that have been announced for coasting schools I would argue for a separate column for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thereby, we could see whether those most in need in a school are making progress and reaching that threshold as well as the other children.

Q 77

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

Are you talking about two definitions? For example, you used the definition of free school meals. Are you saying that free school meals should be one definition within a school for coasting, and for schools, plural, and those not on free school meals another? Are you trying to differentiate the two within schools, as a measure of coasting, to try to determine what is happening within those schools, as well as within schools within an area?

Lee Elliot Major: Yes. I think it would give us more information on a school if we had what we are defining as these criteria for coasting for those children from poor backgrounds as well, explicitly. At the moment my understanding is that it will just be a general figure. If schools are failing poorer children I believe that that should be a trigger for whatever—that is particularly the focus for us. At the moment that is not in there. It will be more so, but it is complex: we are moving from one testing regime to another. Once we look at progress 8, I think we will get a better, rounded picture of outcomes, because then we will be measuring outcomes for children across the board, not just on that C/D boundary. So I think the future attainment measure will give us more information about children in school, but again, I would argue that we should have an explicit progress measure for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Q 78

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

My question is to Zoe. You run a small academy chain, the WISE multi-academy trust. There are, I think, around 400 or 500 multi-academy trusts that have spun out of high-performing schools, whether primary or secondary. Can you tell us a bit about your story, what happened and how you improved the schools that you took over—what were they like before you took over and then what happened to those schools?

Zoe Carr: The trust began with two primary schools that converted. They were well-performing schools—

Q 79

Zoe Carr: In Sunderland. One was an outstanding school which was federated with another school that was good, and at that time both of them were converted to academies. We were asked by DFE to sponsor two other schools, so we sponsored both of them in close proximity—one in December 2012 and one in September 2012. One was in special measures and the other, although it had come out of special measures, was still well below floor standards.

Both schools have since converted to Ofsted ratings of good, and attainment in both is above floor. In one of them it is above the national average; that school has an intake of double the national average in terms of levels of deprivation for free school meal indicators. Both schools have been real, strong success stories in bringing about improvement for the pupils in those disadvantaged communities.

Q 80

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

In terms of the life histories of those pupils if you had not intervened, what is the difference between the life chances of those pupils if they had been left where they were compared with their life chances now that they are part of your multi-academy trust?

Zoe Carr: The figures say it all. For children who are not getting to the required standard by the end of primary school, the statistics for their performance at the end of secondary school make very sad reading in terms of their achievement. We are confident about the actions that we have taken: every time it comes back to leadership. Every time it is about getting the right people into those senior positions who then make sure that teaching across the school is good, outstanding and improving. Every time it is about getting that right as, in turn, it will have a massive impact on the pupils’ outcomes within the schools.

Q 81

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

Thank you very much. I have a quick question for Dr Major. The Sutton Trust produced a report fairly recently showing that high-performing key stage 2 pupils eligible for the pupil premium performed less well when they went on to do their GCSEs than high-performing key stage 2 pupils who were not eligible for the pupil premium. Can you say something about that report and answer whether you would accept that our focus on progress, in identifying coasting schools, is key to addressing that issue—not just for high-performing key stage 2 pupils eligible for the pupil premium but also for average and below-average pupils, to make sure that they all perform at the same rate as children from more affluent backgrounds?

Lee Elliot Major: We looked at those children attaining highly at the end of primary school and analysed the proportion of those who were still in the top performers  at the end of secondary school. What was alarming was that those children from disadvantaged backgrounds, basically those on free school meals, were twice as likely not to be in that high-performing group at the end of secondary school. You see a real, depressing attrition over the years of secondary school. We very much welcome the new Progress 8 measure because it will, for the first time, properly hold schools accountable to those high attainers. We need to think about the range of attainers among poorer children—there are many high attainers in that group and any accountability measures should try to track that.

Q 82

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

A thought has just occurred to me. I do not know if you heard the evidence from the first session when he heard Dr Allen talking about the problems of running a school in an area of deprivation. She said that is was very difficult to run a school in such an area. Her implication was that somehow a lower standard should be applied to those schools than to schools in more affluent areas. Do you reject that view as much as I do?

Lee Elliot Major: I would be very uncomfortable with that. I did not hear that evidence, but we have to have very high aspirations for all our children. The Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation have found many times that if you give them opportunities, they will fly. We have many examples of children—some of them are now MPs, in fact, among many other great professions—whom we have helped in our programmes. No, I would counter that, although I did not hear the evidence.

Q 83

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

There was a call to name names over here, but we will not hold you to it. Tim, do you have key performance indicators in your job relating to the percentage of schools becoming academies?

Dr Coulson: We have a range of measures that we look at. One of them is schools becoming academies, principally because we want to encourage them to move, once they become academies, as Zoe said of her experience, to contributing as part of a multi-academy trust system.

Q 84

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Do you see any problem at all with balancing the new powers that you are being given on coasting schools with having performance indicators relating to the number of academies within your area?

Dr Coulson: No, I do not, because I think the most important measures that we have got are to see improvements in the system. For me, the crucial bit about coasting schools is having a whole new way of looking at those schools. I come most recently from working in a local authority. In the region where I work, extremely good relationships have been established between the work that I do and the local authorities. One of your colleagues asked me about capacity. There is something in there about how we need to pull together all the different aspects to really check that every school that we want to improve does improve.

The coasting schools regulations bring into focus another group of schools whose improvement we can definitely check. I would love for those regulations to be much more ambitious and tackle a whole load of schools. I think that there is another group of schools we can really focus on.

Q 85

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Do accountability measures for schools ever drive schools to teach to the test? That has been alleged. Do you think that that ever happens with schools?

Dr Coulson: Inevitably. I think accountability measures are extremely influential.

Q 86

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

If accountability measures are influential for schools, why are they not influential for you in relation to coasting schools and your accountability measures relating to the academisation of schools? Why are you immune to the very thing you say schools suffer from?

Dr Coulson: Part of what the Sutton Trust evidence argues for is a subtler use of measures. On the question you are asking about my own performance measures, the performance measure you talked about is one of nine different performance measures that are there to balance things out. In terms of the contribution of one particular performance measure and the extent to which that pushes behaviour, which I think is your point—I understand the point you are making—for me, the whole basket of performance indicators is designed to make sure that we use most judiciously the different paths that we have to try to get schools to be better schools.

Q 87

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

But you understand why some people might see a potential conflict of interest in those two objectives?

Dr Coulson: I suppose my argument would be that in terms of the range of those performance indicators, I hope that the whole set of those indicators would drive our behaviour in terms of getting the region better.

Q 88

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Interim executive boards were discussed earlier. In your opinion, through your long experience in education, are IEBs ever a way to deal with an inadequate school? Can that be the right solution sometimes?

Dr Coulson: My experience of IEBs in inadequate schools is that they have been extremely useful transition tools to move schools to an academy trust. In terms of coasting schools, there could be IEBs that do a different job.

Q 89

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Before you move on to that, can I make the point that I am trying to get to? Are IEBs ever a valuable way to deal with an inadequate school that is not on a pathway to academisation, but is nevertheless on a pathway to improvement within the maintained sector?

Dr Coulson: I have not experienced it.

Q 90

Photo of Suella Fernandes Suella Fernandes Conservative, Fareham

I am a chair of governors at a free school. I want to build on the Minister’s point about the measure used to identify standards in schools and the move to Progress 8. We heard evidence from Dr Allen, who did not really think that Progress 8 was a suitable standard because it did not capture data for the requisite amount of time and displayed the same social gradient. She also said that the assessment of coasting would add an extra layer of accountability, which schools would find confusing. Could you all say a bit about what you think of those comments and opinions?

Dr Coulson: I think that the definition of coasting is a measured increase in ambition. What you heard earlier was about whether the threshold of 60% under the current measures and then 85% for primary schools gives a ceiling for the number of schools that would come into the scope of being addressed. I would love to address every single school. The draft regulations give a significant increase in ambition to schools that really need a focus, while managing the capacity question that I have been asked several times about how much we can grow the system in order for schools to come into it.

The points we heard about tweaking the measures were all really well made. There is a balance in terms of what the increase of ambition means at this stage in the draft regulations. As crafted now, they show a significant increase in ambition, even if they do not address every single school that people would like to have focused attention on.

Zoe Carr: I would like to pick this up from the primary angle, if I may. The 85% attainment measure—which all aspire to, so we will live up to it and do everything that we can—is more challenging for disadvantaged schools. However, the biggest thing for me is whether affluent schools will be identified under this coasting definition if they achieve the 85% measure but their progress continues to be poor. We must not miss that really important aspect when the Bill passes through Parliament, because we still need ways to identify those sorts of schools. I think that is the reason for the Bill being here in the first place—to try to address the coasting schools in our education system.

If those schools’ progress measures are not above the median for a number of years, yet their attainment is above 85%, it is right that we look at those elements. That is where schools in disadvantaged areas will feel that they are being hit twice by these accountability measures, whereas schools in affluent areas will have a much greater chance of attaining the 85% and their progress will not then really be looked at.

Lee Elliot Major: I was going to make exactly the same point. I worry—for me, it always goes back to the disadvantaged children—about the progress of children in high-attaining schools. I would love the Bill and the discussion to think about those schools in very advantaged areas. A lot of children coming into those schools are already high attaining, therefore the school’s results will generally be higher. My worry is: what about the sometimes small number of children—it is a significant number across the nation if you add them all up—who are not succeeding in those schools? You are then looking at progress measures in both primary and secondary schools. That would be my worry—that we miss out on those hundreds of thousands of children.

One final point—I was not here for Dr Allen’s evidence, but year groups come and go and can be very different in a school, so I like the fact that this will be triggered by a three-year passage of time. That is a sensible approach.

Q 91

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

I have two questions for Zoe Carr. You told us about the laudable efforts and improvements made by your trust. If, in years to come—heaven forbid—some of your schools or perhaps your whole trust is found to be coasting, you could not reasonably object to having imposed upon you the same disciplines, rigours and procedures as applied by the legislation to the maintained sector, could you?

Zoe Carr: Absolutely not. In my experience, through the work of the regional school commissioner and the headteacher board, those are exactly the rigours that the academy sector has now. The data for each academy are looked at in a great deal of detail and where schools are found not to be performing well enough then an immediate intervention is put in place.

Q 92

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

You are suggesting currently you have that same kind of discipline.

Zoe Carr: Yes, in the academy sector.

Q 93

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

Following on from what Peter Kyle said earlier about parental consultation, at first you started talking about underachieving or failing schools and then we got on to coasting schools. Is it your view that if a parent consultation indicates a marked lack of enthusiasm for the academy solution—in a school that is coasting but may be graded good or outstanding by Ofsted—none the less it would be right to ignore parental opinion?

Zoe Carr: We have already heard that in coasting schools there will not be one clear way forward in respect of the school.

Q 94

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

Suppose parental opinion is, “No, we don’t want to become an academy” and this is a coasting school which may well be graded good. Is your view that it should still proceed in that circumstance?

Zoe Carr: I would still look to see whether that school could improve with the opposition from the parents.

Q 95

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

Would your view therefore be that parents in that scenario would not know what was the best outcome for their children? That is the only rationale for doing that, is it not?

Zoe Carr: I would have to go back to leadership and governance once again and determine whether that school has enough available resources to be able to lead the school.

Q 96

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

Parents at a good school might none the less not have the right view of their children’s educational welfare.

Zoe Carr: It goes back to data and figures and the proportion of children in the school who are actually making the expected progress.

Q 97

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

The parents will be too ignorant to make that sort of decision on their behalf?

Zoe Carr: No, absolutely not. We consult parents an awful lot.

Q 98

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

Can I just persist with this point? You could give them the data as part of the consultation. Suppose you give them the data and you share all the data with them, and none the less it is their view in their school—this is my scenario—which may be a good school, but none the less is graded as coasting, that they would rather stay with the local authority than become an academy. Your view is still, in that circumstance where you share the data with them, that their view should be overridden.

Zoe Carr: That school would be given time under a plan that we have already talked about to see whether it could make the improvements that we discussed previously.  If it is found that that school still cannot make those improvements, then the route forward would be for that school to become a sponsored academy.

Q 99

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

In the earlier session, we heard that we have little evidence of which formal intervention works best. There are anecdotal examples of academies that have improved, but clearly we cannot say across the board that academisation is the best answer for all schools. What is clear is that teaching and leadership is the most important factor in improving schools. Would you all therefore say whether the Bill will make it easier, harder or have no impact on the ability of schools to recruit and retain teachers?

Lee Elliot Major: It is hard to know. I would urge, as part of the Bill, looking to trial this in different schools so that we can come back to a Committee in three years’ time and know the evidence. One thing I would say straightway is that we should try to develop some evidence around this because there is very little at the moment. As I said earlier, our evidence is—and there are lots of claims and counter-claims in this area—that there are academy chains that do very well and there are others that do not. That is the honest truth. In terms of recruitment, I think it can go both ways. There are some academy chains that have better career progress for teachers because they can go between schools. There is better professional development. There are other chains that do not do it very well, to be frank. It can go either way depending on the academy chain.

Q 100

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

So probably no overall impact.

Lee Elliot Major: I would say that there are other ways of doing it. There are school federations that do it well. Generally, the sector is facing a big issue around improvement, and that is a looming issue.

Zoe Carr: What I have experienced through our trust is that we have been able to do more of the growing your own version that the CEO of Harris academies talked about earlier. We have been able to take leaders from one academy and give them opportunities to get them prepared and ready for our succession planning, so that if we take on another school that needs to strengthen leadership, we have the people there to be able to do that. The more time that you have to work with people, the more that you know them and the more it takes out the variation of what the next headteacher we will appoint will be like. Or, if we cannot get the people we need to run the schools, we have already grown people we can use. We have a talent bank.

It is not a perfect solution. Of course, we have a shortage of headteachers in the country willing to go into the most challenging and disadvantaged schools. I am not going to skirt over that issue, because we need to do more to encourage headteachers to go into challenging schools. As accountability rises, the pressure in the job rises—that has to be said—but multi-academy trusts can build a support network around the trust’s key leaders so that people are not left alone to make every decision. In our trust, our leaders have the opportunity to concentrate on the things that matter the most for the outcomes for our children, because they are not burdened with all the bureaucracy around all the other things that headteachers in a single school often have to deal with themselves.

Q 101

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

So you think that an extra layer of accountability will act as a further disincentive to attracting headteachers into the most challenging areas.

Zoe Carr: I think that the most successful and aspirational leaders thrive on challenge. That can drive them forward to think, “Right, if that’s the bar, we will do all that we can to achieve it.”

Q 102

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

Do we need to be heaping further challenges on to what are already the most challenging schools through another accountability measure?

Zoe Carr: There is great accountability in the system at the moment, and I am not sure whether more accountability is the right way forward, but this accountability works in relation to what is already out there in the system—it works within the floor targets that we have previously experienced.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I want to fit in one more question.

Q 103

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Conservative, Berwick-upon-Tweed

I declare that I am a governor of Berwick academy.

The question of the Bill being aimed at maintained schools, not academy schools, has been mentioned a lot. Is it your view that the existing regional schools commissioner framework is already working well enough to manage academy schools? We are obviously looking to send a lot more schools into that framework to manage the coasting or inadequacy issues within the academy framework.

Dr Coulson: The regional structure we have had for the past year has begun to address that, but we need to go further. The focus on coasting schools will give us an additional focus on coasting academies as well as on coasting maintained schools. We have more to live up to on coasting schools. The focus to date has probably been more on the inadequate academies, but we do have the mechanisms to focus on coasting academies.

Lee Elliot Major: Again, I have no evidence, but my gut instinct is that you will need more capacity—I cannot see it any other way. If you are going to look at  how academies are performing as well as at coasting schools, you need good people and more of them, in a regional capacity.

Zoe Carr: We need to work through the system leaders we have to mobilise more of the school education system. If our school-led system is to work effectively, it is not only about the few who are supporting others, but about getting more and more of our outstanding headteachers into this agenda to get them to spread out and build small, multi-academy trusts in local proximity to one another. I think that that is how the system will move forward effectively.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I will give the last word to the Minister. You have one minute.

Q 104

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

A question to Zoe Carr: would you prefer to be a headteacher in an academy or in a local authority school, and why?

Zoe Carr: I would not like to be a headteacher in a stand-alone academy, because there are far too many other areas that you need to take on and be accountable and responsible for yourself. However, I would absolutely no way want to go back to a maintained situation, because in our multi-academy trust we have a wealth of people dealing with health and safety, HR issues, all the financial issues and governance, and they are very skilled in their own areas. All that is taken away from our key educationalists, who can then lead on improving teaching and learning, improving our teachers, and getting the best outcomes for children.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

That brings us to the end of our allotted time. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the witnesses for coming along and for helping us so much with what you had to say today.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.