Agenda item

Call In - Improving Choice in Education

To consider the Call In of the Cabinet report Improving Choice in Education.


The Chairman informed the Panel that the Cabinet report ‘Improving Choice in Education’ had been brought back to the Panel as it had been ‘Called In’, as a signature to the Call In Cllr Jones was asked to give an overview of the reasons why it had been Called In.


Cllr Jones informed the Panel that the report had been Called In as there was not the required detail around the recommendations for an informed decision to take place.  It was felt that the report did not show viable alternatives; the Call In was not about the merits of selective education but about Members duty to have the information to scrutinise Cabinet recommendations. 


A briefing note was circulated to the Panel in response to the questions raised following the call-in of the Improving Choice in Education paper with a response being provided to the questions raised.


With regards to the extent of the proposed delegations Cllr Jones was content with the answers provided in the briefing note but the process had not been included in the original Cabinet report.


With regards to the questions about what is meant by a selective school Cllr Jones mentioned that the information given was not conclusive as it looks like selection would be about academic ability however this could also include selection around  sporting or arts ability


With regards to increased Cllr Jones mentioned that the reply was that local selective schools was the option, however she would have liked to have seen some mention of Windsor who did not have a mixed school.  She felt that the paper did not have sufficient information about selective education.


With regards to the consultation response element of the Cabinet report Cllr Jones mentioned that when the report was considered by this Panel before Cabinet this element of the report was not discussed. 


Cllr Jones mentioned that she was happy with the answers provided following the Call In and would endorse that no further action was required as long as the Portfolio Holder adheres to what was said in the briefing note moving forward.


The Chairman thanked Cllr Jones for the issues raised and introduce Ms Cooke, public speaker on behalf of Excellent Education for Everyone, a group founded by borough residents.


Ms Cooke informed the Panel that she would not go over the reasons expressed in the Call In but there were also further concerns she wished to raise.  It was felt that RBWM had already wasted tax payers money in its haste to establish a satellite grammar school.  She mentioned that at Cabinet the Leader had said that that the free school meal figure at William Borlase school was a disgrace, but RBWM had sought a partnership with them.  She also mentioned that there was no data provided to show that Grammar Schools would do better for the borough and questioned why tax payers money / resources was being wasted when there was no law to allow new selective schools.  She also mentioned that the Prime Minister had said that potential new schools should focus on deprivation; RBWM was not a deprived area.


Mr Wilding, Claires Court Schools Ltd, said that at Cabinet the consultation element of the paper had a response regarding the Independent Schools, section (14 Q), the RBWM appears to make a statement about access to High Needs funding.  He questioned if it was customary for RBWM to use such consultative exercises to make policy statements which clearly restrict parental choice in the choice of local solutions to their children’s needs.  He also questioned what recent objective research into local independent schools informed the comments submitted by the RBWM as independent schools accounted for a quarter of the schools in the borough.  The Chairman mentioned that as the questions asked by Mr Wilding related to Cabinet she would ask Cabinet to send a response.


The Panel received a presentation from the Head of Schools and Education Services setting context to the report considered by Cabinet. The presentation covered the improving quality in education and current school standards, the national policy direction and the evidence base for the demand for selective education within RBWM. The presentation also highlighted the challenge to improve attainment for disadvantaged pupils in the borough showing the difference between those eligible for Free School Meals and those who were not.  The Panel were also informed that in considering or responding to any proposals, the Royal Borough would want to consider particularly the impact on existing comprehensive schools and the Free School Meals attainment gap.


The Chairman said that with regards to comments made by Ms Cooke that there was no question of introducing selective education until it was legal, this was about exploring our options as our PM (who was also our MP) had expressed that this may be a way of lifting attainment levels of disadvantaged children.


Cllr McWilliams mentioned that Cllr Jones would be raising any outstanding issues from the Call In outside the meeting however he felt that as she had Called In the item all issues should be addressed at the meeting.  He questioned if the answers provided in the briefing note were part of the consultation would it need to go back to Cabinet for approval.  Cllr Jones mentioned that she had said that if the Portfolio Member gave reassurances that the information in the briefing note be included in future reports then she would support the Cabinet reports recommendations.


Mr Parker approved the aim to improve attainment for disadvantaged pupils and thus the report would have benefited from looking at attainment of disadvantaged pupils as they progressed through secondary education.  They could be more information on how selected testing was going to be done and if there would be positive discrimination for disadvantaged pupils; which would be against the principles of selective education.  Other options should be looked at for improved attainment for disadvantaged pupils.


In response to questions from Cllr E Wilson the Panel were informed that part of the reports recommendations was to contact schools in the borough  to see if they were interested in becoming a grammar school, it was noted that schools such as Charters were successful without being a grammar school.  The Government had said that £240 million would be available to build grammar schools across the country.   Cllr Wilson mentioned that it was important that responses are made public so they are aware which school do wish to become grammar schools and those that do not.


Cllr Airey, Lead Member for Children’s Services, thanked the speaker for their views and informed the Panel that education was supported by the borough and millions have been invested into our schools.  With regards to the allocation of funds for the proposed satellite grammar school only £5k had been spent and because of the change in direction by the Government this course of action had been stopped and the remaining funds returned.  During the negotiations with William Borlase the small percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals was raised as a concern.  She agreed that the information in the briefing note would be in future reports.  She mentioned that  the consultation response was required to be submitted by the 12 December 2016 and was based on borough policy and what our professionals wish to make the Government aware of, especially the consequences of aspects of  new policy.   The Cabinet report was not recommending setting up grammar schools but putting the question to establishments.


Cllr E Wilson commented on the university element of the consultation document and mentioned that there was the funding available to encourage children from all backgrounds, especially those eligible for free school meals, to go to university.  It would be good to have a discussion with our schools on the funds that they could access.  In response the Panel were informed that a number of borough schools had relationships with universities.  A number of primary schools working with Reading University to get young children thinking about university. 


Cllr E Wilson also mentioned that as the item was Called In by Cllr Jones he would like to know what questions she was going to ask outside the meeting regarding the consultation response.  Cllr Jones replied that she was going to question what contribution did schools make to question 12 and along with question 13 did we have any evidence.  She was also going to question what independent schools did to help those with SEN.  The Panel were informed that data was available regarding the questions and that the questions were relating to government policy not our schools. 


Mr Louden mentioned that there was reference to the results from Holyport College but they had not yet taken any GCSE’s and thus questioned why it was given as an example of success. The Panel were informed that this was used as an example of collaboration with an independent school and thus talked about success rather then attainment.


Resolved Unanimously: that after considering the Call In no further action was required. 

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