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					Draft Response to White Paper

Introduction

Solihull Council has long supported an effective network of autonomous
schools working together and with the Local Authority, in partnership to raise
standards and meet the needs of children. As a Council we have sought to
maximise the autonomy of schools, whilst ensuring that this autonomy best
meets the needs of the community as a whole. We have actively supported
the establishment of a City Academy and worked in a positive manner with
our existing CTC. We have recently commenced a major scheme with private
sector partners to build at least 10 new primary schools as part of the
regeneration of the North of the Borough and are also renewing the
secondary schools in the area as part of BSF where we are a First Wave
Authority.

Our mature relationship with schools is demonstrated through our agreement
with the Schools Forum for a wider role than required by legislation and
involvement of Heads in policy development.

We believe that our policies have helped schools to achieve a pass rate of
62% five or more A* to C grades at GCSE. Wherever possible we seek to
meet the needs of parents and have taken action to adjust the capacities of
schools to meet demand. This and a comprehensive and integrated
admissions system have ensured that 95% of Solihull parents were offered a
place at their preferred community school.

Solihull foreshadowed the new Children‟s agenda by establishing a joint
directorate of Education and Children‟s Services over three years ago and is a
pathfinder Children‟s Trust.     We have a high performing Early Years
Partnership, a network of school-based Neighbourhood Nurseries and are
actively developing Extended Schools.

Our track record demonstrates that we share with the government a desire to
meet parental choice, raise standards, work with a variety of partners and
ensure that every child really matters

We make these points so it is clear at the outset of our response that we are
not seeking to impede change. We do, however, have serious concerns that
significant parts of the White Paper will not assist the Council in its quest to
improve and modernise services for parents and children within the Borough.

Overall the White Paper does not sufficiently justify how the proposed reforms
will enable the Borough to create a collaborative environment, essential to the
delivery of 14 to 19 reforms and the delivery of the „Every Child Matters „
agenda. We are also concerned that the proposals do not appear to meet the
test of “evidence based policy making”.




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We do not think that the debate couched in terms of “more freedom for
schools” is helpful or accurately reflects either the current system or indeed a
commissioned system as proposed in the White Paper.

The following comments are more specific to individual chapters in the White
paper

Chapter 1 – The Challenge to Reform

       This chapter describes progress that has been made within the
       educational system and sets out the Government’s ambition to raise
       standards and meet the needs of every child


We refute the view in Chapter One of the White Paper implying that Local
Authorities interfere in the day to day running of schools, as this is not the
case. We do however welcome the attempt to define a clear commissioning
role for Local Authorities and recognition of our growing responsibilities as the
Champions of Children and Parents strengthened by the Children‟s Act. We
would however need to be reassured that the Local Authority will have
sufficient powers to effectively discharge that role, including the effective
powers to “decommission” and re-allocate resources according to need and
strategic direction. The previous exclusion of schools from the “duty to co-
operate” was not a positive indicator in this respect.

Chapter 2 – A School System Shaped by Parents

       This chapter sets out proposals for Trust Schools, a School
       Commissioner to champion trust schools, proposals for expanding and
       contracting schools and dealing with school failure


We welcome the emphasis placed on parents in the White Paper. We believe
that the current regulations that provide for a third of the governing body of a
community school to be Parents is an important and effective safeguard of
parental views. This is supported by the new inspection framework that
includes reference to how a school engages with its parents. Engagement
with the community will become even more important as schools develop as
extended schools. We do however believe that the arrangements proposed
for Trust and other types of schools do not so effectively secure parental and
community representation in the governance of a school. Therefore this
aspect of the White Paper could in fact diminish parental engagement.

We are concerned that Trust Schools may not have sufficient accountability to
the Community. This depends on the Trust and this is insufficient protection
for community interests and local accountability.

We welcome the continued commitment to developing 14 to 19 changes and
would stress that it is our firm belief that true choice for young people can only
be achieved through partnership and collaborative arrangements. We believe


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that the Government should use this opportunity to unequivocally clarify
responsibilities for strategic planning across the whole of 14 to 19 age range
and accept that this is a fundamental to the successful development of
collaborative approaches. Currently the arrangements leave too much room
for uncertainty for both schools, the LSC and the Council. We believe that
quality for all requires clear strategic leadership and accountability.

We question whether the model of Trust Schools will achieve the aspirations
of the White Paper. There may be merit if used in conjunction with education
improvement partnerships and also if there are proper safeguards for parental
and community interests. We do not feel the White Paper gives sufficient
reassurance on these points for this proposal to receive our support. Indeed
the proposals for Parental Councils and Trust Schools could in fact dilute
parental rights whilst creating a veneer of enhancing them.

We note that Trust Schools will need to promote community cohesion and
good race relations. This White Paper would also be an opportunity to ensure
that all schools have a duty placed on them to co-operate in line with other
agencies named in the Children‟s Act. The argument for this is strengthened if
the Local Authority is to act as a commissioner within the system. We believe
that this duty will be essential to discharge that duty and function.

We accept the premise that school place planning should reflect parental
preference. However we would emphasise that planning is instrumental to the
Commissioning role proposed for local authorities. The demand for places
varies over time. Rolls are currently falling (a factor the paper does not appear
to take properly into account) and it takes a number of years to make planned
adjustments to school capacity. Schools do not have the ability to just expand
and contract at will. There are often physical, financial and educational
constraints. This process is much better handled within a planned framework
with which the whole community can engage. The Local Authority provides
that framework and ensures the overall viability of the system for all children.

We welcome the clarification of the Local Authority‟s role in connection with
failing schools. We are, however, uncertain how the proposals to remove
head teachers and senior managers fits with employment law and how this
can be achieved when the Local Authority is not the employer as in Trust
Schools.

Chapter 3 – Choice and Access for All

       This chapter focuses on proposals for new admission arrangements
       and choice advisers. It also makes proposals for additional school
       transport

We do not see how a system of more varied admission arrangements
increases parental choice. We believe that the more the system can be co-
ordinated then the better the outcomes will be for children. We believe that the
recent changes to admission arrangements have demonstrated this
unequivocally. We believe that any proposals to increase the number of


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admitting bodies along with a variety of criteria will do nothing to enhance
choice for all. We do not believe that the introduction of Choice Advisers will
sufficiently mitigate against the increased complexity of the system that
parents already find complex. We already deploy our admission teams in this
role during the admissions process and therefore have direct experience of
this approach. We do not believe that anything less than a statutory
requirement to comply with the code of practice on admissions, which all
admitting bodies must adhere to, is adequate to protect children‟s rights.
Recent court decisions appear to have weakened the Code of Practice and
therefore it is important to re-establish this principle.

The more complex the system the more likely it is to disenfranchise the more
deprived families we serve. This is counter to the aims of the White Paper.

On a point of detail, what protection will Choice Advisers have against claims
that their advice was not adequate? If a parent fails to secure the school of
choice will the Advisers be liable for the advice they offer? Will this create
another avenue for appeals and litigation?

We welcome the statement that there will be no return to 11 plus. However, in
extending choice and access, the „banding‟ approach as exemplified in the
Paper, can resort to verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests, in other words a
form of 11 plus. We would urge that further testing of pupils is discouraged
and existing statutory test information is used if such a system is introduced

School Transport

Whilst the proposals on travel may appear to increase choice of access to
disadvantaged groups, which is welcomed, for some schools this could result
in a disconnection between a community and the secondary school, which it
should serve. A lower maximum distance than six miles may therefore be
better.

The proposal is entirely dependant, for its success, upon additional public or
local authority commissioned bus services and new additional funding to both
transport authorities and local authorities to enable services to run and seats
(bus passes) to be purchased.

Government will also need to consider enacting new legislation to re-define
the current practice/understanding of the duty to only provide transport to “the
nearest appropriate school”.

Chapter 4 – Personalised Learning

      This chapter addresses curriculum issues including support for gifted
      and talented pupils and pupils that have fallen behind

We support much of what is proposed in this chapter and the continuing
emphasis on „personalisation‟. The White Paper builds on the developments
and successes of national strategies and appropriately focuses upon the


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needs of learners. It is appropriate that references are made to the learning
and teaching needs of pupils and we are pleased that the Paper
acknowledges the need for additional resourcing, professional development of
teachers and increased accountability of schools. However, it is imperative
that as these proposals are „worked up‟ due consideration is given to
adequate resourcing of all schools and not only those in deprived areas.
Failure to do this would be counter to the commitment, within these proposals,
to „opportunities for every child, regardless of their background‟.

Chapter 5 – Parents Driving Improvements

      This chapter sets out proposals for providing parents with greater
      information and Parent Councils

We welcome the provision of information for parents, the proposals to
enhance School Councils and the extension of the role of the Children‟s
Information Service. We expect these developments to be properly resourced
and not lead to un-necessary bureaucratic burdens.

We have already commented on the proposals to create Parent Councils and
do not necessarily see these as the most effective route to increase parental
engagement. We are not certain that Parent Councils will be effective at
engaging those parents who are most hard to reach.

We challenge the assertion that local authorities are not in a position to
contribute to a national campaign on best practice (para 5.9).

Chapter 6 – Supporting Children and Parents

      This chapter addresses extended schools, children missing from
      education and looked after children

We welcome the commitment to Extended Schools developments and believe
this is one route to support a richer variety of parental engagement in schools
along with many other benefits.

We believe that proper resources must be made available for “Children
Missing from Education”.

We believe that the proposal to increase the provision of school nurses based
around clusters of schools is excellent.

We believe that the interests of Looked After Children and other children in
need would be better served if schools were a statutory partner under the
Children Act 2004, in addition to the arrangements described here using
School Improvement Partners.

We believe that as high performing schools will have minimal inspection
regimes, this method cannot be relied on to secure the “Every Child Matters”
agenda.


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Chapter 7 – School Discipline

      This chapter reflects the recent report of the Practitioner’s Group on
      School Behaviour and Discipline. It includes arrangements for funding
      support for excluded pupils and meeting the needs of hard to place
      pupils

The inclusion in the White Paper of many of the recommendations of the
Practitioners‟ Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, chaired by Sir Alan
Steer, are welcome. In particular we welcome the expectation that by
September 2007 every secondary school will make arrangements for hard to
place pupils which ensure that no school takes an unreasonable share of
children with challenging behaviour, including those excluded from other
schools.

We would also expect the Government to ensure that schools and the Local
Authority are properly resourced to achieve this. The unfairness of the current
national funding arrangements, mean that for an Authority like Solihull it is
extremely difficult to identify sufficient resources to meet the needs of all
children.

Chapter 8 – The School Workforce and School Leadership

      This chapter sets out proposals for workforce and leadership
      development in schools

We welcome the reform of teachers‟ professional standards, hoping to see
greater consistency than was apparent in the valuable but rather disparate
current version of the standards framework. We would look to see a similar
set of professional standards being declared for all education professionals.

These standards should be devised so as to take account of all roles that are
involved with the care and education of children and young people, not simply
those who are based in schools and we should be thinking in terms of an
integrated Children‟s Workforce.

We hope that the freedoms over pay and conditions for staff mentioned
elsewhere in the White Paper (chapter 2), do not impair the creation of a
coherent staffing structure which identifies roles in a coherent way, shows
how they contribute to the learning agenda, relates qualifications and training
to them, and offers secure career progression.

It is appropriate that the NCSL should contribute to leadership development
and succession planning, and to bring together national leaders of education
drawn from those in the most challenging leadership roles. We would be
disappointed if there were an implication that these national leaders were
uniquely headteachers. Leadership of education is much more widespread
than this would imply.



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Clarity at a national level about the role of governors is important. They have
key tasks to perform in holding the school to account and in representing the
needs of the community served by the school. They will need a framework in
which they can represent fairly all interests of the children, parents and
community that they serve

Chapter 9 – A New Role for Local Authorities

       This chapter sets out a new role for local authorities as a commissioner
       of services and champion of users


We welcome the recognition in the White Paper that “…The best local
authorities are strategic leaders of their communities…They act as
commissioners of services and the champions of users…” We also welcome
the various new duties and powers which Local Authorities are set to acquire
in their strengthened role as Champions of Children and their communities,
particularly the clarification of the Local Authority‟s role with regard to failing
schools, as mentioned above. Local Authorities welcome the role of
Champion, of leading on the commissioning of services and holding to
account a broadening range of providers.

We do not accept that this role means that we cannot make provision for
school places nor accept the premise that there should be no new Community
Schools. There is no evidence to suggest that there is a demand from existing
schools to alter their status as evidenced by the very few schools nationally
that have sought to exercise existing opportunities to change their status. Nor
is there any research evidence that change to foundation status leads to
school improvement.

We do not believe that the on-going debate about types of schools, that has
been in motion at least since the GM period, has made any contribution to
raising standards and serving children better. We do not believe that this
assertion is supported by evidence. Quite the contrary, this has led to a
diversion of energy away from these key tasks. Fundamentally all parents
want a good local school. This should be every child‟s entitlement and all our
efforts should be focus on achieving this goal.




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