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Public Bill Committees

Debated on Tuesday 30 June 2015

Education and Adoption Bill (First sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Mr Christopher Chope, Sir Alan Meale

† Berry, James (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con)

† Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)

† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)

† Drummond, Mrs Flick (Portsmouth South) (Con)

† Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab)

† Fernandes, Suella (Fareham) (Con)

† Gibb, Mr Nick (Minister for Schools)

† Haigh, Louise (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)

† James, Margot (Stourbridge) (Con)

† Jones, Graham (Hyndburn) (Lab)

† Kyle, Peter (Hove) (Lab)

† Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma (South Shields) (Lab)

† McCabe, Steve (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

† Nokes, Caroline (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)

† Pugh, John (Southport) (LD)

† Timpson, Edward (Minister for Children and Families)

† Tomlinson, Michael (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)

† Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)

† Walker, Mr Robin (Worcester) (Con)

Wilson, Sammy (East Antrim) (DUP)

Fergus Reid, Glenn McKee, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee


Dr Rebecca Allen, Director, Education Datalab (on leave from post as Reader in Economics of Education at UCL Institute of Education)

Professor Becky Francis, King’s College London

Robert Hill, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, King’s College London

Malcolm Trobe, Deputy General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders

Sir Daniel Moynihan, Chief Executive, Harris Federation

Councillor Richard Watts, Children and Young People’s Board, Local Government Association

Emma Knights, Chief Executive, National Governors’ Association

Dr Tim Coulson, Regional Schools Commissioner, East of England and North-East London

Zoe Carr, Chief Executive, WISE Academies, and elected member of the Headteacher Board for the North of England

Lee Elliot Major, Trustee of the Education Endowment Federation and Chief Exeutive of its sister agency The Sutton Trust.

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 30 June 2015

[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Education and Adoption Bill

The Chair: Order. I apologise to Members for the fact that we do not have enough seats. It is not just that people underestimated Members’ enthusiasm for attending at the beginning of a new Parliament. I will suspend the sitting until that has been sorted out.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Order. Before we begin, I have a few preliminary announcements. First, please silence electronic devices. I remind everyone that tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings. I also apologise for the late start. In view of the time available, I will not make any more announcements.

Motion made, and Question proposed,


(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 8.55 am on Tuesday 30 June meet—

(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 30 June;

(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 2 July;

(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 7 July;

(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 9 July;

(e) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 14 July;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following table:




Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 9.40 am

Dr Rebecca Allen, Reader in Economics of Education at the Department of Quantitative Social Science, University College London

Professor Becky Francis, Professor of Education and Social Justice, King’s College London

Robert Hill, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, King’s College London

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 10.40 am

Association of School and College Leaders

Harris Federation

Local Government Association

National Governors’ Association

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 11.25 am

Dr Tim Coulson, Regional Schools Commissioner, East of England and North-East London

WISE Academies

The Education Endowment Foundation

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 2.45 pm

The Adoption Leadership Board


Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 3.15 pm

Adoption UK

Adoption Link

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later

than 4.00 pm

The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT)

Association of Directors of Children’s Services Ltd

Adoption Focus

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 4.15 pm

National Association of Head Teachers

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 5.00pm

Department for Education

(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clause 13; Clauses 2 to 12; Clause 1; Clauses 14 to 18; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 14 July.—(Margot James.)

I beg to move a manuscript amendment, in the table, delete “9.40 am” and insert “9.50 am”.

We will move clause 1 later in our deliberations to enable Committee members to table amendments regarding the definition of a coasting school. Draft regulations were sent to all Committee members last night at 10 pm and are available in hard copy this morning. That should give all Members sufficient time to look at the regulations and table amendments to clause 1, should they wish to do so.

May I put on the record—although not at great length, given the delay already this morning—the concern I expressed informally at the Programming Sub-Committee about the manner in which the programming for the Bill has been handled? The Bill has been put together in a rushed way, and the draft regulations were not thought through and ready in time. We received them only at 10 pm last night, which is why the Government are taking clause 13 first, then clauses 2 to 12, then clause 1 later on. It is emblematic of the fact that the Bill is an undercooked piece of legislation that should have been more carefully thought through before being brought to us for consideration. However, the Government get their way on these matters. I have had my say, and we should get on with it.

Briefly, the Government are determined to ensure that no child is in an underperforming or coasting school. We are acting rapidly to tackle those problems swiftly. Within two months of the general election, we have a Bill available for scrutiny and ready to go through the system. We want to get the regulations right. We believe they are right, so we do not apologise for the swiftness with which we are acting to tackle coasting and failing schools.

And we do not apologise for objecting to the manner in which the Bill has been introduced. If the Government were concerned about all children, all children would be covered by the Bill, but they are not.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.



(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 8.55 am on Tuesday 30 June meet—

(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 30 June;

(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 2 July;

(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 7 July;

(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 9 July;

(e) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 14 July;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following table:




Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 9.50 am

Dr Rebecca Allen, Reader in Economics of Education at the Department of Quantitative Social Science, University College London

Professor Becky Francis, Professor of Education and Social Justice, King’s College London

Robert Hill, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, King’s College London

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 10.40 am

Association of School and College Leaders

Harris Federation

Local Government Association

National Governors’ Association

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 11.25 am

Dr Tim Coulson, Regional Schools Commissioner, East of England and North-East London

WISE Academies

The Education Endowment Foundation

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 2.45 pm

The Adoption Leadership Board


Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 3.15 pm

Adoption UK

Adoption Link

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later

than 4.00 pm

The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT)

Association of Directors of Children’s Services Ltd

Adoption Focus

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 4.15 pm

National Association of Head Teachers

Tuesday 30 June

Until no later than 5.00pm

Department for Education

(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clause 13; Clauses 2 to 12; Clause 1; Clauses 14 to 18; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 14 July.

Because the deadline for tabling amendments for Thursday’s line-by-line consideration has expired, I am prepared to consider late amendments that would otherwise not be debatable, on the basis that they might arise from evidence given today. I hope that is helpful.


That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Mr Gibb.)

Copies of the written evidence that the Committee receives will be available in the Committee Room.

We now come to the oral evidence from academics at University College London and King’s College London. May I remind everybody that the questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill, and that they should be brief? May I ask our guests who are giving evidence to make their responses commendably brief so we can cover all the ground we wish?

Examination of Witnesses

Dr Rebecca Allen, Professor Becky Francis and Robert Hill gave evidence.

Q 1 Will the witnesses introduce themselves for the record, starting with Dr Allen?

Dr Allen: Hello. I am currently director of Education Datalab, a research venture supported by FFT Education Ltd. I am currently on leave from my academic position at the UCL institute of education.

Professor Francis: I am Professor Becky Francis of King’s College London. I was a special adviser to the Select Committee on Education for its recent inquiry into academies. I am a professor of education and social justice, so my interest in academy sponsorship is through the lens of raising attainment for disadvantaged kids.

Robert Hill: I am Robert Hill. I work as an education consultant supporting development of school partnerships and multi-academy trusts. I am also a visiting senior research fellow at King’s College.

Q 2 I thank our witnesses for coming this morning and for their patience. The Bill is not ready; the room was not ready, so we are going on as we started.

Because of the truncated time available, could you be as pithy as possible? I am afraid this session is a bit like “Just a Minute”, rather than an opportunity to expand at great length. You have all had a chance to look at the draft regulations the Government published last night. What do you make of them?

Professor Francis: You go, because I haven’t.

Dr Allen: My concern relates to whether we will be able to identify schools that are truly coasting. I think we all agree that there are schools that provide a perfectly adequate education for their children, but could do a great deal better for the children they educate. My reason for concern is that I believe those schools are much more likely to be serving more affluent communities. I think that these schools are not currently being judged as inadequate by Ofsted. That is because Ofsted inspectors judges what they see—the lessons and the practices—relative to the typical school that they visit, rather than relative to schools that operate in similar circumstances. The consequence of thisis that if a school serves an affluent community, the chances that Ofsted will deem it to be inadequate are extremely low indeed.

This underlies our need for another piece of the accountability mechanism, which judges whether schools are underperforming by a different metric. My concern about the metrics that have been chosen to define coasting schools is that they display exactly the same type of what I call a social gradient. By that I mean that if a school serves an affluent community then it will not be judged to be coasting using these metrics. So we continue to perpetuate the problem that, on the one hand, schools which serve deprived communities are subject to multiple accountability mechanisms, all of which they have a relatively high chance of falling below. However, even more importantly, schools which serve more affluent communities will escape all of the different threshold measures which we set up.

Q 3 What would you do to identify and deal with coasting schools?

Dr Allen: First, I would prefer that we did not have this legislation. I would prefer that we redefined the terms of Ofsted. I do not believe that what Ofsted does in judging schools is wrong given its current remit, which is just to say whether or not the quality of the teaching, learning and practices within the school are good when compared to the average school. In the new remit I would ask Ofsted explicitly to judge schools relative to schools that serve similar communities.

Q 4 There is no need for legislation, in your view, to create a separate definition of coasting schools and set it out on the face of a Bill. What you could do is change the remit of Osted in order to identify these schools.

Dr Allen: I would prefer that approach, because I worry about having multiple accountability mechanisms. There would be a significant possibility that schools, on the one hand, are judged by Ofsted to be good or, indeed, outstanding, and on the other hand we deem them to be coasting. That creates a confusing accountability regime for schools. I would prefer that we maintain the current accountability regime, in which Ofsted has the last say on whether or not a school is underperforming.

Q 5 Do you think it would be possible under these regulations for a school to be deemed not to be coasting, and yet to be inadequate or requiring improvement?

Dr Allen: It would.

Q 6 In that case, what should a school do if it is not coasting but requires improvement or is inadequate?

Dr Allen: It is very difficult. That situation will arise where schools serve more deprived communities and have very high levels of free school meals. They risk falling below the bar for the definition of coasting schools as it is currently proposed. What can we ask those schools to do? The problem with data is of course that we cannot tell whether a school is coasting. In data, coasting looks exactly the same as paddling very hard to keep your head above water. It is extremely difficult for a number of reasons to run schools that serve deprived communities. Of course, schools must compensate for any significant social dysfunction in the families of the children who attend. They experience higher teacher turnover. Because they are at significant risk of being deemed inadequate by Ofsted, they find it more difficult to recruit outstanding leaders.

Q 7 May I ask Professor Francis to respond to some of those issues?

Professor Francis: I think that that was a very good summary. I am afraid that I did not receive the email this morning and I have not managed to get to my emails yet. I was interested to hear about the definition from colleagues. I think that there is a massive risk of confusion here. To respond to a question raised by Kevin, of course if a school is judged to be inadequate and it falls below floor targets, it may become sponsored in any case. We already have actions and measures to respond to those schools in those situations.

Regarding the scale-up to include this new group of schools, I think that Dr Allen is exactly right to suggest that there may be a situation where a school is judged by Ofsted to be outstanding, but is judged to be coasting against a range of other performance indicators, and that could be extremely confusing both for schools and also for parents. We already have a somewhat paralysing climate of fear where schools are trying to play every measure. I worry that this risks exacerbating that. Clarity is really important. When I did my original report on unsatisfactory schools for the RSA, we purely looked at Ofsted judgments and schools that had been stuck at satisfactory. I therefore think that it is very important to have clear messaging for schools about what a coasting school is.

Q 8 Would you also be of a view that in order to avoid that confusion rather than to legislate separately in this way, it would be better if the concept of coasting is incorporated in Ofsted assessments and judged through inspection?

Professor Francis: Yes, or that perhaps the very term “coasting” is re-examined and we think, “What is that we are trying to get at there?” Is it schools that are not improving, in which case, what is it that we are looking to improve and what is it that is not happening? I think that would be helpful.

Q 9 Could I ask Robert to respond?

Robert Hill: It seems to me that the regulations on coasting are a redefinition of the floor standards in a new form. To come back to the Minister’s starting point of not wanting to have children in underperforming or coasting schools, it will mean that we will still have pupils in quite a lot of schools or in parts of schools—because there is a lot of variation within schools—that will be let off the hook by this. It will not really search out or find underperformance with these definitions.

I understand the intention behind this bit of the Bill and the regulations, but I think it is a very blunt instrument. There are two other concerns. One is what Dr Allen referred to as the layers of multi-accountability. We almost have a teetering accountability system. It is getting heavier and weightier and weightier, layer upon layer. I think it will become increasingly difficult to provide any sort of incentive for people to go into a lead—even good schools—because of the risk of them being done-to and intervened on. We already have problems with recruiting for many positions and the field for candidates is small.

My other concern is that the Committee should be focusing on what are we going to do about it. The definitions are only a means to an end to identify. The question is what is the resource to solve the problem? Suddenly putting considerable numbers of schools, RI schools, inadequate schools, and now coasting schools into an ever larger pot, and loading that on to a regional commissioner system that is in its infancy and is already very stretched and ensuring that we have an integrated way of supporting that have not been thought through.

Q 10 I will be brief because I want to hand over and let the Minister also speak while we are on coasting schools. Do the witnesses envisage that under the regulations as defined and from the Government’s intentions we are going to have a situation where heads and governors and so on are going to have to deal with the concept of being an outstanding school but also deemed to be coasting; a good school but also deemed to be coasting; a school that requires improvement deemed to be not coasting; and an inadequate school deemed to be not coasting? Is that possible under the regulations as far as we have seen them? I am aware that they were only released to us in the usual manner after they had been released to the press. The Government briefed this to the press all through yesterday, but we eventually got it at 10 o’clock last night. Are all those scenarios possible?

Robert Hill: I do not think quite all those scenarios are possible. It is technically possible, but I think it is unlikely that an inadequate school—

Q 11 So that is not possible under the regulations as defined? That is what I am asking you?

Robert Hill: Well, Dr Allen may be able to answer. I think some of the other scenarios would be possible.

Dr Allen: We have not crunched the data yet, because we received it at 10.30 last night, which is a shame. In 24 hours we will be able to tell you. By our judgments on various different types of scenarios of progress and value added measures, there are, indeed, schools in most of those categories. For example, some schools that have very negative progress or value added measures in 2014 are judged to be outstanding, and some schools with superb value added measures are judged to be inadequate.

Q 12 Is not the point of the legislation to try to weed out the schools that are judged to be good or outstanding but that have been concealing poor progress? Is not that what we are trying to tackle? Would you support that?

Dr Allen: Perhaps, but I would ask why Ofsted has walked into those schools, given what we know about the quality of the education that they provide, and judged them to be good or outstanding. I come back to the question of whether we need to change the remit of Ofsted.

I reiterate the more important point, which is little understood, about the social gradient of progress 8. I will give you some examples from 2014 data. Just 42 out of 380 schools with less than 10% of pupils on free school meals had a negative progress 8 score, whereas 191 out of 347 schools with more than 50% on free school meals had a negative progress 8 score. It is not always obvious why that should be that case. The idea of progress 8 is that we judge children from the starting point of their test scores at the age of 11 and we expect children with the same starting point to make the same amount of progress.

That social gradient emerges for a number of reasons. The most important is just that there is clustering of social circumstances within schools. For example, take two children who performed equally poorly on their key stage 2 tests and, at the age of 11, we say are low-attaining children. One of them attends a relatively affluent school. The very fact that they are attending a relatively affluent school means that they are more likely to have a supportive home environment, which means that regardless of what happens in the school—the thing that we want to influence—that child is more likely to do well at GCSE. I am concerned that that social gradient is letting schools that serve affluent communities off the hook on this definition. I would prefer schools to be judged relative to schools like them and, unfortunately, progress 8 does not quite do that.

Q 13 In your written evidence, you said that you think that it is difficult to run a school in a poorer area. Do you think that they should be subject to a different form of metrics when they are being judged?

Dr Allen: It is more difficult, which is why I am kind of okay with the idea—it is correct in one sense—that metrics should find that schools that serve affluent communities are, on average, making better progress for the children. That is correct. It is also correct that Ofsted walks into schools that serve affluent communities and sees, on average, better teaching and leadership. All those things are true and we know that they are true because they have a larger pool of teachers to recruit from and a better choice of school leaders.

I understand your concern that we should hold schools that serve deprived communities to the same very high standards to which we hold schools that serve affluent communities. However, the problem is the extent to which those schools are able to compensate for all the things that happen in homes in affluent communities that lead to those children making good progress, regardless of what happens in those schools.

Saying that all schools must ensure that children make exactly the same levels of progress is bad for both ends of the spectrum. Setting up accountability mechanisms means that schools that serve deprived communities have no hope of ever being deemed anything other than underperforming. They then give up, and find it impossible to recruit headteachers and hard to recruit teachers. We set up a spiral whereby it is difficult for them to operate at all, and it does not raise aspirations for those schools.

Q 14 May I interrupt? What research have you done on King Solomon academy? Does that school find it difficult to recruit? The school serves a very deprived area; more than 60% of pupils are on free school meals. Last year, 93% achieved five or more GCSEs including English and maths. Do you think that school is not delivering?

Robert Hill: May I reply?

Q 15 May I just ask Dr Allen first? Then I would love to hear from Mr Hill.

Dr Allen: I do not think it is. In fact, one thing that we see is that the variation in school quality is much higher among schools that serve deprived communities than it is among schools that serve affluent communities. There is also a distinction between those schools that are operating in London and those that are not, for a variety of reasons.

Q 16 But is not that what we want to achieve? Is not the King Solomon academy what we want in very deprived areas, rather than putting a lower level of expectation on schools serving deprived communities, as you seem to be implying in your evidence to the Committee?

Dr Allen: My concern is not so much about the schools that serve in deprived communities, because they are already subject to a raft of accountability mechanisms. They are already being deemed to be inadequate and falling below the floor and everything else. We have all that in place. What we do not have in place is something that brings to account schools that serve affluent communities. This piece of legislation will not do that.

Q 17 Would Robert Hill answer that? I would also ask you another question, Mr Hill, because I want to make this my last question if I can. Do you think the progress measure is the right approach in dealing with these problems, and in addressing Dr Allen’s concerns, rather than using just attainment or just Ofsted?

Robert Hill: I am a big fan of progress measures. I think you are absolutely in the right ballpark doing that. Indeed, I think we should be looking at progress within student cohorts, within schools from one class to another. I do not think we should construct a national system to do that, but that should be the discipline that we apply. I think that progress in that sense is king, so you are in the right ballpark.

On your King Solomon point, absolutely all credit to King Solomon and others. Although, when you look at the distribution, the number of schools both from affluent and certainly deprived areas that are bucking that trend, closing the gap and doing that is a very small cohort.

The regrettable truth, for someone who supports the development of multi-academy trusts, is that for every one that has been compulsorily academised that has worked, you will be aware that there have been a considerable number that have struggled and are still struggling, and are still in something akin to that spiral. You are having to re-broker, I think, 100 sponsored academies and another 100 are in the pipeline. My concern, if I share your ambition, which I do, is where is the resource and support?

Just declaring them “coasting” or “requiring improvement” is in some ways the easy bit. The much tougher bit is to get the right mechanisms and support systems in place, as it were, to drive the improvement. That is where I think the Bill is in the wrong place. Although there are clauses in the Bill that do broaden the scope of things that you as Minister and local authorities and school commissioners can do, that is the real challenge for the education system.

I am afraid we have time for only one more question, and I hope it will be brief.

Q 18 We have talked predominantly about secondaries. What about primaries? What is the impact of the draft regulations on coasting when it comes to primaries?

Robert Hill: It is a threshold measure, as I understand it. If you get above the 85%, you are let off the hook. There will be a lot of primaries that will be above that measure where there will potentially be quite a lot of coasting going on. It seems to me that when people thought that the Government was going to act on the concept of coasting, they thought it was going to be seeking out underperformance in good or outstanding schools. In primaries the extent it might do that will be pretty limited.

Q 19 Rebecca, you said that identifying coasting primaries would be more difficult.

Dr Allen: I did. On the current definition, which includes a threshold measure—65% achieving level 4—and a median progress measure, by including the threshold measure you are knocking all of your schools that serve affluent communities out of having any risk of being deemed to be coasting. You have to be okay with that happening. If you are not okay with that happening, there is a simple solution: just cross out the threshold part of the measure and base it purely on progress. I would recommend that that happens.

The second thing to say about primary schools, which is serious, is that some primary schools are very small. When you have small schools, the measures of progress made by children from one year to the next are a relatively poor reflection of the true underlying quality of teaching and learning that are taking place in the school. The consequences of that are not quite in the direction that you think. A small primary school is going to have very volatile progress measures, which is not necessarily bad, under the definition of coasting; under that definition, a school has to be bad for three years in a row. The risk is that for very small primary schools—by which I mean a one-form entry and below—there will be poorly performing schools that manage to always just about escape being deemed to be coasting, because they maybe get lucky one year in their intake. This is an issue and means that the proportion of schools that are deemed to be coasting will relate to the size of primary schools.

Thank you. I am sorry that the evidence session was shorter than we might have wished, but thank you for your contribution.

Examination of Witnesses

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

Q 20 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 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 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.

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

Richard Watts: It is extremely hard—

Q 24 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 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 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 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 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.

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 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 31 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 Why?

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.

Q 41 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 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.

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 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 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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

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.

Examination of Witnesses

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

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

Dr Coulson: We have four advisers.

Q 60 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.

Q 61 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 Which town?

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

Zoe Carr: Yes, in the academy sector.

Q 93 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

Q 103 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.

Q 104 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.

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.

Education and Adoption Bill (Second sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Mr Christopher Chope, † Sir Alan Meale

† Berry, James (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con)

† Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)

† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)

† Drummond, Mrs Flick (Portsmouth South) (Con)

† Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab)

† Fernandes, Suella (Fareham) (Con)

† Gibb, Mr Nick (Minister for Schools)

† Haigh, Louise (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)

† James, Margot (Stourbridge) (Con)

† Jones, Graham (Hyndburn) (Lab)

† Kyle, Peter (Hove) (Lab)

† Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma (South Shields) (Lab)

† McCabe, Steve (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

† Nokes, Caroline (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)

Pugh, John (Southport) (LD)

† Timpson, Edward (Minister for Children and Families)

† Tomlinson, Michael (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)

† Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)

† Walker, Mr Robin (Worcester) (Con)

Wilson, Sammy (East Antrim) (DUP)

Fergus Reid, Glenn McKee, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee


Sir Martin Narey, Chair, National Adoption Leadership Board

Carol Homden, Chief Executive, The Thomas Coram Foundation for Children (Coram)

Annie Crombie, Chair of the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies

Hugh Thornbery, Chief Executive, Adoption UK

Andy Leary-May, Chief Executive, Adoption Link

Andy Elvin, Chief Executive, The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT)

Anna Sharkey, Chief Executive, Adoption Focus

Alison O’Sullivan, President, Association of Directors of Children’s Services

Russell Hobby, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers

Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State, Department for Education

Edward Timpson MP, Minister of State, Department for Education

The Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 30 June 2015


[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

Education and Adoption Bill

The Committee deliberated in private.

On resuming—

Examination of Witnesses

Sir Martin Narey, Carol Homden and Annie Crombie gave evidence.

Q105 1 Welcome back. Would the witnesses introduce themselves to the Committee?

Sir Martin Narey: Certainly, sir. I am Sir Martin Narey, and I am chair of the national Adoption Leadership Board. I was chief executive of Barnardo’s for five years.

Carol Homden: I am Carol Homden, chief executive of Coram.

Annie Crombie: I am Annie Crombie, chair of the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Q 2 May I ask all three of you, what problem are these proposals designed to address and will they do it?

Sir Martin Narey: I have been instinctively against structural change. When I first started advising the Government, I just wanted us to encourage local authorities to get on to it and, actually, they did. They have done really well with recruitment. The measures address a fundamental problem with matching. As well as chairing the national board, I spend a bit of time in the north-east, which is where I live. For many local authorities, the last adopters they want are adopters who live within the confines of their area. They are placing neglected children, who need to be put somewhere else for their safety. Matching on a more regional basis will make a difference. I hope that the proposals will reduce the parochialism of local authorities so they will look for the very best adopters, whether they are from another local authority or from a voluntary adoption agency.

Carol Homden: There is huge variation in performance between different agencies across the country, which results in a postcode lottery for children. It is important that we bring together the agencies and organisations in the pursuit of excellence and best practice for all children. The proposals may assist that process.

Annie Crombie: One of the things that the proposals are trying to address is the challenge of sequential decision making. We have seen this problem in the adoption system for years whereby a local authority will look first to adopters that it has within its own pool and then only after it is clear that there is no one suitable there will it look beyond to what we call an inter-agency placement.

These proposals could help significantly with that, meaning that local authorities will look immediately towards a bigger pool of adopters. There is a risk that, unless the voluntary adoption agencies are a really key part of the regional adoption agencies—we hope that they will be—they will find it harder to continue to provide adopters. That is a risk that I think needs to be managed, but we need to ensure that the adopters that voluntary adoption agencies provide are also available to local authorities and that the regional adoption agencies would look for those adopters as well for ones within a local authority pool.

Q 3 If the problem is largely about matching and there is a postcode lottery, would it not make more sense to give the local authorities the role of purchaser and allow specialised agencies with all their expertise to go out, find the families and do the matching? Would that not be just as adequate a solution as this proposal?

Sir Martin Narey: One of the things I like about the proposal is that it is not very prescriptive about how regions will do that. I think if some local authorities in a region came together and decided that the best thing to do would be to contract out their recruitment of adopters to a voluntary adoption agency, they could do that. I like to think that the Government have listened to advice, including from me, and I think the Government have listened to local authorities, many of whom I have met, who instinctively want to do something differently. They realise that the current limitations in 152 local authorities—180 organisations including VAAs—doing this is not very sensible. They have been given an opportunity, with a bit of money, to help them to improve their own service.

I go around the country quite a lot and I have yet to meet an adoption manager or director of children’s services who does not think that this is something that could make things better. They are thrilled about the opportunity to design what is best for them themselves, rather than taking a top-down model.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—


In programme order [this day], in the table—

Delete “2.45 pm” and insert “3.15 pm”.

Delete “3.15 pm” and insert “4.00 pm”.

Delete “4.00 pm” and insert “4.30 pm”.

Delete “4.15 pm” and insert “4.50 pm”.

Delete “5.00 pm” and insert “5.45 pm”.—(Margot James.)

Q 4 Sir Alan, before we come to Dr Homden, could I just check something? I was asking why not go for a purchaser-provider split, and Sir Martin said that the great thing is that this proposal is permissive, non-prescriptive and allows people to innovate. Actually, the legislation before us for which you are a witness, is about the powers of direction that the Secretary of State is planning to take. Is that not the case, Sir Martin?

Sir Martin Narey: Yes it is, but the Government have made it clear that the powers of direction will not be used unless local authorities do not move. Local authorities are actively doing that.

Q 5 Sir Martin, that may be the case. The point I am making is that you cannot say that the legislation creates this permissive environment. The legislation is to give the Minister powers of direction. Your desire in what he is telling people externally may be what you are describing, but the legislation is about giving him powers of direction.

Sir Martin Narey: I understand that.

Q 6 Dr Homden, I think you were about to answer the question before we went to vote.

Carol Homden: In establishing regional entities, which Coram has already done, local authorities have taken a range of different views in what will best meet their needs, and have used a procurement and contract process in order to align those needs. Different local authorities will apply different modules and commission different services.

We have in process the formation of such an entity with a set of five local authorities, which will see those different approaches taken, but all of them will benefit from a centre of expertise with resilience in practice leadership and social work retention and, therefore, offering added benefits to children and adopters locally on a hub-and-spokes model. You are quite correct, Mr McCabe, that this is about taking a power, but I am sure that good sense would prevail: if excellence in practice is being delivered and something is not broken, then it does not need to be mended, irrespective of questions of scale.

Annie Crombie: What we want is a local authority to look as widely and swiftly as possible for the best possible match for a child, and not to be constrained in doing that by looking only, or for a long time, introducing delay, within their own local authority area. We need to ensure that in moving towards regional adoption agencies we do not introduce a disincentive for local authorities to look outside a regional adoption agency if the right placement is outside rather than inside. It is that kind of issue that is again around that sequential decision making, which we need to ensure we address as the policy on this develops.

Q 7 The relevant clause in the Bill talks only about adoption, but there other forms of permanence. In fact, for most children in care, the other forms of permanence are where they end up. Do you have concerns that the measure will exacerbate an existing gap in the quality—or perceived quality, at least—of adoption and fostering, residential care and kinship care?

Sir Martin Narey: I do not take that view. I think the Government, certainly encouraged by me in my role of the past few years, are encouraging adoption because adoption happens to be the disposal that has been in such long-term decline. I am puzzled when people talk about the emphasis being given to adoption, as opposed to other disposals. The number of special guardianships, from a zero start in 2006, has now caught up with adoption. There were 5,000 adoptions last year and 75,000 fostering placements.

Adoption has been in long-term decline, despite some spirited attempts to revive it by the Labour Government, who inherited figures of about 2,000 adoptions and got them up to about 3,700. The figures then immediately fell away again. This Government have brought great leadership to it and have got the numbers up to about 5,000. In 1975, there were 24,000 adoptions a year in England. Adoption has been in long-term decline, despite the evidence that it offers quite extraordinary advantages in terms of permanence and outcomes for children.

Despite all the difficulties that adoption can present, it offers quite extraordinary options for changing the lives of neglected children. Even after the recent slowdown in placement orders, we still have children waiting for adoption who need it as soon as possible. We are right to try to make sure that we have a system that is more fit for purpose and can fill that gap.

Q 8 Before I come to Dr Homden and Annie Crombie, is there anything in the Bill that will help children who are placed through other forms of permanence?

Sir Martin Narey: There is nothing in the Bill that will do that. I believe, however, that the emphasis on adoption has had significant advantages for other forms of placement. The emphasis on responding to neglect means that the Government have done other things to make long-term fostering easier—the development of and financial investment in special guardianship. A lot more has happened in dealing with neglect and adoption, but adoption is still not meeting the role it could play in responding to neglect.

Carol Homden: I agree with that. Adoption is not in conflict with other forms of permanence. It is an exemplar of when the care system works correctly for children for whom the risks are so great that the decision has been taken, by due process, that they need to be placed in a new, loving family. We need to guard against putting up different forms of solution for children as if they are somehow in conflict with one another. We need to aspire to ensure that the appropriate decision making is in the timescale of the child, and that children’s need for continuity of relationships and attachments is foregrounded in all those decisions and in the actuality of practice.

All too often, children from the care system report repeated changes in social worker and in placement. That is where our attention should sit, but the Bill focuses on seeking to accelerate and accentuate a direction of travel to ensure the maximum benefit for children for whom adoption is the right plan. I commend to you a further focus and emphasis on the benefits of concurrent planning and foster-to-adopt approaches—particularly concurrent planning, which offers a fully fair, appropriate and transparent way to foreground children’s need for attachment, while allowing all proper support and opportunities for birth parents to demonstrate their capability to change.

Q 9 As far as you are concerned, will the Bill’s provisions help with the challenges you have outlined?

Carol Homden: It certainly will. It is not possible for very small agencies, however noble their intent, to provide sufficient opportunities for concurrent planning, which is a specialist form—for example, within a very small social work team. Having a larger base of resilient social work will allow that kind of opportunity to become normalised for more children.

For example, in the establishment of Coram Cambridgeshire Adoption—the first voluntary adoption agency into which Cambridgeshire County Council has delegated its adoption functions—we simultaneously introduced concurrent planning. Twenty-five per cent. of adoption placements in Cambridgeshire were made through concurrent planning last year, with significant benefits for the timeliness and for those children’s attachments.

Q 10 Will the Bill help with children who are sometimes regarded as hard to place—sibling groups or children with disabilities, for example?

Carol Homden: In my view, absolutely; definitely. Those are the circumstances in which the principle that Annie indicated—the principle of having the widest possible range of adopters and specialist services available to provide the necessary ongoing, reliable and consistent post-adoption support—is more likely to be resiliently achieved within a larger grouping of agencies that have a common purpose.

Annie Crombie: I agree with much of that. The point about scale and the specialism of adoption services is important. If regional adoption agencies work well, it could allow agencies that really specialise, or develop specialist expertise—such as some that I represent—to offer their services in a much more structured way across a wider number of local authorities, rather than it being a question of an individual relationship or a happy coming-together in the margins of a conference with a local authority making an arrangement with a particular voluntary adoption agency that has a specialism in a particular type of work. We could see those sorts of services being made available in a more systematised and structured way, which would benefit more children.

To come to the earlier point that you made, I welcome the way that the Government document published to support this opens the door to arrangements that go wider than adoption. Many of the voluntary organisations that work in this area provide services across more than just adoption; some do not, some are very adoption-focused, but many do. It may well make sense to think more broadly than just adoption, but there is something about specialism here that is important, and which I think we all want to see developed in relation to some aspects of adoption.

Q 11 Good afternoon. My question is to everyone in turn. The Bill states that an authority’s functions may be taken on by either another local authority or another adoption agency but there is nothing to say which criteria the Secretary of State will choose for the preferred option. I was wondering whether the panel could help out the Secretary of State and suggest what kind of criteria she might use.

Annie Crombie: I do not imagine that the Secretary of State would disagree that it is really important that quality should be at the heart of any regional adoption agency and that we need to think about expertise in the different elements of what is needed to be able to provide a good adoption service. If a group of local adoption authorities without any particular strength in low incidence adoption support—without any specialism in particular provision of therapeutic services—were to come together, it would not provide a strong service for children in the area. If they include someone with a specialism or real, and proven, expertise in adoption support, then that would be much better. So it is about quality across all the different elements of what an adoption service needs to do.

Carol Homden: Quite clearly, excellence for children is what needs to drive us. That is our sole focus and concern. Therefore, in making any decisions on intervention, I think that the Government would wish to consider the criteria that it applies in other circumstances where there is a shortfall against national standards. In considering how we might take forward regional adoption agencies we, as an organisation that already provides regional adoption agencies, have given considerable thought to this and would recommend including six key criteria that should be taken into account—we would be prepared to give written evidence of those recommendations.

The first is that bringing weak things together does not in itself make a strong thing. Any hub should therefore include at least one agency, as the lead, that is rated either good or outstanding. The aim must be to replicate good practice, not to concentrate less good practice. Steps should be taken to ensure that not all the agencies forming the arrangement are characterised by a high turnover in social work staff, since relationship continuity is essential to the support of adopters and children and effective planning. Data collection and case-tracking systems are directly related to performance management and should be robust in at least one agency. There is considerable complexity in the different systems used by local authorities and the more of them that are involved in any regional agency, the more complexity and difficulty there is in managing risk and optimising outcomes. The definition of a cluster should relate to road transport and not to the other forms of consideration around what might constitute a region. The important factor here, as it is for a special school, would be the travel distance involved for adopters and children to access the services that they need.

Any hub should explain how it will build upon the cross-regional system support that is already provided in our nation. This includes, for example, First4Adoption, which has demonstrated the benefits of consistent customer service and could do far more on a cross-national basis. Every hub should undertake a market risk assessment if it is excluding any voluntary adoption agency, since more than 90% of voluntary adoption agencies are good or outstanding. Any loss of that excellence in the system could only be a disbenefit to children.

Sir Martin Narey: I will not give you six criteria but just one. I have not given much thought to the criteria for how this will be used, because I genuinely believe that there will be a significant move towards regionalisation, which will occur of its own volition. This was poised to happen before the election. For me, the overwhelming criterion when we look at adoption—or indeed other forms of permanence—is how quickly we rescue a child from neglect and put them into a home in which permanence is achieved, and where the reparative work can begin.

We have made great strides with recruitment, but matching still takes far too long. The main criterion for me is how quickly we can improve the process of matching and achieve greater pragmatism in matching. Matching between adopters and children sometimes takes too long as we search for the mythical set of perfect parents, but the sooner we get children into permanent homes, the sooner and more complete will be their recovery from the desperately adverse consequences of being brought up in neglect.

Q 12 I understand that different local authorities and different areas might have different approaches, but do the members of the panel agree that it is important for the local authorities and agencies that are affected by this that there should be some kind of criteria in place? I think that Dr Homden and Annie Crombie agree, but Sir Martin does not.

Sir Martin Narey: No, I think that if these powers have to be used, then of course there will have to be some criteria. I have not yet had any discussions with either the Secretary of State or the Minister of State on what the criteria will be, because I think it is unlikely that these powers will have to be used other than very rarely. My sense from going around England and speaking to directors of children’s services is that they are keen to do this, because they will be able to do better at the job of adoption and particularly of matching and—given that improvements usually cost money—it will save them some money as well.

Q 13 I wanted to pick up on something that Dr Homden said, with which I will not disagree. She referred to looking at road transport as the means of establishing a hub. Presumably you have already given consideration to island regions where road transport is not possible, Dr Homden?

Carol Homden: Quite clearly, there are specific circumstances which will need to be carefully considered, affecting the regional and also the metropolitan areas as well as island areas. These are complicated matters, and there may be a very good reason why the Minister would wish to consider whether or not it would be appropriate to seek a particular form of involvement in a region. It may be that partnership in a much larger geography is more practical, or more meaningful in terms of access to the services that a particular area needs; I completely acknowledge that point. However, for the majority of places, these practical considerations will be ones that involve road transport links.

Q 14 Annie, you mentioned the inter-agency barriers that still exist. Could you confirm that the Bill actually does nothing to address any of those barriers other than creating bigger agencies? Secondly, to the whole panel, do you think that this will actually restrict choice for adopters in terms of agencies at a local level?

Annie Crombie: On the inter-agency point, the policy around regional adoption agencies would bring together a number of local authorities. At the moment, if a local authority purchases an adopter from another local authority or from a voluntary adoption agency, it pays for that adoptive placement. It pays the same amount whether it is to a local authority or a voluntary adoption agency. That levelling of the amount paid is an achievement of fairly recent years, and it has meant a great deal in terms of sustaining the participation of the voluntary sector. It cannot afford to do the work it does unless it gets paid a fair price. That has also been an achievement because it has ensured that local authorities would not look more favourably on another local authority placement just because it was cheaper, and genuinely think about which is best for the children.

A regional adoption agency—while it has reasonably not yet been worked out what that would look like—will probably change the way in which money changes hands when a child is placed from one local authority with an adopter. It might mean being placed elsewhere with an adoptive parent approved by a different part of the region. It might mean there is a single adopter, approver and recruitment arm in a regional adoption agency and so all of those adopters feel free to you. That could be a really good thing because there will be a much bigger pool and there will not be any financial barriers stopping the placement of a child with a particular adopter. The risk for the voluntary sector is that if it is not part of that, suddenly the cost drivers change and the placement feels very expensive again. That is why it is so important that we think about how the voluntary agencies can continue to be part of the landscape and part of the regional agencies.

Carol Homden: On your point about choice, there are some areas, with reference to the previous question, where in practice there is no choice. There is a local authority agency and I’m sure it works in the full best interests to meet the needs of those adopters, but generally, choice is a positive thing in any system. It tends to drive quality and, in a digital era where, for example, people can search for information on adoption first, they are better able to make a judgment and to find an agency with which they feel comfortable. An adopter is making a life-changing, lifelong decision. They need to have full confidence and trust in the particular social worker or group of social workers that they are working with. It is a risk to us if this reform process leads to a reduction in choice across boundaries, particularly given that there is generally a much higher level of engagement from and satisfaction of adopters from the first call to voluntary adoption agencies, which deepens through the process, including with post-adoption support. The point needs to be about protecting equality and choice in whatever arrangements we make.

Sir Martin Narey: The only thing that I would like to add is that the really important choice element in adoption is the choice of child. These arrangements will significantly increase the choice of children for adopters. At the moment, if a prospective adopter is unlucky enough to be living in one of the 20 local authorities that dealt with fewer than 20 adoptions last year or in a local authority where there are already many more adopters than children, it will be very difficult to get a child. The future is finding the best parents for adopted children, wherever they are. You are taking evidence later from Adoption Link. I think that is an incredibly good initiative, which is opening up the prospect of searching beyond regions to find the very best possible adopters. I am sure this will improve adopter choice significantly.

Q 15 Carol very helpfully set out some guiding principles on what should underpin the development of regional adoption agencies to make sure that they are driving the excellence that we want to see, as we have set out in our “Regionalising adoption” paper. Could you also say what the risks are of the Secretary of State being overly prescriptive through a direction about what that regional adoption agency should look like, given that we are hoping and expecting this to come from the bottom up on a local level rather than be dictated from the centre?

Sir Martin Narey: The reason that I counselled you and your predecessor Tim Loughton against making structural arrangements to further recruitment is that I thought it would result in you, your officials and me being absorbed in nothing else for two or three years. We would just be managing the incredibly complex business of using new structures. That is why I hope that you do not have to use this direction very much at all. If you do, there will be a very great risk that it diverts us from the more important task of making sure that we are getting children from neglect and into adoptive homes as fast as possible. I am confident that you will not have to use this power very much, but if you do, it will be a significant risk. If we have to design top-down structures for regions across England, it will divert us from the more important task.

Carol Homden: I would agree with that. This is a direction of travel where all agencies are motivated by one key thing, which is trying to improve the outcomes for children, but we also need to recognise that it can be challenging to apply that best practice. If the risk is that, due to the direction from above, you have the unwilling working with the unwilling, it will not necessarily lead to a positive outcome. We need to design these approaches based on a clear diagnosis of the problem to be solved locally. We need to enable organisations to come together in ways that address those problems, as opposed to having one size fits all or an obvious type of solution. That is why I drew attention to a hub-and-spoke model, as opposed to, for example, an area that is contiguous, because of the issues that were raised earlier around children needing to be placed in circumstances where they are and can be safe. We also need to draw upon specific, specialist expertise, as Annie said. The risk would be that it might be gotten wrong unless the diagnostic approach is taken to identify how local problems will be particularly addressed.

Annie Crombie: All I would like to add is that, where we see arrangements working well now—there are some excellent examples of partnership working in adoption—they are based on trust and strong relationships. If we impose such arrangements, we will not be able to take account of those sorts of things that can develop so well at local level organically. It is important that we allow people in organisations to build on those partnerships and have that dialogue at this point, leading into the development of regional agencies.

We have time for just one more question, and then we will have to wind up and move on to the next session.

Q 16 You said that these powers will not be used. If they are, should the people affected have a right to challenge any decisions made by the Minister? Is there anything about these proposals that you would do differently? One word and one sentence will suffice.

Sir Martin Narey: I don’t know.

Carol Homden: I don’t know, either. The criteria need to be clear in any system that is designed for optimal effectiveness.

Annie Crombie: The thing that we need to make sure that we do well is to have dialogue between all the different partners involved in the adoption system early on, so that we do not inadvertently design systems that do not make the very best of the expertise that we have out there.

Sir Martin, Dr Homden and Ms Crombie, thank you very much for your participation. We are very grateful. We will now move on to the next session.

Examination of Witnesses

Andy Leary-May and Hugh Thornbery gave evidence.

Q 17 Mr Thornbery and Mr Leary-May, we will ask you to present a background of yourselves to Committee members, who will then ask you questions. We apologise for the earlier delay, which was due to votes in the House. Your session should continue until approximately 3.40 pm. Mr Thornbery, would you like to make your presentation?

Hugh Thornbery: Thank you, Sir Alan, and thank you for inviting me to give oral evidence on the Education and Adoption Bill. I am chief executive of Adoption UK, which is a membership organisation for adopted families. Our purpose is to support those families, to campaign and lobby for change and to inform and educate both the general public and professionals in relation to the needs of children adopted from care and of their families in parenting those children. We have a membership of over 11,000 individual members and most adoption agencies in the UK are also members. On such matters, we draw our position from what our membership tells us on a daily basis, both through our individual contact with it and from surveys and research.

Prior to joining Adoption UK in October 2012, I was employed by Action for Children for 15 years. Part of my responsibilities there were for the adoption and fostering services within that charity. I have been involved in children and social care since the late 1970s.

Andy Leary-May: Thank you for inviting me. I am an adoptive parent, and my first experience of adoption was about nine years ago. I have run an adoption support charity for most of the intervening years. More recently, myself and colleagues who were more experienced in IT than I was started to look at the barriers that exist to inter-agency matching and the barriers to children finding the most suitable placements in adoption. We consider one of those barriers to be the lack of an effective and efficient way of exchanging information between agencies or between consortia of agencies. We felt that in this day and age there is no reason for that to be a barrier, given that in most other walks of life effective ways are created online to enable that kind of activity. Therefore, we developed Adoption Link, which is being used by over 80% of local authorities in England. So far, it has matched over 250 children with families, and it is also finding placements in all four nations in the UK, which is significant.

Q 18 We are frequently told that these proposals are designed to address the problem of the 3,000 or so children who are languishing in the system and could and should be adopted. Where does that figure come from, and is it accurate?

Hugh Thornbery: Shall I answer that question first? First, the number of children waiting is declining. That is probably good news, if those children are being found families; but it is certainly so that too many children still wait and wait too long. We also have the issue of the number of children subject to reversal decisions, who start off with a plan for adoption but for whom the plan changes, often because the right family cannot be found. That amounted to 1,450 children last year. In terms of the accuracy of that figure, it comes from the quarterly local authority returns and the voluntary agency returns that come to the Adoption Leadership Board. There is a 100% return, which I see as a member of the board, so we must trust that the information being provided is correct. However, it does not seem to fit with the number of children who are being promoted for placement, both through the national adoption register and other matching agencies such as Adoption Link or my own service, Children Who Wait, which Adoption UK runs. Although there is a question mark about those figures, however, it is definitely so that too many children are waiting too long—hence the determination of the previous and current Governments to do something about that.

Andy Leary-May: There is either a question mark about the figure itself or about just what the local authorities who have those children are doing for them at the moment. As a best-case scenario, 1,000 children are currently either on the adoption register or on Adoption Link that I run, which is only a third of the children that are waiting. So there is a question about whether it is the accuracy of the figure or not. I am not sure.

Q 19 I do not know whether you heard the earlier evidence, but we were told that voluntary adoption agencies consistently achieve better inspection ratings than local authorities. Do you have any concerns that voluntary adoption agencies could be marginalised by these proposals?

Hugh Thornbery: I do have a concern. It is definitely the case, if one generalises, that the voluntary adoption sector demonstrates a higher level of quality across the sector than local authorities are able to achieve. That does not take away from the fact that some local authorities do exceptionally well. We have heard, as part of the justification for the clauses in the Bill, that some agencies are too small. The first point I would like to make is that there is no necessary direct correlation between quality and size, and it would be tragic if we lost some of the real expertise that exists within some of the smaller voluntary adoption agencies, which focus particularly on trying to find the right family for some of the hardest-to-place children.

Because my organisation is UK-wide, I have been involved in developments in Wales that have led to a national adoption service and the development of five regional agencies, rather than 22 individual local authorities doing adoption. It has been our experience there that the voluntary agencies were left on the margins of that change process and found it very hard to have a say, despite the fact that they were delivering high quality and were placing about 20% of the children placed each year. So that risk does exist. The proposals set out in the Bill do nothing to reassure me, necessarily, that we will not lose some highly efficient and effective voluntary agencies as a casualty of this.

Andy Leary-May: Yes, I would urge caution as well. There are a lot of things that are working well in adoption, and if the powers in the Bill are used, we should be very careful not to lose some of those things. They include the work that goes on in voluntary adoption agencies and the skills and specialisms that exist within them.

Q 20 How can we avoid voluntary adoption agencies being marginalised? You have both said that that is a risk.

Hugh Thornbery: I think one of the things that mitigates that risk is the investment that the previous Government and this Government are making in the capacity building of the voluntary sector. This comes at a very difficult time for the voluntary sector, with the steep decline in the number of children, which creates incoming cash-flow difficulties for voluntary agencies. So there are other challenges for the voluntary sector at the moment, as well as impending regionalisation.

The other way of dealing with this goes back to some of the questions and answers I heard in earlier evidence around the criteria used in determining what direction should take place if the need arises for the Secretary of State to direct. Prior to that, it would be very helpful if the Department were able to find a more bottom-up, locally driven approach. That is not, I think, something for legislation, but perhaps for guidance, to strengthen the role of the voluntary sector in the discussions and developments that take place at a local level. That happens exceedingly well already in some regions. I was in Yorkshire and Humberside the other day for a meeting at which all the voluntary adoption agencies had been pulled together by the consortia. It happens far less well in other areas. The risk is not across the board but particularly in some areas of the country, where there is perhaps no culture of engaging the voluntary sector.

Q 21 So your concerns are capable of being dealt with within the framework proposed here?

Hugh Thornbery: There is nothing in the legislation that would deal with my concerns. It is a matter of what else there is. There is encouragement, clearly, in the paper that the Government have produced, “Regionalising adoption”. There are examples of where the voluntary sector has achieved some success—Coram is a good example—but it is too weak at the moment, and I think my colleagues in voluntary adoption agencies are feeling really quite anxious about the next year or two, compounded by their current difficulties with the fall in the number of children.

Andy Leary-May: I do not really have an answer as to how that risk could be mitigated—I think it ought to be. I certainly think that what this is trying to fix should be made clear. I agree that there should not be too much detail on how it is achieved, but what we are trying to achieve and what problems we are trying to fix should be made clear.

Q 22 Good afternoon. As you are aware, adoption is only proposed for a child after all other avenues have been explored. Do you think that some of the money that the Government spend on these reforms might be better spent in social work teams, so that they could assess quicker and rule out or rule in family members before they get to the plan for adoption?

Hugh Thornbery: I do not have a particularly strong view. We are clearly in a time when pressure on public expenditure is very severe. The adoption system has two parts to it. It has the part where the assessment of children and the assessment of different options available within the children’s teams take place. Then there are the specialist adoption workers, family finding, supporting with matching and post-placement support.

I think it is entirely right that there has been investment in the areas where it is required within the specialist adoption sector. We still feel that not enough is being done to support adoptive families, but we have seen very good developments such as the adoption support fund and the pupil premium. It is right that money is being spent there because many of those families have been in crisis.

I think there is the opportunity within the proposals, particularly as set out in the Government’s paper, to consider how one might move from adoption agencies coming together to agencies that are not able to deal with a broader range of the aspects of permanence. I think we have some failings in the system at the moment in terms of being able quickly and accurately to assess what options are available and moving as quickly as possible to the right decision, whether that is adoption or some other pathway to permanence.

Andy Leary-May: Yes, I do think that the Bill misses an opportunity to focus on the other routes to permanence and to address that. To answer the question specifically, I think we should spend money on both. Given how incredibly important it is to invest in the future of these vulnerable children and given the benefits to society financially and otherwise, I would say spend money on both.

Q 23 You mentioned in your written submission that this may prove more difficult for children with complex needs, although it might be successful for children who are less needy. Could you expand on why you think that is the case?

Andy Leary-May: Yes, it is based on some anecdotal evidence, but also on the study that the DFE commissioned in 2010, which is referred to in the briefing paper on this. It points to the fact that, as the study found, some local authorities—some agencies—wait too long to look widely for a match for children. It is quite right that that causes harm. It also specifically pointed out that the larger local authorities were the worst at this. From talking to agencies in my role, I see that there is a tendency for the larger local authorities to feel so self-sufficient in their own supply of adopters that they feel there is less need to look outside for placements.

If you accept the fact that interagency placement is not working, and you do not try to address that problem, in some ways increasing the scale of the agencies would help, because there would be a larger pool. Our service has only been running for a year and we have only matched just over 250 children, but our experience is that half the placements that have been made—and these tend to be the harder-to-place children that we see—are between neighbouring regions. That indicates to me that there are children for whom it is necessary to go outside their region to find the right placement—the right family. I worry that if we increase the scale of agencies, and I think there could be many benefits to consolidating and increasing their size, unless we address the problems that exist—the barriers to inter-agency matching—the children with the most complex needs may wait longer to find a suitable placement.

Q 24 You said earlier that you wanted to clarify what the problems are that the Bill is addressing. You mentioned issues around children with complex needs; is that the primary one or are there others?

Andy Leary-May: Not defined by who it is trying to help, necessarily, but I think it would be helpful if, rather than looking at the number of adoptions, for example, there were measures looking at the outcomes for the children, if at all possible, and some measure of how agencies may already be collaborating together. We did a quick survey last week of the adoption social workers using our system, and by far the majority of them commented that they felt that they were already collaborating as well as they possibly could. That is not necessarily true in all cases, but I think the possibility that there may be a group of agencies doing everything that you would hope that they would be doing should be looked at. There should be something that would help local authorities and agencies to know if they are doing as well as expected.

Q 25 Okay. In the last session, I think we heard the suggestion that the Bill will help with other forms of permanence, so even though it concentrates just on adoption, it will help with fostering, residential care and kinship care. Do you both agree?

Andy Leary-May: For me, not to the extent that I think it could. There are still issues in adoption with children finding the most suitable placements, and they are barriers that will probably not be solved by increasing the scale of agencies. Whatever barriers and organisational issues there are within adoption, the same issues are within fostering, and to a much greater extent and affecting far more children. I do not think that we should look at one or the other. It should not be a competition between them as to which gets the focus; not to address the same kinds of issues that exist within fostering would miss a very large part of the picture.

Hugh Thornbery: The Bill itself does not tackle any issues beyond changing the infrastructure that delivers adoption. Very helpfully, and I think this has been a development in terms of Government thinking, the discussion paper, which is what we are hoping will initiate a bottom-up-led approach to this, talks about the potential to move beyond the narrow confines of adoption and think more broadly about permanence. If local areas, in thinking about taking a regional approach, were to exclude too early the broadening out to other forms of permanence, that would be a real mistake.

We have seen over the past 12 months or so, a significant decline in the number of children coming into the adoption system and a big increase in younger children going to special guardianship. That informs us that we are working in an environment where pathways towards permanence can be unpredictable. We have seen significant changes recently, and I think that if we had put a lot of effort into setting up regional arrangements just around adoption, we would be missing a trick. My view is that the opportunity is there at a local level to broaden this out. That would be the right thing to do. I also think that it is right to continue to improve the adoption system. As you heard from Sir Martin Narey, adoption can do things that other forms of permanence cannot in providing total long-term security and continuity for children. We know that the outcomes for those children are better than if they stay elsewhere.

Q 26 Do you think the Bill helps with or hinders other forms of permanence?

Hugh Thornbery: Looking at the legislation, I think it forces people to think about adoption, but it does not necessarily hinder the development of a broader approach to permanence. I say elsewhere that the Government are encouraging that in the paper they produced. It is quite difficult to think about how the same degree of direction as is contained within the clauses of the Bill could be applied to wider permanence. I think it is easier to focus that direction on a document. Whether that is the right thing or not is questionable.

Andy Leary-May: Could I add that local authorities that have decided to treat permanence holistically have already created permanence teams? For those local authorities, if they are required to form an adoption service jointly with others, that may create a separation.

Q 27 How do you think the local authorities will work in this regional way? Will it mean that they work better with and have better relationships with voluntary organisations?

Hugh Thornbery: The opportunity is there for better relationships because we will change the way that things are done at the moment. As I said earlier, there are varying degrees of willingness to work with the voluntary sector in different parts of the country. Local authorities and regions have different cultural approaches. I would hope that every region would be carefully considering who the potential constituent parts of a regional or sub-regional approach could be and fully involving them from the beginning.

The other critical thing, which I have not heard discussed at all and is mostly missing from everything that I read, is what adopters think about this. Inevitably, I would say this, representing so many adopters through our membership: what really struck me during Adoption UK, having had previous experience with adoption, is just how often I heard complaints about being ignored, not listened to or done unto. There is a risk of missing the opportunity of involving adoptive families, who are the ones who can tell us, from the best possible position, what is required, what good would look like, what does not work well at the moment and what would improve the quality in the future.

Andy Leary-May: On the point of what adopters think about it, which is very valid, we did a quick survey last week of the adopters using our system. About 600 responded. There was a lot more optimism for the changes that could be brought about through regional agencies among adopters than the social workers that responded to the survey. Due to the current issues within adoption, for adopters, a lot of whom have been waiting for a very long time and are desperate to find a family, there may be some sense of feeling that anything will create an improvement compared to where they are now.

I hark back to a point a little while ago about choice for adopters; that was a concern that I had and asked the people using our system about. It was interesting that 40% of the respondents said that, at some point, they had had cause to consider changing agency because of the experience that they were having. The ability to look to a different agency is important. If we lose that, we need to be careful that there is still some recourse for adopters at any point in their process if they feel that they are not being treated well.

Q 28 Going on to adopters, what do you think about the support for them? Are you quite happy that there will be enough support for the child and the adoptive parents if people are adopting from another region quite a long way away?

Hugh Thornbery: All the evidence we have is that support is patchy, inconsistent and, overall, not good enough. Julie Selwyn’s excellent research, “Beyond the Adoption Order”, which was published last year, highlighted for all of us the fact that, while adoption is generally a very good thing for children, too many families are struggling with extreme behavioural issues and the like.

The implementation of the adoption support fund has been an incredibly important step for what it provides, for adopters seeing the Government recognising that there was a need, which I do not think was properly recognised before and, as was mentioned previously, the pupil premium in schools. There is still some way to go, and I note with interest an amendment to the Bill that would aim to achieve a duty to provide. For my members, a duty on the local authorities to assess a child’s needs on request then not translating into a duty to provide to meet those needs is still lacking. If addressed, that would help us, particularly with the matching of what we term “hard-to-place children”, who we know will have long-term, enduring needs.

Opportunities are also missed and more could be done by way of education, which is the top topic raised with us by and discussed among members. I would have liked to have seen in the Bill the opportunity for extending the role of the virtual school and the virtual school head to include children adopted from care, as well as looked-after children. Some local authorities already do that voluntarily and it has been working extremely well, but we would like to see that extended. There is still a shortfall by way of support, although there have been significant improvements over the past couple of years.

Andy Leary-May: For me, support, more than matching, is probably the biggest area of potential improvement that agencies have in coming together and collaborating. We talked earlier about the barriers that exist to one agency placing a child with an adopter from elsewhere. One barrier is how the policy and practice and provision of support can vary between the different agencies. To the extent that a placement may happen within a larger regional area, if there were one agency that had a larger range of specialist services because it had come together and if those support services could be shared within a bigger area, that would be a positive change, but there would still be the issue of the placements that happen in neighbouring regions and how support might be provided between those placements.

Thank you very much. I will call the last Member to ask questions in a minute. What you are telling us is very informative, but can you be slightly more concise? We have very few minutes left.

Q 29 Thank you, Sir Alan. There is only one clause in the Bill about adoption. In theory, what should happen after this session is that we look at your evidence and then think of any further amendment or improvements that might be made to the Bill. Unfortunately, because clause 13 is being debated on Thursday, we are out of time for that, but the Chairs have indicated that they will look favourably on any amendments that we might submit, even at this late stage, before Thursday. Is there anything that you think should be added to the Bill to improve it by way of an amendment or new clause?

Hugh Thornbery: The two things that I have mentioned: the duty to provide adoption support on the basis of an assessment of need and the extension of virtual schools to cover children adopted from care as well as looked-after children.

Andy Leary-May: For me, it would be an extension of what the Bill focuses on to cover other forms of permanence. Also, is there any way to inject some degree of required caution about how the power might be used? Rather than having a blanket movement and assuming that it will create improvement in all areas, maybe it could start a little more cautiously and take it step by step.

Q 30 In the Children and Families Act 2014, we took a backstop power in relation to the recruitment of adopters, so we could ensure that enough came forward who could be assessed and approved for the children still waiting to be placed for adoption. We have not had to use that power, and we have been successful in increasing recruitment by, I think, more than 27% in the past 18 months to two years.

This power widens it out to include matching and support, which we have discussed in this session. Based on the fact that there are already good working relationships between local authorities and consortia, which often include voluntary adoption agencies, and based on our statement on page 12 that, as we articulate in our paper “Regionalising adoption”, we need to harness the important role of voluntary adoption agencies in forming regional adoption agencies, how confident are you that in the next few years, through the work of the Department, yourselves and others with an interest in getting it right, we can ensure that we scale up services in all those areas so that we do not need to use the power on recruitment, as we have not yet had to do?

Hugh Thornbery: I am confident in the sector’s ability to improve. The examples that you have given have demonstrated that with the right degree of encouragement, and sometimes financial support, the system has been able to transform itself in terms of reducing delay, increasing the supply of adopters, improving adoption support and so on.

I think that there are systemic and cultural barriers to moving from those single entities working in partnership with each other to entities coming together to form a new entity. There are issues of governance and accountability. I think that we have seen some progress toward consortia working well. The progress that has been made toward a more formal consolidation has, in most cases, got quite close to achieving it and then stepped back. We need to understand why that is happening. I think it has to do with some of those issues that I have just mentioned.

Andy Leary-May: Within matching, in some ways we are already there, in that a local authority’s ability to have visibility of available adopters is already there. That was why we built our system, and it is there. It is about the decisions made as to which placements they go for. I do not think that those problems will be solved by regionalising agencies and it is important that they are addressed. If there were regions that for whatever reason do not come together as a regional agency, those other problems would still need to be addressed. But in either case I think there will be problems.

I think it is important to remember that a local authority may be willing to look widely when it is looking for a match for children, but local authorities do often hold on to their adopters. They need to be making adopters available from the earliest point, because otherwise the pool of adopters will never be big. I think that could be changed in other ways.

Mr Thornbery and Mr Leary-May, we are very grateful for the evidence that you have put forward to us today. We may be in touch again if anything crops up from that evidence or if we need something further. Thank you very much for your attendance. That concludes your participation.

Examination of Witnesses

Alison O'Sullivan, Anna Sharkey and Andy Elvin gave evidence.

Q 31 Ms O’Sullivan, Ms Sharkey and Mr Elvin, we will allow you to present your CV to the Committee and then the Committee will have a variety of questions that it hopes you can answer.

Andy Elvin: Afternoon, all. I am Andy and I am a social worker by profession and background. I am chief executive of the Adolescent and Children’s Trust, TACT. We are a fostering and adoption agency who look after about 630 young people in foster care across England, Scotland and Wales and we make somewhere between 50 and 30 adoptions a year. Most of our adoptions are with black and minority ethnic adopters and with adoptions of sibling groups. I was a foster-parent in the United States during the 1990s, so I have seen this from both angles.

Anna Sharkey: I am Anna Sharkey, the chief executive of Adoption Focus. We have existed for the last six years, having come previously from Father Hudson’s Society, the Catholic adoption agency—we moved out and came out as a separate agency. I grew up in a family that fostered and adopted, so have also seen it from the other side.

Our central office is near Birmingham, so we are in the west midlands. We have three offices; we are based in Staffordshire and Oxfordshire as well as the west midlands. We are part of the west midlands consortium, which comprises 14 local authorities and now three voluntary adoption agencies. I am chair of the west midlands consortium. I am also chair of the Midland Family Placement Group, which also includes the east midlands, and I am vice-chair of our adoption leadership board.

Interestingly, in terms of regionalisation, because Adoption Focus was a recipient of an expansion grant from the Department for Education we were able to become equal partners in Adoption in the Black Country, an existing sub-consortium of the west midlands consortium, where four local authorities—Walsall, Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Dudley—are working with us on joint recruitment, training and assessment of adopters, who are shared between the region. We were included to increase their sufficiency. Because we cover a wider geographical area, it is hoped that children can be placed also in the Staffordshire and Oxfordshire region, and that our adoption support provision can be utilised as well.

Alison O'Sullivan: Good afternoon. I am Alison O’Sullivan, the director for children’s services in Kirklees in West Yorkshire. I am also the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, representing 152 directors of children’s services across the country.

I began my working life as a social worker in the 1970s. I have worked in social services departments and in the health service. I was a director of social services in Bradford for four years and I have been the director in Kirklees since 2006.

Q 32 Good afternoon. Do you have any views on governance and accountability for these new regional arrangements?

Alison O'Sullivan: You are looking at me. Would you like me to begin to answer? The points made by the previous speakers were quite important here. I think it is really important that we do not get entangled with governance. It will be necessary, as has happened with the existing collaborations that have already been formed, to be clear about where the responsibility sits and also how the necessary investment and funding of those arrangements is going to work. We have the experience of good arrangements that have worked for some time to learn from. It is really important, though, that we do not get bogged down in that.

Anna Sharkey: From our point of view, when we entered into the partnership with ABC—Adoption in the Black Country—we had to spend quite a lot of time looking at what their working agreement was because the four local authorities’ legal status was very different from ours as a voluntary adoption agency. So we have a formal agreement that was drafted and agreed by the local authorities with us. Obviously, in terms of the governance from our board of trustees, their input is somewhat different from the responsibilities that local authorities have, but we have found a way to manage that.

Andy Elvin: The only thing that I would add is our experience of fostering arrangements where we are on contract tenders throughout the UK. There is sometimes a temptation for local authorities to return to try to vary the terms of tender, usually—in fact always—by lowering the price. That can be an issue for voluntary agencies if they have agreed to provide services on adoption at a certain price and then it is returned to six months later to try to lower that price. That could be difficult, so I would want the contractual arrangements to be very clear.

Q 33 Thank you. You have all got different experience of the issues of placing children. Do you recognise the problem of the harder-to-place children? Who in your judgment are harder-to-place children, and how will these proposals specifically help them?

Andy Elvin: I am very wary of labelling children as harder to place. Generally, it is not that children are harder to place; it is that we as a state have failed them at some point. There are far too many children who undergo multiple placements, and there really is no excuse for that. Often first placements are made in an emergency; it can happen when you do not know the family or late on Thursday and you go with the carers that you can find.

When you are into the second and third placements, there is no excuse for not getting that placement right. It is children who are labelled harder to place who tend to be in their fifth, sixth, seventh placement. It is not their fault. They have given up on making relationships with adults, which makes them very difficult to care for, no matter how skilled the carers. My worry about this move and this legislation generally is that it ignores that permanence for the vast majority of children who are looked after is not adoption. It is long-term fostering, it is being looked after within the extended family and, for a certain number of children, it is residential care.

We cannot separate out permanence options, because providing long-term, stable, predictable families for children is what we should be doing. We should be getting permanence right earlier. If we start separating out and creating a hierarchy of permanence options, we are not going to serve the whole looked-after population well.

What we should really be legislating against is multiple placements. Real failure is failing to find good placements, and permanent placements, for children early. That does not just exist in adoption. The outcomes are just as good for children on SGOs—special guardianship orders—with extended family and for people in permanent, long-term foster care. We must not forget that. The hierarchy that seems to be being pushed for is dangerous, and is very, very clearly objected to by children, particularly children in foster care, who are often made to feel second rate because they are not going forward to adoption.

Alison O'Sullivan: We know from experience that older children—those over the age of five, six, seven—can be quite hard to find the right family for. If it is in the interests of children to be placed with siblings, placing sibling groups can be challenging. And children with particular needs, either because they are traumatised or have special needs or learning difficulties—that combination of things can make it harder to find the right family. But certainly from a local authority point of view, we do think it is important to persist in trying to find placements for those children. It can take longer.

If the emphasis on making early and speedy decisions, which is absolutely right for the vast majority of children, were to deny those children the opportunity of a permanent family, it would be an unintended consequence. We are making judgments in each individual case. For some children, we will try very hard for a longer period to find them a placement and that will be a great success. They will not necessarily be waiting in an unsatisfactory situation. They might already be with very caring foster-carers that they may have been with for some time, but their need is for permanence, and if it takes us 18 months to find them that permanent family—that forever family—that is what we will do.

Anna Sharkey: In terms of the experience that my family had, the fostering that was started in the late ’60s was for pre-adoption babies. We would have two or three at a time for six weeks, then they would move to their adoptive parents. As we moved into the ’70s, the children placed with my parents had more complex needs, and they are the types of children that we place for adoption. By “more complex” children, I mean older children, sibling groups, children who had experienced significant abuse and neglect, and children who were born drug withdrawing and with alcohol problems. Those were very different in terms of adoption outcomes, because the adopters that we had in the late ’60s and early ’70s were looking for those little babies who were going to be fairly straightforward, and the children became more complicated and more complex.

Our agency has always specialised in harder-to-place children, and that has been to do with the supply of children. Local authorities needing to place the relatively straightforward child do not need to come outside of their internal resource, so they will come to the voluntary sector to find their harder-to-place placements. The children that we place, predominantly, are over the age of four, are in sibling groups or have disabilities.

Of the placements that we have undertaken since we have been operating, we have had 68 single children, 45 sibling placements of two children, and five sibling groups of three. The youngest was six months old, but that was the youngest child in a sibling group. The oldest child we have placed was 10 years and two months. It is a wider range and they are children who bring with them many more complex needs than those very little people to start off with, which means that they have many more needs when it comes to the longer-term support for their adoptive families.

Q 34 May I pick up on the point you were just making? What needs to happen to get more people to come forward as either adopters or foster-carers? Are there issues around education, awareness and being much more honest with people, or is something else needed to increase the number of people available?

Anna Sharkey: It is interesting that we have had an increase. There is the recruitment activity, which was very definitely promoted. First4Adoption was very involved in that—the education and highlighting options for people. The fact that a very different cohort of people is coming forward as potential adopters and foster carers has been significant.

In terms of bringing more people forward, the education challenge is about which children actually need placements, in comparison with where someone’s starting point might be in terms of the type of family they thought they were going to be. That is the bigger challenge for adoption agencies and fostering agencies in managing the longer-term outcomes for those children. That stage becomes more of a challenge.

Alison O'Sullivan: It is important to help prospective adopters to have in view the kinds of support that are available. On the one hand, we should be being more direct about the sorts of needs that children requiring adoption may have. But in the same breath we need to be able to say, “And this is the kind of help that you could reasonably expect,” which will include financial support in some circumstances. It is important that we raise awareness but are also equipped to support those more complex children over a longer period of time.

Andy Elvin: I would echo that point about support. It is not just about recruiting carers; it is about keeping them. That is with foster-carers, doctors and those family members taking children on special guardianship. Far too often the support is not there—it is not there in a timely manner, it is not there in a non-judgmental manner—and that is what we need to get right. Our job is to support the placement. Sometimes the mistake is made of thinking that the child protection task is the main task. That is 10% of the work; 90% of the work is helping that child to recover from trauma and go on to have a successful adult life. Far too little support is given post the permanency placement order, whichever order that happens to be.

Q 35 You mention the trauma—would you comment on the state of mental health services and support from child and adolescent mental health services?

Andy Elvin: The biggest complaint that we get from our foster carers, the No. 1 complaint, is the lack of support from CAMHS and from other related physical health services—late assessments, long waiting lists, lack of support in an appropriate manner, lack of support in their postcode or their region—that is usually the No. 1 complaint. No. 2 is generally poor information given by the placing authority, which does not flag up some of the issues that they find they are dealing with in their home 24/7.

Anna Sharkey: I would say that it is varied. We place children all over the country and it is different depending on where they are. Some CAMH services are very good, some are very overstretched, but there are also other services that are available for children. The adoption support fund is a really important development and how that pans out over the next few months will be very significant, and how those assessments work. One of the things that the Bill talks about is the responsibility for undertaking those assessments of need for children. Those need to be done so that adopters feel that they are being listened to. Certainly one of the most important messages that came out of the recent research about violence by children against their adopters was that adopters felt at last that somebody believed them and that they were being listened to. If that is something that is coming through, then the adoption support fund is significant and the different sorts of services that are available through it are important. That is what we need to be supporting—including how it is assessed at an early stage.

Alison O'Sullivan: I think that it is important that universal services are tuned into the needs of adoptive children and adoptive families. Mention was made by previous witnesses of the importance of support in school; raising awareness in schools for all adoptive children is important. The virtual school headteacher may have a role, quite a complicated one, and some discussion will take place on how effective that might be, but mental health support for children and young people is critical. I am hopeful that the “Future in Mind” paper—

Mrs O’Sullivan, can I ask you to raise your voice ever so slightly? It is not your fault; the acoustics are really bad in this room, as is well known to all the Members, and it would help us if you could speak up a little.

Alison O'Sullivan: I will speak up. The “Future in Mind” paper recently published about children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing services has a whole chapter devoted to recommendations to improve support to children with particular needs and it talks about adopted children. Arguably, some of the support that people might look to from the adoption support fund ought to be met through mainstream child and adolescent mental health services. If they are improved in the period to come then that will help.

Q 36 I have only one question. Andy, to follow up on a comment you made earlier, you described the failure to place, and powerfully described how that was not the fault of the child but the fault of the system. Who pays the price for failure, what agency pays the price—or does an agency pay the price for failure, as things stand? Will this Bill change that?

Andy Elvin: To take your second question first, no this Bill will not. Who pays the price? The child, first and foremost. The child pays the price through their blighted life. We then all, as society, pay the price because these are the young people who are in Feltham young offenders institution at this moment. They are the young people who are known to our mental health services. They are the young people who go on to become homeless, who do not have regular employment and who have chaotic lives. We are all paying the price, and the cost of that is far higher than investing in the young person when they are seven, eight, nine or 10 years old in a placement that will meet their needs and turn around their outcome so that they can achieve a life that is in line with the general population, which is all we can aim to do.

The reasons behind that are largely the way in which short-term funding rules the day in a local authority. On 31 March the world ends and it starts again in April—you are looking to save money in-year, whereas children have a pesky habit of growing older and carrying on until they are 18 and then 21 and just staying put. We really have to invest in the lifetime of the child. If we have to make a more expensive placement early on, yes, it may impact on the in-year budget, but over the course of the child’s lifetime—legislation is for the best interests of the child in their lifetime, not until financial year’s end—we will save an enormous amount of money.

The very welcome review by the Prison Reform Trust that Lord Laming will be leading will show again that the children who are more likely to offend are not children in care, but those who have had multiple placements and the associated disrupted education that goes with that. There really is no excuse for us to continue to have children in multiple placements. My concern is that the continued focus on one form of permanency ignores the other ones. We need to get it right for all 93,000 children in the care system across the UK, not just the 5,000 a year who go forward for adoption.

Q 37 So if you were in the fortunate position that we are in of being able to table amendments to the Bill, or to add something to this legislation, what would it be?

Andy Elvin: I would replace the word “adoption” with “permanency”, in the first instance, at all points of the Bill, then focus far more on support. I would add a part that looked at placement disruptions and the number of placements as being a key indicator on which local authorities should be measured. It is that part of permanency that is key, because when a child is into their fourth, fifth or sixth placement that is when we begin to see really toxic outcomes. We do not need to go that long to get it right for children, because foster carers and adopters and relatives who are capable of holding and caring for that child are available if the right support is there for them post-permanency.

The other thing I would like to see the permanency teams do, and I would like to see either the local authority or regional permanency hubs do, is offer support in a non-judgmental way. If the grandparent looking after a child sticks their hand up after five years and says, “Secondary transfer has come around; we are really struggling now”, support is provided speedily and in a timely, non-judgmental fashion. Too often, families have to go back through the child protection groups, and it is just not acceptable.

Q 38 I have other questions, but would the other witnesses like to comment on either the failure aspect or the contribution aspect?

Anna Sharkey: Obviously, what we are discussing is the adoption clause and the multiple placement changes in fostering. Having managed a fostering service for some time and knowing the sorts of complex areas being dealt with, I accept that adoption constitutes a very small proportion of the population of looked-after children, and it has had a huge amount of focus. There has been a lot of attention on adoption, but part of the reason is that the outcomes for adopted children tend to be good. The disruption rate is still very low. We know from Julie Selwyn’s research that there are families that clearly continue to have difficulties in their adoptive placements, but most of them hang on in there.

The outcomes for children are very good, and we know that the children involved will be those who have had the most trauma, because if they had not had the most trauma, more would be being done to try to maintain them in their family of origin. These are the ones where there is often absolutely no hope of achieving that within their family. Therefore, by definition, they are going to be the little people who have experienced the most difficult things. Adoption, by achieving what it does for them, is hugely significant. The fostering bit, and the whole role of public care, is another whole area and while I am not saying that it is muddying the water, I think it will get very complicated if we discuss it here.

Alison O'Sullivan: I would agree with the general direction of those comments. I have nothing to urge specifically for legislation, but perhaps for guidance and the manner of implementation. First, it is really helpful to have a spotlight on adoption, but we can do more than one thing at a time. We need to keep the spotlight on adoption, but also look more closely at permanency, as has been urged by the other witnesses—I absolutely agree with that. The second thing I would urge is that we make real the spirit of local determination, because there will not be one solution. It is important that as we do that, we keep a very close eye, collaboratively, on the impacts on the whole system.

This is quite a volatile, fluid market in some places and having an overview of that and how we manage collaboratively the dynamics in that market will be key to its success. Otherwise, we will have unintended consequences in creating something strong in this bit of the system washing back into another bit of the system. That is not what any of us want. It will be an art rather than a science, but I think if we work collaboratively we can do that.

My third point would be to build on the arrangements for collaboration. We have local adoption boards coming into place. I have been visiting the regions over recent weeks, and the boards are starting to gain traction. Many of them are looking broadly at permanence. They are keeping their eye firmly on adoption but looking at it within that broader context. By tying those together with national oversight we will be able to keep in view the important dynamics in the system.

Q 39 It strikes me that given that improved quality of parenting, higher aspiration, more stability and a better voice for young people who are looked after in care should, as ever, be our principles, we should have had some young people giving evidence to our session today. It is all of our faults for not making sure that that happened, as it would have been useful. If there is any written evidence, we should take very close account of it.

While you are here, Alison, I wonder if I might ask you as a director of children’s services who also has some responsibility for education—the Bill includes clauses on education—whether you think the regional schools commissioner in your area has the capacity to increase their oversight of schools as envisaged in the Bill, from 500 academies or so in your area to about 2,500 schools under their new responsibilities for issuing warning notices and, on top of that, having responsibility for dealing with coasting schools? Do you think they have the capacity to do that with a maximum of about seven staff?

Alison O'Sullivan: I do not imagine that the existing level of resource into that part of the system would be able to cope without some additional investment. It is not for the local authority to determine the support to the academy part of the system. What I would say is that there is an untapped resource of collaboration at a local level. If we look at the shared ambition that we have to drive up standards in all schools in all categories, we should be exploiting the potential to collaborate more closely across the wider system.

Q 40 On that point, do you think that DCSs should be members of the teacher advisory boards, given that they are now taking over responsibility around maintained schools as well?

Alison O'Sullivan: I think we need the right people in the room to have the right oversight of those systems on the right scale. There are some difficulties with geography which I think would bear examination: the oversight of the academy part of the system does not sit easily in terms of coterminous boundaries with other administrative boundaries. That creates complexity that we could perhaps design out of the system to good effect. I personally feel that there is a great untapped resource of collaboration, because the expertise for improvement sits very largely within schools, but we need to be able to join that up across the whole of the system.

Q 41 Could I ask finally whether you think it will be necessary for the things contained in the Bill to be achieved on the school side for the staff to be transferred from local authorities to the regional schools commissioners?

Alison O'Sullivan: No, I do not think that structural change is the answer to those challenges. It is certainly something that could be considered but why would you put time and energy into structural change if you could achieve that without it?

Q 42 The provision on adoption aims to try and solve the problem of long-term decline in adoption. At the moment, as we all know, it is happening at too small and too localised a scale. It is hoped that the attempt to regionalise agencies and bring them together will encourage agencies to cast their net more widely, reduce the problems of delay, and encourage local authorities to look outside their immediate local area. We have heard a lot about this today. One problem which has been cited is the reluctance of local authorities to place children outside a particular area. What appetite do you think there is for looking further afield geographically?

Anna Sharkey: I think that there is an appetite. Local authorities met the requirement to up the game when it came to recruitment, and they were very successful. Local authority social workers work hard to do the best they can for the children they are responsible for, and that is what they aim to do. There are difficulties in the system as it exists at the moment, and I think that, because clearly there are children waiting in the system. I have adopters who have been approved and are waiting—it is not happening. Adoption Link has achieved a huge amount by getting adopters much more involved in the adopter-led linking process, and that has been very positive.

There some things that still prevent movement out of a local authority region. These are often to do with budget constraints, because local authorities are completely stuck financially. There is an historical sense that buying a placement from outside is very costly. Andy talked about children who sit in the care system and experience multiple placement moves, and who are then over-represented in mental ill health, the criminal justice system and underperformance at school. The cost to all of us of not getting it right at a much earlier stage is absolutely phenomenal, not least of which is the impact on that individual child and the rest of their family.

Getting it right is very important. At the moment the structure includes an inter-agency fee budget, an adoption budget, a fostering budget, a budget that does something else relating to supporting kinship care arrangements, and so on, which can make it very difficult to be child-focused, and to look at the best option in the most timely way to meet the needs of the child as soon as possible. Anything that tries to sort that out can only be a good thing.

I have some caution about the criteria on which that regionalisation would happen and how big a region would be. There is talk in the paper of it being around the 200 mark in respect of children. We are dealing with a very personal aspect of public care, and adopters need to feel that the people they are working with know them individually. We want those children to be known individually by the social worker who is advocating on their behalf, so getting lost in numbers is a real concern. We also know that where people are stuck with chunks of money that do something or boundaries that do something else, or if social workers are not prepared to go outside because someone else is saying “We have run out of money” or “It has got to be in-house” or “We have a family coming through in four months’ time who might be okay”, that will build delay into the system. If we can improve that, it has got to be better.

Alison O'Sullivan: It is really important that we do not build new barriers. If we are widening the scope of the way in which people collaborate to make things more effective and more efficient, then we must not have another set of boundaries that are just on a slightly bigger scale. It is not only how we create those collaborative arrangements, but how they interface and interrelate with each other as we go forward. That is one aspect that will need to be managed.

Andy Elvin: I would go back a step regarding the decline of adoption numbers. If your measure of success is an increase in adoption, then you are asking the wrong questions. That is not what we are after; we are after an increase in permanence and an increase in better outcomes for children. As the adoption numbers have fallen slightly, we have seen special guardianship orders rise. SGOs, in particular those for children under five, are largely made to extended family members to care for their relatives. That was exactly why SGOs were introduced. It is not a bad thing that they are now being used where there used to be intra-family adoptions, because they take some of the heat out of that conflict between different generations of a family.

We have a group of experts which was set up by the Department for Education, which will start meeting to discuss the rise in special guardianships. It will also look at the appropriate use and the assessments behind SGOs. Until that finishes in the autumn, we do not really know what the story is behind the rise in special guardianship, particularly for the under-fives.

The other side is that there is a huge rise in surrogacy in this country that is completely unknown and completely unreported. People who used to come forward for adoption are choosing international surrogacy, because it is available and affordable and more assured in terms of getting a younger child—a baby—than adoption. There are all these threats to adoption out there, but simply taking adoption numbers as your measure of success is to look at entirely the wrong thing. It is outcomes for children as a whole that we are after, and success comes in many forms. I know many complex children we look after in long-term foster care who have absolutely fantastic outcomes.

Foster care does not stop at 18; it will not stop at 21, when they are staying put. Our foster parents are godparents to their foster children’s children; they give them away at their weddings. It very often lasts for life in the same way that adoption does.

We still have a few more questions to come and we have very little time, so can I ask the contributors to be a bit more succinct in their answers?

Q 43 In the written evidence, we were told that the best way to achieve permanence is with low staff turnover and support from the best and most appropriate workforce. Do you think those are accurate descriptions of the environment that local authorities and adoption agencies have found themselves in during the last few years?

Alison O'Sullivan: From a local authority point of view, the difficulties in attracting and retaining qualified social workers are fairly well known and documented, but adoption is an area of work that tends to see more stability in terms of workforce. That is certainly the case in the authorities with which I am familiar. We tend to have people staying for longer in that work and I agree that it helps to contribute towards the quality of the work done and also maintains ongoing relationships.

Q 44 The British Association of Social Workers has said that the Bill will contribute to demoralising social workers. Do you agree?

Alison O'Sullivan: I cannot see how.

Anna Sharkey: I think retaining staff is very important. We have quite a secure staff group, but we have also done quite a lot of growth, which has been to do with the DFE expansion grant. That is significant, but we have a very definite system through which adopters are seen right the way through by the same social worker. That is because it is about building trust and rapport with the person whom you are going to trust with very personal information and about making you into the family you want to be. There has got to be that professional relationship, but that relationship also has to be with the child’s social worker, and that is often where there can be change and flux, because there is such turmoil in local authorities.

Andy Elvin: We have no problem in recruiting and retaining experienced social workers, although I must say that we recruit a lot from local authorities. I think there is a wider issue—probably not for here—about how many social workers there are in the system when permanence is achieved for a looked-after child. Do we really need a supervising social worker overseeing a fostering placement that is permanent and a looked-after children’s social worker also overseeing the said placement and an independent reviewing officer? Are there too many social workers looking at social workers doing their jobs and not enough actually doing the job?

Q 45 Can I take us back to the clause in the Bill looking specifically at the point at which the permanence decision has been made and what flows thereafter for those for whom that decision is adoption? I have two points to underpin that. First, we are not proposing something new here. A lot of this already exists. Could you tell me where you have come across a consortium of either local authorities or voluntary adoption agencies and local authorities working together that has impressed you most and that does not happen to be your own?

Secondly, in relation to the specialist support services that we know many children who are adopted need, how is the regional agency adoption approach having a positive effect, where we are already starting to see it happen?

Andy Elvin: We are currently working with the north London adoption consortium and the east London adoption consortium—south London is a regular choice—on introducing something called VIPP-SD, a post-adoption therapeutic intervention that comes from the University of Leiden in Holland. It is used with all adopters in Holland. It is evidence based and tested at country level. We are introducing it with six authorities in London and with one just outside London. We found co-operation patchy, I would say.

We have got six authorities across two consortia; other authorities in the consortia have not signed up to it. That was disappointing, given that the DFE for the CVAA are essentially paying for all this. It is a free and evidence-based service. It is interesting how decisions are made in local authorities, but those that have engaged have engaged magnificently and really well, and got involved very much in the spirit of the intervention. It is going very successfully so far. Local authorities can work together; I do have examples of the contrary, but that is the same in all areas. I do not think children’s services are peculiar in local authorities not working particularly well together.

Anna Sharkey: From my point of view, working in ABC has been really good, a very positive development. I know my local authority colleagues will say that one of the strengths has been that it came from the bottom up. It was local authority social work working together and deciding that was a more efficient way of working, so pooling resources in respect of recruitment and training activity, how we do information events and so on. The next stage, which is really exciting in terms of the pilots and so on, is about how we are making the linking activity work much more effectively, and also looking at post-adoption support provision.

I know one of the previous speakers talked about the importance of accessibility and the transport networks. People need to be able to access their social worker and support that is readily available for them and their children. There are all sorts of things that can happen as a consequence of this, but definitely the bottom-up bit has certainly helped.

Alison O'Sullivan: I will very briefly point to Warrington, Wirral and St Helens, established I think in 2011, because it is the sort of thing the Bill envisages and has been working well. It has improved the numbers and the speed of recruitment and matching. For many years, Yorkshire and Humber have also been running post-adoption support on a collaborative basis across the region.

Andy Elvin: Can I just add that I am on the board of Frontline social work? We hope to be moving into a new region in the north-east, and the attitude of the consortia of local authorities up there has been exemplary in the way that they are working together. It really is very impressive.

Q 46 I have heard what has been said about permanence but, given that this legislation is supposed to be about speeding up the adoption process, cutting out the delays and helping match children to families—that is what we are taking evidence on—is there anything missing from the legislation that we should be taking on board and which would really make a difference to speeding up adoption and helping the matching process?

Andy Elvin: When you are in the court process and you have a CAFCASS guardian, you have a judge and everyone is represented, often delays are caused by availability of adoption panels and the panel process. I have often wondered about how much oversight is actually needed in terms of an adoption. There is a question about if you are overseen at a court process, you have an independent court witness in the guardian, and whether that could be looked at. I know working in local authorities that was often the cause of adoption delay; it was being unable to reach panel in a timely fashion to do with court deadlines. I think that is a more systemic problem that has been around for quite a long time.

Anna Sharkey: For me, the concern is thinking about how the financial situation would work. The levelling of the inter-agency fee meant that local authorities obviously charge each other the same amount of money as I charge them, so it was a recognition of the work that is done. If there are regionalised adoption agencies that are all part of that, my view is that the framework under which financial transactions happen is likely to change.

If that is the case, my concern would be that we do not have the same sort of framework as in the fostering arena, which you, Andy, have alluded to in terms of spending a huge amount of time trying to do tender documents and different arrangements, depending on who you are working with, which come back and do something later that was not necessarily intended. It is trying to work out what that would be.

Q 47 How would you stop that happening?

Anna Sharkey: I suppose with some clarity about the funding arrangements for every aspect of the care process for children, so that we did not have the sectionalising of different parts of the process. For instance, if the provision of that bit of money has ended, you have a bit of a problem if you have to plan for a child who needs that service. It needs to be properly costed and sorted so that every party to the arrangement is funded to do it properly for the child and the adopters.

Alison O'Sullivan: The issue that I would shine a light on is not one that I think you would legislate for. It is about the professional confidence and competence of the social work decision-making process. I know that that is already in view in how the Government are working on the broader issues of care planning and decision making. This is a complex and delicate system, with professional and legal decision making involved and so many elements that it is important to have the right confident, strong and professional advice at lots of points.

Mr Elvin, Ms Sharkey and Ms O’Sullivan, we are grateful for your participation. We will examine the evidence that you have given and deliberate on it. We may come back to you about that evidence or, indeed, we may ask you some more queries in the future. We wish you a safe journey home.

Examination of Witness

Russell Hobby gave evidence.