Sixty Second Interview

Sixty Second Interview with Sir Peter LamplSir Peter Lampl - article

By Amy Taylor

The Education and Skills Committee called for local authorities to be given a new duty to monitor school admissions arrangements last week in order to address concerns about the schools white paper. Amy Taylor talks to Sir Peter Lampl, chair of educational charity the Sutton Trust, about what he thinks about the document.

The government is proposing for every school to be able to become a self-governing trust independent of the local authority and in control of its own admissions policy. What do you think about this proposal and what could its effects be?

We think that there are advantages to schools becoming self-governing, in terms of head teachers being able to foster a distinct ethos and have a greater say over issues like teaching and the curriculum.  We also think that the current two-tier system – where some schools are responsible for their own admissions and some are not – is the root of many of the inequities in the system.  So we are in favour of Trust schools, but we are worried that there are not enough safeguards in place to ensure the intake of these schools is socially-balanced.

Do you think the admissions code for schools needs to be made statutory?

Parts of it should be mandatory and it certainly needs to be made more robust and be properly enforced.  It is important that all state schools operate within a strong framework to ensure their admissions are fair and balanced, and that those from poorer backgrounds do not lose out.  The research we released last week showed that top performing comprehensives take far fewer children on free school meals than live in their neighbourhoods.  That is clearly unacceptable and without a rigorous approach to admissions will only get worse.

Do you think the creation of such schools could have any negative effects on the Every Child Matters agenda?

Giving state schools freedom over certain matters does not preclude them from cooperating with the community of schools in their area or being involved in the provision of joined-up services, which are at the heart of Every Child Matters.  There is an important role for the Local Authority here, ensuring that the needs of all children in the area are met, that all schools are acting within the correct framework, and in developing partnerships and cross-school initiatives. 

The paper goes on to propose allowing schools that are doing well to expand more easily. A group of rebel Labour MPs and peers has proposed (in a rival document to the white paper) that local authorities should be empowered to assess and if necessary refuse the expansion of a school where this would not be in the overall interest of pupils in the area. What do you think about this idea?

Allowing good schools to expand is a good idea as it means that more pupils can benefit from them.  But this can not be limitless or without regard to the overall picture in a community and, again, the Local Authority needs to have a role in planning provision within an area.

Are there any other changes that you would like to be seen made to the white paper?

There is much to be welcomed in the White Paper, particularly the proposals for choice advisers and the extension of free school transport to pupils on free school meals.  On both counts we would have liked the government to go further, but they are nonetheless important steps in the right direction.

Do you anticipate that the government will compromise on any of its proposals given the level of opposition to them?

I think that the Select Committee’s report on the White Paper points the way towards a sensible compromise, which retains many of the essential features of the Government’s proposals, but puts in place the necessary safeguards.  Without finding some middle ground on the key issue of admissions and the role of local government, I doubt the proposal will make it through Parliament without Conservative support.

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