Schools that work for everyone: 8 significant findings from the consultation responses

More than 500 days after the consultation closed, the government has finally published its response to the ‘Schools that work for everyone’ green paper.

However, far from presenting a clear picture of the exact number and proportion of respondents who supported which proposals, the official analysis of the thousands of responses provides only vague indications of support and opposition.

This is because Ipsos Mori, the firm hired to analyse the responses, adopted a “text analytics” approach, due to “the number and unstructured nature of the responses”.

Undeterred by this, Schools Week has picked out some of the most interesting findings.

1. School staff were the second largest group of respondents

Of 6,688 “valid” responses received by the government, the largest chunk were received from parents and grandparents (2,598), but teachers and other school staff were a close second (1,793).

The government also received responses from 489 schools, 453 governors and board members and 332 pupils.

2. But responses from ‘campaign’ groups are excluded from analysis

However, thousands of responses said to be from campaign groups were not considered. These included 2,054 responses led by the British Humanist Association, now Humanists UK, presumably about the plans for faith schools.

“The additional volume of responses to this campaign was considered separately by the Department to the analysis conducted by Ipsos Mori, along with other identified campaigns where identical responses were submitted through central coordination.”

A total of 16 potential campaigns were identified, accounting for around 80 responses.

3. Respondents wanted grammars to take all their pupils from low-income families…

The idea that new grammar schools should take 100 per cent of their pupils from lower-income backgrounds was the most popular among the 5,274 people who answered a question in the consultation about the proportion of poorer pupils they should take.

At present, only about 2.5 per cent of pupils at grammar schools are eligible for free school meals.

The second most popular proposal on lower-income admissions was to take “between 75 and 90 per cent”.

A smaller proportion of respondents said that around half of all pupils admitted to new selective schools should be from lower-income households. A similar proportion said that between 10 and 40 per cent should be.

You can read more about this here.

4. …but many didn’t want quotas at all

A “large” proportion of respondents felt that there should be “no set restriction on the proportion of pupils admitted on the basis of their household income”.

Those who were against the restrictions gave a variety of reasons. Some said that failing to select on academic ability alone “defeated the object of selective schools”. Others claimed “disadvantage is subjective”, while some said quotas would lead to “inappropriate admissions”.

“There was concern that setting a target quota or benchmark could lead to pupils from lower income households being either inappropriately admitted to selective schools (where they did not have the academic ability) or being excluded (where they had the ability but the quota of lower income households was already fulfilled).”

Others believed setting benchmarks is “unviable” due to regional variation.

“For example, in an area with low proportions of lower income households, pupils might be expected to travel inappropriate distances in order to meet a selective school’s quota of lower income pupils.”

5. New grammar schools are only wanted where there is need

According to the report, a large number of participants suggested that new selective schools “should be facilitated only where there is a local need and clear demand from parents”.

Respondents “expected the government to ensure that there was a clear business case for expansion in each case”, while some said new selective schools should be opened only in areas of social deprivation.

There were also requests for changes to the 11-plus admissions test, but it is not clear how many people wanted this.

6. Respondents liked plans for extra private school bursaries

Back in 2016, the government used the consultation to propose that private schools be made to either sponsor a state school or offer bursaries to poorer pupils in order to keep their charitable status.

Ministers have since shelved those plans, and have instead introduced a watered-down agreement with the Independent Schools Council which promotes inclusion, but does not require it.

However, analysis of the consultation responses show respondents were “broadly” positive about the bursaries plan. The idea was particularly popular among parents, guardians and school employees.

The response to the sponsorship proposal was more mixed, with some seeing it as a “good opportunity for independent schools to share their expertise” and a “welcome potential injection of resources into individual schools”.

Others were “more hesitant”, and the most common concern was that private schools did not have the right expertise to lead state schools.

Overall, “the vast majority” of respondents used language “that suggested broad agreement” that private schools should be stripped of their charitable status if they failed to comply.

7. ‘Large numbers’ said a law to force universities to support schools was needed

The government had proposed to force universities to sponsor or open state schools in exchange for being allowed to charge higher fees.

The proposal has since been abandoned in favour of a broader (and weaker) approach, but it turns out that it too won some support from respondents to the consultation

When asked about how the new requirements on universities could be enforced, a “large number” of the responses felt that that legislation would be the “only way” to ensure they were met.

However, universities themselves were opposed to a “prescriptive approach”, due to concerns that “this would limit the number of schools that are supported, and the number of pupils reached, compared to the diverse approaches currently taken”.

8. Parents want new faith schools to prove demand

The government may have settled on its plan to use the voluntary-aided school route to open new Catholic schools, but some of its other suggestions gained traction during the consultation.

Several alternative requirements were offered. The first, that faith schools be forced to prove there is demand for school places in an area from other faiths and those of no faith, was of “particular interest” to parents and guardians.

A smaller number of respondents felt that making faith schools twin with other schools of different faiths would give pupils exposure to other teaching, but others said that approach would be too expensive.

Another proposal was for more mixed-faith trusts, in which, for example, Muslim, Christian and Sikh academies all worked together under one trust.

Some respondents believed this would make governance difficult, as one faith school “might have overall control”, while others requested that a non-faith school be included in any such trust.

A large number of respondents suggested a “more universal, multi-faith curriculum could be required”, as this would ensure pupils will be exposed to different faiths at school.

Other suggestions included the introduction of an independent inspection process, fairer admissions processes and alignment of funding agreements to diversity.