Examination of Witness (Questions 80 -
WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001
80. I would like to begin by following up on
one of the Chairman's questions. Is there a document which lists,
to begin with, your department's programmes operating in which
areas? I worked for a local authority before I came here and we
had a list of every known programme that applied in that authority
though I doubt that it was very effectively joined up until it
reached local authority. Is there such a document?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I have not seen such
a document. That does not mean that it does not exist because
I have not asked to see it. If you are asking whether we can get
you the list of which programmes apply in which areas, yes, we
81. And then the criteria because again it seems
to me that the criteria are absolutely essential so that I can
understand, for instance, why certain programmes, do not apply
in my constituency, like EMAs. It is a constituency with one of
the lower GDPs in the south-east of England.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I cannot answer obviously
for EMAs. I think the other point you are making and it has been
made several times is one that I absolutely accept. My experience
again at the receiving end of government programmes, and yours
would be too, is that, when you are looking to try out ideas and
to pilot initiatives, it is quite often that they look very scattered.
They are not necessarily from the centre but they feel it from
the ground. What we are leaning towards now is much more bringing
everything together and making this fit in a way that is more
easily understood and I take your point and hence my part of it
in terms of childcare over many years that we have a range of
initiatives and what I want to see is how these best fit together,
which communities we are addressing, how do we make sure that
we do not miss lots of the children that we wish to work with,
how the partnerships are doing, which ones need more support and
how we provide that support. So I am absolutely 100 per cent behind
the idea of joining it up but it is about bringing that together,
as I say, in different ways.
82. On Early Years provision, I tabled a couple
of PQs recently to establish how much was provided in each local
authority area and what the take-up was and I have been promised
you will be collating figures of take-up in 2002,
so does that mean you have not collected figures for take-up of
places that are provided in this programme yet?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Do you
mean the nursery provision for four year olds and three year olds.
83. That is right.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) As far as I know, we
have the details of that because we know what the take-up levels
are, so we should have.
84. Somehow they did not emerge.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Then I will go back
and make sure you get those. As you know, it is a moving population,
so there are issues about it but the differential is also about
the provision that local authorities have been providing themselves
and we are just at that point where we are moving universal provision
for three year olds where they do look different and the reason
they look different is because our investment is in areas where
there is very little.
85. I want to come back to Early Years but the
range of projects which you are going to consider in putting the
map of Britain and where this money is being spent. We have not
mentioned, for example, New Deal in Communities, we have not mentioned
Excellence in Cities, we have not mentioned Education Action Zones
or indeed Health Action Zones, all of which inter-relate and I
would agree with Andrew that it is when it gets to local government
level, for example within the city of Bristol, that you begin
to see the impact and eventually you hope there will be a total
impact, but understanding on the ground, if you are a local councillor
or indeed if you are involved in one of these projects, the inter-relationship
is important. Is that something Government are considering and
giving thought to?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Certainly in my area
we are because it is part of my conversations with the Department
of Health because Education Action and Health Action Zones often
are working in the same communities. I do appreciate because I
have been on the other end of it that, when you are trying to
understand what the difference between these things are, it is
sometimes difficult. Targeting resources is a very useful mechanism
and I think all government have used targeted programmes in order
to make sure resources hit the particular things they want them
to hit and that is quite important. The trick is to move that
now, certainly areas I am working on, to be more easily understood,
to make sure the funding streams now come together. As I have
said before, it is necessary if you are going to access all the
different bits of money available but, if you are on the ground
working out how to apply for them, it is not so easy. So, it is
about those kind of things. We are acutely aware of this myriad
of different things going on and acutely aware of the need to
join up and make sure that it all fits together and that is part
of the work of the next one.
86. You realise of course that none of us are
saying "no" to this money coming in. Whatever direction
it is coming from, we want it and we will use it as well as we
can. An area where there has been universal acclaim from all the
professionals in Early Years has been the foundation stage and
I would like to just focus on that. Now the idea is coming through
that the baseline assessment will be universal and I appreciate
the universality approach, but when is it going to be done and
what will it be done for?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The assessment will
be done at the end of the reception year, the end of the year
when the child is five.
87. That is pre-school still, is it not? A child
goes to school officially, statutorily, in the term after they
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The term after they
are five and you will find that it is now described as the summer
after they will have started school, so they will be at school.
88. This is a difficult area and this is not
a trick question and I do not want to get you involved in some
of the detail of it but the foundation work could, if we are not
careful, be brilliant for what it is doing up to five and then,
when the children start school in the term after they are five,
they do not benefit from it and have not had that baseline assessment
and I think what many professionals would urge you to do is to
look at how important that foundation work is for the five-plus,
for the year in which many of us, as older parents, would have
called reception year which is now actually Year 1. How much of
that baseline reflects into year 1 or is indeed part of Year 1?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) We call it a profile
and the reason we call it a profile is that it is not a test and
it should not be seen as a test. It is an assessment made by the
teachers in the general course of their work about the child and
the reason it is done while the child is at school is because
we think children arrive at school from a whole raft of different
experiences and it is only after a while of being with the child
in the school setting that you can make those assessments and
we are looking at, yes, of course abilities in terms of literacy
and numeracy, but also emotional development and social development,
those things that are crucial to the beginning of a child's educational
life, and the purpose of that is to inform up the school and to
help work out where a child has reached. As I say, it is not a
test, it is a profile and I have called it that specifically because
it is about the teacher and it is about when the child is at school
and has had some school experience, but obviously looking at how
children develop is ongoing.
89. I welcome that enormously and I think your
word "profile" is one that perhaps was reflected in
the work we did in the Select Committee earlier on. Can you tell
me quite categorically that that work is not part of the league
table procedure for schools and that it is there for the parents
and the teacher to assess a child and help their performance in
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. The only thing
I would add to that is that it may provide in the future aspects
of value added measure because we will see where a child is and
we are looking at that and we have not made any decisions about
it, but we are absolutely not testing children in any way, shape
or form. It is a useful mechanism to help schools see where a
90. One of the problems we identified in terms
of Early Years was much of the good work that has happened in
children getting a nursery place at four and now three, but there
is evidence on the ground that children are getting formal learning
too early. All the work/research we have had from an excellent
woman who has completed her PhD in the development of the brain
and early learning and so on showed the danger of formal learning
for children too early on and there is inevitably in the process
a real push to get children the formal learning.
Do you see that as a problem? We heard it all the time when we
went round schools. That is what people were saying. Good initiative
but the unintended consequence was that children will be put in
a formal situation with one teacher and 25 children too early
when they should be in very small groups doing more active play
and stimulating play.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Learning
through play is very important. I do not want children to get
into formal learning too early and I would agree with you entirely
on that. The purpose of the nursery education is nursery education.
Children learn from the minute they are born, their first and
most important educator is their parent. We accept that and that
is absolutely right and children learn a huge amount in that learning
through playtime at nursery. They learn about socialisation; they
do learn numbers and reading and some children are ready to do
those things. It is also about not holding any child back, so
I do not want to get us back to the position we have also had
where children have not been allowed to learn their letters because
the nurseries have said "no" and that is one of the
things I can remember. It is about allowing a child to develop
in the way that a child does; it is learning through play and
it is very clearly done in that way and it is not about, we will
all sit down now and learn the three Rs which we all agreeand
I do not think there is anybody on this Committee would disagreeis
not appropriate and you cannot get them to do it anyway because
they will not.
91. Do you recognise this as a problem?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I recognise that people
are worried about it.
92. Minister, I am asking you. We saw evidence
that this is happening, that real children in real schools have
been put into formal settings too early.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) By "too early",
you mean . . .?
93. Certainly before they are five and even
when they are four.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) All I would say to
you is that that is not the purpose of the Early Years. I have
not seen that. I would be very happy to go and see it if you have
seen it and I accept that you did. The only advice I would give
is that, for some parents, there is an opportunity for children
to start formal school because of the way the terms are worked
out and the way admissions are worked out in the term after they
have turned four. Where parents want to do that, we would not
stop it, but the purpose of the nursery education is precisely
that. If it is a problem, then we need to deal with it.
94. If I, as Chairman of this Committee, make
a suggestion about people to whom you should talk ...
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I would be very, very
95. You would be happy to meet them?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, most certainly.
96. I wanted to pursue something arising from
Val's questions about baseline assessment. You mentioned that
it might form the basis of value added measure. Hitherto, you
have only spoken about value added measures for Key Stages 2,
3 and 4. Many of us have three tier systems in our schools and
there is not really any measure at all that is achieved in the
intervening phase. Do you have any intention of providing such
an interest for public consumption?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure. I am
very conscious of the public consumption side of this debate and
the way in which schools feel pressurised by that public consumption
and the need to make sure that we are able to reassure them and
make sure that we know what we are measuring. In terms of the
early profile, it is about a recognition that schools' greatest
achievement is the value that they add to a child and therefore
being able to find new and creative ways of measuring that and,
as you know, there are lots of lots different ways you can look
at, some very simple which is where we start, so I give you a
woolly answer because I am actually not sure where we should go
on this, it is an area that I want to explore and, three-and-half
months in, I have not quite got there.
Chairman: It is nice that ministers do admit
that they do not know all the answers.
97. Key Stage 1 information you do collect,
so it is available, you have simply chosen not to make it available
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.
98. Why are my parents not entitled to that
when parents of a child in a primary school can see what appears
at the end of the process?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think if you talk
to the individual schools, they will share information with parents.
99. You know what I mean on a practical basis.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The trouble is that
this is where we get into the difficulty, what are we comparing
with what? In terms of Key Stage 2, the 11 year tables, there
is still huge controversy around how we do it, what we are trying
to show and so on, and local newspapers thoroughly enjoy setting
up league tables for schools in a way that is very simplistic,
if I can put it in that way. We need to be cautious about moving
in that direction until we are sure about what we want to say
by doing it and I am not sure what I want to say by doing it.
It is important for us to know what information is, but I am not
sure that I want to be saying that to the general public.
6 Ev. p. 34. Back
HC Deb 26 October 2001. vol. 373. cols. 453 - 6W; HC Deb 5 November
2001. vol. 374. cols. 45 - 60W. Back
Early Years Learning, POST Report 140, June 2000, which is available
from the Parliamentary Bookshop [Tel 020 7219 3890] or via the
parliamentary web-site at www.parliament.uk/post/home.htm Back
Note by Witness: There are no Performance Tables for Key
Stage 1. Back
Note by Witness: Primary schools are required to publish
their school level results for Key Stage 1 National Curriculum
Assessments in both the Governors' Annual report and the School