Examination of Witness (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001
120. Minister, changing the subject and moving
on to what I consider to be another excellent Government initiative,
that is the establishment of neighbourhood nurseries. I understand
the Department have recently issued guidelines to the LEA and
the LEA partnerships in terms of drawing down the funding. It
is my understanding that there is a capital limit being placed
of £2,000 per placement in terms of capital funding which
obviously does not lend itself to building a brand spanking new
neighbourhood nursery. So can we take it from that that the intention
of the Government is to use existing community facilities and
buildings? Are we intending building neighbourhood nurseries as
extensions into primary school campuses that do not have nurseries?
What is the ideal model as far as you are concerned for drawing
down the funding to establish neighbourhood nurseries?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure yet and
that is part of the review. I do not want to spend money on building
new nurseries if we have got existing facilities that we could
use. I do not want to build institutions that we cannot sustain
in the longer term. That means making sure we have got the funding
available not just over three years but much longer. I do want
to look at what we mean by neighbourhood nursery in terms of how
it integrates with other services so I do not know yet. I will
be able to come back to the Committee after the review and give
you much clearer ideas about that.
121. One further point. I am still on the theme
of the early years partnerships. The clarion call of this Government
since it came into power in 1997 in many respects has been establishing
community partnerships. The early years partnerships now is one
of a plethora of other community partnerships. What sort of linkages
do you see that early years partnerships will have to make with
other community partnerships and why?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Often the community
partners are the same people, it is also what happens in communities.
What I hope is that local authorities as they develop the different
kinds of partnerships that they need will be mindful of what else
is in place and start to move to integrate those. I think there
are some things we should not make too much of a clarion call
from the centre on. There are partnerships because it is professionals
coming together that need to work together in genuine partnership
and there are partnerships that are broader where you need to
make sure those people are represented. I think that is for the
local authority to look at how they bring together in a community
122. Just one supplementary to that. Do you
see the need for the early years partnership to have a very close
working relationship with the economic regeneration partnership
or forum in a particular area? If you do, why?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do, and I do because
the LEAs' partnerships are about excellence standards, people
being able to think about their futures, the way in which we develop
the workforce in that community in terms of the people working
in the early years partnerships and also child care for people
to go back to work. All these things are economic and educational
123. Minister, you are in charge of ICT.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.
124. I see you are a director of YouGov.com?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not. I have no
outside interests at all now. I resigned them all on becoming
125. Nevertheless, you have a background, an
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) A great interest in
it, background is pushing it.
126. I think we are together on that. The Prime
Minister has said that he wants the UK to be the most advanced
in terms of broadband by 2005 and, indeed, he mentioned it at
the CBI Conference. Now, has the Department made an assessment
of the schools that are using broad band and also the band width
which they are using? You are in charge of content quality in
terms of ICT. In order to really get the content quality there
needs to be between two and ten megabytes in order to be able
to access things like video conferencing in order for them to
be really effective. Certainly the head teachers that I speak
to in my constituency have an interest like you and I but do not
know. What assessment has been made? What is the Department going
to do to ensure that there is the width available to get the quality?
It is not just enough to say they have got broad band and then
actually all it does is a small improvement on the internet.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I smile only because
we have spent a long time on these issues in the Department and
there are teams of people working on them. First of all, we are
working very closely with schools on the assessment and, secondly,
the minimum standard would be two. There is a recognition that
we need to keep that under review. The big issue at the moment
really is that we have got schools wired up but we have got to
move beyond what I call the plateau. They are wired up but where
next and it is a big mountain to go from where we are now in order
to provide the quality of content to every school in a way that
they can access easily.
127. If we are to be at the cutting edge, are
there targets in terms of broad band for schools?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure we have
set a target yet but we will because we want to do that.
128. 2005 is the Prime Minister's target for
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. So we have
a target, the Prime Minister has given one.
129. You are confident that they will have two
megabytes by 2005?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am pretty confident
we can do it reasonably quickly. The thing that I am most interested
in at the moment is, in a sense, not so much the infrastructure,
which at one level we have started on, it is about making sure
that schools can use it properly and have got the right kind of
support in terms of the technical support at school level to make
sure they use it and that they are using it across the curriculum
and not simply as an ICT subject. There are a whole raft of things
I want to do around that.
130. That is very refreshing because capital
is one thing but actually a lot of things in public service you
build up when you put something in you need to service, so you
are looking at revenue support.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, and looking
at what the creative mechanisms are to put service provision on
the ground for schools, making sure that suppliers supply good
quality equipment and giving schools recognition of what is a
good quality supplier and ways in which we can kite mark that
almost, making sure that teachers who are teaching are using ICT
and know how to, the quality of the information and support we
give them, the role of vectoring that which we are reviewing at
the moment so that schools are comfortable and able. Then when
we do provide this fantastic material we are, no doubt, going
to provide online, they can actually use it and use it properly
without the system crashing or without being fearful.
131. Perhaps, Minister, you could give the Committee
a note on where the Department is in the preparation?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am very happy to
132. Can I ask you something that I asked the
Secretary of State two weeks ago. It is in response to the general
discussion about faith schools. Would you be happy, as a Minister,
to see most of the Muslim children in the urban communities throughout
the country in separate education?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am going to answer
it slightly circuitously, only because I want to make a point.
In places like Bradford we have a large number of Muslim schools,
they are not in the state sector, they are in the private sector.
I would like them to be in the state sector, they would like to
be in the state sector. The reason I would like them to be in
the state sector is because I believe in the national curriculum,
I believe in our citizenship programme and I believe that there
are many ways to integration and that you can take communities
and allow them to flourish where they are as long as you have
the ability to bring them together with other communities as equals.
There has been a long running debate all across our planet about
how you achieve integration from those who believe it is an ultimate
part to those who believe it is about allowing people to flourish
as a group and then join as equals. I think we have always had
a multi-view of how we do this in a society. We have allowed Church
of England schools and Catholic schools to provide good quality
education for a long time and Jewish schools and now Sikh and
Greek Orthodox. I see no difficulty with providing for Muslim
schools but as they come into our state sector then they are part
of the process of having a multi-faith, multi-cultural integrated
society which has got cohesion and that is what I want to see.
133. Has the Department a percentage of children
of school age who are in separate education at the present moment?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not have those
figures. I can say it is not my area but I do not know. If we
have them we will provide them.
134. Linked to that, you have a responsibility
for citizenship education. How do you view that? All of us I think
in this Committee have something of a familiarity with the work
of Professor Bernard Crick. Where are we in terms of the education
on citizenship and are you happy with its progress?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, I chair the
group that is looking at citizenship because I take a very strong
interest in it. It rolls out into secondary schools from next
September in full and already exists in primary schools. I want
to make sure that we develop a citizenship agenda in a way that
is about allowing children to grow up as adults and feel part
of our society and they have a contribution to make. It is also
about their participation in democracy, which I think is important,
that they see the value of that but also understanding their place
in society which is multi-faith and multi-cultural and what role
they can play. I think focussing on that, and providing the information
and support, particularly in present times, is really important.
I am pleased with the way it is going. I am pleased with everything
from how Ofsted are looking at it through to how the curriculum
is being developed, it is looking pretty good.
135. Should there not be a lifelong learning
parallel with citizenship? Many of the parents of the children
we are talking about in terms of education will be people who
have had very little knowledge of some of the workings of British
democracy. There is an argument that the way in which the United
States, France or Scandinavian countries handle citizenship in
terms of adult citizenship, and the test or hurdles that one produces
in all of the cases of citizenship, actually if we had a similar
system would support children in school in terms of their citizenship
education. Has the Department thought of looking at other countries'
ways of doing this sort of thing?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I genuinely do not
know and that is because I inherited the citizenship agenda already
worked through in terms of what we would do with it. I am sure
my colleague John Healey, with his role with lifelong learning,
will be someone to ask but I am happy to go and ask him so that
when he comes here you can ask him directly.
136. It was fascinating when this Committee
went to Denmark to see a Hans Christian Andersen Centre with children
of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are taught to be
little Danes in a way which is totally alien to the traditions
in this country with no mention of different cultures or diversity
or pictures on the wall, everything has to be about Denmark or
Danish. Indeed, parents not only have to have their citizenship
qualifications, if they do not take their citizenship programme
and learn Danish they lose benefit.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Gosh.
137. It is a very different system from what
we are used to in this country.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) It is.
Chairman: This Committee is quite interested
in that area, having visited the United States recently and Denmark.
138. Could I just bring us back to the question
of inclusion with particular reference to the new code of practice
on special educational needs.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.
139. One of the problems that comes to my constituency
most frequently is that of parents who cannot get the level of
support they think they ought to have for their child in mainstream
school. I noticed in the new statement there are more specific
requirements for SEN statements to specify the exact levels of
support, and even the number of hours of support a child would
need. Now I also noticed that next financial year there will be
£91 million allocated to this. Is that going to buy all the
support that is anticipated or will I and other Members of Parliament
still find people in our surgeries in 2002/03 saying "This
is what my child statement says but the school cannot afford it"?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The £91 million
is not the only amount available, that specifically was increased
in the standards fund from £82 million to £91 million
to provide support and training on the guidance for children.
13 Ev. p. 43. Back
Ev. p. 44. Back