Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 140 - 147)



  140. Is there an increase in the allocation for the staffing as necessary?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) There is. I am fighting very hard for the figure which I cannot find, of course. I take your point and the point you are making is that this is a resource intensive area, and I accept that. On the code, the reason that we put the code back, in terms of quantification, to where it was before, we have not made a change, was because I received a large number of letters from parents and you as Members of Parliament—maybe not you specifically but Members of Parliament—and Members of the Lords made representations and, therefore, because it was my area and with the support of the Secretary of State I withdrew the Code in July in order to reflect on it. I have subsequently made some very small changes to tidy it up and the specific change of reverting back. It is not my intention that the Code should in any way suggest to parents that we have anything other than their interest and their children's at heart. That is the first thing to say. In terms of the resources, yes we are going to have to keep a very careful eye on resources. Yes, we do want local education authorities to think very carefully about the quality and quantity of support. We recognise that we are going to have to keep those two things very firmly in our view.

  141. Can I just ask one other thing on the code. One of the most common complaints from parents also is the time taken to get a statement for their child because of the bureaucratic processes to go through. I noticed in your speech in the Lords the other night you referred specifically to the reduction of bureaucracy that would be brought about by the introduction of the code. Can you tell us exactly which parts of the bureaucratic processes will now be slimmed down and is this going to lead to a speeding up of the timescale which it takes to complete the statements?

  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I fear it will take me too long to go through the detail and I do not have it to hand so I will give it to you and make sure that it is sent. There are different parts of the code where that applies. The purpose overall is to take out the bureaucratic machinery, things that do not matter, and make sure that assessments are done as quickly as possible and statements are published and those are very clear guidelines within the code.

  142. Are there any targets for the timescale to complete a statement?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I believe we have put some detail in that but I cannot actually recall precisely the details of the number of weeks but I will send that to you.[15]


  143. Minister, what will concern this Committee is what is the correlation between special educational needs and statements and perhaps postal code deprived areas. Many of us represent areas where we are amazed to see more statements arrive from the more affluent parents of the constituency and not from the more deprived. Is there not a level at which special educational needs statements are actually used by more motivated parents to get special resources for their child and very often they are not the children who need their help? Is there any evidence that statementing is higher in more affluent postal code areas and lower in less affluent postal code areas?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Not that I have seen but remember statementing is for very particular kinds of special educational needs. There are lots of children who have special educational needs who do not have statements and, therefore, the interesting fact would be to look at areas of deprivation on a number of children in schools who are on the special educational needs register. Where children have statements it is often because they have quite complex needs and that actually does not follow necessarily areas of deprivation. You have to be a bit cautious about what you are looking at. What I do know is that parents will say some LEAs are more reluctant to provide statements and we are putting huge pressure to make sure that with the code you cannot have blanket policies any more, you cannot refuse a statement where it is obvious it should be and bring professionals in to support that.

  144. What is Professor Lesley Abbott from Manchester Metropolitan University doing? I think she is doing something between 0 and three. It is supposed to be a curriculum for the under threes but we were slapped on the wrist by your colleague, Stephen Timms, for using that term. What is the role of Lesley Abbott?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Lesley Abbott is not one of my advisers so I cannot comment.

  145. According to your colleague, Stephen Timms, Professor Lesley Abbott has undertaken quite a lot of work for the DfES for 0 to three year olds which Stephen Timms described as a framework of effective practice rather than a curriculum. Is that not a bit worrying if you have been left out of the loop?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) No, it is not worrying at all. The Department has got a long tradition of bringing in people from outside to talk to them and advise officials. There are lots and lots of people all the time coming in and, like yourself, we are not the font of knowledge. They are not ministerial advisers. I am sure that whatever work is going on will reach me but I would not necessarily know precisely who is coming in to advise my officials. That is quite within their remits, they are enabled to do that, that is fine by me.

  Chairman: Kerry, would you like to ask the last question as you are the Minister's Member of Parliament.

Mr Pollard

  146. Minister, you know as well as I do the huge responsibilities that school governors have got and the massive voluntary effort they put in. What steps are you taking to recruit suitable governors, enthuse them and fire them up so they do the business?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) We are just developing a new recruitment campaign and I have been out talking to groups of governors throughout the country both about our consultation on making sure that they have less bureaucracy to deal with and providing the strategic frame, i.e they steer not row, to put it succinctly, which has been a problem in recruitment. What they say to me, and what I am very clear about, is that the best recruiters of governors are governors themselves and we do not do enough to encourage and support them to stand up in the school assemblies—and I never did it as a chair of governors—and say "I am a governor, this is why it is really good to be a governor". I have challenged them all to think about ways in which they could do that. We are going to design a campaign that is going to be very school focussed, helping them to recruit the governors of the future.


  147. Minister, can I thank you for the long time you have been answering our questions. Can I say that I hope you did not see it as a kind of indoctrination of fire but as a positive experience and we hope to see you at the very least in a year's time.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Thank you. I look forward to it. I will be better then, I will know more.

15   Ev. p. 44. Back

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