Examination of Witness (Questions 540-559)|
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
540. And the lesson they must learn is that
good faith, when dealing with the Government, is not enough.
(John Healey) I am not in a position to say what lessons
the 8,500 individual and varied learning providers might take
from their experience, but we had a conversation at this last
committee meeting where Ms Davey made the point that in designing
any successor ILA scheme clearly there is a challenge in restoring
and underwriting the confidence that learners and learning providers
would have in any successor scheme and I am very conscious of
541. Minister, thank you very much for that
session on ILAs. Can I tell you that we have decided that we will
launch an inquiry into ILAs. The terms of reference are to examine
the lessons from the closure of the Individual Learning Accounts
scheme for the future of the DfES's lifelong learning strategy
in England, with particular reference to management, to policy
and to plans for replacing ILAs.
(John Healey) May I say, Chairman, I would very much
welcome that. I think there are some important and innovative
features in the ILA scheme from which we can learn and the view
of the Committee plus the analysis that you might be able to offer.
I hope you will be able to do it on a timescale that will feed
into the sort of work that we need to do in terms of redesigning
a successor scheme.
Chairman: We are going to hit the ground running
and we will take evidence next week. Thank you for that. Now let
us move to the other part of your wide range of responsibilities.
I am going to ask Jonathan Shaw to commence the questioning.
542. I want to talk about ICT and education
and training, minister. The IT learning centresand I think
I am attending the opening of one in my constituency this coming
weekyou have a target of 6,000. There are lots of targets.
50 per cent more into higher education by 2010 with 6,000 IT learning
centres. Why do we need 6,000?
(John Healey) May I start with a point of information
and clarification. I think, Mr Shaw, what you are talking about
there are UK Online centres.
543. That is right.
(John Healey) I am delighted you are getting one in
your constituency. What you will find is that that is likely to
be located in an area of relative disadvantage. The philosophy
and the policy purpose behind the UK Online centresand
you are quite right to say we are aiming to have 6,000 in place
by the end of 2002is to create access to ICT equipment,
and in particular e-access, Internet access, for community use
within communities where the individual ownership and the opportunities
for learning about the use of computers are limited. That feeds
therefore very strongly into, across-government, the Government's
ambition that was set out by the Prime Minister of making sure
that there was universal access to the Internet by 2005. UK Online
centres are a very important part of that strategy. The DfES is
playing a lead role in making sure that many of the new ones are
set upby no means exclusive because libraries will play
a big part in developing Online centresbut they are also
distinct from learndirect centres which are the local centres
of course of the University for Industry (UfI Limited), where
learning rather than simply access is at the core of the mission
that they have.
544. Yes. There is a myriad of IT schemes in
schools and adult learning. Sometimes it is difficult to see how
all these link up. Is it right that the advisor within the DfES
who is heading this up is out of post now and there are no plans
to replace them?
(John Healey) No. Well, on the last point, no, that
is not the case. Whether or not you are thinking of the former
head of our ICT Strategy Unit, who has returned to his post in
Lewisham College, I am not sure. But you are right with the first
bit. So you are incorrect on your last point and you are correct
on your first point, which was this, that there are indeed a myriad
of different schemes. I think, as minister responsible for the
ICT strategy for the department, that brings me to the conclusion
I have reached in these early days of my tenure in the post, which
is: during the first four years the DfES was responsible and imaginative
about getting a wide range of essentially pilot schemes up and
running, and we are at the point now, it strikes me, where we
have got to rationalise those. We have got to learn the lessons
from the wide variety of things which we have been trying over
the last couple of years in particularthat is number one
challengeand the second challenge as a department is that
we have got to bring together more effectively the activity that
has been going on there in schools, that is there in colleges,
and that it is there, as you started by asking me about, in communities.
We have not done that as effectively as we could in the past and
that is something that both Baroness Ashton, who has responsibility
for this in schools, and I, who have responsibility post-16, are
working very closely to try to do. At the start of this second
term in government, we are really at the point where we need to
refresh and refine the ICT strategy we have got across the education
and learning field.
545. I think there is a feeling that if it is
computers, if it is ICT, it must be good: "Let's put computers
in and we will be providing opportunity for people." I think
that sometimesI do not know if you will agree methe
whole of the picture is not looked at. For example your colleague
Baroness Ashton said that she wanted two megabytes into schools
in terms of capacity, so that curriculum online can be utilised.
That would run about 10 computers. In a school of a thousand pupils,
that is simply not going to be satisfactory, is it? Or in rural
areas as well, where there is very little broadband capacity,
I think there is a concern. The starting point, that computers
are good, I think is right, but, in terms of how they are best
utilised and the infrastructure to support them, I think that
is not always there. Would you agree with that?
(John Healey) I would agree that actually in the pastand
I have to say I think we saw this quite clearly before '97, where
the emphasis of the previous Government on computers in schools
was just that, getting computers into schoolsa lot of teachers
did not use them to transform the way they taught, did not have
the skills to be able to make best use of them. That is why the
strategy that we need to put in place has got to tackle questions
of infrastructure; that is the hardware and it is also the question
of connectivity, adequate connectivity, to which you are quite
rightly drawing attention. If we are going to make the best use
of this, it has to make sure that it tackles the questions about
learning processes, teaching methods and practice in the classroom
or in the lecture room, and it has also got to tackle the question
of the skills and confidence of those teachers who are using the
technology as well. Those are the three elements of the overall
strategy that we are putting in place and I hope we will therefore
avoid the sort of isolated way of introducing ICT-related innovation
that I think we have seen in the past and has been inadequate.
546. Are you confident you are going to hit
your target by the end of this year?
(John Healey) Yes.
547. Where are you? Do you know what the climate
(John Healey) We have got 2,150 UK Online centres
opened already. It is the third phase of setting up the UK Online
centres that are supported by the capital modernisation fund.
The DCMS, who are responsible for libraries, are accelerating
their programme of turning and accrediting libraries, public libraries,
into UK Online centres. So all the indications that I have at
the moment are that we should hit, despite the difficulties, that
target by the end of the year.
548. I am very pleased to hear you talking about
cross-departmental work. Downstairs, in the post office here,
there is a superb, I think, contact point for benefit provision.
When I asked the post office downstairs who had provided it, it
has come from the DTI. I am not in Leicestershire, where there
is going to be a pilot scheme, but I want to see it rolled out.
It is excellent. How is all that linking in? If I have accessed
a whole lot of information from that, anyone could. It will give
tremendous confidence to people in exactly the areas that you
are looking for. Is there a link with the DTI as well as the DTMS
and the others?
(John Healey) I think what you are describing there
is the bid to find a new role for post offices as a government
services access point in the communities in which they exist,
whether it is the bottom of Portcullis House or whether it is
an important part of my own constituency. In terms of education
services, we have been part of the working group that has been
trying across government to develop that and to contribute to
that. We see post offices potentially being a useful point for
information about learning opportunities that may be available
in a local area, a useful information point about contacts that
people using the post offices may then follow up. It is of limited
value in our judgment at present, if you think about the need
for hard facilities, to consider that learning is likely to take
place actually in post offices, so we are very much part of that
project and behind it but it has probable limitations in terms
of what it can offer the education and learning fields as a point
of access and provision.
549. My point is that that will be the first
learning experience on a computer which many people will ever
(John Healey) Right.
550. They will begin to learn as a result of
the motivation and find out the information. That surely is the
best way of learning, to have that motivation. It seems to me
that is a learning skill which people will acquire in that context
which we should be celebrating and working with.
(John Healey) You are absolutely right. In a sense
Mr Shaw posed the question that, you know, we need to be careful
about assuming that anything to do with ICT is necessarily good,
but it is the case, in exactly the way that you are talking about,
in exactly the way that we are finding in our UK Online centres
or learndirect centres, that people who have not had any contact
with that technology before find increasingly there are things
they need it to be able to do and worlds and opportunities that
it can open up. By using it, it means that they are beginning
to gain skills that they are going to find very useful in work,
in supporting kids they may have in school, in booking holidays
or even supermarket shopping online. So, increasingly, in every
aspect of life these are becoming essential basic skills.
551. I am delighted to hear that you are up
to target with regard to the number of IT learning centres and
(John Healey) On track rather than up to target.
552. All right. I will accept that. It is still
(John Healey) Thank you.
553. Having said that, the real litmus test
of whether the schemes are successful or not is the effect they
are having not whether they are meeting the targets. How are you
going to measure how successful you are in your aims with regard
to this particular incentive? You will have to excuse the slight
criticism here. Have you devised a definition of what overcoming
exclusion is? How are you going to judge how successful this particular
(John Healey) With UK Online centres and one or two
of the other pilot projects I mentioned earlier, like our wired
up communities pilots, we have in place from the start plans for
a pretty thorough evaluation of the impactand those of
course will be published and available for the committee and others
to examine. In terms of the learning provision rather than the
opportunities to access the technology or the Internet, our principal
concern must be the University for Industry (UfI Limited) and
learndirect centres in this field. We have 1300 learndirect centres
now open and here we are putting in the same inspection arrangements
as we would with any other learning provider, whether they are
work-based learning providers, FE, or in any other field, so the
Adult Learning Inspectorate is just beginning its first series
of independent thorough inspections of the learning provision
that those Learn Direct centres are offering. I think that is
the guarantee that the funding we are putting in will be properly
used, that is the way that we are going to be able to identify
what is working well and what is not and spread that, and that
is the way we are going to be able to identify where we can increase
the pressure and encouragement to improve the standard of what
is offered there.
554. Minister, I know you are keen to give full
answers, but we have a hell of an agenda to get through of questions
for you, so can I ask my colleagues and you to be brief. We are
trying to get through a lototherwise we will have to have
(John Healey) Chairman, should I be required I would
be delighted to return, but you will probably have had enough
555. Following on from that, very briefly, have
you put proper structures in place and have you properly thought
through the funding required, assuming this is going to be a success,
bearing in mind what has just happened with regards ILAs? Are
their proper structures in place? Is the funding going to be ring-fenced
and properly thought through to ensure there is success? If the
funding is there, if anything goes wrong with the system then
we can on this occasion make sure that we can put it right.
(John Healey) I think the structures for making sure
that what we are setting out to do is being done are there. We
covered that a moment ago. In terms of the funding in place for
the future if these prove to be an established success, that is
part of the discussions that we across government are now beginning
to have as part of the spending review process, which of course
is where the government will commit its funding from the year
2004 to 2007.
556. I want to move on to adult basic skills.
We do live in a society with the ghastly fact that a very high
percentage of our population are illiterate and the government
has a specific target of reducing by three quarters of a million
the number of adults who have literacy and numeracy problems.
The evidence we have taken from other sources suggests that this
is going to be a real problem because there is a tremendous shortage
of teachers in the FE sector who are specialists with these skills.
What are you doing to tackle this? Here you are with a very clear
commitment. On the other hand, you have a real shortage of the
skills to deliver on the commitment. How confident are you that
you can actually achieve that quite large target?
(John Healey) It is potentially a big challenge. I
am not certain but I hear the same anecdotal recourse as you do
that we have not got enough teachers on the ground to be able
to deliver the courses that we need for this target.
557. We got that from Chris Hughes, Chief Executive
of the Learning and Skills Development Agency, and from Ruth Silver
of Lewisham College.
(John Healey) Yes, and I have had it from similar
figures in the FE field and I have had it from basic skills' tutors
at conferences that I have talked to as well. Two things, if I
may: the first is that we set out, for the first time ever, to
standardise the whole system in delivering basic literacy and
numeracy to learning. That included support and tuition for the
tutors for the first time, systematically delivered. We thought
when we set out on this earlier last year that there were probably
about 7,000 basic skills' tutors that were working more than six
hours a week across the country. We have already trained in the
new national system more than 8,000. In other words, there may
be more practitioners out there than we realise. We are now turning
our attention to those who are "very short hours" part-time
tutors, the next group, who are at present delivering less than
six hours teaching a week, whom we obviously want to support and
encourage to do a bit more. That is the first point. It may be
that actually there are more tutors and potential tutors out there
than any of us knew at the outset. The second isand I am
very concerned about thisthat I do not want us to find,
in pursuing what is an ambitious target, which clearly is only
a step towards what is a massive problem and one we will need
to and want to take further, that we run into the sort of supply
and capacity constraints you were talking about. At the momentand
I should have a report on this by Aprilwe are doing a thorough
audit and survey of quite what is the supply and potential supply
of basic skills' tutors out there that we can either draw on or
that we need to develop.
558. Again, minister, I just want to question
you, if you do not mind, with regards to how you are going to
measure the effect of this initiative. A laudable initiative,
etc, but how are you going to ascertain yourself whether you are
successful? Are adults going to be taking tests themselves?
(John Healey) Yes.
559. Can you tell us more about that.
(John Healey) The specific terms of the target that
we have set is that by 2004 we aim to have helped 750,000 adults
with poor literacy and numeracy skills improve those skills. We
have set ourselves the exacting measure of that, that we will
require them to have done tests in order to demonstrate that their
learning skills have improved. This is not, in management terms,
an input or a process; this is about the impact, that learning
for this group of people that need these skills will have improved.
As part of the new national system that I explained earlier that
we are putting in place for the first time, we have devised now
national tests, which have never been catered for, both for literacy
and numeracy. The first wave of learnings in one of our sort of
pilot areas took those in June/July and they will become the bedrock
for monitoring the progress of our programme, but for each and
every individual who is learning it could be their confirmation
that their skills are improving as well.