Examination of Witness (Questions 665-679)|
WEDNESDAY 17 JULY 2002
665. Minister, may I welcome you to our deliberations.
You have the great privilege of being the last of the present
team to come before the Committee. I suppose there is a penalty
in that you could well be back in front of the Committee in the
autumn. May we welcome you to your new job and may I personally
say that at the time you spent in your previous job some very
interesting things came out from the team of the Leader of the
House. I am grateful for that. We do hope you are going to enjoy
your experience in the Education and Skills Department and that
you will stay there quite a long time. We prefer to have Ministers
who have time to become used to the job. Would you like to say
a few words to open the session?
(Mr Twigg) May I first thank the Committee
for inviting me along and giving me the opportunity to say a few
words at the beginning. I was casting my mind back and I did appear
as a witness before your predecessor committee eleven years ago,
the Department of Education and Science Select Committee, when
I was President of the National Union of Students, in an inquiry
about student finance. I am sure that I would still hold some
of the views that I held then.
666. After the reaction to our recent report,
they obviously had a higher calibre of NUS president in those
(Mr Twigg) I am very confident that in 1991 we would
have welcomed everything you said in your recent report. I had
the chance on Friday, in the debate on behaviour, to say a little
bit about why I was so delighted to be asked by the Prime Minister
to do this job. For many of us, I think education is something
that lies at the core of what we believe in, whatever political
beliefs and values we have. I was certainly very influenced in
this by my family background, by my parents, and in particular
by my mother. She comes from a pretty tough, working class background
but got through the Eleven Plus, went to Dame Alice Owen Grammar
School and then had to leave school at 15. The view at that time
was that girls did not stay on at school beyond that age. She
certainly brought up my sister and me to believe in the high values
of education and its great importance. I do think that it is right
that this week we reaffirm education as the top priority for the
Government in terms of our values of opportunity, of promoting
a more cohesive society and seeking the greatest inclusion and
equality of opportunity. Looking back at the last five years since
this Government came to power, a great deal has been achieved
in education. As David Miliband said when he came to the Committee
a few weeks ago, there are still enormous challenges. I want to
say a couple of things about the main policy areas on which I
have been asked to work. The first is a new one, which is a Strategy
for London Schools. As a Londoner, I am very excited to have this
new brief. I am an outer Londoner by birth and represent an outer
London constituency, but I have been an Inner London councillor
and school governor. I am very well aware of some of the issues
that Estelle Morris spoke about in her speech three weeks ago
on the London challenge, how in this city we have these incredible
contrasts of great wealth and enormous poverty sitting side by
side. We have wonderful diversity in terms of the cultural, ethnic
and religious backgrounds of people who live here, but we also
have the challenges that that can sometimes bring with a very
mobile pupil population. We have some excellent schools, but we
have more than our fair share of schools in challenging circumstances.
We have some very good school leavers, but we do not have as many
excellent school leavers as there are in some of the other parts
of our country. We have 33 local education authorities, very local
and bringing many benefits, but also there can be difficulties
with strategic leadership and co-ordination. Since Estelle's speech
about the London Challenge, I have been working with various partners
in London to look at how we can take forward this strategy. I
would certainly be very interested in the views and comments of
the Committee on how we can best take that forward.
667. As we only have an hour, can you be brief?
(Mr Twigg) We had an excellent debate on behaviour
last Friday. Thank you to those who took part in that debate.
Concerns about pupil behaviour and behaviour in schools are rising.
This is a very important area. One needs to be taking on the national
behaviour strategy. I know that David Miliband spoke about the
14 to 19s. We want to raise the staying-on rates in education
after the ages of 16 and 17 and to foster a good national debate,
following the Green Paper on 14 to 19s. Finally, on young people,
clearly there is a great challenge for all of us, in whatever
area of work, to engage with young people and to give young people
a voice. I am very pleased at my role in working with the Connexions
Service, the Youth Service and the voluntary sector for young
people, and also the Children and Young People's Unit. It is a
privilege to be here. Thank you for inviting me along. As a last
comment, Chairman, and you talked about my previous job, I am
a very strong supporter of select committees and I think Parliament's
strengthening of select committees is a vital challenge for us
all during this parliament. Therefore, I particularly look forward
to working with this Select Committee for however long I am in
668. May I open the debate by starting with
your London responsibilities? This Committee has actually opted
to spend a week doing research in one of our great citiesnot
London but Birminghamto look at the education in one city.
Birmingham seemed to me to be more of a bite-sized city than London.
But London is of particular interest to us. Two years ago, some
of us visited the Lilian Baylis School and looked at some of the
difficulties in a very challenging environment of the school.
We do recommend you have a look at both where Lilian Baylis is
today and what has happened at Lilian Baylis. It would be a very
interesting experience for any Minister and it is convenient.
I pop in there because it is very close to the House. May I start
by asking what your relationship is going to be with the new Commissioner,
who is going to be considering 33 education directors, presumably
from local education authorities. Is it going to be a difficult
one? When is he or she going to be appointed?
(Mr Twigg) We are currently preparing the recruitment
plan for the Commissioner. I want to see the Commissioner in post
in the autumn. I will be working with the Commissioner on a day-to-day
basis in the Department. It will be a Civil Service appointment.
He or she will be based in the Department. I will work with him
or her along with the 33 education authorities and other interested
partners across London. It is an innovative move. It reflects
the team and the circumstances of a city that does not have a
city-wide authority with educational responsibilities. From my
own experience in London and from the discussions I have had over
the last month or so, I think there is general support for continuing
the current arrangements with 33 local education authorities but
a recognition that there is a need for some co-ordination and
some strategic leadership. That will come from the Department
and that will be my role, but the Commissioner will be able really
to get into some of the detail of this, working with LEAs and
also working with schools, the Institute of Education and other
key players within London.
669. One person's innovative move is another
person's gimmick. We are a little worried, or certainly there
has been this expression, that this could be seen as a gimmick
rather than something that really is going to confront the enormous
issues that face education in London. What do you think are the
main challenges that you and the Commissioner face? What are the
three biggest challenges?
(Mr Twigg) One, we need to get better co-ordination
between different boroughs, different authorities. I know from
my own experience as an outer London MP that a decision that is
made in the London Borough of Enfield about where a school is
to be located will have massive implications for the boroughs
of Barnet, Waltham Forest and Haringey. So one is looking at some
of those issues to get better co-ordination about those sorts
of decisions. London's population is rising; the school population
is rising even faster. We are going to need new schools in London.
Let us put them in the right places and make sure that they have
the right sort of ethos. So one is co-ordination. Secondly, I
think there is an enormous challenge, and I know this is not peculiar
to London but it is perhaps greatest in London, to do with people
mobility and the impact which people mobility can have on schools,
on the funding of schools, on the ability of schools to deliver
for pupils. This is a very live issues, not one for which I think
there are any simple answers, but certainly I think that is going
to be a big challenge. Thirdly, to increase parental confidence
in the secondary system in London. Estelle raised the figure in
her speech that nationally 85 per cent of parents, when their
children reach 11, get the secondary school that they want. In
London the figure is 59 per cent. The proportion of parents in
London who are sending their children to I nner London, independent
secondary schools is getting on for double the national average.
Some of that will be choice but often that is parents who do not
have faith in the secondary system in parts of London, so it is
restoring that faith. These are three big challenges.
670. How often do you visit a school?
(Mr Twigg) I try to visit at least one school a week.
671. In London?
(Mr Twigg) Now that I have this new job, I will be
seeking to visit one school every week, if I can. We are setting
up a programme in the Department.
672. You go to different areas of London, so
you see a diverse range of different ethnic groups, different
mixes, wealthy and poor, right across the board?
(Mr Twigg) Absolutely, and one of my first visits
in London was to the Swanley School in Tower Hamlets, which is
a 90 per cent Bangladeshi school and it has pioneered some excellent
work on truancy.
673. What are your observations about asylum
seeker children in these schools?
(Mr Twigg) By and large, they add a lot to those schools;
they add to the cultural diversity of the schools; and many of
them are very quick learners.
674. From your observations, have you noticed
that any of the asylum seeker children create difficulties for
(Mr Twigg) There is clearly an issue.
675. Have you observed anything?
(Mr Twigg) There is an issue about people mobility.
In discussions with heads and others, I have observed concern
about what pupil mobility can lead to in schools. Clearly, pupil
mobility is a product of a number of factors, of which migrant
populations, including asylum seekers, is only one. Jonathan,
I have to say that I would emphasise the positive. I see that
in my own constituency where there are quite significant numbers
of asylum seekers in schools. The difficulties often come with
the mobility rather than to do with the fact that they are asylum
676. Head teachers have not said to you, "Asylum
seeker children are causing us difficulties and we do not want
to teach them in our schools. We want you to put them in accommodation
(Mr Twigg) No.
677. They have not said that to you?
(Mr Twigg) No.
678. That is very interesting. You are in charge
of the Children and Young People's Unit. The idea is that that
cuts across various departments. Would you expect that unit to
have input into the development of policy that we now have when
children are going to be educated in accommodation centres? Would
you expect them to have an input?
(Mr Twigg) I need to tread carefully because there
is a slightly unusual arrangement, as you will know. Although
the unit is based in our department, it actually reports to John
Denham in the Home Office. I have the departmental responsibility
but they do not directly report to me. It is certainly something
that could be considered within their remit. I would be very happy
to take that back to them.
679. Last week I wanted to understand from the
Secretary of State, not to form a view but just to understand,
the input that the Education Department had in formulating the
policy of going against the 1944 principle of universal education.
That is an important principle, as the Secretary of State acknowledged.
Is it reasonable for us as a committee to expect that the Education
Department played a significant role in shaping that policy? Some
people are concerned that the Department has not had that important
role. If we have a unit that cuts across departments to focus
on children and young people, and all that pertains within that,
would you expect them to have some sort of role in helping to
shape that particular policy?
(Mr Twigg) It is certainly possible for that role
to be played. I am not aware of what input the unit has had, if
any, because obviously the policy was developed before I was in
the Department. I am quite happy to take that particular question
back. I do know that we are obviously working as a department
to ensure that, assuming the accommodation centres do go ahead,
the educational content within the centres is of a high quality
and that the children who are being taught in accommodation centres
are getting good quality education for the period they are in
those accommodation centres. I have already discussed that with
the relevant officials in our Department.