Examination of Witness (Questions 680-699)|
WEDNESDAY 17 JULY 2002
680. Would you Department be able to tell us
how many asylum seeker children are taught in schools in England?
(Mr Twigg) I am sure we can but I cannot tell you
off the top of my head.
681. Will you send a note on that?
(Mr Twigg) Of course I will.
682. Minister, are you not being politically
incorrect in one of your answers in the sense that we are looking
at the figures here and approximately 29 per cent of pupils in
London's maintained schools speak English as an additional language,
rising to 42 per cent in Inner London. When I visit schools, I
am told that it is very difficult to teach a class when you never
know who is going to be in that class and when six children from
an Iraqi background arrive, who do not speak a word of English,
that suddenly places on the school and on that class an enormous
burden. Surely there are enormous burdens for a large population
which does not speak English and which has to be given the rudimentary
notions of English, even before they can start to learn. There
is a real problem here, is there not, that we cannot gloss over?
(Mr Twigg) I think there is a real issue. Part of
the issue, as I said in answer to the previous question from Jonathan,
is about mobility, the unexpected arrival of pupils in a school
on a Monday morning who were not there on Friday. That is definitely
an issue, which is why I emphasised mobility as one of the three
issues in your earlier question, Chairman. Yes, of course, if
there are then language barriers, that becomes a factor as well.
I accept that. Perhaps I became slightly over-enthusiastic in
giving positive answers earlier. The primary issue is about pupil
mobility. Whilst that will often be equal with additional languages
as well as English, it will not always be. Sometimes it will be
about people who are being moved around because of the nature
of the housing situation.
683. This Committee has to bear in mind that
the Government, of which you are a member, set all these tasks
and standards and the meeting of the standards. Presumably it
is a little bit easier to meet the standard outside London where
the national average figure for English as an additional language
is 8 per cent compared to 42 per cent? It is a very uphill struggle
to reach standards when you have that mobility and those language
(Mr Twigg) Absolutely, and I do not think we are disagreeing.
Part of the reason why we are having the London Strategy for Schools,
part of the London challenge that Estelle Morris set out, is to
do with the diversity of London. All I was seeking to say, in
answer to questions, was that whilst that diversity can bring
difficulties and challenges, it can also bring some great benefits,
and that is what I see in London schools in my own experience.
684. Should you not be encouraging parents who
arrive in this country to learn English so that they can help
their children in schools?
(Mr Twigg) Yes. I do not think there should be any
contention about that. The ability of people newly arrived in
this country to speak the language is in their interests as much
as it is in the interests of schools and others. That is absolutely
685. Looking at your experience not very many
years ago as a senior councillor of Islington and now as an Education
Minister, if you look at Inner London, 44 per cent of children
qualify for free school meals. Given the flight of parents through
their aspirations to send their children to schools in neighbouring
authorities, that can often mean that the schools that are left
have a free school meal intake of 60 or 70 per cent rather than
44 per cent and the national average is 17 per cent. Do you think
there is any correlation between the sorts of results that those
schools obtain in various league tables that your Department publishes
and the amount of children they have coming from backgrounds where
they qualify for free schools meals?
(Mr Twigg) Of course there is a relationship and it
is well researched and well documented that the social and economic
background of people going to schools is a determinant of the
outcome but it is not the only determinant. If you look at schools
in London or in other parts of the country that have a broadly
similar intake in terms of free school meals or whatever indicator
we choose, quite different outcomes can be produced. You are definitely
right; one of the challenges, particularly in Inner London but
it also applies in some parts of outer London as well, is to find
ways in which we can make the local schools attractive to a broad
range of the people who live in those areas. It is not an easy
challenge but one that we have to meet if we are going to change
some the difficulties referred to in the questions and by me.
686. We are looking at the role of the new education
czar or commissioner once he or she is appointed. How interventionalist
would he be? For example, if he looked at one Inner London authority
and he could see clear evidence that surrounding authorities which
have lots of specialist schools, faith schools, technology colleges,
et cetera, were actively selected 10 per cent by aptitude or ability
and that was draining all those more motivated and able pupils
away from an Inner London authority that stands by them, what
would be the response of yourself and the education commissioner?
How would you deal with that?
(Mr Twigg) I certainly hope we are not going to get
to a situation like that. With the new City Academy Programme,
I hope that we will see some of the boroughs, including I would
hope Islington, actually having those city academies and being
able to attract local parents to send their children to those
new schools that would be formed. If we were to reach a situation
such as the one you have described, we would have to take a look
at that. I am sure the Commissioner would have a view, but in
a sense that would not be anything different to what we would
donow or what the previous government did. We would sit down with
the local education authorities and take a look at it. One thing
I do think the Commissioner can do, whoever he or she turns out
to be, is to work with some of those schools directly, with the
local education authorities but also directly with some of the
schools that are not performing very well, to try to raise their
performance so that we do not get to the kind of situation you
687. Is one of the things that a school in that
sort of situation can do to become a specialist school so that
they have extra money and extra facilities? They do face problems
in achieving that. Last night I was in my constituency in Chesterfield,
giving award at an end of year event. This is a school which the
local education authority was going to close down three years
ago. Three years on, it has gone from being a school on the verge
of immediate closure to quite a successful, vibrant school. The
year 7 intake is becoming oversubscribed for the first time in
20 years. They are keen to move on from that and they desperately
need more facilities: a bigger sports hall and IT facilities.
They are now looking at trying to apply for specialist status.
I talked to the Head and the senior staff last night after the
event. They are very concerned that to raise the £50,000
they need to qualify for specialist status is going to be incredibly
difficult for them compared to the school less than half a mile
up the road that is going for specialist status and is attracting
money quite easily because of the nature of the children's backgrounds.
Do you think you ought to look at the £50,000 threshold and
perhaps at removing it altogether?
(Mr Twigg) It is too early to say that we will do
that because it is important, as part of the Specialist Schools
Programme, that there is that challenge for schools. I take your
point that that can be difficult for schools in less well-off
area. We do need to keep an eye on how that is developing. I do
not think we are in a position at the moment where we can say
that it is a fundamental barrier to schools achieving specialist
status. Were it to become so, then it is something we could re-visit.
We are seeing across the country in specialist schools, and again
I hate to cite examples from my local area but it tends to be
the area I know best, the Lee Valley School in Enfield, which
has just been granted sports specialist status. It is in one of
the more deprived parts of the borough. It is one of the schools
that is doing less well, and they have succeeded in raising the
status to match the money. So they have done it. It can be done.
I take your point that that might not always be the case.
Chairman: May I remind the Committee that it
is getting towards the end of the term and some of you are lapsing
into rather long questions. Can you be more disciplined!
688. I have two questions to ask, following
on from what Paul Holmes has asked about specialist schools. We
are desperately short of children going into apprenticeships.
I wondered if you have a view about how we might promote that,
particularly with your role as careers czar.
(Mr Twigg) That is the first time I have heard the
term "careers czar". One of my responsibilities is for
the Connexions Service. I do think Connexions is a very exciting
and innovative programme. I have had the opportunity to visit
some of the best of Connexions. I know that Connexions is variable
in its quality and that work needs to be done to ensure that the
standards are the best and matched across the whole country. When
Connexions is a universal programme for next year, the Careers
Service will become part of Connexions. It is vitally important
that that service is available to the whole cross-section of young
people. There is a focus within Connexions on those who are most
at risk, those who have had more problems at school, but there
needs to be a universal element as well. We have targets to raise
the number of modern apprenticeships, to encourage more people
to stay in formal education and training after the ages of 16
and 17. Clearly the quality of advice that is provided by careers
teachers and persons advising in Connexions is one of the ways
in which we can deliver that. You are right to identify that.
689. Would you envisage boys and girls, particularly
at 15, say, going into industry and commerce on one or perhaps
two days a week so that the transition from school to work is
easier and so that those who might not want to stay on are able
to stay on but would benefit from early work experience on a sustained
(Mr Twigg) Yes, and that is an important part of the
changes that we need to make to the 14 to 19 phase of education.
690. On qualifications, Bengali boys particularly
are now achieving much less well than any other group in your
responsibility; 47 per cent only achieve typically five A to C
grades, which is about two-thirds of what the Bengali girls are
achieving, so it is not a question of their not being as bright
but of encouraging them to aspire. Have you any views about how
we might take that forward?
(Mr Twigg) We need to tread carefully with these statistics.
There is definitely an issue with some minority ethnic communitiesthe
Bengali, Pakistani and Afro-Carribean communities. There is definitely
then a gender aspect to that, a boys' and girls' aspect. That
might not be a politically correct way of putting it. I think
there is still fundamentally a social class aspect to all of this.
The Bengali community tends to be a very poor community. I have
asked for these statistics to be broken down to try to take that
into account. There is some very good practice. In answer to Jonathan's
question, I mentioned the school that I visited in Tower Hamlets,
which was almost entirely Bengali. For example, they have put
youth workers into the school, learning mentors and other people
who can provide positive role models. They had a particular issue
of truancy, which they are dealing with by employing people from
within the Bangladeshi community of Tower Hamlets to work with
the families. I think a lot of this is about family connections
and parental involvement in schools. There is an onus on us to
look at ways in which we can encourage all parents to become involved,
but particularly perhaps those from communities whose young people
are not doing so well in school.
691. Perhaps it is an insult to say that you
go back to the GLC; I am sure you do not, Stephen, but there are
aspects of that which are reflected here. I particularly want
to bring out the London Centre for Gifted and Talented Children.
Can you tell us a bit more about that? Gifted and talented in
(Mr Twigg) Essentially this will be an offshoot of
the national programme for the gifted and talented. We are establishing
a national academy at Warwick University. I do not know if you
have had their representative to speak to the Committee. We want
to ensure that there is a London focus on that. This will be to
assist those young people who excel in school across the board.
It is not simply looking at the more academic subjects, though
obviously that will be an important part of the work that is happening
in trying to ensure that those young people are getting, if you
like, their fair share of the education service in London. Certainly
one of the issues that does come up is a sense among some parents
of more able children that they feel that their offspring will
not do so well in London schools and therefore they try to escape.
If we can find a way of ensuring that there is a genuine equality
of education that is available to young people of all backgrounds,
then we think that will assist them, most importantly, but it
will also be an important part of improving education in London.
692. I am sorry, I was not aware of the Warwick
work. Are you saying that if this were successful in however large
a unit, and this would be in London, it is something which other
parts of the country could do? We did a report, as you probably
know, in the Select Committee on gifted young people. I am interested
in this aspect. Would it be good practice in London that could
go elsewhere or is it happening elsewhere?
(Mr Twigg) It certainly is. As I understand it, a
lot of the work has already happened on this in excellence in
city areas across the country. This is not something completely
new to the London Strategy. We simply highlighted that as part
of the London Challenge because it is a particular question in
London. Yes, I hope there will be lessons for the rest of the
country but I am in no way suggesting that London is trailing
a blaze here. We are not. This is something that is happening
693. One very practical question on this: is
it being funded centrally and not from the 33 LEAs?
(Mr Twigg) There is certainly central funding for
it. I would have to come back to you, Valerie, on whether there
are requirements for some local contribution. There will certainly
be some central departmental funding for it, yes.
694. Minister, moving on to behaviour in schools,
OFSTED has stated recently, and it was reinforced by others, that
bad behaviour in schools is one of the main reasons, if not the
main reason, why teachers are leaving the profession. When visiting
schools and speaking with head teachers and teachers, they do
say, certainly in a non-political way, that they see a connection
between the Government's policy of making exclusion, which should
always be a last resortand everybody agrees with thatmore
difficult and the rise in bad behaviour in schools? They see a
link there. Do you think they are right or wrong?
(Mr Twigg) When we came to office in 1997, one of
the priorities that we set is still a priority, and that is inclusion
in schools. There was a real concern, and I think that is reflected
in schools as well, and I do not think that was simply us as a
government, about the high level that exclusions had reached.
That was why we set targets at that stage to say we wanted to
get the number of exclusions down, but absolutely there was no
desire on the part of government for those targets to lead to
a position where heads are no longer able to deal with those who
are disruptive in the classroom. That is why we no longer have
such a target. We have to learn from experience about these things.
You are absolutely right, and this was stated by me in the debate
last Friday, that the statistics suggest that nearly half of those
who leave the teaching profession are citing poor behaviour in
the classroom as the main reason. The Chairman has made the point
in the debate, quite rightly, that behaviour is still generally
good in the vast majority of schools but there are too many schools
where behaviour is not generally good. That is why we are saying,
as you say, that exclusion is the last resort, but, where necessary,
then exclusion must be the weapon that can be used by the Head.
That is why we place so much emphasis on the new behaviour programme
on which I am now working to provide full-time alternatives for
those pupils who are excluded. In the statement yesterday, Estelle
Morris was talking about ensuring that there is a learning and
support unit in every school that needs one. What we do not want,
and what is not in the interests of wider society, is for those
young people who are excluded for their appalling behaviour in
school transferring that appalling behaviour into housing estates,
the local shopping centre and the streets. That is why we are
working on alternatives for those young people.
695. I do believe more resources need to be
committed to this area to help those excluded to learn from their
lessons and then move forward. Correct me if I am wrong, but I
think you are saying that you broadly agree with teachers, that
there has simply been some sort of causal link. If that is the
case, is the Government going to relax this business about setting
targets and trying to reduce exclusions, because the teachers
certainly seem to be very frustrated by this particular issue?
(Mr Twigg) I was not accepting the suggestion that
there is a simple causal link. I think we are talking about a
much more complex situation. Indeed, as speakers from all parties
said in the debate last week, you have to look at the wider situation
in society, and at some of the decline in respect and discipline,
and so forth, in wider society. I am accepting that to continue
with a rigorous target of reducing exclusions is not any longer
appropriate in light of the fact that the number of exclusions
has actually fallen very significantly since 1997. We are not
saying to schools, "You must avoid exclusion at all costs".
We want to look at what works in different areas. For example,
as part of the £66 million programme announced by the Chancellor
in the budget, 34 local education authorities have new behaviour
improvement plans funded by central government. There are the
34 local education authorities where you have a combination of
high street crime and high levels of truancy. This starts with
summer activity programmes run by Connections from next week,
and we will be working with schools from September. Some of the
local education authorities are choosing to pilot a "no exclusions"
policy as part of that. We are not directing them to do that but
a number of authorities, especially Reading, have said that they
would like to pilot that. We want to learn from that pilot.
696. First, I welcome this initiative because
I think it is good news. I also welcome what I perceive from your
answers to be a slightly more flexible approach with regard to
the policy of exclusions because there has been frustration in
schools. If you can get away from rigid target-setting to a reduction,
and that needs some financial incentives, and away from that policy,
that would be very welcome to the teaching profession itself.
(Mr Twigg) I think that move has been made clearly
by working on the guidance as regards appeals. That is clearly
a factor in terms of the ability of an exclusion to stand. There
will be announcements on that later this year.
697. The Government, in my view, has rightly
recognised the importance of good leadership in schools. Last
Friday I went in to my old school in my constituency, Meadowhead
School. I met the Head and senior staff members there. The Head
said to me, "If I have the resources, I can resolve almost
any problem within the school". For example, the additional
resources they have as part of the specialist language college
means extra staff, which helps with issues about pupil behaviour.
Do you think that is the right way to go?
(Mr Twigg) I think it is the right way to go. What
we want to do, and this is really what the announcements over
the last two days and our reform paper are about, is to recognise
that there is a need for extra resources for all schools to assist
them in their basic task and in leadership, but there is then
a greater need in certain schools in certain areas for more support.
That is why we constructed the combination of resources and reform
in the way that we have over the last two days. I have absolutely
no doubt that effective leadership in a school is crucial to making
a difference. Whether we are talking about the London Challenge,
where there are particular issues about leadership, or any other
schools in the country, it is about providing support for that
leadership. That is why Estelle Morris placed such great emphasis
on that in the statement yesterday.
698. Looking at the whole issue of exclusions,
and I have been on the side of trying to reduce those in the past,
having worked with some very vulnerable young people, how good
do you think schools are getting at early intervention techniques
which stop them getting to the point where the only answer to
deal with that behaviour is exclusion?
(Mr Twigg) I think schools are getting much better
at this. I have seen a lot of good practice in my first months
or so in this job. I keep saying to the officials that I want
to see some bad practice as well. There is always the danger that
we only see the good things that we want to show people. I have
seen some good things. I keep mentioning the school I went to
in Tower Hamlets. They have a youth worker and learning mentors.
I think that is the kind of early intervention that can make a
difference. I went to a couple of schools in Coventry where the
Connexions Service is based as part of the school. Some of the
younger people who were previously either excluded or liable to
be excluded are now working with Connexions. In talking to those
young people, I got a real sense that it was making a difference
to them, that they actually felt that they could identify with
something within the school in a way that perhaps they would not
have identified with something that was in the school before.
We have had the initiatives where 14 and 15 years-olds, who are
in school but having difficulties staying in school, can spend
at least some of their time going to a local FE college where
perhaps the culture and the nature of what is on offer is of more
interest to them. Part of the deal is that, provided they go to
school for the rest of the week, they can go to the FE college
on the day of the week that is allocated. Those sorts of initiatives
and early interventions will pay off, I think. Obviously it is
early days to judge but you do need schools to take a whole school
approach to these matters. I had the impression, and this is only
an impression, that this is far more widespread in schools across
the country than it was even two or three years ago.
699. If we look at the whole approach that the
Government is trying to take to a number of issues, whether it
is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime and tough on
behaviour, which is the most important thing, and if we look at
some of the life experiences that children who are disruptive
have had, how do you think you should be trying to develop that
involvement in schools? I am particularly concerned with the child
and adolescent mental health services which have been so under-funded
in the past but which, with early intervention, could actually
help a number of children who are disruptive because they do not
know how to engage in school, and not because they want to be
disruptive per se?
(Mr Twigg) I think this issue of the child and adolescent
mental health services is very important. If we are going to take
this behaviour project forward in a positive way, that is going
to have to play a more central part. Certainly, in some of the
initial discussions that I had with Connexions partnerships, there
does seem to be a fairly widespread concern about the weakness
of CAMs at the local level and how that can thereby undermine
the ability of Connexions to provide the fully coherent service
that I think we expect Connexions to provide. I think you are
quite right. How do we do that? Connexions is part of the extended
schools idea that Estelle Morris was talking about yesterday.
That may be part of it but certainly parts of the health service
could have some sort of location within a school site. That is
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