Examination of Witness (Questions 700-719)|
WEDNESDAY 17 JULY 2002
700. What about this cross-departmental committee
chaired by Baroness Ashton? Will that impinge on this?
(Mr Twigg) That will focus on early years. It will
701. Our inquiry showed that some of the mental
health problems that were going to emerge did emerge very early
indeed. Will this Committee have anything to do with that?
(Mr Twigg) It certainly will and hopefully it will
strengthen the ability to deliver on those areas, but it is early
years. I take your point that it has a relevance there.
702. Does that mean we can call Ministers from
that department to this Committee? I suppose it does.
(Mr Twigg) Baroness Ashton will be based in our department
and in DWP. She could appear before both committees, I would assume.
(It am sure she will love me for announcing that!)
Chairman: She has had experience with this Committee
703. Is this not another area where we have
just had an announcement of a lot of money for education but where
it is also important that the needs of children are looked at
holistically so that that money might need to be spent sometimes
on other professions and across health and social services, rather
than seeing it just as something that purely based in schools?
(Mr Twigg) Absolutely, and I think it requires a culture
change to get to that. I am sure we can change that culture.
704. As I said last week to the NUS, please
read our report before you comment on anything. In a totally different
tone, may I tell you that you are very welcome to have a copy
of our Early Years' report, which many people thought was rather
(Mr Twigg) I have heard it was excellent.
705. Minister, do you get the impression that
it has become much more difficult to be a parent over, say, the
last few years?
(Mr Twigg) Yes, I think that is fair. In a sense,
young people grow up a lot faster. Although 20 years ago the media
was there, we now have the multi-media and the knowledge and access
to new forms of technology. Young people have an ability to learn,
which has created more pressure on parents, without a doubt.
706. You have given two examples and I am going
to ask you why. Can I suggest another, that parents are worried
they are unable to get their children into a school that meets
their expectations in terms of ethos. They worry about the "you
cannot touch me" culture, which I think teachers and police
also face, among sometimes very young children. They worry that
schools will undermine their cultural history and traditions.
They worry about sending their kids to school with dreadful kids
with whom they would not choose for their children to associate.
(Mr Twigg) All of those worries clearly exist. I mentioned
the London Challenge, the fact that 40 per cent of parents in
Inner London do not get a secondary school of their choice. That
supports some of what you have said. I think there is a concern
that, in the quite proper desire to emphasise that people have
rights, sometimes we forget that people also have responsibilities.
That sort of culture can be very damaging and certainly can contribute
to poor behaviour in schools. I would not want to be entirely
negative about it because, like all of the Committee, I am sure
I visit schools where the vast majority of the pupils are very
well behaved and have a good understanding of their responsibilities
as well as their rights.
707. You can understand why parents want to
go and live in those areas and send their children to school there?
(Mr Twigg) Of course I understand that. Certainly,
in the context of London, creating schools where parents will
be happy with the ethos of the school and will see pupil behaviour
as the sort of behaviour you would expect is exactly the reason
why the London Challenge is so important to me. I can think of
schools in my own area where the local perception is that the
school, including therefore parents, may well be a lot poorer
than I see when I visit the school, but there is no reason why
the local community would necessarily be going to visit the school
in the way that I do as a Member of Parliament. The perception
of the community is based on how the young people are behaving
at the bus stop, on the bus or in the streets and shops after
school. That is what we have to deal with. Schools have a role
in dealing with that but it is obviously not just down to the
schools; it is also down to the parents. Yes, parents are under
new forms of pressure, but parents do also have responsibilities.
I think we need to emphasise, when we are talking about rights
and responsibilities, the responsibilities which the pupils have.
708. You are quite right that it is not just
the schools, but I am not sure it is the just that the parents
needing to know about their responsibilities. Can we not reinforce
and support parents more when they try to exercise responsibilities?
Can we not trust them more, rather than suggest that they have
got to recognise their responsibilities? Can we not give them
more support when they do that?
(Mr Twigg) I am agreeing with what you are saying
but I am not entirely sure where you are going with the question.
What sort of support are you talking about?
709. You are Minister for Young People, not
just for schools. How will you use your responsibilities in that
area to do what I think you agree with me should be done, and
that is to reinforce the ability of parents to exercise that task,
rather than merely saying, "You have this responsibility
and you have to exercise it"?
(Mr Twigg) You are right to say it is not just a question
of the responsibilities I might have for schools. I do think schools
have an important role to play in making themselves welcoming
places, encouraging parents to become involved in school activities,
in the home-school contract being seen as a genuinely positive
relationship between the home and the school, and not just something
that provides responsibilities in one direction or another. Then
it is also about the sort of message that we send out from Government,
the message that perhaps we send out, all of us as politicians,
about the nature of people's responsibilities. It is not, you
are quite right, just about schools or just about parents. Actually,
it is recognising a broader community responsibility for behaviour,
respect for one another and those sorts of things.
710. Is there not a word missing? I was part
of the Liaison Committee meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday.
He talked about rights and responsibilities as well. Is not the
bit that you are really aiming towards values? Is not the problem
that there has to be, surely, coming from parents, coming from
society, a set of values? In last week's debate, you will remember
that I said that people might say that in the 1980s, under a previous
Prime Minister, rather a materialistic culture occurred. Is it
not true that in a sense we have not reasserted values in terms
of what surrounds the environment of children's education? Rights
and responsibilities do not really mean much unless you have values.
(Mr Twigg) I totally agree, as I said in the debate
on Friday, that it is about the kinds of values we have: respect
for one another, respect for community, and a sense of responsibility
as well as rights is part of that.
711. And self-respect?
(Mr Twigg) Yes, and self-respect. One of the issues
that we all get in the communities we represent in Parliament
is a concern about litter and people throwing litter. It is often
said that pupils leave litter around the school gate. That is
an issue. We all equally see people in their forties and fifties
throwing litter out of their cars and as they walk along. The
idea that some of these issues about lack of respect and lack
of proper behaviour are simply
712. I was thinking of rather higher values
than litter, but never mind.
(Mr Twigg) I was giving a practical example.
Chairman: It was a very good example.
713. Following on this point, I understand you
are responsible for volunteering the link between encouraging
co-operation between schools and the voluntary sector, the Duke
of Edinburgh Award or something along those lines. Do you not
think there is more room for school to develop this theme? In
other words, it would certainly encourage the social responsibility
and make people aware that there are some less well off than themselves
and that there is a sort of responsibility to help, if one can.
The schools that I visit which participate actively in this way
seem to get a lot out of it.
(Mr Twigg) I could not agree more. This is a very
consensual discussion, is it not? There are some brilliant examples:
the Duke of Edinburgh Award, Young Enterprise, scouts and many
of the faith communities do a lot of excellent work with young
people and we need to learn from that. I have sympathy for those
young people who say, at 12, 13 or 14, "There is nothing
to do around here and nowhere for us to go". Providing some
of those facilities for young people might be a job for the local
authority, but it may well actually be better done by those who
are providing it on a voluntary basis but with support.
714. You are the Youth Services Minister and
people up and down the country say the youth services, providing
things for young people to do when they are bored, is one of the
weakest services in the country. What are you going to do about
(Mr Twigg) Can I answer that, but I feel I have not
answered John Baron's main point. I moved it on to the youth service
inadvertently. The Millennium Volunteers Programme, which I now
have responsibility for, is a brilliant initiative. I have met
a lot of the young people who have been through this programme
and graduated from it. It has made a real difference to their
lives. It has enabled them to become involved with projects in
their own local communities, and I want to see that continue to
thrive and prosper. I recognise that is only one programme and
there are other ways in which we can foster volunteering. Connexions
also has a role to play in encouraging young people, who might
not otherwise have considered volunteering, to take that up as
an option. We want to look at ways in which the time that young
people spend, perhaps between going to school or college and on
to higher education, can be better enhanced in terms of volunteering
opportunities. I think citizenship education will have an important
role to play in that as well. I cannot disagree that the youth
service has been under-funded for years and years. What are we
doing about it? Ivan Lewis, my predecessor, placed a great deal
of emphasis on this. The Transforming Youth Work project he took
forward is positive and it has been welcomed but there is clearly
a great deal more that needs to be done, both in terms of statutory
youth service provision and in the voluntary youth service. I
have had discussions already with a range of agencies, including
local government, about how we can get a shared definition of
what is an adequate and sufficient youth service, so that we can
have, if you like, a certain standard of service that any young
person can expect wherever they are in the country. The Committee
will know, from your own work and experience, that the amount
that is spent on youth services varies greatly from one local
authority to another. The amount of service that is then delivered
for that money varies greatly because actually some quite good
youth services are provided in areas that do not spend so much,
so it is not only about money. I am looking to make announcements
in the autumn about what would continue to be an adequate and
sufficient youth service, so that we can take that forward. There
is one thing to say to the Local Government Association: the more
that they can do to encourage their constituent members, the local
authorities, to be providing that service, the better.
715. Minister, you have spoken a bit about your
mother's experience. In terms of your own experience, do you think
you suffered from having had a one-size-fits-all education?
(Mr Twigg) I went to a very good comprehensive school,
Southgate School, and I think I benefited greatly from it. Looking
around London, or indeed the rest of the country, there are comprehensives
that are not so good. Recognising that not all comprehensives
in all areas of the country are meeting the challenges of the
21st century is not to rip up the comprehensive ideal. The comprehensive
ideal that each child has equal value and should be able to get
the best out of education is a very important one that I think
we have reaffirmed this week.
716. Do you think, as part of the comprehensive
ideal, parity of esteem between schools is equally important to
the principle of the equal worth of each child?
(Mr Twigg) Yes, I think parity of esteem is important
but, of course, where we do not have parity of esteem at the moment
there will be perceptions, whether right or wrong, of what is
a good school and what is a bad school, and that is not parity
of esteem. Therefore, we are recognising in the changes that we
are making to modernise the comprehensive system that we want
to have a high esteem for all schools. That does not exist at
the moment, whatever the good intentions, and there are great
intentions in the schools and in the local education authorities.
We all know the schools that are regarded locally as the good
schools, the not so good schools and the bad schools and that
is not parity of esteem.
717. How do we ensure, by introducing greater
diversity into the system, that we do not increase rather than
reduce the disparities of esteem?
(Mr Twigg) We certainly have to tread with care. But
I see, for example in London, the schools that are going to be
opening, the City Academies, in September. Certainly the school
that I know best is in the neighbouring borough to me, in Haringey,
serving a fairly disadvantaged community, a school that was not
perceived to be a good school. I think, with programmes like the
academy programme and specialist schools, we have the chance to
give new opportunities to communities that have often been let
down by the secondary schools in their
718. If I could ask you about your responsibilities
for 14-19 education. Is it still the Government's policy to equalise
the funding between sixth forms and colleges?
A. (Mr Twigg) We want to bring the funding
of the two so that they meet each other, certainly, yes.
719. Is there a time scale for that?
(Mr Twigg) There is not a specific time scale. Of
course we had the announcement this week of the one per cent real
terms' increase for FE funding by the Chancellor and I know, reading
the exchanges last year when Ivan was here, that you raised quite
properly the concern that the real level of funding of FE had
been in decline for many years, so to see a real increase I think
would be warmly welcomed, and that will obviously raise the ability
of FE colleges to provide a good standard of education, but we
are not putting a specific time scale on when the funding of sixth
forms and the funding of FEs will be the same. Clearly it will
take some time.