Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 700-719)




  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 impinge.

  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 before.

Meg Munn

  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 good.
  (Mr Twigg) I have heard it was excellent.

Mr Turner

  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.

Mr Turner

  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.

Mr Pollard

  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.

Mr Baron

  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 that?
  (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.

Mr Chaytor

  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.

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