Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2001
1. Welcome to Chris Hughes, the Chief Executive
of the Learning and Skills Development Agency, and Ruth Silver,
Principal of Lewisham College. Many of us were together yesterday
at the happy launch of the Learning and Skills Research Centre,
and that puts me in mind of some of the remarks made by the Minister
and by other speakers. Can I start the questioning by emphasising
we are trying a new technique. You will know we are dusting off
the Further Education Inquiry our predecessors undertook.
There is only one person here who was on the original Committee
which did that inquiry, and that is Valerie Davey. Apart from
her, the whole Committee is new but we do know what the recommendations
were and we listened to the Minister taking us through the transition
from inquiry through to recommendations through to Government's
response and the present situation. We are trying something newshort
sessions of roundabout 30, 35 minutesso we are going to
keep our questions quite short and I hope you will come back briefly
if you can. I am going to start by saying what a happy situation
we are in and bounce this off you, Mr Hughes and Ms Silver. Over
this period of time we have had a Select Committee inquiry report,
the Select Committee made some pretty firm recommendations, the
Government seemed to respond reasonably positively and so many
of the problems which had been identified in the Further Education
Inquiry have been sorted, and we now live in a situation which
is much happier, a much more contented situation for students
and staff, and we are making steady progress, but we also know
there have been some very big institutional changes, the introduction
of the Learning and Skills Council and much else. So steady progress
and steady-as-you-go, is that how you see the situation, Mr Hughes?
(Mr Hughes) I would say steady progress.
The big policy issues in the 1998 Report were widening participation,
skills and standards, and there has been progress on all three
fronts. I would say for further education the major policy development
since 1998 was probably the contribution to 14 to 19 education.
That was not a consideration in 1998, so the emergence of the
14 to 19 phase is important. We have an institutional framework
which has changed and was not anticipated in 1998, the Learning
and Skills Act. I think that does mean that some of the key messages
of the 1998 Report become even more important. In the 1998 Report
there was constant reference to a need for a stronger framework
and greater clarity about priorities and purposes in the further
education sector. Now we have a much stronger planning framework
in further education and we do need to address the very fundamental
question of what is further education for. That is how I would
(Ms Silver) I think there is only one thing worse
than not getting what you want, and that is getting all you asked
for and being expected to keep your promises. I think what has
happened is that things are not, in practice, in colleges steady-as-you-go.
The rub from all the planning has been certainly the absence of
anxiety about money and futures but also the absence of teachers,
so the FE sector, having been given all that we really wanted
for a long time, finds itself unable to recruit staff. That is
a big difficulty. I am losing my teachers to schools, they pay
more, the hours are less, the holidays are longer, and that is
a real anxiety for people running colleges. There is also an absence
of trust because the money is bleeding from the students into
an audit regime which is very, very demanding. We have the presence
of purses but at a time when there is a slightly out-dated mindset
in the academic/vocational divide which is employing them. What
I want to say is that it is not what you do but the way you do
it. I want to remind you of the philosophy that today's solution
is tomorrow's problem. We solved the issues in the last Select
Committee Report but it has presented some new problems for us.
2. Can I ask you about the planning process
and the role of the LSC? Are you both satisfied with the performance
of the LSC in its first six months, and are you convinced there
is now a clear sense of strategic direction? The second point
is, what about the relationship between the national LSC and the
local LSCs, is that relationship working satisfactorily? Thirdly,
on the financing, my recollection of the Learning and Skills Act
is there was going to be a saving of £50 million in bureaucracy
due to the formation of the LSC. Do you think that saving has
been made? Are you conscious of a new slimmed-down version of
(Mr Hughes) Briefly, yes, yes and no.
3. That is all we need to hear!
(Mr Hughes) I have been very impressed by the relationship-building
going on at local level, and when these reforms were announced
I was concerned there could be more difficulty at local level
than we have seen notwithstanding one or two headline cases. There
is some way to go before we have clarity about the national planning
framework and we probably need to get into one or two iterations
of the planning round but the dangers are very clear. We know
the problems of too much micro-level planning, and if colleges
are subjected to anything which resembles some of the practices
of the past on planning at course level, for example, I think
we will run into terrible difficulties. I am sure the LSC are
mindful of that and will set out broad, planning frameworks. But
there will be issues because the world does not sit naturally
in 47 areas; people live in one area, work in another and study
in a third, so there will be all those sorts of difficulties.
I am impressed with progress locally in building relationships
and the sense of co-operative partnership effort, but there is
a long way to go before we see national strategy on planning in
action, in my view. I do not think I am able to comment on whether
£50 million has been saved or not saved.
(Ms Silver) I ended my front paper by talking about
the ten tensions, fault lines, in the great dream, and one of
them for us in the colleges is that governors have responsibility
for planning and the educational character of the college, yet
the LSC is working on a planning regime as well, and how that
articulation will play out will determine whether it will be successful.
I have no sense of any savings whatsoever. As a principal of a
college, the bureaucracy is absolutely alarming.
4. I am sorry? The bureaucracy?
(Ms Silver)has increased. I have an inspection
starting on Monday and there was a pre-visit questionnaire of
136 questions just on finance and governance.
5. From the LSC nationally?
(Ms Silver) Yes, from the national system. My sense
is that it is like Marks & Spencer's because there is a Marks
& Spencer's head office and then outlets around the country
and the outlets are busy learning the new systems they are being
asked to operate and are struggling with it. I assume that is
part of this learning phase of the LSC and that will play out
6. Some people argued there was a missed opportunity
when Regional Development Agencies were not brought into this
strategic level of planning. Is this something which has a resonance
with you, or do you think the Regional Development Agencies should
be left out of the circle?
(Mr Hughes) Our own submission at the time of consultation
ahead of the Act suggested a stronger regional focus for these
arrangements. I am still not sure what the mechanism is by which
an RDA (although perhaps better located in the DTI now) gets a
purchase on what happens in the supply side of skills.
7. Ms Silver, you mentioned particularly the
need for teachers, and I think last time you and I met across
this table there certainly was a goodwill factor from the staff.
We have since had the teachers pay initiative, can you tell us
how that has worked out, and, secondly, where that leaves the
(Ms Silver) It is very welcome. It is a three year
project and so there will be more money coming which can be planned
further. It is not enough, absolutely not enough, but it is a
smashing start to this new agenda. The non-teaching staff, as
they are referred to, are very unhappy about it, they feel left
out and we have a long time to make other staff feel as valued
as teachers. I believe the unions will make some submissions towards
the Government about that. It is very welcome for teaching staff,
they are delighted and look forward to it continually improving.
8. Before I ask for another comment, can I link
it up with the LSC and say there seemed to be a delay in getting
the money through in this first year as a result of the LSC's
involvement. Is that true?
(Ms Silver) I am not sure what they are doing. Not
all colleges have yet worked out how they want to spend it, they
are in discussions with their unions, and some have, so I think
it varies between institutions. I am not aware of that problem
in our area. I want to support what Chris has said. We have a
London college and there are five London TECs and it is problematic
getting a London over-view, and I think that shows the need for
the RDA question to be revisited at some stage.
(Mr Hughes) On staffing, to draw the Committee's attention
to the research of my own organisation which is in our papers,
we did a survey of 9,500 staff in 80 colleges assessing the levels
of satisfaction with their working environments. These surveys
have a propensity to produce low figures. It is in the nature
of them that people are more easily persuaded to be dissatisfied
than satisfied, but even so the levels of dissatisfaction with
their working lot were quite telling; it was quite striking in
comparison to surveys in other sectors.
9. There have been concerns that spending departments
have been returning monies to the Treasurythat might not
be a concern for all in governmentand one of the complaints
of colleges is about earmarked funding, and I think 10 per cent
of overall funding is for specific measures. Does the fact you
are having difficulty recruiting staff, because of the reasons
you have just referred to, put you off applying for particular
pots of money for projects? Would you agree that perhaps the infrastructure
within colleges and other public services is one of the reasons?
Because the core funding has not been addressed in the way it
should have beenit should have been more specificyou
have not got the personnel to deliver on particular projects?
(Ms Silver) That is a tension and it may be the hardest
one I deal with, because every project funded needs staff and
a separate regime to manage it. For example, the Standards Fund
takes a top slice just in the administration of it in our college,
the Beacon College. It does not put me off because my college
in Deptford needs all the help it can get but it is very hard
to recruit to full-time, reasonably paid posts, and very difficult
to recruit to one or two year projects. My governors have put
that as our highest risk management factor to be monitored this
10. Schools complained about the restrictions
on the Standards Fund and the Government responded by providing
more flexibility. Has that happened with the FE sector?
(Ms Silver) There are indications they are considering
doing that but at the moment it has not happened. The loss of
discretion to colleges I think risks the loss of responsiveness.
So having to do particular things for particular purses and in
particular ways creates problems, whereas if we were able to say
what the whole of the college needs to be funded, some of those
tensions would disappear.
11. Even if there was not new money? You would
say to ministers, "Let's have more flexibility with what
is already available", and that would help, would it?
(Ms Silver) In line with the plan and in line with
very public documents, that would be enormously helpful. The compliance
demands are quite a burden these days.
12. I would like to build on the line Jonathan
Shaw was questioning on but from a slightly different angle. Mr
Hughes was mentioning low morale in his evidence and I wondered
if he could confirm whether there is any correlation between the
morale of the staff and the outcomes of the students? I wonder
if Ms Silver could tell us whether in her particular specific
experience there is still this problem of retaining staff when
staff in sixth forms doing similar jobs can get paid more money,
particularly with the performance payments? I would like to explore
this other area and see if there is anything we can put to the
ministers who come before us over these next few weeks which will
help to drive policy forward in this area.
(Mr Hughes) We are currently examining exactly that
proposition, that there may be a relationship between staff satisfaction
and student satisfaction. Early indications are that it is tentative
and I certainly would not want to say on the record there is a
clear relationship between the two but we are undertaking research
right now into that. What is clear is that there is a relationship
between student satisfaction and achievement in colleges.
(Ms Silver) Miraculously no, in my experience, and
that is because magical things happen between teachers and students
in the classroom. You do not go into teaching unless it has some
personal meaning to you. In my college, achievement has been pushed
up continually in a very difficult part of inner city London,
and that is to the credit of all the staff in the college. The
sixth form colleges present a real risk and we see more of them
happening in London than we anticipated, because it is much easier
to teach students who are younger, who are there all the time
and you get to know them. I have a student body where 80 per cent
are part-time and it is very difficult to build that community
of learning. I can see why my teachers leave to go to work in
sixth form colleges, not just because of the money but the satisfaction
in teaching is higher given the consistency and constancy of the
13. But the problem with the money is still
there, is it not? After all, people have mortgages to pay.
(Ms Silver) Sure.
14. They go to work primarily for the pay, job
satisfaction is very important but primarily for pay. Is the money
different between what you can pay your staff and what staff can
be paid for doing much the same job in a sixth form environment
which is perhaps more steady? Is that difference in pay a problem
(Ms Silver) Yes, it is £6,000 in some cases doing
exactly the same job and in easier circumstances. It is a real
problem. I think it is to the credit of the teaching staff they
have shown loyalty in staying with colleges, which are quite tough
places to work in sometimes.
Chairman: We will probe how those percentages
have changed with future witnesses.
15. Individual Learning Accounts have been stopped
at a stroke and, certainly in my view, we have an acute shortage
of IT skills and that is an area which ILAs were particularly
geared towards. I am wondering if you have views about that.
(Ms Silver) I did not think they were stopped permanently,
I thought they were just being paused for a minute.
16. I think they have been frozen.
(Ms Silver) Yes. We found them incredibly helpful
with our own blue collar staff who were the last to get any right
to training. They took those up. They were just beginning to be
understood. People are a bit suspicious about getting money for
learning, but they were becoming less suspicious and were starting
to use them. I think colleges started to talk to students at the
first exchange saying, "Do you know you can have an individual
learning account", and I am not looking forward to explaining
to my students that unless they have it already it is not going
to happen now. I think they made a difference, there was not enough
money in them but it was a start and met the serious need for
(Mr Hughes) Our own work on ILAs shows they were enormously
popular but inevitably there was a deadweight factor in that they
were going to people who were already involved in the system.
I think that is an issue for the Committee to consider in targeting
the support now to learners, that it is very hard to escape deadweight
factors and target very finely so that you really only do support
the people who would otherwise not be involved in the system.
I think that is quite an issue. Of course, ILAs were particularly
helpful in IT, that was a very strong area for them, and I hope
it is a suspension and we can revisit ILAs perhaps particularly
for workforce development, for people in employment, and find
a mechanism there without some of the downsides.
17. Is not one of the things you have been going
on about the failure of FE to widen participation, and one of
the problems is that the people taking up the individual learning
accounts tend to be professional people, people who have had training
and a very small percentage are the people we would target in
terms of having no qualifications and no experience of FE or HE?
I notice, and this is one of your themes, Mr Hughes, that widening
participation in FE or even in ILAs is not actually working. Is
that still a problem in FE? I know Ruth Silver has a great record
in her college of widening participation but generally, nationally,
are we really widening participation in FE?
(Mr Hughes) Clearly we have not made the progress
since 1998 we would have hoped to. We have just discussed ILAs,
the Widening Participation Factor in the funding of colleges has
produced fairly minimal results in our view, and the figures are
clear on that. I think inevitably we will have to look at some
more demand-side strategies now, for example, an entitlement to
free tuition and free examination entry up to Level 2 for all
adults. Unless we look at some bolder policy options like that,
rather than driving the colleges through finely sliced approaches
to the funding mechanism, I do not think we will get the progress
18. What do you mean by "finely sliced"?
Could you explain it? We are slow learners ourselves, tell us
what you are getting at there.
(Mr Hughes) I do not believe that for a moment! If
you look at the technical complexities of putting a postcode premium
on the funding of individual students, there are others in this
room today who could talk more lyrically than I could about all
the nuances of the methodology which can be used to do that, and
the weight of the factor and how it works in practice and so on.
I simply say, we are running out of steam with those sorts of
approaches and we need to look at some clearer demand-side approachesLevel
2 entitlements, paid educational leave, tax credits, whatever
19. Educational Maintenance Allowances?
(Mr Hughes) Yes, certainly EMAs, and student support,
income-contingent loans for adults in further education, a whole
raft of measures.
23 Sixth Report from the Education and Employment Committee,
Session 1997-98: Further Education, HC 264-I. See also First Special
Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 1998-99,
Government's Response to the Sixth Report from the Committee,
Session 1997-98: Further Education, HC 56. Back
Evidence p 6. Back