Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
MONDAY 12 NOVEMBER 2001
100. I know you are not at the moment.
(Mr Harwood) There was a ministerial guarantee, real
101. That only applied to schools which do not
have a reduction in the number of sixth formers.
(Mr Harwood) That is true, it applies providing they
maintain or increase their numbers. If their numbers decline then
the reduction takes place at a lower rate, in other words the
unit funding which is withdrawn is quite a low level compared
with some of the funding going into the school sixth forms. That
is a point we have received some criticism for because we apply
that both to the growth and to the reduction of funding places
in sixth forms. That is the position, a promise has been made
and we are going to guarantee that. In terms of the longer term,
our position has to be, as was promised earlier in the year, there
will be an upwards convergence of funding to bring those to the
level of school sixth forms.
102. And you are comfortable you can deliver
that upwards convergence?
(Mr Harwood) When you say that I am comfortable we
can deliver it, I am not sure what
103. You have the resources promised?
(Mr Harwood) I have not seen the grant letter for
next year, so I cannot give you a precise answer to that question.
What I can say is that if you look at the existing forecast of
public expenditure then it is clear that the real terms guarantee
can be met for school sixth forms, but the other provision is
not going to converge.
104. Come on, Mr Harwood! Are you being totally
honest with the Committee? The fact is you have a chairman sitting
on your left there who, in an interview with the TES, said
he thought Ministers' commitment to the funding regime for sixth
form colleges was unfortunate. Surely people out there will think,
"Here is the chairman of the LSC who really wants to cut
down funding to sixth forms and get a common playing field at
a lower level", that is the truth, is it not? Otherwise he
would not have said that in the interview.
(Mr Sanderson) I also made it clear I was speaking
105. I have to say on these matters, Mr Sanderson,
you cannot speak personally now you are chairman of the LSC.
(Mr Sanderson) Okay.
106. I am not criticising you, Mr Sanderson,
I am just saying, come on, level with the Committee. You obviously
thought it was unfortunate that the Secretary of State had made
that commitment. Why?
(Mr Sanderson) We both went to the London School of
Economics and I do not really think, putting it completely frankly,
giving open-ended financial commitments is something which can
be sustained for a long period of time. Just in principle I do
not think that is deliverable.
107. But below that, Mr Sanderson, do you think
sixth forms are over-funded and alternative provision is under-funded?
(Mr Sanderson) If you add to that that if you do the
same job in an FE college with the same qualifications, as I understand
it, and I am new to this, you get paid about 10 to 12 per cent
less than if you do it in sixth formsand we do have a little
bit of evidence that people are starting to walk from one to the
otherthen this constraint is clearly something which needs
to be looked at very carefully.
108. May I come back to Mr Harwood's point on
the convergence? Did I understand you to say that under the existing
Government spending plans the convergence would not be possible,
that is to say it would not be possible to bring up the unit funding
for further education colleges to the level of sixth forms in
(Mr Harwood) Yes. As we understand it, projecting
forward the current way that funding is allocated to school sixth
forms on the one hand and FE provision on the other handand
you will be familiar that the funding formula, assuming the real
terms guarantee is operating which it clearly isit involves
a formula which very, very roughly is RPI-plus for schools, and
RPI-minus for colleges. If that formula continues to be applied,
clearly there is going to be a divergence mathematically. Our
current calculation, taking a commitment for upwards convergence
as it is knownsorry about the loose terminology but assuming
you understand the meaning of the wordsthen in order to
get to a situation where 16 to 18 year olds in FE
are funded at the same level as the reality in schools, driven
by the real terms guarantee, then we need an extra somewhere around
£280 million to meet that. If one then rolled out that upwards
convergence not just to 16 to 18, in other words the equivalents,
but to the broader base of FE students, then that would need about
£600 million a year. Those are very rough figures about the
differentials which exist at the moment in the system.
109. Thank you that is very useful. Given that
the LSC in contrast to the FEFC, which it has subsumed, has a
planning function and not just a financing function, do you have
a view on the minimum size of a sixth form school that is viable
under the current regime or under any future regime?
(Mr Harwood) No.
110. Given that you have a planning function,
should you not have a view?
(Mr Sanderson) Can I have a go at that? I think this
is absolutely fundamental to what we are trying to do. The underlying
theme touched on the importance of the local Learning and Skills
Councils and I very much come from a business culture which says
that operating decisions are taken by operating units, which in
this case is the local Learning and Skills Councils. We canand
we dopronounce on the national strategy and national targets
and of course we inherited our remit and a terrific one it is
too, but when it comes to the point where the things are going
to grind together, it has to be a local decision about the size
of sixth forms, whether FE colleges should be amalgamated and
so on. There is no neutral position and we have to respond to
societal changes and we will have to change, so what we are saying
is, very clearly, that these local Learning and Skills Councils
must produce their own strategies which are well under way now
after all the consultations which they are required to doabout
50 different bodiesand come up with something which has
local clout behind it which is viewed about 80-20 (because you
never get 100 per cent consensus) as the best for Warrington or
wherever it is. Then go from there to come up with difficult recommendations
in these sort of areas and at least it will then, when it is pushed
up to the national level, have the force and authority of a local
consensus behind it. I think what we should be doing is trying
to put some process in place which makes sense and this is about
as near as we can get so far.
111. So you would expect each local LSC would
have a view about the minimum size?
(Mr Sanderson) Yes, because clearly in Devon or Cornwall
there would be a case for having smaller sixth forms here and
there, but much less of a case if you were in central Manchester.
112. Given that the LSC now has an involvement
in inspection and issues of quality as well as financing, does
the LSC nationally, or would you accept individual LSCs, have
a view on the extent to which small sixth forms could provide
the broad and balanced curriculum which is to be expected from
(Mr Sanderson) We have views
113. Would you publish those views?
(Mr Sanderson) I would expect the local ones to vary
very significantly, because what is appropriate for one set of
geography and logistics will not be appropriate for another.
114. But we have a national curriculum.
(Mr Sanderson) We have a national curriculum but there
have to be modifications around it.
(Mr Harwood) There are a whole range of factors which
need to be borne in mind in any one particular case and the purpose
of the area inspections is to ask questions about how well the
provision in any particular area is meeting the needs of the young
people and the community of that particular area.. One then has
to say, "What is the quality? What is happening? How well
is it meeting the needs for curriculum choice and quality of learning
and so on?" It may well be that there are different answers
to the simple question of the numbers that you are asking, and
those answers will be different in different parts of the country.
Are there collaborative arrangements in place, for example? Are
there issues about rural sparsity which means if you move that
school sixth form somewhere else it would be impossible for people
to get there? There are a whole range of issues which I think
make it very difficult to say there is some magic number which
is the minimum size of a school sixth form, and certainly we have
not even tried to produce a minimum number. As the chairman said,
we are concerned to make sure these decisions are taken pragmatically
in different parts of the country in terms of the different circumstances
that they face.
115. What you are saying essentially is, although
you broadly accept that in terms of economic viability and capacity
to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum small sixth forms will
struggle, there may be justification in rural areas for them to
(Mr Sanderson) Correct.
116. What would worry this Committee, taking
the business analogy a little further, is if the LSC did not have
the capacity to evaluate on a regular basis the success of whatever
the mix and match is at the local level. Evidence to this Committee's
predecessor, the Education and Employment Committee, suggested
something which amazed us, that the eastern region of the United
Kingdom is the lowest-performing region of all in terms of FE
and HE. We would expect, surely, the LSC nationally would have
a role in saying, "Okay, we have this quite sophisticated
tool, going down postal codes, finding out the performance in
FE" and then doing something about it.
(Mr Sanderson) You are absolutely right, of course,
but this has to be a dialogue between the centre and the local
Learning and Skills Councils, and an iterative and reiterative
process which will go on forever which will respond to local changes.
Also, do not forget, the starting position is not the same. Salford,
for example, I think has no sixth forms at all. It will have to
be an iterative and reiterative process and the centre will describe
the strategy and the basic precepts and the targets and the boundaries
within which it can workan important thing for good business
practiceand then local conditions are applied. I do not
think we should go for an alternative scenario which is to say,
"No sixth forms with less than 136 pupils will be entertained."
That would not make any sense at all.
117. Your Key Objectives and Targets for 2004
are set out in your Strategic Framework, your Corporate Plan,
and clearly if these targets are going to be met we need to ensure
that further education colleges are delivering a quality curriculum,
which is something you have corresponded on with colleges and
has been the subject of some media coverage in recent weeks. I
do not want to dwell too much on that but you might want to say
something on that as you have the opportunity. Clearly, the Association
of Colleges do have a view that in order for them to deliver they
will be far more effective if they were not bound up with such
complicated arrangements of inspection. Dr John Brennan told the
Committee that within the space of two months one further education
college had an audit from ten different organisations, involving
57 individual visits, and the principal of Sheffield College told
us he expected a total of 240 inspectors within the current academic
year. Clearly that takes up time, energy and cash as well. OFSTED
has the remit to inspect. When you meet Mike Tomlinsonand
we will be seeing him in Decemberwhat will you say are
the top three concerns in terms of inspection?
(Mr Harwood) Do you mean arising from inspection?
Mr Shaw: Do you have a concern about all this
inspection which is taking place, whether it is too bureaucratic
for the colleges, causing them to be continually spending their
time and energy on that and having less time concentrating on
the curriculum and providing more effectively-run institutions?
118. If we had people like this wandering around
BP Amoco service stations, no one would ever get any petrol, would
they? They would be filling in forms all the time. Can I take
Mr Sanderson first because you were shaking your head when Jonathan
was speaking and I wondered why.
(Mr Sanderson) What you are talking about, and I will
let John speak because it is very near his heart, is our inheritance
in large part. We have to spend some time on rationalising this
but we have already started the process. If I go and sit at the
other end, which I have doneand I have been going round
the colleges as you might expect me to doand I sit down
at the desk and ask two or three people, "What do you have
to fill in to get this IT grant" or whatever it is, well
there is much room for improvement.
119. Far too much inspection, far too much bureaucracy
and you are going to reduce it, are you?
(Mr Sanderson) Of course, we are.
2 Note by witness: full-time. Back