Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Exmination of Witnesses (Questions 240-258)



  240. I think you alluded earlier to the fact that you felt a lot of the people who were in running for ILA accounts in your college were people who had had qualifications before. They were "already on the ladder" I think was the phrase you used. Do you think that was the vast majority of people?
  (Mr Ingleson) I think that the majority of people we brought in through the scheme in 2000-01 had no qualifications. The college has a set of strategies in place to reach the student groups that are priority for us. We have been successful in bringing in significant numbers of students that have not traditionally been exposed to FE. Many of those have come with no formal qualifications. My comment on that, though, was that once they have used the ILA many of them have gone on to subsequent qualifications who would not have been able to afford that without a second bite of the cherry.

  241. Can I ask Mr Gibson whether you think that is true across all of the colleges?
  (Mr Gibson) Our view would be that the majority were people who I think would fall in the general category of not being into learning and not having previous qualifications. However, I think we would be cautious abut this because I think there is also a section of people who have come for re-skilling and updating and up-skilling and I would want to see that we were able to provide that opportunity as well.

  242. Do you think any successor scheme for colleges in general, and yours, Mr Ingleson, as well, would do anything differently in terms of marketing and trying to bring in people who were not perhaps caught by the first ILA scheme?
  (Mr Gibson) I think that if there was a clear scheme and it was one which ensured that the providers had been accredited, so that there was a very rigorous accreditation process and after that colleges were then encouraged to market and so on, yes, I think that could be very successful.

Valerie Davey

  243. As an association with the experience that the colleges in total have now had, would there be two specific comments that you would want to make to the Government for any new launch of ILAs?
  (Mr Gibson) Yes, there would. (1) We would want them seriously to encourage, as much as we are able to find, a successful marketing plan. I believe, as I said right at the beginning, that we did release learning (if I may put it in that way) to people who otherwise may not have had it. From that point of view, we very, very strongly support it. (2)—and I am sorry to repeat this, but I think it is appropriate—we would want to see accreditation of the organisations providing the training, where, in order to ensure that is being properly done, that was rigorous, if you did not pass it, you did not participate in it, and if you did you were then allowed to get on with it. What I think we do not want is a typical bureaucratic response, which is to pile more bureaucracy on yet more bureaucracy on yet more bureaucracy. We have explained in this Committee before, through you Chairman, that there is already far too much of that. Let us be very rigorous because we want to be accountable but be rigorous at the point of agreeing what is an appropriate organisation.

  244. Following that on, you mentioned specifically, Mr Ingleson, as I understood it, the difference between the front-loading payment which you saw on this scheme and what in most college courses is obviously end-loading finance. I wonder whether that is an aspect that you would want to highlight as well.
  (Mr Ingleson) Can I take the first part first. I was inspector for nine years, as an HMI and then a senior regional inspector for the Further Education Funding Council. I do not come particularly to argue the case for colleges today. Much of my work was about assessing need and assessing demand and I believe that there are many different ways in which that demand and need can be met. In both institutions in which I have worked as a principal, I have a track record of working with voluntary and private sector providers to make sure that that spread is as wide and as comprehensive as we can make it. What I would say is that one of the arguments that has been adduced for the audit load that we have is that large institutions, when they go wrong, carry greatest risk. I think that if that is an argument which is held, then the opposite of that also ought to be true, that if you wish to make greatest impact you make judicious investment in big institutions who have a clear strategic aim and have the resources to deliver significant programme in terms of volume. One of the issues with which I struggled with the ILA was a sense of target at one end and a confetti-like approach to the way the money was spread on the other, and they do not sit easily for me. I think there are issues there about definition in terms of what the money would be used for in any marketing scheme. I do not have a strong view one way or the other about the question you asked me specifically, other than that it would be nice to have consistency.

  245. The organisation you have not mentioned yet, which was new in this particular development, was the involvement of Capita. As far as the colleges are concerned, how efficient or otherwise was Capita in this development?
  (Mr Ingleson) Dreadful.
  (Mr Gibson) Can I slightly rephrase that! I think there have been deep concerns.

Mr Chaytor

  246. Dreadfully deep concerns.
  (Mr Gibson) Yes. Through you, Chairman, yes, dreadfully deep concerns.

  Valerie Davey: I think we would like to unpack that, as they say, a little more carefully.


  247. You know that we are interviewing Capita next week.
  (Mr Gibson) Yes. I am sure you will be asking them what checks they made on people applying, how rigorous and robust their systems were, how easy it was to get into the system. Those are questions which have been raised publicly.

Valerie Davey

  248. What did you see as their responsibility to you, not only to the Association but to the colleges?
  (Mr Ingleson) The responsibility is more to the student. That was where it did not work. The greatest problem we had was at the point of contact with the understanding for the system, with a major training need for our front-line teaching staff to the extent that we print cards for them: "This is how you do it: Write on the blackboard, "(1) open a bank account'"—because most of the students we were working with did not have bank accounts. The steps that were involved with that at that first point of contact by definition are going to be very difficult for the group of students at which we are aiming the system. We put in place a very complex, to them, web-based administration system and a telephone help line that did not work, and then we wondered why they struggled and why we had difficulties around the administration. I do not know what the specification was that they were given, but I do know at that interface between learner and us and the system we had huge difficulties.

Mr Shaw

  249. I would like to move us on to the type of learning that students undertook on ILAs and also look to the future. You talked about targeting and bringing in people who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to learn, and ILAs were a vehicle for that. We have expressed some concern about the number of people who have taken up ILAs who have not had any learning before. Do you think that it if the subsidy was widened for other areas of learning, that would then increase the number of people who would otherwise have the opportunity to come forward and take the opportunity for learning? This very much concentrated on IT and numeracy skills to get this discount. If we had a far wider range of courses available for this discount, do you think we would see more people who would not otherwise enter into learning coming to colleges and seeking training in ILAs?
  (Mr Gibson) Yes, I do. I have no doubt about it. If the percentage of "bonus" which is given to a college for widening participation was increased, I think that would also have the same effect. It is very expensive to do some of the things Mr Ingleson talked about. If you are sending a member of staff out to work in the community, work in a community centre and so on, that costs money. We were talking informally outside about a woman returner, not unlike the one Stuart has outlined, and the effect of that person going on and getting a degree, the effect of that in a family, the expectations of the children and so on, I believe has a massive potential. So we would want to do whatever we could. Another example, given the other general brief, would be EMAs. I think they have proven that where there is financial support you increase the participation and you increase and improve retention. If that is working, let us do it for everybody. Let us have it universal.

  250. Should there be a criterion for learning? Should anything go? If you want to do body massage, feng shui, photography, does it matter? Or is it only computers that are good?
  (Mr Ingleson) The need for us to become more IT literate I think is very, very important. I particularly work in an area of the country where we have a deficit of businesses which are IT specific and we certainly have a shortfall of IT application within other businesses in the area. We need to generate additional skills and amongst the people currently in our workforce. I have no doubt that the kind of skills that we have provided through much of this activity is worthwhile. What I want to say, though, as I indicated earlier, is that we have actually brought students in on to a large part of the college's curriculum offered, not just the IT-based activity, and I do not believe they would have been there if they had not had the learning account to support them.

  251. Do you think that we should continue with the universal approach or do you think that we should look at models, such as your college has too, where you are targeting particular groups?
  (Mr Ingleson) I think the machinery that can be put in place for a phase 2 would allow a sense of priority. I am more comfortable with something which talks about eligibility rather than targeting. If it is to be something which lets people exercise individual choice and freedoms, I struggle with the concept of targeting. If it is about saying there are groups out there that we believe have a right for learning in ways that they have not exercised before: How will we define that group? and: How are we going to make this opportunity available to them? would be the way that I would wish to see that happen. The piece of machinery that the State already has in place is the Learning Skills Council—and I say that with some reluctance, if my colleagues behind me will excuse me.

  252. Why?
  (Mr Ingleson) Because at the moment I am not entirely sure how the LSC will develop in the future. If you give 5,000 people a job, they will seek to discharge that to the best of their ability, so they will send me letters which are interminably inconsistent, they will bury me in paperwork and at a level of detail which is quite remarkable. The strategic planning role—

Mr Pollard

  253. They are shaking their heads behind you.
  (Mr Ingleson) I am quite sure they will.

  Chairman: You carry on, Mr Ingleson.

Mr Pollard

  254. There is a knife coming towards you.
  (Mr Ingleson) The issue for me, going forward, is the strategic planning role that they have as a very important part of their task—if there were to be groups or communities defined as a priority area and the LSC has the wherewithal to direct the funding to make sure their needs are best met.

Mr Shaw

  255. If you shape the courses you are offering more to the communities, then surely you will be more successful. That is the way perhaps to prioritise. I wonder what percentage of the people coming on to the ILA courses at your college went for IT because of the subsidy.
  (Mr Ingleson) I cannot answer that. I think it would be quite significant, yes.


  256. Do you see the ILA as a criticism of your track record, in the sense that what you are saying is that the ILA has at least got through to a whole range of people you have failed to attract in the past by whatever strategies you have developed. In a sense, are you not really a rather stodgy, boring bit of the educational sector that does not really excite people? ILAs have rather embarrassed you in one sense, have they not?
  (Mr Ingleson) I think that is a bit like criticising a boxer who loses because he has got one arm tied behind his back, Chairman.

  257. One of the exciting things about ILAs, as we have been learning from evidence, was that new providers came in who actually cared about the consumer, and they had a different kind of environment. We know there are potentially participants in education that are put off going through a college or an establishment or an institution like yours. Are you not being a bit dog in the manger-ish about this?
  (Mr Ingleson) That is not quite the phrase I would choose, Chairman. I think the evidence within the sector generally—and David is probably far better equipped than me to answer this—is that, with the resource, colleges can deliver. Whether that be in partnership, whether it be working with third party or whether it be with investing the resource in provision in the communities, where people have got access to that, if the resource is there it can be done.
  (Mr Gibson) I think you know well that if you took all parts of the education system, it is the further education part of it which has done more for social inclusion than any other part. We have consistently said that we are underfunded. If you look at the percentage, as I said, for widening participation, if you look at the core funding and all the issues we have brought to you before, if you listen to the TUC and their learning partnerships (I think 80 of them are with colleges and that is the vast majority), I think we can quite honestly sit here and feel quite proud about our sector as far as that is concerned.

Mr Chaytor

  258. Leaving aside the question of the historic levels of FE funding and coming back to the AoC survey, does it not surprise you, leaving aside Preston college but of the other colleges you surveyed, how little impact ILAs had and how few ILAs seem to have been taken up? I come back to this figure of £25,000, the anticipated loss of fee income. I find it staggering how little involvement colleges as a whole appear to have had, if that is the modest scale of the losses they are declaring now. Is that not a criticism of the sector as a whole for being insufficiently enterprising? If you were still a college principal, do you think you personally would have been able to use them more creatively than some of your colleagues seem to have done over the last 10 years?
  (Mr Gibson) It would depend on the quality of the outreach staff, Chairman. I think I am having my leg pulled in a way that it is not for us to discuss publicly. I do not accept that, no. As I explained to you earlier, the survey did not take place until the end of November/beginning of December. That is the Christmas period. The information we brought to you was finished on 22 January. I would not expect every sixth-form college to be involved in ILAs and therefore you are actually more likely to be talking about general FE colleges and I would have thought that that return was pretty good for that length of time. We have deliberately given the other figures at their most modest. We believe it is £100,000 equivalent over a full year and that is a very serious underestimate. So I do not think so. But, even at these figures, can I remind you through the Chairman that this showed a potential deficit to the colleges of £2.5 million.

  Chairman: I am afraid we are going to have to wind this part of the discussion up. I know Kerry Pollard is desperate for a last question but I am going to use it in a different form with the next witnesses. Mr Ingleson, Mr Gibson, on behalf of the Committee may I thank you for your attendance today.

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