WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001
Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
BARONESS ASHTON OF UPHOLLAND, a Member of the House of Lords, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Early Years and School Standards, examined.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) As a member of Estelle Morris's ministerial team, my lead responsibilities include early years in childcare, primary education, special educational needs, school inclusion, truancy and discipline, and National Curriculum, assessment and performance tables issues for five to 14 year olds. I also lead on e-learning within schools, the schools building programme, protection of school playing fields and school governance. I am of course responsible for all education and skills matters in the House of Lords. In the next few minutes, I will attempt to give a necessarily broad-brush overview of what we are trying to achieve across this portfolio and my specific goals and targets. Our fundamental aim is to ensure that as many children as possible leave school with the education, skills and attitudes they need to make a success of their lives in the workplace, as citizens and within their families. This is partly about building a better educated and more highly skilled workforce, but it is also about helping the one in five children who live in poverty and their families, to use the opportunity which education offers to break out of the downward cycle of deprivation and social exclusion. We are also seeking to develop the schools' capacity to respond to the individual needs of every child, whatever their abilities and circumstances. We know that early years education can make a real difference to children's ability to benefit from their subsequent schooling, particularly the children from homes which are relatively lacking in stimulus and support. That is why we have provided nursery education for all four year olds and why we are working towards our goal of nursery education for all three year olds by 2004. Alongside early years education, affordable quality childcare is a top priority for families. By 2004, working in close co-operation with the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions, we will have created 900,000 new childcare places for 1.6 million children up to the age of 14. Our ambitions is that every lone parent in the most disadvantaged areas who enters work should have access to a childcare place. The cross-departmental Sure Start programme is providing a range of support for parents to be and families with children under four living in disadvantaged areas. We are also working to develop more childcare provision that is integrated with nursery education, schools and other family services. I am particularly keen to help schools develop as providers of a range of services to support families between childcare. I am chairing the informal review supported by the Treasury and project managed by the PIU at Number 10. Supporting young children and their families so that children are ready to learn when they begin primary school is a critical part of our strategy. Equally, we are continuing to work with schools to increase the numbers of children who, by the end of their primary schooling, are able to read, write and use numbers effectively. Primary schools have achieved a truly dramatic improvement in the last four years in the proportion of 11 year olds reaching the standard in English and mathematics, which they need if they are to benefit fully from their secondary education, We are providing further support and investment to help schools meet the targets for next year, but it is not about hitting targets in inself, it is about realising the full potential of as many children as possible. There are still very considerable variations in the results achieved between schools including between schools with similar pupil intakes. Every child matters which is why we are continuing our drive to get standards up overall. We are consulting now on new targets for 2004 including, for the first time, the target that 35 per cent of 11 year olds should reach level 5 in English and maths to ensure we are stretching the more able pupils as well as raising average levels of attainment. At the same time, we want to offer, develop and broaden the opportunities for primary schools. In particular, we are looking at ways in which we can extend opportunities for primary school pupils to learn a musical instrument, to do more PE and sport and to learn a foreign language. We are working with key people from education and business to develop and expand language opportunities in schools, colleges and higher education. This kind of enrichment is particularly valuable for children who come from relatively impoverished homes with fewer opportunities for wider cultural activities. The general drive in standards will benefit all children including those with special educational needs. The literacy and numeracy programmes and the secondary Key Stage 3 strategy include materials and support specifically aimed at helping teachers respond effectively to pupils with special educational need. We are working generally to spread best practice and SEN teaching and to promote further inclusion of children with special educational needs. The new revised SEN code of practice will help all schools on the outcomes. We are also committed to raising the educational attainment of children in public care. An important development was the launch in May 2000 of the joint DfES/DH "Guidance on the Education of Young People in Care". The guidance sets out specific steps to be taken by local authorities to secure improvements including designated teachers in schools providing all children with personal education plans and securing educational places for all children in care within 20 school days. We are continuing to develop school performance tables which set out the results schools have achieved at the end of Key Stage tests and the GCSEs. From next year, we will be publishing schools' Key Stage 3 targets results, that is for 14 year olds. We will also for the first time be including in the tables an analysis showing schools' performance in value added terms. In other words, the progress that pupils make between Key Stage 2 and 3 and between Key Stage 3 and 4 and we will piloting value added measures for Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2. The addition of value added measures will offer parents and others a more rounded picture of what schools are actually achieving. Promoting good behaviour and tackling disruption in schools is central to securing high standards for our children. Poor behaviour is a key concern for teachers, parents and children themselves. Heads must be able to exclude children who are violent or persistently disruptive and we are consulting on proposals which require exclusion appeals panels to take a wider range of factors into account. It is important that decisions to exclude are properly considered as a last resort. I am concerned, for example, that black children are three times more likely to be excluded than others. Children's behavioural problems can most effectively be tackled if we intervene earlier and we are providing support for schools to promote positive behaviour from the early years and on. At the same time, we are developing provision for children who are excluded and we are on track to meet our goal that all excluded children and young people are receiving a full-time education from September of next year. At the secondary stage, I am working with Stephen Timms on the development of "education with character" with the aim of building self-esteem, physical and mental health and social responsibility. The introduction of sistership into the national curriculum has an important role to play as do PE and sports. Through the rigorous controls we have imposed, we are ensuring that school playing fields may be sold off only where local schools already have sufficient provision and where the proceeds are ploughed back into education. The Government have invested heavily in computers for schools and IT is now being increasingly used to help pupils across the curriculum. Nearly all schools are now connected to the Internet and we are on course to hit our targets for computer/pupil ratios: 1:8 in primary schools and 1:5 in secondary schools by 2004. The challenge now is to make progress not just with infrastructure but with content: quality, on-line teaching materials. I am also responsible for school buildings. For the last four years, we have been concentrating on addressing the huge backlog of repairs we inherited with 17,000 schools benefiting from major repair works. While the repair work continues, there is now an increasing focus on renewal and modernisation, thanks to the interim investment we are supporting, a total of £8.5 billion over the three years to 2003/4. We are also increasingly using the PF initiative to bring private sector expertise into the design, building and maintenance of school buildings and other capital facilities where this represents better value for money than conventional procurement routes. To ensure that improvements in the quality of school buildings are sustained, we are requiring all local authorities to develop asset management plans so that, from now on, maintenance and renewal work can be properly planned and prioritised in every local area. Finally, a word about school government. I know from personal experience the important and challenging role which school governing bodies play in partnership with heads. We depend on school governors to support and challenge schools on their values, their results and their use of resources. We are currently consulting on proposals to help governors more clearly distinguish between their strategic and the head teachers' executive responsibilities. We are also proposing more flexibility in the way governing bodies are constituted and operate and we are looking at which we can work with LEAs with others to improve support and training for governing bodies. As you will have gathered, I have a wide-ranging portfolio! The common thread running through my responsibilities is raising standards overall by better meeting the needs of individual children from the earliest stages and by action involved in the class room, and outside it, where there are wider issues to be tackled.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not have a strong background in education in the traditional sense, I have never been a teacher. I am a parent and a step-parent; I have brought up five children. I have been a school governor for seven years and the chair of governors for two and I have chaired a health authority where one of the largest pieces of work that I was involved in was on children's services. My background, if you like, is in a public policy sense looking at the impact of government policies on the ground. That is my passion. I am about delivering. I have been on the receiving end of governing policies for 20 years working through business in the community on economic development through other work that I have done in terms of 'How does it impact? How do you make it real?' and recognising that sometimes policies, as they impact on the ground, seem almost contradictory with what they are trying to achieve. So, I find myself at the other end of that telescope and hope that my contribution will be to make sure that we value our teachers, that we value our schools and our governors and we value those who deliver on a daily basis for our children; we support and help those who are struggling to do that; we recognise that every child matters. I am passionate about the inclusion agenda in the best possible sense, that where children are included in mainstream school when they are able to be, that they have the best opportunity, that they benefit from that education but, as importantly, that every child benefits from being in an inclusive school. I believe that our children have one stab at education and it is our job to make sure that it is the best possible one.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I love the idea of being a night watchman/person; I spend a number of nights in the House of Lords so I suppose that is applicable. I understand that and I think there is always a difficulty being a Lords Minister that you do arrive from a different world, as it were, but I would not want anyone in the House of Commons to feel that I was inaccessible to them but, more importantly, the fact that we have announced this informal cross-cutting review on childcare is actually very much to signal to people that we take this even more seriously. It seems to me that, if you look at the Sure Start programmes, with 437 programmes already designated with 200 running, with an underspend largely because is takes longer to roll out the programme, not because the money has not been allocated, that we have a model which s working extremely well but, by any definition, that model cannot have universal coverage because it simply is not designed in that way, it is designed very specifically to reach particular communities and rightly so. If you look at all the work that is going on in childcare and I have been talking to a number of childcare organisations asking them what their problems are and where they see the future, what we have are a number of areas of some difficulties. Recruitment into childcare, particularly getting men into childcare, is difficult. You may have seen the adverts that we have been running lately, for which I believe we have won an award. There are issues about the capital expenditure required and so on for the private nurseries. My ambition for childcare is that it should become mainstream. I take a much longer perspective than perhaps ministers have thought to do about seeing where we think childcare might be in the future and the purpose of the review - and it is, as I say, an informal cross-cutting review chaired by myself and supported by the Paymaster General with the Minister of State for Women and the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions with responsibility for children supported by the performance and innovation group who are project managing this for us from Number 10, that is a fairly inclusive group, I would argue, and the purpose of that is to examine where we have reached and to start to think about beyond the comprehensive spending review into where childcare goes because I have said that my ambition is to develop childcare into the mainstream. It feels still - and we have done a huge amount - that is still peripheral particularly for working women, and I am one, with children of school age, and I have them, we are wholly dependent on the quality of the childcare that we can provide them. For many women, that is something that is not a guarantee. It is something that they have to be constantly looking at, constantly unsure about their future and we want to make sure that childcare is a very important part, both from an educational perspective and from the working life of the country's perspective.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think it is a strength and I say that because I come from the outside where, when I was chairing a health authority, I worked very closely to develop the county I was working in the links between health and social care. It does seem to me that joining up services on the ground, going back to my point about delivery, makes a huge difference to the children in families and that, for too long, we have had a situation where people are having to refer to two or three different government departments each dealing with different budgets and different personnel. If we join it up to national level, what you are able to do then is engender for people the ground that sets off being part of one process and, when you are looking at children who you are trying to support and parents to be who are trying to support, you need to bring in all the professionals to work with them together, so it is strength. It is not always easy because it is something that we all have to work to do, whether that is locally or nationally, but it is important.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I would expect it to be transitional. As you know, my colleague Yvette Cooper is chair of the Sure Start group and takes responsibility therefore and I would not want to speak on her behalf on this, but the anticipation is that Sure Start will develop as a model. Often when you are trying new things in any form of life, in my experience, it takes a while to get the model correct. The point about Sure Start is that it is very much delivered at a local level, so pulling together the individuals to make it work takes a little longer and I think that has been the fundamental problem. I imagine that that would get easier but it will be one of the things that we will look at in the review and I will happily come back and report further on that to you.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think one of the ways is to be sure about what we have done and to be clear about what we have discovered. Two things will be inevitable: one is that it works differently in different areas because there are different needs, different children and different families, but there will be common themes that run through that and we should make sure that we learn the lessons of those. The second thing is to make sure that the model is capable of being developed in areas that are not designated as Sure Start areas. I am very keen that we have a way of understanding in terms of the process, bringing people together, so that any local authority could develop a Sure Start model of its own to build on what has already been achieved.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The way in which the Sure Start programme is worked through is, as you know, the responsibility of a steering committee of which I am a member but am not the chair, so the detail of this is not so much in my remit. I am responsible for it in terms of that I am a member of the DfES team and therefore sit on the committees, so forgive me if I cannot be as specific as you would like but that is only because it is not within my remit. What I am very clear about in terms of what we are going to look at in the review is to make sure that we address exactly those issues. My belief is that they are working very hard to make sure that programmes do not suffer because they are delayed. As to precisely what the detail of that is, I would need to consult my colleague Yvette Cooper and come back to you on that.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think she would be able to give you a more detailed analysis of it than I am able to. As I say, it falls within my remit because I have that as part of the DfES and the Cabinet Minister responsible is the Secretary of State but, in terms of the day to day work that Sure Start does, Yvette Cooper chairs the group, so I think you could go into more detail with her than you would be able to with me.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed and this is my point about having a Sure Start model that you can roll out in that most deprived children do not necessarily live in deprived areas, they live in leafy suburb land in areas of one or two streets and it is very important that we have models that can be worked through for them. When we look at the cross-cutting review, one of the ambitions I have is that we begin to designate and develop the way in which schools can play a role in both Sure Start and Early Years to be developing family based services. Schools seem to me to be the obvious community resource and are often an underutilised community resource and I do not mean, I hasten to add, that teachers should do more than they currently do nor that heads should take responsibility, but we have good private and voluntary sector partners who could be brought in. We have good links with health and I would like to see those extended and expanded: the role of child and adolescent mental health services, the role of school nurses and so one where we have good examples of them being involved in schools on a more outreach basis and I see that as being potentially a model where you could integrate the kind of Sure Start childcare/Early Years developments alongside some of the work we are trying to do on behaviour management, working with families who are deprived and working with adult literacy too around a school provision because school provision is pretty much universal.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The purpose of the review is to be putting forward proposals to the comprehensive spending review, so resources are clearly key to all this. One of the issues of our resources in terms of the childcare role is that there are over 40 different funding streams and that has been necessary in order to get money from the European Union and so on, so I do not make any apologies for that. In fact, I am delighted that my predecessor Margaret Hodge was able to do that, but we managed to look at making it easier and more accessible and perhaps reducing the number of streams, but that is all about how to mainstream and how to integrate the services together.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. The position is that we used to have a position where there was just about enough money in the budget to deal with the need to expand schools because of children moving into the area but there was not enough to think about genuine renewal and we are trying to now develop, through the fund mechanisms, the opportunities to do that and I do not make any apologies for using PFI in that either because it is a very important tool to do that. What we want to do with the asset management plan is first of all to get local authorities to understand exactly what they have and to have a programme developed so that it is not so much a case of, if the thing falls sufficiently, in that I can think of schools where you let things decay to the point where they have to renew them because, if we keep patching them, they never work well, and it was a great day when I got the money for our school toilets, I remember it well.. So, we are trying to look beyond that to having a coherent programme for the future. We are committed to doing that. Again, this is all part of where we go on the spending review and it will be for the Secretary of State to pull together the whole of the department's programme. I do not think anyone is any doubt as to the importance of getting school buildings not only repaired but prepared in a way that will allow for the technical of the future. School buildings will have different uses in 10 years time to what they do now, so we need a more flexible approach and I am also very keen that we are looking carefully at design and we are looking carefully at environmental issues.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, it is a very good point and it is something that, with the purpose of looking at the whole review, building in terms of childcare and building that into what we are doing like extended schools and so on, these are relatively new ideas that, in a sense have been around for a long time, I did not claim any credit for them and certainly I have been thinking schools as a community resource for at least ten years, but beginning to see what that might look like does have an impact on how we design the build and I have no doubts about that, we will have to consider it.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I can to some extent. The basis upon which we look at PFI is to see what we are able to achieve within that PFI project that would not be achieved simply left to the resources available and that is a combination of factors, not least of course the actual money that you would have to invest at that particular time but also what the outcomes would be. One of the things that I think is important about PFI is because at the end of whatever timescale is decided, let us for argument's sake say 20 years or 25 years, the buildings have to be handed over in good condition. That means that you are building in the maintenance and upkeep of those buildings throughout that time and that is a hugely important factor, so it is combination of what is the investment being made, what is the gain at the end, what will be the amount in terms of the support for maintenance and the support for the school building, removing from head teachers those responsibilities as well which I think would be welcome, and to develop that as part of the long term plan.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I cannot reel those off for you but I can certainly get them for you. They do exist and the reason that I cannot reel them off is because they exist both in terms of the department's officials who work on the PFI projects but also in terms of their relationships with the LEAs, so that, as they develop them, they take the criteria but they also look at the particular circumstances of the LEAs. I would be very happy to supply those for you.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed and it is a very interesting and pertinent question because I was speaking at a conference on design at the PFI two weeks ago. There is an ongoing debate about whether the departments should play a more significant role in the design. I have my doubts about government departments becoming design gurus. What I am very clear about is that, on the ground, there are people who are pretty clear about what they are trying to achieve and I do want to see school governors, if it is a school, and the head teacher and the local community involved in some way, shape or form in that design. What I have said is that I want us to move closer to thinking about design in terms of the environmental issue: how much does it cost to heat it, light it and so on, in terms of the flexibility of the building: this building is used for school purposes but school purposes are changing so how much effort has been given and is thinking of being given? And to have designs that are practical as well and affordable, but that the people who are going to live in the building, the children, have some say in what their school should look like. In my own school partly for an anti-bullying project, the kids were asked to take a plan of the school each and to draw which parts they like best and which parts they did not, and it was astonishing to see the unanimity of people, which parts they felt were dingy and which parts they would like to have differently done. If you can expand that and of course include the teachers as well because the teachers have to feel that the plugs are in the right places, all of those things that, when you build a house, you take into account.
Chairman: Minister, that is good news but all of us sitting round this table have been looking ruefully at schools and educational buildings. My own area is one of the wettest parts of the world and we have schools with flat rooves. How many of us are involved with leaking schools because the rooves were designed not for the climate that we actually live in.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, Mr Shaw; you raise again a very, very pertinent point. What I have asked for and what officials are working for is to get the system to be much less time consuming because it seems to take a huge amount of time to get the schemes put together.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. We are developing guidance - I think it will be out by Christmas - saying this is what we expect to do in terms of what the mechanism should be. It should of course decrease the cost because you actually have a rigorous approach to it.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure whether we are planning a cut-off in the guidance because I have not seen the draft guidance yet. What I have said in terms of the steer is that we have to make sure that people understand what the process is, that it is timely and that it deals with the issues that need to be dealt with, but the officials who do work closely with local education authorities when they are getting in trouble, our track record is fairly good -
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) What I mean by "getting into trouble" is when they are not sure what to do next. It is long before "getting into trouble" in terms of the project collapsing. The department has very good officials who go and talk and work with local education authorities at the first sign that they have a difficulty and the problems that we have had in terms of timescale I think are about people getting to grips and learning about the scheme but, now that we have done that, we want to be more creative with it, but I fully accept your point, it has to be within measured timescales and it has to be within a reasonable cast and precisely those objectives we have in the guidance.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) What you have asked me about is another point and I would be reluctant to say, "If you do not do it in six weeks and two days, you are off" because that is different. I think what you are saying about a clear-cut set of guidelines and a clear-cut time-frame and a clear understanding that this project is going to work properly I agree with completely.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I will be as brief as I can. In terms of the public/private cross-benefit, I know that the issue of delay and overspend is an issue and it is taken into account. I do not know about specific examples; I would not anticipate that that was something we would want to do at all, we need to be realistic about what the differences are. The second in terms of governors and gagging orders and so on, I am very keen that governors run schools and that means that they run schools and I would not wish to see what you might call a gagging order. There will be issues of commercial confidentiality but of course, as responsible grown-ups, governors would be quite clear about their responsibilities. I do not want the companies to feel that people can just wander up and say, "This is a dreadful scheme" and so on, but that is about a negotiated position and I want governors to be in the driving seat. One of the issues about PFI is that I do not think governors understand the system - and I do not blame them, it is difficult - and therefore we will have to do quite a lot more - and I am talking to colleagues about how we do that - to help governors understand what it is they are entering into so that they make a proper and genuine decision. In terms of the evenings, yes, I am very, very alive to the issue about who controls the school building outside the school hours because again it fits very much into what I have been saying about community resource and I have already asked officials to go away and make sure that we are not in a position where the governing body could not dictate what exactly is going to happen. So, thank you for raising that.
Paul Holmes: If all those criteria are there, that will be excellent.
Mr Pollard: Chairman, you mentioned accessibility of the Minister and I can categorically tell you that the Minister is exceptionally accessible. It may help of course that she is a constituent of mine!
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I have three other voters in my household!
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Because I know your area, I can say that it may be one of the wealthiest areas in the land but it has real pockets of deprivation as you well know. It has a number of children who are living in, I think, real poverty and we do have in all our schools in the area issues of children with low literacy levels, with family backgrounds that lead them to have lower education attainment and so on, so I think that in our communities, however affluent they appear, there are always areas that are deprived and I would not want our programmes to be purely for those areas that measure high on the indicators, important though they are. The point about the early excellence centres is that it gives the opportunity for people to come together and it is very much driven by those areas who feel they can provide that. We want to have 100 of them, we have 47 or 48. We plan to let them develop themselves so that you bring in together the different services and therefore it is driven by areas where we can address a genuine need and what that need is, where we can bring together the services to support that and we can develop and grow and bring in other areas around it and that is really the criteria.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Can I leave that to the review?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed and inherited targets are always more difficult to work back and see precisely why we did it. I am a great fan of targets because it keeps everybody on our toes not least myself because you can ask me about them. I think what is important is that we developed a range of different approaches to how we tackle deprivation with the clear view that this is a real focal point for us. The point that I was really making is that I recognise that deprivation exists across our communities and therefore the models we develop have to be appropriate and I think that the investment in financial terms is largely going into those areas of high deprivation and rightly so and it will be the area on which we will focus. The child care review will be the area in which we focus in terms of developing our partnerships but it is also relevant to say that, if you want to make sure that you address all children's needs ultimately, that you develop models which you can move across the community and use resources in that way too.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes, we are stitching it together and one of the reasons why I can say that is because one of the issues that I am looking at in my childcare review is the need for 50 per cent of the population by the age of 30 to be accessing higher education and I would argue that you start really at the beginning because you have to approach children and young people wherever they are. If you look at where a number of the problems are, they are trying to focus on the same areas, but there is a lot to do and a number of areas and, if you are going to work with local partners on the ground, they have to be able to work with you. So, sometimes when you are developing a programme, and Sure Start is a good example, you are reliant upon the local people being able to come together and develop that service. It is not about us driving with hoards of people from the centre saying, "Here we are, we have come to do this."
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not think I said that. I think what I said was that you have to be sure that you can put the partners together. I would have said that you bring together the sort of 'top down button up approach', the kind of thing that we have to meet in the middle. So, it is not about people from the centre and it is not about waiting for people who clearly could not do that, so I would argue with you that, in my experience of working in economic development deprivation for 20 years, some of the most able and articulate people willing to do things live in the most deprived communities. They simply do not get access to the resources but, my goodness, they are there and I think that is something that we should not forget, that these people are begging poverty but we should not give them any other attributes that we perhaps would not want to. They are quite capable of coming together and working together, they just need support to do it and that is what we have to do.
Chairman: Support to do it is crucial.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I have not seen such a document. That does not mean that it does not exist because I have not asked to see it. If you are asking whether we can get you the list of which programmes apply in which areas, yes, we could.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I cannot answer obviously for EMAs. I think the other point you are making and it has been made several times is one that I absolutely accept. My experience again at the receiving end of government programmes, and yours would be too, is that, when you are looking to try out ideas and to pilot initiatives, it is quite often that they look very scattered. They are not necessarily from the centre but they feel it from the ground. What we are leaning towards now is much more bringing everything together and making this fit in a way that is more easily understood and I take your point and hence my part of it in terms of childcare over many years that we have a range of initiatives and what I want to see is how these best fit together, which communities we are addressing, how do we make sure that we do not miss lots of the children that we wish to work with, how the partnerships are doing, which ones need more support and how we provide that support. So I am absolutely 100 per cent behind the idea of joining it up but it is about bringing that together, as I say, in different ways.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Do you mean the nursery provision for four year olds and three year olds.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) As far as I know, we have the details of that because we know what the take-up levels are, so we should have.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Then I will go back and make sure you get those. As you know, it is a moving population, so there are issues about it but the differential is also about the provision that local authorities have been providing themselves and we are just at that point where we are moving universal provision for three year olds where they do look different and the reason they look different is because our investment is in areas where there is very little.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Certainly in my area we are because it is part of my conversations with the Department of Health because Education Action and Health Action Zones often are working in the same communities. I do appreciate because I have been on the other end of it that, when you are trying to understand what the difference between these things are, it is sometimes difficult. Targeting resources is a very useful mechanism and I think all government have used targeted programmes in order to make sure resources hit the particular things they want them to hit and that is quite important. The trick is to move that now, certainly areas I am working on, to be more easily understood, to make sure the funding streams now come together. As I have said before, it is necessary if you are going to access all the different bits of money available but, if you are on the ground working out how to apply for them, it is not so easy. So, it is about those kind of things. We are acutely aware of this myriad of different things going on and acutely aware of the need to join up and make sure that it all fits together and that is part of the work of the next one.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The assessment will be done at the end of the reception year, the end of the year when the child is five.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The term in which they are going to be five and you will find that it is now described as the summer after they will have started school, so they will be at school.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) We call it a profile and the reason we call it a profile is that it is not a test and it should not be seen as a test. It is an assessment made by the teachers in the general course of their work about the child and the reason it is done while the child is at school is because we think children arrive at school from a whole raft of different experiences and it is only after a while of being with the child in the school setting that you can make those assessments and we are looking at, yes, of course abilities in terms of literacy and numeracy, but also emotional development and social development, those things that are crucial to the beginning of a child's educational life, and the purpose of that is to inform up the school and to help work out where a child has reached. As I say, it is not a test, it is a profile and I have called it that specifically because it is about the teacher and it is about when the child is at school and has had some school experience, but obviously looking at how children develop is ongoing.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. The only thing I would add to that is that it may provide in the future aspects of value added measure because we will see where a child is and we are looking at that and we have not made any decisions about it, but we are absolutely not testing children in any way, shape or form. It is a useful mechanism to help schools see where a child is.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Learning through play is very important. I do not want children to get into formal learning too early and I would agree with you entirely on that. The purpose of the nursery education is nursery education. Children learn from the minute they are born, their first and most important educator is their parent. We accept that and that is absolutely right and children learn a huge amount in that learning through playtime at nursery. They learn about socialisation; they do learn numbers and reading and some children are ready to do those things. It is also about not holding any child back, so I do not want to get us back to the position we have also had where children have not been allowed to learn their letters because the nurseries have said "no" and that is one of the things I can remember. It is about allowing a child to develop in the way that a child does; it is learning through play and it is very clearly done in that way and it is not about, we will all sit down now and learn the three Rs which we all agree - and I do not think there is anybody on this Committee would disagree - is not appropriate and you cannot get them to do it anyway because they will not.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I recognise that people are worried about it.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) By "too early", you mean ...?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) All I would say to you is that that is not the purpose of the Early Years. I have not seen that. I would be very happy to go and see it if you have seen it and I accept that you did. The only advice I would give is that, for some parents, there is an opportunity for children to start formal school because of the way the terms are worked out and the way admissions are worked out in the term after they have turned four. Where parents want to do that, we would not stop it, but the purpose of the nursery education is precisely that. If it is a problem, then we need to deal with it.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I would be very, very grateful.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, most certainly.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure. I am very conscious of the public consumption side of this debate and the way in which schools feel pressurised by that public consumption and the need to make sure that we are able to reassure them and make sure that we know what we are measuring. In terms of the early profile, it is about a recognition that schools' greatest achievement is the value that they add to a child and therefore being able to find new and creative ways of measuring that and, as you know, there are lots of lots different ways you can look at, some very simple which is where we start, so I give you a wooly answer because I am actually not sure where we should go on this, it is an area that I want to explore and, three-and-half months in, I have not quite got there.
Chairman: It is nice that ministers do admit that they do not know all the answers
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think if you talk to the individual schools, they usually will share information with parents quietly.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The trouble is that this is where we get into the difficulty, what are we comparing with what? In terms of Key Stage 2, the 11 year tables, there is still huge controversy around how we do it, what we are trying to show and so on, and local newspapers thoroughly enjoy setting up league tables for schools in a way that is very simplistic, if I can put it in that way. We need to be cautious about moving in that direction until we are sure about what we want to say by doing it and I am not sure what I want to say by doing it. It is important for us to know what information is, but I am not sure that I want to be saying that to the general public.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Heaven forfend! No, I certainly do not think that and I am actually a member of the general public. It is not about the general public, it is about what the purpose behind publishing information is and what that information is actually telling you. We are very clear on Key Stage 2 and now Key Stage 3 that we are able to measure and show where schools have got to. It may be that there is case to be had for doing that within primary schools. At the moment, I have never had a letter yet from parents saying, "I cannot get information about my school, my primary school" because we know that, when parents go and talk to primary schools when they are looking at schools for children, they talk about issues like that.I am fully well aware that parents do not make the decision entirely on that but I am also well aware that on some of the agendas we have schools perhaps find some pupils less attractive and, therefore, it is important to keep that balance. What I am saying to you is I do not know yet and I will keep looking at it.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) We are publishing the first piloted value added this year.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Next year we will publish value added on Key Stage 3 and then we move to value added on Key Stage 2.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think that within the Department statisticians are doing it. I would strike a note of caution as to why I really am seriously thinking about league tables in the broadest sense. I hear everything you say and I have said it myself as a chair of governors. We need to be cautious about what value added itself can do because I think a lot is riding on people's interpretation of what this is somehow going to show. The basic value added measure is taken where a child began and where they end. It will show to us schools that are doing exceptionally well across the spectrum with children and it will show schools that are doing fine and you may argue schools that are probably coasting as well, and schools that are not doing so well. What it is not is a very sophisticated measure yet because we know that there are children who are in our schools who have got a multiplicity of different things going on in their lives. The fact you move them from one thing to another is incredible from where they are. They are very individual stories and individual cases. So there are two things I am looking at. One, that we get the first bits of value added out but we get them out with the right expectations, this is not the end of the story, this is us moving on to be more sophisticated. What you will see will be better but I think it is probably not all we can do. The second thing is in presentational terms. I want to make sure that we are highlighting the schools that are doing well across the board. It is not just of the school that is top of the league table that we all say "Well, of course it is, it should be, with the resources and so on that it has it should be that". I celebrate that too, that they do well. It is about also the schools that we want to say as a Department we are particularly proud of the things that they are doing as well. So there is a kind of presentation and, it is about what we can achieve with value added.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) This year Key Stage 3.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Next year.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think it is 2003 we get everything on to value added. I will correct that if I am wrong back to you.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) First of all, I think it is a very sad case. I think the first thing I would say about what can be done is that I think schools need to be aware of what pressure they are putting themselves on teachers. I am well aware that instantly people will say "Well, it is the Department which puts all the pressure on". Yes, we do keep the pressure up but we also do try and support schools. I do know that in some schools some governing bodies and some parents put enormous amounts of pressure on the heads. I think the governing body has to take some responsibility for saying "Was it not aware that the head was feeling this kind of pressure? Who was the head able to talk to?" and indeed the LEA and the LEA advisors, so there is that support system. You can never support somebody who effectively cheats and allows a school to cheat because, apart from anything else, it is the worst possible educational example you can set for children. Individual cases will warrant different responses. I would not comment on an individual case I do not know about, the governors have got to take into account a whole raft of other issues. We cannot countenance cheating, it is not fair on the kids, they lose out because if that is found to be the case then they do not get the credit for what they have achieved. It is not what the system is supposed to be for.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) There is always discussion about changing the test, I suppose for that reason. I do not know if you can do a foolproof test. I think we also have to be careful about saying we cannot trust our teachers. The vast majority of teachers do these tests properly. They make sure that the tests arrive with the children and then they believe confidently that they have taught the children to the best of their ability. I would not want to be in a system where teachers felt we did not trust them because we do. In those odd cases I am much more concerned with what leads up to that in a way and people feel that is the way they should react, particularly good heads.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I will certainly go and find out for you. I am not aware of any. We look very carefully at the number of incidents reported to us of interference with the test and obviously each one is checked out because sometimes they have no substance to them, inevitably. My understanding is that we are very clear with LEAs and schools the procedures that they should follow for the tests so we are clear and they are clear. I do not know if we can do a foolproof test. I will certainly go and ask if that is happening and come back to you.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) These cases are so rare that there is not an obvious response I can give you. I only mean that because the governing body would have to take into account every other factor to do with that head teacher and would need to seek advice from the local education authority as well. It is a serious thing to have done and I would not expect governors to take decisions lightly. It is so rare that you could not have a blanket view on it.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not think you could. Now, I may have to go back and say "Well, do I need to think about that, is that right?" This is the only case that I can think of that I know about, at the moment. It is rather like anything that is so rare, you would have to look at it in real detail. I think the LEA, I am sure, will be playing a huge part in that as well and advising the governing body and I am sure would come to us if it felt there was something which was amiss.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) This is my point about delivery on the ground, it sometimes feels contradictory. The school I chaired governors of also had a policy of including children and, therefore, never found itself at the top of the local league tables and never could in that sense. It is about not under valuing the progress as well that children who have got special educational needs make. It is an area where I am really, really interested in trying to resolve that dilemma. As I say, early in my career, I have not solved it yet but I recognise it is a real dilemma. I believe that every school should want to include children, where it works, and it does not always, and I make no apologies for saying that. I believe that it is good for all children to work alongside children of different abilities, as I believe it is important in terms of multi-culturalism and multi-faith as well. There are lots of issues around it if you are going to then focus on any one measure, hence value added being an important part of that, but I would be pushing hard for schools to be as inclusive as possible.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I have.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. I met with Mike Tomlinson this week and we are going to talk specifically and separately about the whole inclusion agenda. He is very keen to ensure that the Ofsted inspection regime recognises that. I am very keen that as part of the inspection and the importance to parents, the schools that have a good inclusion policy are given credit for doing so and that parents understand how beneficial it can be when it works well to all their children, whether they have special educational needs or not. I think Ofsted, my impression certainly is Mr Tomlinson is completely on board in doing this. We recognise it is a lot to do
Valerie Davey: Can I say how much this school and others would welcome your statement today and I hope that Ofsted too would get their operation on the ground recognising what we have said.
Chairman: Meg, is this a new point or do you want to continue with the others?
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) It is difficult. The first thing to say is that there are only so many expectations that we can put on teachers to be able to deal with all the children. So inclusion is also about making sure you have got the expertise available to the schools to support them. For example, I want the special schools to play a role in that working alongside main stream colleagues to support them and help them. Where you have children who are violent to other children or to teachers, then the power to exclude must exist. What we would want to do is be working with children from an earlier age particularly to make sure we address some of those behavioural problems that they have. I have a mantra that I might just repeat to the Committee because those who have heard it will smile. It is that I believe that when a child arrives at a school with its rucksack, with its ruler and its pencil case it should also have its special educational needs kit in there as well. We often wait far too long before we put in place the measures that will support children and schools battle for too long to get resources to do it. I will just put that in a box for a moment. In terms of children who are looked after, I recognise that they are less likely to achieve, I recognise that they are more likely to have emotional, behavioural problems. We have got to make sure that support is given to the school to support the child in the school and not expect the school to simply be able to take them and deal with it. We need to monitor it. I have just started to look at what other things we can put in place. It is a new policy area for me, obviously, as a new Minister, and I am very keen that we develop, alongside colleagues in the Department of Health, ways of doing that.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I agree and I think there is something about the word exclusion, is there not, that we have got to look at. I do want to in the course of my time at DfES, however short or long that is, look at this. Having, as a chair of governors, excluded children, I find it an entirely negative process. I was often doing it in order to get the child the help they needed. First of all, the fact that we are going to have full time education in pupil referral units for all children excluded will make a difference because exclusion also means kids just being left to their own devices and that always worries me a great deal. The fact is they will not be excluded to do that, they will be excluded in order to go to other kinds of education. If I could find a way of reworking the phrase even, or reworking what we mean, if a kid is expelled for being, whatever, that is one thing but often these children we are describing are being excluded in order to get help and I undertake to do that.
Chairman: Minister, we have a few minutes left. I want to get every questioner in if I possibly can.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure yet and that is part of the review. I do not want to spend money on building new nurseries if we have got existing facilities that we could use. I do not want to build institutions that we cannot sustain in the longer term. That means making sure we have got the funding available not just over three years but much longer. I do want to look at what we mean by neighbourhood nursery in terms of how it integrates with other services so I do not know yet. I will be able to come back to the Committee after the review and give you much clearer ideas about that.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Often the community partners are the same people, it is also what happens in communities. What I hope is that local authorities as they develop the different kinds of partnerships that they need will be mindful of what else is in place and start to move to integrate those. I think there are some things we should not make too much of a clarion call from the centre on. There are partnerships because it is professionals coming together that need to work together in genuine partnership and there are partnerships that are broader where you need to make sure those people are represented. I think that is for the local authority to look at how they bring together in a community the partnerships.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do, and I do because the LEAs' partnerships are about excellence standards, people being able to think about their futures, the way in which we develop the workforce in that community in terms of the people working in the early years partnerships and also child care for people to go back to work. All these things are economic and educational brought together.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not. I have no outside interests at all now. I resigned them all on becoming a Minister.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) A great interest in it, background is pushing it.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I smile only because we have spent a long time on these issues in the Department and there are teams of people working on them. First of all, we are working very closely with schools on the assessment and, secondly, the minimum standard would be two. There is a recognition that we need to keep that under review. The big issue at the moment really is that we have got schools wired up but we have got to move beyond what I call the plateau. They are wired up but where next and it is a big mountain to go from where we are now in order to provide the quality of content to every school in a way that they can access easily.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure we have set a target yet but we will because we want to do that.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. So we have a target, the Prime Minister has given one.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am pretty confident we can do it reasonably quickly. The thing that I am most interested in at the moment is, in a sense, not so much the infrastructure, which at one level we have started on, it is about making sure that schools can use it properly and have got the right kind of support in terms of the technical support at school level to make sure they use it and that they are using it across the curriculum and not simply as an ICT subject. There are a whole raft of things I want to do around that.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, and looking at what the creative mechanisms are to put service provision on the ground for schools, making sure that suppliers supply good quality equipment and giving schools recognition of what is a good quality supplier and ways in which we can kite mark that almost, making sure that teachers who are teaching are using ICT and know how to, the quality of the information and support we give them, the role of vectoring that which we are reviewing at the moment so that schools are comfortable and able. Then when we do provide this fantastic material we are, no doubt, going to provide online, they can actually use it and use it properly without the system crashing or without being fearful.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am very happy to do that.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am going to answer it slightly circuitously, only because I want to make a point. In places like Bradford we have a large number of Muslim schools, they are not in the state sector, they are in the private sector. I would like them to be in the state sector, they would like to be in the state sector. The reason I would like them to be in the state sector is because I believe in the national curriculum, I believe in our citizenship programme and I believe that there are many ways to integration and that you can take communities and allow them to flourish where they are as long as you have the ability to bring them together with other communities as equals. There has been a long running debate all across our planet about how you achieve integration from those who believe it is an ultimate part to those who believe it is about allowing people to flourish as a group and then join as equals. I think we have always had a multi-view of how we do this in a society. We have allowed Church of England schools and Catholic schools to provide good quality education for a long time and Jewish schools and now Sikh and Greek Orthodox. I see no difficulty with providing for Muslim schools but as they come into our state sector then they are part of the process of having a multi-faith, multi-cultural integrated society which has got cohesion and that is what I want to see.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not have those figures. I can say it is not my area but I do not know. If we have them we will provide them.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, I chair the group that is looking at citizenship because I take a very strong interest in it. It rolls out into secondary schools from next September in full and already exists in primary schools. I want to make sure that we develop a citizenship agenda in a way that is about allowing children to grow up as adults and feel part of our society and they have a contribution to make. It is also about their participation in democracy, which I think is important, that they see the value of that but also understanding their place in society which is multi-faith and multi-cultural and what role they can play. I think focussing on that, and providing the information and support, particularly in present times, is really important. I am pleased with the way it is going. I am pleased with everything from how Ofsted are looking at it through to how the curriculum is being developed, it is looking pretty good.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I genuinely do not know and that is because I inherited the citizenship agenda already worked through in terms of what we would do with it. I am sure my colleague John Healey, with his role with lifelong learning, will be someone to ask but I am happy to go and ask him so that when he comes here you can ask him directly.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Gosh.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) It is.
Chairman: This Committee is quite interested in that area, having visited the United States recently and Denmark.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The £91 million is not the only amount available, that specifically was increased in the standards fund from £82 to £91 to provide support and training on the guidance for children.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) There is. I am fighting very hard for the figure which I cannot find, of course. I take your point and the point you are making is that this is a resource intensive area, and I accept that. On the code, the reason that we put the code back, in terms of quantification, to where it was before, we have not made a change, was because I received a large number of letters from parents and you as Members of Parliament - maybe not you specifically but Members of Parliament - and Members of the Lords made representations and, therefore, because it was my area and with the support of the Secretary of State I withdrew the Code in July in order to reflect on it. I have subsequently made some very small changes to tidy it up and the specific change of reverting back. It is not my intention that the Code should in any way suggest to parents that we have anything other than their interest and their children's at heart. That is the first thing to say. In terms of the resources, yes we are going to have to keep a very careful eye on resources. Yes, we do want local education authorities to think very carefully about the quality and quantity of support. We recognise that we are going to have to keep those two things very firmly in our view.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I fear it will take me too long to go through the detail and I do not have it to hand so I will give it to you and make sure that it is sent. There are different parts of the code where that applies. The purpose overall is to take out the bureaucratic machinery, things that do not matter, and make sure that assessments are done as quickly as possible and statements are published and those are very clear guidelines within the code.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I believe we have put some detail in that but I cannot actually recall precisely the details of the number of weeks but I will send that to you.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Not that I have seen but remember statementing is for very particular kinds of special educational needs. There are lots of children who have special educational needs who do not have statements and, therefore, the interesting fact would be to look at areas of deprivation on a number of children in schools who are on the special educational needs register. Where children have statements it is often because they have quite complex needs and that actually does not follow necessarily areas of deprivation. You have to be a bit cautious about what you are looking at. What I do know is that parents will say some LEAs are more reluctant to provide statements and we are putting huge pressure to make sure that with the code you cannot have blanket policies any more, you cannot refuse a statement where it is obvious it should be and bring professionals in to support that.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Lesley Abbott is not one of my advisors so I cannot comment.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) No, it is not worrying at all. The Department has got a long tradition of bringing in people from outside to talk to them and advise officials. There are lots and lots of people all the time coming in and, like yourself, we are not the font of knowledge. They are not ministerial advisors. I am sure that whatever work is going on will reach me but I would not necessarily know precisely who is coming in to advise my officials. That is quite within their remits, they are enabled to do that, that is fine by me.
Chairman: Kerry, would you like to ask the last question as you are the Minister's Member of Parliament.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) We are just developing a new recruitment campaign and I have been out talking to groups of governors throughout the country both about our consultation on making sure that they have less bureaucracy to deal with and providing the strategic frame, i.e they steer not row, to put it succinctly, which has been a problem in recruitment. What they say to me, and what I am very clear about, is that the best recruiters of governors are governors themselves and we do not do enough to encourage and support them to stand up in the school assemblies - and I never did it as a chair of governors - and say "I am a governor, this is why it is really good to be a governor". I have challenged them all to think about ways in which they could do that. We are going to design a campaign that is going to be very school focussed, helping them to recruit the governors of the future.
(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Thank you. I look forward to it. I will be better then, I will know more.