WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
MR STEPHEN TIMMS, a Member of the House, Minister of State for School Standards, Department for Education and Skills, examined.
(Mr Timms) Thank you, Chairman, very much. Thank you for your invitation. I am delighted to be here. I lead within Estelle Morris= team on six areas, I pick out secondary education, the 14-19 phase of education, area-focused initiatives like Excellence in Cities, on school staffing, on school funding and local education authorities; and the context in which my work is taking place at the moment is of unprecedentedly large and sustained increases in spending on education this year, next year and the year after. It does mean, I think, that the Education Service has an historic opportunity now, and one that I think we must make the most of; and the extra spending needs to bring about tangible change for the better, that parents and pupils and teachers can see. One of the best parts of my job, over the last six months, has been hearing from secondary teachers how the children reaching their schools now from primary schools are coming not just with better test scores, as a result of the Literacy and Numeracy strategies, but that they can read and write better, they are more articulate, more confident, much better prepared to make the most of a secondary education than used to be the case. I think that is a remarkable achievement on the part of the teaching profession, one of immense importance for Britain=s future and one we can build on now at secondary level. Within a few weeks, we will be publishing the Education Bill, and it will be my responsibility to take that through the House of Commons. On secondary education, we have set out our programme in the White Paper, published in September, and the way I would characterise our goal is to establish a modern and effective comprehensive system that commands the confidence of every community in the country. One of the most alarming things I learned when I joined the Department in June is that we have fewer 17 year olds in education in Britain than is the case in any other OECD country, except for Turkey, Mexico and Greece. I do not think there will be any dispute that we need to do better than that, and I am confident that we can; in particular, I think, to rekindle the enthusiasm about learning that too many youngsters lose in the early years of their secondary education, and that is an important part of the change that we are seeking to bring about. That is the ambition that I see at the heart of my work, and I will be delighted to discuss any part of it with the Committee this morning.
(Mr Timms) I suppose it depends what the problem is. We have, I think, established a pretty effective team within the Department since June, and Estelle, of course, has been in the Department since the election in 1997 and has a very long track record of working in schools before that, so she is a very effective leader of the team, and when difficulties arise she is the person that I discuss them with. I hope that my experience in the Treasury, which is a fine institution, by the way, is experience that will be valuable to the Department, but I am very committed to my current job and working with my current colleagues.
(Mr Timms) I think what I would argue is that the Treasury has done its job, the Treasury has delivered this unprecedentedly large series of funding increases for education, and that is what we need, and our job now is to deliver, given the extra sums that we have at our disposal, and, as a ministerial team in Education, I think we are probably in a better position than any comparable team in our Department in the past, because we do have these extra sums available to us. On Number 10, it is the case that the Prime Minister takes a very, very close interest in education, and he has made it very clear that it is his number one priority for the Government; but I see that as a source of strength for us and an indication that we have the whole commitment of the Government behind us. I certainly do not have the sense that what we are doing is being interfered with, quite the contrary, and I see that we are being supported.
(Mr Timms) As you say, it is not my area, but there is a review going on, and there is careful scrutiny of the various aspects of the question that is taking place, and no doubt people have different views on that. I think what is important is, we have seen a very significant increase in the number of people going into higher education this year, nearly 5 per cent, I think, which is very encouraging, and, of course, the higher education target is actually quite a big driver of the work that I am doing, the ambition to get 50 per cent of our young people into higher education by 2010, of 18-30 year olds, that is quite a big driver of the work that I am doing, as well as of the higher education work and the student funding issues that are being looked at, at the moment.
(Mr Timms) First of all, I agree with your analysis, and I think that is underlined by the statistic I quoted at the beginning, about fewer 17 year olds in education here than almost anywhere else. I think we do need a transformation at the secondary level to follow on from what, as you say, has already been achieved at the primary level, and we have set our strategy for accomplishing that task in the White Paper. And I think I would identify five priorities there, or five themes. Firstly, the establishment of high, basic standards that we will expect every school and LEA to meet, with the commitment to provide support to make sure that achieving them is manageable. Secondly, an improvement in the quality of teaching and learning, focusing, to begin with, at Key Stage 3, at the 11-14 pupils, because there is evidence of youngsters coming through primary schools and then some of them slipping back once they have got into secondary school; we need to address that and make sure that the pace that has been achieved at primary school is maintained and sustained. Thirdly, the value of a diverse secondary system, rather than a rigidly uniform one, and one that is characterised as well by partnership and by innovation. Fourth, a new focus on the 14-19 phase of education, seeing that as a coherent whole, and trying to get away from the idea that 16 is the point when your education finishes, but encouraging people to think much more about what happens through the whole 14-19 phase. And, fifth, the fifth theme in the White Paper is a new commitment to supporting teachers, making sure that their workload is manageable, making sure that they get the support and development that they need to do their jobs well. So I think those are the five strands which, when we see those through, will accomplish the transformation that we are looking for.
Chairman: Right; we will be carrying on with that and a variety of other questions.
(Mr Timms) There was a slight dip, and we remain committed, of course, to achieving the targets for next year. But I think there may have been perhaps a little bit of a loss of focus, in some areas, on achieving continuing improvement in those Key Stage 2 results.
(Mr Timms) I think, in some LEAs, there may have been a little of a loss of focus; certainly we are redoubling our efforts to ensure that the focus on achieving the targets of Key Stage 2 is maintained. And we remain very optimistic that we will achieve those targets, but it does need a good deal of work still, on our part, on the part of LEAs and on the part of schools.
(Mr Timms) No. I would not want to overstate - - -
(Mr Timms) I think, if I remember rightly, on numeracy there was no change, and on maths there was a very slight fall. So I would not want to overstate the significance of what happened; but it clearly is important that we ensure that the sustained focus that there has been is maintained, through to the achievement of the targets next year, and beyond that as well.
(Mr Timms) I would make a number of points about targets. First of all, let me just talk about the targets that I was particularly referring to, which is the floor targets that we have set in the White Paper, which are a new mechanism, and actually an idea that came out of a review that was carried out in the Treasury when I was there, about how we can make sure that our public services, all of them, are delivering well in every part of the country, and that in areas of disadvantage, where we have traditionally had problems in that area, they are achieving acceptable performance, a good level of performance there, as well. So we have said, in the White Paper, that we want every secondary school in the country to be achieving at least 20 per cent of its youngsters with five good GCSEs by 2004, rising to 25 per cent by 2006; also, by 2004, that we want every LEA in the country to be achieving at least 38 per cent of its youngsters getting five good GCSEs. Now those are demanding targets, there are quite a number of schools and LEAs at the moment that are not meeting those standards, and we will need to move in resources and support to assist. But I think it is very, very important - it goes back to the point I made right at the start about our ambition - that we should have a system that commands the confidence of every single community in the country that those targets should be met; and I think our proposals in that area have been widely welcomed. In terms of the recent discussion that we have been having with schools about targets, and LEAs, those discussions are continuing. I think it is important that we meet the targets that we have set. I know that in some areas there has been a sense that we were asking rather a lot, and there have been some fairly lively discussions around them, but I think we will find that people will sign up to the targets that we have set and that we will also be seeing them achieved.
(Mr Timms) I am not exactly sure what the Association said about this, but certainly discussions are continuing. And I do not think there is any dispute that it is right that we should set ambitious goals for our schools and that all of us should work together to achieve those; and I think that once these discussions are concluded that is the agreement that we will reach.
(Mr Timms) I think we will be taking a fairly systematic approach, and I suppose then there will be three strands. Excellence in Cities, you have mentioned; there are 1,000 schools now covered by Excellence in Cities, so that is quite a big programme, which is benefiting the schools across the country that face some of the biggest challenges, and all the feedback I am getting from schools and LEAs about that is that that is working very well, and the evidence is pointing in that direction, too. That is the first strand. Secondly, though, I think, to achieve the floor targets that I described, we are going to need to look very, very carefully, really school by school, at individual schools that are facing the biggest challenges. We made the point in the White Paper that there are 41 schools with fewer than 10 per cent of their youngsters getting five good GCSEs at the moment; so to get all of those above 20 per cent and then 25 per cent, and the others who at the moment are between 10 and 20 as well, is quite a demanding task, and we are giving extra targeted support to that group that has got the biggest challenge, but also all the schools that are less than 25 per cent at the moment are getting some extra focused help, too. And I suppose the third strand here is the review we are carrying out of the LEA funding system. As you know, we have made a commitment that from 2003 we will introduce a new system, and that will certainly need to take into account the levels of need in each LEA, and therefore will be able to reflect the separate needs in schools as well. So I think the system increasingly is being attuned, in funding and support terms, to the needs of individual schools and individual pupils.
(Mr Timms) I do not know much about the Dutch system. Although I suppose one could argue that the existing SSA system is intended to have some of that effect; it is certainly intended to. I think, by the shaking of your head, you are indicating that, in fact, it does not, which is a view that I would not attempt to challenge. But the idea was certainly there, and that will need to be one of the features of our new system as well; whether it will go as far as has been done in Holland, I do not know.
(Mr Timms) We have never said there was not a link. It is very clear, that is the whole rationale for the Excellence in Cities programme, that schools in disadvantaged areas do face bigger challenges, and we have acknowledged that very fully in our resource allocations.
Chairman: Minister, we will be coming back to areas like this, but I want to move on to teacher workload, and ask Jeff Ennis if he would like to lead on that.
(Mr Timms) We have received a draft of it this week; the final version is due to reach us before the end of the year.
(Mr Timms) I think it is going to be a very important document. Concerns about teacher workload have been increasingly prominent in our discussions with schools and LEAs and teachers over the last couple of years. There is no doubt at all, we have made very great demands of the teaching profession in the last four years, and they have delivered a great deal, in response, as well. But, at a time when we need to be recruiting significantly more teachers, and recruitment is proving difficult, more particularly, I think, when we need to do better on the retention side amongst teachers as well, then addressing concerns about workload clearly is very important. Now, Estelle Morris made a very significant speech about this earlier in the week, about how the school of the future will look, and how schools will need to use the skills of a wider group of employees than used to be the case, taking advantage of the very significantly increased numbers of teaching assistants, for example, of administrative support staff, some of whom are now in schools, and others of whom will need to be recruited, as well as a rising number of teachers. So the question for us really is, how can we do that, how can we make effective use of the resources that there are in schools, and I think the workload report is going to be a very important element in proposing solutions.
(Mr Timms) Yes, I saw that press speculation as well, so I had a look through the draft report, and, as far as I could see, it was not there, so I am not expecting that to be a feature of the final report either. I think what the report does raise as an important issue though is teachers having adequate preparation time for their lessons, and that is often very difficult at the moment because of the actual teaching load that people are facing. So the question then is raised, well, how does one seek to carve out the extra time that teachers need, and I think there will need to be a variety of solutions. I think the use of teaching assistants will be part of the answer. I think there will be other possibilities we will need to look at. I think there are ways of managing the school resources which seem to work well, in some schools, that can help. So there will be a variety of approaches, I think, that will need to be taken in order to make progress on giving teachers that extra time that they need, and I think that will help teachers have the sense that their workload is more manageable. I think it also could help in raising the standards in schools, as well.
(Mr Timms) I think there will be circumstances, and I think there will be assistants who will be able to take on that role; that will be a matter for decision by the head, in a given school, and it will certainly depend on the skills of the assistants who are in the school. But, you see, what is happening at the moment is, we are putting very substantially increased resources into schools, and that is being translated fairly directly into an increase in the number of teaching posts, quite right, too, but that cannot go on indefinitely, we know that; if all the extra money that is going into schools went into the creation of teaching posts, there is no way that we would have enough teachers to fill all those posts. So we do need to be more creative about how we use those resources to be effective in raising standards in schools, and I do think that using teaching assistants in the ways that Estelle has been describing is going to be one of the answers, but that will certainly depend on the skills of the assistants who are available in a particular school, and that will be a matter for the head to decide.
(Mr Timms) Some of those decisions are already being taken by heads. There are examples already of, for example, classroom assistants invigilating in exams; and it seems to me a very sensible thing to do, if the people who are available are appropriate to do that. But I think the kind of decision that you have described is exactly the kind of decision the heads are making every day.
(Mr Timms) I agree with that. I do not think the statistic is quite as stark as the one that you gave a moment ago; but, in terms of the importance of those first two or three years, I entirely accept, and we are putting a good deal of effort at the moment into looking at the provision of profession development, specifically targeted for teachers in their early years, for exactly the reasons that you state.
(Mr Timms) I agree with you about the importance of the bond between a teacher and a teacher=s pupils, but I do not see that as being threatened by what we are proposing. There are a lot of new activities being taken on in schools, there is a much greater breadth, particularly as a result of the AS level changes, for example, and I think that has meant more people in schools with the increasing use of computing resources, that has meant a need for more technically skilled people to be in schools, there are lots of admin. tasks, and administrative support staff can help with those. So I do not think there is a dichotomy between providing that extra support, which it is very clear, in schools, is needed, with maintaining the very important bond, that you draw attention to, between teachers and their pupils.
(Mr Timms) Yes, I take that point.
Chairman: Some of us think that you can have both, you can have a good, consistent bond, but using the resources of the school to do the job more effectively, in terms of good management.
(Mr Timms) I think the answer must be January 2001, because every January we carry out a survey, so that is when we have good data for, so it will be 10,000 more than that.
(Mr Timms) No. We have not set explicit targets about how the 10,000 will be made up. I guess, a working assumption that it would probably be on the basis of the current ratio between the two, but we have not established separate targets for primary and secondary.
(Mr Timms) That is a fair point. Certainly, the pressure is significantly more at secondary level at the moment than it is at primary; so I think that is where a good deal of the attention will apply, although there is a need for more primary teachers as well.
(Mr Timms) Yes, I think we are expecting to have fresh data on that in the next year, I will check that, but I think that is the position, and, you are right, the data we have at the moment is somewhat out of date, but I think it is in the next year we should have the new figures.
(Mr Timms) Yes, I do.
(Mr Timms) Right. It is a very good question; and, yes, we do think that pupil behaviour is a very important issue, and I entirely acknowledge the point you make about its significance in the minds of teachers. There is a fair chunk, as you will have seen, of the White Paper that is addressing the subject; we are providing ,178 million in this current financial year to help tackle poor behaviour. A very important achievement, I think, that we will have delivered by next September, is ensuring that where a child is taken out of the class there is a full-time education available for that child, which, of course, was not the case; and that was one of the big problems about the system in the past, that quite a lot of children were being taken out of class because of behaviour problems, and then almost nothing, they might get a couple of hours= teaching a week, but very, very inadequate provision. Now that we will, from next September, be able to assure a full-time education for anyone who is excluded, I think it will make it more possible, more desirable, for some children to be taken out and provided for separately in that way. But it is an important subject, and one that we are committed to making progress on.
(Mr Timms) Yes, there is. I would just make the point that, of course, learning support units are on site and not outside, so that I take the point you make about pupil referral units as being that sort of further step. But, yes, we have announced a project to tackle the roots of poor behaviour in children, we want to set up a programme of work to support schools in setting high expectations of behaviour, developing and strengthening emotional intelligence, tackling severe behavioural problems; so that is a significant programme of work that we are taking forward.
(Mr Timms) That is the importance, I think, of having the learning support units and pupil referral units available, so that there is full-time education available for all those children, even if, for whatever reason, they cannot be in school.
(Mr Timms) We are confident, I think, that the provision we are making from next September will do the job.
(Mr Timms) I broadly agree with the points that you make. There are a number of things that we need to do. I think one thing we need to do is to broaden the range of subjects available at GCSE level, and, as you know, we are introducing the vocational GCSE which will be helpful with that, I think. But I agree also that there should be opportunities for some youngsters to take their GCSEs, or some of their GCSEs, early; of course, some already do that, but we might well see more of that in the future. We might also see some youngsters going straight to AS level, rather than taking a GCSE, in some subjects. I am not saying that children would not do GCSEs at all, but they may not do GCSEs in all the range of subjects they currently do, but they might go straight to AS in subjects; but, equally, again I agree, there will be some for whom it makes more sense to take longer to get to GCSE level. As you know, Estelle Morris has talked about an overarching award at age 19, which every child will be able to aspire to, and I think we might well see that, for some youngsters, getting to GCSE in some subjects by that age would be a significant milestone for them, one we would want to accredit and acknowledge. So, to conclude on this, I think the important thing is that there should be pathways through the education system that are individually tailored and appropriate for each student; in some cases that will mean faster, in some cases it will mean slower, but we need to be much more individually sensitive to people than the system has been up till now.
(Mr Timms) Yes, it is.
(Mr Timms) Some youngsters doing GCSEs after 16 is something that is not a completely new idea, but I agree with you that, the way that we measure performance of schools, it certainly does raise some issues in that area that we will need to think quite hard about.
(Mr Timms) Yes, I completely agree with that, and I think people have been saying this for a very long time; we have never managed to achieve it in the past, and we are very ambitious to achieve it now. I think that is important for a number of reasons. One reason is that the skills that one acquires through pursuing that vocational route are precisely the skills that in some areas we are most short of in the economy at the moment, so it is a national imperative, I think, that we do provide encouragement for people to acquire and develop those skills. And I think the great attraction of the overarching award idea is that it will mean that, whichever route you choose to go through, whether it is an academic route or a vocational route, or a mixture of the two, and I think we probably want to try to break down those barriers a bit between the two separate routes, you will end up in the same place; and I think that will be quite a big contribution to achieving this parity of esteem. Can I just say one other thing, that the Committee has told me about some of its overseas experiences, let me just tell you about one of mine. I was in Singapore recently, and was very interested to hear what happens there, where everybody does O levels, and they still are O levels, 25 per cent then go off to, effectively, sixth-form colleges and do A levels after two years, but another 40 per cent go into very good quality institutions, called polytechnics, which do focus on the vocational and technical skills, and you can spend three years in one of those, and then, if you are able to, you go to a university, but you go to university in the second year rather than the first. I thought that was just quite an interesting model of a very distinct and separate vocational pathway, which does lead on into higher education, in the way that we want our pathways to. But an interesting point from the discussions I had there was that, even there, and these polytechnics have all that investment put in them, there is still a problem, that you are seen to have not quite made it if you go to one of those, whereas if you go the A level route that is regarded as a more prestigious one. So it is a big challenge there.
(Mr Timms) Yes, so I gather.
(Mr Timms) Yes; well, let me get my defence in quickly. I think this is going to be a long-term process. We will, as you know, be saying more about our 14-19 proposals in the new year, and I think what we will envisage may well be a sort of ten-year process of change to achieve the objectives that we are agreeing need to be achieved. There will certainly, I think, be a great deal more clarity in a year=s time about where we are going and the routes that we intend to take there; whether I will be able to point to substantial change in this area within a year I am more hesitant about.
(Mr Timms) As you say, this is an issue that applies across the board, it is not just a question on education, I think. But we are looking at some changes in this area in the Public Service Agreements that are being piloted currently. I think two of those, if I remember rightly, are, we have introduced some flexibility on the planning requirements, for exactly the reason that you identify, and I have no doubt at all that we will be able to identify ways in which we can spread the ability for flexibility there beyond those that are piloting it at the moment. But I think this, more broadly, is going to be one of the issues that the Local Government White Paper will address, when that is published, before too long.
(Mr Timms) I agree with that.
(Mr Timms) The bulk of each school=s funding comes still through the LEA, and I would envisage that continuing to be the case, and there will be local decisions to be made about the best way to allocate those resources.
(Mr Timms) What we are saying is that, and I think it is right for Government to be able to say this, the highest priority for this Government is education, that we do need to be assured that the extra resources that we are placing in education are deployed for education, and we have therefore said that we will, in the Education Bill, introduce a reserve power on school funding, so that if, in an extreme case, the money consistently is not being passed through to schools, we will take a power to ensure that it is. Now that is very much a kind of last resort measure, it is not one that we envisage using very widely, but I think it is appropriate that, if there is a real problem in a particular authority, that power should be available. Of course, lots of local authorities have spent over the Standard Spending Assessment over the years, and I am sure that will continue, and the reserve power will not affect that at all. But we do want a back-stop so that if there is a serious and continuing problem in a particular authority it can be addressed.
(Mr Timms) That is a very fair point, and I think the power will need to be used transparently in that way and the criteria to be made clear in terms of the new funding formula from 2003; so, yes.
(Mr Timms) I agree with that, and I hope that LEAs do have a sense of an increasingly positive arrangement. Of course, I was a local authority leader for four years, and I have a high view of the contribution that LEAs can make to education, partly based on that experience. I was the Leader of Newham Council, and I watched, over a long period, how it was the sustained and committed and patient support provided by the LEA that enabled long-standing problems of underachievement in the area to be steadily addressed, and there have been quite substantial improvements in the last 15 years as a result of that work. So we do have, and I think we have made this clear, a very high view of the contribution of LEAs, particularly in the area of school improvement. We have recently announced a series of diversity pathfinders, as the latest example, which involves us providing additional support to LEAs, to work out in their areas the implications of the ideas in the White Paper. So I certainly see this as a partnership that we want to establish with LEAs, and I think we are putting the steps in place to achieve that.
Chairman: Thank you. Can we move now to support for weak schools, and Meg Munn would like to lead on that.
(Mr Timms) I think Mike Tomlinson is making an important point, that, increasingly, as the number of actually failing schools declines, and also as we get better at putting things right where a school is failing, so we are able to look a little further up the spectrum of achievement in schools, if you like, and increasingly give support to schools that, they may be in danger of but are not currently failing but do have weaknesses; and I think that is an area we need to explore further. I think a number of those schools will be amongst those that we are directed to by the application of the floor targets, they will be the schools that are below the 20 per cent, below the 25 per cent, five good GCSE level. So that will certainly help a number of those schools. But I think we will also need to look at whether there is scope for us developing programmes specifically for schools that are identified in the way that you described; we have not done that yet, but I think there will be the opportunity to do so as the problem of failing schools becomes rather less substantial than it has been in the past.
(Mr Timms) I agree with you, and I think that is an essential role of the LEA, and good LEAs are doing that at the moment. And it is one of the reasons that we have intervened in some LEAs, because that role is not being provided there, but in good LEAs it already is, and, I agree, that is where the earliest signs of problems can be picked up, and where swift action can be taken to put the problems right before they become more serious.
(Mr Timms) They are getting significantly more resources than they used to, of course. We have encouraged delegation, perhaps that is what you are referring to, - - -
(Mr Timms) ... increasingly to schools, and I think that has been right; but I think LEAs do have the resources they need for these tasks. Of course, we will be looking at this again when we come forward with the new funding system, because we will explicitly be differentiating between that element of the funding which is for an LEA for its own core functions as an LEA, and the rest, which is intended for schools. So I think that distinction will become much more explicit in the new system than it is at the moment.
(Mr Timms) I am not aware of the existence of a cupboard. I certainly have had the experience of mentioning a school that I have never heard of before to the Secretary of State, and she immediately talks about it and knows who the headteacher is and what is going on there; that is a remarkable ability that she has. But I think what we clearly need is a balance here, we are going to need to be interested in what is happening in individual schools, if we are going to tackle this long-standing problem of a long tail of underachievement in schools; but, equally, we are going to need to rely on LEAs for much of the improvement across the system that is essential.
(Mr Timms) I agree with you about the importance of parental involvement. I do not think we have given up. We had a conference yesterday for newly appointed headteachers; one of those was talking to me about her work with the parents, this is in a primary school, with her parents that is clearly taking up a lot of her energy. And through, for example, Excellence in Cities, through some of the other support that we are providing to schools, there is the ability to do that. We have talked as well in the White Paper about extended hours schools, providing a range of services, support services, to the wider community; and I think one of the benefits from that initiative will be engaging parents in the life of the school, just bringing them in, giving them the opportunity to do some things, and so getting their support for the school and a better understanding on their part of what their child is doing. So we have not given up on that, and, I agree with you, it is very important.
Chairman: Right, Minister, we will obviously come back to that. I want to move on to specialist schools.
Ms Munn: You are excluding my >Inclusion=, Chair.
Chairman: I am excluding >Inclusion=, sorry.
(Mr Timms) The whole area of truancy and absenteeism is a very important one for us. We do want to reduce all absenteeism from our schools, in particular, to cut truancy levels; we have, as you know, a PSA target to cut truancy by 10 per cent between 2002 and 2004. But I think it is right that we should be looking at both authorised and unauthorised absence, I think it is clear there are problems with both.
(Mr Timms) I think this challenge of engaging youngsters who have lost their interest in education is a huge one, I think it is one of the central challenges that we face, and it is one of the reasons that I think that what we are proposing on 14-19, what we will be saying about that, is going to be so significant. I think it does require quite a big change in the way that we manage the whole education system, and giving youngsters opportunities in schools that at the moment they just do not have. For example, workplace learning, I think, is going to be an element of the solution here. I think there are quite a lot of youngsters who have lost interest and being disengaged, as you describe, who would be enthused again if they could see the close links between their learning and a future job opportunity, and workplace learning is one way that that can be achieved. I think we will see many more examples of links between schools and FE colleges, because, again, there are a number of very good examples around the country where youngsters who have lost interest have been excited again by education because of being in a college, rather than a school, for some of their school=s week. And, by the way, the Chairman asked me earlier about what we might have achieved within a year. I would certainly hope that within a year there will be some pilots of these things, so that we can see the impact that they have. But, equally, I do think it is going to be important that the learning support units do their jobs well, Ofsted, of course, will be looking at them, as part of their inspections. And I think the indications are encouraging that this is being seen as part of the mainstream work of the school, that clearly what happens in them will have an impact on the school=s performance, as measured subsequently; therefore, it is very important and will be taken seriously.
(Mr Timms) I think that highlights the importance of good and strong pastoral arrangements for young people who are taking these routes, and I think that is absolutely essential; the last thing we would want is people who, as you say, are just sent somewhere else and then the system loses track of them. But I do not think it need be like that, and I have visited some examples where the pastoral arrangements that are provided within a framework of that kind are actually very good and where I think there is proper attention being paid to the individual needs of the youngsters who are participating. I think meeting the needs of children who have been in care is a very important subject for us, it is an area where our achievements as a nation have been dreadful in the past, and we have set targets to increase to at least 50 per cent by 2001 the proportion of children leaving care aged 16 and over with a GCSE, to 75 per cent by 2003; this is an area where we need to do very much better than we have done in the past.
(Mr Timms) I am sure we could learn from the Danes. I think we are taking it seriously. The White Paper has some figures in it about ethnic minority achievement by comparison with the rest of the population, and what that suggests is that we are making some headway, that the gap is diminishing, in that there is still a gap, and there is still a good deal of work to be done, and I think that will require addressing all of the issues that you described. But we have made it very explicit that we do want the levels of achievement in the ethnic minority population to match, over time, the levels of achievement in the rest of the population, that is an explicit objective of ours, and the indications are we are making progress in that direction, although there still remains a good deal of work to be done.
Chairman: I look forward to talking to you about that in a year=s time. We now actually are moving on to specialist schools.
(Mr Timms) Yes. Aptitude is about potential and ability is more about achievement, and the key thing, I think, is that aptitude relates to a child=s potential rather than being something that one can study to acquire.
(Mr Timms) The School Standards Framework Act sets out the arrangements for this, and it is only permissible to introduce selection by aptitude in a number of areas, which are prescribed in regulations under that Act, because it is not possible to test for aptitude in some areas; in others it is.
(Mr Timms) Yes. The current regulations prescribe design and technology, information technology, modern and foreign languages, performing arts, visual arts, physical education and sport as the areas where aptitude testing can be carried out.
(Mr Timms) That is not included, that is correct, and we do not have proposals to introduce new regulations to designate the new specialisms.
(Mr Timms) Not quite. As you know, the incidence of schools actually taking up this opportunity is actually very modest; but it would be possible, to take your example, for a maths and computing specialist school to select by aptitude on the basis of the information technology aptitude test.
(Mr Timms) It is a maths and computing specialism; that is the specialism we are introducing.
(Mr Timms) Maths and computing. So it would be not unreasonable to look at the information technology, which is - - -
(Mr Timms) That is true, yes.
(Mr Timms) No, I do not agree with that, because, as you said, the limit is 10 per cent of the cohort being selected, and we know that at the moment only about 7 per cent of schools that could take that up are doing so, and most of those were schools that selected before they became specialist schools. So if you multiply 7 per cent by 10 per cent, we are talking about less than 1 per cent of the pupils at a specialist school having been through any kind of selection of this nature at all; so I really do not think that, on that basis, you can say that we are developing a two-tier system here. What I would say though is that, take the sports example, we know that schools having the distinct sense of identity and character that comes from specialist designation is a powerful lever in raising standards across the school system. I think that a school being able to select a small proportion of its children on the basis of a sporting aptitude is that contributes to the sense of ethos of the institution, which benefits then all the children in the school. Being able to do that, I think, is a valuable opportunity for the school to take, given that it is such a constrained ability from the start.
(Mr Timms) It is a very important feature of the specialist school scheme that the extra funding is for some specified improvements, and there is a very demanding process that schools need to go through in terms of setting plans and targets in order to become specialist schools, and then, once those plans and targets are agreed, there is funding that is provided to help them achieve that. And I am quite sure that that process of planning and the effort that goes into that is a very important part of the reason why specialist schools are doing better. Now not every institution is in a position to go through that process; where they can, I think, it is in all of our interests that they should, because of the improved levels of achievement that result. So, equally, I think, the evidence is, and to some extent, I guess, this is a bit anecdotal, that I think it is the case that the clearer sense of identify that comes from being a specialist school, the fact that one of the benefits of the specialist school system will be that every specialist school will be able to be the best school in its specialism in the area, I think, that is actually quite an important benefit, in terms of raising the levels of esteem, on the part of youngsters, pupils and teachers in the school, and therefore raising the levels of achievement.
(Mr Timms) Yes. As you know, we are doing quite a lot of work on the value added measures at the moment, and later this month, I think on 22 November, we will be publishing the first pilot of value added measures, and then those measures will be - - -
(Mr Timms) Indeed.
(Mr Timms) Right. Well we are still at the pilot stage nationally; but from next year that information will be provided nationally.
(Mr Timms) No, no certainly not; 22 November we will be publishing the pilot data, and it will be national from then on.
(Mr Timms) For those in the pilot group, I imagine it will. This has been looked at in lots of ways, including the value added measures, and I think the indications are actually pretty clear. Professor Jesson=s research is instructive on this, that the specialist schools scheme does allow significant improvement in schools, and that is why we want to spread the specialist scheme so much more widely, as we have set out in the White Paper.
(Mr Timms) I guess the extended hours school model that we talked about in the White Paper does open up opportunities for developments of that kind.
(Mr Timms) No, it would not be part of a specialist school model, but there would clearly be some resource implications for it happening; nevertheless, you are right. Ofsted produced a very positive report, I am glad to say, about the contribution of specialist schools, and I think they said that 80 per cent of the schools, if I remember rightly, were taking good advantage of the specialist school scheme, and that it was incentivising improvements of the kind that we need. They also, rightly, drew attention to their concern that amongst the schools they looked at the community element was not being delivered as effectively as we would wish. Now, to be fair to the schools here, this is quite early days for the current form of the community element in the specialist scheme. We have, I think, since the research was carried out, improved the guidance on this and promulgated more information on best practice in this area; and, together with working with LEAs and schools, I hope we are going to see improvements on that front. But the Ofsted report as a whole was a very strong indication of the benefits of the specialist schools scheme.
(Mr Timms) Yes. I can certainly drop you a note with that information.
(Mr Timms) That is very important. One point I can make is that, if you look at the specialist schools that have been designated this year, the free school meals proportion in those is above the national average. But we certainly do have figures for how many specialist schools are in Excellence for Cities areas, for example.
(Mr Timms) It is still the case that the free school meals is less than the national average in all the specialist schools. I was referring though to the ones that have been declared this year, which I think is an indication of the direction that we are moving in, that the proportion is significantly above the national average.
(Mr Timms) Absolutely; and let me just reaffirm our full-hearted commitment to the introduction of value added. Shall I just spell out the sort of programme that we have got for publishing that information?
(Mr Timms) As I have said, we have got a pilot this year which will look at value added between Key Stage 3 and GCSE, and between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, and that will be fully published nationwide next year. Between Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, there is a pilot next year for publication the following year; between GCSE and A levels, pilot in 2003 with full publication in 2004, and between Key Stage 2 and GCSE, pilot in 2003 for publication in 2004.
Chairman: Thank you, Minister. I want to move to faith schools now and I will ask Paul to lead with the questions on that.
(Mr Timms) I would make two points on this. Firstly, I think there is evidence, and Ofsted has gathered some evidence, to suggest that faith schools are doing a good job, and particularly doing a good job amongst some of the most disadvantaged youngsters, and they have looked at it on a value added basis, and the evidence, I think, is, it is fairly clear, that church schools are doing a good job. The other great strength that church schools/faith schools have is the strong support they have from parents, which we know is quite a big element in schools doing well. So they do have significant benefits. We are not going to be promoting, going round encouraging or urging people to establish faith schools, but what we are saying is, where there is a broad demand from a community, supported through the school=s organisation committee, then that demand ought to be facilitated rather than blocked.
(Mr Timms) The evidence that Ofsted has gathered suggests that, if you look at the differences between Key Stage 2 and GCSE achievement, there is evidence of the faith schools doing relatively well. And I think, my own observation is, it is the case that some faith schools are able to do particularly well, and I am thinking of schools in my own constituency, a boys= school, or serving my own constituency, not actually in it, that is doing very well amongst Afro-Caribbean boys. Now that is a group where we have some of the biggest problems of underachievement nationally, and that school is doing well. I think what we need is, going back to something I said right at the beginning, a diverse system; faith schools are doing well, with some youngsters, but they are by no means the whole answer, really it is going to need many other different kinds of schools as well. There is an excellent girls= school in my constituency - Plashet School - that bends over backwards to meet the diverse faith commitments of all of its pupils, which are very varied; that school is also doing extremely well. What we are looking for is diversity, but faith schools, I think it is clear, do have an important contribution to make.
(Mr Timms) Yes, but there are plenty of examples of church schools which are meeting the needs of exactly the kind of cohort that you were describing; and the point I am making is, the evidence is they are doing a good job.
(Mr Timms) Yes; taking all those factors into account, the evidence is that they are doing a good job.
(Mr Timms) I very much agree with you about the objective, but I do not see the establishment of faith schools as being in contradiction to that. You mentioned the case of Bradford; certainly, the report did highlight the segregation in schools as one of the issues in Bradford. I think I am right in saying that there are not any maintained faith schools, currently, in Bradford, there are quite a number of independent faith schools in Bradford; and one of the benefits of what we are proposing, I think, is some of those schools being able to come into the maintained sector, being inspected by Ofsted, the National Curriculum, and also having the opportunity and encouragement to form partnerships with other schools, schools of different faiths and schools of no faith. And I think what we want is an inclusive education system, and we will want new faith schools coming into the maintained system to contribute to that inclusiveness, perhaps in terms of their admissions arrangements, as the Church of England is proposing, or in terms of partnerships being established. And we have made this point in the White Paper, that we will be encouraging the establishment of partnerships between different kinds of schools, precisely to avoid the kind of segregation which, I agree with you, is a feature of things currently, but it is a result of housing policies, and historical legacies, rather than of faith schools.
(Mr Timms) I spoke in terms of increasing the inclusiveness of the system as a whole. I do not think it would be possible, and we are not proposing, the Secretary of State is not proposing, to require quotas for non-faith adherents, although - - -
(Mr Timms) I think it would be extremely difficult to require that in law. The recommendation of Lord Dearing to the Church of England was that new Church of England schools should have that inclusiveness as a characteristic of their admissions procedures; we welcome that.
(Mr Timms) I think, if you were to have people in front of the Committee, perhaps you might in the future, from the faith organisations, they, or some of them, anyway, would want to make the point, and it may not be a denominational point, it may be an individual school point, that individual schools would feel that being able to require faith adherence amongst their admissions is an important element in achieving their identity and establishing their ethos, which is one of the important contributors to the success of those schools. But I think we will have to see the decisions that people make about that; and we had a response to the White Paper from one of the Islamic education organisations, and that was supporting the inclusiveness of admissions. So I think we are going to see a variety of responses on that point. But I do think it would be difficult for us to require it in law; what we can do though is encourage schools to work with other schools, and that is very much working with the grain of the White Paper, the new features we want to see in the education system. And Estelle, I think, will be making this point to the General Synod today, that we want to see good schools, good church schools, working alongside other schools, and there are all manner of different kinds of partnerships one could envisage, but good schools working with struggling schools, I think, is an effective vehicle for tackling school improvement.
(Mr Timms) I think the answer, in the context of the specialist school point, an important feature of the specialist school scheme is that specialist schools will be good at everything, these will be good schools, they will have a particular focus on a specialism, but that will not be at the expense of anything else in the curriculum, they will still offer a full, broad curriculum, and be offering it better as a result of the specialist scheme and the additional funding that they receive and the improvements in ethos and identity as well.
(Mr Timms) Again, the evidence is that faith schools are very attractive and popular, including amongst people who do not go to church. I think the important point is that we need good schools, and where there is a limit, obviously, on the number of schools available in a particular area, that those schools that are available should be very good.
(Mr Timms) As you know, we have had a number of independent/state school partnerships, and we provided funding for those partnerships. I think the message we are sending to the independent sector is, we think there is considerable value for the maintained sector and for the independent sector in encouraging some of these partnerships, that they can help us to raise standards in the maintained sector. We are also, of course, reaffirming the view we have always taken, that schemes like the Assisted Places Scheme, which was abolished when this Government was elected, do not, in our view, have a part to play in the future relationship between the Government and the independent sector. And, from time to time, we are called upon to introduce something along the lines of an Assisted Places Scheme; we are not proposing to do that. What we are looking for though is opportunities to work with the independent sector to raise the levels of achievement in the maintained sector, and I think there are opportunities to do that.
(Mr Timms) Yes. If somebody in the independent sector wished to put forward a bid then they could do so, and that would go through the process that we described in the White Paper. But there is certainly no objection to them putting forward a proposal.
Valerie Davey: I think there will be objections, Minister.
(Mr Timms) As soon as I leave the Committee, I will be off to address the National EAZ Conference, so, if I may, perhaps I will refer to what you have just told me about the improvement in GCSE results in the Barnsley Zone. But we do envisage taking further this area-based approach. The Education Action Zones themselves were set up initially for three years, almost all of them have been extended to five years. We do not see those particular institutions continuing beyond the five-year term for which they were established. But we are certainly very actively learning the lessons of the successes of the Zones, and spreading those through, in particular, Excellence in Cities, including these new smaller Action Zones, like the one that you have just been talking to us about. I do recognise that securing sponsorship in some parts of the country can be harder than in others. We do, of course, give funding support to the Technology Colleges Trust to allow them to do some work centrally to gather sponsorship, which can then be drawn down locally. And I was talking to the Trust recently about their work on Education Action Zones, and I would hope that in areas where there are problems that support can be usefully used. Because this process of establishing links with the private sector, in order to secure funding, can be a very creative part of the process of setting up a Zone, it can make quite a big contribution, I think, to developing relationships in the community which are valuable for raising standards in the Zone. I agree with what you said about the importance of levering in private sector support, in a variety of forms, and that task of getting sponsorship can be quite an important element in making that happen.
(Mr Timms) I will look forward to it, too. Thank you very much indeed.
Chairman: Thank you.