Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Department for Education and Skills


  The Department for Education and Skills has a significant impact on the social and economic aspects of sustainable development in England through its core business of raising educational standards and improving skills, including education for sustainable development. Nurseries, schools, colleges and universities are also valuable community resources for learning and are key to the success of cross-Government strategies, such as the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, led by the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit. They contribute to the "building sustainable communities" strand of the Government's Sustainable Development work; further detail is at paragraph 15 below. This Department's policies have comparatively less direct impact on environmental matters than those of some other Government departments, such as those represented on MISC 18.

Question 1. What input has the Department for Education and Skills had to the UK preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development?

  1.  Our input has been on two levels: first, our broad actions to promote sustainable development in our areas of responsibility, and second, specific action for the Summit itself.

  2.  The Department for Education and Skills has taken significant action to help raise awareness and understanding of sustainable development. The revised National Curriculum, which we introduced in September 2000, gives pupils a statutory entitlement to sustainable development education. Pupils learn about the connections between environmental, social and economic issues and about the consequences of the choices they make for the environment and other people. We are joint sponsors with DEFRA of the independent advisory Sustainable Development Education Panel, which made an important contribution to the National Curriculum review. The Panel's membership includes non-governmental bodies, such as the Council for Environmental Education (CEE), with whom we have a continuing dialogue.

  3.  Support and guidance on ESD and the National Curriculum are available on the website we have commissioned the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to prepare. The Growing Schools initiative (£0.5m), launched in September last year, will promote the outdoor classroom, with the emphasis on growing, farming and the environment.

  4.  The World Wildlife Fund project, "Our World", which we are co-sponsoring with DEFRA and the devolved administrations, will encourage pupils and teachers to explore and debate sustainable development issues and take action in their local community. Four Earth Champions from winning schools from the UK will attend the summit, and there will be on-line debates around the main summit themes. This Department is publicising its contribution to preparations for the World Summit through Ministerial participation in events around the "Our World" schools challenge.

  5.  As the Committee knows, the Summit is of most relevance to Departments represented on the Ministerial group MISC 18, and in particular to the Departments whose Ministers are due to give oral evidence to the Committee: the Cabinet Office, the Department for International Development, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We believe that it is in those departments that this topic will have been discussed at management board level (rather than in other departments which are, rightly, not members of MISC 18) because it is their policies that top the agenda of the Summit and dominate the UK's objectives for the Summit: to address poverty eradication, globalisation, the Millennium Development Goals and related international target, resource productivity and sectoral problems.

Question 2. For which UK sustainable development indicators does the Department for Education and Skills have responsibility, and which other indicators do the department's policies particularly impact upon?

  6.  This information is in the public domain in the Government's statistical publication "Quality of life counts: indicators for a strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom: a baseline assessment" (December 1999), with an update in "Achieving a better quality of life: review of progress towards a sustainable development", the Government's annual report for 2000, published in spring 2001.

  7.  This Department is responsible for the main element of the fifth headline indicator, the percentage of 19 year olds in England achieving level 2 qualifications. The trend for this indicator in recent years has been one of modest but steady improvement. While the latest outturn from the autumn 2001 Labour Force Survey shows no increase over the autumn 2000 outturn of 75 per cent, we do anticipate improvements in future years which will enable us to reach our Public Service Agreement target for 2004 of a three percentage point improvement in outturn compared to 2002.

  8.  We have an interest in the fourth headline indicator on poverty and social exclusion. Our interest is the proportion of work-age people in England without a qualification. This has also moved in a positive direction, falling to 15 per cent in autumn 2001. This is over three percentage points lower than in 1996, equivalent to over 900,000 fewer people with no qualifications over the last five years.

  9.  Our policies also influence seven lower level sustainable development indicators. In most of these we have made significant progress and we aim to move all of them in a positive direction, with a range of specific targets as detailed below in Table 1. We also continue to work with the School Travel Advisory Group on all aspects of school transport, including environmental issues.

Table 1

Indicator in "Quality of life counts", December 1999 Progress, aims and targets
C1: Education; 16 year-olds with no qualifications The percentage with no qualifications has decreased. The Government has a national learning target for England by 2002 that 95 per cent of 16 year-olds achieve one or more GCSEs at grades A*-G.We also have floor targets for schools and LEAs:—increase the percentage of pupils obtaining five or more GCSEs at A*-C, with at least 38 per cent to achieve this standard in every local education authority (LEA) by 2004;—increase the percentage of pupils obtaining five or more GCSEs at A*-C, with at least 25 per cent in every school by 2006 (20 per cent by 2004).
C2: Lifelong Learning: adult literacy/numeracy This Department has a Public Service Agreement target to reduce the number of adults in England who have literacy and numeracy problems by 750,000 by 2004.
C3: Lifelong Learning: learning participation We aim to reduce non-learners by 7 per cent from the 1997 figure, by 2002. In December 2001, John Healey announced that this national target had been achieved one year early. That is the equivalent of 500,000 new learners.
C4: Lifelong Learning: Businesses recognised as Investors in People As at November 2001, there were 25,502 organisations recognised as Investors in People and a further 20,128 organisations were working towards achieving the standard. This represents over nine million employees, or over one third of the UK workforce. The National Learning Target for England is to have recognised 45 per cent of medium-sized or large organisations, and 10,000 small organisations (1-49 employees) by December 2002.
E3: Tackling poverty and social exclusion; truancies and exclusions from school (one of two parts to this indicator) We aim to reduce the number of truancies and school exclusions in England by one third by 2002. Truancy is a complex and long term problem. It is not just a matter of changing schools' behaviour, we need to change the behaviour of children and their parents too. We must maintain the pressure on truancy, because we know that it is damaging to young people's life chances. Children missing school are missing out on education and they may be at risk of harm or drifting into criminal behaviour if they are wandering the streets at a loose end. However, we must also tackle other kinds of absence, poor attendance can often be a first signal of complex family problems. Almost 90 per cent of absences are authorised, and this is therefore as much a barrier to narrowing achievement gaps as unauthorised absence.The target on exclusions was met one year early. Recent draft revised guidance proposes to expand the categories of behaviour where permanent exclusion may be justified but given all the measures we are taking to bolster schools and headteachers with more resources to help them avoid the need for exclusion, we do not expect the new guidance to result in any significant increase in exclusions.On wider measures to combat social exclusion:—we are working with a number of other departments through the Sure Start programme to promote the physical, intellectual, social and emotional development of young children, so that children are able to do well when they reach school. The target is to set up 500 programmes by 2004. So far, 437 areas have been announced over five rounds. These programmes will deliver a range of health, early education and family support services to children under four and their families enabling the children to flourish when they reach school.—Childcare funding has trebled from £66 million in 2000-01 to over £200 million in 2003-04, with an additional £155 million from the New Opportunities Fund to increase provision in disadvantaged areas. By September 2004, there will be a free early education place for every three year old. By March 2004, the Government's ambition is that there should be a childcare place for every lone parent entering employment in the most disadvantaged areas.—The Neighbourhood Support Fund, part of the Connexions programme, supports local voluntary and community organisations to provide innovative projects for the hardest to help 13-19 year-olds. It is aimed at young socially excluded people, such as those excluded from school, or at risk of becoming excluded, long term truants, teenage parents and those from ethnic groups who have under-performed at school.
T2: Help to promote women's interests/fairness at work: women in appointments as secondary school headteachers Women as a proportion of secondary school heads in England and Wales rose by 3.5 per cent between 1970 and 1997. Since 1997, the proportion of female secondary heads has continued to rise and in March 2000 was provisionally 28.8 per cent. The National College for School Leadership is reviewing the take-up of leadership and headship training programmes, including by gender, looking to increase the pool of potential school leaders, particularly those from under-represented groups.Women teachers can also benefit from our Childcare policy. For example, parents can receive help with up to 70 per cent of their eligible childcare costs. More generally, women benefit from our policies on the provision of childcare.
T8: Improving awareness of sustainable development: awareness in schools This Department has acted to improve awareness. The revised National Curriculum now gives children a statutory entitlement to sustainable development education, and the Growing Schools initiative is raising school children's awareness of the environment around them. Further details are in the answer to question 1 above.

Question 3. What systems does your Department have in place to monitor progress on how far the department's policies are contributing to UK progress on sustainable development and the issues that were mapped out in Agenda 21 after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992?

  10.  This Department monitors its contribution to the overall Government goal of achieving sustainable development by taking part in the work which DEFRA leads on progress on the Government's sustainable development strategy for the UK. The strategy is the Government's response to Agenda 21. We last reported progress in "Achieving a better quality of life" (mentioned above) and further updates will appear in the 2nd annual report which the Government expects to publish in 2002.

  11.  The Department for Education and Skills has a direct impact on several of the Government's seven sustainable development priorities, in particular:

    —  Priority 1: More investment in people and equipment for a competitive economy; and

    —  Priority 4: Improving larger towns and cities to make them better places to live and work.

  12.  Priority 1—The Department's Strategic Framework, published in October 2001, states the aim of the DfES as to "help build a competitive economy and inclusive society by:

    —  Creating opportunities for everyone to develop their learning.

    —  Realising potential in people to make the most of themselves.

    —  Achieving excellence in standards of education and levels of skills".

  ("Education and Skills: Delivering Results—a strategy to 2006", page 4).

  13.  Priority 4—We will deliver a "Departmental Investment Strategy for schools, colleges and universities in England which encourages sustainable development and modernises the estate, helping to enrich communities and make towns and cities better places to live and work in" ("Education and Skills: Delivering Results—a strategy to 2006", page 17).

  14.  To achieve our goals it is vital that we work effectively with our partners. "Meeting our targets can only be achieved if we involve partners, including customers, in the development and delivery of our policies". ("Education and Skills: Delivering Results—a strategy to 2006", page 18).

  15.  As mentioned in the introduction above, the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal includes commitments to neighbourhood renewal from Departments across Whitehall. The Department for Education and Skills has a range of commitments including extending Sure Start to cover a third of children under 4 in poverty by 2004 and introducing an Adult Basic Skills Strategy aimed at meeting the literacy and numeracy target mentioned under indicator C2 above. The Department also has very challenging floor targets which focus on raising attainment at GCSE in every school and every LEA in England. The Department is working with others inside and outside Government to deliver its commitments and targets, and reports regularly to the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit on progress.

  16.  Speaking at the launch of the White Paper "Schools; Achieving Success", Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Estelle Morris said:

    "Every child, whatever their circumstances, deserves the opportunity that a first rate education affords—to make the most of themselves. If we fail to deliver the very best standards in our secondary schools, or if we turn our back on a single child, the economic health and social cohesion of Britain is diminished. Education must extend opportunity for across our communities".

  17.  This Department, in common with others, is producing a Sustainable Development Report to the Treasury as part of its Spending Review 2002 Bid. Our Spending Review will contribute in particular to the economic and social strands of sustainable development, by advancing the Department's core business of education and skills policies.

February 2002

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