Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-127)



  Q120 Mr Turner: You appear to think that the LEAs cannot do it. Otherwise you would not be doing it.

  Mr Crowne: No, I do not think that is true. What we are saying is that we each have distinctive roles in this. The Department has an important role in articulating the national sense of priority on what can be done. Local authorities are responsible in two senses: one, in working with their schools to help support them in providing the opportunities; two, very importantly on the health and safety side, as we have seen as an employer, but we also work with a wide range of other partners, a lot of voluntary organisations, subject associations. Each in its own way has a contribution to make. I would describe our role as articulating that activity and giving it a sense of purpose and direction to influence priority decisions that are made at school level.

  Mr Turner: I think my problem is this. You are doing a fair number of things. The DCMS has clearly influenced one significant area, because they have put something like, as I said, not £35, £20 million into museums and galleries. I cannot quite see how much you have spent in any other area. I am wondering how we assess, which is one of our responsibilities, the value for money, albeit the relatively small amount of money, that you are spending on this and judge whether it would have been better if you had not got that money but somebody else had?

  Q121 Chairman: What have you to say to that?

  Mr Crowne: I think that is a very hard question to answer. We have something like £30 billion going into school budgets. The Department is committed to increasing the proportion of the overall resources going to schools, increasing the proportion that goes into school budgets as opposed to other levels of the system, so I think we are increasingly scrutinising the way we look at the need to retain money, whether it is at local authority level or, indeed, at national level, and I think our focus for money that we retain at national level is around three things: first, it is about promoting innovation and development in the system, second, building the capacity, trying to build the capacity of the system itself to take some of these things forward, and I think probably the third is to make sure we have got the right framework of incentives and accountability in there to move the system in the right direction. I think those are the kinds of tests you have to apply to any centrally retained expenditure. Of course there are lots of organisations who would like additional resources from us, but we have to be very careful about going down the road of what I describe as supporting the supply side in this, because in the end the test has to be whether these opportunities are ones that schools think are in the best interests of the children and they are prepared to support them from the £30-odd billion budget that is delegated through the system. So I think we have to be very wary of precisely how we use those centrally retained funds. I think I am rather supporting the point you are making about value for money. It is a real test whether we have got the right engagement and we are using that money for the right things.

  Q122 Chairman: Could I ask one other question? Hampshire County Council tells us that it has moved outdoor education facilities to a department outside the education department in order to protect it from "pressures created by the increasing devolution funding directly to schools". Clearly it is your policy to do the opposite, and you say so in paragraph 19. What will be the effect on schools of having more money delegated to them rather than having the LEA decide where that money will be spent on their behalf?

  Mr Crowne: I think one of the effects will be that we will have a much richer discussion between the school and the LEA about the benefits of delegating the money or retaining it centrally. As you will know, we set up schools forums which bring together all the local stakeholders to talk about school funding, and one of the big issues that every schools forum will be discussing is what is the case for devolving these resources to schools as opposed to retaining it centrally in the local authority to provide a service for schools as a whole. That is very important discussion, and, of course, it is entirely within the local authority's discretion working with its schools forums to decide to retain the resources if that is what the schools want, and what better test can you have of the need for service than if the main clients of that service want it. So that would be my answer. I think over the next few years, as schools forums become stronger and more confident, we will see more of those discussions going on and the level of retention and what it is retained for will be based on a really clear understanding between the LEA and schools about what the schools actually want and need. I think that is an important step.

  Q123 Chairman: Do you think there should be more of a champion, either at ministerial level or within the Department, for external implication. If there was someone really banging the drum for the . . . And I am surprised, because you have been a little bit reluctant to give us evidence, but we have heard some convincing evidence from a range of experts and also from Ofsted in written evidence on the value of outside education. This is a world where for most of us who have experience of a large town or city many children do not travel much outside the community in which they live, especially if they have come from an economically deprived background. If you then look at the work we have done on school meals and the Heath Committee has done on obesity, it all seems to be arguing that there is a champion needed here, because a lot of the activities that traditionally have been done as out of school activities are beneficial on a range of different criteria. Do you think there is a need? Do you think you have that ministerial spark there to guide you?

  Ms Williams: At ministerial level within the DfES Steven Twigg is the Minister who has responsibility for outdoor education within his portfolio, and he is very positive on the benefits of outdoor education. The Department's five-year strategy that was published in July also contains some warm words about the importance of the value of wider activities.

  Q124 Chairman: That is the problem, is it not, "Warm words"? Tomlinson on 14-19 has warm words, but they are not very focused words, are they?

  Ms Williams: No. They were a carefully selected positive endorsement of the value of outdoor activities to enrich and to develop the curriculum both at primary and secondary level. It is not just warm words because there are a whole range of things that we are doing from the Department to build on those warm words.

  Q125 Chairman: If we have not seen the manifesto yet, can we have a look? We are interested in manifestos in this Committee. Could we have a look at the manifesto?

  Ms Williams: The manifesto for outdoor education is at the concept stage; we have not got one yet. I was suggesting this would be something we might work up as a shared agenda among departments.

  Q126 Chairman: I see. Okay.

  Ms Williams: What we could do is show you the music manifesto as an example of what we mean by this.

  Q127 Chairman: Music to our ears. Thank you very much for your attendance, Stephen Crowne and Helen Williams, and thank you for your time.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 10 February 2005