Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-279)


2 MAY 2006

  Q260  Mr Holloway: When are you aiming to have it in place?

  Mr Touhig: Obviously we give the support as rapidly as we possibly can.

  Q261  Mr Borrow: I think it would be helpful if you could get your Department to let the Committee have a note giving details of what level of service for Service personnel in Afghanistan was available on what date so we could see the progression of building from nothing to a mature state so the Committee are in a position to consider whether that was adequate or not.

  Mr Touhig: I can happily do that if that helps, Chairman.[1] Indeed, one of my colleagues has just passed me a note that when on operation in Afghanistan three years ago he had internet access, telephone access for 20 minutes, as soon as he was there. Clearly there is more work I need to do in order to give you a full picture of this.

  Q262 Chairman: It may well be that you could be more reassuring than you have been able to be today. If you could give us such a note that would be extremely helpful.

  Mr Touhig: Yes.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. This issue of identifying Service children is one which we have been touching on briefly during the course of the morning. Robert Key.

  Q263  Robert Key: Thank you, Chairman. Minister, what is a "Service child"? We learn from the report and accounts that there are some 10,000 pupils being educated in SCE schools but that is not the be-all and end-all, is it, the Service child is going to extend beyond that? I do not just mean because you have got some at boarding school in England and so on. I am thinking particularly of Germany. The Committee was told that older children are perceived to be rather neglected because nobody is quite sure who is responsible for them when they get older. At university, for example, is there any responsibility taken for Service children and their welfare?

  Mr Touhig: I think there is an issue surrounding youngsters from the age of 16 who might leave education and families are on a posting somewhere, in Germany or wherever, and there are issues about their ongoing education and employment that we are conscious of. David, you and I have discussed this, I do not know whether you want to add to it.

  Q264  Robert Key: Could I ask specifically, to be helpful, could you explain to the Committee how you handle university admissions advice and further education advice on the one hand, and, secondly, what mechanism is in place for careers advice for children leaving Service schools?

  Mr Wadsworth: Probably better than you would find in most English LEAs. When I took on this job the Careers Service, replicating what had happened in the UK, had been tendered out and was run by Wiltshire who seconded folk into Germany and Cyprus. Two or three years ago that contract was due to come to a close and we took the decision that because of the whole 14-19 and beyond debate that was going on at the time we did not know what we wanted and I was unwilling to enter into a contract which would bind me to certain things when over the horizon 14-19 went off in a different direction. So we brought back the Careers Service in-house so that we do have a Careers Service which looks after the whole gamut of what you have just said. It looks after careers advice for school leavers and higher and further education. There is a careers adviser based in each of the SCE high schools and one shared between the two in Cyprus. Their remit also extends to those who have left school but remain overseas with their families. The Chairman asked me to be succinct!

  Chairman: Many congratulations. You have left us flabbergasted.

  Q265  Robert Key: That is fine, but in a submission from the Department for Education and Skills to the Committee it said that there had been provisional agreement from their minister that a Service children's marker should be included in the Census for 2006-07 but this was later rejected because it considered the potential burden of collecting the data would outweigh the benefits of doing so. So DfES has washed its hands of this problem, has it?

  Mr Wadsworth: We are moving back to the PLASC area, are we not?

  Q266  Robert Key: We are.

  Mr Wadsworth: It took us a lot of effort to get the DfES to agree that we should be part of PLASC anyhow, but we succeeded 12-18 months ago. At the same time we were saying surely you can put into the PLASC pro forma another field where you could identify someone as a Service child, and that suggestion was rejected at that stage. Probably as the Brigadier may have hinted earlier, he and others are revisiting that because without that data the whole concept of how we can measure progress as well as assist folk with forecasts of how many people are going to turn up, this, that and the other, is flawed.

  Robert Key: There is also another aspect of this which has been brought to my attention. We are all used to the idea of governors of schools but you do not have that same system in your Service schools although I think I am right in saying you do have—

  Chairman: Are you moving off the issue of the identification of Service children?

  Q267  Robert Key: No, I am not, I am sticking with it, Chairman, but they are rather linked. The government of schools has a role here for parental input as well. I think that governors and, are they School Advisory Committees?

  Mr Wadsworth: That is their title. They will change title because we revamped the terms of reference, which is in the brief somewhere, from September to become School Governance Committees with slightly sharper teeth but still short of what you would find from a governing body in the UK.

  Q268  Robert Key: So will this improve the way in which schools are perceived to look after the interests of older children? Is there a role there for the new governors?

  Mr Wadsworth: I think the concerns that were relayed to you from Germany were not so much about the older children in schools but about older children once they had left school and were not in employment, that was the focus. The answer to the question you have asked is probably not. What I think will happen for the older children in schools, who as part of a youth forum are expressing that they do not think they have got quite enough independence, this, that and the other, is things will move within schools because of the youth forum, particularly in Germany, rather than the Governors Committee.

  Q269  Chairman: I would like to come back to this identification field in the PLASC data before we move further into your area, if you do not mind. Mr Wadsworth, you said that eventually the decision was taken not to include that field because the potential burden of collecting the data would outweigh the benefits of doing so.

  Mr Wadsworth: I think Mr Key said the second part of that and I said the first part of it.

  Q270  Chairman: Why was it not included?

  Mr Wadsworth: I do not know.

  Q271  Robert Key: We need a DfES minister.

  Brigadier Brister: I can shed a little bit of light on it. SCISS and members of DfES recently met on this issue and in essence the reason being given was that because as a percentage of the children in schools there are so few Service children in schools in England as an entity they were not prepared to have the burden of this being a specific identity, but we have the impression they are prepared to re-look at this if there is sufficient pressure.

  Q272  Chairman: Brigadier, would you accept that such an identification would be so important to the children and would be comparatively easy to comply with that it is very important that such an identification should be made?

  Brigadier Brister: Naturally I feel passionately about the education of Service children, as you would hope I would. It would be hugely useful to us to have that information and I would very much like to have that information.

  Q273  Chairman: Am I right in thinking that without that information much of the thing that we have been discussing for the whole of today, as Mark Lancaster and Adam Holloway have suggested, has been largely anecdotal because we do not have the statistics?

  Brigadier Brister: Indeed. Until we have that we cannot do proper study and proper analysis of most of the issues that we have been discussing. It is absolutely key.

  Q274  Robert Key: When the Committee went to Germany, not connected with this inquiry but in connection with Afghanistan, we went to Rheindahlen and what used to be Bruggen, I cannot remember what it is now. I talked to a number of teachers there and I was concerned to discover whether or not Service schools were receiving the same benefits of improved funding as in local authority schools in the United Kingdom and the answer was it was all very difficult. I wrote to you, Minister, asking you about this and you very kindly told me in a letter dated 19 December last year that: "Service children's education funding is arranged and agreed through the Department's short-term planning process" and you were satisfied that there was good funding here. But then you went on to point out that it was extremely difficult to make any proper comparison and you had become conscious that there was a catching-up problem here, and you said: "Most recently, this has been through the additional funding gained in STP O3, which has enabled SCE schools to catch up in a number of areas, most notably information communications technology provision. The Secretary of State for Defence wrote to colleagues in the DfES and the Treasury a year or so ago about the importance of close liaison on new educational initiative" and I asked you specifically about the question of extended schools initiatives and you said: "SCE are currently looking into the possibilities that the extended schools initiative offers and, where believed appropriate and feasible, will consider the introduction of such programmes". What has been the outcome of those discussions with DfES ministers and are the benefits of the extended schools programme going to reach SCE schools?

  Mr Touhig: I have not had an update on that.

  Q275  Robert Key: I would be very grateful if we could have a written update.

  Mr Touhig: I will follow this up this afternoon and you will have a letter from me giving you what you ask.[2]

  Q276 Robert Key: Thank you, I am grateful. Does the state education system neglect the needs of Service children, looking at it rather the other way round? In other words, coming back to this question of the numbers of Service children in state schools, and you have already alluded to the fact, Brigadier, it is not right across the whole country, it is a small number of education authorities who have a large proportion of Service children in them, do you feel that those education authorities are fully up to speed with and conversant with the needs of Service children or should we be putting more pressure on our education authorities to take it more seriously?

  Brigadier Brister: I think it would be unfair to say that they are not doing their best for Service children, I think they are doing their best for them as they do for all children. Many of them are aware of the special circumstances of Service children and the fact that the admissions policy makes special reference to the issues of Service children, as does the special educational needs guidance. Generally there is an understanding of the difficulties faced by Service children. What schools and local authorities have to do is to cope with everyone they have got within the funding that they got. On the whole, what they are not able to do, I suppose, is to make special provision for Service children but they make provision as best they can within the resources they have. Clearly it is our responsibility to make sure that we educate local authorities and local schools so that they understand as much about our children as possible. We do our best to do this and we liaise, as I have said, with local authorities and schools and CEAS in particular have a role to play here. Particularly in the areas where there are big concentrations of Service children, clearly Wiltshire, North Yorkshire and Hampshire, there is an understanding but the issue revolves around the ability of schools to do more.

  Q277  Chairman: I think Mr Wadsworth has told us, correct me if I am wrong, that the children educated by the SCE in Germany, for example, do get higher budgets per child, do they not?

  Mr Wadsworth: The answer is quite complicated. If we take the comment in the Budget Statement, the average spend on a child in the UK is about £5,000, which I think is what the statement was. I have got some figures here. At the moment the United Kingdom Budget Statement is an average of £5,000 per head and our current position is that the average for an SCE child is marginally ahead of that, but that includes the costs of COLA, maybe Boarding School Allowance and so forth. If we strip out those elements to try to make it comparable, the SCE per capita cost is about £4,300. That sounds as if we are slipping behind. If I may come back to Mr Key's question about the extended schools, that is part of a bid for Parity 2. The comment you read out was about a lump of money we were given in 2003 which covered ICT but also covered the special needs programme which I referred to earlier. If we were to get Parity 2, which is basically to catch-up yet again, particularly in areas like 14-19 that we spoke about when you were in Germany, our figure would come out at about £4,900. That sounds as if we are still behind. That does not surprise me too much because the United Kingdom average will encompass primary and secondary school children and, on the whole, a secondary school child's per capita cost is much higher than a primary school child. We, of course, are a predominantly primary school based organisation, we have few secondary aged pupils or the higher cost of secondary aged pupils. If you look at that, a figure of £4,900 compared with £5,000 does not surprise me. We would be roughly on a par.

  Q278  Chairman: Minister, is there any sense that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer increases the budget dramatically for education, as has been happening over recent years, the education of Service children has to be fought for within the Defence budget and that it is often quite difficult for the educational budget for Service children to be set against the needs of defence requirements?

  Mr Touhig: This is a matter that I raised and discussed recently as I prepared for this session because you will know, Chairman, that before coming to Defence I was a Wales Minister and we have such things called Barnett consequentials as a result of any additional government spending then passed on to devolved administrations. At the present time this does not work so far as we are concerned. It is a matter I have just touched on and I intend to go back to because I do not want to see our Service children in any way appear to be disadvantaged as a result of the country's ability to provide additional funding for education.

  Q279  Chairman: So this is unfinished business?

  Mr Touhig: Yes. As far as I am concerned it is unfinished business because it just came up as I was discussing in preparation for coming to this Committee. It is a matter that we would have to discuss with colleagues across government. It had not clicked with me before then that the extra monies that were announced do not flow through in the way that they do in England and to the devolved administrations. Over four years parity funding will cost an additional £46.5 million to be found by the MoD. The gap will be wider with any further educational grants that the Chancellor was to provide. There is an issue there but I have only just started to focus on it and it is something I want to go back to.

  Chairman: I am glad you will. Thank you.

1   Note: See Ev 74 Back

2   Note: See Ev 75 Back

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