Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)


2 MAY 2006

  Q280  Mr Borrow: Just a brief question, Minister. You mentioned statements and the difficulty of transferring statements. The Committee also heard evidence of delays in the transfer of school records and obviously it is crucially important when a child moves from one school to another that the new school has as much information on that child as possible. Is there perceived to be a problem there and what can be done to improve the situation?

  Mr Touhig: We are working closely with DfES to improve SC level of access to prior pupil data and records. It is a matter that has been raised and we are in discussion with colleagues to see what we can do to resolve the problems when we discover them.

  Ms Forsyth: There are two issues for us in SCE. One is not getting records in good time. The second thing is the quality of the records we receive. The issue for a youngster in a very mobile education system is getting children in and on with their learning very quickly and the key to this is assessment and the records the children have. What we are finding is that DfES gave advice to schools in England in April 2002 saying that records should be transferred on the electronic format. The information that gives us is insufficient in terms of understanding where children are at with their learning. At the moment we are looking to devise our own records system that gives good detailed knowledge of not just whether the child has been assessed but targets for learning as well. What we rely on are parents taking records to schools for us. It is a significant package of information. Clearly there are implications when the parent is unsure which school they are going to and that may delay the system because there are records that we do send electronically or by mail. It is an issue that we are looking at at the moment. Currently we are working with the National College for School Leadership looking at the issue of mobility and transfer of records and they have funded a project for us, so we are looking at best practice across SCE and how we can work more closely with schools in England, Wales and Scotland for the transfer of records.

  Q281  Mr Borrow: Are we saying at the moment that, if a child is moving from one school to another, it would be usual for the parents of that child to go to the school and ask for a paper copy of all the records of that child so that they can take that to the new school? Is that the system?

  Ms Forsyth: Yes, within SCE that is the system we have at the moment and that complements the electronic transfer information as well because we think that gives better quality of information. Coming from England, it varies tremendously because clearly we have got no remit to say what they must send us. The basic minimum is as identified from the DfES on the electronic transfer format, but, as I say, that gives us some information, but not really good-quality information about where the child or the student is in terms of their learning.

  Q282  Mr Borrow: So would it be helpful if LEAs in the UK had got guidance on how they should transfer hard copies of school records when a Service child leaves to go to Germany or wherever?

  Ms Forsyth: Absolutely, and that is one of the outcomes for our Mitigating Mobility Project with the National College for School Leadership.

  Q283  Chairman: And if they followed that guidance that they already had?

  Ms Forsyth: Yes, absolutely.

  Q284  Robert Key: Does SCE follow the English educational system and examination system or the Scottish system and how do you cope with the problem of Scottish Service children who hope to be able to slot back into Scotland, or do you not?

  Ms Forsyth: We do the best we can. Obviously in all our schools we follow the English curriculum. Where we have children transferring to and from Scotland, generally we are looking at Scottish regiments, so those schools have got very good links with the schools back in Scotland and we have already identified the areas where children will find differences in the curriculum. For example, there are significant differences for a Key Stage 2 child in the science curriculum coming from Scotland, so where we have children transferring to us, what we do then is we have catch-up classes in terms of investigative science. When children are returning to Scotland, what we will send in the package of information is a transcript of studies to show what the child has actually studied in terms of the English curriculum and we will identify for Scottish teachers areas they may not have covered in such detail according to their own curriculum.

  Q285  Robert Key: When is the next quinquennial review? Will there be another one or are you changing the whole system?

  Ms Cassidy: The answer is that there will be another review. It will not be called a `quinquennial review', it will be more of a generalised business process review, but there will be another review.

  Q286  Robert Key: How would that relate to an Ofsted-type review or would it not? Is that something completely different?

  Ms Cassidy: It is completely different.

  Q287  Robert Key: But will there be, therefore, an Ofsted-type review?

  Mr Wadsworth: There has been one subsequently.

  Q288  Robert Key: Yes.

  Mr Wadsworth: We now have a scrutiny committee looking at the progress made since that.

  Robert Key: I just think that this is something the Committee might urge should happen. Because of all these uncertainties about catching up and relations with different initiatives in England, I would hate to see you falling behind and I would like to urge that everything is done to prevent that happening.

  Q289  Chairman: Mr Wadsworth, how do you address poor performance in SCE schools?

  Mr Wadsworth: Can I ask Kathryn because this is her area?

  Ms Forsyth: The operation is some of the way to a local education authority in that we have a set of performance indicators that we use to judge how effective our schools are. As a result of carrying out the performance review on an annual basis with our schools, we will then categorise our schools according to need, so a category one school, for example, is a school that is doing particularly well and will need little support from us at the moment, a category five school where we have cause for concern in terms of their performance. When that happens, we will identify the issues for under-performance and we will write an appropriate action plan for the school. The action plan will take account of staffing issues, it will look at support and advice to teachers and it will look at a rigorous system for monitoring the progress made in that school, so it is a similar system to what you would find in a local authority within England.

  Q290  Chairman: In relation to the issue of contractors working in Germany or overseas for the MoD, how does education for their children work?

  Mr Wadsworth: Are we talking about fees?

  Q291 Chairman: Yes, the charging policy really.

  Mr Wadsworth: The charging policy is Treasury remit where we have to recover full costs for those who are not entitled. There is a document called `JSP342—Education of Service Children' which itemises those organisations which are entitled to free education and that clearly will be the children of folk in uniform and of accompanying civil servants and it also has, under the entitled bracket, organisations like NAAFI. There is a second group who are non-entitled, and contractors would fall into that, who have to pay what in fact would be a higher fee. Underpinning that, not directly, but underpinning it, is an agreement, I understand, under both SOFA and the Treaty of, whatever it is called in Cyprus, that we cannot, as it were, exploit our Service necessarily to offer subsidised education to local people. Now, that is not part of your question, but it ends up with us having to recover the full costs and that is the policy. There is another group of entitled which is the ARRC, the other nation members of the ARRC, who get a lower entitlement and they are subsidised.

  Chairman: I said that we would come on to the continuity of education allowance.

  Q292  Mr Borrow: There are just a couple of questions. One suggestion which has been made is that, because of the level of fees, the boarding option is only really an option for Service personnel who are at the top end of the scale rather than the bottom end of the scale. The other point is that, because the allowance is only paid on the basis of the child staying at a specific school and the decision is made to move that child from one boarding school to another boarding school, the allowance does not carry over to the second boarding school, so is there not a problem there if the child is unhappy at a school or is not suitable? There is an issue which has been raised with the Committee specifically that, if the child is unhappy or a boarding school is felt not to be suitable by the parents, they are not able to transfer the child and also transfer the allowance. Do you have any comments on those points?

  Mr Touhig: On the first part of your question, we are looking at a strategic remuneration package review and the CEA will figure in that. We are conscious of the kind of point that Mr Borrow just made that we need to address, so I hope that, when this review is completed, we will have a better appreciation of the issues and we can then take any decision where there needs to be any rebalancing of the support we give.

  Brigadier Brister: I alluded to the various costs in answer to one of your previous questions and, unless you particularly want me to repeat what I said then, I will move on to the second part of your question. It is very important that we understand that continuity of education allowance means just that. The reason that Service parents are given CEA is so that they have the option of choosing the boarding option in order to ensure that their child is not disrupted by constantly changing school. Therefore, there are firm rules which are there to make it clear to us that this is not just an allowance to let us send our child to an independent or state boarding school, but it is there for continuity of education. Therefore, you are absolutely right, the principle is that you can only move at the end of a formal stage of education. However, if you are dissatisfied with the school or if, for various reasons, your child is unhappy at the school, then you can put up a case to be allowed to change school and rotate the allowance. Therefore, it is not impossible to move, but there are very good reasons why of course there should have to be very good reasons because, otherwise, the whole principle underpinning the allowance would be lost and that principle is to allow continuity of education, but it is possible to change.

  Q293  Mr Borrow: Have you got figures to demonstrate how many parents make such an application and how many have been successful?

  Brigadier Brister: I have not got figures to hand clearly, but I am sure we could probably provide them.

  Chairman: I think it would be helpful if you could provide those for us, please.[3]

  Q294 Mr Holloway: Brigadier, you say that the boarding school allowance is not just a sort of perk so that people can send their children to private school, but I do not think that is the reality. I think a lot of people, when they join the military, accept that they are going to move around a lot, that they are not going to earn that much cash, but that one of the perks in a sense is that they can actually afford to educate their children privately.

  Brigadier Brister: Well, I disagree strongly actually.

  Q295  Mr Holloway: Really?

  Brigadier Brister: Having been one of those parents, I chose the boarding option and that was not a perk. I would have preferred to have my children living at home with me, but I wanted them to have continuity of education. It is, as I said before, that we in the Forces have three options: our children have a disruptive education; we board; or we live apart from our families. None of those is ideal for most people. It is not a perk, it is an allowance to help to mitigate—

  Q296  Mr Holloway: I understand that.

  Brigadier Brister: It helps mitigate one of the disadvantages of Service life.

  Q297  Mr Holloway: No, I am making a slightly different point. What you say may be the case, but the reality for many people, when they join the Army and indeed when they stay in the Army, is the fact that this allowance exists.

  Brigadier Brister: No, I still disagree. I think this allowance is there to help—

  Q298  Mr Holloway: We know what it is there for, but—

  Brigadier Brister: But I am disagreeing with your perception. My perception is that the majority of people would prefer to keep their children living at home with them.

  Q299  Chairman: Minister, I wonder if you could give us an idea as to whether some of the issues that you have raised this morning with which you are in negotiation with the DfES, are they mostly within, would you say, your responsibility or the DfES's responsibility or is it a question of a combination of the two?

  Mr Touhig: I think it is a case-by-case basis. There are some things which are wholly ours, but we need their support and there are other things where we need their collaboration and there is no conflict.

  Chairman: We will ask a minister from the DfES to come and give evidence to this inquiry later on. Let us move on to the Queen Victoria School and the Duke of York's Royal Military School.

3   Note: See Ev 76, para 8 Back

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