Public Service Agreements
23. The Chancellor's 2007 Pre-Budget Report and
Comprehensive Spending Review outlined new arrangements for
securing effective public services and efficiency. There are to
be fewer Public Service Agreements and targets, though the overall
system will be retained. As far as children, schools and families
are concerned, the new performance framework requires all the
departments contributing to the achievement of a PSA to "share"
a Delivery Agreement which will be developed in conjunction with
"delivery partners and frontline workers".
There are to be a "small basket of national outcome-focused
performance indicators that will be used to measure progress towards
each PSA outcome".
24. The PSAs for the DCSF are:
- Improve the health and well-being
of children and young people.
- Improve children and young people's safety.
- Raise the educational achievement of all children
and young people.
- Narrow the gap in educational achievement between
children from lower income and disadvantaged backgrounds and their
- Increase the number of young people on the path
25. There has been some debate about how far the
demands on Whitehall departments, local authorities and public
bodies will actually be reduced. Under the 2004 Spending Review,
the DfES had five headline objectives, and 14 indicators in total
which were used to assess progress towards those objectives. Under
the 2007 Spending review, the DCSF again has five headline objectives,
but 26 indicators. For the DCSF at least it appears that the pressure
to achieve targets will not be reduced.
26. The new PSAs where DCSF is lead department are
concerned with issues which include: breastfeeding, childhood
obesity, bullying, social care assessments, preventable child
deaths, examination performance, drug misuse, teenage pregnancy
and youth crime. The width of this set of concerns implies the
need for both specialist expertise within the Department, but
also a need for consistency between different sets of officials
and institutions. Overall, however, the PSA process is all about
delivering key government objectives.
27. We will want to examine in some detail the basis
of calculation of the new targets in the indicators. Previous
targetssuch as 50% participation in higher educationwere
often not justified using evidence.
28. We asked the Secretary of State about the way
in which one of the "Goals for 2020" in the Children's
Plan had been calculated; "every child ready for success
in school, with at least 90% developing well across all areas
of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile by age 5".
He told us:
"When we set this at 90%, we looked in detail
at the way in which early years foundation stage progress had
been moving in recent years [
]. We thought that this was
a reasonable but stretching way to frame the long-term target
for early years. But we will want to discuss with experts, including
the Committee, how exactly we should measure it over the next
29. In the example we quote above, while 90% is a
high target there clearly is some analysis lying behind the goal.
For some of the new PSA indicators, the basis is not clear. For
example, one of the indicators for the target 'Raise the educational
achievement of all children and young people' is "Increase
the proportion achieving 5A*-C GCSEs (and equivalent), including
GCSEs in both English and maths, at Key Stage 4 to 53% by 2011".
The current level is 48.5%. This may be a perfectly reasonable
target, but even though the document introducing this and the
target on narrowing the gap in educational achievement runs to
56 pages, the basis
for choosing 53% as the target is not explained.
30. In order for there to be confidence in targets
and goals, the basis on which they have been formulated must be
made clear. If targets are
to be respected, the way in which they are decided must be more
transparent. For that reason we ask the Department to set out
in its annual report or in the response to this report the basis
on which the targets for indicators under the new PSA objectives
have been determined.
31. The Government has a number of differently-originated
expectations in relation to public services for young people.
'Choice' and 'personalisation of services' have been important
themes in recent government thought in relation to public services
and remain so in the Children's Plan. 'Choice' implies that an
individual or family have the information available to choose
between different service providers or kinds of provision. 'Personalisation'
generally involves a dialogue between an individual who needs
a service and those who are charged with delivering that service.
The service will then adapt to the requirements of the recipient.
32. Approaches embodying choice, personalisation
and other favoured government methods to drive improvements for
children and families must work alongside PSA-driven mechanisms.
The new Department needs
to be explicit how it intends to drive improvements in services
for children and families. In particular, Ministers will need
to spell out how their desired outcomes will be hastened and delivered
by the various different performance drivers currently in use.
In some cases, there may be conflicts between 'choice' as exercised
by parents and the demands of PSAs.
33. In addition,
there are still tensions between the Government's desire to secure
collaboration and co-operation between institutions, and financial
incentives and performance requirements which stimulate competition.
These two policies need to be carefully managed. Where competition
is introduced it is important that it does not lead to fragmentation