Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Second Report

2  The new Department and the Children's Plan

4. In a Written Statement made on the day he came into office, the Prime Minister set out what the new Department is being asked to achieve:

"Children and families are the bedrock of our society. The Government's aim is to ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life, receiving the ongoing support and protection that they—and their families—need to allow them to fulfill their potential.

"To drive forward progress towards this goal, I am today announcing the formation of a new Department for Children, Schools and Families, for the first time bringing together key aspects of policy affecting children and young people.

"The new Department will play a strong role both in taking forward policy relating to children and young people, and coordinating and leading work across Government on youth and family policy.

"High quality and tailored education for all young people will be at the heart of the new Department—which will take on pre-19 education policy responsibilities, from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), working closely with the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to ensure successful delivery of the 14-19 reforms. Funding for 16-19 education will in future go to schools and colleges via the local authority education budget. Raising school standards for all children and young people at all ages will be an overriding priority of the new Government.

"The new Department will assume responsibility for promoting the well-being, safety, protection and care of all young people—including through policy responsibility for children's social services.

"It will also be responsible for leading the Government's strategy on family policy— including parenting—and, working with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Treasury, will take forward the Government's strategy for ending child poverty.

"The Department will be responsible, together with the Department of Health (DH), for promoting the health of all children and young people, including measures to tackle key health problems such as obesity, as well as the promotion of youth sport with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

"The new Department will drive the Government's wider strategy on youth issues. This will include working with the Home Office and the Department of Health on tackling drug use and with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on youth homelessness and supported housing.

"The Department will also be responsible for promoting the wider contribution of young people to their communities. It will assume responsibility from the Home Office for the Respect agenda. In addition it will lead a new emphasis across government on the prevention of youth offending, through joint responsibility with the Ministry of Justice for policy and funding of the Youth Justice Board." [6]

5. While joint working across Government is of course not new, the extent to which the DCSF is involved with other departments is possibly unique. There are two areas where it has sole responsibility for policy and funding—early years and 5 to 13 schooling—but on everything else it has joint responsibility and varying degrees of control. On 14-19 education it has joint responsibility with DIUS, but sole responsibility for funding. On matters such as child poverty and health the funding and policy levers are largely in other people's hands.

6. The Secretary of State told us:

"What we are doing here is by far the most radical attempt to make this work, through having a set of overt joint responsibilities […] I am jointly responsible for children's health, even though most of the budget spend is with the Department of Health. That means that we need to use our influence in every way that we can to try to drive performance.

"We have invested a huge amount of time and effort, through the Children's Plan, in putting together our new public service agreements via the machinery of government in Whitehall to make a reality of those joint responsibilities. There is much more intensive, cohesive working between different Departments on children's outcomes than I think that we have had before in Britain. I think that we are also leading other countries in trying to do this. As you say, it is about influence and leverage, rather than simply the allocation of your own departmental budget."[7]

7. He also said that the DCSF had "a large number" of functions that the DfES did not perform, citing the example of youth justice:

"[…] we have joint responsibility for the management of the Youth Justice Board, for ministerial oversight of day to day operations, for appointments. Every policy decision is made jointly by myself and Jack Straw or by Beverley Hughes and David Hanson. We now have, located in our Department but led by a senior official from the Ministry of Justice, a 30-plus strong team of officials who jointly, across the two Departments, prepare all advice on Youth Justice issues. That is a set of responsibilities and expertise that the Department did not have in DFES days. You will not see that reflected in our departmental expenditure limit, because our departmental expenditure has a small amount of resources for the prevention of crime. Most of the expenditure is happily in the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice […] In terms of intensity of effort, the allocation of civil service resource and ministerial accountability, youth justice is a substantial addition for us, but I think that you could say the same thing about children's health and school sports. We now have joint responsibility for children's play, drugs policy, youth and alcohol policy and child poverty. Those are all areas where we have taken on new responsibilities and had dedicated resource and ministerial time allocated to them within the Department."[8]

8. There is a logic to these arrangements, with the clear attempt to look at the needs of children and families in the round rather than having individual services addressing individual issues. By creating a department around the needs of a particular age group (rather than around the institutions designed to provide public educational services) the Government has clearly signalled its intention that the focus is, in future, to be on children rather than, say, schools.

9. We welcome the new Department's focus on children. Our main concern is about how well the various parts of Government will work together. The problem with joint responsibility is that it might mean no effective responsibility, with each part of the system doing its own work but with no-one ensuring that it does all add up to coherent policy and actions. The DCSF has been given the leading role, which appears to be an acknowledgement that ultimately someone does have to take decisions. The challenge for the Department and for the Secretary of State will be to ensure that they are able to lead and to require decisions to be made.

10. It is not just at the national governmental level that this joint working is necessary, of course. In all local areas across the country, joint working is necessary to deliver services to children and families. An issue at local level since the inception of Every Child Matters is that many people working in other sectors have said that working with health services has been difficult. The Secretary of State told us:

"It is a regular refrain from school heads and directors of children's services on the ground that there is sometimes a gap in working and not enough intensity of joint engagement, for example on children's mental health or children's health more generally. That is something that I know that Alan Johnson, as Secretary of State for Education, was very focused on. He has gone into the Department [of Health]with a big desire to improve the prevention side of children's health and to have much greater working locally. You can see that in the fact that we have announced a joint review of child and adolescent mental health services and the fact that [we] […] are doing a joint review of speech and language therapy. You can also see it in the operating framework for the NHS for the next year […]. It had children's health as one of its top five priorities and was seen in the children's community as a very substantial step forward for children's health and its prioritisation within the overall NHS […]. We now need to see that [joint working] reflected in the way in which primary care trusts around the country are allocating their budgets and working with children's services locally. That is not perfect today, but we think that this is a big step forward."[9]

11. This issue of how well education, health and other services work together at the local level is one that we will want to monitor, as it is crucial to the success or otherwise of the government's plans. The mechanism for achieving effective joint working at the local level is the Children's Trust, and we plan to undertake an inquiry into Children's Trusts later in the year.

12. All children's services are now co-ordinated by one department. Education, which was formerly the responsibility of one department, is now split between two (DCSF and DIUS). The main issue of overlap between the two departments is 14-19 education, and as yet neither department appears to have the lead role. This is a concern given the importance of this sector in improving educational attainment, with the introduction of the new diplomas and with the Government's plans to require young people to stay in education or training or employment with training until they are 18.

13. Given the importance of Diplomas, clarity over who is responsible is vital. We ask the DCSF to set out each department's specific responsibilities towards Diplomas. The success of the Diplomas is vital to improve levels of attainment. We shall be taking further evidence on progress in implementing Diplomas later in the year.

14. We understand the reasons why the Government has formed the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We welcome the recognition that all the services for which it is responsible play a significant part in helping children and young people develop and address difficulties that they may face, and that those services need to be co-ordinated rather than operate in isolation if they are to be as effective as possible. The key issue for the Department is to make joint working a reality at both national and local level, and the extent to which it is able to achieve effective joint working will be the main determinant of whether the aims of these policy initiatives will be achieved.

15. These new structures present challenges to us as well. It will clearly be our main task to hold the Secretary of State accountable for how well these new arrangements work, given his key leadership and co-ordinating role, but scrutinising children's issues will now mean scrutinising the work of several different departments, including Work and Pensions, Health, Justice and the Treasury. We have decided to invite the Secretary of State, his opposite number at the Department for Work and Pensions and a Treasury minister to give evidence jointly later this year on the issue of child poverty. We hope that this will both provide an opportunity to see how well these different departments work together to achieve one of the Government's most challenging policy objectives, the halving of child poverty by 2010, and demonstrate our determination to pursue scrutiny of children's issues across Government.

The Children's Plan

16. The Children's Plan is a ten year plan with huge range of objectives, from increasing play opportunities to halving child poverty. The Secretary of State told us:

"In some ways, I would personally see the Children's Plan as being the mission for our Department […]. I do not want the Children's Plan to be seen as only the spending announcements made in the document—the measures that we are taking on school improvement are also very important. I say that to make clear that we see schools, and driving up standards, as central to the achievement of the Children's Plan."[10]

17. The document is described as a plan, but while it sets out objectives it does not say which are the main priorities and does not have a timetable for action (for example, what will happen in the first year, aims for the 5 year mid-point etc), although there are target dates for implementation of some of the individual initiatives. For example, looking at the next steps section of the Children's Plan, is the review of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services a higher priority than the national play strategy? The Plan says that teaching should become a master's level profession, undoubtedly a major policy change, but it does not appear in the next steps list. When will work begin on this process, and does the Government have a target date in mind? In many cases such as these, the Plan raises issues, but does not develop with clarity what the Government wishes to do and by when.

18. There is a commitment in the Plan for a report back a year after publication, which will provide an opportunity to assess what has been achieved, but without a more structured framework it will be difficult to keep track of how well the Department is implementing its plans. The lack of priority amongst objectives and the absence of a timetable for implementation are weaknesses which need to be rectified, otherwise the Children's Plan runs the risk of being simply a wish list rather than the mission for the Department of which the Secretary of State spoke. If it does not do so before, it should use the progress report later in the year to set out in greater clarity when it hopes to achieve some of its main policy proposals. In order to keep track of progress on the Children's Plan, we intend to take evidence for the Secretary of State again when the progress report is published.

19. Every Child Matters has provided the Government's policy framework for children since 2003. Many changes have sprung from it, for example combining education and children's social services in Children's Services departments in local authorities. The Children's Plan, however, is not based on the five ECM outcomes, but on a new set of strategic objectives. These objectives are:

  • secure the health and wellbeing of children and young people;
  • safeguard the young and vulnerable;
  • achieve world-class standards;
  • close the gap in educational achievement for children from disadvantaged backgrounds;
  • ensure young people are participating and achieving their potential to 18 and beyond; and
  • keep children and young people on the path to success. [11]

20. We asked why the ECM objectives had not been used as the basis for the Children's Plan. The Secretary of State said that "We decided to structure the document around our five public service agreement objectives rather than around the five Every Child Matters objectives, although we could have done it the other way round […]. The document, and in a way the entire Department, is informed by the reality of Every Child Matters on the ground in local areas."[12]

21. He offered to set out for the Committee a breakdown of what is being done in connection with the Children's Plan on the ECM outcomes.[13] In a letter sent after our meeting, he said that the new objectives and PSAs "reflect, and are critical, for the five ECM outcomes", and acknowledged the need to set out clearly how they relate for "frontline practitioners".[14] He promised to publish a "refreshed outcomes framework" in the near future,[15] although that has not yet appeared.

22. It is not clear why the ECM outcomes could not be used as basis of the plan. The new objectives do not stray far from those outcomes, but are different in emphasis. If there is to be long term planning it is important to stick to objectives. The way in which the DCSF sees the ECM outcomes being linked to the objectives in the Children's Plan needs to be clarified as soon as possible, and the new strategic objectives need to be maintained for the long run. The fact that there are now three sets of indicators that the Department is using—five Every Child Matters outcomes, six strategic objectives and five PSA objectives—is unsatisfactory. The Department needs to be clear both for the sake of its own work and that of the wider children and families workforce which objectives it is primarily working towards.

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".[16] There are to be a "small basket of national outcome-focused performance indicators that will be used to measure progress towards each PSA outcome".[17]

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 peers.
  • Increase the number of young people on the path to success.

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 targets—such as 50% participation in higher education—were 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".[18] 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 few months."[19]

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,[20] 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 of provision.

6   HC Deb, 28 June 2007, cols 36-37WS.  Back

7   Q 9 Back

8   Q 51 Back

9   Q 52 Back

10   Q 50 Back

11   Children's Plan, p 15. The five ECM outcomes are Be healthy; Stay safe; Enjoy and achieve; Make a positive contribution; Achieve economic well-being. Back

12   Q 50 Back

13   ibid Back

14   Ev 21 Back

15   ibid Back

16   Meeting the aspirations of the British people 2007 Pre-Budget Report and Comprehensive Spending Review, Cm 7227, London: HM Treasury, p187. Back

17   ibid


18   Children's Plan, p 14 Back

19   Q 61 Back

20   PSA Delivery Agreement 10 and PSA Delivery Agreement 11, HM Treasury, October 2007: Back

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