Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Second Report

Conclusions and recommendations

The new Department

1.  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. (Paragraph 5)

2.  We welcome the new Department's focus on children. 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. (Paragraph 9)

3.  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. (Paragraph 11)

4.  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. (Paragraph 13)

5.  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. (Paragraph 14)

6.  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. 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. (Paragraph 15)

The Children's Plan

7.  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. (Paragraph 18)

8.  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. (Paragraph 22)

Public Service Agreements

9.  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. (Paragraph 30)

10.  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. (Paragraph 32)

11.  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. (Paragraph 33)

Schools' Funding

12.  We will want to be kept informed of the review of schools funding as it goes through its different stages. With funding growing more slowly in the current CSR period than in the previous one, decision on calculating and distributing schools funding will be even more critical. The changes in funding to the 16-19 sector, and the implications for 14-19 funding, will also need to be examined carefully. (Paragraph 40)

Efficiency and productivity

13.  We are keen to see the detailed assessment of the achievement or otherwise of the Gershon targets in order to establish how much more effectively the education and children's services systems are operating. We will also wish to see how the new efficiency targets in schools are monitored and the extent to which they are achieved. (Paragraph 45)

14.  We ask the DCSF to set out what it anticipates the new Public Value Programme will require of the Department, and of schools and other children's services providers. (Paragraph 47)

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